Call it the most predictable Ryan Franklin start in history. The Mariner offense was slow out of the gate, the Blue Jays pounded some meatballs over the fence, and Franklin got a little jawing in before he was taken out of the game. The end result was a 9-4 loss, one which put me to sleep for just the second time all year. That alone should tell you all you need to know about today's contest.
Even with the four-game sweep in Anaheim, it's been something of a disappointing July - the team is just 8-8 despite hitting .281/.338/.442 for the month as a group, mostly because the pitching staff has been smacked around to the tune of a .279/.339/.467 line of its own. It'll probably get a little better over the rest of the season, if/when the likes of Hernandez/Campillo/Sherrill/Soriano get healthy and promoted, but a few additions won't be enough to turn this pitching staff around, particularly when you consider that we could be moving two or three arms before the end of the month. Make no mistake: as much as we've seen the offense struggle this year, the problem lies in the lack of quality depth on the mound, and it's something the organization will have to spend a lot of money fixing before it even thinks about contending again. (It's also a problem that can't be solved by attacking the '06 free agent pitcher market, so brace yourself for a little front office creativity.)
Microsoft Excel's opinion of the game:
Biggest Contribution: Scott friggin' Spiezio, +1.0%
Biggest Suckfest: Ryan Franklin, -17.3%
Most Important Hit: Reed groundout, -6.1%
Most Important Pitch: Wells double, -15.0%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -17.1%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -31.3%
That's what I like to call (okay, not really) a team-wide suckathon. Only four players made positive contributions on the day, and even those were of the slimmest of margins. When Scott Spiezio turns out to be the biggest positive contributor in the game after hitting a pinch-hit solo home run in the eighth inning to cut the defecit to five, you know something's wrong. I should point out that neither Richie Sexson nor Raul Ibanez wound up with high ratings because their home runs came when the game was already well in Toronto's favor, so a homer made little difference in Seattle's chances of winning. I didn't make the rules.
It seems like every time I write about Franklin after one of his starts, it comes out sounding the same - something about his low strikeout rate, his homer-proneness, and his reliance on the team defense and home park. Nothing earth-shattering, and certainly stuff that everyone's heard before. What I think doesn't get enough attention is how Franklin seems to have something of an inflated ego, and how often he comes off as avoiding responsibility for his bad starts. Which, technically, might make a little sense, given how critical of a role the defense plays in determining Franklin's success, but that's not how most pitchers think. It's symptomatic of a guy who's stubborn and thinks he already knows all there is to know about pitching (which, I'm sure you'll agree, isn't really the case, here). In some respects, you can think of him as a slightly more malignant version of Willie Bloomquist, a guy who can accept a spot on the bench or in the bullpen, but who voices his desire to play a more important role - be it that of a starting position player or pitcher - that he doesn't deserve. When you take Franklin's obstinance and throw in his tendency to complain about, say, run support or a guy stealing signs, it's a wonder he and his oft-negative attitude are still a part of this team.
One of the things that always gets me is when a player or coach says that a pitcher "threw a great game," and wound up paying the price for "just two or three mistakes." That happened again today, when Olivo and Hargrove (and, for what it's worth, Franklin) felt like Franklin threw the ball pretty well. The fact of the matter is that no pitcher who's ever allowed two homers, eight runs, and twelve hits in 5.2 innings of work has been the unfortunate victim of "a few mistakes." Franklin was catching a lot of the plate and the Blue Jays made him pay for it, hitting everything hard until he was mercifully pulled from the game down 7-1. If anything, you'd think that Olivo and Hargrove would know that a guy like Franklin has to make as few mistakes as possible to have success, since his mistakes get sent into the bleachers so often. It's the reason why he'll never make the leap to become a good #3/4 starter, all the wishcasting in Spiro be damned.
On the plus side, Franklin struck out five hitters today without issuing a single free pass. The last time he had five more strikeouts than walks in a game: last September 25th. He hasn't done better than that since 9/17/02, when he fanned nine and walked two against Texas.
One of the things we've heard about Matt Thornton is that team officials are upset with the way he tends to lose control in close games. Ever the investigative journalist, and powered by what he's done in each of these last two games, I decided to take a more in-depth look at Thornton's 32 appearances to see what I could find. Results:
Thornton in blowout games (run differential greater than or equal to four):
16 appearances, 23.2 innings, 6 runs (2.28 ERA)
Thornton in close games (run differential of three or less):
16 appearances, 10.1 innings, 14 runs (12.20 ERA)
Early indications are that Thornton suffers from what Will Carroll has labeled as "Hawkins Syndrome", an inability to pitch successfully in pressure situations. Of course, Carroll was half-joking, whereas I'm being completely serious - Matt Thornton should never pitch in a close game, ever, at least until he's established a track record of not sucking.
Richie Sexson in July: .393/.462/.714. When this guy gets hot, he gets hot, which is another interesting parallel with Mike Cameron, a similar (albeit worse) hitter whose productivity at the plate went underappreciated during his stay in Seattle. A player's streakiness can be either a wonderful gift or a terrible burden for a team, depending on which kind of streak is currently taking place. With that in mind, consider what it would be like to be a contending team whose lineup revolves around Sexson in the four-slot. When he's on, he can carry a team on his back, but his slumps are a little too deep and a little too frequent to make that a worthwhile gamble. While Richie Sexson is a real good hitter, he shouldn't be the best hitter in a playoff team's lineup. You can see why a productive Adrian Beltre is so important for this team.
When I'm typing up the win expectancy spreadsheet during/after a game, I have to make special entries for defensive miscues that cost the pitcher an our or two. Never before, though, have I had to do that four times in one game for one player. Alas, Mike Morse had his most forgettable defensive game of the season, committing three errors and making another bad throw on a relay that should've been the "6-3" part of a double play. He's got a real strong arm, but his footwork is just such a mess that it's hard to see him having much success anywhere around the diamond. Which would probably be a bigger problem if he weren't first on the team in EqA. Right now, it's just about getting his bat into the lineup and seeing what he brings to the table offensively - he's not considered the organization's shortstop of the future, so how he does at the position is pretty irrelevant with a switch on the not-so-distant horizon. That said, man, that was an ugly game.
100% of Scott Spiezio's hits this year have gone for extra bases. His .473 OPS is better than Miguel Olivo's.
Joel Pineiro goes up against Josh Towers tomorrow at...er, wait, 9:37 in the morning? What? This is going to be the slowest game thread ever.