The season flashed before my eyes today.
I first heard about the potential severity of Bedard's situation on Friday. It was rough to read, but without any official confirmation, I just watched the games and hoped the tip-off was untrue. The two wins certainly took away some of the sting. In fact, it was safe to say that by the time I went to bed last night, the condition of Bedard's hip was the furthest thing from my mind.
Then I woke up and it all came flooding back.
It's funny. During conversations back in February and March, the general consensus seemed to be that the M's would have at least a fighting chance as long as five players stayed healthy. Those five players - Ichiro, JJ, Felix, Bedard, and Beltre - form the core around which the Mariners hope to compete for the playoffs.
13 games into the year, three of those players are hurt. Granted, Beltre's hamstring is a minor issue that might resolve itself in time for tomorrow, but still, it's been two weeks and already it's pretty clear that we won't get the same luck with team health that we did in 2007. Our closer's out with what could become a nagging concern, and our big #1 is being hindered by something even more sinister. I know Angel fans won't have any sympathy given what they've had to deal with, but really, it would've been hard for this season to get off to a more discouraging start.
With Erik Bedard on the sidelines, I found it difficult to care too much about today's game either way. Because with Erik Bedard on the sidelines, Seattle is boned.
Biggest Contribution: Greg Norton, +3.6%
Biggest Suckfest: Potatoes, -19.1%
Most Important AB: Burke double play, -15.0%
Most Important Pitch: Guerrero double, -19.7%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -28.5%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -29.5%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +8.0%
(What is this chart?)
If you're ever trying to explain to a friend the concept of replacement level, point them to today. This was like a replacement-level tutorial. Bedard - a regular - got injured, so the team gave his start to its best possible substitute - Baek - who faced the same lineup that Bedard would've were it not for his wonkiness. And then you can simply tell your friend that Bedard's value over replacement level is how much better he would've done than Baek. It's not a perfect explanation, but it works pretty well, and then at least you'll be able to get something positive out of a day that would've been better off aborted.
I can't even imagine what the fans must've felt like as they sat in their seats and saw Cha Baek walk somberly out to the mound. At least, I can't even imagine what the hypothetical fans who deliberately buy tickets to see good pitchers must've felt like. Considering how empty it was on Friday for Felix Day against the Angels, I don't know if this fan base is aware enough to be disappointed when its #1 starting pitcher suddenly gets replaced by its #6 without warning.
In Baek's defense though, he couldn't have started the game any better. Chone Figgins led off with three consecutive called strikes, and five pitches later, the inning was over with Baek having thrown only a single ball. He's not a good pitcher, but that doesn't mean for certain periods of time he can't look like one, and early on he helped to alleviate some concerns that the game would quickly get out of hand.
Unfortunately the end of the top of the first brought us to the bottom, and I don't think anyone was particularly inspired by John McLaren's designated 6-7-8 of Morse/Cairo/Burke. I understand that there's a reason why each of them got to start today - the RF platoon, Beltre's hamstring, day game after a night game - but the unfortunate confluence of all these things with Bedard's late scratch made it seem like McLaren was conceding the game before it began. Even with Joe Saunders being a thoroughly mediocre nobody in every sense of the word, this wasn't a lineup that anyone expected to score many runs.
They certainly didn't in the first. But then that just gave Baek an opportunity to quickly come back out and look awesome again in the second, a scoreless inning highlighted by Garret Anderson taking an early nominee for The Worst Swing Of All Time (related to but separate from The Worst Pitch Of All Time).
On an 0-1 count, Baek threw Anderson a slow curve down and in, and Anderson went after it as if it were a fastball at the belt. Almost immediately he realized it was a mistake, but being too late to check up, he tried to adjust his swing in the middle, with the result being that by the time Anderson's bat cleared the strike zone it was moving so slowly that even Erik Bedard could've withstood a body blow.
As Baek recorded his second pop out of the inning to finish it off, it dawned on me that his entire game is about deception. When he's going well, batters take swings as if they're expecting the ball to get there quicker than it does. He throws a fastball in the low 90s, but he comes after guys with so much slop that a lot of hitters end up out in front. Just witness the Kendrick and Rivera pop outs in the second inning. They both popped out on curveballs because they thought they were getting a heater. This was Jeff Weaver's recipe for success when he had that streak a year ago, but Baek strikes me as being a little better at it. I really do think that, given the opportunity, Baek could make a lot of money in this league as a #4/5 starter. He just needs a little more durability and the chance that this team won't give him.
Somehow the Mariners actually mounted a bit of a rally in the bottom half. Joe Saunders is one of precious few arms in the league capable of loading the bases against the 4-7 hitters of today's lineup. We weren't yet out of the danger zone, though, because as much as everybody loves Jamie Burke, he's still a slow old catcher with an extremely limited history of success, and I think we're all kind of waiting for him to realize it. He took a pretty big step forward (or backward?) in that regard when he check-swinged his way into a momentum-crushing 1-2-3 double play. Burke's usually pretty good about knowing the zone and applying his puny swing only to certain strikes, but Saunders fooled him on a changeup at the shins, and Burke couldn't hold up. I think from now on any similar situations with Burke, Cairo, or Willie should call for an automatic squeeze bunt.
So to the third we went, where Baek got himself into trouble before nearly escaping. The first two batters reached on base hits, but Baek got to two outs before facing off against Vlad Guerrero. He pitched pretty well, too, getting to a 2-2 count without throwing anything in the zone, but then Vlad reached out and poked a low-away curveball into right field in front of a diving Mike Morse to put the Angels ahead 2-0. This is why so many people have difficultly evaluating pitchers. The box score there reads two earned runs charged to Baek, but in all honesty he made a perfect pitch, and Vlad just happened to extend his arms and get the kind of freakish hit that only Vlad can manage. A better right fielder might be able to make a catch, but that was just great hitting beating good pitching.
The double might have been prevented earlier on when Vlad hit a foul pop-up to the right side, but it came down in the camera well just out of Sexson's reach. We always hear about how Richie's really tall, but it seems he's never quite tall enough.
The 2-0 score remained intact into the fifth inning. Baek kept throwing like a replacement-level arm, with the varying results you'd expect, but not having had much of a chance to get his arm stretched out in preparation for a start, he was taken out with two on and one down after 85 pitches. Given the circumstances, I'm not sure the Mariners could've asked for much more. In came Eric O'Flaherty, who got Anderson to ground out and Kendrick to fly out to right to end the inning, only instead of catching Kendrick's fly ball, Mike Morse instead did the Fresh Prince Apache dance and Kendrick slid into second with an RBI double that just makes me want to dig up the graves of the people who invented the concepts of errors and earned runs and send the skulls and a bomb to whichever distant members of their families are still alive.The Angels would add another run when Raul Ibanez dove in front of a single and suddenly this game felt like it was showcasing every single one of our weaknesses.
The Mariner bats were kept quiet in their half, taking us to the sixth. Usually a short reliever, O'Flaherty was in the unenviable position of having to soak up innings with the pitching staff depleted, but for a while there he wasn't doing that poorly. He started off the sixth with a Juan Rivera fly out, and then got Jeff Mathis to pop a ball into right, but a diving Mike Morse couldn't come up with the catch and God I just can't write about this anymore