Any host worth his or her salt will instruct guests to make themselves at home. To get comfortable and not walk around on egg shells. That's usually one of the closing sentences of the first in-person conversation. The host also will not entirely mean it. The host doesn't want the guests to act the way they act when they're at home - the host just wants the guests to feel settled, and the host wants to avoid having to answer too many questions or having to constantly give permission. The custom is for the host to instruct guests to make themselves at home, and for the guests to come somewhat short of making themselves at home.
This weekend the Mariners were the Rockies' guests in Coors Field, and the Mariners actually made themselves at home. They showed up and kept their shoes on inside. They left their socks on the carpet and put their feet up on the coffee table. They ate all the good snacks and drank all the good drinks. They played music as loud as they wanted, and they peed with the door open. The Mariners were told to make themselves at home, and they couldn't have been more at home if they tried.
You could say that the Mariners were rude for behaving the way they behaved, but then the Rockies shouldn't have told the Mariners something they didn't mean. If the Rockies meant "make yourselves at home, with limitations," they should've specified the limitations. What the Mariners heard was "make yourselves at home." What the Mariners didn't hear was "make yourselves at home, but keep your shirt on on the sofa." It was a simple miscommunication, but it was the Rockies who miscommunicated.
Matthew has shown that the Rockies have been statistically the worst team in baseball, and I talked about that just yesterday. As of right now the Rockies are a game and a half better than baseball's worst record, and they're sitting on baseball's fifth-worst run differential. Whether or not the Rockies have actually been the worst, they have at least been among the worst. They've been really bad. Bad enough to get swept at home by the Mariners.
But as bad as the Rockies have been, these are the Mariners, and it's no small thing to complete a series sweep in Coors Field. Historically, the Rockies have had baseball's greatest gap between home performance and road performance, which you might or might not feel like labeling "home-field advantage." Obviously, the conditions in Coors are a little different from how they are anywhere else. The Rockies have been able to deal with that better than their opponents have, on a general basis.
The Mariners just went into Coors and took three in a row, and they didn't just take three in a row - they took three in a row while seldom ever feeling threatened. Hands-down the highest-stress inning was the bottom of the ninth this afternoon, and the tying run was stranded 270 feet away. Or 90 feet away technically. At no point in this series did the Mariners trail. In all three games they had a lead they wouldn't give up after an inning and a half. The win expectancy charts conveyed a certain comfort and calmness, and I think that's accurate, aside from, again, the bottom of the ninth this afternoon. And that half-inning started with a four-run lead so it's not like it was wall-to-wall torture.
The Mariners began this series fresh off a devastating loss in Cleveland. It wasn't devastating for its impact on the Mariners' playoff hopes, but even bad teams can receive a sucker-punch. The Mariners had lost four in a row and five out of six, and one might've said they were out of gas at the end of a long road trip. The primary thing fans were feeling was frustration. Frustration with Brandon League, frustration with Eric Wedge, frustration with some of the hitters and some of the pitchers and the general state of things in the organization. All slumps are different, but in this way all slumps are alike - once you're in the slump, the fans are frustrated, because they want more, and they find people to blame for not providing it.
Everyone's less frustrated now. The Mariners have won three in a row, and what happens when a team wins three in a row is that the team gets good performances. You need to be more good than bad to win three consecutive games. If you accept that this is a development season, and not a contending season, then the emphasis should be on player improvement, and this series let people feel good about a lot of the Mariners' young players. Jesus Montero had his moments, Justin Smoak had his moments, Kyle Seager had his moments, Dustin Ackley had his moments, Michael Saunders had his moments, the bullpen had its moments - if one were to only watch this series, that person would think the Mariners are really on to something. It's good when baseball makes you feel content.
Savor this contentment, because while I don't know when it'll end, or if it'll end, we have it now, and we don't know if we'll keep having it. Tomorrow, the Mariners play the Rangers, and the Rangers are insanely good. The Rangers are a magazine supermodel, looking great and making normals feel worse about themselves. The Mariners play the Rangers three times, then they play the Angels four times, and I'm still assuming that at some point it's going to click for them. Then the Mariners play the Rangers three more times, and the purpose of this paragraph is to explain that we could have a nightmare stretch coming up. We could also have the opposite of that coming up, depending, but the probability is that the Mariners struggle and we're reminded how big a gap between the Mariners and contention exists. That's not how anybody wants to feel about baseball.
So recognize how you're feeling now and keep feeling it, as much as you can. The Mariners got you a weekend free of sarcasm and cynicism, and that's not a thing to take for granted. You know how, when it's really sunny out after an extended stretch of bad weather, you feel compelled to make the most of the day as you can? Make the most of this. The Mariners are just 19-24, but a few days ago they were 16-24. That's three better, and they could be no more than three better. Bathe in the sunshine, and just try not to stare at the source directly, because, I don't actually know, just don't do it.
