Roman Candles: Kyle Seager (.186 WPA)
Snakes: Dae-Ho Lee (-.230 WPA)
Jerry's Equation: -13 (whoops)
Well what we had here was a quiet, sleepy 2-1 Mariners defeat. It's a major American holiday today, and as such after the long flight to Houston the start time today was 11:10 AM, Pacific Time. I have a difficult time waking up and making coffee the day after a long flight, and I imagine that playing a highly competitive professional sport after one is a bit more difficult than that. So losing 2-1 to a quality Houston team at home (one that didn't have to travel yesterday, either) is not the worst loss in the world. BUT, every loss sucks, so let's complain about this one ok?
The Mariners had a few golden opportunities in this game. Leonys Martin hit a lead off triple, only to watch the next two hitters strike out. On the second one, Robinson Cano ran to first on a dropped third strike, and when Jason Castro threw the ball to first Martin, still unused to his new custom of not making outs, ran home and was thrown out by a good ten feet.
The Mariners are not a fast team. With Adam Lind, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Dae-Ho Lee, Seth Smith and others there's no reason to expect them to be. But the Mariners' crimes on the basepaths seem so often to be a combination of poor instincts, inattentiveness, and overaggressiveness, rather than lack of foot speed. Robinson Cano doesn't score from second on a ball off the wall, Nelson Cruz is forced out at third on a ball to the right fielder, a game against the Twins ends on an inexplicable double TOOTBLAN, today's gaffe, and on and on.
Baserunning errors are probably over-magnified in the mind because they always seem so avoidable. Professional baseball players do things that we could never dream of doing, so to see them fail at basic situational awareness, and risk/reward calculations just seems, well, so dumb. This Mariner team is one of the better ones we've had in the past decade, it may be the best. But it's also maybe the worst baserunning Mariner team I can remember watching on a daily basis. They cost themselves runs, regularly. It needs to improve, and it can.
On the pitching side this game began almost exactly how I imagined Wade Miley against the Astros in Houston would. George Springer led off by hitting a center cut fastball off the left-center field wall for a double. Marwin Gonzalez hit a single, Jose Altuve ripped a line drive, Carlos Correa walked, Luis Valbuena hit a ball that would possibly be a home run in a few parks, and Carlos Gomez hit a ball almost as hard as Springer did. Collectively the Astros probably hit the ball about 1000 feet in the inning, but thanks to some BABIP good fortune the game was only 1-0 after one.
It looked like Miley was going to get torched again, and be out of the game before the third was over. Somehow he managed to steer himself through 6 2/3 innings, squeezing just enough grounders and line outs to mask a 2/2 K/BB ratio. It was....better. It wasn't good, per se, but as we've been saying most of the year, the team's starting pitchers don't have to be dominant. They just have to give this very good offense a chance.
Today, however, that offense ran into Lance McCullers' curveball. After struggling with bad fastball command the first inning+, McCullers switched to a curveball first, second, and third approach. It's a terrific pitch, thrown between 84-88 miles an hour, with true curveball break. McCullers threw it fifty-one times today, and thirty-two times the Mariners swung at it. Eighteen times they missed.
McCullers generated a total of zero swinging strikes on his other forty-three pitches, but it simply didn't matter. He overpowered the Mariners with one pitch. We think of that kind of dominance coming from a high-90's fastball, but an unhittable pitch can come in all speeds and breaks. Today, that curve was simply great. He struck out ten, and walked only one. It was a key to the game.
It didn't keep the Mariners from loading the bases with no one out in the 7th inning, however. With Dae-Ho Lee up and the team having a golden opportunity to score I leaned forward in my seat, because this Mariner team has taught me they can come back late in games.
A baseball pitch takes a fraction of a second to leave a pitcher's hand and smack the catcher's mitt.Even still in high leverage situations I can sometimes manage to have 2-3 different emotional responses in that short span. McCullers' first pitch to Lee left his hand and "grand slam" flashed in my head. Whereas the majority of his breaking pitches throughout the day had been tight, diving, hell-hounds at the bottom of the strike zone this one missed its spot, and spun helplessly without breaking, right at the belt and inner half. My initial glee gave way to horror as it became clear that Lee, whether planning on taking or simply not expecting a pitch so hittable, failed to swing.
From there it was all fairly predictable. McCullers threw two more curveballs to Lee, and these were good ones. He swung through the second, and then hit the third on on the ground, right at McCullers. 1-2-3, double play. Adam Lind's fly out to left put the bow on the failure package, and in a game the Mariners lost by one run they twice failed to score with a runner at third with no one out. Neat.
Of course, after all that, the game ended with Nelson Cruz making the final out on a fly ball that George Springer caught with his back up against the wall, because Mariners Baseball is like red wine in carpet. You can scrub and scrub, and spend all kinds of money trying to get it out, but there's always going to be a trace of it in there, and you'll notice it from time to time.
The Mariners played their second game in 24 hours, and did so with a long flight in between. They threw their worst starter against a team particularly well suited to mash him to pulp. Still, they lost by only one run. In some ways, that they can come so close to overcoming so many obstacles, makes me feel better about this team. In other ways, their ultimate failure often feel more self-inflicted than necessary.
I suppose that's losing, and that's baseball. Tomorrow's a new day.
(Happy 4th. Be safe.)