The 2014-15 narrative for Felix Hernandez is such an appropriate microcosm of the Mariners season. After his narrow miss to Corey Kluber in 2014's Cy Young race Felix appeared energized to use 2015 as his personal revenge tour, much like great things were forecast for the team. Instead, after a brilliant start for Felix and a comic, mockingly good W-L record (14-7 coming into tonight) Felix has been struggling through one of his worst seasons.
Tonight was his chance to rebound after one of the worst starts of his career; last week's disaster in Fenway Park. Overall he was ok-ish Felix, which is still one of the best things this sorry season has been capable of producing. Despite maintaining his months long pattern of spotty command and less than peak stuff Felix was able to navigate through six innings, walking one and striking out four while allowing an eyebrow raising nine hits. Maybe that doesn't even raise an eyebrow anymore at this point.
It's very obviously not Felix's year, just as it's not our or anyone else we care about's year. There are rumors that he's been pitching injured and, anecdotally, watching him regularly favor a leg/hip/ankle or whatever has been going seems to back it up. The good news is he's still able to throw hard, with his fastball maxing out at 94.8 MPH per Brooks. However you can't help but be concerned when you look at this chart:
You can see, alarmingly early, how the velocity starts to tail off here. Whether that's Felix simply making an adjustment and favoring more of his sinker than his true fastball? Who knows. But Felix, like so many on the team and pretty much all of us fans, just needs to survive the next month and a half, get healthy, and push the reset button in 2016. The King he remains, but monarchy is a bad system.
- There are probably no fans in baseball less ready to accept the "Well sometimes you gotta tip your cap" line for the opposing pitcher than Mariner fans. When your offense spends the first half getting shut down by Shawn Marcum, Joe Blanton and others, when your offense has been largely hibernating for a decade, you don't tip your cap easily. It's far easier and probably more correct to assign the credit to the Mariner bat's lack of ability rather than the opposing pitcher.
Tonight is not one of those nights. I do not know who is going to win the AL Cy Young Award this year. I thought I knew last year and well.... but I do know in my opinion it should be Chris Sale. Chris Sale coming into tonight had struck out 32.8% of the batters he faced. To put that into context Mike Zunino, possibly the worst major league hitter I have ever seen, has struck out in 34.2% of his plate appearances. Chris Sale turns MLB hitters into a close approximation of Mike Zunino.
He was every bit that pitcher tonight and it was hard to really get to upset about it. Sale's command was amazing, throwing 79 of 110 pitches for strikes. Coupled with his plus-plus stuff and really Chris Sale is the closest thing present day MLB has to Randy Johnson. He's not that close to Randy Johnson mind you but that's because no one is. All in all Sale struck out 14 Mariners while only walking 1. It appeared nothing could stop until the 7th when Mark Trumbo rode a 2-0 fastball out to right field, temporarily cutting the deficit to 4-3.
Chris Sale is amazing and regardless of the sadness of the Mariners and my general dislike of the White Sox he is a treat to watch pitch. Baseball at its highest level is great, regardless of laundry.
- The second half of this season really is a flashback to the late 90's Mariners in the Kingdome. There a lineup filled to the brim with power spent years vainly trying to build a lead the bullpen could not squander. This year's team has found its offensive pace since the All-Star Break but the bullpen has completely fallen apart. You know this, and I am sorry for being obvious.
The top of the 8th began with the White Sox clinging to a 4-3 lead but with Felix pulled after 6 and Danny Farquhar already spent Lloyd McClendon had no choice but to go back to his bullpen. So he went to Fernando Rodney, the season's cover boy for failure. Rodney was bad, giving up a walk and two hits without retiring a batter but I still have a hard time lamenting him to the extent the narrative demands. At this point where does Lloyd McClendon go? Charlie Furbush is hurt, Mark Lowe is traded. There are no pitchers in the bullpen to be trusted. After Rodney proved ineffective McClendon went to Rob Rassmussen who promptly walked the first two batters he faced, which allowed a run to score.
In the 9th, tired of that crap McClendon called in Dave Rollins, who was also bad. Lloyd has not managed the bullpen particularly well this year, that is not a controversial opinion. But at this stage? Every tire is afire. Tom Wilhelmsen, Carson Smith and, I guess for the last week, Farquhar have been the only relievers who look even remotely worthy of major league innings at this point.
Many viewed 2014's bullpen success as an aberration and it's obvious now that it was. However I don't see any way you could view a collapse of this magnitude from so many. This is simply a failure at a level that is redundancy proof. It's difficult to watch every night and I've started to feel kind of bad for all of them involved, particularly the first year guys who probably have no business being there in the first place. What a tough year
- Back at it tomorrow with Vidal Nuno hoping to squeak out 5 innings. Here's to hoping the Mariners score 10 and a reminder that many of the staff, including delightful and heroic Matt Ellis, will be enjoying the Pen both before and during the game. Hope to see you there.