The thing we know about the early part of the baseball season is that we can't yet really trust the statistics. Even if you don't know what a small sample size is or what "small sample size" means as far as statistics are concerned, on some level, deep within, you do know what it means. You don't need to be the least bit familiar with advanced math to understand that batting .200 for six games is different from hitting .200 for six months. So we all kind of wait for the numbers to settle down. Some numbers settle faster than others, so it's not like there's a specific date after which you can start thinking the numbers are meaningful, but by this point, few numbers have settled. They're like the little plastic balls in a toy vacuum cleaner.
The thing we don't talk about so much with regard to the early part of the baseball season is that we can't yet really know how to feel. Feelings are emotions, right? And statistics are objective, rational. You'd think that one's feelings and the statistics might be independent. But in fact, our feelings are informed by the statistics, so until the statistics settle down, our feelings can't settle down. They're bouncing all over the place just the same. It's difficult to control, although it does keep April interesting once the first few games are finished and baseball resumes being the routine.
The Seattle Mariners just flew into Detroit and swept the Tigers in three games. Prior to this series, the Mariners were 7-10, and the Tigers were 10-6. The Mariners had recently allowed a God damned perfect game, and had a run differential of -10, while the Tigers had a run differential of +3 despite getting clocked a few times by the Rangers. The Mariners were supposed to spend the year battling the A's for third place in the AL West. The Tigers were supposed to spend the year pulling away in the AL Central. The Tigers had added Prince Fielder. They were thought a championship contender - maybe not the favorite for the AL pennant, but among them.
The Mariners went to Detroit and swept 'em. The Mariners shook off a four-game losing streak, went to Detroit, and swept 'em. No, they didn't have to face Justin Verlander, which presumably would've been a nightmare. But a three-game sweep of a probable playoff team is a three-game sweep of a probable playoff team, and now look how you feel.
Consider how you feel about the Mariners, relative to how you felt about the Mariners last Saturday, or Monday. After the perfect game and after the White Sox sweep, I think we were readying ourselves for more of the same. Where by "the same" I think you know exactly what I mean. Now the Mariners have swept the Tigers and pulled themselves back to .500. Five minutes ago, outside my office window, it was hailing. It was hailing something terrible. I can't remember seeing a hailstorm as thick and sustained as this one, and it came 15 minutes after a separate, smaller hailstorm. At first I thought there was someone knocking on the door. The sun just broke through. All the hail has already melted. The ground's wet and through the leaves of a tree I think I see some gray clouds, but if I were just looking outside for the first time, I'd think, this is a beautiful day.
I'm not a mountain climber, yet, but my understanding from what I've read is that, in perfect weather, few mountains are all that challenging to climb. I mean, certain mountains are always going to be beasts, no matter the conditions, but take something like Mount Adams or Mount Hood or Mount Rainier, to keep things local. When the weather cooperates, those are readily doable climbs for the sufficiently prepared, and even for some of the insufficiently prepared. But the thing is that the weather doesn't always cooperate. Mountain weather, for almost any peak, is notoriously variable. Notoriously, dangerously variable. Storms bloom and pass without warning. Whiteout conditions can develop and persist for hours or days. Mountain climbing is hard in part because climbing is hard, and in part because predicting the weather is hard.
I think, early in the regular season, our feelings are a lot like mountain weather. Or anything else that's essentially unpredictable, but I'm going with mountain weather because that's what I just wrote about and because I like thinking about mountains. Sometimes we see the sun, and there isn't a cloud in the sky. Sometimes we can't see any clouds because all we see is cloud. Because we're in the very middle of a cloud. Sometimes we can see the clouds coming. Sometimes the clouds drop right on top of us without so much as a hello.
A lazy and uninteresting way to describe all this is that it's an emotional roller-coaster, and a slightly less lazy and uninteresting way to describe all this is that it's an emotional montaña rusa. It's fun, sometimes. It's fun right now. Right now, following the Mariners is a thrill. The Mariners just swept a good team and looked pretty good doing it. Who knows how we're going to feel in a week, or even in just a few days. The fun is in not knowing where things are going to settle. It stands to reason that, within a handful of weeks, we'll more or less know what to make of the Mariners. Right now, who knows for certain what to make of the Mariners? This week has had a high peak and a low valley. Nearly all possibilities are possible. The Mariners are still a surprise.
If this isn't reading well it's because I've been distracted like a dozen times in the last half-hour. You know what's a lot easier to write when you anticipate further distractions? Bullet holes. Let's moves on to the bullet holes!
- By the numbers, Hector Noesi wasn't good for the third time in four starts. He allowed four runs in 5+ innings, and gave away an entire 4-0 lead. Not that a 4-0 lead should be considered insurmountable, especially against a lineup like Detroit's, but Noesi's outing would've felt different had all the runs scored in a different order. Had Noesi allowed four in the first and then the Mariners came back, well all right. As it was, Noesi was successful, and then he kind of came apart and the Mariners had to fight to get their lead back.
With that said, in Noesi's defense, here's the pitch that drove him from the ballgame:
In the bottom of the sixth, with a man on, Noesi threw Miguel Cabrera an 0-and-1 fastball inside off the plate. It wasn't inside off the plate, by an inch or three. It was inside, as far off the plate as that image above is telling you. Cabrera turned on it and pulled a high, towering fly ball to left. It got caught in the wind and just kept drifting. Chone Figgins looked to have settled under it in front of the track, but then he turned around, and the crowd roared when they saw what was happening. Figgins ran out of room, and the ball carried feet beyond the fence.
Miguel Cabrera hit a game-tying two-run homer off Hector Noesi in the bottom of the sixth, but not only was the pitch not a horrible pitch - the fly ball probably wasn't a homer were it not for the wind. And Noesi allowed a few other hits on pitches that weren't poorly located. Noesi wasn't outstanding today, but he was probably better than four runs in 5+ innings.
