The Mariners Are Doing Everything They Can To Stay In This Wild Card Race

This has been the most fun Mariners team I can remember since we last made the postseason. That’s not hyperbole. That’s not recency bias. As I’ve mentioned recently, there was a Mariners team that got to within a single game of the wild card within the last decade; this Mariners team could just as easily fall apart over the final three games and finish further behind that team (at least, in the standings). But, what they’ve done over the last couple of weeks – indeed, across the entire month of September, where they’re 18-8 – is truly remarkable.

Unlike most every other Mariners team you think about, this one is faced with adversity and is stepping up to the challenge. This isn’t the Same Old Mariners; this is a Brand New Mariners! There have been mediocre Mariners teams who’ve dug themselves a deep hole, then went on a hot streak to start to climb back out of it. But, as soon as the spotlight shone on those teams, they would wilt under the pressure; they were – for lack of a better phrase (because it is literally the perfect phrase, and applies to all of sports) – who we thought they were.

The 2021 Mariners are decidedly NOT who we thought they were! Don’t get me wrong, because they do have their problems. You don’t accrue a -48 run differential without problems. That’s not to say good teams don’t get blown out once in a while, but they generally don’t get blown out as regularly as the Mariners have been blown out this season. Granted, we’ve seen less and less of that as the year has gone on, which points to the brighter future we’ve all been clamoring for.

What’s been great about the Mariners is what we’ve seen since the start of the last road trip. When our backs were against the wall, this team came out fighting. The Mariners have lost two games in that span (winning 11). Yes, this team will lose in frustrating ways; yes, this team will get blown out on a fairly regular basis. But, this team always bounces back and rights the ship before things get swallowed up by Davy Jones’ Locker.

What’s also been great about the Mariners is their utter DOMINANCE of the Oakland A’s. Are you shitting me?! How fucking fun has THIS been?!

This week’s sweep makes it 12 wins in a row as we head into next year. 15-4 on the season. And, with yesterday’s win, we officially knocked them out of the playoffs.

The whole 3-game series this week was fun. Monday’s 13-4 victory started off pretty awful, with Chris Flexen giving up a wall-scraper of a 3-run homer in the first to put the M’s in a potentially-early grave. To our credit, though, Ty France hit an RBI single in the third, and Luis Torrens might’ve had the biggest hit in the game with a 2-RBI single later that same inning to tie it up. Flexen didn’t have that good stuff in this one, as he gave up another run in the fourth (he finished five innings, giving up those four runs, but it wasn’t the usual crisp, efficient game we’ve come to expect from him). But, the offense more than picked up the slack. I know the offense has been super clutch, but it’s about time they made things easy on this pitching staff with a good old fashioned blowout on the positive side.

We went with Sadler in the sixth – when the game was still within reach of a collapse – but then got to use the D-Squad to eat up the last three innings and save our studs. Crawford went 3/5 with 3 runs and an RBI. France went 4/4 with 3 runs and 4 RBI. Haniger hit two 3-run homers to put this game to bed! Torrens had 2 hits, Kelenic had 2 hits and 2 runs, Murphy had 2 runs, Dylan Moore chipped in with a hit, a walk, and a run. Nice day all around, but especially because it was a comeback victory (emphasis on the victory part). That game could’ve gone sideways in a hurry, but this team wouldn’t let it.

The next two wins were much more Mariners-like, both with a score of 4-2.

Tuesday’s game has entirely shifted my perspective of Tyler Anderson. I ripped him a little bit after that meltdown against the Angels, and was kinda ready to write him off. But, now I’m rethinking my stance on bringing him back! To set the stage, he could only manage 2 innings against the Angels on Saturday, but he threw only 54 pitches in that game. His next start was supposed to be Friday against the Angels, and I could squint and maybe see him bouncing back improbably against the same team that just thrashed him a week prior. But, it was always a shame he wasn’t set to get a start against the A’s, because I feel like that lineup is more his speed.

As it turns out – with Tuesday set to be his “throw day” (all starters have days where they throw in between starts, for reasons that elude me, but I’m sure there’s a good explanation out there on the Internet somewhere) – so the team and Anderson came to an agreement that he’d just make a spot-start in lieu of his off-field work. Matt Brash was also called up that day – because regardless, Kikuchi has been struggling too much of late to be trusted in such a high-leverage situation as a playoff chase – but it makes more sense to NOT start a AA prospect making his first-ever appearance in the Major Leagues, and hold him in reserve in case we need to eat up innings should disaster strike.

