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Hisashi Iwakuma Better Than Jered Weaver Despite Very Dissimilar Opponents

lol bad
lol bad

So far, you could say I've spent my Labor Day weekend watching Felix Hernandez lose to the Angels, and not watching Jered Weaver lose to the Mariners. That's a double whammy. From a sunnier perspective, though, you could say I've spent my Labor Day weekend watching Felix Hernandez pitch well against the Angels, and then whatever, the Mariners beat Jered Weaver, and it doesn't matter that I didn't watch it, because that's awesome anyway, and it's a hell of a surprise when you turn your phone back on after a hike. You should try it. Go on a long hike and turn your phone off, and then turn it back on when you're done, and see if the Mariners beat Jered Weaver. If they did, wow, what a surprise! Jered Weaver is really good!

From what I can gather -- and I've tried to gather quite a bit, to make up for missing the game entirely -- this was less about the Mariners beating Jered Weaver, and more about Hisashi Iwakuma out-pitching Jered Weaver. The Mariners did beat Weaver, handing him just his fourth loss, and against Weaver the Mariners hit two home runs. But against Weaver and the rest of the Angels' pitchers, the Mariners also scored two runs. This wasn't about the Mariners beating somebody; this was about Iwakuma beating somebody.

And one shouldn't undersell what Iwakuma was able to accomplish. Yes, Iwakuma pitched this game in Safeco Field, and this year Safeco has played such that the events that have taken place within have been almost impossible to evaluate out of the context. We have park factors that are supposed to help with this sort of thing, but we've never had park factors like the park factor we might apparently need for Safeco 2012. Shit's been weird and Iwakuma pitched this game inside of the weird. There's no telling what effect that might've had. It might've meant nothing, or everything. Probably not literally everything.

But let's assume the ballpark meant only so much. Weaver, after all, allowed two homers, and 12 baserunners in 5.1 innings. Weaver wasn't any good. Iwakuma was very good, and as much as one should always consider the environment, one should give greater consideration to the identity of the opponent, and the Angels' batting order is kind of terrifying.

Today the Angels were more or less at full strength, with everyone in there but Alberto Callaspo, who was replaced by Maicer Izturis. Alberto Callaspo owns a .691 OPS. Granted, Mark Trumbo has been nothing short of a disaster for more than the past month, but the point isn't to isolate individual players. Over the course of the second half, the Angels as a team have baseball's highest OPS. Over the course of August, the Angels as a team had baseball's highest OPS. The story with the Angels was supposed to be the starting rotation, and when they traded for Zack Greinke, the story was even more supposed to be the starting rotation. The Angels are still involved in the playoff race in large part because the offense has been wonderful for months on end.

It's not like their lineup includes a lot of breaks. Trumbo might qualify as a break these days, depending on what you think might be wrong, but Trumbo's overall numbers are really good. Everybody can hit at least a little, and Izturis can reach base. Albert Pujols is Albert Pujols. Mike Trout is Albert Pujols. Trout finished today 0-for-4. The top five slots in the Angels' lineup finished today a combined 1-for-19 with six strikeouts. The star, without question, was Iwakuma, who spun seven shutout innings.

Seven shutout innings, with seven strikeouts and not a single walk. In fact, Iwakuma threw just 25 balls, out of 101 pitches. Strike rate is not a perfect indicator of command, because there's a difference between a strike and a quality strike, but generally speaking, a high strike rate can imply good command, because if you don't have good command, you'll usually miss more often outside of the zone. Guys with the best command tend to have the best strike rates and today Iwakuma had one of the best strike rates you'll see in a deep start.

It's also worth noting that Iwakuma didn't allow a homer. Four starts in a row, now, Iwakuma hasn't allowed a homer, following ten consecutive appearances featuring one homer. Three of those four starts have come at home, and we can't now just dismiss the possibility that Hisashi Iwakuma is homer-prone, but what we can say is that this afternoon Iwakuma faced a monstrous challenge and passed without leaving much room to have done any better. Iwakuma didn't throw a perfect game against the Angels, but he kind of threw a perfect game anyway. You expect a lot less against a team that's that good.