Eric Wedge pulled Noesi at 77 pitches. With Noesi's fly ball tendencies, and with Prince Fielder on deck, it wasn't a bad idea. Thursday's Hector Noesi, though - he was okay. Way better than the last time. If he can just keep on being better than the last time, every time, then eventually he'll be fine. Then he'll be good. Then he'll be great. Then he'll be amazing! Then he'll be positively unhittable! Then he'll be literally unhittable! Then he'll be a witch! According to the tabloids. Haven't had a good witchin' in some time.
- The Tigers tied the Mariners at four in the bottom of the sixth. In the top of the seventh, the Mariners pulled ahead by a run, and after Michael Saunders and Miguel Olivo began the inning with outs. The Mariners had two outs, nobody on base, and Brendan Ryan at the plate, with Chone Figgins on deck. Ordinarily, that's an excuse to completely check out, maybe to make a sandwich or go to the bathroom. Ryan and Figgins combined for a run. They didn't even need Dustin Ackley's help.
- That run scored when Figgins doubled home Ryan after he reached on a walk. It was a weird double - it looked like a home run off the bat, and then in right field, Brennan Boesch took little uncertain steps and let the ball go over his head. The wind probably played a part in that. But it's safe to say that Boesch and the viewers were tricked. I guess it was our own fault for thinking something was a home run off the bat when the bat belonged to Chone Figgins.
Boesch: I got this
Boesch: can o' corn
Boesch: is that going over my head?
Boesch: who hit it?
Boesch: Chone Figgins?
Boesch: naw, it isn't going over my head
Boesch: I mean, Chone Figgins
Boesch: coming down aaaaany minute now
Boesch: no problem
Boesch: that's going over my head
Boesch: that's going over my head, what have I done
Boesch: I have made a grave mistake
Boesch: I WILL BE HAUNTED BY THIS DAY
- In the bottom of the seventh, the Tigers had a man on second and one out in a one-run game. Lucas Luetge threw a 3-and-1 inside fastball at knee level that Alex Avila swung on and missed. Miguel Olivo flat-out dropped the ball and the runner advanced from second to third. It didn't come back to hurt the Mariners, but that was a way bigger passed ball than most. I don't mean to suggest that Miguel Olivo is a bad catcher simply because he drops the occasional catchable pitch; I mean to suggest that sometimes this is important. You can't just laugh it off.
- Chone Figgins has a .656 OPS, and Dustin Ackley has a .656 OPS.
- Staying in that bottom of the seventh, the Tigers had runners on second and third with two outs when Boesch came to the plate against Luetge. Boesch got ahead 3-and-1, having taken a pair of sliders way low and way away. The 3-and-1 pitch was another slider way low and way away, and Boesch swung at it and missed. He swung at a 3-and-1 slider outside in the dirt. Maybe he was confused because he didn't think Luetge would throw something offspeed in a fastball count, but that was disastrous. You could basically know from that one pitch that plate discipline isn't among Boesch's limited strengths.
- Going to keep talking about this half-inning. With the tying run on third base, Luetge threw Boesch three sliders in the dirt, and one fastball almost in the dirt. You hear it said that, when an important runner gets to third base, it all but eliminates the pitch low and out of the zone. It didn't today for Lucas Luetge. Although maybe he wasn't throwing pitches that bad on purpose.
- The Mariners pulled ahead early when Justin Smoak blasted a high Rick Porcello changeup way out to right-center to plate three runs. I can't think of a Mariner who needed a home run more than Smoak did. Maybe some Mariner privately guaranteed a home run to a sickly child in a hospital and then that Mariner would probably need a home run more than Smoak did, but based on what we knew, Smoak's situation was getting desperate. He didn't just hit a home run; he hit a no-doubter home run.
I admit that I've been growing concerned about Smoak. I think I'd be foolish if I weren't. I was pretty convinced coming into the year that his problems last season were related to his injuries, but this April he hasn't looked anything like he did last April. I'm a lot less confident about Smoak than I was. But Smoak did just power one out, batting lefty against a good pitcher, so that's a start. We'll have a much better idea of what to make of Smoak come season's end. My issue is that I want to know what to make of him now.
- The Mariners' fourth run scored when Miguel Olivo finally left the yard. The pitch he hit out was a spinning belt-high slider on the inner half. It wasn't exactly a pitcher's pitch, but a dinger's a dinger, and when Olivo returned to the dugout, Chris Chambliss had a big giant smile on his face. I'd wager that it isn't very often that Miguel Olivo returns to the dugout and Chris Chambliss has a big giant smile on his face. I'd wager that most of the time that Miguel Olivo returns to the dugout, you can't see Chris Chambliss' face at all, because it's obscured by his hands.
- Maybe this at-bat has been forgotten, but in the bottom of the eighth, Tom Wilhelmsen faced Prince Fielder. He started with three straight heaters and three straight balls. His fourth pitch was an outside fastball just off the plate but called a strike. His fifth pitch was a fastball a little more outside that Fielder fouled off. In a full count, having gone 96-96-96-94-95, Wilhelmsen dropped a low curveball on Fielder that Fielder swung on and missed. It was among the most magnificent Tom Wilhelmsen curveballs I think I've ever seen.
To Toronto, with Blake Beavan and Ricky Romero late tomorrow afternoon. Or early tomorrow evening. What time is 4:07pm Pacific? Is that the end of the afternoon, or is it the start of the evening? Does it matter what time of year it is? Is it the afternoon tomorrow because the sun will be out, but would it be the evening in December because the sun would be setting? All I know is that the Angels are 6-13.