The Mariners Split With The Mighty Dodgers

The 4-3 Mariners victory on Monday was one of the best baseball games you’ll see all year. Just how you can tell this past weekend was the best weather we’ll see in the Puget Sound area all year, sometimes you know: that’s as good as it gets. Oh sure, there will be warmer days, but it tends to tip over into that Too Hot realm, or Too Smoky, or whatever the fuck. Western Washington has about three perfect spring days every year and then it either goes Full Summer or reverts back to Cloudy With A Chance Of Drizzling Rain. It’s fine. We like it here. Stay away, nothing to see in the Pacific Northwest!

Right off the bat (!) you have to talk about the level of competition. The Dodgers are the reigning World Series champs, and a pretty popular pick to go back and win it all again. They have far-and-away the highest payroll in the Major Leagues and by-and-large those players are worth every penny. I know in baseball anything can happen and it’s a weird game and all that, but to hang with a team like the Dodgers is pretty impressive. They have a +38 run differential after three weeks of the season, and the Mariners played them even!

I wanted so badly to give up on that Monday game. Their starter, Dustin May, looked impressive. Live fastball, lots of movement, lots of sturdy breaking pitches; he indeed racked up 8 strikeouts in just 5 innings. I just assumed the Mariners’ hitters would be overwhelmed and we’d lose in a rout.

Instead, Jose Marmolejos screamed a low line-drive homer into right field to take a 2-0 lead in the first, and then Taylor Trammell walloped a solo shot into left-center to take a 3-0 lead in the second. Corey Seager got two runs back with a massive homer in the third, but then Trammell lined a double into the right field corner to make it 4-2.

This team just doesn’t quit! Nothing is too big for these guys. Even when Justus Sheffield faltered in the sixth (he went 5.2, giving up 3 runs on 4 hits & 3 walks with 6 strikeouts), and the bullpen had to hold onto a one-run lead the rest of the way, they stepped up and did the job against maybe the best offensive lineup in the game today! 3.1 innings of shutout ball, including five VERY impressive outs by Kendall Graveman to get the game to the ninth for Rafael Montero (who racked up his third save in this one).

It was nice to see Trammell have success. It’s obviously been tough for the kid to make the leap from AA to the Bigs, with a weird 2020 “season” mixed in, and his numbers obviously aren’t blowing anyone away. But, he’s getting his hacks in. Don’t think it was lost on me that he had this 2 for 3 night with 2 RBI in the game immediately preceeding Kyle Lewis’ return from the IL. His playing time could legitimately be compromised going forward, so he’s once again going to have to earn his way onto the field. Because if he doesn’t produce, there are players on this active roster who will (as well as the looming Jarred Kelenic off in the middle-distance).

I have to return to Marmolejos, because MAN does he have a knack for coming up big in important spots! He’s not an everyday player. He might, one day, turn into a nice everyday DH candidate. But, as a fourth outfielder and a power bat from the left side of the plate, I think he’s solid. I like him! I’m a fan. I’m a fan of his name, I’m a fan of the whole vibe.

At this point – with the way things have been going early – I almost expected the Mariners to sweep the two-game series yesterday afternoon. Indeed, we hung around and made it interesting to the very end, but ultimately we lost 1-0 for the second time this homestand.

Marco Gonzales went 7 pretty impressive innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits & 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts. But, their guy – Julio Urias – went 7 even MORE impressive innings, giving up 1 hit and 1 walk, with 11 strikeouts. That was it; aside from a few walks given up by the respective bullpens, that was the offense in this one. A Corey Seager RBI single in the third. I picked up on some warning track outs for a few of the M’s bats late in the game, but nothing that ever seriously threatened to leave the yard.

The pitching has been great to see, especially the turnaround from Marco (which we all probably assumed was coming, but you still can’t help but be alarmed by how poor he looked in his first couple of outings). But, obviously the hitting is a little … awful. The Mariners can’t count on this incredible run of cluster luck continuing forever. But, what’s going in their favor is that a lot of guys aren’t hitting anywhere close to what the backs of their baseball cards would suggest. There is positive regression on the horizon as well. It won’t be all Haniger, France, and Seager all the time. And, that doesn’t even factor in the return of Kyle Lewis and the coronation of Kelenic.

To be 11-7 and in a tie for first in the A.L. West at this point is pretty impressive and fun! Now, we finally get a well-deserved off-day before a 4-game series in Boston, followed by a 4-game series in Houston. It doesn’t get ANY easier, in other words. If the season were going to get away from us, this might be the road trip to kick off the losing streak.

The Mariners Managed To Beat The Dodgers One Out Of Four Times; That’s Something

I watched a GREAT DEAL of the home half of this Dodgers series, including almost all of the game on Wednesday. I had to be awake past 9pm for cryin’ out loud! Is there any way we can make all the games start at 4pm Pacific Time? Some of us wake up at the buttcrack of dawn for a living!

