In a way, we've gotten into days that aren't really about baseball, or at least that aren't about the day-to-day baseball. In one week and two weeks, the most important thing going on for the Josh Willingham and Allen Craig, then later they were linked to Brandon Belt, and rumors were flying that the M's were close to trading Brandon League. Who could possibly hope to concentrate on a game between the Mariners and the ?will be the day's baseball game. Right now, at least for a lot of the fans, the most important thing going on are trade rumors. Fans are more focused on who might go and on who might come, and less focused on who's hitting and pitching. It's perfectly understandable, given the Mariners' place in the standings. Moves are exciting. People want to be excited. This morning the Mariners were linked to
But the Mariners beat the Royals this afternoon, and swept them, in four games. The last two games were one-run games that could've gone either way, but overall the Mariners outscored the Royals 21-11. In Safeco Field, proving that good things can still happen for the Mariners in Safeco Field. Months ago people were talking about the Royals as a dark-horse contender in the AL Central this very season, and while they've been weakened by injuries, there's something satisfying about seeing the young Mariners whip the young and hyped Royals. This team's rebuild might not be going as smoothly as people would like, but it's going more smoothly than that other team's rebuild, based on the game results, which isn't how this should be measured. Okay. What's actually satisfying about seeing the young Mariners whip the young Royals is that the Mariners swept a team. Mariner sweeps mean Mariner wins! Which is the whole point of what we're doing.
For perspective - because there are few things more important than perspective - the Mariners' last four-game home sweep came in April 2001, against the. That's 11 and a half seasons ago. Granted, four-game sweeps are difficult to pull off. Even a team favored 60 percent to 40 percent would sweep just 13 percent of four-game series. Additionally, I don't know how many four-game home series the Mariners have played in the meantime. Four-game series aren't all that common. It's not exactly "Mariners in a nutshell" that they went so long between extended home sweeps. But as long as we're talking about how long ago April 2001 was, just yesterday afternoon the Mariners officially put Dan Wilson in the franchise Hall of Fame. Dan Wilson caught two of the games in that Angels sweep as a 32-year-old. That was the first four-game series of Ichiro's major-league career. Ichiro's on the now. Ichiro is on the Yankees now. What the hell kind of week have we had? How are we thinking about Brandon League trade rumors? Ichiro is on the Yankees now. How do we adjust to things so quickly!
So, this baseball game. If I had to guess, I'd say the thing I think this baseball game will be remembered for is nothing, but the thing this baseball game almost would've been remembered for was Eric Hosmer breaking Felix Hernandez's bones. With two out and none on in the top of the fourth, Hosmer ripped a comebacker that deflected off of Felix's left wrist. Hosmer made it to first, and more importantly, Felix was walking around, wincing and grimacing, if those are different. (I'm a writer!) Wedge and the trainer came out to visit, and usually Felix isn't quite so expressive about the pain that he's in. I figured that Felix might be done for the day. I figured that Felix might be done for longer than that.
Obviously, Felix stayed in, and somebody even got him to laugh on the mound during the discussion and exam. He pitched fine afterward, and x-rays came back negative. What's wrong with Felix is that he has a bruise and very nasty pitches. We all want him to have very nasty pitches, but hitters would probably say it's excessive and cruel.
It wouldn't have been devastating for Felix to end up with a fracture. It was his non-pitching hand, and better a little bone problem than an elbow or a shoulder problem. If you want to look at it from the big-picture perspective, Felix would've gotten a rest from pitching instead of pitching every five days. Because these games don't really matter, right? What would be wrong with a break? But you can't look at everything exclusively from a big-picture perspective and Felix is one of few things keeping us tuning in. A Felix start is something for Mariners fans to look forward to with so many other things not going as well as we'd like. If Felix had wound up hurt, actually hurt, there would've been wailing, and Eric Hosmer might not have survived his trip to the airport.
I still haven't forgiving Carlos Beltran. The same probably goes for many of you. We nearly had another name to put on the shit list. Hosmer didn't get off scot-free, but now I think I'll just think mean things instead of saying them out loud.
As much of a relief as it is that Felix is basically fine, one might now notice a troubling pattern. For his entire career, it's felt like Felix has narrowly avoided a hot-shot comebacker about once per start. In his last start, against the Yankees, he got drilled in the torso. In his start today, against the Royals, he got drilled in the wrist. The comebackers are getting closer to Felix. They're making contact with him now, and today's comebacker got him in a delicate area. What comes next? Could awareness of the pattern help Felix avoid worsening outcomes? Can a baseball selectively injure a shoulder labrum? Felix's next start is against the Yankees and it would be just like them to try to take him out. Something to watch.
Felix's outing today as a whole was excellent without being dominant. He allowed seven baserunners over seven innings, but zero extra-base hits. The Royals swung and missed 14 times, and of their 19 balls in play, 11 were grounders. When Felix walked Jarrod Dyson on four pitches in the top of the fifth, all four pitches easily could've been called strikes. When Felix walked Billy Butler in the top of the second, he wasn't missing by much. Here's a way to put this: Felix's FIP for this one start was 2.21. His xFIP for this one start was 3.27. One should never really care about single-game FIP or xFIP, but this is what Felix did without one getting the sense that he was on top of things. Felix is a super great pitcher. Starts that Felix might gladly discard are starts that Hector Noesi would pick right out of Felix's trash.
Noesi: Do you mind if I just-
Felix: No, no, I don't need them.
