There's an interesting thing about the start of the regular season. Man, I have to stop saying it like that. There are a number of interesting things about the start of the regular season. Among them is that, as much as Opening Day is celebrated as the end of meaningless baseball and the start of meaningful baseball, for the first few weeks everyone keeps treating it like spring training.
Encouraging signs are interpreted as encouraging signs. Discouraging signs are often written off to small sample sizes. Nobody really cares about the standings. People talk about plays and event sequences with a focus on what they could mean for the future. There just isn't a whole lot of emphasis on the now. Which makes some sense. The season's long. Think about how long the baseball season is. It's longer than that. People spend so much time in planning mode.
But the hell with planning mode. I know I personally spend too much time thinking about what's going to happen, instead of what is currently happening. What is currently happening - in baseball - is that the Seattle Mariners are 3-1. They just hung on to beat the Oakland A's 8-7. It was a blowout that turned into not a blowout, but people wanted offense so people are getting offense, on both sides. Nevermind what any of this could mean down the road. We'll address that later, probably later in this post. For right now, all right, one loss and three wins. I said the loss first so I could say the three wins second.
This was an unusual win, and it was an unusual win because it was a win, and because Chone Figgins was very good, and because Felix Hernandez was not so good. Figgins made a lot of positive things happen Friday night, but then he reached once on a line drive, once on a clean bunt, once on a flare, and once on an error. Tonight, Figgins actually looked like a real hitter who wasn't aware of his limitations because he doesn't have limitations. He killed a triple into right field. He ripped a double into right field. He lined a single into center field. Three times Figgins hit the ball on the screws, which is a weird thing to say because I don't think Chone Figgins' baseball bat has screws in.
Another weird thing to say would be that Chone Figgins was unconscious tonight. I almost put that in this post's headline. Then I thought about it and reconsidered because an unconscious Chone Figgins would not have blasted three line drives for six total bases. An unconscious Chone Figgins would've played more like 2011 Chone Figgins. Also had Chone Figgins been unconscious I can't imagine that Eric Wedge would have even kept him in the lineup. I know he wants to play Figgins every day but there are valid reasons not to do so!
As for Felix, while saving any real analysis for later on, the good news is that he could afford to allow six runs, and that his walks and strikeouts look fine. We've seen Felix better, against the A's, because Felix usually has his best games against the A's, because lots of guys usually have their best games against the A's or the Mariners, but again, at least for this instance, think less about the future and think more about the present. The Mariners won, and they didn't need Felix to be unhittable to do so. We get to dwell on this tonight, and then for a full free day tomorrow before dealing with Monday's inevitable wood-chipper nightmare. What I mean by that is that watching the Mariners face Yu Darvish will probably be kind of like having a nightmare in which you're fed into a wood-chipper.
I thought about joking that the Mariners now control their own destiny. Because they have sole possession of first place in the AL West, see. They already controlled their own destiny before, so that's uninteresting and stupid. Cynics among you will note that the Orioles and Blue Jays are both 2-0, while the Red Sox and Yankees are both 0-2. You cynics will cite that as evidence that early standings are not to be minded. I'll counter that, if we're in the beginning stages of an AL East regime change, there couldn't be any clearer proof at this point in time. A playoff Orioles team has to start somewhere!
That paragraph is nonsense. The same conditions as always apply. We're four games into the 2012 regular season, and eventually we'll be 162 games into the 2012 regular season, or maybe 160 or 161 depending on the weather for a series in Cleveland. Lots of stuff is still to happen - stuff you've never seen before, stuff you couldn't imagine while tripping balls in a funhouse. The expectation is that the Mariners will fade away, and then we'll be kept around by the arrival of prospects. But all keeping that expectation in mind does for you now is add a bitter off-taste to the sweet nectar of early success. Live in the present, man. Think about the future when you need to think about the future, but appreciate the day. Stop and smell the roses, because the roses smell like the Angels are .500 and the Mariners are way better than that.
