Me, at 8:18pm EDT last night:
As it turns out, the only people who got the memo were Randy Winn and Ichiro, as the rest of the team was a combined 0-24 with two walks. Not that this is really out of the ordinary - the team hasn't scored a single run for Ryan Franklin since the ninth inning of that Jon Garland potential perfect game on April 16th. Three straight starts in which the Mariners were shut out while Franklin was on the hill.
And yet, the problem is bigger than Ryan Franklin. This is a team that just isn't scoring many runs. They're averaging 4.23 a game and are on a 685-run pace, which would be their lowest total since 1992 (excluding the strike year). Earlier in the season, the Mariners couldn't hit until someone got on base, at which point they practically turned into nine Gary Sheffields. I said that something had to give, because no team could sustain such dramatic situational splits for an entire season. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it would be the good part that gave way, leaving us with a lineup that just can't get anything done, ever. Yeah, things will improve, but I don't think anyone was prepared for these kinds of early-season struggles.
Which brings us to last night's Win Expectancy chart:
Raise your hand if you thought that Randy Winn drawing a walk in the first inning would be the high point of the game. One strike-'em-out-throw-'em-out double play later, and you could just feel like it was going to be another miserable effort. Like the team got its first two hitters on base, suddenly realized that Ryan Franklin was pitching, and decided that they had to get themselves out of the inning without a run. As soon as Steve Finley homered in the fourth, the Mariners essentially gave up. It's just incredible to me that there's not a single spike in that chart during the second half of the game. No hope, no nothing.
This all brings us to The First Official Excuse Tracker '05! Why isn't anyone hitting? Just let the players tell you themselves!
Boone: "There's too much pressure on me to get my 1,000th RBI."
Beltre: "Switching leagues and facing new pitchers makes it difficult for me to get comfortable at the plate."
Sexson: "I'm still sick somehow."
Olivo: "Being traded a few times during my career has made me feel unwanted, and my resulting emotional state has a negative effect on my performance."
Valdez: "I suck."
Reed: "I'm a rookie who's adjusting to a new league and new pit-...I'm like Beltre. Don't get angry at me until you're angry at him, too."
Ibanez: "Maybe if you'd stop playing me against lefties..."
Choo: "Two at bats in two weeks? How could I hit? Even if I were swinging the bat well, it's not like I could show you."
Wilson: "I'm really, really old. Like, real old."
Dobbs: "I have such a great swing that even my several outs are a work of art."
Ichiro and Winn: "It's not our fault."
If you take another look at the chart above, you'll notice that only Randy Winn made a positive contribution to the team. Nelson and Putz broke even - by the time they came into the game, it was already out of hand - and Ichiro's spectacular display of complete awesomeness came too late to make a real difference. Adrian Beltre tried to make a game of it in the eighth, when he drilled a ball to deep center with two on and two out, but Finley ran it down near the track. A ball that looked so promising off the bat, and didn't come close to meeting expectations. That's...that's almost symbolic of something...
There was something a little "off" about Franklin last night. He was walking a bunch of guys, and of the twelve outs that he recorded on balls in play, nine were of the groundball variety. These are not characteristics of the Ryan Franklin with whom we are all too familiar. Control aside, he threw a sinker to Juan Rivera in the second inning that resulted in a double play, and I was convinced that this was the pitch Franklin was missing for all of 2004. My hope was dashed two innings later, when Steve Finley left the yard. Before his day was done, Franklin had surrendered two homers and four extra-base hits in total, which is more in line with his usual self.
This is the danger with a guy like Franklin - even when it looks like he's pitching a decent game, there's always the potential that the next pitch could leave the yard and spoil the effort. The key is thus to keep as many people off base as possible, but by issuing five walks in five innings, Franklin wasn't getting it done. All of a sudden, his ERA's up to 4.74 and he's sporting a 0.71 K/BB ratio. That's bad.
What happens when Franklin pitches against his own team in an intra-squad game? Does anyone score? Do runs scored against him count as support, since they're technically Mariner runs scored during a Franklin start? Does nature act in such a way that, were one to schedule this kind of event, there would be a slew of severe natural disasters preventing the game from ever taking place?
The MLB.tv feed shared with us this Bryan Price quotation regarding Ryan Franklin's key to success:
"He thinks he's good."
