Were we still at a point where we cared about the outcome, this would've felt like one hell of a letdown. But therein lies the benefit of following a group of losers - we get to stop caring about the frustrating losses months before fans of contending teams do. They may not be much for maximizing euphoria, but the Mariners are pretty good at minimizing heartbreak, and in the end that has to count for something.
Biggest Contribution: Ben Broussard, +35.0%
Biggest Suckfest: Jon Huber, -28.2%
Most Important At Bat: Broussard homer, +23.2%
Most Important Pitch: Young double, -21.9%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -13.0%
Total Contribution by Position Players: -37.0%
Forget Jon Huber - while he (and Cruceta, for that matter) was pretty bad, his appearance wasn't nearly as damaging as the eight outs the Mariners made on four swings. They let the Rangers get off the hook again and again, wasting golden run-scoring opportunities that could've made this thing look a lot different and spared us the mild disappointment of a 4-2 loss. Observe the following Win Expectancy impacts of each DP:
Jose Lopez, Bottom Two: -9.8%
Rene Rivera, Bottom Five: -11.4%
Richie Sexson, Bottom Six: -17.6%
Jose Lopez, Bottom Nine: -19.6%
Four double plays, each more hurtful than the last. Worse still, two of them came on the first pitch of the at bat, implying a lack of good discipline (a shocker, I know). Swinging at a hittable 0-0 pitch is fine. Swinging at any 0-0 pitch isn't. There's an important difference there, and it's directly tied to the hitter's ability to recognize which pitches he can drive and which pitches he can't. Going up to the plate looking dead red doesn't mean a thing without proper execution, and that's where Rivera and Sexson ran into trouble today.
I suppose this is as good a time as any to point out that the Mariners are the worst first-pitch hitting team in the AL. And, outside of the Angels, the rest of the lineups aren't even close. The fact that the Mariners haven't hit very well in any count is certainly a factor here, but it doesn't tell the whole story - they're too far separated from the rest of the pack for that to be the only explanation. I think another big part of it is that this is an aggressive group of hitters that, as a unit, sucks at pitch recognition. They pride themselves on being able to put the ball in play and keep pressure on the defense, but the quality of their balls in play is hurt by the fact that they're frequently coming off good pitches. It makes sense that the biggest offenders so far have been Ichiro, Betancourt, and Beltre - the three guys who are generally regarded as having the worst eyes on the team. Alex Rodriguez has a 1.282 OPS on the first pitch because he knows what he's swinging at. Adrian Beltre has a .582 OPS on the first pitch because he doesn't.
There's no problem with aggressive hitting provided the guys you have are good at it. After all, if the whole idea behind "plate discipline" isn't to draw walks, but to work the count until you get a pitch you can hit, then it's perfectly okay to swing once you get that pitch, because what else are you waiting for? The Mariners have trouble because they don't know what that pitch looks like. They think they do, but as it turns out every pitch looks like that pitch, which leads to bad swings, bad balls in play, and bad results. We've seen it all year, and based on the way the organization has filled out its lineups at every level, it's not going to fix itself any time soon.
The Mariners don't have a bad lineup, and I think they're due to be somewhere in the middle of the pack going forward. That said, the lethal blend of over-aggressiveness and bad pitch recognition are what's going to keep them from getting much higher. A healthy, effective Chris Snelling (in other words, the one we don't have right now; he's 0 for his last 16 with ten strikeouts) is so important it's not even funny, because the rest of these hackers are going to let opposing pitchers get way too comfortable.
Now I've gone and wasted all my energy tackling the lineup's crappy approach. Outside of Felix (who had a standard game, save for a high pitch count that allowed him to get out-Felixed by a groundball-happy Adam Eaton), I suppose the only other thing that really needs to be mentioned is Francisco Cruceta's highly anticipated Mariner debut. Salivating over his stunning AAA strikeout rate, several people (myself included) have been calling for Cruceta to get a shot in Seattle nearly all season long, and he finally got it this afternoon in the sixth inning after Felix got yanked.
And he sucked.
It wasn't a Clint Nageotte-esque appearance by any means, but between the awful command, the deep pitch counts, and the fly balls, Cruceta looked pretty bad. You have to give him a bit of a break since it was his first time pitching in the Majors in two years, but still, man, that could've gone a lot better.
We've known for a while that, despite his strikeout rate, Cruceta is hittable thanks to reasonably frequent lapses in concentration. He can throw seven shutout innings one start and allow eight runs in the first inning the next, and it's been precisely that sort of unreliability - all stemming from his come-and-go control - that's kept him from breaking into the Majors. The hope is that this year's improvement in the PCL is a sign that he's developed to the level of being able to overcome his tendency to miss location, but his release point might still be too inconsistent to ever allow him to stick in the bigs. He just won't be able to establish his splitter as a strikeout pitch if he's throwing all over the place and constantly trying to fight back in the count, and no one can have much success when you take away their biggest weapon.
If Francisco Cruceta ever gets good enough to become a full-time ML starter, he's going to rack up a lot of walks and a lot of flyballs, but he'll record enough strikeouts to keep the damage in check. That said, while I'm probably making too much out of his brief debut, I don't think he's there yet. He didn't show me a thing today, and while I want him to get a start or two before the season comes to a close, those could be some ugly, ugly innings.
Speaking of ugly innings, Jake Woods gets the Blue Jays tomorrow at 7:05pm PDT. That might sound like a good reason not to watch, but Ted Lilly's pitching for Toronto, and since he hasn't thrown a complete game in two years John Gibbons will almost certainly have to come out and take the ball at some point, an event that just has unlimited potential for awesomeness.