The Mariners Won 3 of 4 Against The Rays

And 6 of 7 in the season series!

The game on Thursday saw the Rays creep back into it late before the Mariners slammed the door.  How would the rest of the weekend look?

Pretty much as expected, all things considered.  Marco Gonzales took the hill on Friday and continued this streak of greatness he’s been on.  He advanced his career high in innings pitched – this time going 7.1 innings of 2-run ball – before giving way to the bullpen.  We put up 4 runs thanks to some solid small ball.  Daniel Vogelbach returned – and had an RBI single – as the Mariners had to put Nicasio and Altavilla on the DL (Nicasio with a minor knee issue; Altavilla with what looks to be a serious arm thing that might keep him out for an extended period of time).  Jean Segura had another hit to bring his average to .340, second in the American League at the time.  And, Mitch Haniger drove in the other two runs as he continued his push to be an All Star.  Alex Colome got one out in the 8th, but ended up allowing the Rays to once again pull within 1 run, necessitating Edwin Diaz needing to get a 4-out save.  He did his job to get his 22nd save on the season.

Saturday was a rematch of the previous week’s duel of Felix vs. Snell; this time, it was a collosal bummer.  Felix struggled through 3 innings, giving up 6 runs; and while Roenis Elias was able to limit the damage in his 4 innings of work, giving up just 1 run, the offense couldn’t quite chip away at the deficit (going 0 or 11 with RISP).  So, we lost by a score of 7-3.  Newcomer Mike Morin joined the relief corps; he hasn’t had a good season at the Major League level since 2014, but he ended up striking out 2 in his scoreless inning of work, so we’ll see how he does in Nicasio’s absence.  He obviously won’t be thrust into an 8th inning role, but that’s neither here nor there.

The Mariners bounced right back on Sunday.  James Paxton struggled a bit (for him), but still went 7 innings, giving up 3 runs and striking out 10.  Pazos let a runner get on in his 0.1 innings of work, who would eventually come around to score with Alex Colome on the mound (he would let all three victories get to within 1 run, just to make things interesting against his old club).  Nevertheless, Edwin Diaz got his 23rd save of the season, thanks to some suspect baserunning from the Rays, making the final, baffling out at home plate.  Cruz, Zunino, and Seager all homered to account for the 5 runs the M’s scored.

We now sit atop the A.L. West with the Houston Astros (1 game better in the loss column, 1 game worse in the win column), 4.5 games up on the Angels, who come to town for a 3-game series starting tonight.  They just saw their prized offseason acquisition – Shohei Ohtani – go on the DL (with a chance he might need Tommy John surgery and not return until the 2020 season), so things are going pretty poorly down in Anaheim.  With the Mariners flying high – and Felix not set to start until the Boston series – now is the perfect time to pounce on our greatest rivals for that 2nd wild card spot (while hopefully keeping the Astros at bay for the division).  It’s sad that we have to start dreading every Felix start, but that’s apparently the world in which we live.

We’re officially entering the teeth of the schedule:  3 vs. the Angels, 3 vs. the Yankees, and 7 vs. the Red Sox (4 at home before an East Coast road trip next week).  After some cupcakes, we’ll face the Angels 6 more times before the All Star Break, so it’s time for the Mariners to play their very best!

Mike Leake Is Killing It For The Mariners

The Mariners have been on such a tremendous run of pitching, they actually needed to shoehorn Alex Colome into this game regardless of the score.  Pretty much the only way he wasn’t going to see action was if the Mariners had a comfortable-enough lead, and the starter was cruising along at a low-enough pitch count to go the complete game.

Mike Leake damn near made it.

I want to say he was in the low 90’s as far as pitches go when he came out to start the bottom of the 9th inning – the Mariners holding a comfortable-enough 5-1 lead – so the margin for error was pretty thin.  But, he’d had a number of single-digit innings with the ol’ pitch count, so as long as he didn’t allow a base runner – or run into a couple of super-long at-bats – it looked like he was going to get the chance to finish it.  Unfortunately, Anticlimax Alert:  Leake gave up a leadoff double and was promptly yanked.  That’s where things got interesting.

