Seattle Luckbox: 1.655 NRuns
Player of the Game: Mike Sweeney (0.926 hitting NRuns)
Rest of Mariners lineup: -4.446 hitting NRuns
Rays pitching: -0.442 NRuns
Rays defense: 4.039 NRuns
Rays with positive hitting NRuns: 3 (Navarro, Aybar and Brignac)
Top Rays contribution: BJ Upton (0.888 NRuns: -0.043 hitting, 0.774 fielding, 0.157 running)
Mariners defense: 2.338 NRuns
Goat: Chone Figgins (-1.294 NRuns: -0.731 hitting, -0.076 fielding, -0.487 running)
There's a lot of scapegoating going on after this game towards Wak for his bullpen usage, and it's only partially right.
True, the team could have hit better. But they also faced Rays ace James Shields, who wasn't spectacular but did his job despite a few mistakes. His defense definitely did a fine job of picking him up, and the M's got unlucky on a few line drives. One notable case of bad luck is Tui's 8th inning ending liner right to 1B Carlos Peña. Ten feet to the right and it's a harmless strike one foul. Ten feet to the left and it's down for a base hit, scoring Franklin Gutierrez and the M's take a 3-2 lead in time to send David Aardsma out for another save.
Instead, the inning ending and, with his bullpen exhausted, Wak was compelled to send out erratic fireballer Jesus Colome to try and preserve a 2-2 tie in the bottom 9th. It didn't help that a) Colome is not very good and relies on blowing his heater past people, b) said heater was missing a tick or two and c) a first pitch strike above the knees was called a ball. Despite that, Colome managed to battle back and get Aybar in trouble at 2-2. But Aybar stayed with it, fouling off pitches until he got a ball in the dirt for 3-2, leading Colome to throw the fatal fastball right down the pike. Ballgame.
However, the reason they got to 2-2 in the top 9th in the first place was because they managed to blow a 2-0 lead in the bottom 8th. Wak pulled Jason Vargas after 90 pitches and back to back groundball singles, neither of which were his fault. Vargas had faced 26 batters and, even if you're concerned about familiarity and letting a tiring starter face a lineup for a 4th time, Vargas could have still faced Gabe Kapler. At 90 pitches he wasn't exactly hitting his limit. The pitch counts of his last four starts, most recent first: 97, 108, 95 and 105. He pitched into the 8th inning of his last outing vs the Angels on May 9. He faced no fewer than 27 batters in each of those last four starts, facing part of the lineup a 4th time in two of them.
Vargas gave no indication he was tired: His fastball was still sitting around 86 just as it did in the 1st inning, and he was still hitting the outside lower corner of the zone with consistency. He could have at least faced Kapler (who has a .754 OPS and hasn't exactly destroyed LHPs... in fact he was 0 for 2 coming into the frame). If anything, Vargas could have finished the 8th: Rays leadoff man Jason Bartlett was struggling and Carl Crawford came into today with an ordinary .730 OPS vs lefthanded pitching, plus he was 0 for 3 today. There was just, in terms of Vargas' fatigue and performance, no reason to pull him. Wak's decision had to be results based, and based out of an unfounded fear that Vargas was destined to give up the tying and go-ahead runs.
At that point, with runners on the corners and no outs, you're resigned to allowing at least one run, but Vargas certainly had enough in the tank to get another grounder or two, probably get a double play and get out of there with a 2-1 lead. Even a deep flyout's only going to cost you that same run. Vargas could have easily gotten out of a jam that wasn't at all his fault, and the M's could have sent Aardsma out to finish up in the 9th.
Instead, Wak took the ball and went to a tired Brandon League, who to his credit still had his 95-96 mph gas but didn't have the location that Vargas' had, and once he finally got his sinker to sink, Brignac timed it well enough to line it into center for an RBI single with still no outs. Joe Maddon made the stupid decision to have Jason Bartlett bunt the runners over for one out, and after League intentionally passed Carl Crawford, Sean White gave up a sac fly that tied the game. Two relievers burned, one of which is badly overworked already, and the game is tied anyway.
Of all his second-guess-worthy decisions, this has to be one of Wak's poorest decisions of the season. With a worn down bullpen, he elected to pull a productive starting pitcher while he still had gas in the tank because of two hits that weren't really his fault. That set the table for the bullpen to blow the game. Lament the bullpen all you want, but Wak blew the game when he pulled Jason Vargas about 2-3 batters too early. He did so out of fear that Vargas would give up the game, when ironically his decision to go the pen ended up giving up the game.
As for Colome... eh. It was a flyball. Aybar just got enough of the ball to clear the fence. That he was in there to begin with, again, was a product of the previous bad decision-making. Sean White's flyball and pop up weren't bad either, but he's long since shed the groundballing repertoire Wak still thinks he allegedly has. He's been mostly line drives and flyballs lately: Sean White's 42% groundball rate after today is a tick below the league average. You're not a groundballer if your GB rate is a tick below average. And, of course, League shouldn't have even been in there in the first place. The guy should have had the day off.
Wak also made one other bad decision before the game that might have made a difference as well: Benching Casey Kotchman for Matt Tuiasosopo at 1B. Yes, Casey appears to be struggling, but it's all bad luck. He's only struck out 11.7% of the time. He actually has a 25% line drive rate, but the batting average on those line drives? .391
The league average on line drives: Around .730
And unlike flyballs, line drive averages have very little variance between players. No matter if you're Albert Pujols or Reggie Willits, every player has anywhere from a .680 to .750 batting average on their line drives. That's their benefit: They usually drop for hits too quickly for the defense to react. That Casey's have been caught twice as often is just bad luck. He's not doing anything wrong, and he doesn't need a mental health day. If he keeps going out and stinging the ball, they're going to start falling and his average is going to go up.
So what if Kotchman was facing James Shields? He had a much better chance of hitting James Shields than Tui did. Tui is below serviceable as a backup, and can barely hit anyone. He came into today with 11 strikeouts, only 4 fewer than Kotchman despite 102 fewer plate appearances. If Wak wanted to play someone other than Kotch at 1B, then why not Ryan Langerhans? Langerhans had the platoon advantage as a lefty, can hit a little bit and has enough discipline to work the count and maybe draw a walk or two.
Had either Kotchman or Langerhans played, who knows? Maybe the M's could have scored another run or two and that hectic 8th inning surprise is likely little more than an annoyance, rather than a pressure situation that led Wak to a bad pitching change or three.
I'm not ready to call for Wak's head. But he's quickly gone from a manager I trust to one whose decisions regularly call for question.