Game notes: M’s come back to trample A’s and win first home series

After being beaten, battered, and embarrassed during a disappointing 2010 opening week for the Mariners, the tide looks like it might be turning in Seattle. The M’s have gone from a 2-6 start to a two-game win streak. Yes, it’s small, so don’t pop the champagne just yet, but the past two games have shown some positive trends. Let’s break down the latest M’s game.

Last season, Vargas was hit and miss. In his first outing last week, he was solid through five innings until he gave up a series of hits and runs only to exit early in a sixth-inning meltdown. So, I was pretty nervous when the M’s cruised into the sixth again with Vargas still on the mound, in eerily similar circumstances, but to his credit and my sorely-needed relief, he didn’t fall apart. This time, he couldn’t have been much more efficient in the sixth, shutting down the A’s hitters one, two, three in only seven pitches.

Aside from the sixth inning beat down last week, Vargas’ performance was almost identical between his first two starts. Look at the stats: 89 pitches thrown in both outings; over 60% strikes thrown in both games; five strikeouts in his first game, and six in this one; and one walk and one homer given up in his first outing, compared to no walks and one homer in this game. Take last week’s bad sixth out of the picture and he even gave up almost the same amount of hits in each outing. So, is this a stabler Vargas we’re seeing this year? Time will tell. If he can cut out the late-inning meltdowns, it seems he could be a pretty effective starter at the bottom of the rotation. Ichiro and Figgins did what spectators expect from them at the plate in this game. Figgins showed off his renowned patience, drawing two walks and a full count before hitting a strong line drive single to left field in the second inning. Together, he and Ichiro racked up three hits and three runs. 

Ichiro came into the game on a depressing hit drought, extending it to 0-13 until he came up with a typical-Ichiro, soft dribbler for an infield single down the first baseline in the bottom of the fifth. He was bound to break out of that drought at some point, of course.

Gutierrez, Lopez, and Bradley in the middle of the order were all productive, driving in all four of the Mariners’ runs. Bradley’s five RBIs over the past two games seem to be a sign that his bat is starting to come around. However, it could also mean that he just feels more comfortable hitting in his home park in front of Mariner fans. Whatever it signifies, it’s better than going 1-26 at the plate to start the season.

Gutierrez kept up his trend of stable contact in this game, finishing the game with two hits. It’s early to judge, but this could be the result of an improved approach at the plate. At the moment, his impressive contact makes him the unavoidable three-hole hitter in the lineup, but he’ll have to keep it up before the M’s set this in stone.

Lopez’s bat also continues to heat up. He hit an RBI single and a double tonight in his third multi-hit game of the year. He’s also on a small, three-game hit streak.

Late in the game, League came in to take over for Vargas. Overall, he put in two pretty strong innings, despite difficulty to hit the strike zone against a couple batters. He had some of his best stuff in these innings, throwing fastballs consistently around 95mph and topping out at 96. After giving up no hits, striking out two, and only walking one batter, League’s role for the night as set-up man was over. Enter DA.

Aardsma entered and exited the game quickly, providing a smooth finish to protect the Mariners’ lead in the ninth inning. He was sharp, topping out at 96mph. He located his fastball well, moving it all around the strike zone and getting Kouzmanoff to whiff on one placed high and inside at top speed. That was the only pitch he needed as he threw batters off with mixed up location. His curveballs were moving well, but he had trouble dropping them in for strikes. At least he didn’t hang them over the plate though. That could have been costly. Instead, they all hit low or outside for balls, which isn’t bad at all.

All in all, the M’s did just about everything right to win this game. Their pitchers threw strikes, only walking one batter in nine innings; they made no errors on the field, forcing the A’s to earn their runs; and nearly every player in the lineup got on base from either hits, walks or a combination of the two. No one stole any bases but they still played small ball by bunching hits together and driving in some runs. No homeruns, no triples, and only one double came from the M’s lineup, but all the singles were enough to put them ahead of the A’s. That kind of attack will not always work, but it will when the M’s pitching shuts down the opposing offense as it did in this game.

Final score: 4-2, M’s win. Final series standings: 2-1, M’s win.