That was all the confirmation I needed.
I've suspected for a little while now that the season is already over, but I couldn't be sure if I really believed it, or if I was just trying to talk myself out of getting any more hurt. I needed a test. I needed something to happen that would truly reveal whether I still harbored any hope for the team, or if - in early May - I was already going through the motions.
Today I was granted that test. Today I saw the Mariners storm out to a huge early lead, blow it, fight back, blow it again in unthinkable fashion, stage an impossible last-second comeback, and then lose on a walk-off bomb by a utility player. Short of playing the Red Sox or there being another brawl, I couldn't have asked for more drama. This was exactly the game I needed to watch in order to find out what I believe in my heart of hearts.
Turns out that, yeah, just as I thought. No hope.
As I saw the game's events unfold, I knew it was crazy. When Lopez muffed Young's routine groundball, I knew I should've been pissed. When Johjima took Wilson deep on an 0-2 pitch with two outs in the ninth to tie it up, I knew I should've been flipping out. And when Morrow served up the winner to Ramon Vazquez of all people, I knew I should've been devastated. But I wasn't. The game - as insane as it was - just didn't evoke much in the way of any emotional response. While I stuck around from the moment I got home until the final pitch, I watched on with loyal indifference, the way I imagine a parent must watch his kid's school band perform in an assembly. Things happened, the game changed, and I moved on. It was a page right out of my usual September playbook.
It's not that the Mariners don't have a prayer of competing. Teams have erased bigger gaps before, and the fact that it's still only May 12th means there's obviously all kinds of time for things to turn around. It's just that the odds are so long that my brain has decided it's not worth getting too emotionally invested in the doldrums. Self-preservation and all that. I'll keep watching, and if they start to show signs of life I'm sure I'll dive right back in, but until that happens, it's just guys playing baseball. You watch, you enjoy, and you get on with your life. Come to terms with that and you'll find it really quite liberating.
Biggest Contribution: Kenji Johjima +37.2%
Biggest Suckfest: Erik Bedard, -40.1%
Most Important AB: Johjima homer, +33.9%
Most Important Pitch: Vazquez homer, -39.2%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -41.2%
Total Contribution by Hitters: -15.4%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +6.6%
(What is this chart?)
- Given all the wackiness of the later innings, it would be easy to forget that Erik Bedard started this game. But he did, and he sucked. The Rangers can hit the ball, but you expect a whole hell of a lot better from your alleged ace than six runs and four walks in two innings. This wasn't an Arlington drubbing, either. This was legit. Bedard couldn't throw consistent strikes, and when he found the zone - especially in the third inning - he got pounded. Hamilton in particular just beat the living crap out of a fastball at the belt.
I am officially concerned. More than that, really. Bedard has shown flashes of greatness, but he hasn't hit his 2007 level of performance for more than a few batters at a time. Observe:
2007 2008 Strike% 64 62 Swinging% 18 15 FIP 3.33 5.62
The control is worse, but far more alarming is that Bedard's ability to miss bats has (so far) regressed from terrific to league average, which has predictably taken a massive toll on his strikeouts and, thus, his effectiveness. Right now he looks a lot more like the Bedard from '04/'05 than the Bedard from '07, the result being that seldom does he truly look like an ace.
Yeah, Bedard had a nasty start to his 2007 as well. After his first seven starts last year his ERA stood at 5.62. But even then his swinging strike rate was still a healthy 17%. His K/BB at that point was over three. Right now it's well under two. Where Bedard's bad start a year ago was pretty much due to bad luck, this time around it's due to worse pitching.
That's what has me worried. Bedard looks worse visually, he looks worse statistically, and he's already been on the DL. This is pretty much the worst-case scenario of the whole trade, and while nobody seems to be talking about it anymore, I don't think we've heard the last of his hip. I'd love to be wrong (although if he were healthy that would be even more disconcerting in a way), but I fear it's only a matter of time.
- I can't believe I've gotten to the point at which I actually feel sorry for John McLaren, but there you go. He's not the greatest tactician in the world, but he's good people, and I don't like it when good people experience such powerful dejection for reasons outside of their control. There's not really anything McLaren can do right now. Either the team's not hitting, the team's not fielding, the team's not pitching, or the team's not doing any of them, and no amount of lineup changes or closed-door freakouts can change that. Which must make him feel so utterly helpless. I hope McLaren is happy in his life away from the stadium. I really do. Because I just can't look at his expressions of tristful disbelief in the dugout anymore without being swept over by a sympathetic tidal wave.
