Saturday, April 25, 2009
Mariner hitters went 17-for-41 as a team, drawing five walks and striking out twice. Doubles were hit by Adrian Beltre (with the bases loaded in the fifth) and Russell Branyan (down the rightfield line). The lone Mariner homer belonged to Branyan (leftfield). The team went 5-for-15 with runners in scoring position and still managed to strand 12 runners despite scoring eight times and scratching out 17 hits. No Mariner went hitless. Ichiro, Ken Griffey, Jr., Branyan, and Rob Johnson had two hits apiece. Endy Chavez and Jose Lopez had three hits apiece. The great thing about Griffey going 2-for-5 (bringing the average up to .196) is that I don't have to complain about what dead weight he is in the number-three slot in the lineup. Additionally, Beltre's only hit of the game was the bases-loaded double in the fifth inning that broke open the game. Chavez had a 3-for-6 night, but I guess I held him out of the gameballs for lack of notability and his bad throw to third base. That aside, Chavez is now hitting .358 and he scored two of the Mariners' eight runs. Everyone in the Mariner lineup not named Ichiro, Chavez, Griffey, and Franklin Gutierrez collected at least one RBI.
Seattle starting pitching will be discussed in the applicable gameball entry. Thus, Shawn Kelley accounted for the only Mariner bullpen arm used in this game. He finished off the final 2 1/3 innings of the game. He faced seven hitters to get those seven outs. He gave up one hit and struck out one. He hasn't thrown in too many games yet, but he has yet to give up a run. Even better for Bedard's ERA is that Kelley didn't allow Bedard's leftover runner to score. Kelley came in the game with one runner on and two out, and the Mariners had a five-run lead. Thanks to Kelley, that 8-3 score held up to the end of the game. It was fairly low pressure relief, and when Carlos Silva is the guy following Bedard in the rotation, you need the bullpen to be as rested as possible. While I consider Bedard to be far from a number-one starter and Jarrod Washburn to be superior to Silva, maybe it's good to have Silva being the s#&$ sandwich (they can't print that!) and to have Washburn and the front two guys of the rotation spread out. Silva will tax the bullpen, but unless Washburn completely stinks, the bullpen gets rest the next day.
1) Erik Bedard
The ceiling for a Bedard start is a complete game, so that's not something we can expect to see out of him every night. Still, this start was a very high-end start out of Bedard, probably close to a nine out of a ten. He really had that curveball working against the Angels. Mike Blowers pointed out that Bedard was around the plate all night, which got the umpires to expand the zone a bit on some of the strikeout calls. Some of the strikeout calls were very much corner pitches. He completely dominated the first four innings of the game, and the mega inning in the top half of the fifth seemed to throw him off a bit. He surrendered three runs including the Mike Napoli cannon-blast homer in the fifth. I had serious doubts he was going to make it through that inning, and I thought there'd be no way he would make it through the sixth if Don Wakamatsu trotted him out to the mound to start the sixth. Instead, Bedard got it together eventually and pitched into the seventh. For the game, he faced 25 batters to get 20 outs. He gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits, walked none, and struck out six to increase his absolutely ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio. He threw 75 out of 109 pitches for strikes. More astoundingly, he was a groundball machine, getting 11 groundouts to three flyouts.
2) Russell Branyan
Just like that, the power returned (nearly all of it) to the Mariner lineup. In his first at-bat after missing five games due to back spasms, Branyan clubbed a solo shot to leftcenter to stake the Mariners out to a 1-0 lead in the second inning. So far it doesn't look like Branyan has a hulk-smash brutal swing when he hits a homer. His homer swing is pretty relaxed and smooth. His homer in Minnesota was the same way. Maybe someday we'll see a pounding swing out of him. Richie Sexson (good version) barely looked like he followed through on any of his home-run swings, but I remember a homer in Chicago against the White Sox where it really looked like he cranked it. Add to Branyan's homer his RBI double in the sixth to make it a five-run lead, and you get a good day for the lefthanded slugger. Also add the fact that his back spasms didn't flare up when he slid home on the Rich Thompson wild pitch. Thompson could have failed to catch the ball completely and it wouldn't have made that play look any worse than it turned out. Napoli's throw had Branyan beat cleanly.
3) Jose Lopez
Again, it's good when the Mariners score eight runs and Griffey actually hits so I don't have to complain about how the lineup is structured. After Griffey was given a day off, he returned to the third spot in the lineup, which didn't enthuse me much, but it put Lopez back down to sixth, which is probably better for him. Lopez responded with a 3-for-4 day with a walk. Sure, his RBI came on a superball of a high chopper that resulted in an infield single, but a three-hit day is a three-hit day. Since he's only hitting .236, we can take it maybe as a bit of improvement. Endy Chavez had a three-hit night too, but he's at .358 and who knows how long that's going to last. Maybe someone should put an over-under on when Chavez will have his batting average dip below .300? The RBI for Lopez was his 12th of the season. As I mentioned, he's hitting .236, but he's driving in runs at a pace that would result in roughly 114 RBIs. If, like me, you're imagining Lopez driving in runs at an even better pace when he picks up the average a bit...well, I still think it's too early to dream big dreams with this team just yet...
On a day where all of the Mariners had hits, I had to pick one of the one-hit guys to put in this spot. Beltre's single hit was too important, Betancourt had a rebound game defensively as well as scattering the Angel dugout with a foul ball, so this one's going to Gutierrez, most notably because he whiffed on a hit-and-run that resulted in Lopez being gunned down by a mile at third base. If I'm not mistaken, he dove for a ball in shallow center and missed, resulting in a breakup of what was a perfect game for Bedard up to that point. I could be wrong. Goating a player in this particular game for diving for a ball and missing is kind of nitpicky, though. Gutierrez batted out of the eighth spot in the lineup and is hitting a mere .196. Griffey hit out of the third spot in the lineup and is hitting a mere .196. The main difference, of course, is that the Mariners aren't really paying Gutierrez to be a pretty good hitter. Here's to many more awesome catches in centerfield by Eff Gutierrez (too derogatory?).
