Monday, May 03, 2010
I'm not sure if the three straight bullpen meltdowns in Chicago were more demoralizing than this Texas series to open the homestand. Two great starting pitching outings were wasted and the ace wasn't totally on his game, though the supposedly dependable defense let him down. This game was a lot like the Cliff Lee game from Friday night except the Mariners actually scored one run and somehow had the lead. The starting pitching is pretty much the only phase of this game for the Mariners that can't be blamed. You can't really blame it on one thing. The bullpen and the passed balls could be blamed, but is any of that even a factor if the offense is worth anything? Something else that's bothersome is that the Mariners are starting not to get the bounces again, and that's something I hoped I wouldn't have to say after the 2-6 start to the season.
-- I'll talk about the starting pitching in the gameballs. Nice job, Doug Fister.
-- now for the bullpen. David Aardsma came in to take a 1-0 lead to the bank in the ninth. Elvis Andrus eked out a nine-pitch walk, then stole second base on the second pitch to Michael Young. Aardsma got Young to whiff on a fastball that was half a foot outside for strike three, a huge strikeout. The euphoria was short-lived as David Murphy promptly drove a single to center to score Andrus and tie the game at 1-1. The second pitch to Josh Hamilton was in the dirt, and Rob Johnson somehow blocked it. The ball rolled in front of the plate and Johnson gunned down Murphy trying to advance to second. This play shows up in the ESPN.com play-by-play as a "runner's fielder's choice" and I guess it's not exactly a caught stealing. Hamilton flew out to end the inning and Aardsma's outing. Ian Kinsler welcomed Brandon League into the game with an infield single. A bunt and a groundout moved Kinsler to third, but League got a key lineout from pinch-hitting Andres Blanco to end the inning. Mark Lowe gave up a leadoff single to Julio Borbon, who moved to second on a passed ball (this will be discussed below) and was bunted over to third. Young was up again in a key situation and went down swinging. Murphy again came up in a key situation and came up roses again, flying out deep enough to left to score Borbon and give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. Josh Hamilton singled to move Andrus to third, and Andrus scored on another passed ball to cap the scoring at 3-1. Kinsler was intentionally walked before a Garko flyout ended the inning.
-- the bullpen rest bulletin: Aardsma, League, and Lowe threw in this game and will have a day of rest going into Tuesday's game against Tampa Bay. Kanekoa Texeira and Jesus Colome will have two days of rest, Sean White will have three days of rest, and Ian Snell will have six days of rest and presumably be sufficiently rested for bullpen work.
-- let's talk about offensive futility. Again. A broken-bat single put Milton Bradley on first with one out in the second inning. Casey Kotchman had a nine-pitch at-bat but struck out, then Eric Byrnes watched as Bradley was gunned down at second base on a fastball of a throw from catcher Max Ramirez, ending the inning. In the third, Johnson walked with one out (since he can't hit himself aboard), moved to second on a groundout, and was ultimately stranded there by Ichiro. After the Mariners had scored their only run of the game, they continued the fourth inning with Franklin Gutierrez on first base and nobody out. A Jose Lopez double pushed Gutierrez to third. Bradley reached for a pitch and flew out to left, but not deep enough to plate Gutierrez. Kotchman took a ball to the right ribcage to load the bases before Byrnes was caught looking on an outside-ish pitch and Johnson hit a fairly deep fly ball to center that was nicely run down by Borbon. In the fifth, Jack Wilson led off with a single before Ichiro grounded into a double play, his first of the season, and apparently from the FSNNW broadcast we found out that Ichiro GIDP'd only once all of last season. Gutierrez walked on four pitches to start the sixth, but two fielder's choices made it so no runner got to second, and another groundout ended the inning. In the eighth, Figgins walked and stole second before Gutierrez walked behind him. In an example of bounces not going the Mariners' way, Lopez stung a ball to the right side that would have been a nice single if not for Justin Smoak being right where the ball was hit. Figgins was doubled off at second.
-- the Mariner offense had a runner aboard with less than two outs in every inning from the second to the sixth, and they did again in the eighth. The disturbing thing is that once the Rangers tied the game in the ninth inning, the offense folded like a cheap tent. The Mariners sent 10 hitters to the plate in the final three innings and nine of them made outs. Thanks to Figgins for drawing that two-out walk in the 10th.
-- the Mariners had some moments of defensive prowess in the game. Gutierrez had a nice play on a Murphy fly to end the fourth that required him to run quite a ways toward the wall to make the play (Borbon pretty much duplicated this play later in the game for Texas). The defensive play of the game, however, was by far the Ichiro homer-robbing catch off Justin Smoak. Ichiro didn't Spider-Man it, but he did inch up to the wall before leaping with the glove above the yellow line and pulling the ball down with him. Though I didn't like seeing the Mariners like they did, Ichiro made me glad I watched the game and saw that play. Unfortunately, Fister's perfect game ended three pitches later, but Ichiro did his part to keep it going.
