It isn't very often that you come away from an 11-7 loss blaming the offense, but I'm convinced that this thing would've ended up pretty different had the batters not been in such a hurry to end their turns. Watching this team hit on days like this feels like rooting for a group of athletically gifted Special Olympians, each one determined to get to the finish line first no matter how stupid he looks. (Relax, it's a joke, and you're not retarded.) Does it work? Yeah, sometimes everyone's firing on all cylinders and there's not a weak spot in the lineup. When it's not, though, you have displays like this, where the undisciplined, throwaway at bats play a big part in costing us the game.
The league average P/PA this year in the American League is 3.79. The Mariners' team leader is Raul Ibanez, at 3.81. Nobody else (except for Jason Ellison, but who cares) is above the mean. Nobody. Jose Vidro, who was brought in to provide some balance, is closer to the bottom than the top. Even Richie Sexson, who used to be a more patient hitter, is at his lowest ratio in years. Building a roster like this has its advantages, but the biggest downside is that your batting order is vulnerable to exhibitions like today's, where it swings itself out of the game. But I suppose this is the kind of frustration we'll just have to learn to deal with, because nothing's going to change. Might as well come to embrace the overaggressive collective approach, because this is what we'll be riding for the rest of the year.
Biggest Contribution: Ichiro, +12.2%
Biggest Suckfest: Jeff Weaver, -40.4%
Most Important At Bat: Vidro single, +8.2%
Most Important Pitch: Thames homer, -28.9%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -49.8%
Total Contribution by Position Players: -10.2%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +10.0%
I don't want to go on too long writing this, because I have things to do, and you can really only say so much about a blowout loss (which this was, nevermind the three runs in the ninth). More than anything else, it's important not to get too down about today's game, because at the end of the day we split with a better team (and we even led both games we lost). I'd say that we were pretty handily outplayed in the series overall - Detroit out-OPS'd us .853 to .644 - but the thing about this team is that it's built to win games it may not deserve. All they typically need is a big hit or two to get the lead going into the later innings, because by that point it's lights out, no matter how bad they look at the plate. It's funny what a bullpen like ours can mean to a team like this. A solid corps of relievers can bring home wins you didn't earn, while a crappy group like Detroit's can piss away games it should've had. In that regard, we're blessed, because Green/Sherrill/JJ(/O'Flaherty) are able to make up for some of our glaring problems.
It's not the perfect recipe for success, though, because you still need some people to step up before it ever gets into the hands of the bullpen. Thursday, it was Felix and Beltre. Yesterday, it was Batista and Johjima. Today, it was no one. It's not that they didn't have chances - it's that the hitters couldn't seize their opportunities. For as long as this game was a contest, the Mariners were 0-8 with runners in scoring position (they didn't get their first such hit until it was 9-3). A hit in any single one of those at bats could've made today completely different, but instead they flailed away and struck out five times.
By far the worst inning to watch was the bottom of the first. The Mariners were doing a good job of making Verlander work right off the bat - following an Ichiro single, Jose Vidro singled after an eight-pitch at bat, and Raul Ibanez walked on another eight pitches (with the last one getting away from Rabelo, allowing a run to score). With two on, none out, and a 1-0 score, Verlander was already at 19 pitches, and it looked like he might not be long for the game.
We thought that, and God laughed. Verlander struck out each of the next three batters he faced on 12 pitches, ending the inning with no further damage. According to Gameday, eight of those pitches were balls. The Mariners swung at six of them. Discipline and good work started the rally; overaggressiveness and crappy swings killed it. And, sadly, it was the overaggressiveness and crappy swings that were far more indicative of the makeup of our batting order than the discipline and good work.
The same approach would come back to bite us again a few innings later. Jeff Weaver looked pretty solid through the first 2.2, but he ran into some trouble as four consecutive Tigers reached base. The killers were Sheffield and Ordonez, who combined for eight foul balls, with the latter seeing ten pitches before earning a walk. They were wearing Weaver out, and he was fortunate to get Guillen to fly out quickly to end the inning with a 2-1 lead still intact. All told, Weaver threw 37 pitches in the inning, 26 with men on base against the heart of the order. That's as exhausting as innings get, and Weaver badly needed a break so he could cool down and get ready for the fourth.
