This was kind of a big deal: the first series of the year against REALLY your primary rival for the Wild Card. You figure there are three teams in the A.L. East who are vying for two spots – a division winner and that other Wild Card spot – you figure there’s only one team coming out of the A.L. Central (unless one of the sub-Indians teams goes on a real hot streak), you figure the Astros are eventually going to separate themselves as the clearcut winner of the A.L. West, and it’s going to be a 2-team race for 1 spot between the Mariners and Angels. If that all proves true, and we figure the Mariners are going to struggle mightily against the Astros, and beat up on most of the lesser teams around baseball, then the measure of the 2018 season is going to come down to how we play against the Angels. This was, as I said, the first look at how we’d fare against them, and honestly it wasn’t pretty.
Shohei Ohtani was always going to dominate the Mariners. If you’ve followed the Mariners for any period of time, that was completely obvious to you, because why wouldn’t he? It’s a guy we all wanted, a guy we thought might want to come here throughout the courtship, and a guy who ultimately not only spurned us, but spurned us for a division rival. This was – while not a 1 to 1 complete match – A-Rod going to the Rangers all over again. This was every major prospect we traded away. This was every guy who stunk for the Mariners and ended up being amazing somewhere else the very next year. All of that, all rolled into one guy who’s both an amazing hitter and a guy who can throw upwards of 100 miles per hour, while having just the most devastating off-speed pitches in baseball. There was never a chance he WOULDN’T kick our asses, in spite of some early-season struggles with command or whatever. That was never going to come into play; he was always going to throw 6+ innings and quite frankly we were LUCKY to get the 2 runs off of him that we got. I wrote off that Sunday game as a loss the second I saw confirmation he was going to be the starter. The fact that we lost 8-2 is very disappointing, but I won’t say I was surprised by the number of runs we gave up either. Felix just isn’t going to be very good against the better offenses of this league, so when the guys aren’t hitting for him, those games are going to be pretty ugly more often than not.
I was much more disappointed in the 5-0 drubbing on Friday. Mike Leake didn’t look like anything special and the offense was just overwhelmed. Midway through the game on Saturday – when the Mariners were losing 1-0 and looking similarly overwhelmed offensively – I thought there was a legitimate chance (with Ohtani going the next day) that the Mariners would not only be swept at home, but completely SHUT OUT in a 3-game series, which would have to be up there all-time on the futility list.
I was at the game on Friday and ended up leaving early, which was the appropriate thing to do. I got my Han Seago bobblehead, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a bobblehead, so I’m happy. I was also at the game on Saturday, and thank Christ the Mariners started piling on some runs, because I would’ve been pretty distraught if I would’ve paid to watch two demoralizing defeats in a row.
It was 90’s Night on Saturday, and while we got there too late (or went in through the wrong entrance) to get the James Paxton Fanny Pack that I wanted, it’s probably for the best. Do I really need one more Mariners thing I’m never going to use? That’s awkward to display? No thanks. Losing out on the bobblehead would’ve been far worse.
Anyway, they played like it was the 1990s, as the Mariners hit a bunch (winning 9-8 in 11 innings) and got some really shoddy pitching (particularly from the bullpen, as our top two guys did everything in their power to give this one away). I had a feeling before the start of the game that it would be high scoring, and even predicted there’d be more than 12 combined runs scored, but I never could’ve imagined the way it happened. For starters, as I said before, it was 1-0 into the sixth inning. The Angels hit a 3-run jack to ensure Marco Gonzales wouldn’t survive a 6-inning start totally unscathed. Down 4-0, that’s when the Mariners embarked upon the big comeback. There were 2 runs in the bottom of the sixth, then another 4 more in the eighth to take a 2-run lead into the ninth. That’s when all hell broke loose.
With two outs, Mike Trout hit a double off of Edwin Diaz, and with two strikes, Justin Upton hit a game-tying 2-run home run for Diaz’s first blown save of the year. Juan Nicasio came in for the 10th and gave up a go-ahead run, followed by the Mariners tying it up in the bottom half of the inning on a single and a throwing error. Newcomer Erik Goeddel gave up another go-ahead run in the 11th, but this time the Mariners were able to walk it off thanks to an RBI double by Seager and a game-winning single by Healy.
It was one of the more improbable victories you’re ever going to see, and if there’s ANY reason for optimism based on this series, that’s what you’d point to: this team’s fight. This team’s elite hitting. But, overall, the starting pitching was pretty miserable all three games, and the bullpen has proven over this past week that you’re not going to be able to rely upon them 100% of the time. They’ve shown cracks. There’s still only 2 guys you can REALLY count upon, and even those guys aren’t perfect. The more they struggle, the more this team is going to struggle, and the less likely this team will break the playoff drought.
The Mariners went 1-2 against the Angels in this series, and they were MUCH closer to being 0-3 than they were 2-1. If that continues throughout the season, and we end up somewhere around 6-13 or so against them, that’s ultimately going to be the deciding factor in whether we reach the Wild Card or not. Anything worse than 9-10 against the Angels is a guaranteed No Playoffs For The Mariners; anything around .500 and we have a shot if we get lucky; anything 11-8 or better and I’ll go on record as saying that’s good enough to get the Mariners in.
So, the question is: can they do that? Based on what I saw this weekend, I don’t think so. Based on what these teams are right now, on paper, if nothing significantly changes, I don’t think the Mariners will be better than the Angels, and I ultimately believe they’ll be maybe 2-3 games out of the Wild Card when the season ends. Take that or what it’s worth. It’s still early, there’s a lot that can happen. I’ll say this: I don’t think the Angels are DRAMATICALLY better than the Mariners. I think they’ll have their ups & downs just like we will; they’ll have series where they look like crap too. But, in the head-to-head matchups, I don’t think we match up well with them, and I think that’s ultimately what’s going to torpedo this season.