Of course, it became apparent to me very quickly that they had no extraordinary talent at all. They have fought their way out of a number of tight corners by a simple combination of sheer luck and J.J. Putz. They are mediocre to the last degree, though as obnoxious and self-satisfied as were the White Sox before them. The Jays will do their utmost to have them thrown out of the pennant race, where I believe they scarcely belong...
Yeah, I'm a closeted Mariners admirer, deep undercover. I love an underdog story. Success that defies all reason is fun to watch, and it doesn't get much more reason-defying than the 2007 Seattle Mariners, 14 games above .500 in late July.
Miguel Batista will be the most formidable starter the Jays' bats see this series. Revenge is at hand; he defeated Roy Halladay a couple of weeks ago, and that's a no-no. Like last time, there will be lots of two-seamers and cutters, with the odd breaking ball, and the odder change and splitter mixed in, plus any or all of El Artista's 62 other pitches (rumored recent additions: knucklefosh, palmscrew, Vulcan curveball...), if we're lucky. Batista's last start was a solid win over Kenny Rogers and the Tigers, in which he went 6 innings allowing one run. Curiously, Batista has pitched just as successfully on the road as he has at home - 4.21 ERA versus 4.53.
Batista against Jesse Litsch is the toughest matchup of the weekend for the home team. However, Litsch seems to fare pretty well against hack-happy right-leaning lineups at the Dome, and I heard Jesse's girls are quite excited about the prospect of reprising their part from Litsch's near complete game against the O's. Moreover, every time I doubt him in any way the flat-hatted sonofaLitsch goes out there and pitches his guts out and makes me look like the idiot I am. And I do think tonight's game is pretty clearly the biggest obstacle between the Jays and a season-saving sweep.
Jeff Weaver faces Josh Towers Saturday in an intriguing clash of righthanders. Towers, as we're all painfully aware, has great K/BB numbers, a bad homer rate compounded by his slight flyball tendencies, mediocre hit luck and an awful strand rate. Weaver knows the feeling. He has decent K/BB numbers, a good homer rate despite his big flyball tendencies (thank you Safeco Field), horrendous hit luck and an awful strand rate. The similarities are clear. The chart was meant for matchups like this! Weaver's a four-pitch pitcher with a good two-seamer, a Frisbee slider and a tendency to go sidearm when he needs to make a righty swing and miss. Matt Stairs is 5-11 with a homer and two walks off Weaver. He'll probably give Reed a day off tomorrow. Troy Glaus is 2-31 with four walks and 10 strikeouts. If he sits this one out again, I'll...
Sunday, it's a sight for sore righty bats: Horacio Ramirez. He faces Roy Halladay in what appears to be the biggest mismatch since roughly sometime around the time Doc faced Runelvys Hernandez last year. (Sorry.) The M's acquired Ramirez from the Braves in exchange for Rafael Soriano, a move I still haven't exactly figured out. Soriano is awesome, and although he's a flyball pitcher, that just means Safeco is a happy place for him and he should have more value to the Mariners than to just about any other team in baseball. Ramirez has shown clear groundball tendencies over his career, but although he throws pretty hard, his strikeout and walk numbers are thoroughly unimpressive. I can understand trading a young bullpen arm in this pitching-starved baseball environment when you have prospects you trust to fill the shoes of the departed, but Soriano seems like a massive overpayment for Ramirez.
That said, Ramirez is 5-2 in his first tour of the AL. He's doing it with more walks than strikeouts and a 5.89 ERA, but until he starts losing it's hard to be overly critical. He throws in the low 90s with the fastball and sometimes cuts it. He also has a slider, change and occasional curveball. He is 'crafty.' He lives down and away, which probably explains the groundball tendencies. Against lefties he's basically a two-pitch pitcher with the fastball and slider. That's apparently all he needs: lefties are only batting .250/.265/.375, with 5 strikeouts and 1 walk. Righties are a touch more successful: .342/.413/.517, 10 strikeouts, 17 walks.
In his first start after a shoulder tendinitis-induced DL stint, Ramirez showed no ill effects. He stymied the Orioles over seven strong innings to run his home record to 5-0. (His ERA at home is 2.27; on the road, it's 13.21.) This is the Horacio the M's thought they were getting.
Seattle's bullpen is still holding up: J.J. Putz is the best in the business. He has 27 saves; he has allowed 27 baserunners, and he's stranded every single one of them except for the 3 who homered. George Sherrill is wearing the LOOGY shackles when he should really be the team's ace setup man, particularly at Safeco where his flyball tendencies are mitigated; I'd promote Eric O'Flaherty to the situational lefty role. Brandon Morrow is struggling and has ceded some eighth-inning work to sinkerballing righty Sean Green, whose funky delivery gave the Jays fits last time. Here's David Andriesen on Green's unlikely ascent to the majors. How unlikely? The administrative staff in Green's high school in Kentucky have no idea who he is. He had a short-lived football and basketball career, and one day he discovered 10 extra mph on his fastball in Riveraesque fashion. Canuck Chris Reitsma has returned from elbow inflammation, taking Jason Davis' spot on the roster.
How is this team doing so well? No one knows. Even when you adjust for the Safeco context, the Mariners have five regular batters with below-average OPS+ and three regular starting pitchers with below-average ERA+. The M's are wildly outperforming their Pythagorean record of 47-45 and second-order record of 45-47. I mean, Ichiro and Putz can't account for that whole difference all by themselves... can they?
Raul Ibanez's right hamstring is fully healed. Ibanez likes the chemistry in Seattle. He's 35; I had absolutely no idea he'd been around that long. When presented with the laughable notion that the team needs to make a big trade just to prove to its players that it's doing all it can to win, Ibanez laughs: "I think there are times when there is a legitimate need for this or that, but we have the players right here that we need [to contend]."
Ichiro's contract was arranged in a manner that is very favorable to the Mariners. It adds up to $90 million, but $5 million of each year's salary is deferred at 5.5% interest.
The Mariners give something away at almost every home game. Next Friday is Ichiro Hydroplane Night.
New manager John McLaren is feeling peppy and optimistic in these exciting times in Seattle. He thinks the Mariners' best baseball is ahead of them, and he plans on resting their regulars (even Ichiro!) to keep them fresh for the pennant chase: "I don't want to make a sensational story about this or anything, but we want to stay strong over the course of the season. So come September, when we're fighting down the stretch, we're going to be strong and ready to roll, when hopefully other teams are tired and running out of gas at the finish line."
Kenji Johjima has caught 39.5% of basestealers this year, third-best in the majors.
Jason Ellison has appeared in 58 games but only come to bat 42 times.
Richie Sexson is below the Mendoza line. An average Sexson hit nets him two bases.
And the Mariners are a leading candidate to open the 2008 season in Japan against Daisuke and the Red Sox.
The Credit Section: All offensive stats, pitches per PA for pitchers and league average stats are from the Hardball Times. Pitchers' stats and leverage indices are from Fangraphs. Minor-league stats are from Minor League Splits. K% and BB% are strikeouts and walks as a percentage of plate appearances; GB% + LD% + FB% = 100.