Silva? The NFL Draft should be somewhere in the third round during most of the game, right? I just want there to be an alternative if Silva hits the fan.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Mariner hitting collectively went 4-for-28 with a walk and five strikeouts. Ichiro had the only multi-hit game, while Endy Chavez and Wladimir Balentien accounted for the other two Mariner hits. The injury situations of Russell Branyan and Mike Sweeney caused some lineup shuffling as Jamie Burke drew into the lineup and onto the field at first base, followed by Burke zooing the first ball that was hit to him (Rob Johnson was charged with an error later on the same play). Ken Griffey, Jr. was given the night off (he wouldn't have been able to hit Shields anyway) and Wladimir Balentien was given some sorely needed at-bats in the DH slot. Balentien also stole a base, which is noteworthy. It was a pitchers' duel, let's make no bones about it, so of course I can clump together some of the hitless Mariners in the lineup and say that the 6-9 hitters combined to go 0-for-11 with a walk and two strikeouts. That's too easy. With Griffey not being in the lineup as well as Branyan and Sweeney, Jose Lopez was placed in the third slot with Adrian Beltre fourth, Balentien fifth, and Rob Johnson sixth. All that aside, hopefully this is the last lineup card of the season where both the starting catcher and backup catcher are on it, but neither of the two were DHing.
I guess the only pitcher that won't be covered in the gameballs would be the closer, Brandon Morrow. He walked one of the four hitters he faced, but he got the three outs for his fifth save of the season. Again, I could say all sorts of stuff about how I wish Morrow used the breaking ball more or had another breaking ball (change?) and was a starter instead, but considering the circumstances, he's really only on the hook for the one game in Minnesota. Even as that game was unfolding, I still never found myself thinking of Bobby Ayala. In the Almost Live! reference of the night, there was a John/Late Report tidbit where the Mariners drafted Cha Seung Baek, but later in the draft selected I Suk Baad (picture of Ayala showing on the screen).
1) Felix Hernandez
The Cat comes through again for the Mariners. Felix made it a tiny bit dicey by walking three hitters, and the defense behind him committed three errors, but none of the Rays crossed the plate. Hernandez faced 27 hitters to get 21 outs. The only blemish in his line is probably the three walks. If Felix cuts that down to one walk and one of the errors isn't committed, Felix may have thrown into the ninth. He gave up four hits and struck out seven over the seven shutout innings, throwing 60 strikes on 104 pitches. True to form, Felix got nine groundouts to five flyouts. This start for Felix began the Mariners' fourth turn through the rotation. Felix is 3-0 in four starts, and the Mariners have won all four of those games. Add Jarrod Washburn's three wins to the mix, and those two Mariner starters have had a hand in seven of the Mariners' 10 wins. The problem, of course, is the other three-fifths of the rotation, since when Erik Bedard/Carlos Silva/fifth starter is on the mound, the Mariners have gone 3-6.
He went 2-for-4 with the solo shot that accounted for the only run of the game. The homer to rightfield came on a much more prototypical Ichiro swing, whereas the grand slam on Jackie Robinson Day looked more like a swing where he was trying to hit a homer. His second hit was a single, after which he stole second base. An adage heard in sometimes in sports is, "your best players have to be your best players." At this point in the season, teams just need wins without really caring how they get them, so the little quote I just gave is probably more applicable late in the season and in the playoffs. Still, Ichiro and Felix turned in the most meaningful contributions toward this very close win for the Mariners. When most of the offense is crap going into the game anyway (James Shields notwithstanding) Ichiro stepped up and Felix Hernandez performed with very little margin for error. Also a bit of fun about this game was that it ended in a mere two hours and 22 minutes, so anyone that managed to get off work early and gone to the game had a young night in front of them.
3) David Aardsma
The journeyman bullpen righty still hasn't been touched up for any runs this season. He's still living by the fastball and hasn't died by it yet. I don't know how long he can possibly get away with it, but let's all enjoy it while it lasts. It might be fun if at some point the Mariners got a hold of a bullpen lefty that threw nothing but slop and threw him in between Aardsma and Morrow. What I've liked about this season so far, though, is that Wakamatsu without a lefthander hasn't really played matchup too much because he can't, so the guys in the bullpen are just throwing until they suck. I think that's a refreshing change, though I really still think they have to get a lefthander at some point this year in the bullpen. I have to say I like this game at two hours and 22 minutes, but I'd hate to have seen it spoiled by a manager turning the eighth into a matchup fest and dragging the game out to three hours in length. That would be the complete opposite of fun. I'm glad the Mariners don't have their own Paul Assenmacher, not that they haven't tried (Mike Myers).
At least the errors he made the night before wasn't really a meaningful one in a game that was way out of reach and where the FSNW telecast crapped the bits. In this game, though, it game Felix a little more unnecessary adversity to deal with, and the Betancourt error came after Jamie Burke and Rob Johnson had already tag-teamed on the two-error play. At that point, Felix had to be wondering what was going on behind him. Felix is probably well familiar with Betancourt muffing some balls, but he couldn't have been comfortable with Burke playing first, seeing as to how Felix is a groundball guy and all those balls have to be thrown to first. Luckily, Burke didn't have trouble with catching throws. As for Betancourt, apparently he's gone this long into the season without drawing a walk. Pure Betancourt, sure, though I thought the patience thing might result in a walk by now. Anyway, he's sitting at .288 and I've seen some at-bats where he'll see at least three pitches before putting the ball in play. If he hits for contact early in the count, though, maybe you could hit him second? But that would require him hitting the other way...
A Bedard night in southern California. Eeeeeeek?