Wednesday’s game was legitimately fun … you know, for baseball. While I’m in Tank Mode for a higher draft pick, obviously the M’s can’t lose EVERY game, nor would I necessarily want them to. That’s not enjoyable! You’ve gotta give the kids a little success here and there to feel better about themselves!

Taijuan Walker took the hill in this one, and had thrown over 50 pitches through two innings, in giving up two runs. With a solo homer flying out of here in the third, it didn’t look like this was going to be Walker’s day. It happens. Sometimes you just don’t have it, plus the Dodgers are one of the very best teams in all of baseball. He was letting his pitches get too much of the plate; he REALLY had a lot of movement on pretty much everything he threw. It was one of those performances where I kept thinking, “Just aim for dead center and let the ball move away from that spot on its own!”

Anyway, he figured something out, because after that he settled down tremendously, giving up zero additional runs through the seventh inning, in throwing only 106 pitches. It was a sight to behold! Taijuan Walker is angling for a big-money payday in 2021 and beyond, and if he keeps pitching this way, he’ll deserve it!

The Mariners’ bats managed to knock the Dodgers’ starter out of there before he got through two innings, but we only had one run at that point to show for it. Nevertheless, in a de facto bullpen day, our bats continued to hit well, as we put up a 4-spot in the bottom of the third to take the lead for good.

Dylan Moore hit his fifth homer of the season, Austin Nola hit his third (with two runners on base, to bring his RBI total to 13), and Kyle Lewis and Tim Lopes each had two hits apiece.

This game was also highly entertaining because one of the Dodgers got called out on a legitimate strikeout (at the very bottom of the zone) in the third inning (which he wasn’t happy about at the time). Then, in the sixth, he took another iffy strike call in his at-bat – that, again, was legitimately a strike – and both the Dodgers’ hitting coach and manager were tossed from the game for arguing with the ump. The manager even came out to further argue his point, which led the Mariners’ DJ to play “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” by The Police, which was the height of hilarity for a stadium DJ in these COVID-times. After all of that, when the batter struck out swinging, he must’ve said something under his breath that the ump heard, because HE TOO was thrown out!

Anyway, things calmed down after that. With a 6-3 lead heading into the eighth, the bullpen only gave up one run the rest of the way, though Taylor Williams certainly made it interesting in getting his 4-out save. The bases were ultimately loaded with two outs and Corey Seager at the plate, but Williams got ahead and finished the game with a strikeout and a 6-4 victory.

The Mariners weren’t nearly so good or fortunate last night. Clayton Kershaw pitched for the Dodgers and that’s all you really need to know. Against this Mariners lineup? Nothing about his performance was shocking to me: 7 innings, 1 run off of 4 hits and 1 walk, with 11 strikeouts. Honestly, the only thing even remotely surprising is the one run he gave up, but that’s mitigated by the fact that Kyle Seager is the owner of that one, with a solo homer; one of the most underratedly great things about Seager is his ability – as a lefty – to mash against left-handed pitching.

Yusei Kikuchi took the bump for the Mariners after missing his previous start with a minor neck strain. He was good through two innings, struggled in the third, bounced back nicely in the fourth, but appeared to tire in the fifth. 4.2 innings, 5 runs, 4 hits, 4 walks, 5 strikeouts. Some of that could be rust; I’ll be more interested in how he responds next week.

As I noted, the offense was nil in this one, as the M’s lost 6-1. Other than Seager continuing to be Seager, the good news from this one was Ljay Newsome – a 26th round draft pick by the Mariners in 2015 – finally making his Major League debut. And, in risking another jinx, he looked really good! He went three innings – to REALLY save our bullpen in this one – and only gave up a solo homer. On top of that, in his final inning of work, he got into quite a little jam and was able to pitch out of it without giving up further damage. Considering the opponent, that’s a debut you can really hang your hat on!

The Mariners are 8-19 now, with a series against the Rangers over the weekend, before we hit the road again. With the Red Sox winning a couple, we’re now the second-worst team in the Major Leagues, in both record and winning percentage! We’ve got a ways to go to catch the Pirates, but I’m liking so much of what I’m seeing right now.

The Mariners Were Swept In The First Half Of The Home & Home Series With The Dodgers

Ways to lose: the M’s have found a few.

I just wrote, on Monday, about how with teams like these Mariners, sometimes the offense will be great & the pitching will be bad, and sometimes the offense will go in the tank when the pitching is good. Then, as if I conjured it out of thin air, it came to be over the last two games.

How does a Monday evening slugfest sound to you? Justin Dunn had another hard go of it, managing to make it only two innings while giving up six runs. In his defense, Corey Seager tried to break all of his ribs with a line drive in the second at-bat of the game, and after that apparently Dunn couldn’t throw his slider (I’m assuming his best pitch?) without pain.

