one good-looking situation
What thesaw on television was a team that allowed a perfect game. And they didn't just allow a perfect game; they allowed a perfect game to Phil Humber, a pitcher previously about as familiar to the average baseball fan as Stephen Zottwater, which is a name I just made up. What the Detroit Tigers saw on paper was a Seattle Mariners team that ranked 12th in the American League in runs scored, and 13th in the American League in OPS. There's actually some pleasing near-symmetry here - the Mariners came in ranked 13th in average, 14th in on-base, and 13th in slugging.
This was all very mystifying to the Detroit Tigers. What the Detroit Tigers saw with their eyes tonight was a Seattle Mariners team that scored seven runs and put 18 runners on base. This was more like the Seattle Mariners team the Detroit Tigers figured they'd be. The Detroit Tigers never bought into the idea that the Seattle Mariners can't score.
A year ago, the Mariners averaged 3.4 runs per game. The team offense was a catastrophe. But in ten games against the Tigers, they scored 54 runs, including 13 runs in one game on April 19th. In 6% of the season, the Mariners scored 10% of their runs. The Mariners team the Tigers saw was most definitely dangerous at the plate.
The year before, the Mariners averaged 3.2 runs per game. The team offense was more than a catastrophe - it was two catastrophes, like catastrophes back-to-back. The team offense was like a city getting leveled by an earthquake, and then devoured by fire. But in eight games against the Tigers, the Mariners scored 37 runs. In 5% of the season, the Mariners scored 7% of their runs. The Mariners team the Tigers saw was most definitely capable at the plate.
It made things awkward this past offseason. When Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski heard that the Mariners had interest in signing Prince Fielder, he didn't understand why. "What do they need a bat like that for?" he asked. "They must be trying to build a juggernaut!" Dombrowski and Tigers ownership made the commitment they did to Fielder in part because they wanted to keep him from Seattle, in fear of the Mariners building the best lineup in history.
We know that the Seattle Mariners have trouble scoring runs. They had great trouble scoring runs in 2010, they had great trouble scoring runs in 2011, and so far, they've had great trouble scoring runs in 2012. It's driven a segment of the fan base crazy. Tell that to the Detroit Tigers, though, and they won't believe you. They won't give you the time of day. According to the Detroit Tigers, the Mariners are as or even more dangerous than most other lineups they face. According to the Detroit Tigers, the Mariners aren't and haven't been laughably disastrous at all. The Detroit Tigers are wrong, and cling to their belief because they don't want to consider other possible reasons why the Mariners have been able to score against them, but they're wrong in a flattering way. This way, the Tigers get to feel better about themselves, and the Mariners get to feel better about themselves. Who needs the truth, when you can come up with a lie that pleases all parties? That's what I always say.
All right so now that we're getting down to business, I actually couldn't pay as much attention to this game as I usually do, on account of other work concerns. So coming up with a more standard recap is difficult. In lieu of that, I'm going to address just a small handful of things with supplementary screenshots from highlight video. Let's get to the disjointed game coverage!
I think the part of the game that made me feel the best - among the parts of the game I could watch and pay attention to - was Tom Wilhelmsen's effort in the bottom of the eighth. It actually started poorly, when Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder opened with consecutive singles. Delmon Young followed with a long fly out to right-center that came alarmingly close to leaving the yard and putting the Tigers on top. The pitch that Young hit was a 96mph fastball down and in, and I don't know how he hit it the way that he hit it, but the Mariners came that close to a probable loss. Nearly every win was at some point close to a probable loss.
After Young, the Tigers had one out and runners on the corners. The score was 6-4, and the batters due up were Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila. Peralta worked the count full against Wilhelmsen, but then Wilhelmsen dropped in a spectacular curveball that froze Peralta and caught enough of the zone. Curves aren't swing-and-miss pitches. When a curve is working best, it leaves the batter frozen and helpless. Peralta was frozen and helpless.
