Sunday, May 16, 2010
Ah, new and exciting ways to lose. Oh wait, maybe it wasn't new and exciting at all. A loss on the road in the opponents' final at-bat isn't really a rare thing for the Mariners. Of course, while this can be blamed on the bullpen (their 2009 probably raised our expectations to unrealistic levels for 2010), one can't help but think the bullpen wouldn't have as many problems if, say, the Mariners scored more runs when they had the chances. If the Mariners go 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position in this game instead of 0-for-7 (like they did), this game probably ends up a lot differently. Who are we kidding? The Mariners got a big stroke of luck in Friday's game when Mike Sweeney's homer pushed the lead to 4-1. That may have used up their luck quotient for about a week. Of course, what hurts about this outing again is that Jason Vargas pitched wonderfully but didn't get the win. Vargas left the game with two runners aboard, and the two following pitchers in the inning let those two runners across to tie the game. Vargas' 2-0 lead didn't even last through the end of the eighth.
-- the Mariners got a stroke of really bad luck in the eighth when Adam Moore got aboard with an infield single and stretched his front leg out to touch first base. He looked to have slammed his heel pretty hard into the ground on the play. The trainers came out to attend to Moore, who stayed in the game. Ichiro then ripped what looked to be a sure double. Moore pulled up lame about 15 feet away from second base and hopped safely to the bag. This of course means Ichiro didn't get to second base and in fact had to throw on the brakes and slide back into first base. What should have easily been two runners in scoring position with one out instead was runners at first and second with one out. Sure enough, Chone Figgins grounded into a double play on the first pitch. Nice job, Figgins. Of course, I also can't help but think of what kind of crazy double play Figgins would have hit into if Moore hadn't been injured. It's also too bad for Moore since he had progressed to not looking completely overmatched at the plate lately. If Moore's injured badly enough, we may be looking at Josh Bard to make the big club. Of course, the organization will probably bypass him for Guillermo freakin' Quiroz.
-- the Mariners had a 2-0 lead into through 7 1/2 innings, but let's not forget the fact that James Shields mastered the Mariners' lineup once again. In Seattle, Shields gave up two more hits than in this game, but the rest of the line was similar: two runs, no walks, ten strikeouts. The Mariners of course blew many chances, which is easy to surmise from their 0-for-7 mark with runners in scoring position. In the first, Figgins somehow doubled and was moved to third on a botched pickoff attempt, then scored when Franklin Gutierrez whiffed on a pitch that got away from the catcher. Mike Sweeney then singled to move Gutierrez to third with one out. Jose Lopez then grounded to short to force Sweeney out at second, then Matt Tuiasosopo (who looks completely overmatched at the big-league level offensively) tapped in front of the plate to end the inning. Ichiro singled to lead off the third, but then Figgins lined out to short and Gutierrez grounded into a double play to end the inning. Moore then snapped Shields' streak of 12 straight retired Mariners with his infield single to lead off the eighth. I spent the previous paragraph talking about how that ended. In the ninth, Gutierrez drew a leadoff walk but advanced no further thanks to the next three hitters' futility.
-- time to talk about the nightmare eighth. Jason Vargas, who had thrown seven great innings, was on to throw an eighth. Rob Johnson was now behind the plate, so that probably threw a wrinkle into things. Bossman Junior Upton got aboard on an infield single, then stole second, prompting Tim McCarver to talk about stealing off a catcher with a fresh arm. Dioner Navarro then singled to move Upton to third with nobody out. With Vargas' pitch count at 90, Don Wakamatsu pulled Vargas for Brandon League. Reid Brignac came on to pinch hit. He fouled off the first two pitches, took two balls, then fouled off three more pitches before reaching for a pitch down and in and putting it into centerfield for a single to cut the Mariners' lead to 2-1. What happened to the most swung-at-and-missed pitch in the Majors? Jason Bartlett then bunted the runners over to second and third. Carl Crawford was intentionally walked to load the bases, then Wakamatsu pulled League for Sean White, which seemed like an awful idea to me. Ben Zobrist got ahead 2-0 and popped high to left on the 3-1 pitch. I later watched Baseball Tonight and I think it was Bucky Showalter that thought Michael Saunders in leftfield hadn't gotten enough of a run behind the catch to get off a harder throw, and I'd have to say I agree. The throw home wasn't that bad of a throw, it just could have used more gas, and it didn't beat pinch-runner Sean Rodriguez to the plate. Thus, the game was tied 2-2 before Evan Longoria weakly lined out just foul of the third-base bag on a diving play by Lopez.
-- as for the ninth, it was pretty quick. Jesus Colome fell behind 2-0 on Willy Aybar, then put a strike across, then Aybar fouled off the 2-2 pitch. The count went full, and while Colome didn't want to put the winning run aboard with a walk, I'm guessing he probably wasn't trying to throw a waist-high fastball right over the plate either. The latter is exactly what was served up, and Aybar destroyed the pitch, ending the game and bringing out the stage crew to set up for Nelly.
