Ichiro pleases 'em--for now.
Game one of the championship season, a contest between the Mariners and A’s in Japan, is over. While it is foolish to read too much into any one contest, there are a couple of items in this particular game that we should be especially careful to disregard:
Brandon McCarthy, ace pitcher: Once a top prospect with the White Sox, McCarthy was a disappointment for both his original team and the Rangers, who acquired him in a deal that netted the Sox Jon Danks. The main problem was that the 6’7” McCarthy tended to get hurt about once every three pitches; his injury history makes Bret Saberhagen look like a paragon of durability.
After spending 2010 out of the majors, in part due to a stress fracture in his shoulder, McCarthy reappeared with the A’s and was terrific, posting a 3.32 ERA in 170.2 innings. He suddenly had a cut fastball and better command than he had ever shown before. Even then, the after-effects of the stress fracture cost him more than six weeks on the disabled list.
Pitchers are highly variable creatures, injury-prone pitchers more than most.We also can't take too much from a good performance against the Mariners, who last year had one of the worst offenses in modern history. They should be better this year (there is almost nowhere to go but up) as the addition of Jesus Montero and a full season of Dustin Ackley will help tremendously. Still, as tests of McCarthy go, this one came with a handicap.
Ichiro Suzuki is back: Ichiro went 4-for-5 in the game. They were all singles. The Mariners are not only hoping that the 38-year-old Ichiro revives after an off year, they are hoping he does so while batting third. Obviously, no matter where he goes from here, Ichiro won’t go 4-for-5 every night (or crazy-early a.m.), but the singles remain an issue.
A good deal of Ichiro’s game is based on infield hits, which will extend an inning, but usually doesn't score runners. In fact, there is a good argument that failing to bat Ichiro at leadoff takes this weapon away from him: an infield hit with a runner on first is actually a 6-4 force play, while an infield hit with a runner on second doesn’t advance him.
As the innings get longer, the chances of scoring a run or more increase, but only fractionally. If Suzuki doesn’t hit .330, look out.