20-31, Game Thoughts

The picture tool isn't working again, so here's Eliezer Alfonzo in low gravity.

Most 7-1 wins against superior opponents don't leave you feeling upset. And I don't mean to suggest that this one did. This win was solid, and comfortable, and fundamentally sound, just the way the team drew it up. But it's precisely that act of seeing the Mariners win convincingly the way they were supposed to win that makes me disappointed all over again. Disappointed in the season as a whole, in a season that has gone so far awry that, after two months, it's nearly beyond salvage.

You'd almost rather the team just roll over the way it did in 2008. Not that 2008 was a barrel of monkeys, but at least, after a while, it was gentle. It was easy to watch that team lose and conclude that the model was just broken from the start. It's not that easy with this team. We see enough flashes of what they could be - of what they ought to be - that the pain begins anew. This model wasn't broken. It just played like it was. And it played like it was broken for long enough to just about fade away.

Granted, in a season that lasts an unfathomable 162 games, you might see anything happen once or twice. I remember seeing one of those bad Royals teams a few years ago sweep the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. The nature of having a schedule so long means that sometimes you'll see your team embarrass itself, and sometimes it'll play way over its head.

This win wasn't a fluke, though. This was a 2010 Mariner win against a very good team. They've had stretches like this. They had some over the weekend. They've had them for a while. They've tended to last a number of innings. Tonight, they played a full game, and the reward was a big win. A big win that makes you happy to see them succeed, and a big win that makes you long for a two month mulligan so we can go back and try this over.

The 2010 Seattle Mariners can play like a pretty good team. They are 20-31.

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Going to have some limited bullet points, as I'm half an hour from dooming myself to a morning case of qwertyitis:

  • The word of the night for Jason Vargas is the same as it was for Doug Fister yesterday. Jason Vargas battled. Vargas threw 67 pitches through the first three innings, and God only knows what might've happened had Casey Kotchman not come down with Justin Morneau's line drive with two on in the first. He turned it around from that point on, though, and only needed 39 pitches through four innings the rest of the way. In the end, it was an unsexy but ultimately effective seven frames.

    My favorite part was when Vargas took a 5-1 lead into the fifth. JJ Hardy led off with a well-hit single. Joe Mauer followed with a line drive comeback that Vargas snared in front of his throat. Undoubtedly spooked, Vargas took a breather, circled the mound, and came back with a good low changeup and then a breaking ball down and away to get Morneau to roll over into an easy 4-6-3. Comebacker headshots are terrifying, but all Vargas did was retire 7 of the next 8 batters he faced. When people hit comebackers past me all I want to do is go home, eat Cheez Its, and fall asleep.

  • In the bottom of the eighth, Brian Duensing threw a first-pitch fastball high and inside past Ichiro's chin. Ichiro lined the next pitch just over Duensing's head and into center field. I swear I must type some variation of this sentence at least once a week, but this was just the latest bit of evidence that everything Ichiro does on the field, he does on purpose.

  • Nick Blackburn faced Mike Sweeney with two on and none out in the bottom of the first. Blackburn fell behind 1-0 and came back with a straight, 91mph fastball, belt high, over the outer half of the plate. Major League pitches don't come much more hittable. Sweeney took a mighty cut, and whiffed with such force that he either fixed his back permanently or broke it in half. It was majestic.

  • Jose Lopez yanked one high fastball over the left field fence for the same home run he's been hitting his entire career, and then later he yanked a slider deep just shy of the track. His OPS is rapidly approaching .600, and I only just now realized how thoroughly revolting it is that I find that encouraging, but still, it sure looks like Lopez is back. He was in such good spirits after the game that he even gave an adorable interview in the dugout with Eliezer Alfonzo, which I'm certain would've been all the more precious had I been able to understand any of the words.

  • Don Wakamatsu had Sean White warming up when the game was 5-1. When the game was 7-1 in the eighth inning, he called on Shawn Kelley.

  • Chone Figgins' last 14 games: .308/.393/.385. You can make pretty much anyone look good if you look at a hot streak and hand select the end points, but Lopez isn't the only important bat that seems to be coming around. It's amazing what kind of difference it makes. The Mariners have scored 69 runs over their last 14 games, and 96 in 21 since Alan Cockrell was fired. We haven't had a weak, embarrassing lineup for quite some time. 

  • Garrett Olson threw an inning. Much like RRS' first appearance out of the bullpen, it barely told us anything, but it was good to see Olson pound the zone, and he even flashed a breaking ball that looked better than I remember. But then, my memory is bad. In short: all Wak was looking to do was get Olson some throws in a low-leverage situation to get his feet wet again, and he did it, and Olson threw enough strikes to keep his manager happy. Olson might have a real opportunity here to actually make something of a career that last winter seemed lost.

  • People like to joke around about umpires making certain calls because they "want to go home" or they "have later plans." I know these are jokes, but most jokes contain within them some degree of sincerity, so as a rebuttal, I present to you the following at bat:

    Olsonball_medium
    Garrett Olson vs. Brendan Harris. Top 9. Two out. Nobody on base. 7-1 ballgame. Harris, behind 1-2, fouls off a couple pitches before taking pitch #6 - a 91mph fastball on the outer corner at the knees. Home plate umpire Jerry Meals called it a ball.

    It probably was a ball. At least, that's a pitch that I imagine gets called a ball more often than it gets called a strike. But it's not obvious. It's not blatantly out of the zone. It's very, very close. It might've even scraped the strike zone on the way by. It was close enough that Meals could've called it a strike and no one would've been upset. At 7-1, with two outs, it doesn't matter, and while Harris might've disagreed, neither he nor Ron Gardenhire would've raised a ruckus. It would've been one close strike in a game they lost by six.

    And Meals called it a ball. Now, Jerry Meals is not every umpire. This at bat does not disprove the notion that some umpires might make some calls because they just want the game to end. But Jerry Meals isn't one of those umpires. He had a golden opportunity to end the game then and there, and he left it alone.

  • Incidentally, the game ended on the next pitch.

  • Michael Saunders is now 2-27 since his big day in Baltimore, and 1-15 over the last two weeks. Issue: he's only started four games over said two weeks, and three of those came against Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, and the greatly improved Jeremy Bonderman. Saunders slipped into a slump, but he's hardly been given a chance to work his way back out of it.

    Any player will tell you that he hits better when he's getting consistent playing time than when it's irregular. I can also tell you that this is how many of the Mariners felt about Mike Sweeney. I don't know whether they're right or wrong about this, but you can't just summarily discount a unanimous opinion. You have to believe there's at least some degree of truth to this theory. And if that's the case, then Wak and the M's are doing Saunders no favors.

    Unfortunately, it's impossible for the M's to commit to giving Saunders regular playing time unless they stop giving it to either Milton Bradley or Mike Sweeney (or, I suppose, Casey Kotchman). Doing the former wouldn't help, and the latter isn't likely to happen any time soon. So they're in a bit of a bind. Which makes me wonder if it might not make sense to use one of the open 40-man spots on an outfielder, and send Saunders back to Tacoma for the time being.

    If I had my druthers, Saunders would be starting most of the time in left, with Bradley shifting to DH. However, Mike Sweeney leads the team in OPS, and I just can't see Wak sitting him down more often. At least, not yet. So, I dunno. Your move, Mariners.
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