Thursday, April 23, 2009
So it's games like these, the clunkers (Tom Larscheid north of the border would say "clinkers"), where you look for the little things in the ballgame that may at least partially redeem the investment of time that you put into watching the game (which was way too long). One thing that was at least somewhat enjoyable was the Endy Chavez catch in the leftfield corner. The other appears in the boxscore as "Pickoffs: White (Pena, C at 1st base)." I can't remember who was at the plate, but Sean White was on the mound with runners at first and third. Normal situation, sure, but what's completely abnormal is the fake-to-third/throw-to-first move ACTUALLY WORKED. People that sat through this abomination of a game can feel lucky, because if they watch the Mariners or televised Major League Baseball for the rest of their lives, they may only see that move work three or four more times. Ever. That move never works, and the result 9999 times out of 10000 usually involves no one remotely close to getting tagged out, and the crowd boos if the move is being pulled against the home team, etc. This time, though, it worked.
The Mariner hitters combined to go 4-for-29, which of course isn't going to get you much in terms of runs. All three runs came home on the Jose Lopez homer that both opened and closed Seattle scoring in the bottom of the fifth. Ichiro chimed in with the only multi-hit game, going 2-for-4 with a double. Jose Lopez (1-for-4 with the three-run homer) and Rob Johnson (1-for-3 with a strikeout) were the only other Mariners with hits. Obviously, we can mess with the boxscore in tons of different ways to make the Mariner offense look bad, but I'll go with the 2-5 hitters combining to go 0-for-13, though they did draw three walks. Mike Sweeney also came down with back spasms after checking a swing. It looked uncomfortable, and on replay he reacted like he'd been shot or something. As of me typing this, though, Russell Branyan's still on the active roster and Mike Sweeney's still on the active roster. How long can Don Wakamatsu survive a 23-man roster? Either we're going to see Wladimir Balentien and Ronny Cedeno get a lot more playing time, or we're going to keep seeing Ken Griffey, Jr. trotted out there every day at the three-spot in the lineup despite him hitting at a devastating .171 clip.
Mariner starting pitching will be covered below. The bullpen gave up three runs after Jakubauskas left the game, with only one of them being earned. Sean White got the third-to-first move to work, so that's almost as good as anything in his line. Roy Corcoran wasn't horrendously bad, and a two-walk inning in a game out of reach isn't going to draw too much ire from me. Miguel Batista will be covered below. Mark Lowe gave up an unearned run in the ninth along with two hits. Really, the only function of the bullpen for this game was to get the remaining 17 outs of a ballgame that was already out of reach. It's an unenviable task, but one that had to be done.
Though this blog post is entirely mine and I could totally just scrap the gameball section because nobody's really worthy of it, I'm not going to do that because that's the easy thing to do.
1) Jose Lopez
He gets it for the lone run-scoring hit of the game for the Mariners. He hit a long fly ball that got just enough carry to find its way into the bullpen in leftcenter, and it was a three-run shot, no less. The Mariners, as we know, have been sorely lacking power, and it only gets worse when Russell Branyan is on the shelf (though not quite DL'd). It also gets worse when Adrian Beltre hasn't hit a homer with one week left to go in April. I really like Beltre and everything, but this start is beginning to reek a bit like 2005, and that's not so good. Even the 2005 lineup had the good version of Richie Sexson (the one that homered twice against the Twins on Opening Day), though, so there was some sock. Sooner or later, this team's going to lose games because it can't get a key homer at the right time. I'm not talking about being the late-90s Kingdome Mariners, I'm just talking about being a slightly below-average team in terms of hitting homers as opposed to the nonexistent power we're seeing out of the Mariners right now. Small ball's great when it works, but how much longer is the bullpen going to hold up? You get the throngs of people that say pitching and defense wins championships, but I don't completely subscribe to that philosophy. To me, it's balance that wins championships. This team has a good bullpen so far, two-fifths of the starting rotation is good, but there is very little power hitting of which to speak.
Funny how Ichiro goes 0-for-4 the night before (along with 0-fers from the rest of the top four in the lineup) and the Mariners win, but Ichiro goes 2-for-4 in this game and the Mariners lose. As we remember, Ichiro set the single-season hit record in an otherwise crappy year for the Mariners (it's really too bad Edgar had to go out with that team, and I really feel bad for him if he was convinced that the 2004 team could win). It reminds me somewhat of how Alex Rodriguez did for the Mariners, with the exception of the 2000 season. It seemed every year Rodriguez was crazy awesome, the team sucked. He had an insane 1996, but the Mariners weren't great year by any stretch (Sterling Hitchcock). In 2000, that trend was broken when Rodriguez had a great year and the Mariners reached Game 6 of the ALCS. Rodriguez had awesome years in 1996, 1998, and possibly 1999 (had 42 homers in only 129 games). Still, Ichiro's hit-record year was awesome in a crap year for the Mariners, and unfortunately only his crazy-good first season in the Majors was rewarded with postseason play. He hasn't been involved in any kind of legitimate race for a playoff spot since 2003. It's not his fault that he's the best leadoff hitter in baseball while the team around him is built like crap.
3) Miguel Batista
I thought Miguel Batista should have been the first guy out of the bullpen when Jakubauskas hit the fan. I know it brings back bad memories, but Batista for me is this year's Kevin Jarvis. He's the guy that you have in your bullpen specifically for the purpose of games that are out of reach either way -- you put him in when you're up five or more runs, and you put him on the mound when you're down five or more runs and your offense is getting completely shut down. Jarvis was absolutely horrible as a Mariner, but the sad thing is that Jarvis wasn't getting paid anything close to what Batista is getting paid. In this game, however, Batista gets a gameball because, despite two walks and a hit, nobody scored. That's an accomplishment in itself. He also struck out two hitters. He faced nine hitters to get those six outs. Maybe there's an incredibly small chance that Batista gets it turned around. Here's an odd thought -- with Ryan Rowland-Smith out, if Batista somehow got it back together, should they give him another hack at the rotation?
