In all my days of watching baseball, spanning the last two decades, I've learned a lot about the game. Especially at first. Oh man, the learning at first. "So that's what baseball is!" "They run that way instead of the other way." "They must all itch."
But even though the rate of learning has slowed down, the fact that I'm still learning is true, and one of the things that's dawned on me more recently is that the difference between a bad team and a decent team, and between a decent team and a good team, really isn't that big. I don't know, maybe I learned this a long time ago, because it's a pretty basic point, but only more recently have I come to give it more consideration. Only more recently have I taken the time to sit and just think about it.
A bad offense, with an extra hit here or an extra walk there, becomes a decent offense. A decent offense, with an extra hit here or an extra walk there, becomes a good offense. The same kind of thing applies to pitching staffs and defenses. One extra strikeout or one fewer walk per game can make all the difference for a pitching staff. One extra ball in play turned into an out can make all the difference for a defense.
Everybody's just so close. I guess this is what they mean when they talk about league-wide parity. This isn't college football, where the best team might literally be two or three times as good as the worst team. It's all small fractions and percentages. The best team in baseball is better than the average teams, and the average teams are better than the worst team, but only by a little. These are the best baseball players in the world, and the distribution is more even than uneven.
I was thinking about this today because I was thinking about the difference between theduring their losing streak and the Mariners in the rest of the season. During their losing streak, the Mariners were outscored by an average of just over three runs a game. The rest of the season, they've broken even. Seven of the 17 losses were by one or two runs. Those Mariners were dreadful, absolutely dreadful, but they were only a few hits away from being okay. A big hit here, a big pitch or great play there, and things look different. There were some games that were never really close, but there were other games that were, games that could've turned in a different direction.
As we watched those Mariners lose game after game, that situation felt increasingly hopeless. Not just in the short term. In the longer term, too. Losing streaks and extended slumps weigh heavily on a fan's mind, and the deeper one gets, the darker things become. It becomes harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
As we've watched the Mariners more recently, though, it's been a different feeling. The team's won five of seven, and things feel like they did one or two months ago. It's easier to see the promise. It's easier to see the hope. If this guy can do more of this, and if those guys can do more of that, maybe this team contends, and contends soon. Who's to say? They've won. Why can't they continue to win?
A totally different feeling, all because of a few extra baserunners generated, or a few extra baserunners taken away. What if Gio Gonzalez gloves Josh Bard's two-run single today? What if Franklin Gutierrez's throw to third in the fifth gets away from Jack Wilson? What if Adam Rosales' double play in the seventh is hit another foot or two to the side?
Everybody in baseball is so close, and because they're so close, it's a sensitive game that can turn on one or two plays. Bad teams aren't that far from being decent teams, and vice versa. Decent teams aren't that far from being good teams, and vice versa. Every front office is locked in an endless fight to find those few extra baserunners gained or prevented, and though some succeed more than others do, the fight is always raging. All teams are close, and closer than it seems.
Man, that was a lot of words around a central point I'm not sure I stated correctly. Hey, the Mariners won, all right!
Some early evening bullet holes:
- For 13 batters, Charlie Furbush was perfect. Or rather, for 13 batters, Charlie Furbush's results were perfect. Charlie Furbush himself was not perfect. He threw balls, for example. Not many of them. It wasn't until the 14th batter of the game that the A's got a baserunner when Conor Jackson hit a fly off the top of the left field wall, and it wasn't long after that that Furbush was finished, as he threw on a pitch count.
You can only make so much of one outing. Especially an outing that lasts 62 pitches and takes advantage of good defense from Jack Wilson and Franklin Gutierrez. But Eric Wedge wanted to see Furbush pitch, and what he saw looked good. Furbush threw strikes and missed bats with all of his pitches, and he worked his fastball between 88-91. It's also worth noting that he had this outing against a lineup with seven guys batting righty.
