Going into this game there were two things I was interested in watching. One was how well Jeff Niemann would pitch against an abysmal lineup, the other was how the offense looked without Evan Longoria in the middle. The latter looked just fine, but the former...did not.
Giving up three runs in 5.2IP doesn't seem like a big deal on paper. However, when you consider the opponent it becomes a bit worrisome. I tweeted during the game that "Giving up three two runs to the Mariners is like giving up 10 to New York"...and then they scored once more. The Mariners' offense has a sub .300 OBP; they're likely to finish as THE worst offense in the past 40 years. Starting against Seattle would seem to be just what the doctor ordered for a pitcher who has been struggling mightily as of late. Sadly, it wasn't so.
Niemann allowed seven hits and walked a batter in his 5.2 innings while striking out four. At least it appeared he was treating this as a quasi rehab start; Brooksbaseball.com has him throwing seven different pitches: Fourseam, Twoseam, Splitter, Cutter, Changeup, Slider, Curveball. His most effective pitch was the Twoseam fastball, throwing it 15 times for 14 strikes, though only one swinging. I'd love to see Niemann correct whatever issues it is that he's having, he could be a valuable weapon coming out of the bullpen in the ALDS. So far though it looks like he's just as lost as he was in his previous post-DL starts. Joe Maddon pulled Niemann after just 79 pitches with two men on base and the Rays holding a 5-3 lead. I'm guessing Maddon did that to all but assure Niemann of getting a victory and boosting his confidence, however little that may have been.
- The offense looked good with Longoria. They hit four doubles and the 4-5-6 spots in the order, Willy Aybar, Ben Zobrist, and Kelly Shoppach went 5-11 with three doubles and four RBI.
- I love getting to the 7th inning with a lead and almost assuming victory is in hand. Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, and Rafael Soriano closed the door on the game tonight.
- Congratulations to Soriano for picking up his team record 44th save of the season, passing Roberto Hernandez.