This is about to be awkward
In every sport, there's always a lot of emphasis placed on a team being able to play its game. I watch a lot of hockey. I've probably mentioned this one or two times. There are several different varieties of hockey teams, but at the extremes, there are the fast, run-and-gun hockey teams that light up the scoreboard, and there are the slow, deliberate, physical hockey teams that get into defensive grudge matches. Teams can win and have won with shades of either style, but they're most successful when they play their own games. A defensive team that gets caught up in a shootout is probably going to lose. An offensive team that gets caught up playing along the boards is probably going to lose. When facing a different brand of opponent, a hockey team wants to be able to establish its own tempo early on.
And the same thing carries over to baseball. To a lesser degree, perhaps, but still to some degree. There are different kinds of baseball teams. There are baseball teams that sit back and mash. There are baseball teams that produce a lot of runs without mashing. There are baseball teams built around run prevention. All of the approaches are fine and teams have won championships with each, but generally speaking, a team will be most comfortable playing the way it was built to play. A slugging team wants to slug. A pitch-and-catch team wants to pitch and catch. Having to play another style can put a team at a disadvantage.
Most of the time. And then there are nights like tonight. Nights where a team establishes its style early on and then gets it thrown right back in its face.
The Eric Thames launched a two-run homer before there were any outs in the first. Adam Lind launched a two-run homer in the third. Brett Lawrie launched another homer in the fourth. The Blue Jays were in their comfort zone, and they were much better equipped to play this kind of game than the , who have by and large featured a punchless lineup and won their games with pitching. The Mariners sent Michael Pineda to the hill, and wanted to win with pitching once more. But the Blue Jays established the tempo.are a slugging team, and tonight they came out slugging.
The Mariners, though, kept up. They played the Blue Jays' game, and they played it well. They plated three runs in the second, in an inning featuring a big Trayvon Robinson double. In the third, Mike Carp blasted an opposite-field home run. And though some hits went for naught in the coming innings, in the eighth, Mike Carp and Casper Wells went back-to-back to tie things up and then put the M's in the lead.
Minutes later, Brandon League slammed the door, and the M's earned a win in a game that featured six home runs. This wasn't the kind of game we've seen the Mariners play and win often before. Before today, they'd hit at least three homers in a game just three times all year. The Blue Jays had done it 12 times. Nevertheless, the M's emerged triumphant, and to not just do it, but to do it with late-inning heroics - that was exciting. The whole thing was more exciting than any reasonable person would've expected this game to be.
The Mariners are way out of the race. It's the middle of August. A lot of times, teams in the Mariners' situation deliver uninspiring, forgettable baseball. The Mariners will surely turn in their share of uninspiring, forgettable baseball before the season winds to a close, but they've managed to string together three really great games in a row. Three games that've been treats to watch. I'm thankful for that.
Some bullet holes for your overzealous consumption:
- Another game, another assortment of positives and negatives from Michael Pineda. On the plus side, Pineda missed some bats and flashed his high-90s velocity. On the down side, his location was off and his stuff just wasn't that sharp. That much is evident from the four walks and three homers in five innings. Thames homered on an inside fastball clocked at 93mph. Lind and Lawrie homered on sliders over the middle of the plate. It took everything Pineda had to get through five frames.
An interesting trend emerges if you break Pineda's season down into groups of five starts.
First five starts: 68% strikes
Next five starts: 70%
Next five starts: 67%
Next five starts: 63%
Next three starts: 61%
So 23 isn't divisible by five. Regardless, it's clear that, more recently, Pineda hasn't been attacking the strike zone the way he was earlier in the year. For a while, Pineda was running one of the highest strike rates in baseball. Lately, it's been much more of a struggle.
Which we probably should've expected, since Pineda is a 22-year-old rookie. There was no way he was going to sustain his early performance, no matter what we all wished. He's always had flaws, and those flaws have been on display more and more often.
How much of this is Pineda's game, and how much can be attributed to fatigue? I can't answer that. At 141 innings, there's no doubt in my mind that Pineda's arm is feeling the weight of the season, but he may not be fatigued just yet. I don't know. Here's what I can say, though: these struggles are revealing issues to be addressed, and that could be a good thing in the long run, given enough work. Michael Pineda is learning a lot about himself and his situation these days. That could make for a better Michael Pineda down the road.
- Root Sports voiceover guy's promo for tomorrow's broadcast:
The Blue Jays sure can hit at the Rogers Centre, but here at spacious Safeco, against Mariners pitching, it should be a different story.
- The Mariners came through with a big three-run inning in the bottom of the second, but as three-run innings go, it was unusual, and had as much to do with the Blue Jays being ineffective as with the Mariners being effective. It started when Casper Wells got hit by a 1-2 fastball. Two batters later, Trayvon Robinson drilled a long drive to left that bounced off of Eric Thames' glove. The struggling Kyle Seager then walked, setting up Jack Wilson, who punched a weak grounder through the hole by second base with a swing that makes you think you could get hits. A sac fly later and the M's had scored three baserunners who probably shouldn't have been on base.
- Brett Lawrie pounded a home run in what was being referred to as his homecoming, since Lawrie hails from Langley, British Columbia. Much of Lawrie's family was in attendance, as Langley, British Columbia is only two hours away. On the other hand, Langley, British Columbia is two hours away. The Dictionary.com definition of "homecoming" is "a return to one's home." Brett Lawrie's home is not Seattle. This was not Brett Lawrie's homecoming. This was Brett Lawrie playing a baseball game kind of close to home.
- I don't know why people say "it's a whole new ballgame" whenever a game gets tied. It isn't true. That would be terrible if it were true! Games would take forever!
- The night's big hero, of course, is Mike Carp, who knocked out his fifth and sixth home runs of the season, raising his OPS to .920. The first was impressive not because of the situation, but because of the result; Carp took a 94mph fastball from a 21-year-old rookie out the other way, dropping the ball in the left field bullpen. Carp, a lefty, cleared the left field power alley that's been such death to righties.
The second was impressive because of both the situation and the result. Carp stepped in against Trever Miller, who is a side-arming lefty. Miller quickly got ahead 0-2, but then Carp got out ahead of a low breaking ball and smashed it deep to right. Home runs against opposite-handed rookies are one thing. Home runs against same-handed specialists are another. Carp showed two very different kinds of power.
Power. Who figured we'd be talking about Mike Carp as a power hitter two years ago? There's a lot of baseball yet to be played between now and the end of the year, but right now Mike Carp looks like he's locking himself firmly in the middle of the 2012 lineup. Carp, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak. That's practically a real-life core.
- For the third game in a row, Casper Wells went yard, and he did it with another classic Casper Wells dinger swing where it looks like he's going to fly out in front of the track. Wells has now hit four home runs as a Mariner. They've all been at home, and they've all been to left field. Wells will get hurt by the Safeco dimensions - that's just the way it goes - but there are guys who get hurt a little and there are guys who get crippled, and Wells looks like a potential survivor. There's more strength in his bat than I expected, and oh my God, offense! Offense! There's offense!
- Not to be overlooked, Dan Cortes and Tom Wilhelmsen combined to throw three scoreless, walkless innings. Cortes has now gone three consecutive appearances without issuing a walk, a streak every bit as improbable as Joe DiMaggio's, and Wilhelmsen got to pitch in a win for just the second time in his career. He even earned the actual win for his troubles, which is his first. Wilhelmsen now has as many wins as 2010 Ryan Rowland-Smith and 2010 Ian Snell combined.
Jason Vargas and Brad Mills go at it tomorrow night. Which is good, because this way I get to use my Astros jokes.