Every day Felix starts is a holiday. Generally it's a little like Thanksgiving - you have some people over, you gorge for a few hours, you go to bed euphoric, and you're still feeling it a week later. Today was more like Christmas, only one of those Christmases when you were a kid looking forward to a terrific haul but you didn't get any presents from your normally reliable grandmother because she was in the hospital and you learned the important life lesson that the health and love of your family are way more important than material possessions. In the end, the Mariners got the win, so where's the sense in being selfish and wishing that Felix had been better? It's always about the group, not the individual. At least that's what fans of good teams tell me, anyway.
Biggest Contribution: Jose Lopez, +25.4%
Biggest Suckfest: Felix Hernandez, -20.8%
Most Important Hit: Lopez homers, +25.3%
Most Important Pitch: Belliard single, -10.6%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -6.1%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +40.7%
A fun game to chart, as the Mariners' chances of winning went from 12.3% to 87.5% in the span of nine plays (turning a DP and then having seven of eight batters reach base in a close game will do that). Perhaps more importantly is that all of that happened after Jeremy Reed struck out on ball four with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth. If ever there was a deflating moment in a ballgame, that was it, but the lineup came right back an inning later determined to keep plugging away and erase the deficit. Given that, the Johjima insurance double, and the fact that they scored nine runs in five innings after Felix had an unexpectedly rough start...well, I'm not qualified to talk about things like attitude or motivation or collective energy, and I'd be doing everyone a disservice if I pretended that I was, but this certainly feels like something that wouldn't have happened a year ago. Maybe that's just because the offense is better this time around, and that it's easy to look like you're trying hard when you have men on base all the time, but there you go. I don't much care about the why as long as the results are there.
The results are distinctly not there for Adrian Beltre. This upsets me greatly. With Matt Thornton out of town and JJ Putz looking a lot better, I think the battle for "Easiest Mariner To Hate" is down to Beltre and Gil Meche, with Gil holding a slight edge due to duration of suckiness but Beltre threatening to overtake him based on continued suckage and his productivity/cost ratio. Of all the contracts capable of setting the team back a ways, his was the last one I expected to be most responsible. Please, Adrian, just do something - anything - to give me hope that last year wasn't as good as it gets. Hitting a fastball would be a nice place to start. I miss being able to point to one of your extra-base hits and say things like "based on the way Beltre looked in this at bat, I think he's due to break out." Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. Give us a reason to hope.
(Stolen bases don't count.)
The guy on everyone's mind, of course, is Felix, as his lack of otherworldly dominance tonight came as something of a surprise (no, I will not lower my expectations). His control was awful for much of the game and he was elevating the ball a little too much in the zone, resulting in a pair of homers and a handful of other scorching line drives. Suffice it to say that I don't think any of us ever thought opposing hitters were capable of doing that kind of damage to Felix's stuff, even when it's off. An additional concern was that his fastball velocity was down for the first few innings, but the gun showed 99 and 97 later on, which eased my mind. There wasn't anything physically wrong with him; he just couldn't control where the ball was going. It happens. Blame the grip, or the fact that Felix's lead glove was pulling him off the driveline to home plate during and after release, causing him to throw across his body and fall rather violently towards first base during follow-through. This is a mechanical issue, but it's not a new one, as he pitched in much the same fashion all of last summer. The fall towards first was somewhat exaggerated today, suggesting that Felix was pulling his glove harder than usual, but this is a minor issue that can be smoothed out before his next start. It's not time to panic yet. Hell, it's not even close.
One issue this does bring up, though, is just what kind of line represents Felix's performance downside this year. The Community Projection thread was optimistic, and really, there was no reason for it not to be - Felix was one of the best pitchers in baseball after the break last year, and he's still developing. But was that really enough proof that Felix was going to repeat his success in 2006? After all, players fail to meet expectations all the time, so why should our guy be any different?
I always have trouble wrapping my head around this debate. On the one hand, Felix is no less likely to plateau or decline than any other young pitcher, so we should treat it like a legitimate possibility, but on the other, after watching him pitch so many times I can't envision any scenario in which he finishes the season with an ERA as high as 3.80 or so. His stuff is just too good to consistently hit well across a number of games. He misses bats and he forces hitters to drill the ball into the ground, and pitchers who do that generally don't allow many runs. So that calms me down. I think what a lot of us need to realize, though, is that Felix won't always be as automatic as he was last summer, that he'll occasionally frustrate everyone watching by losing the strike zone for innings at a time. That's just part of who he is right now, and while he was fortunate enough to keep from lapsing very often a year ago, he's still a guy who's a little more wild than you'd like.
No baseball player is perfect - everyone has flaws. All things considered, Felix's is a pretty minor one. And really, his star isn't any less bright now than it was 24 hours ago. The only thing that'll come out of this is a greater appreciation for those days when he does dominate from start to finish, because it's always an incredible achievement, and we were spoiled. Felix rules. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
Sometimes I don't remember why I jotted down certain things during the game. In the middle of today's game notes is a diagram of a small stick person Adrian Beltre holding a bat next to a large shaded rectangle with an X in the lower right corner. I totally have no recollection of drawing this. Maybe the box is supposed to be a house? I can't think of anyone Adrian Beltre would want to threaten with a bat, much less anyone who would currently be threatened by Adrian Beltre holding a bat. I need to take better notes.
Lightning round: (1) Jose Lopez is going to hang onto the #2 slot in the lineup for the entire season, barring injury. He's done absolutely everything anyone could've asked of him so far. (2) Seriously, it's time to swap Kenji Johjima and Beltre in the lineup. I wasn't kidding last time... (3) Pretty much everything Jeremy Reed hit last night and today was a line drive. He came away with two hits. He's having the kind of bad luck we thought Beltre was having last April.
Jamie Moyer against Curt Schilling tomorrow at 4:05pm PDT. This one stands a really, really high chance of being a laugher. For Red Sox fans. More of a weeper for us, I guess.