Yikes. The Lithuanian Laser in this game was the loser. The fifth starter in the rotation should be the one with the longest leash and the lowest expectations, but in a rotation that has an I'm-not-really-sure-if-he's-really-on-board-yet Erik Bedard and a Carlos Silva, it leaves you really liking what you could get out of a fifth starter like Chris Jakubauskas. His first start was a very good start, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell you that he's probably going to have some bumps in the road. This game was definitely one of them. Again, it'd mean a lot less if the Mariners didn't have a Carlos Silva in their rotation, but unfortunately they do, and so it means more. Jakubauskas faced 22 hitters to get 10 outs (ouch). He threw 50 strikes on 86 pitches, but 10 of those 50 strikes were hits. He gave up six runs, walked three, and struck out one. He recorded one groundout and seven flyouts, and also threw two wild pitches. To say the least, it was not a banner night for Jakubauskas. Once again, as a result of ineffectiveness in the starting rotation, the onus is on Felix Hernandez tonight to help the bullpen get some rest.
Save us from ourselves, Felix. Save us from ourselves...
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The Mariners pushed a run across in the first inning when Endy Chavez reached second on a bad throw after a crappy bunt by Ken Griffey, Jr. (ouch, my, how times have changed), then Mike Sweeney pushed Chavez home with a hit. They awoke again in the fourth inning with a barrage of triples (can two count as a barrage?) to help score three more runs. Sweeney getting hit by a pitch and a Jose Lopez hit-and-run single set up the first-and-third for the Rob Johnson nuttiness triple. Then Yuniesky Betancourt chimed in with a triple of his own, lest we forget that Betancourt's first Major League hit was a triple.
Mariner hitting went a collective 7-for-32 with a walk and eight strikeouts. Sweeney (double), Johnson (triple), and Betancourt (triple) accounted for the Mariners' extra-base hits. Multi-hit games belonged to Sweeney (more below) and Betancourt (2-for-3 with the RBI triple to drive in Johnson). Hitless games went to Ichiro, Griffey, and Adrian Beltre -- all 0-for-4 -- as well as Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez, all 0-for-3. The 1-4 hitters in the Mariners' lineup combined to go 0-for-15 with a walk and three strikeouts. Chavez scored a run. I guess you could say it's a good night when you can win despite your top four hitters being nonexistent.
Jarrod Washburn has an entry in the gameballs, so that deals with the starting pitching. The bullpen combination of David Aardsma and Brandon Morrow combined for two innings of shutout ball with a walk and a strikeout, and they gave up only one hit. They faced eight batters to get six outs. Aardsma threw ten strikes on 18 pitches, whereas Morrow threw 12 strikes on 14 pitches, which is a pretty good percentage when you're not getting hit hard. Aardsma still hasn't given up a run this season, as his sparkling ERA of 0.00 would indicate.
1) Mike Sweeney
Sweeney could tagged with five errors in the field, but if he gets three hits like he did in this game, he's getting into the gameball entries somewhere. The grizzled veteran clubhouse presence doubled en route to a perfect 3-for-3 night with a two-out RBI. Since he's been given playing time pretty sparingly, this three-hit night bumped the ol' batting average up to .313. Where's the fire, Mike? Anyway, it's good to see Sweeney chip in with something offensively with Russell Branyan hurt. His swing still looks uncomfortable, but 3-for-3 is 3-for-3. The best thing about Sweeney turning in a night like this is that it becomes easier rationalizing a roster spot for him. Sweeney hit fifth in the lineup and went 3-for-3, while a .184-hitting Ken Griffey, Jr. is somehow hitting in the third spot. Now hitting Sweeney fifth doesn't look bad, but putting Griffey in the third spot while he's hitting all of .184 makes for a proposition that's a lot harder to defend. If it's a tight game in the late innings, who's going to be pitching around a .184-hitting Griffey?
2) Jarrod Washburn
A few thousand people at the Safe hadn't even gotten into their seats before the Mariners had gotten down 2-0. The first game I attended at the Safe, we hadn't gotten into our seats yet and Jeff Fassero had spotted the Yankees a 5-0 lead. There was later a beanball/brushback war in the same game. Frankie Rodriguez was prominently involved, as were Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, and Chad Curtis. The roof was closed/extended. That game got out of hand on the scoreboard too, as the Mariners ended up having a fighting chance to win. In this game, though, Washburn put up goose eggs for the six remaining innings he was on the mound. Also, being the fast worker he is, the game lasted a mere two hours and 23 minutes despite the fact that he walked three hitters. He faced 29 batters to record 21 outs. He gave up two runs on five hits, striking out nine(!). He threw 62 strikes out of 103 total pitches. Today, the Mariners will complete three full turns through the starting rotation, and Washburn has made it through with a record of 3-0, a third of the Mariners' total wins. I wonder what the Mariners can get for him if he's 12-2 at the trade deadline. Odd thing about this game was that Washburn was split six apiece between groundouts and flyouts.
3) Rob Johnson
Yuniesky Betancourt was the other non-Sweeney Mariner hitter with a multi-hit game, but how often is Rob Johnson going to hit a two-run triple? Granted, Gabe Kapler was playing a wee bit shallow, but Johnson still has to chug it all the way to third base. That's a very long 270 feet for a catcher. It was Johnson's own Boston Marathon. Of course, Johnson also struck out twice, but we don't hear of pitchers not liking throwing to him and he's not making insane amounts of money for crap results (not that I'm alluding to any other of the Mariner catchers), and he grew up in the rough metroplex that is the Butte/Whitehall area of Montana. Other than the fact that he's getting the playing time that Jeff Clement ultimately should be getting, I don't mind Johnson so far at all. I wouldn't mind having some odd young'un catching duo of Johnson and Clement, but since this organization likes handing out stupid money to Kenji Johjima, that won't happen. Unless maybe Johjima's going to be injured for a pretty long time.
