As depressing as it may be, games like this serve as a reminder that we're not too far from being walkovers ourselves. Not that you should ever take too much from one game - the M's are still 4-1 against Kansas City, and almost came back from a pretty big deficit today - but being 12 games below .500 at this point in the season really does take some getting used to, even after last year's disastrous campaign. We've all gotten used to the idea that the Mariners should steamroll weak opponents while failing to realize that the Mariners are a weak opponent, and that their games against the Tigers and Royals of the world are a better barometer of ability than those against the Yankees or Angels. I will readily admit that I fall into the same trap time and time again, that, when I first heard about this upcoming four-game set in Anaheim, I thought "it'd be nice to take three out of four" instead of "not getting swept would be pretty cool." I guess it's just hard to believe that a team as good as the Mariners were as recently as two years ago could fall this far, this fast. And I'll be the first to tell you, it sucks.
Now, the Mariners probably weren't going to complete a season sweep, here. Even if you thought that the M's were four times as good as the Royals before the year started for some reason, that'd give them only about a 13-14% chance of winning all nine games, or roughly similar to the odds of Miguel Olivo getting a hit. But even when you realize that a sweep is unlikely, losing a game to an inferior opponent is always rough, especially when your starter gets blown out of the water early and you let the bottom of the opposing lineup do a lot of the damage. Over a full season, you can justify losing a game or two to Kansas City, but on an individual-day basis, it's almost impossible to rationalize. Do you think Gil Meche is lying in bed right now, thinking to himself, "it was just one game, I got unlucky"? Is Mike Hargrove busy shaking this one off and preparing for tomorrow's contest? No, they aren't, because even if the odds of taking all nine games of this season series are slim, the odds for each individual game favor the Mariners, and it always sucks to lose as the favorite.
Biggest Contribution: Adrian Beltre, +20.4%
Biggest Suckfest: Gil Meche, -37.6%
Most Important Hit: Beltre homer, +11.2%
Most Important Pitch: DeJesus single, -12.3%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -40.0%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -11.4%
Gil Meche lost this game. His season ERA stayed just under 5, courtesy of a subjective ruling on a ball that Pat Borders couldn't pick up, but that shouldn't take away from just how awful he was. Which is a damn shame, too, because there's no one quite like the Royals to get a pitcher back on track, and Gil was throwing some incredible tailing fastballs in the first inning. Instead of continuing with that kind of success, he lost it in the second, putting everything right over the plate and watching Royal hitters drill it either up the middle or the other way. So, while his fastball was getting up there in velocity, it was still pretty hittable, and even guys like Angel Berroa and Alberto Castillo were able to make solid contact.
What we have now is a starting pitcher who's allowing more than 1.5 baserunners an inning and 5.6 runs per nine. His K/BB is the worst it's been since his rookie season, and he's still allowing home runs when he faces decent lineups. All this despite getting a lot of help from the guys behind him, to the tune of a .271 BABIP. Pitches like the ones he threw in the first inning this afternoon make you want to sit back and give him as much time as he needs to harness his stuff, but it's been five years, and he's as bad as ever. You almost have to wonder if that elbow stifness he was dealing with back in April is still lingering, or if it was a symptom of a bigger problem that has yet to be discovered. But then, I think that's just reaching to find an easy answer to a question that's been bugging us for years, why Gil can't put everything together and become a good pitcher. It'd be nice to see the team give him a shot out of the bullpen, at least until Soriano returns later this month, but lacking both the depth and the necessary creativity to carry out such a move, look for them to keep trotting Gil back out there every five days in the vain hope that he figures out how to pitch. Unless he puts up another shiny second-half ERA, don't expect Meche to return in 2006.
Matt Thornton has walked 18% of the batters he's faced this year, lefties are hitting him better than righties, and he's only recorded strikeouts in four of his last 48 plate appearances. 12 of his 32 pitches today were strikes. His peripherals are worse than they were in the Majors a year ago. Let go.