You want to see scary? Steve Nelson (again, formerly of Mariners Wheelhouse) sent me Wilson Valdez's hitting chart at Safeco this year. Observe:
If nothing else, it seems like that double to right field is an anomaly. That's not just slap hitting - that is a complete, unadulterated dearth of power. At .195.215/.221 on the year, how long can Hargrove keep playing Valdez ahead of Willie Bloomquist? This is a question I never thought I'd have to ask.
Randy Winn almost gunned down Steve Finley at home in the fifth. Actually, he did gun him down, but Olivo dropped the ball. Nobody's quite sure where that came from.
Hands down, the worst part about last night was having to listen to Rex Hudler and Steve Physioc wax poetic about how the Angels are bigger than Jesus while subtilely extolling the virtues of smoking a lot of weed. They're enormous homers of the Harrelson/Jackson variety who have difficulty stringing together coherent sentences which follow a logical path towards construction. In the first inning, we heard that Mike Hargrove is an "aggressive" manager who plays "by the book" and likes to "wait for the three-run homer." A little later, we heard that Richie Sexson has a "long, compact swing". They repeatedly referred to the Angels as having a "tough middle infield", even though one of them has a history of significant back problems and the other just spent several months on the DL with a torn ACL. We also got to hear on at least three occasions that Orlando Cabrera "likes to play", as if there exists a common opposite situation in which a player hates his job and has to drag himself to the ballpark to collect his many millions of dollars every season. None of this makes any sense. On a scale of tolerable broadcasts, Hudler and Physioc rank just below Rick Rizzs and Hendu farting into their microphones for four innings.
On Shin-soo Choo in the ninth inning:
"Choo was born in Los Angeles in 1978.
-no, wait, Korea. I was looking at the wrong guy."
I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Hudler works for Ricoh, as his "keys to the game" for Jarrod Washburn were "hitting his spots" and "changing speeds". Because, obviously, some pitchers have greater success when they miss their spots and throw every pitch at the same velocity. It was funny to listen to them talk about how Washburn had Ichiro "just where he wanted him" in the first inning with the count 0-2. Ichiro singled up the middle on the next pitch. Apparenty these guys aren't familiar with the fact that Ichiro is always in control, regardless of the situation.
Witness that catch he made if you don't believe me. In case you haven't seen it on any highlight shows, it's available on the official website. In the seventh inning of a 5-0 game, Ichiro was still giving everything he had, as he sprinted to the wall, jumped, propped himself up ON TOP OF THE WALL WITH ONE ARM, turned the upper half of his body around 180 degrees, and robbed Garret Anderson of a home run. I'm not going to try and give a more detailed description, because words fail me. I still get this stupid grin on my face just thinking about the play. Not only did he rob Anderson of a homer, but he caught it around his waist. He actually reached down to make the catch. That ball could've been heading for the third row, and Ichiro would've brought it back in his glove. Even more amazingly, he didn't even look at the ball until he was firmly in place on top of the wall, at which point he casually turned around to watch the ball fall neatly into his grip. The section of right field wall with an imprint of his cleat mark should instantly be removed, framed, and sent to the Hall of Fame. Just as Ichiro made 2004 worth watching all by himself, so he did with last night's game.
It really makes you re-think some of that Voros McCracken/Tom Tippett DIPS Theory stuff. As of yesterday, home runs may still be considered "balls in play".
In the bottom of the fourth, Randy Winn hit a grounder to Adam Kennedy, who bobbled the ball a few times and couldn't get a throw to first. Our favorite stadium scorekeeper ruled it a hit. I want to meet that guy.
When the broadcast returned for the top of the fifth following a commercial break, the camera panned to four Angels fans sitting together in the seats. They did the normal wave-and-smile thing, and the camera went back to the game. Only, it didn't. It stayed there, focused on those same four fans for a good 30 seconds. And they kept on waving and smiling. Aside from their arms, nobody moved a muscle. It was both the most awkward and most unsettling 30 seconds of my life.
Late in the game, Bret Boone drilled a ball to left field that cleared the fence just inches to the left of the foul pole. This pursuit of the 1,000th career RBI is going to get real ugly, real fast.
Gil Meche goes up against John "My Life Peaked Three Years Ago" Lackey at 10:05pm EDT, because he has to, because that's what the schedule says.