29-41, Game Thoughts

I don't actually have anything against Cubs fans. Nothing personal, anyway. I've heard a lot of the stories, and I've read a lot of the articles, and I've seen them take over other stadiums, but I don't have any truly negative experiences with them of my own. As far as my individual history is concerned, they're no different from Orioles fans, or people who root for the DBacks.

But here's what I do know about Cubs fans: no matter how insufferable or obnoxious they may or may not be, they are numerous, and they are dedicated.

And that's what makes a win like this so satisfying.

The 2010 Chicago Cubs are bad. Nearly as bad as the 2010 Seattle Mariners. This series has no more effect on the bigger picture than a series between the M's and the Nationals or the M's and the Royals. The difference is, though, the Cubs are a high-profile organization with a storied history and a broad, loyal fanbase. And I'm not about to deny that that makes games against them more enjoyable. While this series doesn't actually mean anything in terms of the playoffs, wins mean the Mariners shut a lot of people up, and wins are more fun when they make people sad.

The Mariners aren't winning the World Series. Those of us still watching have to figure out where we're going to get our kicks. This win tonight gave me some kicks. Here's to two more.

  • This isn't meant to be an objective observation, but watching the game, I couldn't help but think that this was as good as Jason Vargas has ever looked. Especially early on. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of 25 batters, including ten of his first 11, and nobody in the Cubs' order could do a damn thing with his changeup. Vargas threw 31 of them. The Cubs swung at 20. They made contact with nine. Vargas just kept burying that changeup down and away, and the Cubs kept flailing at it. His one walk came when Geovany Soto took that change on a 3-2 count. That tells you something about Vargas' confidence in the pitch, and about Vargas' confidence that he could get a hitter to chase.

    Vargas just looked so comfortable all night long. At least, until the bullpen came in. After a bit of a rough May, he's taken advantage of some NL competition, and over his last four starts, he's got 20 strikeouts to go with three walks and seven runs allowed.

    More telling might be this comparison between Starter Vargas 2009 and Starter Vargas 2010:

    Year Strike% Contact% GB%
    2009 60.9% 82.8% 38.7%
    2010 64.7% 81.4% 34.0%

    Now that is a step forward. His lost season now further behind him, Vargas' repertoire hasn't really changed, but he's tightened up his command without sacrificing his deception, with the result being a guy who does a pretty fair job of two of the three things you like to see a starter do. A year ago, we weren't sure if Jason Vargas could throw consistent strikes. He's throwing consistent strikes, and it's no accident that he's succeeding.

    With a quick tempo, an ability to stay around the zone, and a dynamite changeup, Vargas is a joy to watch. That Putz trade just continues to pay off.

  • It's worth noting that Vargas gives a lot of credit to Cliff Lee for helping him turn into what he's become. Lee, it seems, helped with Vargas' seldom-used cutter, he helped with his tempo, and he helped with his work around the mound. Shannon Drayer has made the point on a few occasions that Lee has gone above and beyond in terms of involving himself with this team, and the team, it seems, is taking some things away from it. Cliff Lee isn't only going to net us some prospects. He's also going to net us some smarter pitchers that we already had. That oft-cited veteran presence - this is where that sort of thing can help.

  • Things have been going so well over the course of this little five-game winning streak that it would be easy to forget that the M's have only scored 11 runs. The M's scored 11 runs between June 8th and June 12th, and they went 0-5. This hasn't exactly been a team-wide improvement. The guys on the mound have, for the most part, been absolutely terrific, and the glovework has been good, but the bats have been awful, and only some real clutch pitching has spared them further criticism. Winning makes everyone reluctant to complain. For us, for the coaches, and for the players. Note how we haven't heard a peep about any clubhouse concerns for a little while.

    You obviously can't rely on a pitching staff to sustain a 0.40 ERA, but it's been neat to see that these M's really can win some of those low-scoring contests. The Mariners have three shutouts in four games. Three shutouts in four games. It may take some time before people begin to appreciate just how amazing that is.

  • His homer today was Franklin Gutierrez's first in nearly a month, and between May 26th - June 20th, he posted an OPS of .617. It's funny how, when pretty much everybody is struggling to hit, you lose sight of the individual struggles. It's also funny how different he would sound if he went by Frank. Franklin Gutierrez sounds like a rangey young athlete. Frank Gutierrez sounds like a Madden-generated name for an offensive lineman.

  • Sure enough, Milton Bradley was loudly booed by the thousands of Cubs fans in attendance during his first at bat. The second at bat saw the Mariner fans drown them out with cheers, but they only drowned them out for five or six seconds, after which they died out and the booing returned. I suppose Cubs fans felt that Bradley needed a reminder that Chicago doesn't like him. It's been so long that it might have slipped his mind.

    If Milton Bradley were Ichiro, he would've aimed foul balls at each and every one of those detestable assbags.

  • A 2-0 ballgame is a narrow ballgame, so when Alfonso Soriano reached with a leadoff bloop double in the fifth, it looked like the Cubs had an important scoring situation on their hands. Then Tyler Colvin lined a ball to left, Soriano took off, and the ball settled easily into Michael Saunders' glove for a 7-4 double play that bumped the Mariners' win expectancy by 12.5%. Just like that, the threat had disappeared, and the Cubs were staring at another scoreless inning.

    Soriano thought the ball was going to drop. In fairness, I did too, off the bat. But then, Soriano should have a better read at the game than me in my living room, and more importantly, getting a good jump in that situation just doesn't mean very much. If Soriano waits, and the ball drops in, and he only gets to third, then the Cubs WE% is 39.7%. If Soriano takes off, and the ball drops in, and he scores, then the Cubs' WE% is 41%. It's not a big improvement. However, the ball dropping in was not a guarantee, and if Soriano takes off, he risks getting doubled off - as he did. The WE% difference between a man on second and one out and none on and two outs is 7%. Much bigger.

    That's the mathy way of saying that it wasn't worth the risk. It's not imperative that Soriano scores, there. If he's cautious and the ball drops, then the Cubs have men on the corners with nobody out, and that's a favorable situation. Instead, he gambled, and he ran his team out of an inning. Fitting that it happened in Seattle.

  • 12 more fastballs from Brandon League. Zero splitters. This time, though, it might've been a little more justified, as a leadoff walk had him searching for a groundball double play that eventually came off the bat of Marlon Byrd. That was an absolute killer, and it's nice to be reminded that, even if League isn't pitching quite like we expected, he's still rather good. He does throw a 97mph sinker that gets more tail than Brody Jenner.

  • Marlon Byrd runs like a MechWarrior.
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