It isn't unknown that Beltre has been a slow starter in the past. Not the way to get started during a contract year. I can't argue with the defense, that's for sure. However, this team is depending on Beltre to produce at the plate, and to produce with some power, and neither has really happened yet, and we're nearly one-tenth into the season. Like with Washburn, I'm hoping he sets the league ablaze so the Mariners can trade him to a desperate playoff contender for awesome prospects and whatnot. As of now, though, not so much. Beltre went 0-for-4 and struck out twice, and he's hitting .185. Sure, we can talk about how indefensible Griffey batting third is when he's hitting .184, but Beltre has to be somewhere in the meat of the order regardless and he's only hitting .185. Griffey isn't necessarily an everyday player, but Beltre absolutely is. Maybe the other thing to consider is if Beltre has a substandard year, does it drive down his price enough so that maybe it becomes more palatable to the Mariners? I mean, I know it's early, but we can pretty much write off a 48-homer season like he had with the Dodgers in 2004, right?
Tonight's game will complete three turns through the Mariners' rotation, and we're not doing it with the Thunder from Down Under, but rather with the Lithuanian Laser. Or the J-Man. Or Big J. Or Big C.
This final game was a bit weird, though. It was kind of like two games in one. At the halfway point in the game, it looked like the Blues had absolutely nothing left. It looked like they'd thrown everything they had at Vancouver. Luckily for fans of the Blues and anyone that wanted a little bit of competition in this series, the Blues got up off the mat in the latter half of the second period. The Canucks weren't getting to a lot of the loose pucks like they had been for most of the series. The Blues, after repeatedly saying that they needed some bodies to get to the net, finally were making a bit of good on their words. In Game 3, the Blues were shooting for the blocker side on Luongo, and in Game 4, they managed to get someone there for the rebound. Brad Boyes' shot rebounded to Luongo's right, and Boyes skated over to put in his own rebound at the 13:30 mark of the second period. David Perron tipped in a puck to tie the game 3:24 later on a bit of a broken play. Bodies were flying everywhere, Luongo was way out of the net, and Alex Edler nearly saved a second goal in the game with his skate blade on the goal line.
It's good that the Blues showed a bit of moxie and pride to their fans on their home rink, because before that point in the game, it was just more disappointment. When the Canucks take early penalties, it usually throws off their early rhythm and line rolling. Steve Bernier went off 2:48 into the game for interference. Not even two minutes after that, Canuck penalty magnet Shane O'Brien went away for cross-checking. With under 90 seconds left in the period, key penalty killer Willie Mitchell went off for hooking, but the penalty itself was passable since it may have prevented a goal on a transition play. Much to the chagrin of Saint Louis fans, the result of all of the Canuck penalties was the same: no goals on the power play. Not even a minute after the early Bernier penalty had expired, Carlo Colaiacovo made a brutal turnover to his former Leaf teammate Kyle Wellwood, who skated all alone to the net and deked Chris Mason out of his equipment for an easy goal. The Mitchell penalty carried into the second period and expired, but Alex Burrows got called for a high stick 6:29 into the second period. Again, the Blues failed to capitalize. Again, the Canucks didn't take long to score at the other end. Shane O'Brien flung a puck toward the net and Burrows deflected it through Mason for the 2-0 goal, which looked like it could hold up as the put-away, demoralizing goal.
Of course, Saint Louis fans are going to crow about the disallowed goal which occurred with 1:54 remaining in the second period. Video replay, which I don't think had audio on it, showed the play devolving in front of the net, and eventually Luongo's left pad dipped a bit behind the goal line and Jay McClement got the puck into some white space. It looked like Luongo reached a breaking point on the play, like at some point he shut down, and that the puck went in after that. I think that could have been right after the whistle came. As for the rule of intent to blow the whistle counting just as well as blowing the whistle itself, I do think something has to be done about it, but I've seen a few of those go against the Canucks as well, and it isn't cool. But if your team went 0-for-7 on the power play, a disallowed goal like this isn't the only reason your team lost. I won't deny the Canucks lucked out at this point, and they were praying for the second period to end. I certainly was.
Speaking of the power play, Ryan Kesler looked like he was going to sprint across the Saint Louis blue line with some speed in overtime, and it appeared he got whistled for offside. I'm not sure if the call took too long or what, but that turned into a double-minor for high-sticking, and though I yelled at the television for the call, I couldn't do it after the replay. Kesler tried flinging his stick forward, and it caught former Canuck Mike Weaver's face and drew blood. The Blues didn't score on the resulting four-minute power play, and it ended before the four minutes elapsed because Colaiacovo took an ill-advised roughing penalty. That proved to be the final death knell in the series for the Blues. Saint Louis went 0-for-7 in the game on the power play and went 1-for-24 in the series.
Mats Sundin didn't dress for either of the two games in Saint Louis, and Sami Salo didn't dress in this game. Hopefully with what could be a week or nine days of rest, the Canucks can have those two draw back into the lineup. I'm not sure I was too comfortable with having Rick Rypien skate with Kesler and Pavol Demitra. I like what Sundin adds in terms of key faceoff wins and puck possession along the end boards in the offensive zone. Sami Salo's absence took away the booming slapshot on the power play, so it makes Vancouver a bit more one dimensional on the power play. Still, to me that just means Alex Edler needs to shoot more, not just on the power play, but at all times since he has the hardest shot on the team. In any event, with Salo out, Ossi Vaananen drew into the lineup, but Alain Vigneault's use of him was only in even-strength situations, and for only 8:17 of play. Vigneault relied heavily on Mattias Ohlund and Willie Mitchell, who were on the ice over 35 minutes. Kevin Bieksa nearly got to 35 minutes himself. Edler was on for 28:12, and O'Brien did 16:15 on the back pairing.
