There’s No Room For Soft Tossers In Major League Baseball Anymore

Just so you know, I have zero data to back this up whatsoever. I barely watch the Mariners, so it’s not like I’m scouting every single Major League team. This is just one man’s half-assed observation.

This notion had occurred to me when I was thinking about those very Mariners. What a rotation! Maybe the best in Major League Baseball! Everyone throws in the mid-to-high 90’s, everyone has lots of movement, gets lots of strikeouts, is efficient yet still gets deep into games. It’s quite remarkable. It’s especially remarkable when you consider the fact that there’s no real variety.

Usually, there’s at least one lefty starter in a rotation. I don’t know if I can remember a time when the Mariners didn’t have a single lefty start a baseball game for them, but that very well might happen this year. Also, usually you’re in for at least one soft-tosser in the bunch. Some guy who “eats innings”, tries to induce the other team to put the ball weakly into play, and will give up his share of runs, but otherwise usually keeps you in ballgames.

Which, of course, got me to thinking about Marco Gonzales, and wondering how he’s doing in Pittsburgh. Not great! He actually had three pretty good starts for the Pirates – 17 innings in total, 5 runs given up – but then succumbed to another arm injury, that’s shutting him down for the majority of the season.

While his numbers look good, though, it would’ve been only a matter of time before he threw some clunkers. The National League has the DH now, so it’s not like you can still go there and extend your career if you’re a mediocre pitcher.

It makes me wonder: injuries aside, is Marco Gonzales trending in the wrong direction because he’s getting older? Or because players are better-able to handle his stuff?

Think about it: the average MLB fastball has been creeping up pretty steadily over recent years. Therefore, players have had to adjust to trying to hit pitches that are sometimes over 100 miles per hour. At that point, fastballs in the high 80’s or low 90’s are going to look like they’re set up there on a tee! Oh sure, you can argue that the change of pace might induce more swings and misses. And these pitchers still might be effective against lineups like the Mariners, who are just inept as all get-out. But, over the long haul, soft-tossers seem like more of a liability than an asset.

Teams don’t need “innings eaters” anymore. Guys are consistently getting pulled after 5 or 6 innings regardless of where their pitch counts are. Stats tell you the third time through the lineup is usually where most of the damage comes. Also, bullpens are consistently better than they were 30 years ago, so teams are more willing to let their fresh fireballers eat up those final 3-4 innings every game.

I legitimately wonder about guys like Greg Maddux, or latter-day Pedro Martinez. I mean, they probably would’ve been fine in this environment; they’re hall of famers, after all. But, like, would Jamie Moyer sustain in today’s game? Seems unrealistic, right? Can you imagine a Tim Wakefield making it nowadays?

I don’t know how you fix this problem, either. Pitchers are only going to keep throwing harder. Any change to the mound is only going to help the hitters. Theoretically, you could expand the fields – push out the fences, to make homers a little tougher, giving defenders more field to run down fly balls – but that’s never going to happen. That would require taking out seats and lowering offensive output, which is a non-starter for a variety of reasons.

The only way I could even conceive of it is if this barrage of pitcher injuries gets to a breaking point, where people intentionally start limiting how hard they throw their pitches. But, as you can see, even guys like Marco Gonzales get hurt. So, it’s not like anyone’s safe, unless they start throwing underhand or something.

It’s kind of a bummer. Maybe they’ll make a resurgence one day. Maybe they’ll figure out how to get their pitches to move all crazy-like. I feel like that’s the ticket. Make it look like a wiffle ball out there, and you’ll start getting away with throwing in the 80’s again.

That 17-Game Losing Streak Was A Thing of Beauty

It’s been a long, crazy week of Seahawks madness, but I would be completely remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the 17-game losing streak before the week ends.

Of course, every fucking person with an Internet connection and some tie to Seattle has written about this thing, so I’m gonna do something a little different.  I hereby present 17 mini recaps of 17 historical losses.  And I do mean historical.  I don’t know what you want to consider official (I choose to go by Geoff Baker’s list because it’s right there), but by Baker’s count, there were 16 teams with streaks longer than 17 games.  The top of the shitpile was the Cleveland Spiders with a whopping 24 losses in a row.  Almost made it.

