Every so often, it'll hit me. Maybe I'll be scanning over statistics on Baseball-Reference, or maybe I'll be checking out a player's updated numbers in Gameday. Most recently it hit me when I was thinking about Michael Saunders' above-.700 OPS. We've been dealing primarily with the for so long that our standards are kind of warped. What we consider to be the line between acceptable and unacceptable is not the same as it is for other fans of other teams. The Mariners haven't made the playoffs since 2001. That is a very long time. The Mariners haven't won 90 games since 2003. That is a very long time, but a little shorter. I think we've kind of forgotten what it's like to support a good baseball team, and what kind of production a team needs to get there.
Which is understandable, because, again, 2001 and 2003. It's not like this is our fault. What the Mariners do is out of our hands, so if we're going to stick with the Mariners, we need to be flexible. The only thing we can control is what we'll put up with, so in order to put up with the Mariners, we've lowered our standards.
Now the Mariners are trying to build to something. They've been trying to build to something all along, but now they seem to have the best plan. The idea is that the Mariners have the developing talent to win soon. Not soon enough that you could talk about them winning tomorrow morning over bagels, but maybe by 2014. Maybe by 2013.
The destination has felt far away. The Mariners have been a talented team, but generally they haven't felt like a good team, or a contending team, if those mean different things to you. They've definitely had their moments, but they haven't inspired much consistent confidence at the plate, which is kind of a thing good teams need to do. When you watch a good team, you're supposed to have faith that they're good.
Tonight, we got to see it. Tonight, we got a glimpse of how a good Mariners team might look. I know the Mariners were fresh off a three-game road sweep of the Scott Feldman. The Rangers started Yu Darvish, who is supposed to be most excellent, and Darvish hasn't been like we saw him the first time around., but the Colorado Rockies are terrible, and the are possibly or probably the best baseball team in the world. If you're looking for a measuring stick, you can't find a better...stick...than the Texas Rangers, and they weren't even starting some clown. The Rangers don't really have any clowns, but it's not like they started
Felix Hernandez and the Mariners beat Yu Darvish and the Rangers 6-1. It was 4-0 Mariners after three innings and there was no let-up from Felix on the mound. It was fantastic to see Felix have so much success against a team that's hit him, but more important than Felix is the way the Mariners looked at the plate. On the year, Darvish has hovered around 60 percent strikes, with a low contact rate. He's had some walk trouble, but he's succeeded by generating bad swings. We've seen the Mariners let guys like Darvish off the hook before, because we've seen the Mariners let pretty much every type of pitcher off the hook before, but tonight the Mariners just didn't swing themselves into outs. Tonight the Mariners' hitters behaved well and let Darvish beat himself, and that's how Darvish wound up with four innings and 96 pitches.
I'm not going to sit here and say the Mariners couldn't have done more, because in the fourth they had the bases loaded and nobody out after a Dustin Ackley single and didn't score again. The Mariners finished with just four hits against Darvish and five hits overall. But they drew seven walks and didn't hurt themselves. The Mariners as a lineup had a terrific approach, against a very good starting pitcher, and we haven't seen enough of that. We haven't seen enough of the Mariners looking like a playoff team, if only for a day.
It's funny - not long ago, Eric Wedge said it was up to the younger players to teach themselves, because the veterans weren't cutting it as offensive role models. Tonight's lineup had Ichiro and Brendan Ryan and an assortment of youth. Maybe Ichiro was the veteran offensive leader tonight. Maybe the younger Mariners hitters don't really need much in the way of veteran presence in the lineup, because they can figure things out on their own. Not entirely - I'm not saying the Mariners should cut ties with the entire instructional staff - but maybe baseball really is a team game played by individuals.
There was obviously plenty of hype coming into this game, given the pitching matchup and given that the Mariners were being visited by the first-place Rangers. First-place teams generate hype, even when they're facing teams that aren't close to first place. We warned you not to get your hopes up, because that's a recipe for getting your hopes dashed. And now look. You set low expectations, and they've been exceeded! I can graph this:
If you got your hopes up, the Mariners might have exceeded your expectations. But if you didn't get your hopes up, the Mariners exceeded your expectations by more. It isn't about the final level - it's about the Satisfaction Gap, and exceeding low expectations yields a greater Satisfaction Gap than exceeding high expectations. As a matter of fact, if you look at things this way there's pretty much no reason to ever get your hopes up at all. You're decreasing your potential enjoyment and increasing your potential disappointment! Why would you ever get your hopes up about anything! Breakfast is going to be terrible. The coffee is going to taste like water and urine and Tums. The Mariners are going to get no-hit tomorrow. Embrace this outlook.
