The Mariners Bounced Back The Opposite Way, Lost A Series To The Athletics

The 6-5 victory on Monday sealed off five wins in a row, and a stretch of 7 wins in 8 games: relatively impressive after the 6 losses in a row that preceeded it. Granted, the bullpen gagged away our 4-2 lead late in the game, blowing a would-be victory for Logan Gilbert – who was impressive over 6 innings, giving up just 2 runs on 5 hits and a walk, with 5 strikeouts, on 80 pitches – but we were able to prevail in extras thanks to some clutch hitting and a rabid sacrifice fly by Tom Murphy.

My friends and I went to the game on Tuesday thinking we had this game pegged. Marco Gonzales was making his return from the IL and wasn’t projected to go very far, since he hadn’t made any tune-up starts in the minor leagues. This one had all the feel of a game that might get out of hand early, with the bullpen carrying the mail like it usually does to keep things interesting to the end.

Instead, Marco was great! He threw 50 pitches, made it through 4 innings, and gave up only 1 run on 2 hits. It was, indeed, the bullpen that was shot, giving up the other 11 runs that turned this game into a rout, particularly with a 6-run seventh inning. We left the game not long after that debacle.

Wednesday’s rubber match was a total nightmare. I watched for almost three innings, but the A’s put up a 5-spot in the third and I knew it was over from there. I don’t know a ton about the Athletics and their players, but I know Sean Manaea fucking owns our asses. One run would’ve been too much, as this ended in a 6-0 complete game shutout for the man. Chris Flexen was able to gamely make it through 6 innings, just giving up those 5 runs, so it was nice of him to spare the bullpen a little bit (as Justin Dunn is going to miss his next start, which means we’re in for yet another bullpen day coming up).

It’s actually kind of crazy how many Mariners are hitting the IL this year. I have little frame of reference how they compare to the rest of MLB, or how they compare to normal seasons in the recent past, but it feels like a lot. It feels somewhat abnormal. Some of these would have happened in any ol’ season – I’m looking at Ty France getting hit by a pitch, and Kyle Lewis’ bum knee – but there has to be a non-zero number of injuries that we can attribute to COVID-19 and the cockadoodie 2020 season with only 60 games and no minor leagues. Guys whose bodies … for lack of a better phrase are out of baseball shape. So they’re getting these strains that they might not otherwise.

Of course, this could also just be a byproduct of the game today. Today’s player probably needs more regular off-days than they’re getting. Teams are unwilling or unable to roster full benches – because they’re using every extra spot on their bullpens – and obviously that’s for good reason, given how many of these injuries are happening to pitchers. When you’re a team like the Mariners – trying to run a 6-man rotation out there, partially in hopes of reducing some of the wear-and-tear, even though we no longer employ more than 6 viable starting pitchers at the Major League level – this rash of injuries becomes more pronounced. When fans are forced to watch many multiple bullpen days because the organization fucked around in the offseason putting all their chips in on James Paxton, there’s an injury trickle-down effect when that very bullpen that’s been carrying this team gets overworked. All in the name of this theory that a 6-man rotation is supposed to cut down on injuries.

IT’S NOT WORKING, MARINERS! All it’s doing is costing you games and the livelihood of your relievers that you’re running through a fucking meat-grinder.

In theory, in an ideal world where the Mariners have an unlimited source of quality starting pitchers, a 6-man rotation might be a good idea. But, in reality, almost no team has 6 good-to-great starters. They BARELY have 5, with the depth being of the sub-replacement level variety. There’s a reason why teams in the playoffs scale back to three starters, maybe four at the most. Obviously, you can’t do that over the course of a full 162-game season, but it’s pretty apparent you also can’t stretch it out to 6 without throwing away some games.

Those games start to add up when you’re hovering around .500 and ostensibly in contention for a postseason berth.

The Mariners Finally Blew One

We were bound to see it sooner or later.  What more perfect, Marinersiest time to do it than in a start where James Paxton is as dominant as can be?

He went 7 innings of shutout ball, leaving with what you’d assume to be a comfortable 2-0 lead.  It sounds like every Felix start from 2010-2013 (ESPECIALLY against the A’s).  But, unlike most Felix starts, Paxton did something so remarkable the King hasn’t even reached this height:  he struck out 16 batters.  And he did it while only throwing 105 pitches!  He sprinkled in 5 hits and a walk, but was otherwise as dominant as can be.  In that respect, it was very much in line with a Classic Felix start.