A lot of people are talking about how tomorrow night will match Yu Darvish up against Felix Hernandez. Yes, yes, I get it, you'd be hard-pressed to find two more talented pitchers than Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez. But the Rangers are so much better than the Mariners are! Felix is coming off of a really bad game! There's no guarantee that tomorrow goes well or even tolerably poorly, and I don't understand why you would ever get your hopes up! Lift yourself up and you have farther to fall! Don't lift yourself up! Stay on the ground! Lie down on the ground! Clutch at the ground, as if the ground were the ceiling and you don't want to drop! Oh, god, tomorrow! Tomorrow could be awesome or terrrrrrrible. I'm going to focus on today today, with some bullet holes:
- Before today, Blake Beavan had started 22 games in the Major Leagues. Over those 22 games, Beavan had never missed more than nine bats, and he'd never registered more than four strikeouts. On eight occasions, Beavan finished with four strikeouts. On zero occasions, Beavan finished with five or more strikeouts. A few times a year you'll see a pitcher end up with four strikeouts in one inning, if his catcher does something bad, or if an opposing batter does something really bad. Beavan had topped out at four strikeouts in a start, through 22 starts.
In Beavan's 23rd start, against the Rockies, he missed ten bats out of 39 swings, and he registered seven strikeouts. He improved on his previous career-high for strikeouts in a game by 75 percent. And while he and the Mariners and the Rockies were playing by National League rules, Beavan didn't strike out Jeremy Guthrie. He struck out position players, a total of seven times.
Some good ones, even. He struck out Troy Tulowitzki swinging. He struck out Todd Helton swinging. He struck out Carlos Gonzalez swinging. He struck out Marco Scutaro swinging, and while Scutaro isn't like Tulowitzki or Helton or Gonzalez, he is one of the very best contact hitters in baseball. What do you get when you match one of the very best contact hitters in baseball up against one of the very best contact pitchers in baseball? A three-pitch swinging strikeout, apparently. And a fly out and a groundout.
The thing not to believe is that Blake Beavan has turned a page and become more of a strikeout pitcher. This was one start, and even Bronson Arroyo struck out nine dudes a couple weeks ago. High-contact pitchers can have low-contact games.
But Blake Beavan just made me interested in something Blake Beavan did. Blake Beavan was all, "oh so you don't find me interesting? Here, try these strikeouts." Well, I'll tell you what, Blake Beavan, I still don't find you interesting, so you better keep coming back with more strikeouts. I don't know, I guess I could be convinced eventually.
Beavan walked one batter. He hit Troy Tulowitzki with a slider. That puts Beavan at seven walks and six hit batters. The guy the Mariners consider their best strike-thrower has hit six batters with pitches, and Mariners batters have been hit by three pitches.
- In the bottom of the first inning, Beavan threw Carlos Gonzalez a first-pitch fastball on the outer edge, and Gonzalez blasted it to center for a home run. In the bottom of the third inning, Beavan threw Carlos Gonzalez a first-pitch fastball on the outer edge, and Gonzalez took it for a strike. Beavan threw a second-pitch fastball on the inner edge, and Gonzalez yanked it for a double off the wall. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Beavan threw Carlos Gonzalez a first-pitch curveball off the outer edge. He followed that with a fastball just off the outer edge, then with a fastball further off the outer edge, then with a slider just off the outer edge, then with a fastball just off the outer edge, then with a slider on the outer edge and just below the zone. Beavan got torched by throwing Gonzalez strikes, so in the third showdown he stayed away out of the rule-book strike zone, and he was rewarded with a strikeout. I could've skipped all these words by just pasting in an image from Gameday. I also don't know how much of this was deliberate on Beavan's part. I choose to give him credit because I don't think I often give Blake Beavan enough credit. Here, have this!
- The Angels are playing the Padres right now. They're tied 2-2 in the 13th inning. If the Padres win, the Angels will drop back into last place in the AL West.
- Michael Saunders finished today 0-for-4, lowering his average to .228. However, in the first he nearly drove a fastball out of the yard, and in the third he scorched a line drive right into Marco Scutaro's glove. For the second game in a row, Saunders wasn't rewarded enough for good contact, and more important than the numbers is the good contact. As coaches will always remind hitters, and as hitters will always remind media types, the idea when you go up to the plate isn't to get a hit or to hit a home run. It's to hit the ball hard, and so, for Michael Saunders, mission accomplished, mostly.
- Today Blake Beavan got to hit for the first time in his big-league career. He swung at the first pitch he's ever seen, which was a fastball right down the middle. He fouled it off, which is a small victory. He swung at the second pitch he's ever seen, which was a fastball over the inner half, at the belt. He fouled it off, which is a small victory. He swung at the third pitch he's ever seen, which was a low slider well out of the zone. He chased and went down like they always go down. For two pitches, Blake Beavan got to feel like maybe he's just a natural at this. On the third pitch he found out that no he is not.
Of course, Beavan dropped down a successful sac bunt in the fourth, and he lined out to right on the first pitch in the sixth. So back Beavan goes to feeling like a natural. More important than Blake Beavan's hitting is that the Padres just walked off over the Angels in an inning in which the Padres pinch-hit with a pitcher, who singled and then scored from first on a single and an error. The Angels have sole possession of last place, and the Mariners do not. Haha, they're below the Mariners, they have to smell the Mariners' farts.