Game 1 – @ Oakland, 2-0:  We came into this game 43-43, having already won the series with the A’s right after taking the series against the Padres.  We were 2.5 games behind Anaheim & Texas and all anyone could talk about was:  will the Mariners ACTUALLY be buyers at the Trade Deadline?  Then, some guy named Guillermo Moscoso made us look absolutely ridiculous as he combined with two other guys to 2-hit us and start the streak that would officially end our season.  Vargas was your hard-luck loser going the full 8 and striking out 6 while only giving up 5 hits.

Game 2 – @ Anaheim, 5-1:  This was Doug Fister vs. Jered Weaver, so what did you expect?  Run support?  Ha!  Yeah, Weaver went the full 9, striking out 6.  Our lone run started off the scoring, but ultimately the Angels were too much for Fister as they came right back in the bottom half of the third to take the lead for good.

Game 3 – @ Anaheim, 4-3:  A Blake Beavan Special!  My man actually did enough to win this, giving up 2 runs over 6.1 innings (while Ervin Santana gave up 3 runs in 7), but then Jamey Wright came in and gave up a homer to light-hitting catcher Hank Conger.  David Pauley would go on to give up the game-winning homer to Mark Trumbo in the 9th, hanging the most miserable changeup you’ve ever seen.

Game 4 – @ Anaheim, 9-3:  If you want an MVP for this losing streak, look no further than Michael Pineda who looked particularly bad in at least two all of these games.  Here, he got knocked around for 7 runs in 5 innings (including two homers to Torii Hunter).  Meanwhile, Joel Pineiro slopped his way through 7 innings  (giving up 10 hits but only 3 runs, thanks to 7 strikeouts).  We were 4 for 12 with runners in scoring position, yet only scored the 3 runs.  Sad.

Game 5 – @ Anaheim, 4-2:  Getaway day.  Last game before the All Star Break.  Felix vs. Haren.  The King did his part, holding them to 2 runs over 7 innings, but Haren also held serve, giving up 2 runs over 8.2 innings.  Co-MVP of the streak David Pauley gave up yet ANOTHER game-losing homer, this time to Alberto Callaspo in the 8th.  Again in this game the Mariners had an early lead, our 2 runs coming in the first inning.  Unfortunately, Felix isn’t always perfect, and Pauley rarely is.

Game 6 – vs. Texas, 5-0:  Vargas gave up 12 hits in 6 innings, giving up all the runs.  Derek Holland continued the mastery left-handed starters have over our hitters (to be fair, right-handed starters are also very damn good against us), going the full 9, striking out 8.  Also, count this as the start of the Jeff Gray Showcase.

Game 7 – vs. Texas, 4-0:  After this game, we were at a streak of 26 consecutive scoreless innings.  Righty Colby Lewis did most of the damage in this one, going 8.2 and striking out 8.  Fister, shockingly, got no run support again.  Of course, he did himself no favors by giving up 4 runs in 7.2.

Game 8 – vs. Texas, 5-1:  The scoreless streak went a full 30 innings.  Not nearly as impressive as 17 straight losses, but I’d say we were about 15 innings away from giving 17 losses a run for its money.  The hero here?  Ichiro singling home Guti.  Meanwhile, Wedge left Felix in the game too long, turning a 2-1 deficit into an out-of-reach 5-1 drubbing in the 8th inning.  The King’s Court, unfortunately, could not carry our ace to the finish line.  Brandon League followed up his so-so All Star appearance with a scoreless 9th to get in some work.

Game 9 – vs. Texas, 3-1:  Beavan!  Mitch Moreland jacked a 3-run homer in the second inning and this one was done.  Nevertheless, my boy had a quality start, going 6.2 innings.  Meanwhile, Matt Harrison dominated.  We scored 2 runs in this 4-game series; just in time to hit the road for a 9-game East Coast swing.

Game 10 – @ Toronto, 6-5 (14 innings):  Another poor Pineda performance.  5 runs in 6.1 innings.  The Mariners had a lead in this one too:  1-0 in the first, 5-2 after the 2nd inning.  5-2 into the 7th inning, actually, then Pineda couldn’t get anyone out.  Technically, Jeff Gray got the blown save, giving up Pineda’s 5th run on a Jose Bautista single, but he went on to go 2.1 scoreless.  David Pauley came in to go another 3 scoreless.  Jamey Wright had AH scoreless inning, then we tried to push him for two and that was that.  Meanwhile, the Mariners missed a ton of scoring opportunities in extras, and the whole thing got blown up when Rajai Davis single-handedly socked us all in the gut by stealing 2 bases and scoring on a sac fly (even though Wright did all he could do to keep him close to the bags).