-- Ichiro went 0-for-5, leaving him at 33-for-104 (.317) on the season and putting him on pace for a 214-hit season. He went 0-for-8 in the final two games of the series. I would have easily given him the goat entry since the ignition of the offense has a great deal to do with him, but he took a Texas run off the board by himself with that catch.
-- now, the Ichiro/Figgins stat. Ichiro again went hitless, which of course means Figgins scored a run and got a hit along with two walks. They just can't get it going together. The Mariners remain 7-1 when both players score and are 4-5 when both collect hits.
Yr W-L Pct GB
2001 20-5 .800 --
2002 18-7 .720 2
2003 16-9 .640 4
2009 15-10 .600 5
2000 14-11 .560 6
2007 13-12 .520 7
2005 12-13 .480 8
2008 12-13 .480 8
2010 11-14 .440 9
2006 10-15 .400 10
2004 9-16 .360 11
1) Doug Fister
The Mariners' fourth starter was masterful in this game. He retired the first 16 Ranger hitters he faced, with the 16th out being the Smoak fly that Ichiro brought back into the field of play. Mathematically, one could argue he should have been sent to the mound for the ninth inning to finish what he started, but by that point he was starting to fall behind the hitters, so I can agree with the decision to have Aardsma come out for the ninth. One good thing for the Mariners' rotation is that Fister dodged the Vladimir Guerrero line drive up the middle that could have done some physical damage to Fister had it hit him. That single moved pinch-runner Craig Gentry to third, marking the first time in the game the Rangers had advanced a runner safely past first base. Fourteen groundouts and six flyouts reads like any great boxscore for Fister. You can't really argue with 27 up and 24 down. At least Fister had a 1-0 lead when he left the game. Cliff Lee wasn't lucky enough to have such a wide margin for error. I can't imagine any of the starting pitchers having any confidence at all in this offense. They're awful, and I think what will turn out to be a normal day for the offense will be closer to this vat of suck than it will be to what we saw in the first Mariner homestand.
2) Chone Figgins
The Mariners' second baseman went 1-for-3 in the game, scoring the Mariners' only run and walking twice. The FSNNW crew brought up during the game that Figgins has amassed more walks than hits so far this season. To that effect, Figgins is a .209 hitter on the season, but he has an on-base percentage of .349, behind only Gutierrez out of the Mariner regulars other than Rob Johnson. Once again, Ichiro and Figgins lack the synergy this team so desperately needs right now, and in this game Figgins was hitting without Ichiro to move over to third base or home. Once the Mariners got Figgins, I had all these dancing images in my head of first-to-third play involving Ichiro and Figgins. One would hope those images will soon become reality, or else this offense will sink this team.
3) Franklin Gutierrez
The Mariners' centerfielder walked twice and went 1-for-2, driving in the only Seattle run of the game. He also made a nice running catch on a fly ball by Murphy. I haven't seen enough yet to say he's officially out of his mini-slump, but this game went a long way toward busting the slump. This guy nearly hit 20 homers last year, so I'm still hoping the power stroke comes around. I don't expect him to hit 20 homers again, but the pace has to be better than it currently is. Of course, he wouldn't be able to hit 20 homers anyway with nobody hitting behind him in the lineup. If just one more hitter behind Gutierrez was hitting well, it would make a world of difference for this team. Still, it's frustrating for me to watch this offense knowing that the odd home run just doesn't happen. You can't just sit there watching a nothing inning and be pleasantly surprised by a Russell Branyan home run because Russell Branyan ain't walkin' through that door. The problem with this team, though, is that they need a lot of oars moving in the right direction just to score one run, let alone many runs, and this offense just can't string things together unless those things are outs.
The word "catcher" has the word "catch" in it. Johnson had two balls go cleanly off his glove in the 11th inning. No foul tip, no bounce off the ground, just cleanly off his glove. I'd be willing to look the other way a little bit if he was hitting .250 or something, but he's not. He's hitting .171 with a wonky on-base percentage of .375 (must be walks). He can't hit, and as we saw in the 11th inning, he apparently can't catch either. His ony redeeming quality as a player is that Felix Hernandez seems to throw well with him back there, and I'm not too sure anymore how much that has to do with Johnson being back there since Felix is awesome regardless. Also, Felix spikes some stuff in the dirt back there, and since Johnson can't catch or block balls very well at all, I'm not sure it's that great a mix to have back there. Manager Don Wakamatsu was a catcher in his playing days, and the catching situation on this ballclub has to make him nauseous. Dan Wilson, even though he cuoldn't hit that great except for a year or two, is the gold standard for this franchise behind the plate. If there's a spectrum for catching in this franchise, Johnson right now is at the end opposite of Wilson, further away than even Miguel Olivo, Wiki Gonzalez, Ben Davis, et al. Awful.
Shields. Vargas. Tomorrow.