A few numbers:
5-1 in the last six games
8-3 in the last 11 series (or "serieses", to Bill Krueger)
13-7 since hitting a season low 11 below .500 on May 27th
Games since David Locke's ".500" article:
Performance by the kids (Reed, Morse, Lopez, Rivera) since the article was published:
The combined age of today's 6-9 hitters is lower than Pat Borders' alone, and they collected eight hits and five RBI in the game. It's obviously not going to continue at the present rate, but these young players aren't going to go away, so Locke had better get used to them. It's no coincidence that the team suddenly started playing great baseball as soon as the kids all started hitting; the Mariners could promote a bunch more minor leaguers and still finish at or around .500, simply because there are a lot of guys in the system who would represent improvements over some of the guys on the ML roster. No, Mr. Locke, dipping into the pool of organizational youth doesn't mean that the Mariners are throwing in the towel on the season. Some of those kids have actually contributed to the most exciting baseball we've seen from this team in a long time.
If yesterday's game had everything, this one had a little more - some good pitching, a lot of good hitting, the happiness of a big lead, the anxiety of a Mets rally, and the comfort of a big lead restored. More than a 120,000 fans got to experience the sweep first hand, to boot, which only makes things better. It's the right kind of momentum to have heading into a four-game set against a divisional rival, a good opportunity to put some more distance between ourselves and last place. You really have to ask yourself, when's the last time it felt this good to be a Mariners fan?
Biggest Contribution: Richie Sexson, +37.6%
Biggest Suckfest: Adrian Beltre, -16.0%
Most Important Hit: Sexson homer, +16.8%
Most Important Pitch: Floyd strikeout, +10.6%
Total Contribution by Pitchers: -5.1%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +45.3%
A game most clearly won by the sticks. The Mariners were carried by a season-high 17 hits, enough to knock Tom Glavine out of the game after 2.1 innings. Six batters picked up multi-hit days, with three of them collecting three apiece. Only Randy Winn (of all people) went hitless, and even he made a positive contribution to the win by virtue of a first inning walk.
Some things to explain about the WPA numbers, again: Beltre got a negative rating, despite going 2-4 and reaching base three times, because he grounded into a big double play in the first inning with two on and none out. Neither his hits nor his walk drove in a run, and each came at a time where the Mariners were already in the lead. So, yeah, it's nice to see Beltre back and hitting, but he didn't help out today. Gil Meche finished below zero because he left with the bases loaded and one down. On a similar note, Matt Thornton didn't get a terrible rating because none of the runners who scored were his, and he still left with the lead. Win Expectancy when he came in: 82.5%. Win Expectancy when he left: 77.3%. One more hit by Floyd would've done the job on Thornton's rating, though. Finally, Mike Morse got a slight negative rating because of a double play and an out to lead off the sixth in a one-run game. It's a small negative, though, so it doesn't mean much.
There was some hope that Meche may have finally turned the corner in his last start against the Phillies, in which he threw 119 pitches over eight sparkling innings. But, no, he didn't. Despite starting today's game pretty well, he quickly reverted back to the shining beacon of inefficiency with which we've become familiar over the years. He left having spread 108 pitches over 5.1 innings and 27 batters faced, forcing Hargrove's hand and giving way to the repugnant Matt Thornton. It's a recurring problem that's plagued Gil for his entire career, and as long as he's throwing 17-18 pitches per inning, he'll just never turn into the arm so many people thought he would be. He has trouble getting deep into ballgames and the high pitch counts (with many pitches typically coming in stressful situations with men on base) tax his arm, rendering him both a frequent liability and a health risk.
Perhaps it's time to acknowledge that whatever Meche and the Mariners have been working on over the years just doesn't work. There are two obvious alternative plans: either they try to teach Meche to pitch to contact like Ryan Franklin, or they turn him into a power reliever. There's probably more potential in the latter, as the idea of Meche just letting loose for one inning every other game is enough to make even the dryest of mouths water, but don't be surprised if they go the way of the former, trying to squeeze 200 innings out of a guy who just doesn't have it in him. Gil's probably gone at the end of the year anyway, so the Mariners might as well try to get as much out of him as they can before cutting ties.
In light of recent news that Raffy Soriano is on the mend, an interesting question comes to mind: why have the Mariners been so patient with Gil Meche in the rotation while insisting that Soriano remains in the pen? The answer you'd get if you asked anyone in the organization is that "Gil has electric starter stuff" while "Soriano only has two pitches", but what does that really mean? Meche has a 4.55 ERA over 99 career games (98 of them being starts) despite pitching roughly half his innings in Safeco Field. Is there any doubt that Soriano could at least match that production, third pitch be damned? The Mariners need to stop thinking about the package and start thinking about the results. The rotation is looking paper-thin, both now and in the future, and they have one arm with all kinds of potential getting healthier by the day right under their nose. It has to be worth a shot, doesn't it?
Meche left with the bases loaded and one out, and Hargrove made the brilliant tactical decision to bring in the worst pitcher on the staff to get us out of the mess. I was doing a little Googling after the game ended, and came up with an appropriate image to display whenever Thornton is summoned to protect a lead. It's called the Resilience Institute Death Spiral:
The image shows all of the emotions one typically associates with a Matt Thornton appearance, beginning with confusion ("Why is Thornton in this game?") and ending with depression ("Way to blow the lead, Matt.") But wait! Thornton didn't blow the entire lead today! It's time for a modified image:
This image shows all of the emotions one typically associates with a Matt Thornton appearance in which he doesn't blow the game. You'll notice that "depression" is conspicuously absent from the list of feelings. This is because one need not feel depressed when Thornton comes in and the team hangs onto its lead. The five remaining emotions are still consistent with those felt during even the most successful Thornton appearance. It's perfect.
See, the thing about Matt Thornton is this - he sucks quite often, but doesn't always get tagged with runs allowed. Sometimes this is because he's able to escape the mess he created, but more often it's because the runs he allows to score are someone else's responsibility. All three of the runs that scored today while Thornton was pitching were charged to Gil Meche, a handy way for Matt to suck and avoid looking bad in the box score. On the year, Thornton has inherited 24 baserunners, and ten of them have come around to score, or a remarkable 41.7%. Of all the relievers in the league who have inherited at least 20 baserunners, only Doug Brocail, Tyler Walker, and Trever Miller have allowed a higher percentage of them to score. That's bad. If you have to use Thornton, use him with the bases empty, preferably in a blowout. There's just no excuse for him to show up in a close game.
Today was Shigetoshi Hasegawa's first appearance since June 10th.
Ichiro went 3-5 today, his second three-hit game in three days, raising his average to .302. By the looks of things, he's ready to break out of his slump. The reason for said slump? He's hitting the ball in the air too often - Ichiro's GB/FB of 1.88 is the second-lowest of his career (1.77, 2003), and well below his average of 2.41. I showed a year ago that Ichiro is at his best when he's beating balls into the ground and either legging them out, or watching his grounders find holes between the infielders. There's a strong, direct correlation between his productivity and his groundball ratio. Flyballs are fine every so often - especially the kind that sail over fences - but for Ichiro to resemble the guy he was a year ago, he needs to get back to his usual slap-hitting style. He had it working in April, so there's no reason to think that he won't get it back again.
Place your bets: how long until Bret Boone demands either a trade or a release? The Mariners are better without him, and he's probably better without the Mariners.
Back to work tomorrow night at 7:05pm, as the streaking Aaron Sele takes on the streaking Dan Haren. The two pitchers have combined to allow just 19 runs in their last 77 innings of work. Interesting note: after today, the Mariners should be a .500 team in Baseball Prospectus' third-order adjusted standings.