Everything about this series was impressive, even the defeat!
After a harrowing stretch where the Mariners went 1-8, we damn near went 6-0; a funny thing for a terrible team to do when I’m over here talking about draft positioning in 2021.
We kicked things off on Tuesday with a rather satisfying 8-3 victory. Marco Gonzales wasn’t the sharpest I’ve ever seen, but he battled through five innings, giving up three runs on nine hits. Thankfully, the bullpen was able to shut it down from there.
The offense jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Marco gave up his runs to make things tight in the third inning. From there, though, the M’s were able to play add-on in the sixth and seventh innings to put it away. Austin Nola had three hits (including a homer), Evan White added three hits, and J.P. Crawford had a double and a homer to turn things around after a little slump. This was a fairly impressive victory against a really hot Padres team.
Then, on Wednesday, the Mariners decided to participate in the rash of pro sports boycotts this week over the latest high-profile police shooting (kind of sad that’s a sentence that gets to be written, but there you go). I’m dubious that Wednesday will be a day that goes down in history – as some people are writing – but I’m supportive of what they did anyway. It’s better than doing nothing, than ignoring the issue and hoping it goes away. I don’t know how much good it’ll end up doing in the grand scheme of things, but if it gets people talking and gets people focused on something important, I’m for it. I do think it would’ve been interesting – as someone on Twitter pointed out – what the reaction would’ve been if there were paying fans in the stands when these boycotts/walkouts happened. It’s one thing to postpone a game in an empty stadium/arena that will just be made up at a later date; it’s another for the franchises to have to issue refunds and to be face-to-face with thousands of potentially-angry fans who might not care about social issues when they’re trying to experience a ballgame.
Anyway, this meant that on Thursday, we got to experience our first doubleheader of the 2020 season! The COVID rules dictate that all doubleheaders are 7-inning affairs, which I don’t know why, but it tickles me to my core. My friend brought up a good point: in fantasy baseball, if you throw a 7-inning complete game shutout, does that count towards your CG/SHO stats? I’m sure it does, which is such delightful fantasy chaos I can’t even stand it! Of course, there wasn’t any worry about the Mariners doing that, so let’s hop to it.
In the first game, Taijuan Walker was supposed to start, but, well, you know … so instead Ljay Newsome was given the opportunity, and I’d say he made the most of it! You might recall he made his Major League debut against the Dodgers and spun three innings of relative gold against a pretty potent lineup. I would argue the Padres have just-as-potent of a lineup, and what do you know? More relative gold! 4 innings, 1 run on 3 hits and 0 walks, with 4 strikeouts. Work ended up distracting me from most of his outing, but I like what I hear about him so far anyway! He only threw 60 pitches, which leads me to believe the organization is still trying to build up his arm strength, on top of showing an abundance of caution for a guy who might be a legitimate member of this pitching staff (in some capacity) for many years to come.
After three shutout innings by both sides, the Mariners put a 3-spot on the board in the fourth inning. Evan White apparently strained his shoulder while diving for a ball earlier in the game and had to be pulled after his at-bat in the second inning. Jose Marmolejos – who was recently called up for this road trip – took over at first base and in his first AB crushed a 2-run homer the opposite way. Shed Long followed shortly after that with an RBI single to give the M’s a nice little cushion … that was wiped away completely in the bottom of the sixth thanks to Matt Magill.
Undaunted, the Mariners came out in the top of the seventh – the final inning of the game, remember – with a 4-run explosion! It was honestly one of the more impressive offensive displays I’ve seen out of this team! Sam Haggerty is a kid I’m liking more and more every time I see him; he got it started with an infield RBI single. Kyle Lewis followed with another infield RBI single, then Kyle Seager did the same damn thing! Austin Nola’s sacrifice fly made it 7-3 and gave us all the feeling that the game was put to bed.
Then, in walked Taylor Williams. The Taylor Williams Experience isn’t quite as entertaining as the Fernando Rodney Experience, but he’s just as much of a terrifying rollercoaster every time he steps on the mound! This was one of the more impressive blow-ups I’ve ever seen.
The TWE started off with two relatively quick outs! That’s part of what’s so insane about all of this. With a 4-run lead, the Padres were down to their final out of the game, and then things totally unravelled. A hit batter. A walk. A wild pitch. Another walk to load the bases. A single to score two. A passed ball to advance the runners. Another wild pitch to score one. A single to tie the game.
