For the second time this season, the Mariners were swept by the Angels on their own turf, allowing Anaheim to reclaim sole possession of first place in the AL West. Consider this their revenge for that four-game July beatdown. If nothing else, though, at least the Mariners managed to keep this game reasonably close - in their previous six losses to Anaheim on the season, they'd been outscored 39-10, with a 5-2 loss having been the closest contest. For the most part, I have to say that this season series has been lacking for suspense.
As promising as this one looked in the early going, you had to know that it was only a matter of time with Gil Meche on the hill. Sure enough, he ran into one of his patented roadblocks in the fifth inning, failing to reach five innings pitched for the eighth time this season in 24 starts (he's gone exactly five innings another four times). Although the Mariner bullpen has overachieved this year, they've been showing a lot of cracks over the past few weeks, and trying to use it to record 14 outs in a game is just asking for trouble. And, thanks to Julio Mateo and an irksome freak of nature, trouble came quickly. The rest of the game, in Devin's words, was just a tease, as you couldn't help but know how it was going to turn out.
Thank goodness for the Royals.
Biggest Contribution: Ichiro, +18.2%
Biggest Suckfest: Julio Mateo, -35.3%
Most Important Hit^: Betancourt fielder's choice, -24.5%
Most Important Pitch: Guerrero homer, -30.6%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -64.4%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -18.9%
^-Donnelly's error: +27.5%
As much as the Angels tried to give this game away, the Mariners just didn't feel like taking it. You'll notice that the total contributions by the pitchers and hitters add up to a pretty big negative number - this is because the "best" thing that happened to the M's all day was Donnelly's error, for which Ibanez was credited with an out. Of course, the biggest gaffe came in the bottom of the eighth, when both Yuniesky Betancourt and Player A failed to drive the tying run home from third base. Scot Shields tried to lend us a hand by giving Jeremy Reed a pitch to drive, and drive it he did, but what Shields didn't realize is that you really have to work pretty hard to give the Mariners a few runs. Maybe next time he'll know better.
The only subjective decision I made today was giving Chone Figgins credit for a stolen base when he was ruled out by the umpire - replays showed that he was pretty clearly safe. I thought about doing the same thing on Betancourt's fielder's choice for a little while, but the more replays I watched, the more it looked like Molina tagged Sexson before his foot crossed the plate, so I decided against it.
The Rangers got swept in New York, and we couldn't even pick up a lousy game. I'm growing increasingly skeptical of our chances of finishing in third place.
Gil Meche...another day, another assload of pitches used to get through a handful of batters. Today's happy total: 92 pitches, 21 batters, 4.1 innings. He now ranks 30th in baseball in total pitches thrown despite ranking 79th in innings.
Pitches per plate appearance: 4.05 (second-worst in baseball, ahead of Noah Lowry)
Pitches per out: 6.07 (second-worst in baseball, ahead of Chan Ho Park)
It's not hard to figure out why this game took three and a half hours. Gil Meche has become one of the rarest of the rare, the pitcher who runs up an astronomical pitch count despite failing to record many strikeouts. He's fanning just 5.16 batters per nine (12.8%), considerably below the league average. This while walking nearly as many as he whiffs and allowing homers out the wazoo. Forget everything you've heard for the last gajillion years: Gil Meche's upside is nowhere close to being worth the trials and tribulations of watching him pitch every five days. If he has success down the road, let it be somewhere else.
This is really part of a larger issue, that of pitchers with good arms and bad results. On the Mariners, you find this type in the persons of Meche and Matt Thornton. Fans see the kind of stuff they're capable of throwing from time to time and get attached, saying things like "if only we could get him to use a consistent release point, then he'd turn into the next (insert name of dominant pitcher)."