He didn't get it. He didn't get it because our 3-4-5 hitters made three consecutive outs on six pitches. After Weaver stood on the hill for twenty minutes in the top of the third, the bottom half lasted less than two. I'll forgive Raul Ibanez for his two-pitch out; he didn't want to fall behind 0-2 in the count. Guillen and Broussard, though, each took first-pitch balls. In that situation you have a responsibility to make the opposing pitcher work so you can get your own guy a little rest. They didn't. They each put the next pitch in play, sending harmless flies into the outfield. They weren't even good pitches to hit, as Guillen's was a fastball down and away, and Broussard's was a fastball more down and away. It was just awful, awful hitting. Jeff Weaver needed a break more than he's ever needed a break in his entire life, but his teammates couldn't deliver, as they sent him right back out against the best offense in baseball having had barely enough time to roll a joint.
I don't want to sound like I'm making excuses for Weaver, since it's his own fault he got into that mess in the third, but I really do think that a big part of what happened in the fourth was the fault of the lineup's impatience. Weaver walked the first guy he faced on four pitches and beaned the next one, suggesting that he wasn't quite right. He got the next two guys, but Granderson's double and Thames' homer that followed decided the game. Suddenly it was 5-2 Detroit, and where it looked like Verlander might not last very long after his first inning, the third put him back on pace for an extended outing. In the span of ten minutes or so the game went from feeling reasonably comfortable to essentially being over. Is the offense to blame for the fourth inning? I can't say for sure, but I know they didn't help. It was the middle of our lineup, and it was terrible.
Verlander threw eight pitches in the fourth.
At 5-2, I'd pretty much lost hope, and even when another wild pitch allowed us to trim a run off the deficit in the fifth, it occurred to me that our runs had come off of two wild pitches and a groundout. This didn't inspire much confidence, particularly going forward in a game that would henceforth lack its best player, who took a fastball off the knee. I can't imagine that Ichiro's going to miss any time, but I suspect he won't be quite right for a few days. We should've beaned that annoying motherfucker Granderson in retaliation once things got out of hand, but I'm a bitter, spiteful son of a bitch, and I imagine I wouldn't make many friends were I to ever become a manager.
Why Weaver came back out for the top of the sixth I'll never know (I'm not even sure why he was in there for the fifth), but as would happen to anyone who'd already thrown 102 stressful pitches in five innings, he put the first two guys on base before finally being replaced by Morrow, who officially turned a close game into an ugly one with a wild pitch and two walks (one of which being intentional. Brandon Morrow leads this team in intentional walks. I'd love to hear the justification for that). The final act of indignity came when Gary Sheffield stole home on an Eric O'Flaherty pickoff throw to first. That was the last straw, and no longer did it make any sense to hold out hope for a more positive outcome.
The blowout was on, as the white, left-handed underbelly of our bullpen sopped up the next three innings of mop-up relief. The Mariners scored a few meaningless runs, with Vidro and Ibanez hitting two of the more unlikely back-to-back doubles of all time and Guillen bumping his OPS to .812 with a bomb in the ninth, but it was all just a stall, and the loss became official with a Beltre groundout to Inge. A frustrating end to what was, overall, a fairly decent and moderately encouraging series.
The key now is to build off whatever momentum the M's gained by hanging with the Tigers and really get rolling over the next two weeks, as they play 12 games against Baltimore, Toronto, Texas, and Oakland. These are beatable teams, and with LA and Detroit squaring off towards the end of the month, they could be in good position when the Angels come to town on the 30th. They better win six, they ought to win seven, they should win eight, and they could win nine. No longer can we get away with six-game losing streaks against unimpressive teams; the time is now to keep the pressure on the people ahead of us. Next week, like all of the weeks for the rest of the season, is huge. Win, and win however you can. It's the only way.