And with that, the once proud and statistically favored Mariners drop to a season low five games under .500 and seven games out of first place. It was just a few weeks ago that PECOTA gave us a 40% chance of making the playoffs, but funny stuff happens when you lose 15 of 21, and now that the M's are facing lower postseason odds than the Royals, I'm thinking it might be high time to remove 'compete in 2009' from the organization's list of possible goals. Which isn't to say you ought to surrender all your hopes and dreams of seeing this team make a run, but barring some miraculous turnaround, any decision made henceforth needs to focus more on the future than the present. We had a little fun, but Zduriencik's plan was never about this season, and in the big picture maybe it's better for everyone that we hit this skid when we did. Now the front office can really set about deciding how they want to make this roster look good in 2010.
A lot of blame for the outcome tonight is going to fall on a small number of guys. And maybe that's how it ought to be. Miguel Batista inherited a late 3-0 lead and melted down, issuing walks to two same-handed hitters along the way. Mark Lowe capped off the collapse by driving in a run with a four-pitch walk and then serving up a hittable first-pitch fastball to Jason Giambi. And Mike Sweeney approached third base looking to score easily on a single by Russell Branyan and fell down, staying on the bag and costing the Mariners a run. Three individual players cost this team a combined five runs today, and when you lose by one, that stands out in all the wrong ways. It would be easy, then, to suggest that were it not for Batista, Lowe, and Sweeney, the Mariners probably would've won the game.
But I don't think it's that simple. Nevermind that Sweeney drilled an RBI double in his solitary at bat; that's not the only factor that should remove him from the spotlight. More importantly, there's the matter of the entire offense once again looking feeble, and looking feeble against a decent but by no means impressive sequence of pitchers. The Mariners drew a lefty in Dallas Braden to start the game, but while they weren't striking out, they weren't hitting the ball with much authority, either, collecting six singles, three doubles, and a .265/.278/.353 line on the game. As I probably don't need to tell you, this is nothing new. The Mariners' problem hasn't been making contact - it's been making good contact. The team's on-contact .304 BA ranks third-worst in baseball, against a league average of .328, and its on-contact .452 SLG ranks second to last, against a league average of .522. Missing bats doesn't have to be a priority for opposing pitchers, because right now they can take the hill with the confidence that allowing contact isn't going to hurt them very much. There just aren't enough people in the lineup righ now providing any thump.
It'd be one thing if everyone were hitting as expected, and our offense were simply mediocre. That, we could live with. But while Branyan and Ichiro have been good and Griffey's coming around, the rest just looks awful, with Beltre and Lopez being the biggest offenders. Those two have killed us. At least Beltre's starting to show signs of breaking out. But Lopez has been one of the worst regulars in baseball, and Beltre still has a ways to go before he's back.
This offense was never supposed to light up the scoreboard, but at the same time, it was also never supposed to be a liability of such considerable magnitude, and though its true talent is better than what we've seen, the damage has been done. The run prevention has been there for most of the time, but this team has been sunk by an underachieving lineup, and no matter how well it hits from here on out, we're going to look back on this first month and a half as a giant flashing missed opportunity.
For his part, Jarrod Washburn looked pretty good. Yes, he faced the A's, but he faced them with a wonky knee, and after a bit of a struggle at the start he managed to get better as the game rolled along. The key for him was, once again, exerting his dominance against lefties and keeping in check the damage done by righties. Look at what he was able to do against the lefty quartet of Cust, Giambi, Kennedy, and Hannahan:
Cust: groundout, two on; single; groundout
Giambi: strikeout, bases loaded; strikeout, one on; foul out, one on
Kennedy: groundout, bases loaded; line out; strikeout, one on
Hannahan: pop out; fly out
Those four hitters combined to go 1-11 with three strikeouts and 11 stranded baserunners. When Washburn loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the first, he was able to escape the jam by retiring both Giambi and Kennedy back to back, and that kind of set the tone for the rest of his outing. He scuffled against righties and saw just enough lefties to keep from coming apart. Telling stats:
Lefties against Washburn: 1 line drive, 6 swinging strikes
Righties against Washburn: 5 line drives, 1 swinging strike
It's unusual to see a starting pitcher show such a significant platoon split, but while I'm sure Washburn isn't as good against lefties as his 21/2 K/BB so far would indicate, he's been pitching like a lefty killer, and it's helped him put up some shiny numbers. This is one of those cases where you have to keep in mind the difference between luck and sustainability. I don't think Washburn's success against lefties is sustainable - not at this level - but I don't want to say he's been lucky so far, because he really has looked that good. He deserved a better fate than the one he got today.
As far as Lowe and Batista are concerned, neither of them is good enough for tonight to come as a surprise. Batista may look like a different pitcher than the one he was a year ago, but he's still been throwing less than 60% strikes, and sexy offspeed stuff aside, Lowe's bringing the same annoying combination of straight hittable fastball and iffy command that he's always had. They're pitchers with strengths, but the pitchers aren't strengths themselves, and you just have to concede that sometimes meltdowns like this are going to happen. They're ugly and they're unpleasant and they feel so much worse than just giving up nine runs in the first and losing in a blowout, but they're inevitable for a team with our sort of bullpen. Our bullpen isn't good. Its best pitcher is a headcase right now and its second-best pitcher is on the DL. If you thought you weren't going to have to deal with shit like this, you were kidding yourself.
21-26. We've dropped two in a row to last place Oakland, and the Angels are on the docket over the weekend. Changes may be coming sooner than you think.