Game 11 – @ Toronto, 11-6:  Can’t say the bats didn’t come out to play in this Blue Jays series.  Unfortunately, our arms were sleeping on the job.  Vargas completely fell apart, giving up 5 runs in 3 innings.  Jamey Wright and Aaron Laffey combined to give up 6 runs in 4 innings, and there you have it.  Meanwhile, Dustin Ackley is still the man.

Game 12 – @ Toronto, 7-5:  This game was depressing as shit until the top of the 8th inning.  Once again, Fister had to go up against an ace in Ricky Romero; once again, Fister got zero run support while he was standing on the mound.  Then, all of a sudden, POW, Miguel Olivo jacks a Grand Slam to tie the game at 5.  Of course, David Pauley came in and promptly hung another changeup, allowing Rajai Davis to double in 2 runs in the bottom of the inning.  In related news:  I hate Rajai Davis.  A Lot.

Game 13 – @ Boston, 7-4:  So, of course, we have Felix vs. Lackey, and of course Lackey holds us to 1 run over 7 while Felix gets battered to the tune of 6 runs in 6.1 innings (11 hits, 4 walks, 2 K’s).  Mike Carp hit a 3-run homer in the 8th after we were down 7-1, so there’s that.

Game 14 – @ Boston, 3-1:  For a while there, Blake Beavan was dealin’.  He matched Josh Beckett 0 for 0 through 6 innings, then found himself with a 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the 7th.  Mike Carp (AGAIN!) with a homer, this time when it mattered.  Of course, hindsight being what it is, we probably should’ve went straight to the bullpen.  Instead, Wedge left Beavan in and the Sox scored 3 in the bottom frame.  It was over after that.

Game 15 – @ Boston, 12-8:  How about three terrible starts for Pineda; is something wrong with him?  This time:  7 runs in 4.1 innings.  Tim Wakefield also gave up 7 runs over 6.1 innings, but it didn’t matter because our bullpen again fell apart when given a chance to hold things close.  This was another game that wasn’t nearly as close as its score.  It was 11-3 before Brendan Ryan of all people hit the second Mariners Grand Slam of the season (and, ironically, of the streak) to pull us to within 4.  After Wakefield left to a rousing ovation, that was that.

Game 16 – @ New York, 10-3:  Vargas – shitty.  Defense – shitty.  Hitting – shitty.  Freddy Garcia – shitty yet effective.  No one wants to re-live this game, so let’s just move on.

Game 17 – @ New York, 4-1:  You could play this game 1,000,000 times and the Mariners’ record would be 0-1,000,000.  AGAIN with Fister going against an ace!  That guy needs to face some team’s fifth starter like you would NOT believe.  He was game for the challenge though, giving up only 3 runs in 7 innings.  Unfortunately, the offense had to go up against C.C. Sabathia.  We got the bases loaded in the 8th with no outs and could only muster a run when Figgins grounded into a fielder’s choice that should’ve been a double play to end it.  Thanks to Eric Chavez, we got the run.  Oh, and let us not forget, Sabathia was perfect through 6.1 innings.  Brendan Ryan got a clean single to the outfield.  Sabathia ended up striking out 14 over 7 innings (including 2 short rain delays) and as a team the Yankees struck out 18 Mariners.  Like I said, we could’ve played this game a million times and we would’ve lost each and every time.  I would refute any simulation of this matchup by simply showing you the Mariners’ lineup card.

So, there you have it. 17 games.  From 43-43 to 43-60; from 2.5 back in sole possession of 3rd place in the AL West (5.5 games up on Oakland) to 15.5 games back and in dead last (3 games behind Oakland).  From quasi-contenders to written-in-stone pretenders.  From potential buyers to certain sellers at the Trade Deadline.  From feel-good story to national laughingstock.

From Wednesday, July 6, 2011 through Tuesday, July 26, 2011, the Seattle Mariners were the worst team in baseball; and one of the worst baseball teams of all time.