Just last Sunday, we were all celebrating a four-game sweep of the hated (by me) Angels. Now it's Friday, five days later, and nobody can remember what last weekend felt like. Part of it is the All Star Game's fault - a break in the middle of the season sucks, no matter how demanding the schedule may be - but then you have to wonder what kind of role the status of the opponent plays. Everyone around these parts was a hell of a lot more excited to face Anaheim than Baltimore, after all. What if the players feel the same way? It would certainly explain a lot, although I think that's just me looking for an easy excuse. Easier, even, than "Joel Pineiro really blew."
For me, maybe it's that having fans cheer for Palmeiro's 3000th career hit, rather than for, say, Palmeiro's 7557th career out, makes it more difficult to eliminate the context of the season. Watching these past two games, it really felt like the Mariners were a bad team going through the motions, as opposed to the world-beaters they emulated a week ago. It's too bad we can't play a hated rival every day, I guess. At least, by losing, we're helping the Orioles gain some ground.
Raffy - congratulations on the milestone. We're all honored that you chose the Mariners to be your designated punching bag. That's in the past now, though, and you were never a Mariner yourself, so the talk about 3000 is done from this point forward.
Biggest Contribution: Willie Ballgame, +8.0%
Biggest Suckfest: Raul Ibanez, -25.8%
Most Important Hit: Ibanez double play, -17.5%
Most Important Pitch: Palmeiro double, -13.6%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -25.5%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -30.6%
Not so much a loss to be pinned equally on the entire team than a loss to be pinned on Pineiro and Ibanez, the former allowing five runs in five innings, and the latter reaching base twice but stranding four critical baserunners. The rest of the team combined for a -4.9% rating - not good, but not really bad enough to warrant much blame for the loss. This was just one of those games where the supporting cast couldn't pick up two guys who made some big mistakes.
After a June/July in which it looked like Joel was re-assuming his rightful position as a decent pitcher, tonight we saw a regression back to his early-season ways. The fastball velocity was still conspicuously absent while his release point was all over the place, leading to a series of poorly-placed pitches that either missed the zone or got smacked into (and, on one occasion, out of) play. It looked like Joel might survive after a rough first two innings, but he ran into trouble again in the fifth, getting his name in the record books to cap off an otherwise forgettable night. At this point, it shouldn't be about getting Pineiro back to what he was in 2002 and 2003 - it should be about saving his career before all the talent and all the potential evaporate. His crazy-inconsistent delivery almost looks like that of a high schooler, and you get the impression like Bryan Price & Co. will need to break him down and build him back up from scratch if they hope to get him back on track. Fortunately, they should have plenty of time to work on that while Joel recovers from whatever surgery he needs.
During the top of the seventh, we saw something we may never see again - Matt Thornton striking out three consecutive batters on ten pitches. Now, there are three things that I absolutely love to talk about: (1) numbers, (2) pitching mechanics, and (3) Matt Thornton, and this next bit has two of them, so, all right!
Thornton would go on to allow a solo home run in the eighth, but his earlier performance had a few people talking as if the second half of the season may bring about a New & Improved! Matt Thornton, someone dependable who can be relied on to get out of messy situations. So the question then becomes: was it blind luck, or did Thornton really make an improvement? Let's check it out real fast:
(The image on the left is from Thornton's last appearance, July 5th against Kansas City. The image on the right, obviously, is from tonight.)
What's so important about these two pictures? One thing in particular (or two things, depending on how you look at it). Look at Thornton's hip position relative to home plate. Now look at his throwing arm. In each image, his arm is in the same place, with his left elbow at (roughly) a 30-degree angle with home plate and his forearm coming up behind, holding the ball.
Now look at his hips again. On the left, Thornton's torso is already virtually squared with the plate, ahead of his arm. This forces his arm to play catch-up, whipping around without any lower body support. On the right, though, you can see that Thornton's trunk is still mid-rotation, with his hips and left elbow pretty much occupying the same vertical plane. A lot of a pitcher's ability comes from the coordination between his arm and his torso - by moving both parts together, as Thornton is in the image on the right, he's channeling more of his energy into the pitch, and he's able to maintain better control of his arm.