Let's get right into the bullet holes. You might think that, with an entire free Sunday ahead, you should get the longest and most detailed game recap ever written. Quit thinking that, you're only going to be disappointed, and then when you're disappointed the whole LL experience is worse and traffic suffers and I end up living out of a box like a guy who's homeless and finds a huge empty box. I guess in a way we're all kind of homeless people who found a big empty box. It's just that some boxes are bigger than others, and furnished with better objects.
- Felix is entitled to games like this from time to time. He allowed six runs, sure, but two of those scored after he came out, and he's not the one who let Yoenis Cespedes go deep. He finished with a walk, seven strikeouts, and 12 whiffs. By the numbers, Felix wouldn't allow close to six runs if he had this start again. But he did get hit. He did look mortal.
He didn't look mortal at the beginning. He struck out three of the first four batters he faced, and he got his fastball up to 93 miles per hour. I felt a definite sense of relief when I saw that 93 - even if Felix and the Mariners really are comfortable with him throwing slower, I'm more comfortable with him not throwing slower. Not that 93 is 95, and not that Felix was throwing 93 with regularity, but he didn't throw 93 in Japan. He didn't throw 93 in Arizona. It was progress.
Things got worse, or at least the results got worse. Felix began with three zeroes, but then the Mariners put up a God damned six without even considering how their ace might respond, and the A's started chipping away. They scored once in the fourth, and once in the fifth, and twice in the sixth, and thrice in the seventh. A blowout, then not a blowout. I mentioned that already.
I don't need to give you every detail on Felix's outing. Most of his fastballs were 90-92. Perhaps most curious was that the A's batters were getting a lot of air. Felix is a groundball pitcher, if to a lesser degree than he used to be, but of Oakland's 19 balls in play against him, only five captured the interest of the infield. And the two infield pop-ups too. Groundballs are usually one of those things that correlate well from start to start. A groundball pitcher should get groundballs in any given start.
So it's interesting that Felix allowed balls in the air tonight. But it's not anything more than that. Felix has had starts similar to this one before. He's had starts with unusually low groundball totals. He's never strung many together, so we'll see if this becomes a pattern or a fluke.
We're all kind of wondering what's up with Felix, and I don't know the answer. I'm not as comfortable with the situation as Felix claims to be. But I'll say that, after two starts, the pitcher I'm kind of worried about has one walk and 13 strikeouts. We might all just be losing our minds.
- Yoenis Cespedes has six plate appearances against Felix. He's doubled once, he's been hit twice, and he's struck out three times. When I jotted this note I had forgotten about the double and I figured Cespedes must think Felix is one rude son of a bitch. Cespedes probably still thinks Felix is one rude son of a bitch, except just a little more vulnerable. I'd have no problem with Felix making it a personal policy to drill Cespedes somewhere on his body once a game. And he'd never own up to it. At first it would be weird, then it would be funny, then it would remain funny.
- It was Cespedes who turned this from an 8-4 game to an 8-7 game. In the bottom of the seventh, he came up against Steve Delabar with two runners on and watched a pair of balls. Behind 2-0, Delabar tried to throw Cespedes a low-outside fastball, but instead he threw him a fastball, and Cespedes...well I don't know how to put it except that he muscled the ball over the center field fence. It looked like he hit the ball off the end of the bat and still it flew out to pretty much the deepest part of the park. Four games in and it's undeniably apparent that Cespedes has Wily Mo Pena power. What we don't know is how much of the rest of his game will resemble Wily Mo Pena's, and how much it will resemble the game of somebody better. Consider me officially terrified of Yoenis Cespedes.
But there's no getting around the fact that he's already struck out seven times. He's batted 15 times. Two times he's been hit. One time he almost swung while being hit. And there's the matter of his defense. We know that Cespedes runs well, but running's only a part of it. Friday night, Cespedes looked sloppy. Tonight, Cespedes made another mistake on a line drive right to him. In the fourth, Ichiro hit a liner to straightaway center. A telling screenshot:
Maybe that's not so telling. What Cespedes should've done was turn to the side. What Cespedes did instead was take a few steps in. Then he figured out that the ball he thought was hit was not the ball that was actually hit, and he had to reverse direction. He made an unsuccessful leap and the ball came down behind him. Ichiro got an RBI triple. Solid contact be damned, he probably should've been out.
