Thursday, June 24, 2010
My goodness. It's really too bad the team had to be buried so far below .500 before they started putting another streak together like this one. What's helped the Mariners in this stretch of six straight wins, however, is the fact that the three-game series against the Reds was sandwiched between off days. What did that mean? It meant no fifth starter. They haven't had to think about replacing Ian Snell just yet. Doug Fister's injury pushed Ryan Rowland-Smith up into the fourth slot, whereas he was one of the arms struggling to take hold of that last spot in the rotation. Anyway, my point -- Mariner starting pitchers this season are averaging 6 1/3 innings per start, but that's a mark buoyed by Cliff Lee, Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, and Felix Hernandez (descending order). Luke French threw four innings in his only start, Ian Snell averaged 4 1/3 innings per start, and Ryan Rowland-Smith averages about five innings a start. Granted, the horses at the front of the rotation have to be your horses, but the margin of error is slim when the bullpen is drastically thinned the day ahead of the ace pitcher's start. The margin of error is also thin when the team doesn't score any runs, but that night was not this night.
-- the awesome starting pitching will be addressed in gameball entries
-- the bullpen again was given another night off by Lee. Going into Thursday afternoon's game, Brandon League and David Aardsma will have a day of rest, Shawn Kelley and Garrett Olson will have eight days of rest, Chad Cordero and Sean White will have nine days of rest, and Brian Sweeney will start to wonder whether he'll get to make an appearance before getting sent down or designated for assignment or something.
-- eight runs' worth of Mariner offense. Perish the thought. They exploded for four runs in the fourth. Jose Lopez singled with one out, and Franklin Gutierrez bounced a ball too far into the hole for shortstop Starlin Castro to make a play. Josh Wilson then bounced a ball off the third-base bag that went into foul ground, but it was ruled fair, and the bases were loaded. Casey Kotchman got a rare hit, reaching outside and poking a ball over the third baseman to score Lopez and tie the game at 1-1. One out later, Michael Saunders drew a four-pitch walk to make it 2-1, then Ichiro banged a single into center to plate two and make it 4-1. With one out in the sixth, Rob Johnson singled into right and went to second when Shawn Colvin bobbled the ball. Two pitches later, Saunders doubled hard toward the rightfielder corner to score Johnson and make it 5-1. Ichiro then bunted to the left side, where Randy Wells came off the mound nicely and almost had Ichiro at first, though Ichiro did kinda step on Derrek Lee's glove. With runners on first and third, Chone Figgins grounded to third baseman Jeff Baker, who went to second for the force as the score was now 6-1. In the eighth, Johnson walked with one out, and Saunders went yard to cap the scoring at 8-1.
-- any blown chances? Kotchman drew a leadoff walk in the third and never got further than second. That was pretty much it for huge blown chances by the Mariners.
-- now, the Ichiro/Figgins stat. Ichiro had two hits, but didn't score. Figgins didn't get a hit or score. The Mariners remain 10-4 when both players score runs and 13-20 when both collect hits.
1) Cliff Lee
I hope everyone's enjoying the hell out of these final few Lee starts. Did you see the bender that ended the siXth inning? Lee was in as much control as you can be without throwing a no-hitter or perfect game. Lee scattered nine hits and once again didn't walk anybody. As the awesomest pitcher on the Seattle staff, he now has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 19:1. He also averages eight innings per start over a span of 11 starts this season. That's purely amazing. How many pitchers these days can average eight innings every time they're on the mound? This may be a crap season, sure, but if you've been watching Clff Lee all season, count yourself as a witness to something very special. Lee has raised his game to an absolutely ridiculous level. I mean, there's contract-year pitching, and then there's this. I hope Jack Zduriencik doesn't wait all the way up to the deadline to deal him away, because I don't want the Mariners to get Bedard'd again (i.e., possible trade foiled by injury), because then that's on Jack, if you ask me. My hypothetical trade window for Lee was June 15th to July 1st, and I like Lee, but he can't be in a Mariner uniform after July 1st.
2) Michael Saunders
Though I wouldn't off hand be able to name the other two, this easily had to be one of Saunders' three best games as a Major Leaguer. The boxscore line shows Saunders going 2-for-3 with a walk, a double, and a home run, driving in four of the Mariners' eight runs. How sad is it that Saunders has been up with the big club for only 33 of the team's 71 games, yet he's only one home run off the team lead for home runs? That's absolutely sad. For the record, Milton Bradley, Franklin Gutierrez, and Mike Sweeney are all tied for the team lead with six homers, and Sweeney has his six homers in 28 games. Saunders popped up to short with a runner on first in his first at-bat. In the crazy fourth, the Mariners sent nine hitters to the plate, and Saunders was the seventh. He was up with the bases loaded and two out and drew a four-pitch walk to put the Mariners into the lead for good at 2-1. In the sixth, Saunders doubled hard toward the rightfielder corner to drive in Johnson and make it 5-1. In the eighth, Johnson was on first base and Saunders teed up the pitch he got, sending it over the 385-foot marker in rightcenter. His swing looks quick, short, and powerful when he connects, and I've said once earlier this year that it reminds me of Chase Utley. If the Mariners can get consistently decent hitting from Saunders, it will be awesome.
The Mariners' leadoff hitter and rightfielder went 2-for-4 in the game, leaving him at 98-for-290 (.338) on the season. This puts him on pace to finish the season with 224 hits. Ichiro grounded out to the pitcher to lead off the first. In the third, with a runner on first, Ichiro grounded hard to third, but third baseman Jeff Baker bobbled it for an error. That was the end of Ichiro's badness. With the bases loaded and two out in the fourth, Ichiro singled through the middle to plate two runs and -- a huge hit giving the Mariners a 4-1 lead. In the sixth, Ichiro did the covert bunting thing, bunting along the left side, where Wells came off the mound well and nearly had Ichiro at first, but Ichiro sorta inadvertently stepped on Lee's glove a bit, and he was safe and Saunders went to third. In the eighth, Ichiro walked right after Saunders homered. All in all, that was a 2-for-4 day with two RBIs and a walk for Ichiro. He may not have scored any runs, but he rewarded the bottom third of the lineup for getting aboard. The 7-8-9 hitters (Kotchman, Johnson, Saunders) scored five of the Mariners' eight runs.
The Mariners' designated hitter went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Figgins went 0-for-5, but he at least managed to drive in a run, and he managed to steal a base as well. I don't know what I can say that I haven't already said about Bradley. He's on an 0-for-19 drought going back to the final game of the series in Saint Louis on June 16th. In the last five games, his batting average has dropped from .230 all the way to its current .207. It's too bad the Griffey at-bats have gone to someone that really isn't taking advantage of them and as a result it's almost a wash. Of course, we've never tried to argue Bradley was one of the greatest players ever to play the game. Griffey was that, and Bradley wasn't. We just didn't want our good memories of Griffey tarnished any longer. Right now, though, Bradley's just crap, and we don't have a good deal of our baseball memories attached to him. Thus, it's way easier to pile on him when he's awful. The highest he's ever hit this season is .244 aftrer a 3-for-5 night against the Padres.
Lilly. Hernandez. Today.