The Five Worst M’s Games of 2013
I’ll say this: I’m glad this offseason has provided so many opportunities to discuss 2014 and beyond. I know “being more interesting than the 2013 M’s season” is damning with faint praise, but from the Cano debates to the various (thankfully minor) injuries to Iwakuma’s finger and Montero’s dignity, it’s been legitimately interesting. That said, I did want to close the book on 2013 by looking at the various flavors of pain it doled out. If the “Best 5 Games” post was about looking for the exceptions and the exceptional, this is going to be about seeing the forest for the withered, diseased trees. Stroll with me through a really terrible forest…
Game Number: 16
M’s Record: 6-10
SPs: Felix Hernandez vs. Max Scherzer
Why it’s listed: Felix Hernandez was just about perfect, and it didn’t matter. The Tigers were a better team on paper, and with Max Scherzer fanning 12 in 8 innings, it’s not like the M’s felt too bad about losing an extra-innings contest. The problem was what this game exposed. The M’s were always going to struggle against elite teams, but the M’s looked absolutely lost against Scherzer and the Tigers bullpen (especially Al Albuquerque).
The M’s simply weren’t built to compete against a team like this, and it showed. Felix can compete against anyone, and that showed too. But ultimately, the M’s couldn’t make Felix’s brilliant outing hold up. It feels normal now, almost routine. We’re not even done with the “Brilliant Felix start wasted” games in this five gave list. Thanks to Felix – thanks SOLELY to Felix – the M’s went toe to toe with the best team in the American League for 14 innings. The problem was that after Felix left, it felt hopeless. Even while Oliver Perez pitched brilliantly. Even though Tom Wilhelmsen pitched maybe his best game of the year in a non-save situation. And it still felt hopeless.
Jeff wrote this post the day after. It was April 17th, and it looked just like every other day for the past god knows how many years: the M’s just couldn’t compete. Not with Felix, not with a great Hisashi Iwakuma, and not with Aaron Harang and Jeremy Bonderman. It was *April* and we all just knew.
Line from the game post: “I’ll take my optimism where I can find it, and if only Felix is convinced he’s playing for a championship-caliber team, I’ll at least enjoy watching his championship-caliber pitching. Enjoyment is good.” And anguish is bad, Capt. Obvious.
Game Number: 9
M’s Record: 4-4
SPs: Brandon Maurer vs. Erik Bedard
Why it’s listed: Brandon Maurer was the story of spring training, and while he struggled at times in his first start in Oakland, he didn’t pitch that poorly. On this night, he’d face the historically bad Houston Astros. The M’s came in at 4-4, and were coming off a shut-out win against the Astros behind Joe Saunders, of all people. This looked like an easy way to ease Maurer into the big leagues, all while demonstrating the chasm separating the M’s (an honest major league baseball team) from the Astros. It didn’t turn out that way.
Maurer went 2/3 of an inning, giving up 6 runs on 7 hits and a walk. Everything was hit hard. Maurer had 2 Ks, but one was to Brett Wallace, who, at ended the day hitting .048/.091/.048, with 17 strikeouts in 21 at-bats. The Astros were the Astros, and they dropped 16 on the M’s. Kameron loe, the guy brought in to stabilize the young bullpen, gave up three homers in relief and was soon DFAd. Robert Andino started at 3rd, which presumably induced some subtle giggling from Houston, the team whose first baseman was 1-21 with 17 strikeouts.
The M’s dropped to 4-5, and they never again reached .500. Brandon Maurer’s confidence was shot, and all anyone could talk about was the fact that he couldn’t get lefties out. Mike Morse continued his torrid start, but we all knew that the M’s didn’t have enough pitching for it to matter. Robert Andino and Brendan Ryan. Maaaaaan.
Line from the Game Preview: “Brandon Maurer’s pitch selection in his first game was Madison Bumgarner-like. Pitching at home, and facing a team who’s striking out like Mark Reynolds in an eye patch, I don’t expect that pattern to change. I do expect better results, though.” Ha ha ha ha nooooo
Game Number: 162
M’s Record: 71-90
SPs: Erasmo Ramirez vs. Sonny Gray
Why it’s listed: Look, this is not fair. This is not about the game, or the fact that Erasmo sucked. Of the few dozen of us who paid attention, this game felt like relief. It was over. No, there’d be no intriguing signs of development – no Ramirez shutout or Brad Miller highlight-reel play, no Zunino dinger or Nick Franklin double. This game was all about Sonny Gray becoming the de facto ace of the Oakland A’s, a status he further de facto’d by dominating the Tigers in the playoffs.
I don’t much care who the A’s #1 starter is, but the problem is that Gray was part of the increasingly legendary 2011 draft class. Gray (18th overall) rocketed to the big leagues and made the A’s postseason rotation. Jose Fernandez (#14 overall) wrapped up his Rookie of the Year campaign and demonstrated ace-level stuff for the Marlins. George Springer (#11) narrowly missed a 40-40 season in the minors for the Astros, and Javier Baez (#9) became one of the five best prospects in baseball for the Cubs. Francisco Lindor (#8) is another top 10-overall prospects, and of course #1 overall Gerrit Cole was a factor in the Pirates’ run to the playoffs.
You see where this is going. Danny Hultzen had thrown a grand total of 7 innings since April for Tacoma. Less than a week after this game, the M’s would announce Hultzen’s shoulder injury – an injury to his labrum and rotator cuff. Hultzen didn’t ask for this, and he has no control over how good or bad the other players in his draft class turn out to be. If the M’s had taken sub-6′ Sonny Gray, the guy who’d had a major mechanical overhaul in the minors and a lackluster pro performance record, all of you would’ve pilloried Tom McNamara. But…from a fan point of view, with memories of the also-legendary 2005 draft class still fresh… to see Sonny Gray announce himself as yet another above-average MLB player just 2 years from draft day…
Erasmo was yanked in the 2nd. He was replaced by Hector Noesi, who did Noesi things in “relief.” Zunino, Ackley, Saunders and Franklin went a combined 1-15 with 5 Ks.
