Notes off the scouting clipboard, during the day Tuesday.
Enjoy the division lead, amigos. There can be only one team that goes wire-to-wire.
I - Disaster Strikes
In the first inning Felix tried to throw a low-and-away slider to Mike Trout. He missed, the slider was low-and-in, and Trout hit it out for a 2-run shot.
If you just joined us, classic pitch sequencing calls for fastballs in, slow stuff away. You vary, of course, but ... it is VERY dangerous to throw soft stuff on the hands, because the barrel of the (out-in-front) bat naturally lines up with the inside location.
Felix made a single mistake. That phrase gets wayyyy over-used, but in this case? Zunino set up exactly on the black, outside. Felix put the pitch exactly on the black, inside. It was one of his few bad misses. Mike Trout accepted the invitation.
Trout went yard, Trout ran a little victory lap around the dugout area waving to the crowd, and the M's were in a 2-0 hole. It felt like the Angels were on their way to 100+ wins.
II - Climbing the K2 Mountain, North Face
Innings 2-5. Jared Weaver was maddening, as always.
Felix dug in. Dr. D is constantly choked with admiration for the way that Felix pitches when he is behind. Any cornrow'ed gang-banger can jump around with bounce in his toes when his team is up 8 points and he's just hit a 3-pointer. It takes a hero to play his best when he's down by 10 in a hostile arena.
Felix struck out 11 men in just 6 innings and gave his team the chance. That is where Felix really shines, gentlemen. When he is down by a run or two. :: sniff ::
Lloyd McClendon, before the game, gave the old cliche "You win 60, you lose 60, and it's the 42 in between ..."
What he means by that, however, is that in a close game the controllable tactical decisions, those decide your fate.
- Kyle Seager doubled off the wall, and Logan Morrison was thrown way out at home plate.
- Dustin Ackley badly misplayed Albert Pujols' fly ball into a double.
- In the 6th inning, in the space of 5 batters ... the M's hit 3 line shots, walked twice ... and were out of the inning with only 1 run.
- etc etc.
The Mariners LOST one of these 42, making far more mistakes than the Angels made.
A funny thing happened, though. This Mariner lineup wasn't rolling over...
III - M's Land Body Shot after Body Shot, and the Angels Start Coughing Blood
Innings 6-7. It's what you do in the middle 42 ... but! The joke was on Dr. D. Because this wasn't one of the 42. It was one of the 60. One of the 60 where you play so much better, you win despite the little things.
AB after AB, the Mariner hitters -- all of them -- fought like Dobermans. They didn't win because they did little things right (except for Almonte's AB with Zunino on 3B). They won because they hit pitches hard, and they hit them often.
I don't remember the M's specifically swinging at a single pitch outside the strike zone, and this was despite facing Jared Blinkin' Weaver. I think the first 5 batters ran 3-ball counts...
When the M's did get strikes, they swung at them, and with purpose. The entire ballgame we saw those So Do Hit Men that had racked up the big spring training record. How times change...
The M's had 19 (!) hits and walks, whereas the Angels had only 7. We had over 250% the number of baserunners they did. As baseball percentages go, 250% as many baserunners is a pretty good percentage.
Monday night, that wasn't one of the middle 42, boys. As the game turned out, the "middle 42" aspect would be merely an illusion.
Mike Zunino had the Big Blow, the pivot point in the game. Dr. D danced the futterwacken on that one, vigorously. Perhaps it will turn out to be the opening shot in a 2014 AL West Hot War.
You'll remember Dr. D's inane comment that "Zunino has power, and in those specific games where he gets ahold of one, the M's are likely to win that one." That actually is inane, and in this game it was accurate...
Man on 3B, 1 out, you're supposed to have a 70% chance of scoring the guy. My son John said, "On the Mariners, it's 20%." Abraham Almonte got a vicious sinker diving away from him and --- > lined it over the shortstop. Adding insult to injury, he slid into 2B with a leg double.
M's up 4-3. Trust me, that man-on-3B RBI got him a good two more weeks from Lloyd McClendon. And we ain't complainin'.
IV - M's Bullpen Hangs On, White Knuckle
Innings 7-8. McClendon said, before the game, that Furbush and Wilhelmsen were the 8th-inning guys. (Whaaaa?)
