As it so often does with these Mariners, talk early in this one turned to the M's ability—or lack thereof—to come back. It is said that some teams are good at it, while others roll over. I won't dive into that, but someone made the strong point that a team's ability to come back and win games must be measured at a rate, considered within the context of the team's total wins. See, if a team wins so many games, some baseline percentage of those are bound to be comeback wins.
With the Mariners, it's the same—except with losses.
The Mariners have lost a lot of games. By extension, they've lost games in a multitude of ways. But they seem to lose more of certain types of games than others. We're all aware of the walk-off losses; the Mariners have six already, not even halfway through the season. Those are painful, and they invite anger and intense frustration.
But tonight, tonight brought another type of game that's become all-too-familiar as they cruised right past anger and frustration, playing so poorly that you can't help but laugh at how awful the whole thing is. In the bottom of the sixth the game went from manageable, to certainly lost for this Mariners team, to a definite loss for any team, to the equivalent of an entire little league infield standing out there crying. It was full-on yakety sax.
This was a blowout, and I don't mean to write too little with the intro but that's how it was. It isn't a lack of motivation, there just wasn't much to the narrative of this one. It didn't look good from the beginning, but there was still some hope, then it was over, then it was horrible. Let's do some bullets.
- One of my favorite moments in Field of Dreams is when Ray Kinsella is throwing Shoeless Joe batting practice, and Kinsella says "see if you can hit my curve" before Jackson lines a ball right back through the box, taking out a bag of balls. Aaron Harang had like three or four of those. I don't know if they were curves, and they probably weren't, but Harang damn near getting his head taken off gave the proper reflection of his performance—one that, at least early, runs weren't doing.
Harang got shelled. He does this frequently. And honestly, I'd totally forgotten he was ever good. There was this other pitcher that was once Aaron Harang, and then there was this guy. That other Harang led the National League in complete games, strikeouts and wins in 2006. How absurd is that?
- We're well aware what Jason Vargas can do against bad strikeout-prone teams. Tonight, he did that. He had a season high nine strikeouts and, Franklin home run aside, he dominated in the fun "I'm an ace for a day" way he does. The Franklin home run gave the perception that the M's could get back into it but, before that, it seemed unlikely. And afterwards, Vargas demonstrated there was no use hoping.
In case anyone's wondering though, about overall value, Jason Vargas is at 0.9 WAR and Kendrys Morales is at 1.0. Just about what we expected.
- Let's discuss some good stuff. Zunino went 0-4 with three men left on base tonight, but this 5th inning at-bat caught my attention.
He took a first-pitch curveball on the black, one he couldn't do anything with. He took a changeup inside he couldn't do anything with. Then he took a changeup and a fastball low. He'd worked—really, worked—his way to a 3-1 count and earned a middle-in thigh-high fastball that he just missed. We talk about process over results so much. This was phenomenal process. And sure, he got some calls, but I'm going to force this narrative (or at least consider it): Zunino, being a catcher, knew the zone being called. Though it was inconsistent, it was tight most of the time—and he took the pitches that should be taken.
And, last point on this: pitch recognition and general patience isn't only about drawing walks, and the offensive value those bring in, but also the correlation to generally owning an at-bat. Against a pitcher who was really in a groove, Zunino controlled that at-bat and got everything he wanted save for solid contact.
- This needs to be framed appropriately. Think back to what you thought of Dustin Ackley when he first came up, those early days—how certain you were he was a franchise cornerstone. My dad thought he was Paul Molitor. I thought he'd bat .300 until my kids were in kindergarten (I'm not engaged or married). He was that dude.
Dustin Ackley through 20 games: .304/.364/.536 10/7 K/BB
Nick Franklin through 20 games: .299/.382/.522 11/9 K/BB
You have to remember: Dustin Ackley and Nick Franklin are different ballplayers. What Ackley has done since has no bearing on what Franklin will do from here forward. But so far rookie Nick Franklin is rookie Dustin Ackley—with much, much better defense.
Oh, and he's learning, or he seems to be. Tonight was his first home run from the right side since 2011. He's changed up his swing, and it's working.
- Remember Carter Capps the dominant reliever? That guy doesn't work here anymore. Capps works himself into trouble at an alarmingly frequent rate. He's running a FIP- of 120. He's got a .842 OPS against. Leaving out Nick Franklin, the average hitter Carter Capps faces produces better than every single Mariners hitter. That isn't saying much—but man.
- In the top of the fourth inning, the inning I thought would decide the game, the Mariners left three potential outs on the field. None of them were easy, but they were there.
In basketball, the phrase "50/50 balls" is tossed around a lot. The teams that get these 50/50 balls, usually earned through effort, win games. Effort only gets you so far in baseball, but the principle holds true—the team that gets more of the this-way-or-that-way plays has a huge advantage. In that frame, there was a bobbled comebacker by Harang that prevented a double play, Triunfel pulling Morse off the bag and then Saunders not hauling in what would've been an unbelievable home run robbery. The average likelihood for each one of those plays may have been 30-40 percent—but the Mariners got the out at a zero percent rate. I try not to ask too much of this team, but if they get just one of those outs, the inning looks different.
Oh, and Endy Chavez also badly misplayed an Albert Pujols double that could've been caught. That was with one out and no runs in during that horrendous bottom half of the 6th. The Mariners were badly outplayed tonight, but it's easy to identify where things went wrong, and where the game could've been made much closer.