Well, that was a total dud.
It got really bad really fast, and for the first eight innings there was pretty much nothing to get excited about. Ichiro did a little salvaging job in the ninth to end the shutout, but...man, that sucked.
Tonight's Win Expectancy chart took off in the opposite direction of yesterday's. Observe:
A leadoff double for Alfonso Soriano was only the tip of the iceberg, and by the end of the first the Mariners had just a one-in-twelve chance of winning the game. Now, I'm not a statistical analyst by trade, but I'm pretty sure that those are bad odds in a game between two evenly-matched teams.
Despite a bit of a rebound by Ryan Franklin, the lineup's complete inability to generate any semblance of an offensive attack continued to reduce our odds of winning the game. Things came officially unglued in the fifth, when the excrement hit the proverbial fan and Franklin coughed up another two runs. By that point, Seattle's chances of winning were officially 0%. They might as well have just called the game right there and kept each team's bullpen fresh. Instead, they continued, and the Mariners' Win Expectancy dropped to depths rendered unquantifiable by contemporary mathematics. If it weren't for some ninth-inning heroics by Ichiro that brought the odds back to the familiar world of integers, the team's official expectancy would have remained rather firmly in the realm of imaginary numbers. You can see all this in the chart above.
As far as Win Probability Added is concerned, here's all you need to know: the Mariners started with a 48.4% chance of winning the game (again, this is an estimate, but the point remains valid), so therefore the players who made an appearance tonight accumulated a total rating of -0.484. Ryan Franklin's individual WPA was -0.321. In other words, you can hold him 66% responsible for the loss. That pretty much tells the whole story.
Before I say more about the game, I want to make one thing clear - as much as I (and other bloggers) talk about Ryan Franklin's luck on balls in play, and the general unsustainability of his early-season performance, this was still his first bad start out of four on the year. It's not very fair to say things like "Oh, Franklin's back" after a lousy performance when he pitched very well in his three prior starts. It's one thing to voice your concerns that Franklin may have many more starts like this one in the future; it's quite another to blast the guy for 4.1 bad innings and, say, demand his release.
So, with that in mind...the guy was pretty awful tonight. He was leaving pitches up in the zone early on, and began missing low in what was presumably an attempt to compensate. Forced to come back over the plate in fastball counts, Franklin got hit pretty hard, allowing four extra-base hits before being mercifully taken out of the game. Power-hitting teams feast on contact pitchers like Franklin, which is why I wish we had a groundballer on the staff to "platoon" with him and start games against these kinds of lineups. There's nothing you can really expect Franklin to do about it - the things that make him effective against aggressive, low-power lineups are the same things that get him in trouble against a bunch of sluggers. When he's set to go up against a Texas, a Boston, or another powerful lineup, all you can hope for is that he's able to minimize the damage.
Something that came to mind during the first inning: perhaps Franklin got so fed up with his low run support that he decided to go out there and make an example of himself in showing his teammates how a lineup would go about scoring runs for its pitcher. This carries the unfortunate, yet necessary consequence of facing an early deficit, because Franklin can't really show his hitters how to score runs if he's mowing down the Rangers in order. Yeah, that's got to be it. Evidently it was all for naught, though, considering the Mariners had all of one hit by the time Franklin was pulled.
In an unintentional display of hysterical irony, the Texas broadcast was complaining about Kenny Rogers' low run support before the game started.
One last Franklin-related note: if you've ever doubted the existence of the Law of Averages, witness tonight's game as evidence. Ryan's BABIP jumped from .144 to .200 in the span of 20 balls put in play. Nature can't stand to have things out of whack for even a minute longer than they have to be.
In the bottom of the third, Mark Teixeira was standing on second base when David Dellucci hit a lazy fly ball into left field, moderate depth. Teixeira then tagged up on Winn and made it to third without much of a challenge. Shades of 2004 Frank Thomas.
