And with that easy win, the M's are now 6-3 over this soft stretch of the schedule and 10-4 in their last 14 games. A few weeks ago I was fully prepared to pull the plug and begin the sell-off - I even encouraged it when the Phillies' rotation became a mess - but since that point the Mariners have done exactly what they've needed to do to pull themselves back into an embarrassing but nevertheless legitimate competition for the West. What's funny is that, looking back, that 10-4 could've very easily turned into 13-1 or even 14-0. One loss came after a blown 8-1 lead. Another came when they got shut out 1-0 by Rich Hill. Another came when they lost 2-1 in extras to Francisco Liriano and the Twins. And the most recent was a 3-1 loss to Brad Bergesen. Four entirely winnable games that would've made this stretch the most impressive in franchise history. Rather than be frustrated by the could'ves and should'ves, though, one look at the bigger picture should put a smile on your face. Teams are going to lose stupid games, and as long as the Mariners are losing them as infrequently as they have been these last few weeks, then everything's going to be all right.
You want even more good news? Not only did the M's just catch the Angels in the standings, but LAnaheim's starting rotation is in a really bad place. Ervin Santana's fastball tonight averaged 90.6mph and the Rays predictably smacked him around. Kelvim Escobar is off to the bullpen for what would appear to be the rest of the season due to shoulder problems. And John Lackey's swinging strike rate has dropped every year from 10.2% in 2005 to 7.1% so far in 2009. Getting these guys back was supposed to light a fire under the Angels and send them streaking to the lead, but none of them are performing at a level anywhere close to what was expected of them, and there's little reason to believe that they're suddenly going to get things straightened out out of nowhere. As such, that is not a good team. This isn't a good team, either, but where once I assumed we'd need a little luck to pass them in the standings, it would appear that that luck has manifested itself in the form of devastating physical setbacks, with the result being that the M's have found themselves in a pretty good position. As bad as this division looked before the year, now it looks even worse. And that works to our advantage.
- Everyone remember that one Ryan Feierabend start against the Red Sox a few years ago where he lasted five innings despite allowing like twenty fly balls to the warning track? Garrett Olson didn't get pounded the same way today, but I feel like he was equally lucky to come away with two runs and a win in five innings. His first inning was just deep fly ball after deep fly ball, and even after he settled down (or something) after the rain delay, he still didn't look like a guy in control. I have this dream where somehow I'm a starting pitcher for the Mariners and I use my lefty slop and cunning to succeed in the big game. In this dream I get to watch my pitches and they're all terrible and I have no idea how they aren't going the other way at twice the speed. Tonight was kind of like that. Olson's changeup gave a couple people fits, but his fastball was as ordinary as ever and it just seemed to me like at least half of his slurves were hittable meatballs. Garrett Olson's first five innings against the Angels a few weeks ago were solid. Garrett Olson's five innings against the Orioles today were harrowing.
- Outfielders get criticized by fans all the time for not diving. Any time a ball drops somewhere within 10 or 15 feet of a player in the outfield, there's always going to be at least one guy who wonders aloud why the player didn't sacrifice his body to go full extension and try to make the catch. The truth of the matter, of course, is that there are situations that call for dives and situations that don't, as diving after a line drive can result in several extra bases if you miss. The reason I bring this up is that Wladimir Balentien's diving effort in the fourth was precisely the sort of time when a dive is merited. Brian Roberts hit a soft fliner into shallow left and Wlad charged and dived, even catching the ball before it squirted out of his glove upon impact. This was a good dive because even if Wlad were to miss, the ball wasn't going to get very far behind him, so with a slow runner on first the risk wasn't very great. Good on Wlad for making the proper judgment. They teach you this stuff in little league, but after Wlad's other sort of defensive display the other night, I feel like I should try to be more encouraging.
- How Wlad's wrist remained structurally intact after rolling over it on that try is beyond me.
- It didn't occur to me until today that Jose Lopez really only has one swing. He doesn't have a power swing, a pop-up swing, a grounder swing, and a strikeout swing - he has one sort of reachy and off-balance swing, and the only thing that ever changes is the location of the ball. Earlier I credited him for doing a good job staying with an 0-2 splitter in the zone and hitting a sac fly in the third inning, but after thinking about it, the way it worked out was probably a total coincidence. Lopez didn't stay back and take a protection swing at a breaking ball. He got a little off-balance and took his normal swing at a breaking ball. I haven't the foggiest why Uehara thought it a good idea to put an 0-2 splitter in the middle of the plate.
- With today's double and triple, Ichiro has pulled his Isolated Slugging up to a career-best .136. Being a rate stat rather than a counting stat, there's obviously no guarantee that it'll stay this way for the rest of the season, but this still goes to show just what kind of tear he's been on so far. He's batting .360 with more extra-base hits than Hunter Pence and Chipper Jones. Ichiro may not be able to hit for power whenever he wants, but the power he's showed to date is a soothing reminder that there's still a lot more left in the little guy's tank than a lot of people give him credit for. Ichiro is spectacular.
- Ichiro is so spectacular, in fact, that even after a loss, Brian Bass and Mark Hendrickson must feel pretty happy about striking him out. Being Mariners fans, Brian Bass is a nobody to us, but when you think about it, he's a 27 year old no-name middle reliever who's going to go home to a bunch of voicemails and text messages congratulating him on making an icon look ridiculous. That's pretty cool. The careers of professional baseball players peak in very different places, but if Brian Bass never does anything else, he still has more to brag about than most of the rest of the world.
- In the top of the ninth, Nolan Reimold held up on a confusing pop fly and allowed a Griffey single to drop right in front of him. In the next at bat, Jose Lopez lifted a fly ball into left that Adam Jones cruised over and tracked down after blatantly trespassing into Reimold's territory. I remember when our players used to do that to Ibanez. Good times.
Russell Branyan led off the seventh inning with 450 feet of absolute majesty to straightaway center. The ball was clobbered with such might that after taking a few steps back, Adam Jones folded his arms and turned around to watch it come down. Aside from walk-offs, those are definitely my favorite kind of home run. You know you've done something impressive when even your opponent stop and admires. I think they're Dave Sims' favorite kind of home run, too, based on his exuberant reaction. That call was everything I love about Dave Sims. Enthusiasm is a difficult line to toe as an announcer, and Rick Rizzs is done in by his maddening insincerity, but Sims makes it work, because he sells things as if he's never seen them before. His effervescence is convincing. It's fun every time, and it makes him so damn likeable.
To Coors tomorrow to face the red-hot Rockies and the fastest starter fastball in the league. And Washburn gets to hit against it.