The M’s almost made a mockery of Tampa’s “opener” last night – loading the bases with 1 out on a single and a couple walks – but he was able to wiggle out of the jam.  Nevertheless, while their gambit may have theoretically paid off (the M’s used up their top 6 batters in that scoreless first inning, before the ostensible “starter” came in at the top of the 2nd), we were still able to get to him early and often.  We scored three runs in that very 2nd inning (the bottom of our lineup getting two of the hits to turn it over to Dee Gordon & Co.), punctuated by a Mitch Haniger 2-run single.  We got our fourth run off of a Denard Span solo homer (his second in as many days).  Span has a slash line of .290/.333/.516 in 9 games since coming over to Seattle against a slash line of .238/.364/.385 with Tampa earlier this year.  I once again commend Jerry Dipoto for buying low on a solid veteran who was bound to push his production back up towards his career norms.  Finally, the Mariners concluded their scoring with a solo homer by Haniger in the 5th.  Before that double in the ninth (that would eventually come around to score; spoiler alert), Mike Leake had only given up a solo homer in his first 8 innings of work.  Not too shabby.

With a runner on second base and no outs, Alex Colome got the first two batters in quick order.  Then, he had a hard-luck HBP (with the guy seriously ON TOP of the plate), a single up the middle, and a bases-loaded 3-run double to make the game 5-4.  Edwin Diaz started to warm up at this point – as presumably Colome would be given one more opportunity to try to get out of this thing alive – and as chance would have it, we wouldn’t need him.  Colome got the final guy to ground out to third (on a really excellent play by Seager, who has been playing better defense than his Gold Glove season of 2014 and is VERY deserving of his second such award) and crisis was officially averted (as the Mariners got to add a cheapo 1-run victory to their ledger).

But, let’s go back to Mike Leake for a moment.  I was pretty disgruntled with him early in the season.  He came over at the end of August, 2017, and had one of the more memorable Septembers I’ve ever seen from a trade acquisition, going 3-1 in 5 starts, with all 5 seeing him pitch at least into the 6th inning, while giving up 3 runs or less.  It was enough to lead a lot of fans to expect really great things out of him in 2018 (in spite of the fact that his career numbers are more or less just okay, but not in that elite realm we saw out of him for a month).

Leake proceeded to prove my skepticism right in the early going of 2018.  He had 2 quality starts out of 6 in April, with 2 really awful starts (lowlighted by a game where he couldn’t even get through 4 innings, while giving up 8 runs), and the only reason he had a winning record at all (with his 6.48 ERA) was due to some outstanding run support (40 runs in those 6 games, while averaging 8.75 runs in the 4 games the Mariners won when he started).

He’s been considerably better since the calendar flipped to May (and now June).  In 7 games, he’s thrown 5 quality starts, going at least 7 innings four times, and 8 innings twice.  He’s also dropped his ERA two full points, down to 4.46, while pitching into the 6th inning all 7 times, and being super economical with his pitch counts.  Quite frankly, this run he’s been on is BETTER than what we saw out of him last September, which I really didn’t think was likely or all that possible.

Leake – along with Gonzales and LeBlanc – has been one of the better surprises for me this season, as the Mariners now stand at 39-23, still a game up (two in the loss column) on the Astros.

Three more to go against the Rays.  Aside from Felix vs. Blake Snell Part 2, we should be favored in the others.  I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see another Mariners sweep (and a 7-0 season series against the Rays, which is insane).

The Mariners Swept The Rays, Are In First Place

This is the latest the Mariners have been in first place in the A.L. West since 2003?  Am I reading that right?