But, man, Tyler Anderson was fucking nails! He threw 46 pitches, but lasted 4 full innings, just giving up a solo homer in the 4th. In total, he only gave up 2 hits and 0 walks, while striking out 2. Just a HUGE game from a guy who really stepped up and put it all out there on the line. I know the point has been made elsewhere, but that’s a huge deal for someone who will be a free agent at the end of this season, looking for his first career big payday. At the same point, teams are going to see that and know he’s a team-first kind of guy, even with a team he just joined a couple months ago. That should be worth a few sheckles, I would think. I know I’m now more willing to bring him back on the right deal. I don’t know what that is, exactly, but it’s like porn, you know it when you see it.

From there, we had the entirety of the A-Squad Bullpen (plus Misiewicz, who did manage to get two outs before two hits got him pulled). Casey Sadler got 4 outs, Diego Castillo got 2, Paul Sewald got 4, and Drew Steckenrider got the save in the ninth.

Meanwhile, Jake Fraley hit a 2-run double in the bottom of the fourth – right after Anderson gave up the homer – to take the lead. Tom Murphy hit an RBI single to make it 3-1. And, after Castillo gave up a run to make it 3-2, Haniger hit a solo bomb in the bottom of the seventh to give us a bit of insurance. Also, not for nothing, but Crawford and Torrens both had multi-hit games again.

My friends and I couldn’t take it anymore, so we had to go to the game last night. We’re all busy this weekend, so really this was our last opportunity to see the Mariners in person (unless, God forbid, we actually make the ALDS). With a team this special, getting to witness them in person, in the thick of a wild card chase, you just have to be there and experience the electricity for yourself! There’s nothing like it. I don’t remember getting to go to a lot of games in 2001; I was a poor college kid at the time. I got to go to one game in 1997 where we clinched either the division or a playoff berth, and that was one of my favorite live sporting events in my entire life (the Kingdome rocked like I’d never heard it before).

This wasn’t that, but it was still pretty fun. Hard to generate a huge crowd for a cold Wednesday night in late September, but I read we had about 5,000 more people there than expected (17K up from 12K?). The product on the field didn’t disappoint, anyway!

Logan Gilbert was rolling, lasting 5.2 innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits and 2 walks, with 4 strikeouts. Joe Smith got him out of the minor jam in the sixth (when Logan gave up that run on a solo homer to right), just in time for the M’s to get a go-ahead 2-run double from Jarred Kelenic. Castillo gave it right back with a solo homer to tie it, but we manufactured a run in the bottom of the seventh to re-take the lead, with Abraham Toro hitting an insurance homer in the eighth to salt it away. Sewald once again took care of business in the eighth, and Steckenrider got the save in the ninth.

It’s one thing to deal the final blow to the A’s playoff hopes, but really the Mariners EXCLUSIVELY prevented them from earning a wild card spot, with the way we’ve handled them all year. They thought they were big shots early in the season – and talked shit about us accordingly – but we took it personally (to quote Michael Jordan) and opted to rip out their hearts. Considering all the times they’ve done that very same thing to us over the years, I’ve never felt more gratified. I need a cigarette right now!

89-70. Three games left, against the Angels this weekend. We are a half game behind the Red Sox (unfortunately in the loss column, so we still need a little more help). We’re also a half game ahead of the Blue Jays, and 1.5 games behind the Yankees for the first wild card spot. All three of those teams have four games remaining.

But, as usual, it’s all about the Mariners first and foremost. We MUST sweep the Angels to have a shot. In essence – as has been pointed out by Scott Servais and elsewhere – we’re already watching playoff baseball in Seattle, because these have ALL been must-win games. And, to their credit, the Mariners are performing their very best when they absolutely have to.

My Football Teams Disgust Me, So I’m Writing About The Mariners Today

Well, it wasn’t the ideal scenario for the Mariners over the weekend, but it’s hard to be perfect all the time, even when you really NEED to be perfect. After looking totally inept on Saturday, I was thoroughly impressed with how we bounced back on Sunday, especially with Shohei Ohtani on the mound, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Before we dive in, it’s nice to take a bigger picture look at what just happened. The Mariners were left for dead after the Red Sox series. Really, that entire homestand was a disaster, when you factor losing 2/3 to the Diamondbacks into the equation. But, we hit the road against three teams and won 8 out of 10! Outstanding!

After the 4-game sweep down in Oakland, I can understand being a little disappointed in only taking 2/3 to the Angels this weekend. But, even though they’re injury-depleted, and their pitching has been suspect, there’s still some talent in that dugout that can do some damage. Getting off on the right foot was imperative, and to their credit, the Mariners succeeded on Friday.

Logan Gilbert got the start and cruised through the first five innings. With his pitch count in pretty good shape, and with the bullpen severely overworked from the series with the A’s, it would’ve been nice to see him squeeze out a sixth inning, but that was not to be. After getting the leadoff man out, he gave up a single and then walked his final batter in an at-bat that is somehow still going on. Joe Smith came in to clean up the mess, but gave up an RBI single and sac fly beforehand.

