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And to think, not too long ago this team was ahead of the A's.

If the Mariners could hang their hat on anything coming into the game, it was that they were the only team in baseball with a perfect record when leading after seven innings. Now, not so much - it's back to boring misery, as opposed to statistically interesting misery. An overachieving bullpen is finally beginning to show some cracks, meaning that the team's big selling point is its defense, which just doesn't get many people excited. And can you blame them? There were a lot of folks who thought that the addition of two new big bats, along with a bit of a rebound by the pitching staff, would be enough to lead this team to 85-90 wins and fringe contention. They don't want to see good glovework as the silver lining of what turned out to be a crappy year.

To the chart:

Biggest Contribution: Ichiro, +24.5%
Biggest Suckfest: Ron Villone, -55.6%
Most Important Hit: Ichiro triple, +32.1%
Most Important Pitch: Young homer, -57.1%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -81.0%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -0.6%

(What is this?)

Not hard to find the turning point in that graph. The Mariners rallied back from two defecits to take a late lead, but Ron Villone quite literally coughed it up with one pitch. Sure, he inherited a pair of Julio Mateo's baserunners, but the impact of that home run was huge - it was the third most significant single event of the season, narrowly behind both of JJ Putz's lead-changing grand slams. On a more subjective level, though, it just a total buzzkill after Ichiro's big triple, and it made every Mariner fan watching the game feel like they'd just wasted another night in an abusive one-sided relationship with a baseball team.

Villone's ugly appearance overshadowed other ugly appearances by Matt Thornton and Joel Pineiro, the former letting all three batters he faced reach base, and the latter having his 297th consecutive bad start. Of course, we all expected this kind of suckage from Thornton coming into the year, but Pineiro was supposed to be a leader of the rotation, and all he's done is been arguably the worst starting pitcher in all of baseball.

Not that that's stopped announcers and coaches from praising his supposed improvement over the past few weeks, mind you. After beginning the year with underwhelming velocity (86-88mph range), Pineiro seems to have picked it up a little bit of late, at least as far as the stadium radar guns are concerned. Apparently, Mike Hargrove believes that Joel had better stuff tonight than he's had all season. The problem? There's no such indication in his performance.

Joel, July: 6 IP/start, 6.23 ERA, 28.3 H%, 11.6 K%, 8.7 BB%, 4.3 HR%
Joel, pre-July: 6.1 IP/start, 5.60 ERA, 27.1 H%, 12.7 K%, 7.3 BB%, 3.1 HR%

Joel Pineiro has actually gotten worse in every single meaningful category this month, which seems to contradict the popular sentiment that he's getting back to where he was a few years ago. If anything, people should be more troubled now than they were earlier this year, because if he's throwing as well as everyone says, then the reason for his ineffectiveness is a lot less obvious. If Joel were throwing around 86-88, then you send him under the knife, get his shoulder cleaned up, and have him back to normal next summer. If he's throwing 92-93 and getting slammed, though, then you have to entertain the possibility that he just isn't a good pitcher anymore. I can't be the only one who's a little frightened by that.

As much as we complain about Matt Thornton, at least Mike Hargrove is beginning to use him the right way. Thornton ranks 143rd out of 183 pitchers (minimum: 20 IP) in Leverage, which is defined here. In short, Thornton isn't appearing in high-leverage situations very often, which serves to minimize the negative effect of his bad pitching. The problem is that Shigetoshi Hasegawa ranks even lower than Thornton, despite having been reasonable effective (by comparison, and save for a few total meltdowns).

As long as we're having fun with leverage, Eddie Guardado's average ranks 14th in the same player pool. He's also been the tenth most valuable reliever in baseball, behind Cliff Politte, Scot Shields, and seven other closers. Note that I said "most valuable," and not "best" - there's an important difference there.

Jose Lopez drew his first walk of the season today. This was also just the second time - and first time since last August fifth - that Lopez reached base three times in a game in his brief ML career. His offense has been terrible, considerably worse than it was a year ago, but he has the bat speed and ability to hit for contact that should help him overcome his overaggressiveness and turn into a decent player before too long. If you're getting discouraged by his performance, just be glad that we don't have to put up with this guy.

If you're having trouble figuring out why Miguel Olivo sucks so much, we finally have a statistical reason: he's faced the most difficult pitchers of any Mariner with 100+ plate appearances, in terms of batting average (by .001), on-base percentage (by .003), and slugging percentage (by .007). I have to say, I'm a little reassured. Now if only other teams would quit throwing Cy Young out there every day to face him...

Why did Villone drop down to a sidearm slot when he threw that pitch to Young? When he does it against left-handed hitters, fine, I'm all for it. But righties? What possible benefit is there to letting them see the ball better out of your hand? There's a reason why sidearmers always get crushed by opposite-handed batters, and Villone just figured out why.

Mike Maroth and Jamie Moyer tomorrow at 7:05pm.