Wow. What a game.
Look, I know spring training is meaningless, but you know what? Screw you. Who says spring training games don't matter? The commissioner's office doesn't count them towards regular season standings, but the commissioner's office allowed Jeffrey Loria to run the Marlins and still hasn't let the Athletics move out of the Coliseum because of some petty territorial dispute and keeps on mishandling the WBC and so on and so forth. Do you really want to let the commissioner's office tell you what matters?
This whole "spring training doesn't count" meme has gotten blown way out of proportion. It started with an important, factual statement: spring training statistics aren't in any way predictive of what's going to happen during the regular season. This is true for a variety of reasons that you've probably read dozens of times before... but the date is not one of those reasons. Most of the time we don't trust spring training stats for the same reason we don't trust minor league stats (quality of competition, players trying new things) or April stats (sample size). There is no inherent spring-y quality that makes these games worthless.
What's the difference between the game that was played today and any given game two weeks from now? The Mariners ran out their real big-league position players for almost the entire game. They used their real big-league relievers and a starter who's fighting for a real big-league job. For their part, the Reds rolled out their own real big-league lineup. They used Homer Bailey, a starting pitcher from their real big-league rotation. Maybe Wilkin De La Rosa and Kevin Whelan aren't ever going to see the major leagues in Cincinnati, but those guys only got in the game because the Mariners kicked the crap out of the Reds' real big-league starter. They beat Bailey so badly, and Maurer subdued the Reds' lineup so effectively, that the Reds basically just gave up. I figure that should count for at least half of a regular-season win.
So before you throw away the Mariners' performance today, think about it for a little while. Savor it. Those weren't no-name scrubs out there: the Reds sent Shin-Soo Choo, Brandon Phillips, Ryan Ludwick, and Joey Votto to the plate. Brandon Maurer struck them the fuck out. The Reds sent Homer Bailey to the mound, and maybe he's no ace, but he's a legitimate #3 starter and maybe a little bit more. Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, and Michael Saunders used him for batting practice. Don't tell me that's meaningless. Don't tell me that doesn't count.
Tomorrow the Mariners are going to play the Kansas City Royals. The Royals have the best record in the Cactus League, and the Mariners have the second-best record in the Cactus League, so this is basically the League Championship game. I am going to be watching and cheering and emoting with every pitch. Who says the Cactus League Championship doesn't count? The games that matter are the games we're emotionally invested in. For me (and maybe you), the Cactus League Championship game is worth an emotional investment.
So. March 26th, 1:05 PM Pacific Time. The Royals are coming to the Mariners' home turf to decide the Cactus League Champion, and if today's game was anything to go by the Royals had better bring it. This one's for all the marbles.
- The star of the game was rotation hopeful Brandon Maurer, who probably locked up a starting job with his performance today. Maurer went five strong innings with seven strikeouts against only one walk, and while the Reds laced a few scattered extra base hits they never managed to score. He threw 90 pitches, so he's almost at the level that Wedge deems "acceptably stretched out to start". With one start to go, Maurer has thrown 20 IP, giving up 19 hits but striking out 22 against only 6 walks and 2 earned runs. He leads the club in innings pitched and strikeouts. He's scheduled to pitch again this week in Salt Lake, and Wedge has gone on record saying that he wants the roster finalized before the team goes to Salt Lake, so all signs are pointing towards Maurer starting the year with the big club. Exciting!
- Justin Smoak continued his ridiculous tear, ripping two balls for a double and a single and drawing two walks. Smoak now leads the Cactus League in doubles, with eight. One of the walks was actually a home run that curved around the left field foul pole, but the umpire miscalled it--in other words, Smoak was robbed of an even better performance than the one he was credited for. Before his performance today, Smoak was sitting on a 1.230 OPS, and now it's even higher. Former Mariners/Astros scout Bernie Pleskoff was at the game and tweeted a absolutely glowing review of Smoak's new swing. To wit:
#Mariners Justin Smoak is just so much shorter to the ball. Hands are quiet. Head is on the ball. Solid line drives. Different hitter now.— Bernie Pleskoff (@BerniePleskoff) March 25, 2013
- Jesus Montero likewise extended his hot streak, this time with a few extra-special dramatic twists. For one, he apparently hit an infield single. Unfortunately there was no video of the game today, so it's entirely possible that there was some great conspiracy between the game's attendees and Gameday to trick us into thinking Montero has gained speed, but I'm inclined to believe that it actually happened. Still, doesn't it just figure that Montero would hit a triple and an infield single in the only two games of the spring for which we can't get video? Montero also detonated a pitch from Wilkin De La Rosa that left the stadium altogether, but Montero crushing a dinger is much more believable than Montero legging out an infield single.
- Speaking of the home run off of De La Rosa. Montero had pretty extreme platoon splits last year, and De La Rosa is a lefty who is also not very good. So when Montero came up to face De La Rosa for the first time, I made some snarky comment in the game thread about the pitcher's impending doom... and Montero drew a bases-loaded walk. Boy, was that embarrassing! But then the Mariners batted around, and the next time Montero came up to face De La Rosa he cranked an enormous grand slam. Dignity salvaged, I guess.
- The only time the Reds threatened to score was in the bottom of the second, when Ryan Ludwick went for home on former Mariner Jack Hannahan's double to Casper Wells. Because Wells is good at defense, he and Brendan Ryan executed a perfect relay to catch Ludwick at home plate, saving a run and preserving the shutout. Defense matters! Casper Wells is good at it! Mariners Administrators, I am sending you messages with my mind!
- We finally got an answer to the Erasmo Ramirez question (the Erasmo Ramirez question being why the hell Erasmo is out of the rotation race). Per Drayer, Erasmo was scheduled to start yesterday in place of Saunders but felt tightness in his right tricep after his relief appearance in the Cubs game. His start was scratched and his schedule pushed back, so he won't be stretched out in time for the season and is thus unable to start the year in the rotation. See, sometimes there are reasons for the front office's seemingly "silly" decisions!
- Tomorrow's game will be started by Jeremy Bonderman. That's a funny choice to start the Cactus League Championship game, Mariners! Oh well. While I'm not rooting for Bonderman to make the rotation, I certainly am rooting for the Mariners to win the Golden Saguaro, so I'll be fervently cheering Bonderman on from the game thread. I hope you all will join me. See you there!