Trying to measure early-season confidence is not unlike trying to squish a fly that's gotten loose in your living room. You can watch it as it flies around all willy-nilly, but its path is unpredictable, so when you raise your swatter or your hand, you can't be sure that it'll remain where it is. It will dart, it will hover, it will sit still, then it will dart again, and if you're unlucky before long you reach the bargaining stage where you allow the fly to do whatever it wants so long as it doesn't bite you on the face or the ankle.
Just Monday, I was basically done. I wasn't done watching, of course, but I was all but done really caring about the team results. I admitted as much on the front page. The Michael Pineda! Justin Smoak! Dustin Ackley, soon! All right!were 8-15 and they weren't doing much of anything right, so with the team's distant playoff hopes already in the big smelly tank underground, I decided I would focus on the individual stories and the individual achievements.
Now it's Thursday, and the Mariners are 11-15, having done a lot of things right, and I'm back on board. I caught myself checking thescore a little while ago, and I gave a silent fist pump when I saw that they lost, bringing the M's to within 4.5 games of the lead. The Mariners still own one of the worst records in baseball, but when you sweep an opponent, you spend a few days seeing everything get done right, proving of what the team is capable. So you come away thinking, what if this continues? If the team can play this well over three games, what's to stop them from playing this well over a week? Over a month? Over many months?
Of course, the Mariners won't keep playing this well. They just outscored a decentteam 24-6 on the road. They might lose tomorrow, or Saturday, or tomorrow and Saturday, and our optimism will pull back once again the next time we watch the M's play like a bunch of functional retards. But that's just part of the fun of the early part of the season. It's still too early for the great teams to be sure that they're great teams and for the bad teams to be sure that they're bad teams, so you're always trying to figure out your team's true identity, leaving you prone to fluctuations as they win easily or lose horribly.
We're fluctuating right now, because we're not sure if the M's are a bad team or a decent one. There's the potential on the roster for them to be either. They're still not in a great situation, even after the sweep, but just a few days ago I was feeling pretty sure that they sucked, so I'm all about this current uncertainty. This current uncertainty leaves me excited to see what the next game has in store, and that's so much better than where I could be had this series gone a little different.
Here's to keeping things interesting for as long as the M's possibly can.
I had myself a busy Thursday morning planned - I do actually have to do work as part of my job - so the 10:05am start time for this one wasn't exactly optimal. However, I'll always prefer matinees over night games just because of the schedule I keep, and this was Michael Pineda taking the mound with the M's going for a sweep, so I woke up before my alarm, thought about how it felt to look forward to the first M's game in quite some time, and turned the TV on behind my computer so I could watch while I worked.
Work went slowly. I've never been one who deals well with distractions, so I especially do not deal well with Michael Pineda-sized distractions. The M's had a quiet first, but then Pineda struck out the side in the bottom half on 12 pitches, with all the strikeouts being of the swinging variety, and I sat here feeling chills and warming brain zaps as I thought about how effective Pineda already is. It's also possible these are symptoms of a neurological disorder, which might also explain my commitment to the Mariners, but whatever, we're all messed up in the brain.
Pineda ran into trouble in the second when the Tigers took him to deep counts and scored a couple runs, but where before I might've responded with negativity, something about the Mariners' little streak of offensive success convinced me that there was still an awful lot of game left to play, and that the M's would get their licks. And lick, they did. Boy did they lick.
They were able to even the score in the third, and after Pineda settled down, the M's went out in front in the fourth on another extra-base hit from Justin Smoak. They doubled their lead in the sixth on a homer by Miguel Olivo. And after David Pauley turned in his latest effective inning of relief, they blew it open in the eighth with a three-run homer by Luis Rodriguez. Suddenly a 7-2 ballgame, the M's had the sweep in their hands, and the only real intrigue remaining was seeing whether Dan Cortes would make an appearance. He would not. In the game, anyway. He did make an appearance in the bullpen. He stayed there, as a matter of fact. Dan Cortes was not absent.
So the Mariners swept. It's funny - I might feel better about the team right now than I did back in 2007 when it was actually in the race late in the year. When the M's were in the race, I was nervous the whole time that they would blow it, which they ultimately did. Today, there's no nervousness at all; I'm just thankful that the M's have at least temporarily kept themselves interesting. I'm thankful that I don't feel the way I did Sunday night. After I all but gave up any dreams of being competitive, this is a bit of a second chance, and you always want to appreciate a second chance.
To the bullet holes!