That turned a 4-2 lead into a tie ballgame. We manufactured a couple of runs in the top of the seventh though – giving one back in the bottom half – and that was the ballgame. A nice and tidy 6-5 victory, with Steckenrider and Sewald getting the last 2.1 innings for the hold and save.

Ty France loomed large in this one, going 2 for 4 with 3 RBI. Mitch Haniger went 1 for 3 with 2 RBI, and Luis Torrens went 2 for 4 with an RBI. Ohtani loomed large in all three games, but we contained him in this one. By which I mean he went 0 for 1 with 4 walks (2 of them intentional).

Saturday’s game was a 14-1 laugher. But, you know, I wasn’t laughing. Tyler Anderson had all of Seattle’s praise after his game down in Oakland, but this is also what he’s capable of! 2 innings, 9 runs on 9 hits, 1 walk, and 0 strikeouts. He’s not an ace! He’s an okay, middle-of-the-road starter with mediocre stuff. To expect this guy to be worth upwards of $15 million a year is insane; guys like him are a dime a dozen! That’s why we were able to trade for him for practically nothing. It’s games like these that lead me to say I don’t think the Mariners need to break the bank to extend him longterm. Especially when he’s been an N.L. pitcher his entire career; the more the A.L. gets a look at him, the more he’ll be exposed as the mediocre starter that he is. The Mariners need to go out and get a bona fide ace! Spend money on THAT guy, whoever he is!

I’m so not interested in talking about this game, other than to point out that Justus Sheffield was asked to help mop up some innings; he went 1 inning and gave up 3 more runs in the process. He walked 5 guys and needed 34 pitches just to do that. What the hell are we supposed to do with him?! Does he have options? Can we start him in Tacoma next year? He’s clearly a junkballer, and not even a move to the bullpen has seen any uptick in his MPH. At this point, maybe we can just cut our losses and hope some other team sees something in him. I wouldn’t expect a significant return, but maybe we can tack him onto some REAL prospects in deal.

Oh, and before I forget, Ohtani went 2 for 3 with 2 triples, 2 walks, 3 runs, and 3 RBI. But, then again, just about everyone for the Angels had a good game in this one.

That left me feeling pretty grim about our chances on Sunday, especially with Ohtani on the mound. He certainly failed to disappoint, which in turn greatly disappointed me! He went 7 innings, giving up 5 hits and striking out 10. But, one of those hits was a Jarred Kelenic solo homer in the 7th! Why is that important? Because Marco Gonzales bowed up in this one, also going 7 innings and giving up just the 1 run (a solo homer in the 2nd). He was almost as impressive, since he held the Angels to 3 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 5 (including holding Ohtani to a 1 for 3 day).

We busted out with a significant rally in the eighth inning – with Ohtani finally out of the game – by scoring 5 runs. Haniger hit a go-ahead RBI single, and Jake Fraley hit a bases loaded/bases-clearing double to make it 5-1. Paul Sewald locked down the bottom half of the eighth, and Diego Castillo finished off the ninth.

So, here’s where we stand: one week left to go! Six games, all at home. Three vs. the Athletics, an off-day on Thursday, and three more vs. the Angels.

We’re 5 games behind the Astros for the division; write that one off, if you haven’t already (you really should’ve written that off about a month ago, if not at the beginning of the season).

The Yankees currently inhabit the top wild card spot, thanks to them sweeping the Red Sox. The Red Sox currently inhabit the second wild card spot, one game behind the Yanks. The Blue Jays are one game behind the Red Sox, the Mariners are two games behind the Red Sox, and the Athletics are three games behind the Red Sox.

That’s what we’re looking at. I’m still not going to go through all of the remaining schedules of the other teams in contention; all you need to know is that the Mariners need to keep winning. The Mariners, indeed, probably need to win out to have a reasonable shot at overtaking the teams they need to overtake.

As far as our rotation, it shakes out pretty favorably: Flexen, Kikuchi/TBD, and Gilbert against the A’s; Anderson, Gonzales, and Flexen against the Angels. There’s a lot of chatter about minor leaguer Matt Brash getting called up to take Kikuchi’s start; he’s been tearing it up this year, so that could be exciting! I can’t imagine he’ll have the longest leash, so I would still expect Kikuchi to make an appearance in that one. I’ll be interested to see how he responds to the demotion.

Here we are, 86-70. It’s crazy that we just need to go 4-2 the rest of the way to get to 90 wins. It’s even crazier that we have a legitimate chance at all to make the postseason! What a time to be alive!