Medina and Farquhar, as SSI coulda told you, felt considerably less volatile. Tom Wilhelmsen was sweating bullets on the mound, but his stuff was just so good that he whammmm'ed his way out of trouble.
Still, boys ... your "best" 3 relievers are ALL scary. You don't win a pennant that way. Something's got to give. You need somebody in there who gives you Strike One --- > in a tight game you've got to have.
V - Much Rejoicing In Who-Ville
Inning 9. Nobody on and 2 out ... the M's score 6 runs. What does that happen, two or three times a year? They were pretty much a Whitman's Sampler of M's offensive talent:
- Crazy Legs Miller showed the infield-hit speed that could help him hit .300
- Robinson Cano slapped one of those patented, "Think I'll Take This Offspeed Down the RF Line" doubles
- Justin Smoak used a Screen Drill swing (yep) to get on top of a ladder fastball for a 3-run jack
- LoMo worked a nice walk, his second BB
- Kyle Seager worked a great walk, his second BB
- Michael Saunders walked the bases full, on the below pitches
- Dustin Ackley, LH-on-LH, raked a gorgeous triple into the corner
In real time, the game felt tense. But sabermetrically, game was a beatdown. Pitch-for-pitch, we took the 100-win Angels, their Opening Day starter on the mound, and we overmatched them. Around about the 8th inning, the Angel play-by-play man was whining. "They have eight lefties in there! What are you supposed to do?" No, really.
Felix has spent nine looooooongg years, pitching like a hero, while down 2-1. Maybe this year, Miller and Cano and Smoak come back and give him those four runs, and he finishes 21-5.
Monday night was one (1) game. But if they play the other 161 anything like that, they'll win the division easily.
Notes off the scouting clipboard, during the day Tuesday.
"… specifically swinging at a single pitch outside the strike zone".
Well, there was that one that was 5 feet above Morrison's head. ;) But, yes, this was a complete victory with everyone contributing. I expect a lot of games to play out like this one where if the opponent doesn't play perfectly things will get ugly in a hurry for them.
Good show, good show.
I swear that I could see that screen drill in some of Smoak's swings. In particular on the up and in pitch, he was able to pull his hands in and it looked like that was generating ferocious bat speed. Nobody is going to want to throw him anything up and in if he keeps that up. It's only one game but if Justin has closed that hole in his swing it bodes well.
I didn't think Saunders swung the bat worth a hoot, but getting out of the hole and grinding out that walk was really nice. I will also say that I thought Zunino called a whale of a game. There were a couple of times where Halos took a two-strike heater and didn't even move the bat. They were expecting the junk, low and away: They were completely bamboozled on pitches that weren't even on the black. Kudos to The Kid (with a tip of the cap to Gary Carter).
Smoak even hit to the opposite field with power and 300 avg from the RHB side of the plate. The next 2 LHP games with the Angels will be a tell all to see if Smoak has finally turned things around with Cano present.
How many Mariner teams have we had to endure watching that, once there were two outs, would just start swinging blindly, resulting in many quick innings?
Today, and not just in the 9th, but in earlier innings as well, the Mariners were grinding with two outs...some of their longest ABs happened with two out.
Really loved watching that game, so happy to have baseball back!
I've been really disappointed and rough on Smoak and Ackley the past year. That was the first swing I can remember from Smoak where I thought "wow, that guy can hit a bit". Usually the ball kind of plonks off his bat, kinda the opposite of when scouts say the ball "makes a different sound off his bat". Hope he can put it together for the full season.
And that triple by Ackley. The ball jumped off his bat with such tremendous speed, like one of those rubber bouncy balls absolutely exploding off!
As noted above the bullpen still feels very scary. So many arms that could have stabilized things that we passed on in FA, really could be the deciding factor in a playoff chase.
Well worth the later night!!!!! A complete delight to watch!
I skimmed thru the vid a second time, and was surprised to see a good handful of times that LoMo, Saunders and (a few times) Smoak fished for pitches.
I shoulda come up with some other way to express the opinion that the M's were putting tough AB's up there. :- ) Thanks.
No doubt LoMo and Saunders battled some - as both took counts deep... but they were also guessing quite a bit... and when they guessed wrong - IT was UGLY!!! I HOPE the fact they are the ones on the bench is some kind of small message to them.