Miraculously, the bats picked him up, and for a while there had the Mariners in line for a potential victory! Moore, Lewis, Seager, Nola, and White all had multiple hits; one of those hits (apiece) were home runs for Lewis and Seager, and both of those hits were home runs for White (who, again, is putting up more quality at-bats of late). The Mariners were down 6-2 after two innings, but held an 8-6 lead going into the bottom of the seventh.

Then, in walked Matt Magill – one of the few bullpen arms whose praises I’ve sung in this space – who had yet to give up a run all season. He got two outs in this one, but five runs came across to break his scoreless streak. We got one more run in the eighth, but it wasn’t to be, as the Dodgers held on 11-9.

Out of sight, out of mind, though! Yesterday was a new day! Our ace, Marco Gonzales, was on the hill, and he was truly pitching like an ace this time around. In 100-degree Los Angeles heat, he went 7 innings (throwing 102 pitches), giving up 1 run on 5 hits and 0 walks, while tying his career high with 9 strikeouts! Simply and truly remarkable, with just a teeny, tiny hiccup of a jam in the sixth that he was able to pitch his way out of. He also, not for nothing, got some defensive help in this one, with a superb sprinting catch in the outfield by Kyle Lewis – leaping up and catching the ball as it would’ve hit the top of the wall for at least a double – as well as an exciting double play started by J.P. Crawford – who gobbled up a ground ball in the shift, tagged the runner trying to go to second, then rocketed a throw to first to end the inning. Again – and thankfully – some of the high-end kids continue to impress, giving me hope for the future of this organization.

But, the Mariners didn’t score until the top of the seventh, and even then only managed a single run. It didn’t feel like – when I watched this one almost all the way through – there were too many chances for the M’s to score, but it turns out there were plenty, as we went 0/7 with runners in scoring position. In that seventh, Austin Nola was up with runners on second and third and nobody out, and the ump rung him up on just an AWFUL called third strike, which really felt like a back-breaker. I would love to visit the universe where this game happened and his at-bat was handled properly (preferably by Robot Umps, of course), because I feel like he at least had a single in him – if not a walk to load the bases and put even more pressure on the Dodgers’ bullpen – but what can you do? Tim Lopes grounded out into a fielder’s choice RBI, but that was all she wrote.

In a 1-1 tie heading into the eighth inning, Scott Servais – for some reason – handed the ball to Dan Altavilla. While I agree, it’s better to give him a clean inning instead of having him come in with inherited runners, I’m wondering what he has EVER done in his career to deserve this level of trust? This is his fifth year with the Mariners; five years of Major League appearances. In all that time, he’s never been able to stick for a full season, often being sent down to the minors to continue working on his mechanics, or dealing with injuries. I can’t fault him for getting hurt, but in spite of a fastball that can hit 99mph, he has in no way, shape, or form managed to improve. The only reason he’s up here now, I’m sure, is because we just don’t have anyone who’s better; the rest of the bullpen is just as much of a disaster (he’s also still on a cheap, rookie deal, and I can’t imagine he has too many more option years left). So, in that sense, maybe it was just his “turn” and it doesn’t matter who Servais throws out there in the eighth inning of a tie game. But, whatever the case may be, it was frustrating to see Altavilla out there, and it was frustrating watching him gag away the game while throwing 29 pitches to get three outs. If anything, I guess I’m surprised he only gave up the one run, and we only lost 2-1.

As I feared, this brings our losing streak to seven games, with both the Dodgers and Mariners now flying up to Seattle for another two-game set here. We shot our wad with a 9-run scoring outburst, and we made as good a use as we could’ve hoped for with our ace, so breaking this streak seems outside the realm of probability in the next two days. We’re 7-18 with a -50 run differential (only the Red Sox are worse at -52). We’re still in line for the third overall draft pick (with the Red Sox taking over the top spot and the Pirates falling to second; though based on winning percentage you’d want to flip those two teams).

In more lighthearted news, ESPN just rated the Mariners as the third-most cursed franchise in the Major Leagues. Even that, somehow, feels like an insult; how are we not number one?! The only team to have never been to a World Series feels about as cursed as you can get. With only four post-season appearances in our history – dating back to 1977 – I dunno. It’s more than just the 2001 team winning 116 games and losing in the ALCS, I can tell you that. A franchise that had Griffey, Edgar, Randy, and A-Rod (four surefire Hall of Famers, if A-Rod wasn’t a steroid user who spent the bulk of his playing career being totally and completely unlikable to fans, players, and media alike) managed to do nothing. That same franchise who would go on to have Ichiro, Felix, Beltre, Cano, and Cruz likewise … nada. There have been lots of great players who’ve come through this moribund franchise over the years. If that’s not the makings of an all-time curse … I dunno, give it another decade, I’m sure ESPN will come around.