Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Umm...Cliff Lee is really good. Not sure if that's a mystery or a revelation to anyone, but he's really good. Other than in the ninth inning, he was really only tripped up on two pitches to Nick Swisher. On most other nights, however, Lee would have been pulled after the eighth or definitely a couple batters into the ninth. Why? On most other nights, the Mariner offense isn't putting seven runs on the board. Thus, on what might be (I'm hoping it is) his final start as a Mariner, Cliff Lee had a little bit of wiggle room and was able to hang onto and finish his third straight complete game. Prospects ahoy! Also, with Russell Branyan back in the lineup, the Mariner offense seemed to function like an honest-to-goodness Major League lineup. Oh yeah, roster moves...Josh Bard is back off the DL, so Eliezer Alfonzo was designated for assignment. Of course, Lee is so good that it didn't matter who was behind the plate. I wish it was that way with Felix Hernandez, though I'm not necessarily putting that on Felix.
-- the starting pitching will be discussed in the gameballs below
-- since Lee threw a complete game, the bullpen was rested. Again. Going into Wednesday's game, David Pauley and Sean White will have two days of rest, Brian Sweeney and Brandon League will have three days of rest, and Chad Cordero, Garrett Olson, and David Aardsma will have four days of rest.
-- I don't really have the time to go through the previous 75 boxscores for this season, but it's not a stretch to say this was probably the first Mariner game where all nine starters recorded at least a hit. Ichiro, Franklin Gutierrez, and Rob Johnson had two hits apiece, and the others had one apiece. Additionally, five of the Mariners' 12 hits went for extra bases, definitely another rarity. Even more rare, the Mariners scored in five consecutive innings (second through sixth) in this game.
-- the first Mariner run got on the board thanks to a second-inning Jose Lopez leadoff double followed by a Gutierrez single to center that was bobbled multiple times by Curtis Granderson in centerfield. Unfortunately, Gutierrez was caught stealing second to empty the basepaths and end the threat. In the third, Michael Saunders hit a leadoff double and scored two pitches later on an Ichiro single to break the tie and make it 2-1. Gutierrez unloaded and homered to leftcenter to make it 3-1 and make up for the lineout double play (Lopez) two pitches earlier. In the fifth, Johnson bounced a ball over the rightfield wall, moved to third on a Saunders bunt, then scored on a deep-enough Ichiro flyout to make it 4-1. In the sixth, the Mariners had their biggish inning. Milton Bradley walked with one out and went to second on a Lopez groundout, meaning the craziness occurred with two out. Gutierrez was intentionally walked. Jack Wilson then lined a ball past Alex Rodriguez at third and into leftfield, and Bradley came around to score, beating the throw home, which was dropped by Francisco Cervelli (Gutierrez took third on the play, and Jack alertly took second). Johnson then doubled to the wall in leftcenter to score Gutierrez and Jack to make it 7-1, chasing Philip Hughes.
-- Ichiro went 2-for-4, pushing him to 104-for-310 (.335) on the season, putting him on pace to finish the season with 221 hits. Also important was the fact that he drove in two of the Mariners' seven runs.
-- now, the Ichiro/Figgins stat. Neither player scored a run in the game, but Ichiro had two hits while Figgins had one. The Mariners remain 10-5 when both players score, but are now 14-22 when both players collect hits.
1) Rob Johnson
If Lee would have given up two runs or less in his complete game, I probably have him in this number-one gameball spot. For this game, however, I decided that having Rob Johnson hitting two doubles in a game and driving in two runs is really rare, and if I didn't give him a gameball here, he'd have to hit a grand slam in some other game or something to warrant another gameball. I guess the best thing for me about Johnson lately, however, is the fact that I haven't been able to complain much about him failing to block balls behind the plate. I won't say I'm beginning to miss that or anything, because wishing for Johnson to be awful behind the plate is kind of a bad thing. Anyway, I guess what's maddening about Johnson is that he has a short swing that doesn't try to do too much, but he just doesn't make enough decent contact. If he did, it seems a swing that doesn't try to do too much would be a decent singles-hitting swing or something. Singles out of a catcher are better than nothing offensively out of a catcher, after all.
2) Cliff Lee
Part of me is almost hoping this was Lee's final start, because I'm almost tired of the hoopla surrounding whether he'll still be a Mariner or not. Well, I think it's a foregone conclusion that he's going to go, it's just a matter of when and where he goes. So what are we fans left with at the possible end of Lee's tenure? Lee went 7-3 and threw 95 2/3 innings in 12 starts over the span of two months. It's been a hell of a two months, though. Lee's average per-start line: 8 innings, 2.5 runs (2.2 earned), 6.9 hits, 0.4 walks, 6.5 strikeouts, 109 pitches (79 strikes), 7.5 groundouts, and 8.5 groundouts. He averaged 13.7 pitches per inning, the most efficient Mariner pitcher in those terms (Doug Fister is next best with 14.9 pitches per inning, Hernandez is at 15.6). As I'm typing this, I keep clicking refresh on a few sports pages just to see if Lee's been traded yet, and apparently he's still a Mariner. It's going to suck not getting to watch him throw every five days, but it's for the good of the Mariners' future. I've said it multiple times, but this is like what Billy Beane did when he got Matt Holliday, except Lee was stellar, whereas Holliday was mediocre.
3) Franklin Gutierrez
With Russell Branyan returning, Gutierrez was pushed down to the sixth spot in the lineup, which for now is probably good for him. Unless they move Branyan around, Gutierrez probably won't hit higher than fifth for the rest of the season. Actually, what I wish they could do is put Gutierrez back to the second spot in the lineup like they had him for a good portion of last year, but the Mariners are throwing a bunch of money at Chone Figgins, and Figgins really isn't a big fan of hitting ninth. Maybe someone should ask Figgins whether he wants to hit sixth, seventh, or eighth. Anyway, Gutierrez hit .283 in 2009 and is currently at .278 despite hitting .247 in June. While I don't see him going on a two-month tear like he did last season, it'd be great to see him turn in a month of .300 hitting with a bit more power. It's too easy to see his homer in this game as a byproduct of merely having Branyan (i.e., a power bat) somewhere else in the lineup, but surely it can't hurt. Don't get me wrong, there's no way Gutierrez will flirt with 20 homers like he did last year, but it'd be nice to see the power production a little more often.
This is one of the few nights this year where it's actually really difficult to pick a goat. If it's been trouble before, it's because multiple Mariners have sucked in the same game. This time, the pitching was incredible and all the Mariner hitters got at least a hit. So who to pick? Well, Figgins went 1-for-5 (no one else was worse than 1-for-5 on the night for the Mariners) and grounded into a double play. Figgins is a .232 hitter on the season with a .334 on-base percentage. The .232 is worse than Lopez. The .334 is better than all regulars except Gutierrez (.352) and Ichiro (.391). If there's one good thing Figgins did other than the hit in this game was steal a base. Figgins now has 22 stolen bases on the season, and the Mariners are five games away from the halfway point of the season. There hasn't been much to cheer for this season when you consider anything Figgins-related, but he could finish with 45 stolen bases and has an outside shot at 50 stolen bases. If you can't root for Figgins for any other reason, try that one.
Hernandez. Vazquez. Tonight.