- I don't, however, care about Mel Stottlemyre.
- Prior to 2008, we thought of Mark Lowe as uncertain but awesome, and of Brandon Morrow as frustratingly inconsistent. Two months later they appear to have swapped places. Lowe has a dynamite changeup and a good slider to go with a mid-90s fastball, but the man can't throw strikes to save his life, leading to appearances like today's that damage our trust and makes us reluctant to see him in close games. Any reliever capable of walking four guys in an inning of work clearly has a lot of issues to sort out.
Morrow, however, has assumed the role of Awesome Flamethrowing Setup Guy, coming up from AA throwing hard, pounding the zone, and missing even more bats than he did a year ago. His strike rate is up from 59% to 69%, his swinging strike rate is up from 19% to 25%, and he hasn't had to sacrifice anything in the way of velocity. Throw in much-improved secondary offerings and you've got the makings of a hell of a reliever. It'll take more than nine innings to convince me that Morrow has truly turned into an A-level fireman (this is where the "uncertain" comes in - one bad outing and I think I'll go right back to skeptical), but right now he looks all kinds of encouraging. Forget the Vazquez home run - this was probably either the best or second-best outing of Morrow's Major League career.
- Yeah, I wasn't kidding around back when I called Josh Hamilton the best position player in the AL West. Ordinarily I'd want to get my hands on a bigger sample size of information before making such a statement, but watching Hamilton and understanding his skillset, I see all the makings of a superstar. He might be there already. The only thing I'm unsure about right now is his defense, because offensively, I'm as sure that he can swing the bat as I am about pretty much anyone else in the league. He is absolutely the real deal.
- I think having Hamilton might actually make Texas the team I'd like to see win the West. I don't have anything against the A's, but they're just so dreadfully boring that I wouldn't wish that viewing experience on anyone come October. The Rangers, though...I can get behind that team. I like Hamilton, I like Bradley, I like Wilson, and I like Benoit, which isn't too bad considering they're a division rival and all. I wish they had some interesting pitching to watch, and they lost a few brownie points when they cut Ben Broussard (brownie points they could re-gain if we end up with him again somehow), but they're not as unwatchable as I found them a year ago. In fact, of the clubs with a legitimate chance of competing in the AL this season, I think the only teams I'd rather see win are the Rays and the Indians. Texas wouldn't be so bad, just as long as any important games they play feature another team's announcers.
- Adrian Beltre has a line drive rate of 25% and a BABIP of .264. The man has been insanely unlucky, and given what the rest of the offense has been doing (excluding today) the timing really couldn't be worse.
- Kenji needed this game something terrible. He obviously wasn't going to go the entire season with a sub-.500 OPS, but he needed something to take attention away from his horrible start and Washburn's backstabbing. Today he hit a couple balls hard, and I can't tell you how nice it is to know that he can still turn on the Kenji Johjima Power Pitch every once in a while. I don't know where Wilson wanted that 0-2 pitch to go - Laird was set up around the knees - but his fastball wound up over the plate at the letters, and Kenji punished it to cap off an unbelievable comeback. His OPS+ is now beginning to approach Washburn's ERA+, which should turn the tables a little bit. Way to suck, Jarrod.
- Wladimir Balentien: .239/.271/.543. Six of his 11 hits have gone for extra bases, and four have left the yard. Given his 65% contact rate - which, were he qualified, would rank him second-worst in the league between Mark Reynolds and Ryan Howard - he's pretty clearly just going up there swinging from the heels, which has so far led to a most unusual batting line. I am both curious and terrified of what could happen if pitchers start using this to their advantage. He still swings at too much crap for this kind of performance to be sustainable, meaning if the pitchers start to make an adjustment, he needs to follow with one of his own, and quick. Sure is fun to watch that power, though. God damn he hits the ball hard.
We've slipped to 8.5 back of the A's, but with Felix and Gabbo! going again tomorrow, at least there's still a reason to watch. God help us on Wednesday though.