All things considered, today felt a lot like yesterday - a decent pitching performance with a few problem spots, and little to no offensive support to speak of, thanks to a dearth of solid contact off another quality young arm. So it should come as no surprise that the result was a quite similar 3-1 loss, with the Mariners managing all of five singles and seven baserunners on the game. As reluctant as you may have been to call this one 'over', you had to know by the eighth inning (when Richie Sexson flew out deep to Aaron Rowand as the potential go-ahead run) that it just wasn't our day. All seven baserunners reached with fewer than two down in the inning, and only one of them came around to score. That's bad.
The Mariners are now 8-15 since the All Star Break (or, as it's better known in some circles, the Anaheim hangover), having been outscored by almost a quarter of a run per game. However, as bad as it's been of late, they're still six games ahead of last year's pace, as the 2004 team didn't win its 47th game until August 27th, by which point they already had 80 losses. In other words: progress! By improving at a constant rate of six games per year, we can expect the Mariners to have the following won/loss records at the 110-game mark of each future season:
2011: 83-27 (Felix is going to be really good)
Evidently there's going to be a rule change effective in eleven years that allows teams to accumulate a negative amount of losses. If anyone can do it, it's the 2016 Mariners. You can't stop the freight train.
Biggest Contribution: Ichiro, +13.1%
Biggest Suckfest: Willie Ballgame, -18.3%
Most Important Hit: Ichiro single #2, +13.3%
Most Important Pitch: Konerko homer, -21.1%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -7.7%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -45.3%
The only subjective ruling I made was giving Chris Snelling credit for the heads-up baserunning when he advanced to third base on Wiki Gonzalez's single in the third. Otherwise, it was a pretty typical game, with the offense being roughly 6/7ths responsible for the loss. Jeff Harris was...okay, and the bullpen came in and did its job quite well, with Julio Mateo picking up another two strikeouts (ten in his last nine innings) and George Sherrill tossing a quick 1-2-3, but when you only get seven men on base all day, the offensive rating is going to look pathetic, and you're probably going to lose.
Jeff Harris is a lot of things. He's a good story, a great guy, a driven individual, and a Major League pitcher. What he's not is a quality starter, and at 31 years old, it's unlikely that he'll ever become one. Which isn't really what the team is expecting to get out of him right now - he's a warm body on a staff lacking warm bodies - but it's important to realize that as soon as another starter is ready to go, Harris should be jettisoned from the rotation. As a two-pitch pitcher with a lot of movement and a deceptive arm slot, he's got enough to get through a lineup once, but he has neither the stuff nor the stamina to do much more than that.
That was really on display today. Check it out:
First time through: 1-8, 1 BB, 3 K
2nd/3rd time through: 4-15, 2 HR, 2 BB, 1 HBP, 0 K
Early on, Harris was confusing the hell out of the White Sox - while they were trying to get a read on his stuff, they wound up in deep counts, and Harris was able to put them away without too much trouble. None of his three strikeouts were of the typical variety; two of them were called, and the other was on a check-swing that Iguchi tried to pull back. The White Sox were unsure what kind of movement Harris had on his pitches, and he was able to ride that unfamiliarity to some early success.
The second time around, though, it was a different story. With a better understanding of Harris' game plan, Chicago attacked him earlier in the count, with considerably greater success. They knew that he was either coming with the fastball or the frisbee slider, making pitch recognition that much easier at the plate. Put another way, any given one of Harris' pitches was going to do one of two things. Once the White Sox figured that out, they had a 50% chance of guessing right, which are pretty good odds for any hitter.
That said, you can definitely see the potential there for Harris to become a pretty useful long man. To hitters who've never seen him before, it must be confusing to see two pitches that go in opposite directions - a slider that breaks across the plate on a slightly downward plane towards lefties, or a two-seam fastball that drops and breaks in on righties. Such a repertoire allows Harris to attack the bat handle early on and pitch off the plate away on two-strike counts, never having to come over the middle unless he falls behind. Even if he's down 2-0, there's enough movement on his pitches to keep most hitters from making solid contact, which is critical for anyone without pinpoint command.
So, what's the point here? Basically, it's that Harris could have a decent career as a right-handed reliever, even if he doesn't have the kind of ability necessary to cut it as a starter. He's not just a desperation AAA call-up in a lost season. For bad teams, the second half is all about giving a shot to guys in the minors who stand a chance of contributing down the road, and Harris could certainly do pretty well manning the back of a good bullpen for the league minimum. When you're a team paying $3m to watch Shigetoshi Hasegawa pitch replacement-level relief, these are the kinds of guys to whom you need to pay extra attention.
With two on and two down in the top of the eighth, Richie Sexson took a Cliff Politte offering deep to straightaway center, where Aaron Rowand plowed flush into the wall to make the catch. After watching a replay, Chicago announcer Darrin Jackson rather excitedly stated the following:
"That's what it's all about, playing baseball and having some fun!"
Because I'm sure the one thought going through Rowand's head as he laid in a crumpled heap of agony by the wall was, "Hot damn, that was a lot of fun." Perhaps Jackson would've been better off saying "That's what it's all about, sacrificing your own personal well-being for the good of the team, and pondering retirement immediately afterwards."
Everyone on the field today was sporting long yellow wristbands, spanning about half the length of a forearm. Given this information, we may logically conclude that their significance is related to one of the following:
(A) a PSA of which I remain unaware
(B) everyone is living really strong
(C) an annual celebration of Tsuyoshi Shinjo Day
George Sherrill has struck out five of the twelve batters he's faced. He has yet to allow a hit.
A glance at the speed scores for current Mariners with 100+ at bats:
Back to work tomorrow night (7:05pm), as Gil Meche takes on the surprisingly awesome Carlos Silva.