In Luke French's first outing as a Mariner, he allowed four runs in five innings. In his next outing as a Mariner, he allowed four runs in 5.1 innings. I wouldn't say he turned in an actual good start until August 6th, 2010, and only twice did he exceed the eight swinging strikes Furbush generated today, which Furbush did on way fewer pitches. Furbush and French are different pitchers, obviously, but in case you were letting our prior experience with a lefty from the color our current one, quit it. Furbush has more to offer. I don't know if he'll be good, but he has a better chance than French did, and I'm as excited to see where he goes as anyone can ever be about a guy with a #3 starter ceiling. All right, maybe he'll be a left-handed Aaron Sele someday!
Mike Carp had three hits, including a liner to center and two liners the other way. He's batting .297 on the season now, with an .806 OPS that stood at .590 when he got demoted. He's come up and hit, and more importantly, he's come up and hit to all fields. Just last night he launched a two-run double off the fence in left. I have a little theory that the difference between a successful Major Leaguer and a successful minor leaguer isn't the ability to hit a curveball, but the ability to hit the other way. If you can't hit the other way, you can be exposed, like we've seen with Michael Saunders. Mike Carp can hit the other way. I don't know if he could a few years ago, but he can now, and as a result he looks like a credible candidate to be a future DH. I await the inevitable slump that causes me to look back on this post and realize that I let myself get excited about Mike Carp.
- In his first-ever start at third base, Jack Wilson made a pair of good diving stops. Then, in the fifth, Scott Sizemore attempted to tag from second on a fly by Adam Rosales. Gutierrez made an accurate throw to Wilson, and Wilson had the good sense to block the base with his foot, forcing Sizemore to go around the bag. As he overslid, Wilson applied a tag for the out.
Like that double play Wilson turned earlier this year when he scraped second base with his toe, it was one of those plays that makes you wonder "wow how did he know to do that?" Jack Wilson's defensive instincts are amazing. It's a shame his body became as fragile as it did, because a more durable Jack Wilson could've been a hell of a player. Wilson has been a hell of a player in some sense, but he could've been more than that, for longer than that.
- Whenever a ball is hit to Johnny Damon and there's a runner on base, the announcers are obligated to point out that Damon doesn't throw well. Every single time, without fail, one of the guys in the booth will say those very words. When Mike Carp lined a single to center with Brendan Ryan on base in the seventh, though, Mike Blowers took things to another level. Said Blowers:
Ryan knows that Crisp can't throw.
- In the top of the seventh, Jamey Wright came in with two on and one out. He walked the leadoff batter to load the bases, then picked up a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. I think Jamey Wright became a sinkerballer because he knew he couldn't throw strikes and it was the only way he knew how to erase his own damage.
- In Casper Wells' Mariner debut, he singled and drove in a run. In Casper Wells' second game, he reached base three times. In Casper Wells' third game, he homered. In Casper Wells' fourth game, he reached base three times. He's also played good defense and today he stole a base while knocking a potential home run just foul. Wells' rep is that he's more of a fourth outfielder type. He has two months to prove he's a 2012 regular. If he does, then I get the feeling that he'll basically be the outfield version of the starter the M's traded to get him.
Melvin: So, okay, I know last night's secret weapon didn't exactly work out.
Gonzalez: no s***
Melvin: I thought it had a real chance.
Sogard: Sorry guys!
Breslow: A real chance to use the sun to burn ants?
Melvin: But I have another idea for today.
Melvin: /approaches door
Melvin: /opens door
Magnuson: Hey everybody.
Melvin: It's Trystan Magnuson!
Weeks: trystan what the f*** kind of name is f***ing trystan
Sizemore: That's a girl's name!
Balfour: First you give us some motherf***er with glasses
Balfour: Then you're like, no wait
Balfour: Then you give us some motherf***er named Trystan like a girl's gonna help a baseball team
Balfour: This is some bulls*** right here
Sizemore: That's a girl's name!
Willingham: Is Trystan going to nag the batters out?
Cahill: Wasn't that guy already on our team too