June 10th, 2007


The Comeback Kids Strike Again!!

I'm gonna tell you why the Mariners of 2007 are - so far - the prototype of an especially Exciting Baseball Team.

Now, there are three and a half elements to any baseball team: Hitting, Starting Pitching, Relief Pitching, and Fielding (which would be the half). Obviously, poor fielding will set any team at a disadvantage, but let's go ahead and call a major leaguer a major leaguer: if you're playing in the MLB, most likely you know how to catch and throw a ball. So, let's focus on the other three elements for the time being.

To be a good team (which is relative, but let's just say Above .500), you need to have two of those three elements working in your favor. Ideally, if you can only have two, you'd love to have Starting Pitching and Hitting and then hope for the best in those 8th and 9th innings. A cast of five strong starting pitchers will eat up a lot of innings, keep you in ballgames, and in the end you'll enjoy your summer that much more.

What's a good starting pitcher? Ideally, he's going somewhere between 6 and 8 innings every five days and he's giving up on average of 2 runs a game (which, averaged out over 9 innings, puts his ERA between 2 and 3). You get that with some solid hitting, more often than not it won't matter how crappy your bullpen is because you'll be leading by so much.

Then, you have those rare teams with quality pitching all the way down, but they're hitting .240 as a team. Usually, when you get this, it's because you're like the Oakland A's or the Minnesota Twins of years past where you have a glut of young arms hitting the big leagues at the same time, but you can't afford to buy any solid bats because you're in the dreaded Small Market. The difference between young hitters and young pitchers just making the major leagues is the adjustment period before one becomes dominant. Normally, the pitcher will outclass the hitter quicker out the box. That's because the hitter needs at bats to improve, but the pitcher has the element of surprise when they first make the scene, so hitters don't know what to do with them.

Anyway, these pitching squads are fun, and if they could only make the playoffs, you'd think you'll be on easy street. Here's the deal: while you're likely to win more 3-2 games than you'll lose, you're also more likely to lose more 2-0 games than you'll win because if your hitters aren't doing better than scattering four hits a game, it doesn't matter how well your team pitches. Can't throw shutouts every time.

Now, this is what the Mariners of 2007 have: Good Hitting and Good Bullpen. And, I mean, they're number 2 in the league in average, up and down the lineup they've got clutch guys driving in runs (I think 7 of the 9 are within 10 or 15 RBI of each other), and they're relentless, especially with two outs in an inning. The prototypical Mariners win so far has been: our starter falters, but somehow manages to go 5 or 6 innings while giving up 3 or 4 runs, leaving us at a 4-1 deficit. Then, it gets down to a battle of the bullpens, and since our hitters are so good, we end up coming back and winning games 6-5 (like we did this weekend, twice, against San Diego, before pulling out a 4-3 win this afternoon after being down 3-1).

Here's the deal: if the Mariners can stay on fire and run those Angels down into the bowels of hell, you have to like our chances in the playoffs.

Go ahead, get it over with: Steve The Homer! Did you run this by your pal Softy Softerson before you posted this?

Yeah, well scoff all you want, but think about it: every year, everyone always fears the Bostons and the Yankees' of the world, because, "Ooo, they've got three huge starting pitchers that are gonna blow away any team in a 5-game series." And don't lie either! Because, except for that 2004 team that was dead to rights until they pulled a miracle out of their asses, tell me one Pedro Martinez Aced Boston team that didn't have everyone and their mother saying, "Nobody wants to see this team in a 5-game series, because you see Pedro twice." Yeah, well fat lot of good he was until 2004's improbable finish.

More often than not in the playoffs, it doesn't necessarily matter how good your starting pitching is. How many times have the Yankees lost in the World Series to teams everyone thought would get crushed (except for those Yankees-biased naysayers who go around saying, "Oh, I knew Florida had it all the time." yeah right, blow it out your ass)?

I'm pointing now to the Cardinals of last year, the Angels of whatever year they won, and the Arizona Diamondbacks when they won. The Cards were pathetic, but they had offense and a bullpen. Their starters kept them in games, timely hitting gave them leads, their bullpen locked them down. The Angels didn't have an amazing starting rotation - Jarrod Washburn was on that team! The Diamondbacks had Randy Johnson, but Randy Johnson SUCKS in the playoffs! Ask the New York Yankees! Ask the Seattle Mariners! Ask the Houston fucking Astros!

I tell you, it's hitting and it's bullpen (and, as Detroit will tell you, it's your defense simply making the routine plays). Because in the playoffs, the element of a team that feels the pressure the most - and, in turn, is most likely to struggle - is the hitting. So, a team with Jeff Weaver can win a World Series, because no matter how shitty he's throwing, the offense he's facing will most likely be pressing at the plate and maybe swing at things they wouldn't normally swing at or take strikes they'd normally crush.

Say it with me now: Seattle Mariners, 2007 World Series Champions.

OK, now stop laughing and say it like you mean it!

(of course, now that I've written this, I've jinxed them for the rest of the season ... if the Mariners lose 8 of 9 games, feel free to look to this and blame me)
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