After Alex Burrows' 2-0 goal in Game 2, Canuck radio play-by-play man John Shorthouse's call was, "how many big goals can one man score?" I would say this has been a charmed season for Burrows, but he's worked really hard for all the good things that have happened to him this year. He had a 28-goal season with 23 assists, and now had three goals in this playoff series. He ended it with the overtime goal and an arrow-shot tribute to late Canuck defenseman Luc Bourdon.
If the Sharks manage to blow their series against the Ducks (or if the Red Wings have a monumental collapse from being up 3-0), the Canucks will have home-ice advantage in the second round. If the Sharks lose, the Canucks would get home-ice against the winner of the Chicago/Calgary series. If Calgary came back to win that series and we had Calgary/Vancouver, I don't know if I'll make it through that series alive. With how heated that rivalry is, you can throw out the seedings, throw out the fact that the Canucks swept their first-round opponent, throw out the season-series record, throw it all out and just play, even steven. When those teams get together, nothing that happened before matters. Of course, the Sharks could come back to win their series, which would land the Canucks in a series with the Detroit Red Wings. As I've said, the Canucks match up better with the Red Wings than the Sharks. That could be a fun series.
But now, we rest...
Monday, April 20, 2009
The Mariners picked up their fifth loss in their 13th game of the season (8-5). The 2001 team picked up their fifth loss in their 25th game of the season (20-5, their last game in April that year), so we can pretty much forget about that whole crazy thing unless the Mariners reel off 12 straight victories. Not likely.
Mariner hitters went 10-for-35, drawing zero walks and striking out six times. The Mariners pushed across two runs with those 10 hits, whereas the Tigers (with only two more hits) scored eight runs. Jose Lopez (double) and Ronny Cedeno (homer) accounted for the Mariners' only extra-base hits. Multi-hit games were turned in by Ichiro and Endy Chavez. Hitless games belonged to Ken Griffey, Jr. (0-for-4, bounced into a double play) and Jamie Burke (0-for-3 with a strikeout and a double-play ball). The team stranded six runners.
The Seattle bullpen threw the last four innings after Carlos Silva left. They gave up four runs (only one earned) on six hits, walking two and striking out four. Miguel Batista has a habit of having the roof falling in when he's on the mound, and usually it's his fault. This time, however, it wasn't entirely Batista's fault thanks to the Yuniesky Betancourt Errorfest 2009. That aside, it's not Yuniesky Betancourt's who's giving up a double to Ramon freakin' Santiago. A double to the number-eight hitter? Really? Come on. I hope Batista's serial-killer novels are better than his pitching. One thing's for sure: whether it's Batista's books or his pitching, there is murder involved.
How come we haven't come up with a top-flight nickname for Ichiro yet? I guess Japanese Jackhammer would have to be a slugger's nickname. Hmm. Anyway, the Mariners' rightfielder and leadoff hitter rebounded from an 0-for-4 (with an airmail throw home) by going 2-for-4. Though he helped set the table for the rest of the lineup, he was never driven in by any of the subsequent Mariner hitters. The countdown to 200 hits is on, no doubt about that, but the bad thing is that we already know that Ichiro having an insane season doesn't necessarily translate into awesomeness for the Mariners as a whole. The Mariners went to the playoffs the first two years he was here, and 2003 was frustrating but passable. The 2007 season was a tease, but the Mariners were still an 88-win team. Basically, Ichiro's been nothing short of awesome in his eight seasons here, and the Mariners have been great for three of those seasons, decent in one of those seasons, and complete crap in the other four. Ichiro can break the hits record, but the team can completely suck. One awesome leadoff hitter does not a good team make, unfortunately.
2) Endy Chavez
Another two-hit game means another entry in the gameball section for Chavez. Though he struck out twice, he did go 2-for-4 with an RBI (with two outs), accounting for half of the Mariners' runs. We're 13 games into the season, and Chavez is hitting .392. In other words, the Mariners have Ichiro in the lineup, and they also have another everyday player hitting .392. That's fun. Errorfest aside, Betancourt is another everyday player, and he's hitting .302. Of course, the bad thing is that this team is hardly homer happy. The worse thing is probably the erratic starting pitching, but I'll talk about that later. Like I've said about having Chavez bat second, I think it's a good idea while Chavez is hitting well, and it puts less pressure on Franklin Gutierrez to produce offensively. Incidentally, Gutierrez went 1-for-3 in this game and was driven in by Chavez. Maybe the only thing I could nitpick Chavez for is that I think he had a chance on that double into the leftcenter gap by Ramon Santiago that more than broke the game. Still, Miguel Batista threw the pitch...
3) Ronny Cedeno
The only home run of the game belonged to the Mariners' new Mark McLemore. Cedeno has proven to be a very worthy defensive player, and I can't believe that ball flew over the fence. It looked like he just reached down and hit a fly ball. I waited for it to come down, and it was in the visitors' bullpen. It's too bad nobody was on base, or else the Mariners would have had the lead on that homer, and the game would have been a ton more interesting. Also, I'd be talking later about how Carlos Silva blew a lead instead of just talking about Silva being Silva. Of course, Cedeno won't be quite as appreciated by some of the fanbase since he's not local and words like "grit" and "hustle" aren't the first words that come to mind when you think about Cedeno, but if you do use those words, don't they just cover for the fact that the player isn't good? In hockey, I'd be able to use the grit/hustle guy on my fourth line for an energy shift and maybe throw his weight around and swing the momentum of the game. In baseball, I still want that grit/hustle guy to PRODUCE.
