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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

May 20, 2011 at 9:47 AM

M’s on a spectacular run of starting pitching (plus minor-league report)

felixvargas.jpg

(If you want a good chuckle, check out this video — Tweeted to me by Dixon Hamby — on the rain-delay antics of Clemson and Davidson during a college game earlier this week. And here’s today’s minor-league report).

The Mariners have quietly become a competitive team for a fairly sustained period of time. Dating back to April 17, they have a 15-13 record. That includes one of the ugliest six-game losing streaks you’ll ever see, in which they took a lead into the other team’s final at-bat three times on their last road trip. If Brandon League converts two of those three saves, the M’s would be sitting 1 1/2 games out of first place right now. And if they had even a mediocre offense, they’d be in control of the AL West division.

They don’t, as Geoff ruminates in his blog post today. But I thought I’d highlight just how impressive the M’s starters have been by looking at each start over a 20-game stretch which began April 26 in Detroit:

April 26 vs. Tigers

Felix Hernandez: 6 ip, 4 hits, 3 runs , 3 earned runs, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts

(M’s get 10 hits, win 7-3)

April 27 vs. Tigers

Erik Bedard: 7 ip, 5 hits, 1 run, 1 earned run, 0 walks, 3 strikeouts

(M’s get 11 hits, win 10-1)

April 28 vs. Tigers

Michael Pineda: 6 ip, 4 hits, 2 runs, 2 earned runs, 3 walks, 9 strikeouts

(M’s get 12 hits, win 7-2)

April 29 vs. Red Sox

Jason Vargas: 7 ip, 8 hits, 4 runs, 4 earned runs, 2 walks, 4 strikouts

(M’s get seven hits, win 5-4)

April 30 vs. Red Sox

Doug Fister: 5 2/3 innings, 5 hits, 0 runs, 5 walks, 4 strikeouts

(M’s get eight hits, win 2-0)

May 1 vs. Red Sox

Felix Hernandez: 7 innings, 7 hits, 2 runs, 2 earned runs, 1 walk, 10 strikeouts

(M’s get four hits, lose 3-2)

May 3 vs. Rangers

Erik Bedard: 7 innings, 2 hits, 2 runs, 2 earned runs, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts

(M’s get 10 hits, win 4-3)

May 4 vs. Rangers

Michael Pineda: 7 innings, 7 hits, 4 runs, 4 earned runs, 0 walks, 9 strikeouts

(M’s get six hits, lose 5-2)

May 5 vs. Rangers

Jason Vargas: 7 2/3 innings, 6 hits, 1 run, 1 earned run, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts

(M’s get eight hits, win 3-1)

May 6 vs. White Sox

Felix Hernandez: 9 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 earned runs, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts

(M’s get 7 hits, win 3-2)

May 7 vs. White Sox

Doug Fister: 5 2/3 innings, 14 hits, 5 runs, 5 earned runs, 0 walks, 1 strikeout

(M’s get 3 hits, lose 6-0)

May 8 vs. White Sox

Erik Bedard: 5 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 1 earned run, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts

(M’s get 9 hits, lose 5-2 in 10 innings)

May 10 vs. Orioles

Michael Pineda: 6 innings, 7 hits, 3 runs, 3 earned runs, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts

(M’s get 14 hits, lose 7-6 in 13 innings)

May 11 vs. Orioles

Felix Hernandez: 5 innings, 7 hits, 4 runs, 4 earned runs, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts

(M’s get 7 hits, lose 4-2)

May 12 vs. Orioles

Jason Vargas: 9 innings, 7 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts

(M’s get 5 hits, lose 2-1 in 12 innings)

May 13 vs. Indians

Doug Fister: 8 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs, 2 earned runs, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts

(M’s get six hits, lose 5-4)

May 16 vs. Twins

Michael Pineda: 7 innings, 3 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 7 strikeouts

(M’s get eight hits, win 5-2)

May 17 vs. Twins

Felix Hernandez: 8 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs, 2 earned runs, 3 walks, 9 strikeouts

(M’s get three hits, lose 2-1)

May 18 vs. Angels

Jason Vargas: 7 innings, 4 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts.

(M’s get eight hits, win 3-0)

May 19 vs. Angels

Doug Fister: 8 innings, 6 hits, 1 run, 1 earned run, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts.

(M’s get five hits, win 2-1).

It’s a pretty impressive run: Six straight starts of at least seven innings, and 13 out of 20. In those 20 games, the Mariner starters had a 2.48 ERA. Really, there was just one stinker, the May 7 game in which Fister gave up 14 hits and five runs in 5 2/3 innings.

In the nine losses over that span, the Mariners averaged 2.2 runs and 6.2 hits per game (and that’s including a 14-hit game). In the 11 wins, they averaged 4.6 runs and 8.5 hits per game.

There’s two ways you can look at this. One is that the Mariners can never sustain this kind of starting pitching, and are doomed for a collapse. The other is that the Mariners can’t hit this poorly all season, and they’re primed for a hot streak.

We’ll see how it goes, but it’s looking like the Mariners have the pitching to keep them in most games, even if their hitters let them down. Here’s what manager Eric Wedge said about his starters before yesterday’s game:

“They’ve been outstanding. They’ve stayed humble, they’ve stayed consistent. They continue to respect the game and their process they have to go through, their five-day process. They haven’t given in to our offensive struggles. That’s all you can ask.”

And here’s what he said after the game, which featured another gem, this time by Fister:

“It’s been outstanding. That’s the only word I can think of. They’re consistently getting us deep into ball games. Each starter is focusing on what they need to do and doing their job and doing the work in between starts so when they go out there they are giving themselves an opportunity to be at their best.”

I think my ultimate takeaway is frustration that a team with such strong starting pitching — the most coveted attribute in major-league baseball — can be so inept at the plate that they still are floundering five games under .500.

(P.S.: Here’s a stat courtesy of John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press, who invented the concept of the quality start — six innings or more, three earned runs or fewer:

As researched through Baseball-Reference.com, the Angels lead the league with 12 losses when it gets a quality start (entering Friday). The Tigers are tied for second with Seattle with 11.

Four A.L. teams have 10 losses in which they have gotten a quality start: Chicago, Kansas City, Oakland and Texas.)(Photo by Associated Press)

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