There exists within the niche market of internet savvy baseball enthusiasts an unavoidable level of group think. A respected voice shares an opinion through column, interview of even small Tweet and it bounds out through the ether, grabbing likes, favs, shares, comments, etc. as it rolls its way along. It ever expands, and the increased mass of the idea makes grabbing ever more mass ever easier. It grows until it reaches the edge of the internet idea lifecycle, which is approximately 6-24 hours, give or take. In essence internet baseball fandom is not unlike Katamari Damacy.
It's unavoidable then for some of these ideas to grow beyond what's healthy or appropriate. Mainstream media and traditional fans regularly make mockery of things like Twitter explosions, meLLtdowns and other hysteria brought about by a seeming minor trade involving a blog favorite, allowing an option to vest unnecessarily, etc. you get the idea. We freak out.
Over the offseason the "Internet" spent a good deal of time questioning the Mariners apparent heedlessness towards constructing an outfield or assembling rotation depth. Scott has advocated over and over for the the team to sign or trade for Bartolo Colon. The outfield lacked one true, honest to goodness, proven or reasonably projectable every day player. And we quailed. And we roared. Forever the ignored and slighted intellectuals.
But then we shut up. We shut up because the team was better than expected. We shut up because James Jones played pretty darn well for a few months. Endy Chavez wasn't good but had just enough key hits to make help us pretend he was ok there for a little while. The rotation was miraculously solid. Roenis Elias and Chris Young provided a shocking number of shockingly effective innings. We shut up. And we smiled. After all winning is better than being right about why you're losing.
Then today happened and very obviously thrust those long ago arguments back in our face. The Mariners were completely overwhelmed by Bartolo Colon. Through 6 2/3 innings he was perfect. I will never understand how the Mets, unquestionably a worse team than the Mariners during the offseason managed to outbid everyone for Colon, particularly when he had to know that his batting would provide gif makers the material to pay their children's college education. Colon was what he always is. He was fastballs of slightly varying speeds and movements, thrown almost exclusively on or just off the outer margins of the strike zone. He struck out only five but hard contact was almost completely absent. Until the 8th.
In truth no baseball game is ever won or lost on one play. But in the late innings, when everything is compressed it can feel like it. In that sense the game was lost on one play when, down 3-0 in the 8th and two on Brad Miller crushed an 0-1 fastball to right center. The ball was a screaming line drive, the kind you expect to land 10 feet in front of the wall but imparted extra carry by the gods of the game, who so approve of such fantastic contact. The ball kept going, and kept going and then:
The ball missed tying the game by inches. Because it was traveling at about 1/3 the speed of light when it impacted the wall it bounced directly to Chris Young the Shorter, who was able to keep only one run from scoring. Colon was chased and Jeurys Familia came on for some of the easiest mop up work he'd ever do, getting Willie Bloomquist to ground out before striking out Endy Chavez.
It's here I want to pause and focus on something. Familia struck out Endy Chavez. That's not a surprise. Familia has good stuff and Chavez was and is a poor hitter. He faced Chavez because Chavez was batting leadoff. Endy Chavez has no power, a lifetime .306 OBP and has lost much of his speed. He's only on this team because of injuries to other, better players.
When the 9th came the team had the hope of having Cano and Seager, the two best hitters coming up. They came achingly close to tying the game, with a Logan Morrison strikeout leaving the winning run on 1st. Unfortunately they were handcuffed by in essence spotting the Mets a courtesy out to start the inning. James Jones struck out leading off the inning and has a .308 OBP.
The Mariners have precious few offensive resources. Lineups are important almost solely as a function of getting the best hitters the most at bats. A team as thin as the Mariners cannot, CANNOT afford any longer to be beholden to the hollow "Table Setter" idea. This team needs better outfielders, we've known that since day one. But until/if they get them they must try to hide the poor ones they have as best they can. It's time to consider Cano as a leadoff hitter.
- Taijuan Walker started the game and looked every bit the plus stuff, poor command pitcher he's been all year. Walker allowed precious little contact (2 hits) and struck out 5 but also walked 6 and hit a batter. Given Walker's struggles with injury this year and the fact that he's the still the age of many A and AA players it is most likely unreasonable to expect the sort of breakout performance so many hoped for coming into the season. Walker as a Mariner or elsewhere has a bright future. He is 21 and still strikes out a batter an inning mainly by throwing really hard. But his contributions to the 2014 Mariners will most likely be limited to whatever he brings back in trade if that is indeed what happens. After the game he was optioned back to Tacoma, where he may tag back in Erasmo Ramirez. This rotation you guys, it needs help. Oh hey Bartoh forget it.
- Dustin Ackley continued to be the team's hottest hitter of late, going 1-3 and hitting the ball hard all 3 times to the plate. He has a 152 wRC+ in July. He has a .400 OBP. He looks hopeful! He throws like a right handed Johnny Damon but covers a decent amount of ground in Left Field!
The numbers don't tell a hopeful story. His July has a horrible 3.5% walk rate and a laughably unsustainable .465 BABIP. This is was regression looks like. The horrible, sad truth is that right now Dustin Ackley's peak offensive potential is somewhere around a league average 2nd basement. And he's not playing 2nd. And isn't good enough to play CF. He is however still the team's best ever 2nd overall draft pick by a mile.
- Tomorrow mercifully turns over the rotation, and unmercifully brings a quality Orioles team to town. The Mariners will spend the next 10 games playing 7 against the Orioles and 3 at Cleveland, where literally nothing good has happened to them ever. If they go 4-3 the next week they may make the trades so many of us hope they do. That is going to be tough but I've thought this team was out of it about 23 times so far this year. Every time they prove me wrong.
- I used to swear at the TV a lot during baseball games. Back when my blood ran hotter and the team won more it didn't take much for me to let loose at any real or perceived transgression from Mariner, opposing player, umpire, fan, ballpark feature, etc. Time and age have mellowed that side of me a good deal. But today I sat at home by myself and spent a good 3 hours using every damn, shit and hell I know. I hated this game and the way it made me feel. I can't wait to do it again tomorrow.