Okay, so it hasn't quite been the miraculous equivalent of seeing the Virgin Mary in your Raisin Bran, but it's been close, and I'd say that the team has done pretty well for itself.
As fans of a bad team, we don't get many opportunities to be proud of our allegiance. The Mariners lose a bunch of games, they only have a single All Star representative, and they've never gone to the World Series. With that said, I think this is one of those chances. Coming off an ugly series against one of the worst organizations in professional sports, the M's looked tattered, tired, and talentless, and a lot of people expected them to sleepwalk into the break. Instead of quitting, though, they marched onto the home field of one of the strongest teams in the league and suddenly started playing the best baseball we've seen all year, blasting big hits, throwing big pitches, and snatching what would almost certainly be big wins for anyone better than ten games below .500. In the long run, it's probably not much of an accomplishment, since we'll need a lot more than three wins over divisional opponents to crawl out of last, but right now, it just feels like an incredible achievement. Maybe it's better for me than most of you guys because I hate the Angels so much - it's not often that I feel compelled to wear my Mariner jersey while watching the game from home, alone - but I get the sense that we're all feeling pretty damn good right now.
This is one of those context-of-the-season situations that I was talking about a few days ago. If you can't help reminding yourself before every pitch that the Mariners are deep in the cellar and playing for 2006, you probably couldn't care less about what happens on the scoreboard. If you forget about the standings, though, and just focus on the game between the M's and another AL West rival, I bet you've been enjoying yourself. These feel like the kinds of games that even the good Mariner teams of years past wouldn't win, instead preferring to fall flat against whichever pitcher takes the hill. Knowing that, and then seeing this kind of sudden domination, it's all a little much, and - if you haven't noticed - it's difficult to put into words.
Fortunately, that's what pictures are for:
Biggest Contribution: Randy Winn, +20.1%
Biggest Suckfest: Adrian Beltre, -10.1%
Most Important Hit: Winn single, +21.0%
Most Important Pitch: Figgins double play, +13.0%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +21.6%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +30.0%
Beltre's the last guy you'd like to see earn the "Biggest Suckfest" label for a game, but everyone's entitled to a bad day every once in a while, and besides, we beat the Angels, so who really cares who did what? If the M's swept the season series with Anaheim because Willie Bloomquist hit 15 grand slams and Aaron Sele tossed a dozen complete game shutouts, all while Beltre, Reed, and Snelling went hitless, I think I could deal with that. You talk about the individuals when you're doing a performance analysis; when you're watching or recapping a game, it's all about the team itself, rather than its components.
Based on the Win Expectancy numbers, the hitters were more responsible for the win than the pitchers, which is remarkable, given that almost all of the relevent offense came in a single inning. Not that the pitchers didn't make their own strong contribution, mostly thanks to Ron Villone inducing Chone Figgins to hit into an inning-ending double play as the tying run in the bottom of the seventh. Why does Ryan Franklin get such a low positive rating after allowing just two runs in 6.1 innings, you ask? For two reasons: one, he allowed the first run of the game (an important one, because it forced the Mariners to rally from a deficit), and two, he left in the seventh with men on the corners and one out. Not that he didn't pitch a good game, but he hit the wall in the later innings, and in this case, I think the Win Probability Added rating pretty accurately reflects how good Franklin "looked" on the mound.
It was just another typical Franklin start, for the most part - not many walks, not many strikeouts, and not many runs. He didn't allow a homer, as he's been known to do from time to time, but the Angels certainly hit their fair share of reasonably long fly balls, so it was just one of those days where the luck went Ryan's way.
The fascinating thing about watching Franklin pitch - really, there's something - is seeing how he mixes up his 45943265983245 different pitches, seemingly according to the level of confidence he has in each kind of pitch he's throwing. Today, for example, you could tell that he had a good feel for his breaking ball, as he used it as his primary out pitch and even came back with it after falling behind in the count on a few occasions (rather than going with a fastball). Other times, like in that early-season start in Kansas City, he'll have a better feel for his sinking fastball, getting swings and results that make him look like a different pitcher. In the end, it all blends together and he winds up looking like the same high-contact/high-homer guy we've come to know, but it has to be a bit of an issue for, say, advance scouts, because it's hard to know which pitch he's going to favor on any given day.
That same diverse repertoire is probably one of the reasons why Franklin's been so good at getting deep into games, which is what makes today's seventh-inning struggles a little out of the ordinary. Usually, when you have a guy who relies on one or two pitches, you'll see him get beat up when his signature pitches aren't working. Franklin, though, has a bunch of backup plans, so you'll seldom see him fight the strike zone as much as he did late in the game. He hasn't had any problems in the 110-120 pitch range before in his career, presumably because he can offer a completely different pitch sequence every time a lineup turns over in a game, so chalk today up as a fluke. I guess there are just greater forces than Franklin at play, insisting that his K/BB remain as close to 1.00 as possible.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Ryan Franklin start if he didn't talk about himself aftewards:
It's funny how that whole "run support" thing has died down on the heels of back-to-back six-run games for the Mariners in Franklin starts. Of course, he's only allowed two runs total in those two games, which some intellectual dynamo with a blind spot for small sample sizes will inevitably interpret to mean that Franklin pitches a lot better when he has a cushion, so consider this the eye of the proverbial storm.
After today's contest, Willie Ballgame has a .271/.324/.365 batting line. Granted, it's come over just 96 at bats, but here's a hypothetical for you: what if Willie turns out to be a .275/.330/.375 hitter during his prime years (which he has just recently entered)? Given his speed and versatility, does he become a more valuable player than we've ever been willing to give him credit for being? That would put him at a park-adjusted OPS around .720 - not a guy you want starting every day, or even every other day, but still a nifty guy to have around on the bench, a poor man's considerably whiter approximation of Chone Figgins. How Willie does over the rest of the season will go a long way towards determining how I feel about his arbitration eligibility. Maybe it's just the hot streak talking, but I no longer feel like putting Willie in the starting lineup is a waste of time, because he is just 27 years old, and may yet put up a three-homer season. He shouldn't block younger, more talented players with brighter futures, but I think one of the advantages of being ten games below .500 is that you're able to examine the extent to which a certain player can help your team without having to worry about winning ballgames and remaining competitive. That needs to happen with Willie, because the organization will have to make a decision regarding his roster status this winter, and I don't know that they currently have enough information.
Don't be fooled - Miguel Olivo didn't really have a hit today. In case you missed it, his "single" came on a bunt that he popped up over the pitcher's head, dropping behind the mound. The difference between Olivo reaching base and Olivo returning to the dugout having failed to advance the runners by popping out on a bunt attempt was about six inches. You have to feel for the guy, because he seems genuinely frustrated by the way things have gone, but he's just comically bad.
JJ Putz has allowed six home runs and one double. The odds of this trend continuing are roughly the same as the odds of him sustaining his current .206 BABIP for the rest of the season. Look for balls to stop clearing the fences and start dropping in for singles and doubles. Frankly, I'm not sure which is better.
Going for the sweep tomorrow afternoon. It's a 1:05pm start time, as Gil Meche faces off against Ervin Santana in the last game of the first half. Santana has seven Major League starts under his belt; in four of them, he's allowed three runs in 27 innings, and in the other three, he's allowed 20 in 10.2. Kids these days.