That last single was TWE’s 29th pitch of the inning, and here’s where things get interesting. Part of me expected – with a second game coming up in just minutes after the first – that Scott Servais would stick with TWE to at least close out the inning, lose or tie. If he gets the final out of the inning, then we’re going to extras regardless, and there are only so many bullpen guys to go around (on top of which, Yusei Kikuchi was to start the second game, and there’s no telling with him how many innings he’ll go in any given start). Instead, Servais made the curious choice to insert Dan Altavilla, Resident Buffed-Up Punching Bag. I’m a firm believer that neither Altavilla nor TWE will be part of the next Great Mariners Team if-and-when we ever see it come to fruition, but using both of these guys in such high-leverage situations – when they’ve proven time and again to be dangerous out there, if not outright inept – can only mean the team is (smartly) intentionally tanking as much as possible (without making it LOOK like they’re tanking) to get that higher draft pick that I keep harping on.
Call me crazy! I know it sounds like those Flat Earth people who say that Australia isn’t a real place that exists, but I’m just saying that it’s AWFULLY fishy that Altavilla – of ALL people – is brought in to try and preserve the tie. Of course, he promptly gave up a single, followed by a 3-run home run, to allow the Padres to walk it off. Seven innings scored in total, to give them the 10-7 victory. Incredible!
Game Two kicked off, I dunno, 30-60 minutes later? I was reading a short story when the Mariners put up a whopping SIX runs in the top of the first; out of sight/out of mind indeed! Who was in the middle of it all? Jose Marmolejos! With a GRAND SLAM! Are you kidding?! I don’t know if the team expected him to play at all on this road trip – I think he was mostly here just as insurance – and yet he enters in the middle of game one and manages to hit a homer in each game of a doubleheader! This is, apparently, why we have insurance; who knew?!
Staked to such a seemingly-insurmountable lead, Yusei Kikuchi went out there and was fine. Like Marco earlier in the week, he went 5 innings, giving up 3 runs (on 7 hits and 0 walks), with 6 strikeouts. He threw only 81 pitches, and never seemed to be in any huge jams, so it was curious to not try to squeeze one more inning out of him (especially when the bullpen had just done what it did earlier in the day), but again *Guy Tapping Head Meme* Scott Servais knows you can’t have your bullpen blow a save if you don’t go to your bullpen!
With a 6-3 lead at our disposal, we went with Aaron Fletcher in the bottom of the sixth. In just his third Major League appearance, he REALLY looked like he was going to oblige in blowing this game! A walk, a walk, a strikeout (SEVERELY aided by the umpire not knowing what a “strike zone” was), and a single loaded the bases before Servais had no choice but to pull him in favor of Joey Gerber (you know, to keep up appearances … *WINK*). Gerber has been mostly great in his first season in the Majors; if I were a manager who was trying to actually win games, I might’ve considered using him over Altavilla in Game One, for instance, as he’s been pretty reliable. Anyway, depending on where your interests lie, he either DID or DIDN’T disappoint, when he threw one pitch and managed to get a double play to get out of the inning without giving up any runs.
From there, the M’s added two more runs to their ledger, thanks to yet another clutch Sam Haggerty RBI (a double this time, giving him two hits in the game and three hits on the day), followed by another clutch Austin Nola RBI (a single this time, which was his lone hit of the game – though he had two walks – but his second hit on the day – in addition to his third walk earlier). Veteran reliever Yoshihisa Hirano closed this 8-3 victory out without too much trouble, giving the Mariners quite an impressive series win (that was, again, one out away from a series sweep).
And guess what! Now, we go to Anaheim to play the last place Angels for four games! Not only are the Angels last in the A.L. West – with a 10-22 record – but they’ve got the very worst record in all of Major League Baseball! Unbelievable, right?
At 13-20, the Mariners currently hold the seventh draft pick (based on winning percentage), which is kinda crazy. There are also five teams with a worse run differential than our -31. We could easily explain-away the sweep against the Rangers as them just being terrible. But, this Padres series was a little eye-opening. Truth be told, I know I’m all about that high draft pick, but THIS is actually what we wanted to see from the 2020 Mariners. Start off in a huge hole, but over time, everyone (especially the young guys) gets better until this team starts to look somewhat competent out there. THEN, you parlay that into further improvement in 2021, with maybe a hot finish putting us in or near playoff contention, just in time for this team to truly be great in 2022 and beyond.
It would, of course, be idiotic for us to get our hopes up for this 2020 team, with just a month left to play. But, you know, talk to me in four days when we sweep the Angels and are sitting at a quite-respectable 17-20. At that point, I might just be dumb enough to believe anything!