The Mariners Took The Series Against Texas, And I Don’t Know How They Did It

In the Famous Last Words department, I wrote this on Saturday morning:

And with Chase De Jong starting tonight, followed by TBD From Tacoma starting tomorrow, this weekend should prove to be as demoralizing as advertised.

You’ll forgive me if I was a little down in the dumps after James Paxton became the third Mariners starter to hit the DL at the same time, and the thought of two guys who should be nowhere near a Major League roster were set to make starts this weekend was just too much for me to bear.  On top of all that, the Mariners squandered the best start of the season out of Yovani Gallardo on Friday in extra innings, necessitating daily roster moves to replenish the bullpen with ready arms.

De Jong did his part on Saturday, and the Mariners’ offense did the rest as the series was evened at one win apiece.  The rubber match was yesterday afternoon, with Dillon Overton set to get the start, and Christian Bergman getting the call-up (Rob Whalen was sent back down, as his insurance arm wasn’t needed the night before) to be Overton’s bookend, as I don’t believe he was quite stretched out enough to go a full start’s worth of innings.

That was compounded by the fact that Overton needed over 50 pitches to get through the first two innings yesterday, giving up 2 runs (1 earned) in that span.  Things looked justifiably shaky at that point, and you’ll be forgiven if you had your doubts about the Mariners winning (I know I did).  He powered through, though, getting one out into the fourth inning before being pulled for the right-handed Bergman.

Bergman came to play, getting the Mariners through the seventh inning and giving up only 1 more run in his 3.2 innings of relief.  As a whole, I wouldn’t say either guy really dominated, but they both threw strikes, limited walks, and were able to get out of jams.  If you told me before the game started that the combination of the two pitchers would go 7 innings, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits, 2 walks, while striking out 4, I would’ve taken that all day and a bag of chips.

Still, at that point, it was 3-0 Rangers, with their starter sufficiently keeping us off balance through 6 shutout innings.  He came in to start the seventh, walked a guy, and was taken out.  From there, the Mariners’ bats decided to join the party.

Motter followed the Seager walk, but was taken out on a fielder’s choice.  Mike Freeman hit for Chooch and struck out, but Jarrod Dyson walked to load the bases and turn over the lineup.  Jean Segura did what he’s done all year (when healthy):  get on base.  This time, he walked in a run to put the Mariners on the board.  At that point, the Rangers brought in a side-arm lefty, which resulted in the Mariners smartly pinch hitting for Ben Gamel.  I know it sounds super obvious to do so, but the Mariners have a limited bench, and Danny Valencia had already been scratched before the game with a tight hamstring.  I know the team very much wanted to give him two days off (with the off-day scheduled for today); plus Gamel has been rock solid since replacing Mitch Haniger in the lineup.  Maybe I’m off-base, but I feel like many managers would’ve rolled the dice with Gamel.  And, who knows, maybe Gamel would’ve come through!  All I know is side-arm pitchers are super tough on same-handed batters, so the odds of Gamel doing anything but striking out were pretty slim.

Valencia, on the other hand, continued his torrid streak, dropping a single into center, bringing in the tying runs.  Cano grounded out to end the threat, but God bless the Rangers’ terrible bullpen!

Vincent and Scrabble worked a scoreless eighth inning, which took us to the bottom half, with erstwhile closer Sam Dyson trying to get his life back together.  Coming into the game, he’d blown three saves and had an 0-3 record, giving up runs in 6 of his 10 appearances, including the Mariners’ 8-7 come-from-behind victory in the bottom of the ninth on April 16th to sweep the series.  Well, you can adjust his numbers to 0-4, with him giving up runs in 7 of his 11 appearances, as Kyle Seager hit a 1-out bomb to right-center field to give the Mariners a 4-3 lead.  Edwin Diaz was on his game and got his 6th save of the season to finish things.

Major kudos to the whole pitching staff in this game, as we weathered the first Paxton-less start.  If we can somehow get through the next couple weeks without falling totally apart, it’ll be a miracle.

Huge kudos to Jean Segura, rocking the following line:  .368/.409/.517.  It’s so rare the Mariners bring in a big name and they continue to shine, but we’ve hit on Cano, Cruz, and now Segura over the last few seasons.  So necessary.

Can’t forget Danny Valencia, who was a major whipping boy through the first month of the season.  He came through with a season-defining game-tying hit to win back A LOT of this fanbase.  Here’s to hoping his injury isn’t too serious (who could’ve predicted I’d ever say that, when things were going bad for him?).

