Ichiro touching Jeff Datz
Thewere already going to treat Wednesday game against the a little differently and a little more lightly, what with their scheduled Thursday departure for Japan. That's both a big trip and the potential experience of a lifetime, so one could forgive the Mariners for kind of looking past nine more innings of Cactus League insipidity.
But even a preoccupied Mariners team is a force to be reckoned with. So they and the rest of us were caught off guard when they discovered that the White Sox have very quietly put together a super team capable of unthinkable dominance.
For a while, people have wondered what the White Sox were doing. Were they rebuilding? Were they not rebuilding? The Sergio Santos trade said one thing. The John Danks extension said another. It looked, to the moderately-trained eye, that the White Sox were caught in between. But Kenny Williams has had a plan. Kenny Williams develops good plans, and he has a World Series ring to prove it. He went to Stanford, where I didn't even get in, so that tells you something about his intellect. And it turns out that Williams' plan has been to build a baseball team that is awesome.
Wednesday, the White Sox unleashed that awesome all over Felix Hernandez and the Mariners. The White Sox clobbered the Mariners' ace and everyday lineup 13-8, and it was 11-2 before the no-names started trotting out of the bullpen. A better-prepared and better-focused Mariners team might've been able to put up more of a fight, but these White Sox are hungry, and these White Sox are able.
What's perplexing is that, even with the win, the White Sox are just 6-11 in official Cactus League play. For a super team, that isn't a very good record. But it can be easily explained by the idea that the White Sox were waiting for the right moment to blossom. What better moment than Wednesday, with the Mariners starting their season-opening players? That's how you make a statement, and the White Sox made a statement. Felix said he felt good and didn't know why he was getting hit so much. White Sox. The answer to why is "White Sox". Under cover of darkness, the White Sox have become a juggernaut, and the Mariners face no stiffer competition in the season ahead as they set their sights on a title.
It is a little mysterious that Felix got hit so hard. There were eight runs and ten hits in five innings, with a heaping handful of line drives. On top of that, PITCHfx was less than kind to his fastball. But Felix isn't concerned about anything, he says he feels strong, he has 17 strikeouts and two walks on the spring, and there's reason to believe he's been cruising. Why wouldn't he be cruising? There's nothing for him to prove in Arizona. There's just a certain shape for him to work into, and he's worked into it. I think it was Greg Johns who tweeted that Felix said something along the lines of "now it's time to get serious." I don't think Felix has been trying to be Felix in the Cactus League.
In case you're still concerned because you're a worrier, last spring Felix gave up nine runs in 11⅔ innings. In spring 2009, he gave up 15 runs in 14 innings. You recall that 2009 was the season that Felix finished second in Cy Young voting. He's had rough outings in spring before, and it doesn't matter. For peace of mind, at this writing, Felix Hernandez is still Felix Hernandez, and he still looks good to beat the living shit out of the A's in a week.
After Felix, Chance Ruffin gave up runs, and Tom Wilhelmsen gave up runs. For Ruffin, those runs didn't help his case for a bullpen job. For Wilhelmsen, those runs probably matter less than his two walks, since those were Wilhelmsen's first two walks of the spring. They were back-to-back, and you've heard of one of the players. Charlie Furbush pitched after Felix and didn't give up runs, but Charlie Furbush faced one batter, and that batter was Dallas McPherson.
Offensively, it's hard to make too much of the Mariners' eight-run output considering the White Sox started Eric Stults and considering that six of those eight runs scored off Leyson Septimo and Ryan Buch in the final two innings. Also two of those eight runs scored off Eric Stults. Just because the Mariners wanted to start their regulars didn't mean that they'd get to see their regulars hit against regulars, so hopefully they just took good swings and practiced good habits. There is a Ryan Buch, and there is a Ryan Bukvich. And Baseball-Reference tells me there's a Ryan Buchter. They don't get confused for one another because a given person has heard of one of them, max.
In stuff that's neat, Ichiro blasted a dinger to right in the bottom of the first. That gives him two Cactus League dingers. Between 2004-2011, Ichiro had one Cactus League dinger, combined. One home run, over eight springs. At this point this is just trivia and it doesn't have to mean anything, but Ichiro's been hitting well, which is more encouraging than if he weren't hitting well. As little significance as we give to spring training statistics, good ones are always preferable to bad ones.
Justin Smoak doubled the other way. Chone Figgins drew two walks. Michael Saunders struck out twice, which is twice as many strikeouts as Adam Dunn has this month. The Mariners hit well enough as a team but it must be repeated and repeated again that they weren't facing quality competition. Writing that makes me feel like I'm insulting the White Sox's pitchers but it's their own fault I'm having to compare them to Major League peers.
Nothing doing tomorrow. I mean, tomorrow's a big day for the Mariners, but they won't be playing a game, nor will they be playing a game on Friday. Personally I don't feel like I'm prepared for this trip to Japan but when's the last time preparation helped anybody do anything? Never, that's what I say.