Mariners Get Crucial Series-Opening Win Against Angels

Earlier in the day, news broke that James Paxton would not, in fact, get the start on Tuesday.  Indeed, he’s looking closer to hitting the DL (retroactive to August 8th), with a probable return of next Monday, the 22nd, than he is getting a start at any point this week.  It’s just so Paxton, and just so MARINERS for him to get injured in the way he did, and have it linger as long as it is.

What that means:  Ariel Miranda gets the start later today.  And Joe Wieland likely gets the start tomorrow.

What THAT means:  with Iwakuma set to start the finale on Thursday (also a must-win), the Mariners absolutely HAD to take the King Felix start, if they had any hope of winning the 4-game series.

As it stands, they’re going to have to gut out one of the next two games, and then hope Kuma is on his game, to get 3 out of 4.  Sack up, boys.

They did last night, anyway.  Felix let a run pass in the 2nd inning, but was otherwise in good shape most of the game.  He held it together long enough for Lind and Zunino to push a couple runs across with singles, followed by Nelson Cruz with a moon shot to complete our scoring in the 5th.  The fact that he gave up a meatball to Trout in the bottom of the 5th was a mere trifle in the grand scheme of things (but, at the time, after he’d walked Trout – the ONLY guy on their team who can beat us right now – the previous two at bats, I gotta say it was more than a little aggravating).

Felix ended up going 6.2 innings before giving way to Wilhelmsen with 2 runners on and Trout back at the plate.  With first base open, Wilhelmsen did the unthinkable and hung a curve.  I had that pegged as a goner, along with the Mariners’ chances of winning that game, but somehow it stayed in the park for the final out of the 7th.  Wilhelmsen put their scrubs down in order in the 8th before Edwin Diaz finished it off with a 5-pitch 9th (that somehow also included a strikeout, so you do the math).

HUGE win!  The Mariners are 9 games over .500 for the first time since June 2nd.  They’ve only been 10 games over .500 for a single day back in May, and they’ve yet to be 11 games over .500, so pretty big week ahead of us potentially.

The Mariners are now only 5.5 games behind Texas in the A.L. West (and 2.5 games ahead of Houston, for what it’s worth), as well as only 2 games behind Boston for the 2nd Wild Card (leapfrogging the Tigers tonight by a half game).  It’s all there in front of us, for the taking!

A few random thoughts:

The Mariners need to figure out how to get Ketel Marte’s bat going.  I know we all love the Shawn O’Rally story, but Marte is still a clear upgrade defensively, and with all offensive things being equal, the defense gives Marte the edge.  However, with Marte in a 1 for 19 slump since returning to action, we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul here between the two.

Cruz hit his 30th home run of the season, and now has 74 homers with the Mariners in his first two seasons. It’s so nice having that middle-of-the-order production in between the likes of Cano and Seager.

Speaking of:  you gotta like what Seager has brought to the table this year, particularly with his offense.  He doesn’t appear to be faltering late like he has every year prior.  He also had a nifty opposite-field hit with an 0-2 count last night.  It’s not often, but he’s been going the other way more this year than ever before, and it’s paying dividends with his batting average.

I was going to save this for its own post, but I think I’ll close with this thought:  where would the Mariners be right now without Mike Zunino?

In years like this – special years, where your team contends for meaningful baseball in August and (hopefully) beyond – there are always a smattering of unlikely heroes.  With the Mariners, you have to look at Diaz (making the leap from AA to win our closer’s job), Wilhelmsen (starting the year with Texas, and being a dumpster fire to boot, he’s given up all of 3 runs in 14 innings so far with the Mariners to really help bolster the back-end of the bullpen), Caminero (acquired in trade from Pittsburgh after the July 31st trade deadline; he’s already solidified himself as our primary 8th inning guy behind Diaz), Dae-ho Lee (off to a critically important start – with Lind struggling early – even though he’s been in a slump of late), and the aforementioned heroics of O’Malley.  But, I just can’t say enough about how Mike Zunino has lifted this team with his bat and his solid pitch framing over the last month or so.

Chris Iannetta was a valuable addition to this team coming into 2016.  The Mariners needed to give Zunino some more seasoning in the minors, they needed a veteran presence guiding this pitching staff, and they needed someone who wasn’t a black hole like Jesus Sucre (besides, Sucre started the season on the 60-day DL).  And, aside from a few mishandled relay throws to the plate, Iannetta didn’t disappoint.  I’m not going to say he was some great wizard with the bat or anything, but he was providing steady production from the catcher position (particularly through the first month of the season).  The only problem that I could see was that the team was grossly over-using him in the first half, and it ultimately caught up to him.  Steve Clevenger was NOT a bad backup option, but he got hurt and that opened up the spot for Zunino’s return.

Not only has Zunino held his own, but he’s overtaken Iannetta for the starting job.  What’s even more important is that it was actually EARNED this time, as opposed to when he was first rushed up, because we had no one competent at that spot ahead of him.  22 games into this season, Zunino already has 6 homers and 3 doubles.  But, he’s also hitting for a solid average (.267), he’s walking WAY more than I thought possible (.400 OBP), and with that slugging where it is (.617), he’s not just an improvement over Iannetta, or over the previous incarnation of Mike Zunino, but he’s a legitimate threat at or near the bottom of the lineup for this team.

See, since we’ve got Cano/Cruz/Seager, along with Lind/Lee, you really don’t have to bat Zunino until 7th or 8th, depending on the lineup.  Pressure’s off, allowing him to just go up there and hit.  And he’s really taken to the instruction the organization has given him.  I couldn’t be happier, and I hope like hell I haven’t jinxed him.

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