And, obviously, let’s not dismiss Kyle Seager’s game.  The winning homer brought his day to a 2 for 3, with a walk, 2 runs, and an RBI.  He’s slowly but surely working himself into a hot streak, going 12 for 40 (.300) with 1 double, 2 homers, 6 runs scored, and 5 RBI since he came back from that minor injury in late April.  It’s not a blinding pace, like we’ve seen from him before, but just you wait.  It’s coming.

This was a game where the Mariners easily could’ve rolled over and died.  The Texas starter was on top of his game, and the M’s really didn’t have a lot of answers.  But, they clawed their way back in it in the seventh, and brought the hammer down before this thing could get away from them in extras (like it did on Friday).  That’s a nice 4-2 homestand to bring the Mariners to 10-5 at Safeco Field on the year.  Indeed, if you take away the 1-6 road trip to start the season, the Mariners have been 14-11, which coincides with the vast majority of the Mariners’ injury woes.  Arbitrary start point all you want, it’s pretty impressive.

It’ll be more impressive, of course, if they manage to keep it up until guys start coming back.

Mariners Posted Impressive Comeback Win To Sweep Rangers

This game had it all!  By which I mean it had a lot of things.  For instance, it had speed at the top of the lineup manufacturing a run in the bottom of the first.

It had Hisashi Iwakuma absolutely fall apart after a nondescript first inning, giving up 6 runs while recording just the 9 outs.  110 more innings to go before Iwakuma’s 2018 option vests and we’re going to have to pay him upwards of $15 million next year.

I don’t hate the guy by any means, but I do think that he’s A) overpaid, and B) overrated.  I know I harp on this a lot, but if I don’t explain myself, it just looks like I have an irrational hatred of Japanese people or something.  He’s OKAY.  But, he’s pretty far removed from his best season in 2013, and even that year looks like an anomaly compared to every other year he’s been in the Major Leagues.  I get the feeling that people expect him to be great every time out, when in reality he’s good maybe half the time, and bad the other half.  As I sarcastically noted on Twitter yesterday, he was long overdue for a bad game considering he’d already given us two pretty okay starts in the first week.

What’s even more galling is that he’d yet to throw more than 90 pitches in either of his first two starts, then he had the off-day on Thursday, then he was pushed back a start so we could split up Paxton and Miranda (which, I don’t know why we didn’t do that to start the season, but whatever), so he had two extra days to rest up and still couldn’t give us much of anything against a fairly mediocre Rangers team.  Unless you want to say his timing was thrown off with the extra days in between starts, but he strikes me as a guy who needs that sort of careful handling to make it through the season.

Anyway, if I can get off my soapbox for a moment, there we were, down 6-1 heading into the bottom of the third inning.  This game had the feel of I want to say almost every single Sunday game from last year:  just a humdrum defeat where no one really shows up to play.  And then, in the bottom of the third, the two leadoff guys got on and Haniger muscled out a 3-run homer to left-center to put the Mariners right back in the game!

At that point, Servais went with the quick hook of Iwakuma, since he clearly didn’t have anything resembling “it”, and for once the bullpen was up to the task.

Recent call-up Evan Marshall went 2.1 perfect innings to bridge us over to the late-inning relief guys.  He was a quality reliever for Arizona in 2014, then hit the skids the last two seasons before being released.  He doesn’t look like anything special when you watch him, but he throws a lot of quality strikes and is obviously capable of going multiple innings in a pinch.  I don’t know necessarily where he stands with the ballclub once Cishek is ready to return from his rehab assignment, but assuming everyone stays healthy, and no one really falls apart with their mechanics (I’m looking at you, Altavilla), I’d have to think Marshall is the odd man out.  But, assuming he still has options, it’s nice to know we can count on him should the need arise for a long man out of the ‘pen.

James Pazos came in to strikeout the last two guys in the 6th inning, before walking the leadoff batter in the 7th.  Tony Zych made his 2017 debut by inducing a fly-out before giving up a single.  Scrabble was able to shut down that threat, as well as get the first two outs of the 8th (not without walking a batter).  That’s when Dan Altavilla came in and loaded the bases on back-to-back walks.

I should point out that the Mariners had tied the game by this point.  Cole Hamels got through five innings with a 6-4 lead, and for the third consecutive start to open the season, he watched his bullpen gag away the victory.  In the bottom of the sixth, Seager doubled to lead off, and Valencia of all people doubled him home.  Then, in the bottom of the seventh, Guillermo Heredia hit quite the crowd-pleasing solo homer to left to tie it at 6.  I couldn’t be happier for the kid, who had this look of pure joy as he hit it, and again as he was greeted at the dugout with a big bear hug by Cano.  The fact that he’s contributing and playing well in the early going is really awesome, both for him and the team, as we wait for the middle of the order to really get cooking.