That brought up Avila, and he didn't require quite so much work. Wilhelmsen fell behind 2-and-0, as he did with Peralta, but he fought back with two curves and then ended the inning with a perfect heater:
95 miles per hour, right where Miguel Olivo wanted it on the outer edge. All Avila could manage was a defensive swing that was more of a wrist-y hack. He swung through the ball and the Mariners were on their way to a win.
I've tried to figure out where Tom Wilhelmsen ranks among baseball's best setup men. It's tricky, since relievers are so volatile and we have such limited samples of data. I don't think Tom Wilhelmsen is baseball's best setup man. In fact I'm almost certain that Tom Wilhelmsen isn't baseball's best setup man. But he can look like baseball's best setup man at times, somewhat frequent times, and he closed the eighth inning tonight looking fantastic. Remember where Tom Wilhelmsen came from. Remember how little time it took him to turn into this.
The part of the game that made me feel the second-best was in the top of the third. Michael Saunders came up with two on and two out and swung at this pitch:
That was a 1-and-1 changeup down and on the outer edge. Previously, we would've expected Saunders to pull off this pitch, missing it or popping it up or hitting it off the end of the bat. What Saunders actually did tonight was drive this pitch deep to left-center, over Ryan Raburn's head and off the wall for a two-run double. This was the Michael Saunders that got us excited in spring. In March, Saunders flashed some power to the left-center gap, which we hadn't seen before. Now we've seen it in a meaningful game. Not often - this is one double - but a glimmer is better than no glimmer.
In the ninth, Saunders faced lefty Phil Coke and pulled a curveball down the right-field line for another double. We've seen Saunders' pull power enough, but it was good to see him hurting a southpaw. It still wasn't a brilliant game for Saunders overall, as he had a double bounce off of his glove and as he made three outs, including one strikeout with the bases loaded and a strikeout with runners on second and third after getting ahead 3-and-1, but Saunders was more positive than he was negative, and right now he has a .719 OPS. It's something. I don't know if Michael Saunders has seized his opportunity, but he hasn't blown it.
Liddi blasted that pitch over the fence for his first home run of the season. I wasn't sure about starting Liddi tonight with a righty on the mound, but Liddi finished with three hits, including a dinger. I wasn't certain why Liddi was on the roster when he wound up on the roster, but he's made a strong contribution in limited time.
So often, when we talk about a big hit, we note that the pitcher missed his spot and made a mistake. This fastball from Balester was exactly where Alex Avila wanted it to be. Balester hit his spot, and Liddi hit it out. So you could say that this fastball from Balester wasn't exactly where Alex Avila wanted it to be, because Alex Avila wanted it to be in his glove, and it instead wound up in somebody else's hands or glove in the outfield bleachers.
I think I'll close by noting missed location. Here is where Miguel Olivo wanted Jason Vargas to throw a pitch to Miguel Cabrera, and here is where Jason Vargas actually threw a pitch to Miguel Cabrera:
The count was 0-and-1. The pitch was a cutter. Olivo wanted to see if Vargas could stay low and get Cabrera to put the ball on the ground. Vargas was like, "well sure I could do that, but I don't really feel like doing that, because this ballpark's got a spacious outfield, and fly balls just uh oh"
I don't want to pretend like it was a given that Cabrera would hit that pitch out, because even the best hitters in baseball don't turn every meatball into a dinger, but few hitters turn meatballs into dingers quite like Miguel Cabrera does. And few hitters have Miguel Cabrera's dinger swing follow-through:
On second thought I think that's just Cabrera's regular follow-through. It is a very good-looking, iconic follow-through. It seems most awesome hitters have good-looking, iconic follow-throughs. Does the follow-through make the hitter? I think I have an idea for Chris Chambliss.
More baseball tomorrow, with Felix and Adam Wilk, who is probably nice. You never want to miss a Felix Day because each one is a treat, is something I've learned not to say. Sometimes they can be emotionally devastating. But you should still watch.