Cespedes will adjust, one figures. He has the raw talent, and raw talent + reps = good performance. But Coco Crisp was not pleased when he found out that Cespedes was bumping him from center field. The explanation given was that Crisp had a history in left, while Cespedes is only comfortable in center. Cespedes sure as all hell doesn't look comfortable in center. Now we find out where Coco Crisp lies on the Selfish <---> Good Teammate spectrum!
- Seriously, Chone Figgins jumped all over those three pitches he lined. Matthew and I have remarked so, so often that when we watch Chone Figgins bat, we can't figure out how he was ever good. He was good because apparently he can hit the ball like this. I don't know why he didn't think to do this sooner. Seems like he should've. Seems like somebody should've told him. Why do we even have a hitting coach?
Hitting Coach: Hit the ball hard.
Figgins: You got it!
Why didn't this conversation ever take place before?
- Talking about yesterday's game, Mike Blowers noted it was a "good sign" that the Mariners went 5-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Why is that a good sign? Does Blowers expect the Mariners to bat .500 with runners in scoring position? Of course he doesn't. That the Mariners went 5-for-10 means absolutely nothing for the future. What Blowers should've said was that it was "good", and left off the "sign". He was half right.
Lucas Luetge made his Major League debut in a clutch situation and threw three breaking balls to strike out Josh Reddick swinging. His good work was immediately undone when Delabar followed with that one fastball, but the only way Luetge could've done better would've been by getting a first-pitch double play. In Ryan Rowland-Smith's Major League debut, he struck out Ken Griffey Jr. swinging, but he needed five pitches, and it wasn't a clutch situation since the Mariners were losing 16-1. So Luetge wins this competition in which he didn't know he was competing. Incidentally, it's amazing the way those three pitches are probably going to make all the difference when it comes time for Luetge's next appearance. In his next appearance, it's just going to be another baseball game. He's a veteran now. This is me psychoanalyzing a Mariners Rule 5 reliever from my keyboard in Oregon.
- I choose to end by talking about Michael Saunders. Within my brain, Saunders is on thin ice. I know all about his strong spring, and I know all about the line drive double he hit to center yesterday, but I saw him look so hopeless for so long that I can readily see him being hopeless again. In the third inning, he popped out. In the fourth inning, he popped out. In the sixth inning, he faced lefty Jerry Blevins, and I could feel myself assuming an easy, ugly out. Maybe another pop out. Maybe a three- or four-pitch swinging strikeout. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that Saunders would do something lousy, and then five pitches later he was trotting around the bases after launching a homer to right-center. It was clearly gone off the bat, too. Pull power isn't the same as opposite-field power, so this wasn't exactly Michael Saunders doing something we'd never seen before, but the last time Saunders had homered in the Major Leagues was on May 11, 2011, off somebody bad. This was a treat.
See, the downside of Franklin Gutierrez being ahead of schedule is that, once he's back, I don't know where Michael Saunders is going to play. He has such a limited opportunity to show that he can be a contributing player. Granted, Saunders didn't do himself any favors in the past, but I just want to know. I just want to know if the new Michael Saunders is actually a new Michael Saunders, and if such a new Michael Saunders would be good. That's it. I'm seeing some positive indications. I'd like to see more of them. But with Guti coming...I guess I should take my own advice and appreciate the day. On this day, Michael Saunders took a big league lefty deep. That's better than most days, for Michael Saunders. Today, his stock improved.
Enjoy your Easter Sunday, or your regular Sunday, or your otherwise irregular Sunday. The Mariners have left you with positive thoughts, and there's nothing they can do to ruin it. Thank you, unusual schedule!