Friday’s 7-3 victory set a nice tone for the weekend. Marco Gonzales got the start and had a very 2021 Marco performance, giving up a run in each of the first three innings (including probably the most mammoth home run in any game ever, off the bat of Shohei Ohtani), before looking like the Marco of old the rest of the way. He ultimately was pulled after 5.2 innings, giving up those three runs on 7 hits, while striking out 3. One out from a Quality Start, yet I don’t know if anyone would describe it as such. He has a problem, almost certainly physical, that he’s dealing with this year, and I don’t hold a lot of hope for him to turn this season around.
The Mariners bats were quiet throughout, except for an opposite-field 2-run double (that was inches away from being a 3-run homer) by Shed Long in the fourth inning. We were losing 3-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning before a Ty France single tied it up. It remained 3-3 into the bottom of the eighth when Mitch Haniger hit the go-ahead grand slam to give the game its final score. Helluva run by the bullpen in this one, with four guys combining to go the last 3.1 innings, giving up just 2 hits in that stretch.
Chris Flexen was the obvious hero in Saturday’s 2-0 victory, going 7 shutout innings, giving up just 3 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 6. Luis Torrens had two hits – including an RBI triple – and the other guys did just enough to eke this one out. I can’t say enough good things about Flexen this year, as he’s really been the co-Ace of this staff with Yusei Kikuchi. I won’t go so far as to suggest Flexen also deserved to be an All Star, but I will say he’s easily the biggest free agent bargain on this team, for what he’s been producing.
On Sunday, we were saddled with yet another bullpen day, thanks to Justus Sheffield’s injury. And, we were rewarded with yet another Justus Sheffield-like performance. The soon-to-be suspended Hector Santiago got the start and lucked his way into 3 innings, giving up just 1 run. But, the bullpen behind him couldn’t do the impossible once again. These games are going to happen, especially with the struggles of the Mariners’ rotation outside of Flexen, Kikuchi, and Gilbert.
Sunday’s game was noteworthy because Cal Raleigh got called up from Tacoma. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, but I thought there were some promising signs. In his very first at bat, he saw 8 pitches, fouling off 5 of them (he also saw 7 pitches in his final AB of the day). I know that’s really grasping at straws for positivity, but it’s always nice to see guys not look totally lost in their initial call-ups. I also need to cool my jets when it comes to having high expectations for these guys right out of the box. Young players struggle early in their careers MUCH more than not. An 0 for 4 is normal, not a disappointment.
This leaves the Mariners at 48-43 over the first half. There are only 71 games remaining, with the M’s right in the thick of the Wild Card hunt. We’re 3.5 games behind the Oakland A’s for the second wild card spot. We’re also 7 games behind the Houston Astros for the A.L. West. With those two teams ahead of us – and both pretty clearly superior – I would still say it’s a considerable long shot for the Mariners to make the post-season. But, you never know.
In an odd turn of events, immediately following this week’s All Star Break, we resume playing the Angels, this time on the road. It already looks like we’ll be seeing two of the same Angels starters we just saw over the weekend; I’ll be curious to see what the Mariners decide to do. Ideally, we should take this opportunity to reshuffle the rotation, maybe come right back with Flexen, Kikuchi, Gilbert. But, I don’t think they’ll disrespect Marco like that (unless he does have nagging injury issues going on, and they decide to give him extra rest over the next week), and I also don’t think they want to over-work Gilbert’s arm this early into his career.
What the Mariners really need to do is make a trade for a quality starter or two, but that’s neither here nor there.