Game Four Recap

Dave · April 4, 2011 at 9:25 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

If this season was about wins and losses, these breakdowns would read a bit differently. We’d talk about bullpen usage, line-ups, in-game strategy, and what the team needs to improve on to win games like this. However, the reality is that the Texas Rangers are a really good baseball team and the Mariners, right now, are not. The M’s shouldn’t be able to go into Texas and win a bunch of games, especially in games that Felix doesn’t start. This roster just isn’t on Texas’ level, and they got beat by a better team. That’s what this game boiled down to.

So, instead, we look to the things that do matter, and tonight, that’s Erik Bedard. No, he’s not one of the young kids who the organization is looking to build around, but how he performs this year will go a long way into determining whether the M’s can be respectable and competitive, or if they’re going to be looking at another year in the basement of the AL West. For 2011, Bedard matters a lot, and keeping the current product reasonably entertaining will help the organization invest in its own future.

That’s why I was encouraged by what I saw from Bedard tonight, even if the results weren’t there. He struggled to command his fastball, fell behind in the count too often, and the Rangers were able to sit on pitches and swing for the fences. However, his curve ball is the weapon that made him a good big league pitcher, and he threw a few curves tonight that were as good as pre-surgery Bedard. He threw it for strikes, and he trusted that he could get it over, even when behind in the count.

That’s the pitch that’s going to allow him to succeed, and while he threw a few spinners, more often than not, the curve ball had good break and was well located. The Rangers were able to guess right on a few because he couldn’t get his fastball over, but on nights when he’s pitching ahead in the count, that pitch is still going to be a knockout option for him.

Yes, he only went five innings, and I’m sure the people who still hold a grudge against him for the trade will drag out their worn out arguments about how he’s just not a guy who can work deep into games. He’ll never be Felix Hernandez, but he showed some flashes of the ability that made him one of the league’s best pitchers. It was his first regular season start in nearly two years, and he held his own against a good offense without being able to throw his fastball for strikes. That’s pretty impressive, even if the box score is not.

There were other positives as well – notably, Justin Smoak continues to drive the ball into the gaps against left-handed pitching, and is showing some real improvement from the right side of the plate. Jack Wilson made one of the best 4-3 double plays I’ve ever seen, and he didn’t hurt himself doing it (that we know of). Milton Bradley got three more hits and is off to the hot start he needed in order to keep himself in a good state of mind.

It’s not enough to win games against teams as good as Texas on most nights, but there’s some progress here. For now, moral victories are okay, and there were enough good things on the field tonight to count this game as a moral victory.


23 Responses to “Game Four Recap”

  1. wabbles on April 4th, 2011 9:49 pm

    I missed the game for various reasons too numerous to recount here. So I’m glad to hear such a positive analysis of the game. Yeah, we aren’t going to beat the Rangers in Texas most nights but it’s good to hear what are doing right when we face everyone else.

  2. RRR on April 4th, 2011 9:50 pm

    Watching Smoak hit is looking like it has the potential to be a real pleasure this year. I know he’s not a prospect, but watching Cust compared to Sweeney/Griffey is heavenly. It’s amazing how good league average looks after last year.

  3. IwearMsHats on April 4th, 2011 9:54 pm

    I agree, this was a good game and has some glimmers of hope! I am really missing Guti right now though, and it pains me to say this but I liked Langerhans a lot more when he wasn’t an every day player.

  4. Paul L on April 4th, 2011 9:57 pm

    Can I just say how much I’ve missed these recaps? You did them last year until things got hopeless, so the fact that they’re back up and running means…that things aren’t hopeless yet.

    That’s enough for me, four games into the season 🙂

  5. Dave on April 4th, 2011 10:02 pm

    I won’t be able to do them every night this year, unfortunately. My expanded role at FanGraphs and attempts to be a decent husband will cause me to miss more games than I’d like, but I’ll write these up when I can.

  6. MrZDevotee on April 4th, 2011 10:12 pm

    Fear being a big drive of my fanhood this year, I’m glad I’m not the only one who truly enjoyed tonight’s game, despite the results. It showed me we can hang with good teams, hit good pitching, but probably aren’t good enough to beat them. Still, there was a satisfaction to watching this game that seemed a void in our team last year.