Noesi: Ok great
Noesi: /stuffs pockets
The post-game narrative was "great win, with the only shame being that Felix didn't get it." It's a lot easier to deal with Felix getting shafted when the Mariners still emerge victorious, but an important difference between this bullpen letdown and certain other bullpen letdowns is that I don't think the top of the eighth inning today was that bad. Brandon League entered with the score 5-2 and Oliver Perez left with the score 5-5, but it's not like the Royals were walking or ripping line drives all over the place.
Against League, Alcides Escobar reached on a groundball that got through the middle. Billy Butler drove Escobar home on a groundball that got through the middle. Salvador Perez moved Butler to second with a flare single to left. Perez uncorked a wild pitch, which was bad, but then he allowed a two-run, game-tying single to Eric Hosmer that was really just an other-way grounder hit to the perfect spot. From the Royals' broadcast:
Hosmer doing all he can to just find a hole to the opposite field [...]
What Eric Hosmer hit, against a good Oliver Perez slider, was a routine grounder right in between Kyle Seager and Brendan Ryan. Perez threw the right pitch to the right spot and got more or less the right outcome. It's just that sometimes baseballs squeak through. Baseballs kept squeaking through, and the Royals made it a ballgame, until they almost immediately gave it away again.
With trade rumors swirling, a lot of attention was paid to League's effort. He left the field to boos, and many have asserted that League damaged his trade value. I honestly don't think that's true. Anyone watching League today wouldn't have been so concerned with his box-score results. They would've wanted to see good pitches in good places. League started Escobar with two good sliders. He struck out Lorenzo Cain on a low-away slider. He pitched to good spots against a dangerous hitter in Butler. He jammed Perez, and somehow Perez lifted a pitch in off the plate over the infield.
League threw a few quality offspeed pitches, and his fastball was around 97. He faced four batters and got two grounders and a strikeout. If League's trade value did anything today, I'd actually say it went up. But realistically, I'd say it did nothing. Brandon League's trade value is probably right around where it's been for weeks, and this entire season he's been a mediocre reliever. His velocity has been good but his command has been inconsistent and his strikeouts are way below where they ought to be, given his weapons. Teams are aware of League's strengths and weaknesses, and they'll keep in mind what he did in 2011 while considering what he's done in 2012. He's a piece of obvious interest as a middle reliever with high-leverage experience, and League should get moved for something. Something underwhelming, something less than the price for which League was initially acquired, but there's nothing to be done about that now. This may well have been League's last game as a Mariner, and it's been memorable, all right.
Offense. The Mariners hit! Mike Carp drilled a pair of doubles the other way - one on a line, down the line, and one deep to left-center. Michael Saunders also doubled over the left fielder's head. Trayvon Robinson doubled to left on a changeup over the center of the plate, although that was more of a line-drive double than a hey-look-at-how-much-power-I-have double. Carp's second double was a power double. Saunders' double was a power double. Carp's first double, and Robinson's double, were line-drive singles hit to spots where they could become more than that.
What was thought to be the biggest hit was Kyle Seager's two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the seventh to give the Mariners some insurance. Tim Collins is an excellent reliever, an excellent left-handed reliever, and facing Collins with the bases loaded, Seager swung at the first pitch and lined it past second. Seager's developing a reputation of being a hell of a two-out hitter, which is interesting, since:
0 out: .250 average, .455 SLG
1 out: .264, .355
2 out: .225, .408
Seager has a high two-out RBI total. The average hitter makes about 32 percent of his plate appearances with two out. Seager has made 40 percent of his plate appearances with two out. He has not hit particularly well in those plate appearances, relatively speaking. Usually it's harder to crack a myth than this. "Kyle Seager, two-out hero!" "Kyle Seager, .225 two-out hitter." It's basically that simple. The two-out hit today was good, though. I'm glad that Seager hit it.
After the Royals tied it in the eighth, the Mariners untied it in the eighth, with the help of the Royals. Carp led off with his power double, and then Trayvon Robinson put down a perfect would-be sacrifice bunt that turned into a throwing error by the pitcher. It looked like Robinson might have beat out an accurate throw, but he didn't have to worry about that since the throw was terrible. Ultimately the end result was that Robinson just replaced Carp at second base, or more accurately replaced Munenori Kawasaki at second base after he replaced Carp, but there was stuff in between and the scoreboard changed. I don't understand why every ball in play isn't just a bunt in the vague direction of the mound. Pitchers blow at throwing to bases. It's like if you recruited an Olympic marksman into the military, and then he kept shooting his own soldiers and gas tanks and shit. "The circumstances are very slightly different, look at how terrible I am as a consequence!"
The Mariners scored again, and then the Royals scored once more against a somewhat wild Tom Wilhelmsen, but Wilhelmsen ended things with a 98 mile-per-hour fastball in a perfect, perfect spot, and then Wilhelmsen wheeled around and roared before acting like everything was business as usual. Wilhelmsen started as a closer by denying that he was even the closer. Then he developed a modest fist-pump. Then he selected entrance music. Then he came up with this animated celebration. Tom Wilhelmsen has it all, now. He has the pitches, he has the music, and he has the celebration. Tom Wilhelmsen is a closer now. It's in his blood. He's got the closerglobin. The evolution has been swift - swifter than most evolution. Nice wings, ostriches.
Tomorrow the Mariners will play baseball against a team that is better than the Royals. I don't know how that's going to go, but I hope you had fun watching the Mariners play the Royals.