Last week, when I talked about the Mariners being in contention if they go 5-2 against the Athletics and Astros, I know there’s a number of ways to get to 5-2, but what I specifically had in mind was a 3-1 series win against the A’s and a 2-1 series win against the Astros. Just keep winning series, regardless of whether the teams are great or terrible.
Well, it’s four days later and here we are with a 3-1 series win against the A’s. It could all come crumbling down against a hot Astros team, but for now I’m encouraged.
What this series showed me is that the Mariners are just as good as the Athletics. That’s not insignificant, because Fangraphs still gives the A’s a 41.3% chance of making the playoffs, while the Mariners sit at an abysmal 4.9% (below even the Angels, who are somehow at 9.1%). This is in spite of the fact that the Mariners currently sit 1.5 games behind the A’s (and 4 games ahead of the Angels).
Of course, “as good as” isn’t the same as better. Even though the Mariners won the series – and lead the season series 6 games to 4 – I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say we’re better than the A’s just yet. The Mariners have their issues, and still seem like they’re inordinately lucky, but I refuse to say it’s ALL luck. The Mariners have talent, and they’re extremely strong in a number of key areas (bullpen being the top of the list), and I don’t see that going away anytime soon.
This series got off to a rough start last Thursday, though, as Sean Manaea eats the Mariners for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 7 innings, 1 run (solo homer by Tom Murphy in the 7th), 13 strikeouts. Just outstanding. Over his two appearances against the M’s this year, he’s thrown 16 innings, given up 1 run on 7 hits and 5 walks, while striking out 21. If I never see him mash the living daylights out of the Mariners again, it’ll be too soon.
Chris Flexen was game for a bit, but ultimately gave up 2 runs in 5.1 innings of work. The bullpen did their best, but Rafael Montero once again sucked any joy out of this one, giving up 2 runs in 1 inning of work. That – FINALLY – earned him his walking papers; get a load of this run over his last 8 appearances: 11 innings, 17 runs, 25 hits, 4 walks, 11 strikeouts. That’s an epically atrocious stretch, but that was already on top of a vastly mediocre season. I mean, it’s never a good sign when a team trades for you to be its closer and you blow three saves in the first two weeks of the season. He’s been dubbed the unluckiest pitcher in baseball, but at some point you have to create your own luck, don’t you? By not being totally and completely inept? I have no doubt whatsoever that Rafael Montero will be picked up by another team and immediately reverse his fortunes. If not the rest of this year, then definitely in 2022 (and possibly beyond). At which point, I will be annoyed, but not surprised.
With that unpleasantness behind us, the Mariners started kicking asses and taking names.
Friday night saw the return of Yusei Kikuchi and his Quality Starts: 6 innings, 3 runs, 12 strikeouts. It was a shame he had to leave with a no decision, because he was dealing in this one. But, at the same time, it was frustrating to see him blow a 3-0 lead.
Cal Raleigh hit his first career Major League home run, 444 feet to right center, to put us up 2-0. Luis Torrens immediately followed with a solo homer (all in the 2nd inning), to keep his string of hotness going. With this Mariners team, giving us a tie game heading into the 7th is everything you could ask for. Both starters were out of the game by that point, and I’ll put our bullpen up against anyone’s. Indeed, the combo of Erik Swanson, Paul Sewald, and Kendall Graveman shut it down from there. While, the A’s gagged this away in hilarious fashion.
With two outs in the bottom of the 7th, Dylan Moore reached on an infield single. He stole second base pretty easily (against a left-handed pitcher, no less), before advancing all the way home on two separate wild pitches. That was it! 4-3 Mariners win!
Saturday’s game showed you how much the Mariners wanted this one. The whole weekend really had a playoff vibe, from the way the teams played, to the way the managers managed, to how into it the fans were in the stands. I had high hopes for Logan Gilbert – making his third start against the A’s in his young career – but he struggled wildly, unable to get out of the third inning after throwing 40-something pitches in that frame alone. Yet, when it was said and done, after three full innings, the Mariners were only down 3-2.
Mitch Haniger was a man possessed in this one, as he hit two home runs and was a few feet away from hitting a third (settling for a double off the wall). Indeed, he scored three of our first four runs and staked us to a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fifth.
That looked like it might’ve been enough, but Drew Steckenrider gave up a hard-luck solo homer around the right field foul pole to a backup catcher going the other way in the 7th inning to tie it back up. That’s one of those bad omens you’d see countless times by the Mariners that would totally derail everything. Indeed, my instincts as a Mariners fan kicked in and I was convinced we’d lose it late.
But, the bullpen kept the game tied into the bottom of the 9th, where Luis Torrens led off with a single against the Athletics’ closer. Kelenic walked to move the pinch runner to second. Then, after a Shed Long strikeout, Jake Bauers walked to load the bases. After a J.P. Crawford fielder’s choice – with the infield drawn in – got the runner out at home, that set up Haniger to be the hero once again.
Except: surprise! The hero was, I shit you not, another wild pitch! Kelenic was able to easily scamper home and give us the walk-off 5-4 victory. Two games in a row where the winning run was scored late on a wild pitch; what are the odds?!
I was busy on Sunday and missed the finale; it sounds like I missed a great one! Marco Gonzales was on the hill – better the A’s than having him face the Astros, I’ll tell you that much – and he was okay. 5.2 innings, 2 runs. You’re really not asking him for much more than that, given the season he’s had so far.
Thankfully, the hitters didn’t hang him out to dry, putting up 4 runs in the bottom of the third to take a 4-2 lead to the bullpens. Seager, Torrens, and Murphy were the offensive heroes in this one, giving the Mariners just enough. Casey Sadler returned from the IL over the weekend – he was the guy taking Montero’s spot on the roster – and was dominant on Saturday, before getting touched up for a solo homer on Sunday. That was it, though, as the bullpen once again was phenomenal.
Tough break on this Astros series though, needing Darren McCaughan to make the spot start later today. It’s kind of difficult to see us winning this one, which would require us to win the next two games in a row to win the series. Not impossible, of course, but you always hate to lose that first game of a series. It doesn’t always turn out so amazingly – like it did against the A’s.
Then, after an off-day on Thursday, the Mariners embark on a massive 10-game road trip to Texas, Tampa, and New York. I know the Rangers are awful – and we get to see them a lot in the next month – but the Rays and Yankees are elite, and should pose significant tests. Are the Mariners REALLY a playoff team? Well, how we fare against the Astros, Rays, and Yankees will go a long way in determining if we are or not.