I guess the scary part is that we've seen worse performances out of Silva, and that Silva giving up four runs in a start probably is about average. I can't remember whether it was Dave Niehaus, Dave Sims, or Mike Blowers who said it, but someone said "Silva doesn't really have a strikeout pitch, he just pitches to contact" while one of the Tigers had an at-bat that lasted well over 10 pitches. Silva gave up four runs on six hits in his five innings of work, walking one and striking out none. He threw 54 strikes out of 94 total pitches. Two of the six hits given up by Silva were doubles. This guy and Bedard are going to put so much strain on the bullpen that it's almost good that Tyler Johnson and Chad Cordero are on injury rehab right now. The Mariners might need fresh arms in a couple months when name-your-two-bullpen-arms are going through some rough patches since they're overworked. I just worry about how fragile the starting pitching is and how that can result in a fragile bullpen. Right now, the bullpen in a lot of ways is completely screwed for the next four days if Felix Hernandez doesn't get through seven innings or the Mariners don't have an upcoming off day somewhere on their schedule.
Oh no, the AL champion Rays are coming in? Will the Mariners still be above .500 at the end of the week? Jarrod Washburn will try to have a say in that tomorrow.
Of course, this had to be expected from the Blues. The Canucks were coming into a hostile building, the Blues were down two games in the series, and you'd have to think any team in Saint Louis' situation would feed off the crowd and throw some weight around from the start to set the tone. There were definitely a lot of hits, that's for sure. It wasn't 2.5 minutes after the Backes goal before Mattias Ohlund was sent off for cross-checking. A penalty kill was imperative at that point since a 2-0 Blues lead would make it pretty tough for the Canucks to come back and win this game. Instead, they killed that. About five minutes later, Daniel Sedin was sent away for high-sticking. Not so bad, until Willie Mitchell got called for a four-minute high-stick. With that, the Canucks had to dust off their crazy penalty killing skills from Game 1 so they could dodge this 1:26-long two-man advantage for the Blues. Somehow, they did, which is difficult considering Mitchell is one of the Canucks' top penalty-killing guys, but he was sitting in the box serving all this penalty time.
With that, the Canucks had gotten through the worst that the Blues had dished out, and they were only down 1-0 after 20 minutes. From there, the Canucks took advantage of the Blues' lack of discipline. Mattias Ohlund's one-timer that leaked through the five hole on Chris Mason tied the game 35 seconds into Jay McClement's slashing penalty. Then it got crazy with Brandon Crombeen's slashing penalty being followed 51 seconds later by McClement again, this time for holding Ryan Kesler's stick. The resulting 5-on-3 had its shots, and it looked fairly benign until Jay McKee was trying to shove a loose puck to Chris Mason for the cover-up, but instead Daniel Sedin wedged his way into the play and shoved the puck through Mason's legs.
Canuck fans like me at that point were hoping the Vancouver defense would tighten up and be able to hold this 2-1 lead until the end of the period. Part of the reason for that is because the Canucks never lost in regulation during the season when they took a lead into the third period. Instead, David Perron from the right corner made a pinpoint pass through the slot to Andy McDonald on the back door, who roofed it past Luongo after having hit posts three times in Game 2. Kyle Wellwood (with his stick in the air) was the only defender near McDonald on the play, so it wasn't exactly a shining moment for the defense. A skirmish at the end of the third period landed Crombeen in the penalty box once again, but he was the only one to get called. The Canucks came out of the dressing room with the power play and made good 1:41 into it. Sami Salo's getting up in age, and it's entirely possible he was trying to hit the net with his shot but was way off. I also think it's possible Salo did it on purpose. Nonetheless, the puck banked off the end boards and went right to Henrik Sedin beside the net, who quickly flipped the puck across the crease to a wide-open Steve Bernier for what held up as the winner.
Before the halfway mark of the third period, the Canucks were tagged for two more penalties, closely enough for Saint Louis to have 1:03 of two-man advantage time. Further consider that Ryan Kesler and Willie Mitchell, two of the team's best penalty killers, were the guys that got penalized. The remaining cast of Alex Burrows, Ryan Johnson, and the remaining defensemen (and even the Sedin twins for puck possession purposes) held down the fort for the penalty-kill unit. I don't know how they keep doing it, but I can't argue with the results. This penalty kill hasn't been quite this good all season, and it hasn't been this good since the 2007 playoff run (the kill was the NHL's best that season).
I guess the funny thing about this series is that everyone was talking about how much it was to the Blues' advantage to be on the power play (their penalty kill was very good as well) while the Canucks' strength was five-on-five hockey. While I won't dispute that I'd rather have the Canucks playing five-on-five, all three of their goals in this game were on the power play. The Blues have scored one of their three goals on the power play in the series. Saint Louis' power play that was great during the regular season has gone 1-for-17 in this series. Obviously, this means the Canuck penalty kill which ended the season run-of-the-mill (they picked it up toward the end) has killed 16 of 17 penalties.
I've been saying I think the Blues can't possibly get swept in this series, and I guess if they have anything left in them, they'll push this series back to Vancouver for Game 5. They might throw Paul Kariya and his two new hips into the lineup, but it might be too late. Kariya's probably the only thing the Blues haven't thrown at Vancouver. It's going to take an incredible collapse for the Canucks to lose four straight and punt the series away, but being up 3-0 isn't exactly setting yourself up for failure.
Big thanks to Team 1040 and the Canucks Radio Network for bringing Sports Radio 950 KJR-AM and western Washington along for the ride in Game 3.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
I guess with a decent throw on the Ichiro airmail play, we're looking at a 1-0 Mariner loss rather than a 2-0 Mariner loss. Still, on a day where he went 0-for-4 and struck out twice, it didn't look good and wasn't a good day for the Mariners' leadoff hitter.
With Franklin Gutierrez representing the tying run at the plate and Rob Johnson at first base... what I'm hoping happened is that Gutierrez missed a hit-and-run sign, he didn't swing, and Johnson was dead meat at second. What I'm hoping wasn't the case was that Johnson was told to steal straight away. In-his-prime Jason Kendall is the exception, not the rule. There's no way the catcher should be taking off on a straight steal, especially when your team is down two runs with the tying run at the plate. The other baserunning oddity of the game, of course, was sending Jose Lopez from third on a sacrifice fly. At least it took a near-perfect throw to nail him, but I hardly think of Lopez as a guy I'd be too comfortable with sending on a shallow sacrifice fly.