Line from Game Preview: “It’s over. No more pain.” You wish.
Game Number: 46
M’s Record: 66-82
SPs: Aaron Harang vs. Jerome Williams
Why it’s listed: The M’s had crawled back from a slow start and after taking 2-3 from the Yankees in the Bronx (would’ve been a sweep if the bullpen hadn’t wasted a classic Felix start), the headed to Cleveland hoping to jump back into the AL West race. Unfortunately, a combination of horrendous luck and poor relief work left the M’s sporting a four-game losing streak as they took on the Angels in Anaheim.
I get it: the M’s were just swept, including a ridiculous game in which the M’s homered to tie in the 8th, and homered to take the lead in the 9th AND 10th innings, and still lost. How does this game rank ahead of that one? Because despite the pain of the sweep, the M’s were still hanging around the margins. They were playing a divisional rival, and, crucially, a divisional rival they were ahead of in the standings. The Angels came in at 17-27, and in disarray. Newcomer Joe Blanton was historically bad. Newcomer Josh Hamilton was expensively bad. Albert Pujols couldn’t run. It was bad. The M’s had a chance to put the Indians series behind them and beat up on a struggling rival in the process.
Not so much. The first batter doubled, and Josh Hamilton plated Pujols with a 2-run HR in the 1st. Mike Trout went on to hit for the cycle, underlining the fact that whatever the Angels record, they have the best player in baseball. Meanwhile, the M’s couldn’t figure out Jerome Williams. Mike Saunders and Mike Morse, the guys who’d kept the M’s alive in April, were struggling. Raul Ibanez, who’d inexplicably been on a tear, went 1-3. Robert Andino started. Dustin Ackley? Nope.
The final score was 12-0, as Danny Farquhar hadn’t quite made the switch from AAAA journeyman to death-dealing MLB reliever. Beyond that, the last filaments of hope snapped. “It’s just one game” you say, “and they’d lost 4 in a row coming in!” But the game clarified a few things, at least for all of us looking back at this forensically. 1: The M’s weren’t better than the Angels. 2: The Angels were 10 games back of the AL West elite. 3: The M’s were not a few breaks from being in the hunt for the wildcard. They were a few good starting players, plus 2 starters from being in the hunt for the wildcard. 4: MIKE TROUT.
Line from Game Preview: “I’m moderately excited to watch a ballgame that doesn’t take place in Cleveland, so Harang’s got that going for him. ” Oh, ARE you now?
Game Number: 103
M’s Record: 49-53
SPs: Felix Hernandez vs. Scott Diamond
Why it’s listed: In early/mid July, the M’s found themselves 12 games below .500 and well and truly out of playoff contention. But following sweeps of Houston and LA, and then a series win over the Indians, the M’s faced Minnesota with a chance to inch closer to .500. These weren’t the hitless wonders of April/May. Gone were Robert Andino and Kelly Shoppach. Ok, fair, Brendan Ryan played SS for this game, and Henry Blanco caught, but what did it matter? Felix was going up against solidly replacement-level Scott Diamond and a line-up that included Jamey Carroll batting 2nd! Drew Butera! Chris Herrmann! Aaron Hicks and Pedro Florimon!
Felix held up his end of the bargain. The King went 9 innings, giving up 1 run on 5 hits, while striking out *11*. He walked no one. The M’s, facing Scott Diamond and the Twins bullpen (ok, they had a good ‘pen), couldn’t make 1 run hold up, and the game went to extras. It’s become all too familiar in recent years – Felix is on, the King’s Court is raucous and the M’s offense puts up zero after zero. The direction in the M’s telecasts is just the same as it is always is – show the King’s court, rhythmically waving their K cards, show Felix. With the M’s up, the camera still cuts to the King’s court every now and again, and often finds Felix in the dugout – all the yelling, all the strikeouts, all of the who-the-hell-is-Chris-Herrmann – it’s somehow not enough. There’s something touching, something charmingly hopeless, in these scenes. I wish I had Gif powers and I’d paste one right here. It’s funny, and frustrating and all of that, but it’s this odd visual that perfectly encapsulates what these years have been like for me and for many of you, I’d guess. I’m not literally yelling and chanting watching the game on TV, but I *care* when Felix is pitching, and he’s done so, so much and almost none of it has mattered. The crowd continues to cheer for Felix. Felix furrows his brow, slaps Endy Chavez’s rear and then nods his head and claps as Brendan Ryan bats with the go-ahead run on 2nd.
The game stays knotted at 1-1 until the top of the 13th, when Team Italy catcher Chris Colabello slugs a two-run HR off of Yoervis Medina. The remaining King’s Courters head for the exits. The M’s aren’t going to be .500 this year. By the Game Score metric, this was Felix’s best game of the 2013 season. Like his brilliant start against Detroit in April, it ended in an M’s loss. The M’s made themselves a better ballclub in July, and despite the fact that they were playing Jason Bay/Endy Chavez/Henry Blanco, there was reason for optimism. But then the “new look” M’s went 22-38 the rest of the season.
Line from Game Preview: “Jeff mentioned it on twitter, and I have to concur: feeling happy about the Mariners, not Felix, but the entirety of the team, feels alien and at some level uncomfortable.” This game is an object lesson in why this is so.