For the Mariners, tonight's game included:
- No runs.
- One hit.
- Fielding gaffes.
- Being absolutely shut down by starting pitcher who has struggled all season.
- All the while desperately vying for a (fading) chance at the playoffs.
This was not a good night for the Mariners. It was a terrible, excruciating, karate-chop to the groin night for the Mariners. For the umpteenth time I feel obliged to remind everyone that today's game is "just one game". Seattle is two games back of Kansas City/Oakland for the two wild card spots. They are also just 2.5 games back of Detroit. There are 11 games remaining in the M's season. At this point, it still wouldn't be ridiculous for Seattle to make the playoffs; this remains a reality that is within reach. But that reality is quickly slipping away.
Today's Mariners did not look like a playoff team. They did not look like a team capable of scoring three runs, let alone the 13 runs that they scored yesterday. Throughout the season, they have been frustratingly, cripplingly inconsistent with their offense. This is the 18th time that this team has been shut out this year. That means that in 12% of their games, they have been unable to score. That might not be terrible if the Mariners were a soccer team, but in baseball it is so bad. They cannot continue to embarrass themselves at the plate like this if they hope to have any chance of advancing to the playoffs.
Tonight's game was all about the seventh inning and taking advantage (or not) of mistakes made by the opposition. After six innings of virtually no scoring opportunities for either team, the Mariners finally got a man into scoring position with one out in the top of the 7th. Morales walked and Jones (who was used as a pinch runner) stole second because that is what he does. Seager struck out (on three straight pitches - yuck), but Denorfia was able to get on base with a walk. This set the table for Justin Smoak, who was (somewhat inexplicably) inserted into the starting lineup for just the third time since July 21st. Despite the fact that Logan Morrison 1) has been on somewhat of a tear recently and 2) has better career numbers against left-handed pitching, Smoak got the nod because he's had moderate success against C.J. Wilson in the past or something like that. Lloyd has made several wonky lineup decisions this year, and they've often-times worked out, but that did not appear to be the case tonight. Although Smoak was the only Mariner to get a hit tonight, with those two men on in the top of seventh he failed to come through. After getting ahead in the count 2-1, Wilson uncorked the hangingest of hanging breaking balls. This pitch was the definition of a meatball, but Smoak was unable to do anything with it. He popped out harmlessly to right field to end the only Mariners threat of the evening.
And then... the Angels followed with five runs in the bottom of the frame. Chris Denorfia suffered a brief flashback to high school dodgeball, expertly avoiding a baseball hit towards him in right field, and Farquhar forgot how to locate any of his pitches. The wheels came off and the snowballs snowballed and when the dust cleared the Mariners were in a five-run hole and it looked like they more or less gave up. I don't want to talk about this anymore. It was all very upsetting. Suffice it to say that, the Mariners were unable to take advantage of any mistakes by the Angels, whereas the Angels pounced on mistakes made by the M's.
Some bullet points, I guess.
- Coming into tonight, C.J. Wilson had walked batters this season at a higher rate than any other starting pitcher (by a wide margin!) with 4.17 BB/9 (Travis Wood is next with 3.95 BB/9). So, of course, tonight he managed to throw first pitch strikes to 14 of the 25 batters he faced. Early on, the Mariners seemed to be expecting Wilson to have trouble locating his offerings and were taking the first pitch. However, after Wilson proved that he could throw his pitches for strikes, such reservations were abandoned, and the Mariners became much freer with their swings. Unfortunately, this strategy did not work for them tonight. Many M's at bats were three pitches or fewer and Wilson was able to go deep into the game, keeping the Angels relievers in the bullpen until the eighth inning. And even when M's hitters did get into favorable counts, they were unable to hit the ball with authority.
Here are the six times tonight that the Mariners were able to put the ball in play while ahead in the count. With the exception of the pitch to Jackson, each of these offerings was up, out over the plate, and seemed rather hittable. But the Mariners managed to do nothing. I'm not saying that Seattle necessarily had a ton of opportunities tonight, but they failed to take advantage of any favorable situations.
- This season has been Wilson's worst season since he was converted to a starting pitcher back in 2010. He's suffered with his command and most of his pitches have been significantly less effective in 2014 than they were last year. One of his worst pitches this year has been his curveball. According to PITCHf/x, it's been "good" for -0.92 runs below average/100 pitches. Nonetheless, he's been using this pitch 17% of the time. Since July 4th, Wilson had gotten 9 whiffs against his curveball in 139 offerings (6.5% whiff rate). Tonight, he threw his curveball 29 times and generated eight whiffs (28% whiff rate). That is a staggering increase and the Mariners hitters should be filled with shame and remorse. Blowers indicated that Wilson's curveball was "really working for him" tonight, so I probably shouldn't be so critical of the Mariners regarding their embarrassing attempts at hitting the ball, but I'm currently filled with bitterness and I do not feel particularly inclined to give the Mariners the benefit of the doubt. Maybe tomorrow I will feel differently, but tonight they're all a bunch of bums.
- To end on a positive note... James Paxton! He looked so good tonight. Paxton's average fastball this season had been 94.8 mph (good for 9th highest of the 179 SP with 50+ innings pitched this year), but tonight he was channelling a bit more adrenaline and averaged 95.8 mph (hitting 99 mph once!). He was also able to locate all of his pitches with the utmost precision, painting his fastball on the black for called strikeouts and burying his cutter down and in to induce off-balance hacks by the Angels hitters. He recorded eight strike outs (including three K's against Mike Trout, becoming only the sixth starting pitcher to do so in a game) and had just one ~intentional walk. Of the four hits he gave up, three were groundballs; the ball hit at Denorfia was pretty much the only solid contact that Paxton gave up all night. If the Mariners do manage to make the playoffs, Paxton looks like he'd be a formidable starter who'd give the Mariners a very good chance to win.