A guy's release point is usually the immediate problem, but the real kinks to be worked out come earlier in the delivery, as noted above. Here, you can see two different Matt Thorntons - one, on the left, standing almost straight up with his arm whipping around and releasing the ball at his head, and another, on the right, in control and getting on top of the ball as he lets go. The Thornton on the right is able to drive to the plate and guide the pitch with his entire body; the Thornton on the left has already lost momentum, with his body having stopped rotation prior to release, and has to try to guide the ball to the glove with his arm, which is something any pitching coach will tell you is a bad idea. The guy on the right is a good reliever - the guy on the left is, well, Matt Thornton.
Matt Thornton Left released the ball too early, and it flew up to the catcher's head. (Missing up and away is the typical phenotype of a guy who's letting go too soon.) Matt Thornton Right was in control and painted the outer black for a called strike three. A perfect pitch in a two-strike count.
Is Matt Thornton fixed? The quick answer would be that, no, he isn't, since he allowed a home run the next inning. A better answer, though, would be that no, he isn't, because we've only seen him work with these smooth new mechanics for 16 pitches, and it's going to take a lot more than that to prove that he's become a better pitcher. Guys with inconsistent mechanics can "get it" from time to time, showing flashes of brilliance that occasionally last for an appearance or two. You shouldn't be fooled by those performances, just as you shouldn't make conclusions about anything based on such a small sample size.
At the same time, it's easy to see why the Mariners are seemingly so committed to keeping Thornton around. With smoother mechanics, he came in today with a pinpoint fastball and a biting slider, and pitched pretty well, all things considered. If he struggles and gets released, some other pitching coach for another organization is going to jump at the chance to have him around, because he comes off as one of those high-reward reclamation projects needing only a simple fix.
Sometimes it really sucks to have Matt Thornton around, because he's been an awful pitcher all season long, but he showed real improvement tonight for the first time in...well, as long as I can remember, anyway. However, as long as he's around, it's important to remember that he's not just some worthless piece of bullpen driftwood - he does have some promise, and if he can improve his delivery, he could become real good. Unfortunately, guys have been struggling with their mechanics for decades, so there's no guarantee that Thornton will ever figure it out, but his natural stuff will give him as many chances as he needs.
Now that I've gone on and on about Matt Thornton for longer than I intended, I'll go quick-hits style:
-Call him the Matt Thornton of catchers, if you will, but Miguel Olivo has to go. Somewhere. Anywhere. San Antonio, Everett, Anaheim, I don't really care. He celebrated his birthday with a robust 0-3/three-strikeout performance, each more pathetic-looking than the last. He's like Alfonso Soriano, only his wrists aren't real fast, he doesn't have good plate coverage, and he can't hit fastballs. Every at bat was the same today - start him off with a breaking ball strike to get him back on his heels and guessing on everything. What's more is that he was a few inches from making a boneheaded play in the second inning; with men on first and second and none out, Sal Fasano laid down a bunt that Olivo charged after and tried to throw to third, but the ball had gone foul before Olivo picked it up, so the play was ruled dead. The problem: there wasn't a play at third base. Olivo wasn't going to get Matos, and the Orioles would've had the bases loaded with nobody out. It's all in the brain with Miguel, and I don't know that there are enough head doctors in the world to fix his problems. I just wish he were more of an arrogant jerk, so it'd be easier to hate him and want him gone.
How pissed do you think Ron Fairly is after being passed over for the head announcing job for a few days in favor of Kevin Calabro? It's a funny dynamic, with Fairly being an incrementally more bitter version of himself while Calabro screws up simple facts ("1-1 pitch" with the count 0-2, "stand-up double" when the player slid in, etc.).
I hate ground-rule doubles with the fury of a thousand suns.
Jamie Moyer against Bruce Chen tomorrow at 7:05pm.