Monday night, in the opener of a quick two-game series, the Seattle Mariners defeated the Minnesota Twins by a 5-2 score. It was a game that hit close to home, because it was a game that felt intimately familiar to us. The only difference was that, on Monday night, the Mariners won.
This year's Twins are giving off such a 2010 Mariners vibe that even clicking one of their box scores by accident triggers my PTSD. And, yeah, I know both teams came into the game tonight riding extended losing streaks, but over their six-game skid, the Mariners had been outscored by 14. Over their eight-game skid, the Twins had been outscored by 35.
The Twins are an absolute wreck. They don't match up with last year's Mariners perfectly. They didn't have an ultra-aggressive offseason. They're dealing with some unfortunate major injuries. Their rotation ace has the second-worst xFIP in the American League. But the overall outline is there. The Twins came in as a popular pick to win their division, and they've played themselves out by the middle of May because just about everything that could've gone wrong has gone wronger than anyone would've dared to think possible.
Watching them tonight, I don't want to say they were lifeless, but they looked lifeless, which is how really bad baseball teams end up looking too often. As they got mowed down by Michael Pineda, I found myself conflicted. On one side, I was sympathetic. I recognized what the Twins were going through, and I felt for their players and fans. On the other side, it was like some weird kind of closure, as the new and improved Mariners were beating the old and crappy Mariners, and I took pleasure in the symbolism.
So often in dark times we've rhetorically asked what would happen if Felix got to face his own team. Felix will get his shot at the 2010 Mariners tomorrow. Michael Pineda got his shot at the 2010 Mariners tonight, and the results were almost dull in their predictability. No runs, three hits and seven strikeouts in seven innings. What else would you expect? The 2010 Mariners were bad. The 2011 Twins are bad. This is what it looks like when you face a bad team.
When you see it from this perspective, it's unbelievable that we made it through last season alive. I'm not sure we understood how inept the Mariners really were. I'm not sure our brains would've let us.
We're going straight to the bullet holes:
- This is a tricky start of Pineda's to evaluate. It's tricky because, while all of his numbers are outstanding, I literally turned on the TV at 7 o'clock afraid that I'd have to stay up all night writing about a no-hitter. Pineda wasn't facing much of an opponent, and while I know you're supposed to evaluate a pitcher by his process instead of his results, the results always in some way bias one's real-time process observation, so I'm kind of stuck.
So here's what I'll say: once again, Pineda was very good, and what few mistakes he made, he generally got away with. There was one sticky situation in the sixth when he faced Michael Cuddyer with the bases loaded and hung an 0-1 slider, but he wound up getting the out, and he didn't face any other jams on the evening.
For those keeping track, Pineda again leaned heavily on his fastball and slider, throwing only two changeups. And Pineda was again extraordinarily successful despite the two-pronged approach. Every single time he takes the mound I feel like I say something about how it would be nice if he strengthened his change, and it would be nice if he strengthened his change, but his results to date make it hard to be too critical. Feels weird to talk about Pineda changing his approach when he's pitching like one of the best starters in the league.
For me, the most eye-opening Pineda number of the night is that, out of the 34 sliders he threw, Twins batters swung at 17 of them, and 11 of their swings missed.
- Last season, the Twins' pitching staff was successful in large part because it posted the lowest walk rate in baseball. This season, the Twins' pitching staff has been unsuccessful in large part because it's posted the highest walk rate in baseball. Everything you need to understand about the Twins' pitching staff you could've gleaned from when Miguel Olivo faced Scott Baker in the bottom of the first and drew a four-pitch walk.
- Root Sports voiceover guy on tomorrow night's broadcast:
I sure hope the Twins are ready for the King.
- The Mariners didn't have to do a whole lot in the field, and they certainly didn't come away looking so hot when the infield racked up three errors, but what struck me more than anything else was how smooth and graceful Michael Saunders looked in center. Two plays that caught my eye were an Alexi Casilla lineout in the sixth and a Danny Valencia lineout in the seventh. The plays weren't easy catches, but Saunders read them well off the bat and sprinted towards his spot such that he could slow down and make the grabs while jogging. You'll hear coaches and announcers talk about outfielders with good closing speed. Michael Saunders has good closing speed. He runs well enough that he seldom ends up having to make a catch on a dead sprint.
- First things first: I'm not a scout. I don't get paid for my evaluations of a player's ability. Additionally, I don't watch the Twins very often, so I don't have a good grasp of what's normal and what isn't. But tonight, Delmon Young's bat speed looked slower than Delmon Young, in that I think Delmon Young's body moves faster than his bat did.
- In the bottom of the sixth, the Mariners came up with their first back-to-back home runs of the season, as Adam Kennedy and then Carlos Peguero each took Baker deep. Before the year, had you asked me to guess which two players would be responsible for the Mariners first back-to-back home runs of the season, I literally think I would have guessed Brendan Ryan and Jack Wilson before I would've guessed Adam Kennedy and Carlos Peguero. I wouldn't have guessed Kennedy because he isn't a power hitter and I didn't think he'd be playing often, and I wouldn't have guessed Peguero because what in the blue hell would Carlos Peguero be doing on the Mariners?
But here we are, and there's no changing what's already done. Kennedy somehow already has four home runs on the season after hitting three with the Nationals a year ago in 135 games. Kennedy has 11 seasons in his career in which he's batted at least 300 times. He already has more home runs in 2011 than he did in four of them. It's to the point now where I actually have a moderate degree of trust in Kennedy when he comes to the plate, which is something nobody should ever feel about Adam Kennedy.
And while Kennedy's home run was a conventional blast, Peguero's stands as an early candidate for the weirdest of the year. Peguero's first career homer flew 451 feet. Peguero's second career homer flew the 326 feet it says on the right field wall. Peguero got a 1-2 low slider from Baker and ripped a laser right down the line, hugging it so tightly that most onlookers figured it'd end up going foul. Instead, it sneaked right into the corner between the fence and the pole. And also it may never have been more than 15-20 feet off the ground. It was simultaneously the cheapest home run Safeco Field may have ever allowed, and also perhaps the hardest hit.
- Another day, another upside/downside game for the perplexing Jack Cust. The upside is that he hit two balls very hard - one for an RBI double in the first, and one for a fly out to center in the eighth. The downside is that the double probably would've been caught by a better right fielder than Jason Kubel, and the fly out to center looked like it was gone off the bat, which it wasn't. We're seeing plenty of evidence that Jack Cust has good doubles power. We're seeing minimal evidence that Jack Cust has good home run power. This would be great if Jack Cust were a 22-year-old developing prospect.
Tomorrow night brings us Felix Hernandez and Francisco Liriano in what may very well end up a three-hour reminder to appreciate what we have in Felix instead of taking him for granted. It may also very well not end up like that. Your move, offense.