Friday, July 17, 2009


An optimistic Mariner fan going into this game would have figured that the Mariners could make Cliff Lee throw some pitches and try to get into the Indians' awful bullpen. Buoyed by a decent start by Garrett Olson, the Mariners would be able to put together just enough runs to beat Cleveland to take the toughest pitching matchup of the series and set themselves up for an outside shot at a four-game sweep. Instead, it didn't take very long in this game to see what was going on, and it didn't take long for the game to be out of doubt. It definitely was not going to be Garrett Olson's night, and it was absolutely Cliff Lee's night. End of story.

The loss dropped the Mariners to 46-43 after 89 games. This record is five games worse than the pace of the 2007 team, but three better than that of the 2006 team, seven better than the 2005 team, 11 better than last year's team, and 13 better than the 2004 team. Forty-six wins is also six worse than 2000, ten worse than 2002 and 2003, and 18 worse than 2001.

Mariner hitting went a combined 9-for-35 on the night, walking zero times and striking out six times. Russell Branyan and Franklin Gutierrez both doubled, and Ronny Cedeno inexplicably homered. Jose Lopez with two hits and Kenji Johjima with three hits were the multi-hit Mariners. The team was 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven runners in all. Ichiro went 1-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to 12 games, during which he's gone 17-for-54 (.315) with four doubles (slugging .389). After being at .375 on June 27th, Ichiro now sits at a pedestrian .360. Though he doesn't get the goat for this game, I must add that Chris Woodward had some at-bats against Cliff Lee that were very Cedeno-like if anything. Woodward looked completely overmatched and struck out three times out of his four plate appearances. Additionally, Branyan's double in the first got away from the outfielders and conceivably could have been a triple, but word came out after the game that Branyan felt something in his back on the play, but also that he ended up being okay. I'll get to Branyan whiffing on a basic putout in the Olson paragraph.

Seattle starting pitching did not have a good night, and that will be covered below. The bullpen threw the final 5 1/3 innings for the Mariners and gave up only an unearned run that came around to score. Ironically, the run was unearned because the error was on Chris Jakubauskas, who was thrown a bit off balance moving onto the back slope of the mound while trying to field a high chopper. He muffed the play to allow former Mariner farmhand Asdrubal Cabrera to reach first base. Cabrera came around to score what was the fourth Cleveland run of the game, which effectively was a completely meaningless run. Jakubauskas came into the game in the third with a runner on first and two out. He allowed a single to Jhonny Peralta but got a Ben Francisco groundout to end that inning. He threw a 1-2-3 fourth but then had the fifth inning where his error accounted for the unearned run. There was a key strikeout of Victor Martinez in there, but it didn't completely bail out Jakubauskas, who gave up only the unearned run on two hits in 2 1/3 innings, facing 11 hitters to get those seven outs. He threw 23 strikes out of 46 pitches (terrible ratio) and walked one and struck out one. Shawn Kelley allowed two hits in a scoreless sixth, snapping a two-outing streak of absolutely horrible pitching. Roy Corcoran threw a one-hit shutout seventh, and Mark Lowe weathered a leadoff error when Woodward tried to play a high chopper down the third-base line that he should have let go foul. Lowe retired the next three hitters in order.

1) Jose Lopez
I would have put Johjima here, but I saw too many wild pitches and balls thrown in the dirt that I really felt Johjima should have had. Lopez singled to lead off the sixth and singled with two out in the eighth. In other words, he went 2-for-4 and none of the hits came until the game was effectively over. The Indians made it 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth, and that margin held up clear through to the end of the game. Despite being one of the looser cogs in the Mariners' infield defense, Lopez was not part of the carnival of four errors that helped befall the Mariners on this night. Lopez has a four-game hitting streak going (5-for-17, .294) and has hit safely in seven of his last eight games (9-for-34, .265). After driving in 20 runs in the month of June, Lopez will have to pick it up in July if he hopes to match it since he's only at five RBIs on the month so far. Can Lopez drive in 15 more runs in the next two weeks? If he does, I have the feeling the Mariners will be doing quite well and definitely will still be in the division race at the trade deadline.

2) Kenji Johjima
The Mariner catcher had a 3-for-4 game at Yankee Stadium that included a double, so this might not have been his best game of the year at the plate, but it's pretty close. Johjima singled with two out in the second, singled to lead off the seventh, and infield singled with two out in the ninth. He had three hits on a night where the entire team had nine hits, so that's not bad. Johjima also gunned down two runners trying to steal bases. Other than the fact that I think there are some pitches in the dirt that I think he (and Rob Johnson) really have to get more often than not, Johjima may have had his best game of the season. Johjima is hitting .270, which Rob Johnson won't touch this season. Still, the catcher's ERA stat for the starting pitchers is definitely going to Johnson again, but that's what happens when you let Johnson catch Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, and Jarrod Washburn while you leave Johjima with the remaining scraps of the rotation. Anyway, this team could use someone to get hot int he second half, and some more offensive output from Johjima would surely help.

3) Ronny Cedeno
Just about every non-pitcher on the Mariners' roster is a better hitter than Cedeno. He may be a slightly less infuriating hitter than Yuniesky Betancourt, but I don't think there's any way he ends up with a .240 or better batting average like Betancourt. Case in point, his current .171 mark. Still, it's incredibly odd that for being one of the worst hitters in all of baseball, his last two home runs are completely dumbfounding. His homer to dead centerfield at Fenway Park off Tim Wakefield required muscle that none of us knew he had, and the home run he hit in this game went over the wall in rightfield and was tagged pretty well. Even though the park in Cleveland that I refuse to call by its current name (how about Flo Park?) has been a hitters' park, there's hitters on the Mariners who have really good power that have trouble taking the ball out of the park to the opposite field. I don't know if there's any real conclusion to draw out of this. That is, unless you want to go all conspiracy theory and go straight for the gusto -- obviously Cedeno's on HGH and should undergo a battery of blood and urine tests. If they nip it in the bud while he's a .171 hitter, they won't have to worry about it being fake if he hits 70 home runs after the All-Star break. When you write these pieces late at night like I do, the theatre of the mind is alive and well.

Garrett Olson
The Mariners' hopes in this game were staked on Olson throwing a passable start and the offense being able to scratch out just enough runs for the bullpen to hold up the lead. Instead, Olson had three-ball counts against seven of the 14 hitters he faced (if my count on the ESPN.com play-by-play log is right) and never was able to get any sort of rhythm or control going. Cleveland got the lead in the first and never looked back, though Russell Branyan's whiff on what should have been a routine putout at first base didn't help matters. Branyan went straight to the dugout for some sunglasses after losing that ball in the sun. Complete hindsight here would make a fan rethink about whether it should have been Jason Vargas that stayed with the big club instead of Olson. Frankly, I still don't have a problem with Olson staying up because he can do stuff out of the bullpen if needed. Olson threw only 34 strikes out of 69 pitches in his 2 2/3 innings and Cleveland wasn't swinging at a lot of crap pitches. He gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits, walking three and striking out two. He faced 14 hitters to get eight outs in by far his shortest start of the season (he'd gone five innings or more in each of his eight previous starts), and Wakamatsu pulling him was really a mercy killing, if anything.

The game after horrible starting pitching is a good time for a Felix Hernandez start. Let's hope he wasn't thrown off by the All-Star break.

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