    I know others are feeling the same wincing fear (post traumatic stress syndrome from last year), but that said, I haven’t seen us give up, or dog paddle, like we did in the 2nd half of games we knew we couldn’t win last year. (One exception being Brendan Ryan’s at bat where he watched two curveballs, and a fastball on the inside half of the plate, from a lefty, without swinging– a weird Lopez/Rob Johnson flashback moment).

    But I admit I feared something closer to a 10-2 loss tonight, with a fingers crossed sort of hope for something better– and it’s good that there were times in the game where it felt like we were at least IN the position of trying to mount a comeback (most notably the Smoak 2-run double hard off the wall, and the Bradley hustle play double before eventually Olivo knocked him in). They look like a ball team. Guys trying to find a way to assimilate some sort of scrappy offense. And (knock on wood for Mr. Pineda) a pitching rotation that looks ready to challenge opposing teams.

    Pieces are coming together. Gaping holes still exist, for sure, but it feels much less like one giant VOID from position 1 all the way through the lineup to position 1 again.

    Plus, Guty coming back should tape up some of the batting order/defensive cracks, while Aardsma should help solidify the bullpen as well (with League, Lueke and Wilhelmsen as setup guys, and some mix of Laffey, Pauley and/or Jamey Wright as long relief).

    I was worried that Oakland was horribly bad, and tonight would get ugly on us. But hanging with Texas in a game they played well made me feel– yet again– that this team has a shot at playing .500 ball (ie, capable of winning most series against the bottom half of the league 2 games to 1, while losing most series against the better half 1 game to 2).

    Still a highwater mark, in my mind, but a reachable target– which again, I wasn’t sure was a realistic hope two months ago.

    I mean… Heck, we were a 2 run error from Ichiro away from extra innings tonight.

  7. Zero Gravitas on April 4th, 2011 11:20 pm

    It’s easy for us to forget that Jack Wilson was once a regular Web Gem machine in his Pittsburgh glory days. That double play tonight was a nice reminder – go check out the replay on the M’s website if you didn’t see it.
    These guys might not win enough this year, but I’m finding them pretty watchable right now. So that’s something!

  8. Adam B. on April 4th, 2011 11:30 pm

    This game was about as refreshing as one could have while still wracking up a big fat “L”.

    Certainly the M’s blew many chances to win this game, but these were chances the team wouldn’t have had last year, and the fact that the M’s were close enough to strike at an opponent who scored 6 runs against them is a telling indicator that this isn’t the same team we ran out in 2010.

    I’ve always adhered to the idea that one looks for indications over results when dealing with small sample sizes, and so far I can’t say I’m disappointed.

    Milton Bradley, Justin Smoak and Jack Cust look like a credible, if not particularly inspiring, middle of the order. Certainly the proclivity for the patient at bats I’ve seen is a very welcome development.

    It warms my heart to think we’re already grinding decent starters out of the game in the 5th and 6th innings even before we replace Michael Saunders and Jack Wilson with Franklin Gutierrez and Dustin Ackley. Signs of life!

    If we can survive the Texas series without being swept, Michael Pineda isn’t lit up, and Felix throws as he has been, I’d say things were looking pretty cheery considering what we’ve recently dragged ourselves out of.

  9. groundzero55 on April 5th, 2011 12:05 am

    Don’t hate on Sweeney. Griffey is one thing, but Sweeney actually HIT when he was healthy.

  10. joser on April 5th, 2011 12:11 am

    Jack’s double-play is here; if you let it run you’ll get the (few) other highlights from the game (and it goes back to that happier time when the M’s were above .500 in Oakland… seems like just yesterday).

  11. joser on April 5th, 2011 12:22 am

    Jeff at LL also made a GIF of the play and put it here if you’re (understandably) allergic to Flash-based video (or just want to easily save a local copy so you can watch it again and again).

  12. Westside guy on April 5th, 2011 12:35 am

    Don’t hate on Sweeney. Griffey is one thing, but Sweeney actually HIT when he was healthy.

    Yeah, but it was hard not to get frustrated when a guy couldn’t stay healthy playing DH. Mike would hit the ball hard several games in a row, then be “day to day” (read: unavailable) for a couple weeks because his back remembered it was actually 70 years old.

