Thewere a decent team back in 1999. They hovered around .500 all season long and were by no means great, but they had a lot of great players, and as a young teenager, I loved how many homers they hit. This was the 90s, after all, and the Mariners had finished third in home runs in 1995, second in 1996, first in 1997, and first in 1998. They hit a lot of homers in 1999 as well, and I thought they were exciting, and vastly preferable to walks and singles and stolen bases. "The Mariners can do it all with just one swing of the bat!" I would think to myself.
At that point in my fandom I was just becoming aware of the existence of park effects, and as was the case with everybody, the first park effect of which I learned was that of Coors Field, in which baseballs would travel twice as far as they would elsewhere due to Denver being built twenty miles above sea level. Before I knew about Texas, or Chicago, or Boston, or anywhere, I knew that, in Colorado, baseball was basically baseball with the volume turned all the way up so that all nuance was lost and the bass blew your ears off.
So you can imagine my delight when I found out that, in early June, the Mariners would be playing a three-game series against theon the road. Through their first 55 games, the Mariners had hit 110 home runs, putting them on a record-shattering 324 dinger pace. Griffey already had 20 bombs to his name, and this was when Mark McGwire was still the single-season record holder. I knew that the Mariners had a chance to go crazy. I knew that the Mariners were going to go crazy. It wasn't a question of whether they'd hit any homers; it was a question of how many homers they'd hit before the scorekeepers gave up and stopped keeping track.
The series opened on June 7th, with John Halama going up against one of the Bobby Joneses. The Mariners won 4-2, and did not hit a home run.
I couldn't believe it, because I didn't think it was possible. The Mariners had Alex Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey Jr., and Edgar Martinez, and Butch Huskey, and Russ Davis, and David Bell all in the lineup in Coors Field, and not a one of them went deep. I never even considered the possibility, because I thought it so outrageous.
I've gotten myself so lost within Baseball-Reference now that I've forgotten where I was going with this, but basically, you might notice that the Mariners just played a three-game series in Texas without hitting a single home run. No, this year's Mariners obviously aren't built like they were in 1999, but, holy crap, three games! Arlington isn't Coors Field, but the major differences between this series and that game in Colorado is that this series was three times as long, and the Mariners lost. Baseball isn't all about home runs, but they sure are convenient, and they don't get much easier to hit than they are in Texas. To go three straight games without a single one of them - is a sweep really that surprising?
It's funny the way all three games of this series wound up being so similar. The Mariners fell behind early, scraped some runs across with good old-fashioned hard work, and then came up short in large part due to their own failure to get the job done. This was actually a tie game at the seventh-inning stretch before thepulled away. While the Mariners got swept, they didn't get embarrassingly swept, like they so often have.
But those missed opportunities continue to pile up. Today, we saw Chone Figgins strand four runners with a pair of demoralizing at bats in the fifth and seventh, and Justin Smoak bounced into a crucial double play in the sixth. And, of course, who knows how this might've turned out were it not for Jack Wilson's second inning. With one out and the bases loaded, Felix induced a double play ball to third, but Wilson dropped Figgins' throw, leaving everyone safe. Felix then shook that off and induced another double play ball, but Wilson got taken out and threw the ball about 70 feet wide of Smoak. The Rangers were able to score three runs in the second as a direct result of Wilson's mistakes, and it was those mistakes that got Wilson pulled by Eric Wedge in an unusually aggressive disciplinary decision.
We can say that the Mariners probably won't keep blowing their chances at the rate that they have been, and that's probably true. We can say that it doesn't even matter that much since this is a rebuilding year anyway and it's more about seeing the development of a few individual players. But I would characterize this season to date as being like going to brunch and ordering lemon ricotta pancakes, and only getting two small lemon ricotta pancakes. It has its high points, because mmm, lemon ricotta pancakes, but you still come away dissatisfied, because you want more pancakes. We're all ragingly hung over, Mariners, so throw us a God damn bone.
- Despite a couple first inning walks, Felix had a very strong start stained by Wilson's defensive gaffes. Ian Kinsler fought him from the get-go, working a ten-pitch walk that featured four foul balls, but you never got the feeling that Felix wasn't in control today, and he issued his last of three walks with one out in the second. He needed just 43 pitches to get from the third through the sixth, and even though he allowed the game-winning run on a double in the seventh, that came on an inside curveball that Mitch Moreland grounded down the line. He didn't punish that ball the way he punished Pineda last night.
In all, Felix kept 15 of the 20 balls the Rangers hit on the ground, which is obviously critical in that ballpark, against that lineup. And he mixed in some dominant strikeouts. In a classic power-on-power showdown, Nelson Cruz swung through three straight fastballs to lead off the second. Adrian Beltre struck out in a first-inning at bat so bad he even fouled a ball off his own leg. The Felix/Beltre battle, incidentally, was decidedly in Felix's favor for the day, as Beltre managed just an infield single while Felix twice struck him out swinging.
In short, Felix looked great. You'll recall that, in seasons past, Felix needed some time to find his groove. This time around, from the looks of things, he's already there.
- So often we make fun of the whole bit about players showing up to camp in the best shape of their lives, but Jack Wilson might end up being one of the rare cases in which it actually makes a meaningful difference. He didn't even complete two innings today so it's not like he had a chance to do a whole bunch, but in his one at bat he hit the ball on the nose, and more importantly, he stole his third base of the season in his sixth game. Wilson's career high for steals is eight, and he hasn't stolen more than four since 2005.
He seems to be moving around as well as he ever has, as evidenced by his double play two nights ago, and where we all figured he'd gotten himself hurt when he was pulled in the second inning, it turns out he's just fine. This version of Jack Wilson is a fun and productive player to watch. Hopefully we'll get to see it for more than a week.
- Wilson was replaced by Luis Rodriguez, and in Rodriguez's first at bat against C.J. Wilson, he drove a low-away fastball to the right-center gap for a stand-up double. Rodriguez's whole alleged 2010 breakthrough was based on his improved power output so this was a good thing to see. With Rodriguez hanging around offering some flexibility, veteran presence, and offensive upside, maybe Eric Wedge will be tempted to give the occasional break to
- ...Chone Figgins, who has found a way to inspire even less confidence at the plate than Jack Wilson. Jack Wilson's hitting liners. Brendan Ryan is working good at bats. Chone Figgins is exploring how many different parts of the infield he can hit a ball to with runners on base. Figgins made a tremendous diving stop in the second inning today and his defense hasn't been an issue, but few hitters do less for me when they're holding a bat in their hands. I know that he's one of two players on this team to have hit a home run, but without going to video I feel like Figgins' entire big offensive season in 2009 was based on having 75 extra bloops fall in behind shortstop. They learned, Chone. At some point you're gonna have to hit a line drive.
- After Chris Ray Reitsma'd his way through three batters in the eighth, Brandon League came in and immediately put the game out of reach when he gave Nelson Cruz a fastball right where he likes them, which is anywhere in or around the strike zone. As if that weren't bad enough, League then threw two splitters that'll probably deter him from ever throwing a splitter again, as one was a splitter in the dirt that indirectly ended up getting Adam Moore injured, and the other was a splitter to first base that Justin Smoak couldn't handle after a tapper back to the mound. I understand that Brandon League might find this the height of confusing but splitters should only be thrown in the direction of the guy with the chest protector.
The Mariners are off tomorrow as they return to Seattle for Friday's home opener. In last year's home opener, the Mariners were blanked 4-0 by Justin Duchscherer and the Oakland A's. Carlos Carrasco and the give this one equivalent, if not superior potential to suck a lot.