Twins Stop Streaking Mariners, Awkwardly Brush Their Junk

Nobody ever wants to lose. If we had our druthers, the baseball season would be like that commercial where the Philadelphia Flyers go undefeated and everybody grows big bushy beards for good luck. If we got our way, the Mariners would go 162-0 and they'd all grow beards, because beards get interesting after a few months, and more importantly, losing blows. There is never any circumstance in which losing feels pleasant.

But while it sucks that the Mariners lost to the Twins tonight, I think it's probably good for us. It's healthy to lose. It's psychologically healthy to be reminded that your team is capable of defeat.

The Mariners had been playing well. Most recently, they were on a six-game winning streak, nearly pulling themselves to .500. Over the course of that streak, the pitching was unbelievable, the defense was good, and the offense was timely. The team still had problems, but the winning hid them away, and I think we were all guilty of getting caught up a little bit. Look how well the Mariners were playing! Why wouldn't they keep playing that well? The winning streak allowed us to savor the success but turn a rather blind eye to the weaknesses on the roster.

The loss jars our heads out of the clouds and brings us back to reality. The Mariners are 23-25. They're in a far better place than they used to be, sure, but everything isn't all sunshine and lollipops. Problems remain, some of them significant, and clutch hits and clutch pitches won't always be there to sweep them under the rug. With the winning streak snapped, we're able to look at things a little more objectively, as we can no longer lean on the irrational faith that it'll all work out in the end.

The Mariners had to lose again sometime. It would've been nice for them to get to .500 first, but that's just aesthetics. Now that they've lost, we can all go back to being real instead of subconsciously pretending that a team with a .640 OPS would end up running the table. There's no doubt that it feels better to be irrational than objective about a roster like this, but losses keep us sane. The hope should never be that the Mariners won't lose; it's that they won't lose often. Let this simply be one of the few.

I think a good, if specific, measure of psychological state would be the difference between win expectancy and assumed win expectancy. If you feel like your team has a better chance of winning in a given situation than the numbers say, you're optimistic. If you feel like your team has a worse chance of winning in a given situation than the numbers say, you're pessimistic. With the data you'd also be able to see degrees of optimism and pessimism and examine various triggers. It would be impossible, or just about impossible, to measure in reality, but it makes for a neat thought experiment.

Tonight, I was definitely optimistic. I was optimistic going into yesterday's game, I was more optimistic after yesterday's game, and tonight I was optimistic coming in. Doug Fister's no ace, but he's better than Nick Blackburn, and besides, Mariners and Twins. One of these teams seemed to be having everything go its way while the other team was just the opposite, and as little as that usually means in a predictive sense, it's impossible to ignore in your head.

I remained ultra confident into the later innings. I wasn't worried when the Twins went up 1-0. I wasn't worried when the Twins went up 2-0. When Miguel Olivo knotted things up with a homer, I don't know exactly how to describe what I felt, but it wasn't surprise, because even though I wasn't sure how the Mariners would come back, I was pretty sure that they would. Olivo simply wound up being the means.

When Olivo led off the seventh with a double, it felt like, once again, everything was coming together. This was how the Mariners would win on Tuesday. Adam Kennedy would drive Olivo home. If Kennedy couldn't do it, Carlos Peguero would drive Olivo home. If Peguero couldn't do it, Brendan Ryan would drive Olivo home. Somehow, some Mariner would come up with the go-ahead hit, and the team would be off on its way to its seventh straight victory.

And that's when everything started to turn. Nobody drove Olivo home. Then in the bottom half, the Twins immediately put together a rally and scored the go-ahead run on a balk. They added another on a double. And though Fister and Aaron Laffey stranded a runner on third, the score was still 4-2 all of a sudden, and when the M's went 1-2-3 in the next half-inning, a win just didn't feel in the cards. Ron Gardenhire didn't even open the door by going to his bullpen. He leaned on Blackburn the whole way, and Blackburn finished it off in the ninth with the M's managing nary a whimper.

The Mariners lost. It doesn't completely stop the momentum in its tracks. They lost with Doug Fister, and will hand the ball to Erik Bedard, Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez in the next three games. They can get right back on the horse tomorrow. But a loss feels almost startling and unfamiliar after that run of success. I wonder what would happen if I re-ran this afternoon's poll right now. I wonder if the results would reflect a difference of more than one win. I'm guessing that they would. Brains.

Just a few short bullet holes, since wow Canucks:

  • Doug Fister finished with a Matt Garza special: zero walks, six strikeouts, and nine hits. Half of his pitching line looks mediocre, and half of his pitching line looks dominant. As you'd expect, I care more about the latter than the former. Fister was abusing the strike zone all game, and he even missed nine bats, including six with breaking balls. And it's worth noting that, of the nine hits, one was an infield single, one fell out of Carlos Peguero's glove, and one was a tall blooper that dropped in front of Ichiro. Fister allowed his share of line drives, but tonight, he was more good than bad.

  • After a long Alexi Casilla single, Fister had one out and runners on the corners in the bottom of the seventh when he was called for a balk on that fake-to-third-throw-to-first move. It was a very close and arguable call. Fister didn't do anything with his head, shoulders or hips, and was called for stepping too far forward on the mound (breaking the 45 degree angle rule). If you wanted, you could debate whether that balk call should have been made. But I think a bigger issue here is that Fister shouldn't have attempted that pickoff move anyway, since that pickoff move never works. The fake-to-third-throw-to-first move is pretty much always a waste of everyone's time.

    The balk allowed the eventual winning run to score, which makes it look really bad, but since runners were on the corners, Denard Span probably would've driven that run in anyway later in the at bat.

  • The first two times he batted, Adam Kennedy pulled screamers to right that found their way into Jason Kubel's glove. This is how all Jason Kubel putouts should be described, because Kubel never seems to catch fly balls on purpose.

  • With a home run and a double, Miguel Olivo's OPS now stands at .647, which isn't good, but is a lot better than the .393 it was a month ago. Olivo's been a good hitter over his last 100 trips to the plate, and it is worth remembering that this is a guy who slugged .444 over the previous five seasons. Chone Figgins, he's not. Olivo could help the lineup. He's been doing it for four weeks.

  • Now that he didn't do anything heroic, one has to notice that Carlos Peguero has one walk, 14 strikeouts, and a .224 OBP. This despite the Torii Hunter sun ball being called a hit, and this despite making 45 of his 49 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. Peguero is very interesting to watch and he can certainly hit the ball real hard, but let's not delude ourselves into thinking he actually has a clue. He swings at everything, except for the high 0-2 fastball on which he was punched out in the fifth. And his defense is bad.

  • During Matt Tolbert's nine-pitch strikeout in the bottom of the first, he let the bat fly out of his hands twice after swinging. Someone's creeping up on Brendan Ryan on the leaderboard.

  • A big moment in hindsight was Ichiro pulling up on Rene Rivera's bloop to right with one out in the bottom of the seventh. The bloop went for a single, and Rivera later scored the Twins' third run. I have always deferred to Ichiro on questionable decisions in the outfield and that remains my policy, but the ball appeared catchable on television, and a dive could've worked because, even in the event of a miss, the ball wasn't going to skip by to the wall. It was basically falling straight down. It would've stopped thereabouts.

Morning game tomorrow, with Erik Bedard and Brian Duensing. There are 15 games on the Wednesday MLB schedule. Eight of them will begin before noon Pacific. This is going to be one hell of a brunch reservation.

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