Keep your hopes down, and if people accuse you of being negative, calmly inform them that it isn't negativity. It's preparation, enjoyment maximization, and disappointment mitigation. It isn't negativity at all. Negativity is saying "everything sucks." This is saying "everything is going to suck," and then bathing in pleasure if and when it doesn't.
I'm off track now. Tonight, the Mariners beat the Rangers in convincing fashion. It's one baseball game, and by the end of the year this result probably won't have meant anything, but for this one baseball game we got to watch the Mariners and think, yeah, the Mariners could happen pretty soon. They have many of the pieces, and more are on the way. After so many months and years of thinking it's got to get better in the future, it's energizing to have a night of what the future could be like.
We've reached the point in the evening at which I'm supposed to compose some bullet holes, and as I look over my notes, I have less written down than I thought I would. After all, Felix and the Mariners just thumped a good pitcher and a good team. It's also 11:21 so while on the one hand I wish I had more to say, on the other hand I just gave myself a mental high-five. "The sooner you're done writing, the sooner you can go to bed and think about this baseball game!" "Can't you think about this baseball game while you're writing about it?" "Shut up, brain." "You're the brain!" "Why are we fighting!" I cannot believe that writing is my job. I cannot believe I get paid full-time money for whatever is going on in this paragraph. Let's get to Felix and the Mariners!
- I don't like to look at player vs. team matchup statistics very often, because I don't find them particularly meaningful. Teams, after all, are always changing, so in a sense you're looking at the statistics a player has posted against a semi-random collection of other players. At that point you might as well look at the statistics a player has posted against all players. There's more meaning in the overall numbers than there is in the split numbers.
With that said, while I don't buy that the Texas Rangers have something on Felix Hernandez, there's no denying that the Texas Rangers have historically generated pretty good numbers against Felix Hernandez. 32 starts. Over his career, Felix had started a season's worth of games against the Rangers, and to show for it he had a 4.03 ERA and a. 702 OPS against. Overall, Felix has a .663 OPS against.
Now that I'm looking at this I think this is dumb. The Rangers have had above-average offenses. They play in a hitter-friendly environment. Of course Felix's numbers against them would be worse. But I'm going to stick this out. I think, psychologically, we get a different feeling about Felix vs. Texas than we do about Felix vs. Oakland. We don't expect Felix to just blow through the Rangers, because he hasn't just blown through the Rangers.
Tonight, Felix turned in one hell of a start against the Rangers. He didn't blow through them without breaking a sweat, but the line score says plenty - 8 innings, a run, two walks, seven strikeouts. Going granular, 65 percent of his pitches were strikes, 14 of the Rangers' 52 swings whiffed, and 11 of the Rangers' 21 balls in play stayed down. If you watched the game, you saw Felix look terrific. If you look only at those numbers, you'd figure Felix was terrific. There wasn't much to complain about unless you're comfortable feeling greedy.
The Rangers' first hit was a single by Adrian Beltre on a good two-strike pitch. The Rangers' second hit was a single by David Murphy on a good one-strike pitch. The Rangers' third hit was a double by Mitch Moreland where Felix jammed Moreland inside. The Rangers didn't make zero good contact, and Moreland destroyed a home run later in the game, but Felix might've made even better pitches than the numbers would indicate.
Felix struck out one of the first 13 batters he faced. He then struck out six of the remaining 17. I don't know if this was in any way deliberate but he only seemed to get better. Outside of that home run. Holy crap, what a home run. Mitch Moreland has a .902 OPS now. How great for the Rangers that he can hit suddenly. They were in such dire need.
It looked like Felix might've been on the verge of trouble in the eighth, but he erased a baserunner with a double play. He ended his night the way all of his nights should end in front of the King's Court - with a strikeout. Josh Hamilton whiffed at a first-pitch changeup off the plate. He whiffed at a second-pitch changeup off the plate. He whiffed at a third-pitch slider off the plate. Today was Josh Hamilton's 31st birthday. For his birthday, the Mariners got him four outs. Felix left the mound with a roar, and there wasn't any Brandon League afterward to screw everything up.