- That's five starts and five quality starts for Michael Pineda. Four of those five starts have ended after six innings, but nobody likes a nitpicker. This was just another impressive showing, and it was never more impressive than it was early on, when Pineda struck out the first four guys he saw, all swinging. Austin Jackson whiffed on a fastball. Ramon Santiago whiffed on a fastball. Magglio Ordonez whiffed on a slider. And in the at bat of the day, Miguel Cabrera got ahead 2-1, fouled off four pitches, took a ball, and then whiffed on a slider himself. Brennan Boesch was the Tigers' first batter to not strike out, with one down in the second inning.
Pineda would pitch a little worse over the remainder, but then it would be impossible for him not to, and outside of Alex Avila's double in the second, he kept the Tigers off the board. Pineda threw 66% strikes out of 101 pitches over six innings, and he got 14 whiffs. That's a hell of a day for anyone, let alone a 22-year-old rookie.
What's funny is that, once again, Pineda pitched to his scouting report. Righties went 0-10 with two walks and five strikeouts, while lefties went 4-12 with two doubles and some long flies. Pineda's season splits:
RHB: .172/.262/.207, 6 uBB, 18 K
LHB: .226/.288/.340, 5 uBB, 12 K
Lefties have posted a lousy line against Pineda to date, but it's at least a recognizable line, like something Miguel Cairo would post. Righties have been reduced to moderately disciplined pitchers. Pineda has completely and utterly shut righties down, not even giving them much of a chance.
It's overwhelming. He's overwhelming. It's been five starts, and a batter has yet to take Pineda deep. I know it's going to happen eventually, just like it's going to happen to Aroldis Chapman eventually, but I can't really visualize it. That home run will be something impressive on the hitter's part.
I don't think Michael Pineda could possibly be any better at this point in his career and not be Jesus.
- While we're talking about impressive young players who are doing more than it would've been reasonable to ask of them, Justin Smoak drew a walk in the second and then doubled in the fourth to deep left-center. For a little while this morning, his OPS was sitting in the low four figures. And so many of his extra-base hits are going to the opposite field. It's evidence of how disciplined he's become, and how well he's able to stay back on the ball. It's insane to think that this is the same player who looked so lost right after last year's trade. We dreamed that Smoak might one day develop into this hitter when the deal went down, but after seeing him struggle, the speed of his turnaround is impossible to think about.
- I didn't catch the whole line, but when advertising tomorrow's broadcast against the David Ortiz, and how the Red Sox had added a bunch of new faces, and closed out by saying "see if my Mariners are up to the challenge." If ever there were a time for Root Sports voiceover guy to go back to being cocky, it's now, when the M's are playing good baseball, and the Red Sox are not. Instead he basically admitted that the Red Sox are the better team, and that he'll be sitting there crossing his fingers. Go back to what you were, Root Sports voiceover guy! We liked you! You were ridiculous!
, Root Sports voiceover guy talked about the Green Monster, and
- Tigers starter Brad Penny was working very slowly over his seven innings today. People will often say that a pitcher who works slowly works at a glacial pace. Which is interesting to me, because a slow pitcher is a pitcher who takes a lot of breaks and breathers, while a glacier never stops moving forward. A glacier is in constant forward motion. A pitcher who works slowly works at a volcano's pace. A whole bunch of nothing, and then BLAM! Hope you were paying attention, otherwise there might be a hole in your face.
- The Mariners had Chone Figgins on first and Ichiro on third with one out in the top of the fifth when Figgins was caught leaning. He got himself into a bit of a pickle, but he was eventually tagged out while Ichiro remained where he was. After a lifetime of playing baseball video games I had no idea you could get into that situation and not end up scoring a run.
- After catching a lazy fly ball in the fifth, Milton Bradley leaned back and fired a rocket to the infield. Ottawa goalie Ray Emery got into a fight a few years ago, and the whole time he was fighting he had this chilling grin on his face like he was having the time of his life, like all he ever wanted to do in a game was beat the shit out of people. I think all Milton Bradley wants to do in a game is beat the shit out of people. It's always good for a guy to play with an edge, but boy do you hope he just keeps it harnessed.
- Luis Rodriguez came up with a big three-run homer in the eighth to put this game pretty much out of reach, but on the 1-2 pitch prior to the homer, Rodriguez checked his swing on a low breaking ball, and it looked like he went around. The third base umpire thought otherwise, giving Rodriguez another chance, of which he took advantage. Now, I don't know if Rodriguez swung. The replay wasn't convincing either way. But it looked like the M's got a break, which I guess kind of cancels out the call on Figgins at home last night.
Jack Wilson was pulled from the game halfway through with eye irritation that MLB Gameday wanted its audience to think was life-threatening.
I just hope Jack Wilson's family had a better source of information.
Off to Boston. If you thought Brad Penny was a slow worker, then good news! He's not the slowest! We're facing the slowest tomorrow.