Starter Iwakuma now, still, has perfectly acceptable numbers. It hasn't all been there every single time but that's sort of an impossible standard to meet. Of course we can all reflect on times that Iwakuma has seemed particularly vulnerable. By reflecting on those, we might convince ourselves that Iwakuma is too much of a risk. The overall numbers tell a different story and it's almost always the overall numbers to which one ought to pay the most attention. Brains can trick people into believing things when the numbers are like, no, come on, it's so obvious, how do you not see how wrong you are.

The Mariners allowed one run, and they scored two runs, coming on homers by Jesus Montero and Carlos Peguero. Montero now has four dingers off Weaver in his pathetically limited career, already tying him for the third-most behind Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson. Montero fell behind 0-and-1 and then blasted a low inside fastball out to left-center. Montero said he was trying to hit the ball the other way and then he did not do that.

An inning later, Peguero took a ball, then took a strike, then took a ball. Weaver threw him a low away changeup and Peguero got himself way out in front of it. On the replay Mike Blowers noted how badly Peguero was fooled by the offspeed pitch. But Peguero still practically one-handed the ball out to right field a few rows back. For those who don't understand why Carlos Peguero keeps getting chances, for one thing he doesn't "keep getting chances," he's only had a few chances. He's not like 33 years old. For another, he's a rare player who can hit a home run on a pitch that he misses. I don't mean that Peguero can hit a home run on a pitch that he literally misses, and he literally misses pitches all the damn time, but Peguero can mis-hit a pitch out of the ballpark and that's an uncommon skill.

Remember, one year ago, Trayvon Robinson looked lost, and it didn't seem like he had a prayer of ever being a big leaguer with his contact problems. Now he's worked on his contact problems and he's pretty close, if he hasn't already arrived. Peguero also has contact problems! With more upside. The difference, of course, is that Robinson can recognize pitches while Peguero kind of can't, but people seem to have so much haste to get rid of an elite-level skill. Peguero probably won't ever figure it out any more than he has so Peguero probably will always be bad, but it's not like he's holding the Mariners back from anything real meaningful. The Mariners see a guy for whom even slightly improved pitch recognition could make all the difference. It's simultaneously unlikely and not impossible, and it's just like a guy with a great fastball. Most of the time they're Jesus Colome. Some of the time they're Matt Thornton.

Other stuff happened and I understand the Mariners had a runner thrown out at the plate even though the runner -- Montero -- swears he was safe. Given that it was Jesus Montero rounding third on a close play I'm going to assume he was out by 36 feet. Someone named Nick Maronde debuted for the Angels in relief and struck out Carlos Peguero on three pitches. If Nick Maronde were to become disabled tomorrow, his Major League career would end having spanned one plate appearance, in which Carlos Peguero struck out on three pitches. Maronde would reflect on that later in life and wonder if he was ever truly in the Major Leagues after all.

In that at-bat, Peguero swung through a first-pitch fastball over the plate, swung through an 0-and-1 fastball outside just off the plate, and then watched an 0-and-2 fastball outside just off the plate, slightly lower than the one before. I wish that science could put in words Carlos Peguero's thought process behind swinging at the second pitch and not swinging at the third pitch. If we had a scientific instrument capable of such transcription it probably would have overheated and melted and slipped through a drain in the floor.

So the Mariners salvaged the series by not getting swept, and now they play the Red Sox, which sounds hard, but which won't be so hard. Then they play the A's, which doesn't sound so hard, but which will be very hard. It's kind of been a weird year in baseball. This has been the kind of year where Jered Weaver has four losses and the Mariners have been responsible for two of them. I should mention to you before I go that Tom Wilhelmsen pitched today and his control was lacking once again. This is most definitely a trend, and not a blip. But trends can be made to look like blips if they reverse themselves and Wilhelmsen has plenty of time to make his adjustments. Or to continue to be mediocre. Or to get worse. Or to get fired! That would be a weird way to put that. Baseball players don't get fired, but they kind of do.