- As much as this game featured enjoyable pitches and hits, the highlight or at least the co-highlight might've been the ongoing back-and-forth between Felix and Adrian Beltre. In the sixth inning, Beltre took a one-knee swing and flied out to deep center field. Felix came off the mound joking about it, saying he'd got Beltre twice. Later, in the bottom of the eighth, Felix was yelling at Beltre from the dugout, and Beltre was yelling back from the field. I can't read lips speaking English so I sure as hell can't read lips speaking Spanish, but Beltre was making fun of Felix's changeup, and Felix was making fun of Beltre's weak early single and deep fly out, saying he should build more muscle. As I'm writing this I'm conscious of the fact that I'm summarizing somebody else's conversation, which is a little weird, but the Felix/Beltre interaction is completely friendly and completely hysterical. They're great friends, and it's just another reminder that rivalries are usually all about the fans, and that players don't really dislike each other at all.
- The Mariners' first run scored when Ichiro tripled home Michael Saunders in the bottom of the first. It was a well-hit triple, but it wasn't exactly a triple to the gap - it was a triple down the first-base line that lodged under the wall beyond the tarp. That meant Nelson Cruz had to run all the way over to retrieve the ball, and Nelson Cruz has had enough leg problems in his career that he's basically down to a leisurely walk. In the previous at-bat, Darvish had two low borderline fastballs called balls. The pitch Ichiro hit was a low fastball a little higher up. It's possible that Ichiro only got that pitch because the umpire hadn't given two lower pitches. It's possible that Ichiro would've gotten that pitch regardless. So many things are possible, so few of which are explored. Get out there and be an explorer!
- The Mariners' second run scored when Ichiro singled home Dustin Ackley in the bottom of the third. Ichiro has gotten the better of Yu Darvish in the early going and that's probably because Ichiro is good and Darvish is a stupid pile of crap. Ichiro hit the ball to Josh Hamilton, and Josh Hamilton tried to throw Michael Saunders out at third, but instead of throwing the ball to his third baseman Hamilton threw the ball to his general manager and another run scored on the play. On the ball Hamilton had scrawled a contract request he wanted to have Jon Daniels consider. Hamilton is a pending free agent, see, and he and the organization have recently re-opened contract talks. This is why a lot of players don't like to negotiate during the season. It's a distraction, like when they have to scrawl messages on baseballs and throw them to the general managers. It's like, come on, wait until the baseball's over, do we have to do this now?
- As you'd expect, there was a ton of Japanese media on hand to cover Yu Darvish and Ichiro. The Mariners never used Munenori Kawasaki or Hisashi Iwakuma. The Rangers didn't use Koji Uehara. The Rangers did use the recently-recalled Yoshinori Tateyama. I would like to know if the Japanese media had any questions for Tateyama, and, if so, how many of them had to do with Yu Darvish.
Media: What did you think of Darvish's outing?
Tateyama: I had my own outing, you know.
Media: And we did not ask about it.
Media: Be happy we are even acknowledging you.
Tateyama: I am happy to be acknowledged.
- It didn't mean much, but in the bottom of the seventh, Jesus Montero doubled home Kyle Seager. Once again, Montero pulled an extra-base hit, because once again, a pitcher threw an inside fastball off the plate. Tateyama's sinker ran in on Montero's hands and so Montero yanked it rather than try to force it up the middle or the other way. We're establishing that Jesus Montero will pull the ball with authority when he is given no other choice.
- Tom Wilhelmsen pitched a low-stress ninth inning. His fifth pitch to Adrian Beltre was 98.7 miles per hour. His first pitch to Michael Young was 98.2 miles per hour. He absolutely blew Young away with an inside 97mph fastball. There are nights that Tom Wilhelmsen doesn't quite have it, and this wasn't one of them.
Tomorrow matches Matt Harrison and Hector Noesi. Whatever you do, don't forget to not get your hopes up! Or, if it's easier, forget to get your hopes up! Become preoccupied and think of something else! We are unlocking the secret to happiness.