- After Carlos Gonzalez's home run in the first inning, this showed up on the Coors Field scoreboard:
Gonzalez hit his home run into the woods beyond the center-field fence, and I had to guess that there's a pond back there. That guess was later confirmed, so I guess the scoreboard was warning any ducks in the pond that they could be hit by a baseball. But the warning came well after the baseball had already come down. Also ducks can't read English. If Coors Field actually wanted to protect any ducks in the pond, they would build something over or in front of the pond. In truth Coors Field doesn't care about the ducks, and just wants to make people think it cares about the ducks. Or, worse, it's outright making light of the fact that it doesn't care about the ducks. I don't know what ducks ever did to Coors Field but Coors Field is acting like kind of an ass.
- Super-slow-motion replays today revealed that Jesus Montero squeezes his eyes shut right before he catches a pitched baseball. Super-slow-motion replays today revealed that Wilin Rosario squeezes his eyes shut right before he catches a pitched baseball. What I would like is a super-slow-motion replay of Rob Johnson so I could confirm that Rob Johnson literally catches with his eyes closed. It wouldn't mean anything, but it would sound like it means something, which is what matters in all cases.
- With two outs in the top of the first, Kyle Seager stood on first, and Dustin Ackley stood on third. Seager broke for second base, and when Rosario threw down, Ackley broke for home. Marco Scutaro attempted to throw Ackley out at home but the throw sailed wide, and the Mariners went on top. As I point out every time this happens, I can't believe this doesn't happen more. This maneuver has a 100 percent success rate in video games and video games are modeled right from real life. If I learned anything from Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. for the n64 it's that this play is impossible to stop.
- The big highlight for the Mariners were back-to-back home runs by Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak in the top of the third. Montero's was the more impressive of the two, because it had greater distance, and because this is the pitch that he hit:
Guthrie threw Montero a 1-and-1 fastball inside off the plate, and while sometimes it seems like Montero gets crossed up trying to figure out whether he should pull a pitch or take it the other way, Guthrie left him little choice. Montero turned on the fastball and blasted it several rows deep in left field.
Two pitches later, Smoak pulled a high fastball a row or two deep in right-center. At normal elevation Smoak might not get four bases, or any bases, but he did put a good swing on the pitch, and Smoak has been putting a lot of good swings on pitches lately. After the game, Smoak referred to his swings as being works in progress, which is absolutely true, and absolutely something to keep in mind. Again, what always needs to be repeated is that it's about observable progress. Don't get frustrated if the Mariners screw up; get frustrated if the Mariners don't look like they're getting better.
- Montero also walked and struck out. Through May 7th, he had two walks and 21 strikeouts. Since May 8th, he's had six walks and 13 strikeouts. It could be nothing or it could be something, but at least Montero's ratio isn't the catastrophe that it was.
- Mike Carp homered again, on a 2-and-2 curveball almost dead-center in the zone. His was a no-doubter off the bat, as many of Mike Carp's dingers are. What we've confirmed is that Mike Carp is capable of punishing hanging curveballs over the middle of the plate. Congratulations Mike Carp, that makes you officially too good for single-A. I'll note that in the early going, Carp has a .159 batting average and a .706 OPS.
- Brandon League averted disaster in the bottom of the ninth, but he was the one who opened Pandora's Box and then had to try to close it. Given a 6-2 lead, I didn't really mind when League allowed a solo homer to Dexter Fowler - that didn't matter, and Fowler ripped out a hanging splitter in the same spot as the curveball that Carp hit. It was a bad splitter but maybe it helped League to find his feel for it, or something.
Then the real trouble began. League allowed a line-drive single up the middle, after falling behind 2-and-0. Jason Giambi singled, but on a standard grounder, so that wasn't so bad. Carlos Gonzalez subsequently ripped a line-drive single into center to bring the winning run to the plate in the person of Troy Tulowitzki. Every batter started with a fastball, and League created a jam.
Thankfully, Tulowitzki went after a first-pitch heater off the plate and nearly bounced into a double play. Then League ended it by whiffing Todd Helton with a 96mph heater on the outer edge. The pitch was supposed to be just off the outer edge, out of the rule-book zone but within the reality zone, so in that regard League missed his spot, but he only just barely missed his spot and Helton couldn't catch up. Finally, a batter couldn't catch up to Brandon League's fastball.
It was another shaky outing, and still Brandon League has unimpressive statistics. Eric Wedge will not remove League from the closer role, not this soon. The front office probably wouldn't let him even if he wanted to. But it's getting easier and easier to imagine a Mariners team with someone else handling the ninth. People will want that to be Tom Wilhelmsen, and then after Wilhelmsen struggles a few times people will complain about Tom Wilhelmsen. But he's ready, assuming he won't buckle under whatever pressure exists. The proven-closer label is within Wilhelmsen's sights. All he needs to do is close.
Whew! More than I expected to write. But I already told you I don't want to think about tomorrow yet. I want to think about today, May 20th, at the end of which the Mariners will be in third place, and the Angels will be in fourth place. We're beyond the quarter-point. Small sample sizes are becoming less small. So, you know, interesting.