So, when Altavilla looked like he was going to tear all that apart in the next half-inning, it was pretty demoralizing.  And yet, he finally got some pitches to enter the strike zone, which ultimately led to Elvis Andrus striking out on something low and in to end the threat.  Sighs of relief all around.

It would be short lived, though, as Edwin Diaz came in for the ninth inning and gave up a lead-off, go-ahead homer to put the M’s down 7-6.  All of that for NOTHING!  And, on just a terrible sequence of pitches, as he started off Nomar Mazara with a 2-0 count before grooving a fastball middle-in that Mazara was able to cheat on because he was expecting fastball all the way.  You hate to pull the Closer In Non-Save Situations card, but that was a real doozy.  Diaz was able to get through the rest of the inning unscathed, but the damage appeared to be done.

Until the Rangers brought in closer Sam Dyson (who might find this is his only mention on my website, with the way he’s going of late).  Dyson had been a pretty great closer for the Rangers last year, saving 38 games.  He’s actually been a solid reliever since 2014, so it’s not like we’re talking about a flash in the pan here.  But, in his first 6 appearances this season (including yesterday), he’s had 3 blown saves and another outright loss, with an ERA of 27.00.  It’s my understanding that he won’t be closing games for Texas for a while, which is too bad, but I’ll gladly take it because it means the Mariners overcame a 7-6 deficit in the ninth inning yesterday.

Jarrod Dyson pinch hit for Chooch and reached on an infield single.  He then proceeded to steal second base before we even had to bunt (God, I love Dyson’s speed!).  Leonys Martin then bunted him over to third, and was safe at first thanks to perfect bunt placement and poor pitcher defense.  Mike Freeman then pinch hit for Heredia, to give us another lefty hitter.  Martin stole second on his own, which led the Rangers to walk Freeman to load the bases and set up a play at any base.  This brought up Mitch Haniger, who worked one of the most impressive walks you’re ever going to see in a situation like that.  Tie game, no outs, with the heart of the order coming up.  SURELY we wouldn’t bungle this opportunity, would we?

Well, for starters, don’t call me Shirley (this joke really doesn’t work in print, but I’ll be damned if that’s ever stopped me from using it), but also the middle of the order has been pretty fucking far from intimidating this year.  Cano, Cruz and Seager have a combined 2 homers in the first two weeks.  I know it’s not all about homers with these guys, but they’re the same hitters who knocked out 112 dingers just last year.  Cano has one more extra base hit (4) than he does times he’s grounded into a double play (3).  Same with Cruz (3 extra base hits, 2 double plays).  So, you know, it absolutely wasn’t a given that the Mariners would come through in that situation.

Indeed, with the infield pulled in, Cano hit a fielder’s choice to the second baseman to keep the bases loaded and the game tied.  With one out, the Rangers opted to play back for the double play, and boy did it look like Cruz would oblige!  He hit a sharp grounder to short that Andrus just couldn’t get a handle on, resulting in everyone being safe and ending the game 8-7 for the good guys.  But, damn, if he comes up with that ball, and is able to flip it to second, I think there’s a really solid chance they’re able to double up Cruz at first.  It would’ve been a bang-bang play at the very least, with CB Bucknor of all people bungling things up on that end of the field.

(Bucknor who, not for nothing, ejected Scott Servais earlier in the game for arguing about his idiocy at first base, as it seemed he defered to the Rangers’ first baseman on making a fair/foul call, but that’s neither here nor there).

I’ll tell you what, this was just what the doctor ordered for the Mariners.  Like I said yesterday, the series win was nice, but this really needed to be a sweep.  Now, the Mariners are finally out of the cellar in the A.L. West (5-8, a half game up on the Rangers, who had to have felt pretty good about themselves coming into this series).  A quick look of the standings sees the A’s at 5-7 and the Angels at 6-7.  The Astros, at 8-4, are the only team with a winning record, in other words.

Oh, is it too early to Standings Watch?  A thousand times no!

(although, maybe don’t look too hard at the Wild Card standings for a while.  At least until the Mariners are able to climb back to .500)

The Miami Marlins come in for three, before the M’s head out on a 10-game road trip (4 in Oakland, 3 in Detroit, and 3 in Cleveland).  Over/under on weather-related postponements is set at 2.5, and I’m inclined to bet the over.