Fewer than 11,000 tickets were purchased for this afternoon's game. Although the crowd started making some noise when the Royals rallied and later held on for victory, they were deathly quiet early on, to the point at which you could hear individual people clapping along with the Addams Family and Charge! cheer prompts over the PA system. Later on, in the middle innings, you could hear the following exchange take place, pretty clearly, several times:
Walkway vendor: "Water, get your ice cold water here!"
Kid nearby: "I want some water!"
I'm not kidding. I heard that about five or six times. I hope the vendor found that kid.
How You Know That A Team Has A Bad Pitching Staff:
-Starter receives a standing ovation when he walks off the mound after allowing four runs and 12 baserunners in 5.1 innings.
Speaking of DJ Carrasco, Dave Valle had this to say when he was pulled from the game:
After Adrian Beltre went deep in the second inning, there was quite a lot of chatter coming out of Ron Fairly's mouth about how Beltre had finally gotten used to American League pitching, and how he was ready to take off and resume his 2004 performance. The only problem being that he had only faced DJ Carrasco once before in his career. There is no certain pitching style unique to the AL; each pitcher is different, and I find it hard to believe that Beltre got used to Carrasco in one at bat a long time ago. I think this was just a case of good hitting beating marginal pitching.
So, after going some five weeks without a homer, Beltre has four in his last seven games, which I suppose counts as something of a B-level power surge. They haven't exactly come against Cy Young contenders - none of CJ Wilson, John Wasdin, DJ Carrasco, or Joe Blanton are likely to set the world on fire - but what's important is that the power is most definitely back in his swing, and it hasn't come at the expense of line-drive singles (of which he has several over the past few weeks). Again, people will point out that the walks have disappeared as the power has shown up, but I think this is more a matter of Beltre getting himself into good counts and swinging at strikes than it is an indication of crappy plate discipline. Nobody's ever going to confuse his strike zone judgment with Brian Giles', and he will offer at a bad pitch every so often, but he did that last year, too, and still managed to post insane numbers across the board. The simplest way to put it is that the fewer outside sliders Beltre chases, the more balls he'll put into the seats. It's a streaky approach, but when it's working, the guy can carry an entire lineup on his back.
In the eighth inning, tragedy struck. Down by two, with a man on first base, Mike Hargrove pinch-hit Chris Snelling for Pat Borders, hoping to use the platoon advantage against Mike Wood to keep the pressure on the Royals. However, Wood threw two delaying pickoff tosses to first base and got lifted for lefty Jimmy Gobble. Hargrove, stunned that he could be out-overmanaged by someone of Buddy Bell's ilk, came back with Scott Spiezio, yanking Snelling before he could see a pitch. It was as if General Motors released a new line of flying cars, said "oops, just kidding", and recalled them all before anybody could so much as try one out. On the one hand, I'm being selfish for protesting the move, because I just want to see Chris Snelling play baseball, but on the other, it was just a retarded move to make, my emotions be damned. Even if Chris Snelling sucks against lefties - which he didn't in the minors - Scott Spiezio sucks against everyone, really bad. This is a guy who injured himself running out his only hit of the season, a guy who's been terrible with the Mariners and who's always been worse against lefties than righties for his career. What's more is that the southpaw who entered the game, Gobble, has been clobbered by left-handed batters through his 200+ IP Major League career to the tune of a .302/.348/.476 line, as opposed to .261/.315/.450 versus righties. Everything was all set up for Snelling to have a successful 2005 ML debut against a marginal pitcher who doesn't strike anyone out, but Hargrove threw everything out the window before anyone knew what had happened. Benefits of the move: apparent platoon advantage, veteran hitter at the plate. Problems with the move: replacing a good hitter with a bad one, platoon advantage doesn't actually exist, entertainment value plummets. What a horrible thing to see happen. At least we'll see Snelling start tomorrow.
Quick hits: Ichiro's hitting .448 over his last eight games. The slump is gone. Also, Jose Lopez is 21 years old. Try to remember that the next time you glance at his batting line and come away unimpressed. Finally, some stadiums employ Ballgirl Barbies and sit them near each foul line to collect stray ground balls. Kansas City has cornfed farmer boys. That guy on the third base side was enormous.
Looking to take the series tomorrow afternoon, as Aaron Sele takes on Runelvys Hernandez at 5:10pm.