May 21st, 2012: The Seattle Mariners defeat the Texas Rangers 6-1, raising their season record to 20-24.
May 21st, 2013: The Seattle Mariners are blown out by the Los Angeles Angels, 0-12, dropping their season record to 20-26.
May 21st, 2014: The Seattle Mariners lose to the Texas Rangers 3-4, dropping their season record to 22-23.
In a way, the above statements reflect a few realities about the state of the Seattle Mariners over the past couple of years. On one hand, you could say that the Mariners have improved, in that they have more wins at this point in the year than they had in any of the previous three seasons. On another, one might be able to say that the Mariners path to have the all-time win record for games played on May 21st has been derailed over the past two seasons, following a 12-run rout and today's one-run loss.
You could also look at the offense and note that in 2011 and 2012 the Mariners seemed to be getting a whole shit ton of runs. They apparently completely forgot how to hit in 2013, and are now only starting to maybe be a competent offensive team again, albeit slowly. These are all things you can say about the four games listed above.
Now, of course, that is an inaccurate and absurd way to think about baseball. Let's not be silly. But I do think it's useful to occasionally peer into the past, even at the risk of letting it cloud your perception of the present, and vice versa. And using today's game--a 4-3 loss to the Texas Rangers--as a bit of a landmark on our journey, I think we should be able to see that things aren't looking quite as bad, or as good, as our emotions oscillate between from time to time.
But yes, today. And we must start by talking about Chris Young.
Ah, Chris Young. The giant has started to blossom. Today, he shone vivid and bright like the Chris Young we all knew him to truly be: simultaneously leaving pitches up in the zone and hitting his spots, pitching to insane contact and still having a low BABIP, horrible early and locked in late.
Young ran into trouble early, and fast. He led off the game with a five-pitch walk to Daniel Robertson, with all but one pitch landing above John Buck's head. Then, a two-run homer to Elvis Andrus, which took him four pitches. Then, four pitches to Shin Soo Choo, never hitting the strike zone and resulting in a line drive single. Beltre moved him to second on a 78mph slider, and then Alex Rios drove in a run on the exact same pitch a minute later. Phew. No, wait there's still more.
Young managed to get Mitch Moreland out on a force, but walked Chris Giminez right after. Here's what he was pitching like:
He finally escaped the inning, but ran into more trouble in the second. After getting two quick outs, Young hit Choo in an 0-2 count, and then promptly put Beltre on first with a grounder. At this point he wasn't missing his spots as much as he was just leaving everything crazy high, which, again, is kind of his MO. Young needed 34 pitches to get through the first inning. It took him 18 to get through the second. And then, he thought oh screw it, and swung the other way, throwing eight pitches in the third. Young lasted six innings today, recording the first out in the seventh. After his Joe Saundersesque meltdown, he was his usual completely servicable self, only giving up a homer to Choo in the fifth inning. Unfortunately, it was the last run of the game, and the run that put the Rangers ahead. But still, what the hell, Chris Young? Make up your mind.
But now, the past. Yes, the past. Last year, Chris Young was Jeremy Bonderman. Well, actually, he was probably more of an Aaron Harang, as they were both added after spring training and pitched well early, both (probably) getting sent to dodge midseason when replacements arrive(d). But, look, the Mariners had Jeremy Bonderman in important summer games last year. James Paxton is making a relief start this weekend, and Taijuan Walker isn't too far behind. The Mariners are closer to .500 than they were at this point last year, and they are going the rest of the way without Jeremy Bonderman, Joe Saunders, bad Aaron Harang, and soon, probably without Chris Young. This is good.
Now of course, if we are going to talk about the past, we also need to talk about all those one-run games behind the King, and an historically bad offensive year in 2010. That year saw the M's scoring fewer runs than any other team since 1972. In 2011, they were last in the league in runs scored and batting average. In 2012, they were last in batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage. 2013 saw a little bit of an improvement, but they were still the ninth-worst team in total runs scored, had the fifth-most strikeouts, and the fourth fewest hits of any team in baseball. But we need to talk about something else before we talk about today's offense.
Seattle Run Differential as of May 21st:
Yes, and that may not be completely sustainable with a pitching rotation that's going to be half different here in a few weeks, but the number still stands. And today, the Mariners proved it wasn't a mistake. It is probably a lot of things, from LLoyd apparently having shorter leashes on certain struggling centerfielders (I didn't say shortstops), mixed with an overperforming pitching rotation, someone named Robinson Cano, and just a pinch of luck, but that number still stands.
After Young's implosion, the Mariners began their attack with new leadoff-man and streak hero James Jones turning a double into a triple off Nick Tepesch. Michael Saunders singled Jones in a moment later, and then Cano drove him in on this, his second home run of the season.
Ah yes, the power! Colin had a great post yesterday about the M's (and Cano's) suspicious lack of power, turning an eye toward game time temperature in the early part of the season. And then...this:
See. RT @ScottSKOMO: Cano’s just-now HR would’ve traveled about 8 ft. shorter at Safeco as it’s 28° warmer in Dallas than Seattle now.— Colin O'Keefe (@colinokeefe) May 21, 2014
I'll let you make your own conclusions.
The Mariners unfortunately wouldn't score through the rest of the game, despite a late eighth inning rally that failed to take shape for a number of reasons, all outside any of our control but frustrating and worthy of profanity-laced tirades toward the indifferent heavens regardless. Here is the sequence:
1. James Jones walk.
2. Michael Saunders drag bunt, moving Jones to second with a force. One out.
3. Robinson Cano strikeout. Two out.
4. Kyle Seager strikeout. Three out.
Now, of course, I would be remiss to avoid mentioning that the above isn't the entire story. Here's Cano's at bat:
Note that pitches two and four were called strikes. Pitch five was a swinging strike. The only reason Cano swung at this was because he realized that the lefty zone was in full effect, and despite barking at home base umpire Jeff Kellogg, he knew he would have to swing at anything on the edges. Here's Kyle Seager's at bat:
Pitch one was a called strike, in the left handed batter's box. I...god dammit, I can't believe I'm talking about the strike zone. It's frustrating, but yes yes yes, we all know that if the Mariners wanted to win today, then they should have had mroe hits, especially from anyone not named James Jones, Michael Saunders, Robinson Cano, or Kyle Seager. Yes, anyone with different names didn't get a hit as a Mariner today, and that's just inexcusable.
But you know, if we are going to do this whole past thing, we should note that yes, the Mariners have their best May 21st record in seven years. They did this in part by having some decent hitting, but they also did this by, as the above should show, having a bunch of glaring holes in need of patchwork. The Mariners have always had glaring holes. And yet, when all is said and done, they stand here today in surprisingly good shape. Better shape than 2013, 2012, 2011, and so on.
So fear not, friends. The Mariners lost today, but they didn't get blown out by the fucking Angels by 12 runs. It's getting warmer and Robinson Cano is hitting like Ted Williams. And they are going to do all this without Miguel Bitey Olivo, Jeremy Bonderman, Chone Figgins, Brandon League, Carlos Silva or Milton Bradley. Progress comes in many shapes and sizes. At least on paper, anyway.