  13. MrZDevotee on April 5th, 2011 12:50 am

    Okay- Major League Baseball trivia:

    Raise your hand if you know the name of the team who had the MOST hits in all of Major League baseball today (Monday)?

    (Hint: It’s NOT St. Louis, the New York Yankees, or the Texas Rangers…)

    Answer: S______ M______s

  14. GarForever on April 5th, 2011 6:34 am

    It’s only four games in, and there’s plenty of time for things to fall apart, but I will say this: apart from the fact that they lost this game to a superior team doesn’t diminish, for me at least, the fact that they didn’t look utterly hopeless in the process. Losing I can handle (to a point), so long as the team at least looks like it belongs in the Majors. Too often last year that wasn’t the case, and it was just excruciating watching them get overmatched even by mediocre teams. If they can salvage one game out this Texas series against a red-hot Rangers team and head back to Safeco 3-3 (Happy Felix Day Eve!), I can be pretty satisfied with that after what we went through last year.

  15. Chris_From_Bothell on April 5th, 2011 8:17 am

    Being one catch and one xbh from beating the current AL champs is not bad. This actually felt like a winnable game up to the end. GarForever’s point about starting the homestand at. 500 is a good one, though if there were any way to bump Felix forward one start so that he gets the home opener…

  16. diderot on April 5th, 2011 9:50 am

    I REALLY appreciate the perspective here Dave–look at the game for what it was, not a sign of another doomed season.
    My one concern: I hope Saunders on the pines is just to protect him from the long run of lefty starters. Otherwise, I don’t know what we’re gaining with Langerhans in center.
    And I know I’ll probably regret saying this…but I really like watching Milton’s energy/emotion on the field.

  17. Paul B on April 5th, 2011 9:59 am

    Good things Dave mentioned: Bedard, Smoak, Bradley and Wilson healthy and hitting.

    I’d add Olivo hitting. At least on the road, we’ll see what happens in Safeco.

    Figgins in the field, although he hasn’t exactly been tearing it up at the plate, but will wait a month or two before this becomes a concern.

    Things not so good:

    I’m not sure Ryan will start hitting.
    Cust not exactly tearing it up at the plate, but at least he takes walks.

    And then there is the bullpen. There is still some sorting and culling to be done in the months ahead.

  18. Westside guy on April 5th, 2011 10:36 am

    I’d add Olivo hitting. At least on the road, we’ll see what happens in Safeco.

    I don’t know. Watching him swing, I suspect this is just like when Lopez was “hitting”. Right now, Olivo just happens to be making decent contact when he swings, and the balls are just happening to find holes.

    The fact that his 2011 BABIP is .556 bears this out, methinks.

  19. MrZDevotee on April 5th, 2011 11:00 am

    Given the history of Bard/Johnson/Moore we experienced, I’m okay giving props to anyone, at anytime, who plays behind the plate and is hitting the ball. Anomaly or not. Absurd BABIP, or not.

    So yeah– here, here for Olivo!!!

    When he stops hitting (which I’m sure is coming) I’ll stop commending him. But just the OPPORTUNITY to compliment the hitting of our catcher is too delectable to miss. And unexpected.

  20. Paul B on April 5th, 2011 12:04 pm

    Yeah, just having a catcher hit the ball out of the infield is something unusual.

  21. Westside guy on April 5th, 2011 12:54 pm

    Out of fairness, I should point out that Olivo has taken a couple walks already – so there are limits to the Lopez comparisons. 😀

  22. joser on April 5th, 2011 12:58 pm

    Yeah, just having a catcher hit the ball out of the infield is something unusual.

  23. MrZDevotee on April 5th, 2011 1:32 pm

    Makes Wedge/Z look like geniuses, for their “tough love” message they’re trying to drill into Adam Moore’s head:

    “If a fat middle aged guy who runs like Edgar Martinez can get on base, and throw out 40% of baserunners, at the Major League level, then maybe I’m not quite trying hard enough?!”

    (Since Z made some pointed comments in the offseason aimed at Moore about “some of these guys need to understand what it takes to be a Major League player… And what a privilege it is…”)

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