Ignore those fans. These pitchers are EVERYWHERE. Every organization has a few dozen guys who "just need to smooth out a few kinks" to have success. Sometimes, things work out (John Patterson). Other times, a guy does well for a year before regressing back to his standard ability (Esteban Loaiza). But the majority of the time, they just never figure it out, leaving one frustrated organization for another after wearing out their welcome (Jamey Wright). The risk of getting bad results is rarely worth the potential benefit of turning a guy into a moderately successful pitcher.
Think about it this way: professional baseball is selective, in that only the most talented players in the world are allowed to participate. While there are some thousands upon thousands of guys floating around just the American minor league system, some of whom aren't doing well at all, they're still the cream of the crop when it comes to the ability to play baseball. So, you really need to have some sort of talent to catch a team's eye and sign a contract. If you throw 70 miles per hour and miss all over the plate, nobody's going to give you a second look - that's just the nature of the beast. You need to demonstrate a wide assortment of "plus" skills in order to become a professional ballplayer.
So, nobody should be surprised when they see a guy like Meche or Thornton come up and occasionally flash some great pitches. They were both high draft picks - thus, they must have some sort of natural ability. The Mariners wanted to take this ability, combine it with maturity and experience, and end up with successful pitchers.
The problem is, they've devoted 15 years to Meche and Thornton, and all they've received in return is a combined 4.71 Major League ERA. They're now 26 and 28 years old, respectively, after being drafted at 17 and 21, and are showing zero progress. Sure, they'll record an impressive strikeout from time to time, but that just reminds me of a Mitch Hedberg bit:
Gil Meche and Matt Thornton will have their solid outings, but the only reason that these appearances stick out in your memory is because they're so unexpected. Neither of them are good pitchers, and neither of them deserve to be pitching in the Majors right now.
Vlad Guerrero against Seattle this season: 1.201 OPS
Vlad Guerrero against the rest of baseball: .943 OPS
Seriously, you had to see that home run coming in the fifth. All Vlad ever does is beat the snot out of Mariner pitching - 12 homers in 113 career at bats - and Julio Mateo is a homer-friendly arm who pitches to contact and has an exceptionally high fly ball rate. No possible good could have come of that at bat.
Immediately after the game ended, I thought I was going to spend this recap bitching about Mike Hargrove's unfortunate usage pattern of Player A, but I've cooled off a little bit and decided that it wouldn't be worth it. No, it doesn't make any sense to let Player A hit with two outs and the go-ahead run on second base in the eighth, then pinch-hit for Yorvit Torrealba to lead off the ninth, but we've seen a lot of things that don't make sense this year, so why complain about one in particular? In a season as bad as this one, there are bound to be a lot of things that go horribly wrong. Trust me, it can get a lot worse than watching Player A make another critical out.
What makes things a little worse is knowing exactly what's behind Hargrove's decision-making. He won't DH Wiki Gonzalez, because he's our backup catcher. He won't DH Mike Morse, because he's a slumping rookie without a track record, and who hits from the right side against a righty pitcher. He won't DH Dave Hansen, because he's supposed to be one of the most proficient pinch-hitters of all time, so you don't want to take him out of his role. So you're left with Player A, whose plusses are that he switch-hits and has had success in the Majors before, and whose minuses are that he sucks and wants to be released. It's a bad thought process, but it's so completely textbook that if you're going to criticize Hargrove for this one individual move, you have to criticize his entire managerial style, which is already done enough as is.
Mike Hargrove knows that Player A can't hit. Everybody in the organization knows that, including Player A himself. However, to Hargrove, he doesn't have any viable alternative, so he's forced to run a crappy batter out there to make four outs from the bottom of the lineup every day. It's not so much short-sightedness on the part of believing that Player A will find his stroke as it is short-sightedness on the part of understanding roles and player flexibility. You can't expect Hargrove to change his mind in one particular situation when he goes by the book in all the others.
Thankfully, we'll have a game worth watching tomorrow, as the Royals look to extend their streak to 15 games (which is a lot easier to stomach if you leave out that pesky key adjective) against Felix Hernandez.