Josh Lewin and Tom Grieve aren't the worst broadcasting duo in the Majors - Chicago's Harrelson/Jackson gruesome twosome are pretty well entrenched at the top of that particular list - but they might be the least topical. If you want to hear about what's going on in the game, these guys shouldn't be your first choice. Last time I had to listen to them, I was subjected to discussions covering a broad range of topics including Trading Spaces, hotel curtains, and sunrises. Tonight, they kicked it off by chatting about facial hair and polyester clothing. What's more, neither of them strike me as all that knowledgeable about the game itself; one of them claimed that Derrek Lee was released by Florida and signed by the Cubs to a fictional contract, when he was actually swapped for Hee Choi, and the other one referred to Clint Barmes - the NL's current batting leader - as "that guy in Colorado". Maybe my standards are a little too high, but those seem like gimmes to me.
A visit by the Philly Phanatic to the broadcast booth in the top of the fifth certainly didn't help Lewin or Grieve get back on track. The two of them went to some lengths to discuss the physical mechanism of the Phanatic sneezing, and, all things considered, it might have been the worst half-inning I've ever listened to. Thankfully, I wasn't listening to the Seattle broadcast when the Phanatic paid a visit to Valle and Rizzs in the next inning. One can only imagine.
Minor beef: I can understand an umpire wanting to end a blowout as quickly as possible, but if the players are still trying pretty hard, don't you owe it to them to do the same? In the ninth inning, Miguel Olivo was called out at second on a fielder's choice when he was pretty clearly safe, and the home plate umpire adopted an incredibly large strike zone that all but forced guys to swing at everything. I know, I know, it doesn't make any difference in the long run, but by the same token, is it really that much of an inconvenience to call the end of a blowout the way it was called early on? But hey, I'm probably just bitter that Larry Vanover cost Jeremy Reed an at bat.
Also in the ninth, Ichiro fell to the ground in an awkward heap of bent legs in an effort to avoid getting hit by a Cordero fastball. He got up, calmly brushed himself off, and drilled a two-run double to right field on the next pitch. The guy cannot be fazed, and is just a spectacular joy to watch.
Another positive from today's game was the pitching off Matt Thornton, which - while not as good as it has been for brief flashes in the past - was still decent, despite not having his usual velocity. Except for one wild-ass pitch that missed Olivo and, if it had a choice, probaby would've missed the backstop, Thornton stayed around the zone, and struck out Mark Teixeira on a pretty good changeup. By no means was it a standout appearance, but he only allowed one baserunner, and he may actually be developing before our very eyes. Small sample size caveat applies, of course, and I'd still rather have George Sherrill.
...and this is where we run into problems, because going into the seventh it was a 7-0 game and Thornton had only thrown 28 pitches, but Hargrove elected to replace him with the rotting carcass of Jeff Nelson, who's recently complained about his lack of playing time. For one thing, someone needs to explain to Hargrove that 12-man bullpens are stupid. For another thing, someone needs to explain to Nelson that he's an old situational reliever on a team with lots of questions which can only be answered with playing time. Ideally, Hargrove would have left Thornton in there to pitch his heart out, because he stands to gain from the experience. Instead, we had to appease the whiny veteran, and Thornton's day was done after six batters.
And hey! Julio Mateo for the eighth! Everyone's getting into the game! How absolutely necessary!
Randy Winn tried to make another out on the basepaths, but a bad throw by Rod Barajas wouldn't let him.
As of this moment, Richie Sexson is hitting .254/.351/.493. I wouldn't be surprised to see him end the season pretty close to where he is now - nor would I be all that disappointed.
Hopefully, tonight was our token blowout, and the team will put it behind them in time to prepare for another try tomorrow. And hey, today's game could've been worse - Ichiro could've snapped a ligament doing his little evasive dance in the ninth, or someone in the clubhouse could've been diagnosed with a highly resistant strain of the plague. It's all about perspective. Try to hang on to those positive thoughts, because the alternative is thinking about what the Rangers might do to Gil Meche at 8:05pm EDT tomorrow night. With luck, the Mariners will do the same to Chris Young.