I was heartened to see the Mariners did the sensible thing and went with their three best starting pitchers to open up the second half stretch run. With the All Star Break giving the team a few days off, they easily could’ve rejiggered the rotation however they wanted, including making last Friday a de facto Opening Day 2.0 (or Opening Day 3.0 if you count when the state started allowing full capacity seating again) and brought out Marco Gonzales as the ostensible “ace” of the staff. Instead, he’s been bumped to the 4-hole in the rotation, missing the Angels entirely as he gets his turn in Colorado.
Scott Servais gets overlooked quite a bit when we talk about the success of the Seattle Mariners, both this season and over his tenure with the team. He also gets an inordinate amount of blame when shit goes wrong, particularly whenever the bullpen melts down late in various demoralizing losses. In essence, how the bullpen does seems to be the only indicator as to whether or not a manager is good … at least, if you read which way the tea leaves are blowing on Twitter.
Managers are more than bullpen decisions. Granted, they make those choices too; they have to use their best judgment to determine whether or not a guy “has it” on a particular night. But, a lot of even THOSE decisions are made for them by the stats department. Guys have certain strengths and weaknesses and if you’re in a position to win a ballgame, you put the pitchers in there who figure to fare best based on the myriad numbers that have been crunched.
It’s not Servais’ fault if a guy has an off-night though. It’s not his fault if his bullpen is terrible, just as it’s not his good grace if a bullpen is amazing. I would argue, compared to the managers we’ve seen over the last 10-15 years, Servais has shown the best judgment in not sticking with bad relievers for too long. Even when you glom onto the latest thorn in our side, Rafael Montero, you can see he lost his closer’s job almost immediately this year. He’s pretty much been converted to a long relief role in blowouts at this point, to see if the team can salvage some value or production out of him. His stuff still has potential, and he must be willing to work with the coaches in improving his game, otherwise if he was difficult I think he’d already be gone.
But, if you take a step back from obsessing over one guy, and look at the team globally, what Servais and his staff have been able to do with this group of guys is pretty remarkable. The Mariners are 50-44. They have no right to be this good, with a group of players this mediocre, and with a run differential of -51. You can write this off as a fluke, but this also isn’t the first time a Scott Servais-managed team has had a winning record with a negative run differential. This isn’t the first time he’s maximized the talent of his team and squeezed out as many wins as possible. He seems to be adept at getting a lot out of a little, which leaves me excited to see what he could do with a team loaded with talent.
That gets me back to his decision to go Flexen/Kikuchi/Gilbert over the weekend. He’s loyal to his guys, to a point, but he’s not going to force an issue just to make guys happy. He’s going to lead, by making the hard choices and potentially pissing off a guy like Marco Gonzales. Too many former Mariners managers would’ve stubbornly stuck with Marco, saying, “He’s my guy” and getting rightly roasted as a result. But, where are the accolades when Servais makes the smart decisions like this? Well, they come from me, on a blog hardly anyone reads.
I like Servais. I hope he stays here a good, long time. I hope he gets to see this rebuild to fruition. I hope we get to see what he’s capable of when the Mariners are ready to start winning 100 games per season.
As I mentioned, Chris Flexen got the start on Friday. He kept the good times rolling by going 7 innings, giving up 1 run. Thankfully, the M’s were able to rack up a 6-1 lead by the time he left the game, because the defense and bullpen just didn’t have it in this one. We nevertheless were able to hang on for a 6-5 victory, but it was a nailbiter at the end.
Kendall Graveman has been a concern for us of late, since he returned from the COVID-IL with a case of being an anti-vax idiot (allegedly). I wouldn’t put a lot of the blame on him in this one, since all three of his runs were unearned (thanks to two errors), but he’s also shown to be much more hittable of late. Even though, spread out over the entire season, Graveman has been our best reliever, it was heartening to see Servais pull him with one out remaining in the bottom of the ninth, to go with the hot hand of Paul Sewald, who was able to shut the door.
Jarred Kelenic got called back up to the Mariners in this one. How far we’ve fallen that he’s not the biggest story on this blog at the moment. But, he broke his 0-for-Forever streak with a hit on Friday, so good for him. He also found himself batting 7th in the lineup, which is probably where he should’ve been all along, so go ahead and count that as a knock on Servais (I would say, in general, his lineup construction has been fine, though there are baffling moments sprinkled in, as there are with all managers).
The offensive heroes on Friday were the guys we’ve come to expect to lead the way: Haniger, France, and Seager. They combined to go 7 for 12 with 5 RBI, 5 runs scored, including homers by Seager and Haniger, and a double by Haniger to boot. Dylan Moore also had a couple hits to chip in.
Saturday was worrying, because it was the second sub-par outing in a row for Yusei Kikuchi. Ever since he made the All Star squad, he’s fallen apart. It was easy to explain-away the game against the Yankees (who tend to mash lefties), but giving up 7 runs in 5 innings to the Angels makes this the start of a trend. A trend, quite frankly, I don’t like! Let’s hope he turns it back around sooner rather than later.
The other two runs were given up by, you guessed it, Rafael Montero in his one inning of work. Again, what can you do with this guy besides release him at this point? I feel like he has until Hector Santiago’s suspension is up, then he’s most likely gone. He’s pitched in 39 games this season. He’s performed well on occasion, but he’s given up at least one run in 19 of those games. That’s an INSANELY high percentage of games where he’s failed (I would argue it’s a failure whenever a reliever gives up even one run; blanket statement, and probably unfair, I know). 11 of those games he’s given up 2 or more runs, which is astronomically bad. And he’s not trending in the good direction; he’s given up 2-3 runs in 6 of his last 7 appearances (since he had those remarkable back-to-back 10th inning shutdown performances against the Rays). Rafael Montero, we hardly knew ye.
The Mariners lost 9-4 on Saturday, though, so it’s hard to be too mad at Montero. Maybe he slips through the cracks; we’ll see. There are certainly enough blowout opportunities to sneak him to the finish line with this team.
Haniger had a homer and 4 RBI in this one. Kelenic had his second hit since being called back up. Dylan Moore had two more hits. As did Ty France. J.P. Crawford had three hits!
The rubber match was thrilling for a number of reasons. Logan Gilbert pitched into the sixth inning again (5.2 innings, 2 runs on 4 hits & 2 walks, with 9 strikeouts), and the bullpen did its job until the very end. Things got a little hairy in the ninth, after an Ohtani homer off of Sewald, but the M’s were up by a lot and things weren’t really in doubt. A 7-4 win and yet another series for the good guys.
Kelenic has a 3-game hit streak, everyone! France is red hot (had 3 hits – including a homer – with 2 runs and 3 RBI), Luis Torrens had another dinger. And Mitch Haniger scored 3 runs to be highly involved.
The Mariners keep plugging away. This is really a fun team! I can’t say I’m loving EVERY minute of the experience, but the good days outnumber the bad ones, and I think that’s all you can really ask from this team.