This is … utter insanity.  I keep waiting for these guys to fall apart and this team keeps proving me wrong!  We’ve seen good stretches of Mariners baseball before; in each of the last 4 years, for instance, we’ve flirted with the concept of contention.  Maybe the M’s have a great week or two, maybe they have an outstanding road trip or something and head home to face a division rival for a huge weekend series, and what happens next?  They fall apart.  And, it’s not necessarily always against the likes of the Astros!  This team has been on some runs and were set to face some sub-.500 competition and they would STILL find ways to lose to those teams, and derail all the progress they’d made scratching and clawing to get to that point!

Hell, when the Astros were the worst team in baseball – before all their prospects hit it big – we’d STILL lose to their fucking asses at least half the time!

What’s the difference this time?  The Mariners are still beating all the teams they’re supposed to beat.  They’re beating the Twins, and the Royals, and the Tigers, and the Blue Jays, and the White Sox, and the Athletics, and the Rangers, and the Indians.  Coming into this series, the Rays were one game over .500; they were a scrappy group of battlers who might’ve been JUST the thorn in our side to – as I mentioned – derail all of the progress we’ve made lately.  And yet, what happened?  We beat them in all three games by a combined 4 runs!

On Friday, we saw another Mike Leake gem:  7 innings, 2 runs, 6 hits, 0 walks, 8 strikeouts.  Colome got us to the 9th with a 1-run lead, but unfortunately Diaz had his 3rd blown save of the season to send it to extras.  We eventually won it in the bottom of the 13th (after 2 scoreless innings from Roenis Elias, who was called up to replace the DFA’d Scrabble; I’ll be happy to not have to talk about that guy ever again) on a Mitch Haniger solo homer to center.

On Saturday, we saw the continuing emergence of Marco Gonzales, who went 6.2 innings of 1-run ball, with 5 hits, 2 walks, and 6 strikeouts.  He continues to be so impressive; I love it!  Cruz, Seager, and Healy accounted for the 3 runs, and the bullpen was perfect (with Diaz getting his 20th save of the season).

On Sunday, we saw the return of Dominant King Felix:  8 innings of 1-run ball, with 5 hits, 1 walk, and 7 strikeouts.  I say dominant even though it wasn’t Felix at his peak; it wasn’t Perfect Game Felix or anything.  But, even when Felix was a Cy Young guy, he had games like this:  he’d dance around a couple jams here and there, but he’d go deep into the ballgame nevertheless, keeping the team in it.  Indeed, it was so much like a Classic King Felix game that the Mariners didn’t score any runs until the 8th inning!  It was 1-0 for the longest time, because the Rays’ Blake Snell absolutely murdered us through 6 innings, striking out 12 (including the first 7 of the game, to tie the A.L. record, and 8 of the first 9 through the lineup), walking 0, and giving up only 2 weak singles.  We were fortunate to foul off a bunch of pitches and otherwise get his pitch count high so they had to pull him early.  We finally scratched a couple runs across in the bottom of the 8th thanks to some elite small ball from the likes of Span and Gordon, and Diaz was able to make it hold up with his 21st save of the season.

As for the Felix show yesterday, I’ll say this:  I was thrilled for him.  He REALLY needed that.  Now, it’s the Rays, and their lineup looks like one of the more impotent ones in the American League (at least from what I’ve seen of it), but with the way Felix had been going, that didn’t matter.  He would’ve struggled against AAA hitting; so hopefully it’s something mechanical they were able to work out.  He gets a rematch against the Rays (and the same opponent in Snell) this week, so hopefully it goes the same as before.

We’re now 37-22; the Astros are 37-24.  The Yankees are still a ridiculous 37-17, but they don’t matter at the moment; they’re the Astros’ problem!  Because WE own the division right now!  And, not for nothing, but we’re 5.5 games over the Angels, which is a lot of breathing room (but I’ll always accept a little more).

Of course, we have a 2-game set in Houston starting tomorrow, so this very well could be a short-term division lead.  They have the best rotation in all of baseball; but we have Paxton and LeBlanc going, our two hottest pitchers!  If anyone is going to keep us in these games, it’s those guys!

Now that I’ve said that, watch us get blown out and swept.  But, today’s an off-day; WE CAN’T LOSE TODAY (knock on wood)!