No, no, no, no, no.
Thursday night, on Twitter, I applauded the Mariners for forcing White Sox relievers to throw 69 pitches. Matt quipped back something along the lines of how that wouldn't really matter because Hector Noesi was just going to throw a complete game shutout against the Mariners on Saturday... he wasn't exactly right, but damn it if he wasn't close.
Tonight had the opportunity to be such a joyful evening. Before the game, the Mariners inducted Lou Piniella into their Hall of Fame. Many past Mariners greats were on hand, and Lou's speech was absolutely brilliant and heartfelt and touching. The stadium was packed with happy bodies, and there seemed to be a sense of energy and excitement that hasn't visited Safeco very often over the past decade. The weather was beautiful, the Mariners were riding a four game winning streak, and they were set to face off against one of the worst starter's in baseball. Sounds like a pretty good opportunity to put together a win, yeah? NOPE. Instead of treating the 40,000+ fans on hand to an enjoyable game filled with a well-played baseball, the Mariners laid a big ol' egg. So disappointing.
- Tonight, Noesi dominated the Mariners. Again. Hector Noesi. He limited the Mariners to just five hits over 7 1/3 innings, giving up a single unearned run. Unlike his last outing against the M's back in early July, when he got the Mariners to chase a bunch of balls (prompting McLendon to say that the Mariners would have won had they simply not swung at any of his pitches), tonight Noesi pitched mostly in the strike zone. He threw 72% of his pitches for strikes and only walked one batter. In the past, this strategy has not worked particularly well for Noesi; this season he's given up a .550 slugging percentage on pitches in the zone.
Unfortunately, the Mariners were utterly incapable of doing anything with these strikes. Below is a chart that shows the location of pitches that ended at bats and what the outcome of those at bats were.
Look at all of the purple squares in the middle of the strike zone! Lazy pop ups and fly balls where M's hitters were unable to do anything with a pitch right in the zone. The Mariners put 17 strikes into play tonight and managed only three singles and a double (good for a .297 slugging percentage). Most of these pitches weren't even on the corners or very far down, but were squarely out over the plate. So many times Noesi challenged the Mariners with fastballs right down the middle and they were unable to take advantage and punish any of these pitches. At the beginning of the season, in the three innings Hector Noesi pitched for the Mariners, he gave up three earned runs. In the 18+ innings he's pitched against the Mariners this year, he's given up zero earned runs.
- Fortunately, not everything was terrible for the Mariners tonight. James Paxton started for the second time since coming off of the DL and he looked pretty sharp. His fastball was between 95 and 98 mph and he was able to locate his offspeed and breaking pitches for strikes (getting 7 whiffs on 17 swings at his changeup and curveball). He was very efficient tonight, needing only 77 pitches to get through 6 1/3 innings, before being pulled after giving up a run on a couple of doubles in the 7th. Hopefully Paxton can build on this performance and start to go deeper into ballgames.
- Tonight was Chris Taylor's 11th start (and 13th appearance) of the season. He's been swinging a pretty shiny bat so far, which is great, but although he's capable of making some snazzy plays in the field, tonight's botched ground ball was already his third error of the season. Errors certainly aren't the most telling stat when it comes to defensive proficiency, but they are often indicative of a player booting a routine play. This is what happened tonight. Without talking to Taylor, it's impossible to know whether this foible was caused by nerves or lack of focus or if Jordan Danks running to third distracted him, but none of those things should prevent a major league player from fielding a simple ground ball. The last time Taylor committed an error was back on August 1st, in Baltimore, when he bobbled a ground ball. That mistake eventually allowed an unearned run to score and the Mariners ultimately lost 2-1. (That series of events should seem familiar!) Fortunately, tonight, Taylor had the chance to make up for his costly miscue. He came up to bat in the bottom of the tenth, representing the go-ahead run. Unfortunately, he immediately grounded into a game-ending double play. Not the best night for CT. Hopefully he's able to quickly put it behind him and move on.
This game, like every other game, is just one game. Losses like this feel awful, but the Mariners have still started off their homestand by going 4-1. That is quite good. It sucks that every three or four days this team seems incapable of scoring more than one or two runs, but they're still only 1.5 games out of the playoffs. Last year at this point in the season, the Mariners were nine games under .500 and 12.5 games out of the playoff race. So forget about this game as quickly as you can. There's still plenty of baseball left to look forward to.