I've been sitting here looking at my computer screen for twenty minutes (Hi, yes, I write before the game's over. Don't look behind the curtain.) and struggling to find a way to describe this game beyond a shrug emoji and "that's baseball."
There was almost no reason to expect that the Mariners would lose tonight's game against the Twins. Even far from his peak levels of performance Felix Hernandez's numbers looked like (and are) far better than Pat Dean's. The Mariners have played like one of the American League's elite through nearly the first third of the season, and the Twins have been, easily, the very worst.
So, how do we reconcile Minnesota handing the Mariners one of their most thorough defeats of the entire season in a 7-2 stinker? Do we just shrug, note that baseball is a game of wild, difficult to predict variance, not that the Mariners lost no ground on practically all teams of note, and carry on? Do we dissect the game down to the last minute detail, knowing that the study of failure can produce knowledge? Do we get angry, curse the team's continued middling performance At home, and bemoan another loss in front of a huge weekend crowd?
Like most choices made falsely extreme, the answer most likely lies in the middle. Felix Hernandez spent the first two innings of this game looking very much as in control as he has all year. Spotting a running fastball on the corners, The King made few mistakes beyond Miguel Sano's sequoia-sized arms running into a fastball, and with the game at 1-1 going into the third, it felt inevitable the Mariners would eventually break this one open.
Instead, Felix's command completely fell apart, and the Twins batted around for five runs. Here are the locations of a few of the contact pitches from that inning:
Danny Santana doubles
Brian Dozier doubles
Joe Mauer singles
Robbie Grossman doubles
There were flukey things in this inning. Eduardo Nunez singled by bunting/throwing his bat downward at a ball in the dirt. Byung Ho Park drove in a run without ever leaving the batter's box, by hitting the ball off his toe in such a way that no umpire could see it, and then standing there while Miguel Sano hustled in from third. The ol' 5-2 putout.
What wasn't flukey was the spotty command. below average velocity, and ever growing sense of sadness and melancholy as we consider the wasted genius of Felix's peak. Time and use have slowly worn away almost all of the buffer Felix's youth, work ethic and preposterous talent granted him. Now when things dip, even for an inning, and even against the Twins, the game will punish him, and severely. To his credit Felix ground through six, and seemed to fully regain his composure after the rough inning. But we are far enough long this season that when coupled with his rough finish to 2015, we are forced to acknowledge some sad truths.
Felix Hernandez is longer one of the American League's elite starting pitchers. It feels somewhat circular to write those words down today, even though I've felt them for months, on the day that the first teenage pitcher started a game in the major leagues since way back on August 4th, 2005, when a pudgy, curls-laden prodigy threw five innings in Detroit.
It has been over a decade since that day, and Felix has built a decent case for the Hall of Fame, cemented himself as one of this region's most iconic athletes of all time, and built a bond of shared loyalty and experience with Mariner fans perhaps unmatched in franchise history His relatively poor performance over the course of this season will be criticized, analyzed, and broken down to a painful degree. That is as it should be. The 2016 Mariners will not increase their chances of success by holding on to Felix's 2009-2014 peak. But, in my opinion, we should be very, very, respectful of how we talk about that declining performance. Felix's failures this season appear to be those brought about by the sheer accumulation of time, and that is the failure that every single one of us will at some point be guilty of.
- All year long one of the hallmarks of the Mariners' vastly improved offense has been the team's ability to produce lineups capable of stretching a pitcher all the way through the order. Now, in a week, the Mariners have lost Ketel Marte and Leonys Martin to the disabled list. In their place this evening the team started Stefen Romero and Luis Sardinas. Here is how they did, combined, against journeyman Pat Dean:
0-6, 5 K
Despite the many positive acquisition made in the offseason this is still an organization that runs precariously thin at many positions. Minus two of their impact, up the middle players it's shocking how quickly this lineup goes from one of the AL's deepest to something, well, Marinery. To think that Sardinas/O'Malley/Romero will be as completely ineffective as they were tonight is hyperbolic and reactionary. But there is no chance they approximate what the team was getting from Marte and Martin. Going into the beginning of a brutal middle third of the schedule, the Mariners are going to need quick healing, and good fortune in equal measure.
- Seriously though, and this is going to sound harsh to the player but whatever, Stefen Romero is bad. He is bad and if you clogged up every single minor league post for the past few weeks clamoring for him you should feel bad. Stop clamoring for outfielders whose ceilings are Johnny Gomes' basement. Just, stop. Please and/or thank you.
- Chris Iannetta also went hitless, and struck out twice. His weeks long slump has left his wRC+ at 84. It's concerning to speculate what happens if he doesn't pull out of it. We know blackholes at catcher. Very well, thank you.
- Here is a tweet:
Starting pitchers with 8+ strikeouts vs. the Mariners in 2016:— Andrew Rice (@Andrew_Rice) May 28, 2016
You want good news? Well for one thing it's only one game, a disappointing dot in a thus far forty-seven point trend line of almost pure joy. For another, if you're the kind of person who enjoy scoreboard watching, despite its inherent futility, The Ranger, Astros, and Red Sox all lost tonight. The Mariners will wake up tomorrow in exactly the same place they were this morning, which I should remind you is first place in the AL West, and a half game out for the best record in the American League.
I'm going to pour some whiskey now, and try to blow up digitally rendered things created by my Playstation and the clever goblins that live inside of it. Until tomorrow.