Game One Recap
I’d like to start off on a cheerful note, but unfortunately, there is one glaringly obvious thing to talk about, and it’s not positive; the seventh inning choice of relief pitchers.
Sean White had a nice ERA last year. Wak has a belief system with him. I get it. He’s still not a good pitcher, and the M’s need to be smart enough to realize that. His xFIP, a much better indicator of actual ability, was 4.80, two full runs higher. His ERA was a massive fluke, based on an unsustainable .235 batting average on balls in play. He struck out 28 batters in 64 innings, which is terrible, and he doesn’t make up for it with good command. He’s got a decent sinker, but nothing else, and that doesn’t even work all that well against LHBs.
But, despite having a fully rested bullpen, Wak went to Sean White to get a lefty out with the tying run on base in the 7th inning. With Brandon League and Mark Lowe just sitting there, Wak bypassed them both to put in the 5th or 6th best reliever on the team (depending on how much you like Kanekoa Teixeira). White doesn’t do anything better than League, and the only advantage he has over Lowe (ground balls) doesn’t matter when there’s two outs. White, predictably, gives up a couple of hits and the game ended up tied.
Wak doesn’t have long to get over his Sean White fetish. Sean White is not a good pitcher, and his manager has to learn this in a hurry. He should not be used in close games unless he’s the only available option. When he’s the first guy out of the pen on opening day in a close game, that’s a problem. Learn from this, Wak.
Moving on, Felix had an interesting night. It was one of those classic good stuff/no command nights for him, made worse by the fact that Tim Tschida’s strikezone was stupid and inconsistent. But, because of the movement Felix was getting on his fastball, the command problems were minimized by a ridiculous amount of ground balls. It’s really hard to score if you can’t get the ball out of the infield, and for most of the night, the A’s couldn’t. Felix is good enough to succeed even when he has no idea where the ball is going. It wasn’t his best performance, but it showed how tough he can be, even when he’s not entirely on.
Offensively, the approach to the at-bats taken by Figgins, Kotchman, and Bradley were fun to watch. Those guys took advantage of the dancing strike zone and Sheets’ control problems, running up his pitch count and getting themselves on base. They might not be sluggers, but there are going to be a lot of innings where those three take 20 pitches between them, and that has value.
Watching Figgins and Ichiro steal second at will was fun. Watching Ichiro get thrown out at third and Bradley get picked off was less so. Aggressiveness is nice, but if you have to give up two outs in your pursuit of three bases, its not worth it.
Lopez looked pretty good at third. I still don’t love the switch, but it was good to see him make all the plays and start a couple of double plays.
Rob Johnson crushed a Ben Sheets fastball on the same night that Jeff Mathis went yard for the Angels. It was bad hitting catchers home run night in the AL West, apparently. You’ll hear about Johnson’s off-season surgeries every time he does something good, and he’ll almost certainly hit better than he did a year ago simply because its hard to be that bad two years in a row, but don’t expect many repeats of that power display.
You saw one of the benefits of the 11 man staff in the 8th inning. When Jr doubled, Byrnes pinch ran for him, giving the team a better chance of getting the go ahead run in on a base hit. That’s not possible if you don’t have Langerhans around to serve as the extra outfielder. It’s a small thing, but it helps, and keep in mind that it’s only possible because the M’s were willing to go with just six relievers. Every time someone mentions how nervous they are about that, remember that it comes with benefits too.
Congratulations to Casey Kotchman for some big hits and to the Mariners for starting the season off on a winning note. They’ll have to play better than this to win on most nights, but a win is a win, and I’ll take it.