At the time of the game's first pitch, the PA loudly sounded "12:37, 76 degrees" in the background of the broadcast. Dave Sims acknowledged that the volume was unusually high before repeating the facts he'd been told, and it was one of those fleeting behind-the-scenes moments where you smile a little smile, with some of the magic having been revealed.
Of course, sunny and 76 meant that the weather in Anaheim today was just about perfect. This would've been a great Sunday to spend at the beach, or at the park, or in the pool, or just sitting on the patio, sipping lemonade and watching nothing and nobody. But because of the Mariners, the Angels had to spend this day - this wonderful, consummate summer day - inside, sweeping. Who really won this series, you ask? I suppose that depends on one's definition of "win," and on one's definition of "happiness." The Mariners lost a baseball game, but they didn't have to do any chores.
A point I've seen raised in a bunch of places, and a point Matt Pitman brought up to me during the postgame show, is that, if we'd been told before the year that the M's would go into the break at 43-48 with a bunch of young players on the roster, we'd have taken it. And I think that's true. A record of 43-48 is a 77-85 pace, and "a bunch of young players" implies that the M's are developing for the future, with some of those young players finding a little success. This is definitely a scenario I would've been content to embrace.
But the problem is that we didn't go straight from before the year to the middle of the year. Between then and now, the Mariners have played 91 games, and for many of those, they were hanging just behind in the race. At no point did the Mariners really get us thinking about the playoffs, but they got us thinking about the AL West, and they got us watching the scoreboard. They got us one degree from imagining them playing in October.
And then, this stretch. This stretch of five games lost on the field, and five games lost in the standings. According to CoolStandings.com, the Mariners' playoff odds have tumbled from 17% to 3% since Wednesday morning, and for all intents and purposes, they're toast. It would take an unthinkable turnaround for them to catch and pass two superior teams over the fraction of a season that's left.
I'm just fine with the idea of the Mariners basically being out of the race. God knows I've grown familiar with it over the years. It has a toothbrush by my sink. But it's the fact that they were in it, and then the haste with which they fell out of it, that bothers me. It won't bother me for long. Soon enough, I'll be ready to focus on all the other positives, and potential positives. But right now, I can't stop reflecting on the past five days. Too much has changed in less than a week for me to make an instant psychological shift.
A few brief Sunday evening bullet holes to send us into a three-day vacation from the Mariners:
- Not too much to complain about with regard to Felix Hernandez's outing. He fell short of delivering the ideal, in that he allowed baserunners and runs and didn't pitch the whole game, but he was good, and better than we've seen him several times before. He responded to a line drive and a home run in the fourth by striking the next two batters out, and he only had one walk, which wasn't really a walk.
Last season, at the break, Felix had a strikeout rate of 23%, and a BB/HBP rate of 8%. This season, at the break, Felix has a strikeout rate of 24%, and a BB/HBP rate of 8%. Pitchers aren't always this stable. We've gotten lucky.
- The Mariners actually took an early 2-0 lead when Adam Kennedy singled a pair of runners home in the top of the first. There were a lot of people giving Kennedy credit for good hitting, which I'm not sure I buy, since the pitch he swung at was a ball, and the ball he put in play was a weak grounder that just squeaked through the hole between third and short. But it was definitely interesting hitting, in that he just kind of put the bat out there and let the ball hit it. He protected the plate with two strikes and wound up with an RBI single you'd expect out of Ichiro. That was the only time the Mariners would score.
- When Bobby Abreu came up the first time, Sims wondered out loud whether Abreu was the most patient hitter baseball had seen in the past 10-15 years. Going to Fangraphs, I find that 342 players have batted at least 2,000 times since 2002. Abreu's swing rate is the lowest, at 34.9%. We'll see about Brett Gardner, who's at 33.4% after about 1,300 trips, but yeah, Abreu's got a good argument. Two-thirds of the time that he's stood in the box, he has done nothing. This also makes him one of the laziest hitters in baseball.
- Abreu came up in the third inning and took a 2-1 fastball outside for ball three. And also apparently ball four, as Abreu tossed his bat and headed for first. For the second time in eight days, nobody said anything. Nobody on the field said anything. The Mariners' broadcast didn't say anything. The Angels' broadcast was caught in an anecdote. Eric Wedge claims that he knew and simply preferred the walk over having Felix throw to Abreu behind 3-1, but who knows.
This is less about the respective dugouts, and more about the people directly involved. When this happened to Doug Fister, there was at least the excuse that Cameron Maybin hit a few foul balls. This was the sequence to Abreu:
That's it. No foul balls. No pick-off attempts. Just four pitches, that everybody apparently thought felt more like five pitches. Obviously this looks horrible for the umpires, but then I expect the umpires to be horrible. How am I supposed to trust that the Mariners' pitchers and catchers are sticking to a pitch-by-pitch game plan? Ideally, one pitches differently based on the count. But now how can I trust that these people actually know the count, when twice in eight days it's been suggested that they didn't?
I guess baseball gets so boring and repetitive sometimes that even the active participants zone out.
- My favorite part of the three-ball walks is watching Gameday have to make up a fourth one.
Dan Haren vs. Justin Smoak in the top of the ninth:
- The second inning saw Kyle Seager check in with his first Major League hit when he lined a cutter into center field. Mike Trout ranged to his left to cut it off, and then watched the ball sneak under his glove and roll all the way to the wall. The most embarrassing thing I did when I was 19 was act awkwardly in front of a girl I liked when she came to my dorm room, and that didn't happen before thousands of witnesses. Haha, stupid Trout.
- The Mariners play really short games.
- Since June 1st, David Pauley has thrown 14.2 innings, with nine walks, nine strikeouts, and three hit batters. Three of those walks have been intentional, but still. While I understand this statement strikes at the core of everything you believe in, David Pauley is not a shutdown reliever.
- In Dustin Ackley's first trip to the plate, he battled back from 1-2 to draw a seven-pitch walk off a stingy pitcher. In his second trip to the plate, he ripped a first-pitch cutter into right, and the would-be double was only barely hauled in by a leaping and outstretched Torii Hunter, who made an amazing catch. In his fourth trip to the plate, he smashed a first-pitch cutter down the first base line for the double he'd missed out on earlier. The awesome thing about Ackley that we don't get with Pineda is that we get to watch Ackley pretty much every day. This way we can grow accustomed to him and take him for granted even quicker!