Ken Griffey, Jr. came to the plate representing the tying run and made contact, hitting a ball into the air on the right side. Dave Sims got some excitement in his voice, then the camera totally did the Coors Field thing. When Coors was a complete launchpad, the camerapeople there would do their thing rather than the usual -- the usual would be to have the shot with the outfielder in the frame, then they'd gauge the reaction and position of the fielder and see whether the ball was going to leave the yard. Since there were so many homers at Coors, the camera usually followed the fly ball in the air as it came down, so it almost seemed like every homer was a moon shot and a rainmaker. Whoever was on camera was totally trying to milk that Griffey ball and tried to hope it went out, but it was nowhere close to the warning track, let alone the rightfield seats.
Do I feel like writing a paragraph on where Mike Sweeney completely whiffed on that pickoff throw to first? I could probably get a paragraph out of it somehow, but... it is what it is.
Mariner hitting combined to go only 5-for-30 in the game, with Endy Chavez hitting a double for the team's only extra-base hit. Only Rob Johnson had a multi-hit game, while Chavez, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Franklin Gutierrez grabbed one hit apiece. That leaves the remaining five hitters in the Seattle lineup with hitless nights. Additionally, Mariner hitters struck out seven times, with only Griffey, Adrian Beltre, and Johnson avoiding the strikeout. The Mariners were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, but it's not like there were many runners to begin with. This was just one of those nights.
I'll cover the starting pitching below. The Mariner bullpen (Roy Corcoran/Sean White) faced 11 hitters to get nine outs. The bullpen gave up two hits, walked one, and struck out one. They recorded six groundouts and one flyout. The Tigers weren't exactly ripping the cover off the ball, but the Mariners weren't making good contact on the ball.
1) Rob Johnson
Looks like I have to temper my argument for Jeff Clement for just one night here. As noted above, I really don't think Johnson took off from first on his own accord. In any event, Johnson is from the Butte/Whitehall metroplex in Montana. Having driven I-90/94 through Montana quite a few times, I can conclusively say that Butte is a dump. There are some old mining-era mansions downtown and a giant open-pit mine, so hooray. They also may or may not still have a pretty bad meth problem (I saw a Current TV newspod on this). This message was not approved by the chamber of commerce in Butte, as you may have surmised. The main reason Johnson is in the first gameball spot is that I think it'll be quite rare to see him nabbing the multi-hit games. If I don't give him the gameball now, he may never get one. One of Johnson's hits was a nice hit-and-run behind the runner to rightfield. Bonus points to Johnson for not having a swing that's as hard an uncomfortable to watch as Mike Sweeney's swing. I'm not an expert on a balanced swing or anything, but Sweeney's swing looks really unbalanced, unsmooth, and inefficient. It looks like it's hard for him to swing.
2) Erik Bedard
After how ridiculously awesome his last start was, I was expecting an average outing or worse from Bedard. What we saw was slightly above average, I'd have to say. He faced 27 hitters to get 18 outs (six innings). He gave up seven hits (one double), walked two, and struck out eight. He recorded four groundouts and six flyouts. I'd think it has to be boring to play defense behind Bedard -- put that all together, there were 10 outs recorded in play (the seven hits were also in play), but eight weren't (strikeouts), and two hitters walked. Maybe that's what surprised Ichiro in the scoring inning (sixth). Maybe Bedard allows you enough time to daydream about taking batting practice off "the closer." Of course, there's nothing like having Carlos Silva throw the next day to wake up the defenders from the Bedard doldrums. Maybe the biggest gripe about Bedard's line for this game is the seven hits. The hook's there, as evidenced by the eight strikeouts, but the pinpoint control isn't necessarily there, as evidenced by the 100 pitches over six innings.
3) Roy Corcoran
After his icky outing the other night, Corcoran had much better results this time. He faced only one hitter over the minimum in his two innings of work, and that extra hitter was walked. He gave up one hit and struck out one. He got three groundouts and one flyout. It seemed like his pitches were pretty effectively hitting the lower part of the strike zone. Corcoran threw 16 of his 24 pitches for strikes. Normally you might say that Corcoran's relief was of a decent amount of pressure since he was keeping the Mariners close at two runs behind. Psychologically, though, I knew and felt there wasn't much chance of the Mariners coming back on Edwin Jackson. That was before I saw Fernando Rodney blow a fastball past Ken Griffey, Jr. Needless to say, his running speed isn't what it used to be, but the bat speed isn't there like it used to be either. The one good thing about this game is that it broke the recent trend of the bullpen usually having one guy a night have a bad outing. Baby steps. You have to look for positives in a 2-0 loss.
There were five hitless Mariners in the lineup for this game. Ichiro led them all in strikeouts, so that's a factor. Adrian Beltre had that highlight-reel defensive play that was the #2 Web Gem of the night, whereas Ichiro airmailed the throw home on the only scoring play of the game. I don't think he had a chance at the lead runner, but that's a good way to make sure you don't have a chance at either runner. When I played outfield as a youngster, my arm sucked, so the only guy I could airmail was the cutoff man. That aside, Ichiro was 0-for-4 with the two strikeouts. As the tablesetter for this team, if Ichiro's not going, it makes it that much harder for the team to score runs. As for being in the outfield, Ichiro's only been back for a few days now, so maybe he has to get his sea legs back. It's odd that I'm talking about Ichiro's brutal throw to the plate happening in the same game where Endy Chavez gunned down Curtis Granderson trying to score. Ultimately, Ichiro's error didn't really matter since the Mariners didn't score at all, but you'd really just rather not have the error.
Carlos Silva? Who really wants Monday watercooler chat about how Silva did on Sunday? Yikes.