Sunday, June 20, 2010
This was more like we'd imagined the season. Mariner fans would pray for train for three out of every five days, then the opposition would get Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez back-to-back and have to deal with it. The Mariners have now won three straight as a result, something they haven't done since the beginning of June. Though many teams haven't felt the full wrath of this combination when facing the Mariners, the Cincinnati Reds fell victim to a successful execution of the Mariners' blueprint to winning. Somewhere the Mariners found said blueprint, dusted it off, and won themselves a series at home against the Reds with the possibility of sweeping with a win on Sunday afternoon. While Cliff Lee did it almost all by himself on Friday night, Felix Hernandez got a decent output from the offense. Thus, you could say the Mariners won with the help of their offense in this game, as opposed to Friday night, when Lee won in spite of the Mariners' offense. Anyway, with a win on Sunday, the Mariners will have only their second four-game winning streak of the season. The bad news is that four games amounts to the longest winning streak the team has had this season.
-- the starting pitching will be addressed below
-- the bullpen rest bulletin: the entire bullpen had a second straight night off. Going into Sunday's game, Brandon League and David Aardsma will have three days of rest, Shawn Kelley and Garrett Olson will have four days of rest, Chad Cordero and Sean White will have five days of rest, and Brian Sweeney will be ever-patiently waiting to appear in the big leagues for the first time in four years.
-- as for the offense, there were two innings of goodness. In the third, Ichiro line-drove a homer just beyond the rightfield wall to put the Mariners ahead 1-0. In the sixth, the big inning smiled upon the Mariners as they scored four times to get a bit of comfort for Felix. Jose Lopez led off by singling on an 0-2 pitch. Franklin Gutierrez then doubled just inside the bag down the leftfield line, pushing Lopez to third. One out later, Casey Kotchman was given the open base at first (intentional walk -- they must have really thought he could lift a fly ball or get a hit, double-play chance be damned). With the bases loaded, Rob Johnson got enough wood on a pitch, flying out deep enough to centerfield to score Lopez and move Gutierrez to third, putting the Mariners ahead 2-0. Then Michael Saunders jumped on the first pitch he saw, ringing it off an auxiliary scoreboard under the Hit It Here Cafe to cap the scoring at 5-1.
-- as for blown chances, Chone Figgins got aboard with an infield single with one out in the first, but Milton Bradley and Lopez were caught looking. Figgins stole second on the Bradley strikeout, but the inning was still blown. With one out in the second, Josh Wilson doubled down the rightfield line and it bounced over the fence. After Kotchman grounded out to the pitcher, Johnson stung a ball to the right side, only to be robbed by a diving Joey Votto at first base, keeping the game scoreless (note: Johnson was also robbed on a high-chopping grounder that ended the eighth, and he was out only due to a barehanded Web Gem-nominated play and throw by a charging Scott Rolen). I don't usually say it's a blown chance if everything occurs with two outs, but in the fifth, Ichiro and Figgins hit consecutive singles, only for Bradley to pop out to short. The seventh was more of a Marinerlike inning. Figgins singled to lead off, then was erased on a Bradley grounded (Figgins stopped in his tracks and moved back toward first, and Brandon Phillips had to chase him down). Lopez then grounded into an around-the-horn double play to end the inning.
-- now, the Ichiro/Figgins stat: only Ichiro scored. Ichiro had two hits and Figgins had three, so the pair combined for five of the Mariners' 10 hits. The Mariners remain 10-4 when both players score and are now 13-20 when both collect hits.
1) Felix Hernandez
The guy definitely had it working. Sometimes he has really good starts where he's a groundball machine and everything's put in play. This start had him striking out nine Reds. While I enjoy the groundball games just fine, the strikeout games are more of a domination with a bit of flair. Felix's strikeout high this year is high, something he's done in four of his 15 starts. He hasn't reached double-digit strikeouts yet in a game this season. For me, I think it's been good that Felix early on in his career hasn't tried to strike everyone out, and that's something it took Freddy Garcia a couple years to fully realize. He set down his first eight hitters before Drew Stubbs got an infield single with two out in the third. His hiccup inning came in the fourth, though the Reds had to squeeze out their run. He walked Votto with one out, the only walk he issued on the night. Rolen flew out to very deep center, and Botto aggressively tagged and went to second. Jonny Gomes then singled on the first pitch, scoring Votto to tie the game. Felix also weathered the dropped foul fly by Josh Wilson that should have ended the fifth inning, but it only cost Felix four pitches. Felix gave up a one-out single to Votto in the sixth, but then got a double-play ball. Votto again singled with one out in the ninth, but Felix weathered that as well.
2) Michael Saunders
I had Saunders put into the goat section on Friday night, and it appears that's exactly what it took to turn him around. He only had the one hit in this game, but that hit was a three-run homer that gave the Mariners all the breathing room they needed so they could cost through the final three innings. Saunders jumped all over a pitch that was up in the zone over the inner half of the plate, ringing it off a scoreboard (I think it's usually a board used for pitch counts or the batter's statistics) beneath the Hit It Here Cafe. Though it wasn't very far to centerfield at all, it got a measurement of 408 feet, which is far for a homer hit to rightfield. My nightmare stat from the Friday game post was that Saunders was in a 10-for-59 (.169) stretch with a double, homer, and five RBIs over 24 games. He only went 1-for-3 in this game, sure, but who doesn't love another homer and three more RBIs? After hitting .221 last season, he's a .225 hitter thus far. Also, his four homers in eighty at-bats are four more homers than he had in 122 at-bats last season.
Two more hits for the Mariners' leadoff hitter as the beat continues. He went 2-for-4 in the game, making him 95-for-279 (.341) on the season. He is on pace to finish the season with 226 hits. On this night, there would be non cheap infield singles for Ichiro. His line-drive homer was probably the most line-drivey homer I've seen out of him. Usually his homers involve him jumping and turning on an inner-half pitch, and usually I imagine a decent amount of arc on his home runs. This one, however, was gone almost as quick as the ball took to get from Matt LeCure's hand to Ichiro's bat. That ball was gone very quickly. Moreover, it got the Mariners on the board and eased the doubt of the Mariners' inability to score runs in the game since now they had a number greater than zero. I'd still like to see Ichiro get on a 240-hit pace, but I think he'd have to really get hot for a couple weeks for that to be a possibility. Of course, the good thing about Ichiro is that over the span of the remaining three and a half months, he's more than likely to get really hot for a couple of weeks at some point.
It's too bad the hitless games come more often than the games where he does actual meaningful stuff. If there's one good thing about this Mariner win, it's that it takes away from the fact that the guy they had hitting third (Gutierrez has hit fifth the last three games) went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. The Mariners already jettisoned that Hall of Famer guy, who wasn't hitting at all, but Bradley getting a bunch of DH at-bats and hitting .219 doesn't exactly represent things going as planned. However, I do hope that when the Cubs come to Seattle, Bradley hits for a home-run cycle off of Carlos Silva. Hopefully Lou Piniella leaves Silva in the game long enough for that to happen. I want a solo shot, a two-run shot, a three-run shot, and a grand slam off of Silva, and by Bradley. Ten RBIs. That'd be wonderful. That would almost make up for everything else in the season at this point, except for the fact that Bradley's sucking and/or personal issues were a factor (not THE factor, but a factor noneetheless) of the Mariners' floundering from May to the present.
Harang. Rowland-Smith. Today.