-- the bullpen rest bulletin: League, White, and Colome threw in this game, none of whom appeared in Friday's game. Going into Sunday's game, Kanekoa Texeira, Shawn Kelley, and David Aardsma will have a day of rest. Ian Snell will have three days of rest after having thrown 55 pitches in three innings on Wednesday.
-- now, the Ichiro/Figgins stat. Ichiro got two hits while Figgins had one. Only Figgins scored. Thus, the Mariners remain 7-1 when both players score, but are now 6-9 when they both collect hits.
-- since his homer in the final game of the Baltimore series, Michael Saunders has gone 0-for-8 with five strikeouts. Soneone go back to Baltimore and find his bat!
-- with how well Shields was throwing, Saunders wasn't alone on the multi-strikeout train as Tuiasosopo and Josh Wilson struck out twice apiece. The only Mariner starters not striking out in the game were Sweeney and Lopez.
1) Jason Vargas
It was yet another wasted start by the Mariners, and this time the victim was Vargas. He left the game with two runners on and nobody out with a 2-0 lead in the eighth inning, then saw said lead evaporate and his ERA inflate. In fact, Vargas set down the first 12 hitters he faced before Longoria broke up the perfect game with a leadoff single in the fifth. He was doubled off on the next hitter, but Carlos Pena then singled before the inning ended. The sixth saw Vargas give up a leadoff walk to Navarro, but Navarro advanced no further. Vargas allowed only a two-out walk in the seventh. Then came the eighth, but I discussed that above. Vargas' average per-start line: 6 2/3 innings, 2.3 runs (2.1 earned), 4.6 hits, 1.9 walks, 4.7 strikeouts, 96 pitches (61 strikes), 5.6 groundouts, 7.6 flyouts. He has gotten into the seventh inning in each of his last five starts. This season, he remains with a 3-1 record with two no-decisions in which the Mariners went on to lose. He's probably pitched well enough to be 6-1 or at least 5-1.
2) Mike Sweeney
He's getting starts against righthanders at designated hitter, and he's shown no signs of slowing. He homered in this game, making it homers in three straight games. As you might expect, this has led to talk and speculation about Ken Griffey Jr. being asked to retire or resign by the end of May. It doesn't help Griffey that Sweeney is basically making him obsolete. Unless Griffey gets one last miracle, the Mariners aren't better served by having him on the roster. I saw how a very experienced manager like Lou Piniella did when he was basically handed a 24-man roster in 2002. If you recall, Luis Ugueto was a Rule 5 guy that year, and the brass wanted to couch-surf him to keep him in the minor-league system. This hamstrung what Piniella could do that year. In much the same way, Wakamatsu is facing this same kind of problem, though with more of a pinch-hitter than a pinch-runner type of player. I'd love Matt Stairs in the same spot Griffey is in right now. He'd definitely be more of a power threat.
The Mariners' rightfielder and leadoff hitter went 2-for-4 and is now 54-for-150 (.360) on the season. After an 0-for-4 game against the Angels on May 7th, Ichiro sat with a .308 batting average. Since then, he's gone on a seven-game streak of multi-hit games, going 17-for-30 (.567) over that span. Granted, a good deal of these are infield singles, but who cares? He still ends up on first base, so who cares how he does it? By the way, Ichiro is currently on pace for a 243-hit season. I hope Ichiro stays healthy and eventually gets his 3000th Major League hit. If he did, he'd be a lock for the Hall of Fame. He kinda should be already, seeing as to how the Hall of Fame isn't an exclusively Major League Baseball Hall of Fame or anything like that. Anyway, I'll say once again that I wish this offense went where Ichiro went, but they need more cogs clicking in the lineup behind him. The team's had trouble stringing together hits all season, and it's not only trashing some great starting pitching, it's trashing some quality offense from Ichiro. The Mariners have a record of 3-4 over Ichiro's current multi-hit game streak.
The Mariners' third baseman and supposed power hitter failed to join in the hitting in the game, going 0-for-4 and falling to a .212 batting average on the year. You know it's bad when a guy that should be one of your best power hitters is instead trailing Ichiro in home runs on the season. What's going to get this guy going? Maybe Wakamatsu should push Lopez back in the batting order until he shows progress. He was the fifth hitter on the lineup card for this game. Again, one can't help but wonder how well this team would be saying if Lopez was simply below average instead if completely sucking. If Wakamatsu switched Figgins and Lopez on defense and they both magically started hitting .250 for no apparent reason, I'd leave those two at those positions. It shouldn't matter, but it might. Lopez is currently a .212 hitter with an on-base percentage of .242 and a slugging percentage of .274. The slugging percentage is better than only Figgins out of all the Mariner regulars.
Lee. Garza. Today.