As was the way the bullpen decided to shit all over it.

Again, it was bound to happen.  After some struggles through the first two weeks, Juan Nicasio racked up 7 consecutive scoreless appearances, looking better and better each time out.  So, giving up a 1-out, 2-run, game-tying homer to the best hitter on the A’s, Jed Lowrie (who, not for nothing, ALWAYS kills the Mariners for some reason) is something I’m willing to forgive.  Of course, had I been watching the game last night, I might’ve thought differently, and flown into a rage on Twitter the likes of which … would’ve made no difference whatsoever.

Then, I mean come on, what more does Edwin Diaz have to do?  He gave up 1 inconsequential run in his first 15 appearances, going 12/12 in save opportunities (and winning the April Relief Pitcher of the Month).  In a tie game, in the top of the 9th inning, at home (where – at that point – it’s impossible to save your closer for a save opportunity in that game), with some very capable boppers coming up in the bottom of the 9th, OF COURSE you use your best reliever in that situation!  The sooner we get people out of the mindset that you can only use your closer in save situations, the sooner I’ll be saved from having to read all the idiots complaining to the beat writers about why they put Edwin Diaz in there in a tie game.  THINK ABOUT IT!  ASSHOLES!

So, anyway, yeah, I’m willing to forgive Diaz too.  It sucks that we lost, it sucks that a peach of a start was ruined, but it’s what the Mariners do.  Not for nothing, but it’s what a lot of other teams do too.

Also not for nothing, there is NO WAY I’m bringing Paxton out there for the 8th.  He threw 105 pitches!  Nicaso and Diaz have been amazing this year!  AND, oh by the way, Paxton is constantly getting injured.  Why would you risk that?  When you’re up 2-0, at home, with your best relievers set to lock it down … no.  Just no.  Scott Servais does plenty of things I disagree with, but this is far from one of them.

I’m more concerned about why the offense couldn’t do more than they did against a guy making his first start in the Major Leagues in 2018.  I know Brett Anderson is a veteran, but our offense has been on fire!  Eventually, we’re going to need to get some actual production out of our catcher and left field positions.  Cruz and Segura can’t do fucking everything!

If this turns into a trend, then we have a serious problem.  But, for now, let’s see how it plays out.  The A’s stole one that the Mariners should’ve won; maybe the M’s can do the opposite tonight.  Wade LeBlanc gets the nod against the best starter on the Athletics, Sean Manaea.  We’ve already seen this Manaea guy once this year; he went 7 innings and gave up 1 run in an A’s victory.  4 out of his 6 appearances against Seattle in his brief 3-year career have been quality starts, so obviously he’s not intimidated by our Mariners-ness.  Let’s change that tonight, huh?

The Mariners Have Played Some Baseball Games Since I Last Wrote About Them

Sorry folks, I’ve been busy on another (secret) writing project that has absolutely nothing to do with Seattle sports.  And, while it’s been a refreshing change of pace (that I still don’t know what I’m going to do with yet), it’s taken a lot of my attention away from this blog.  But, you know, considering the malaise that is the Seattle Mariners, with the impending bummer of a season from the Seahawks (that many fans are still fighting against tooth and nail, as if the only problem last year was a poor kicking game and shaky offensive line – and as if those problems have been dramatically improved in the subsequent months since that team unceremoniously finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs for the first time since Tarvaris Jackson was running the show), it’s not like I’ve been all that inspired to bloviate on the local sporting landscape.

Since the last time I wrote about the Mariners, we kicked off a 7-game homestand with a weekend series against the A’s.  The A’s aren’t very good.  You could say the same thing about the Mariners (both teams have underwhelming pitching staffs and get by on their offense), but the A’s also haven’t had the misfortune of playing the Astros yet (more on that in a minute) and they still have a worse record than the M’s, so take that for what it is.  The Mariners had 2 great offensive days and took the first two games of the series; then dropped the Sunday finale as Sean Manaea out-duelled King Felix to the tune of a 2-1 heartbreaker.  No matter, the good guys still won the series, but that lack of offense would be a harbinger of things to come.

Following that set, the Mariners hosted the Astros for 4 games, and things got off to a dynamic start with James Paxton flashing his ace stuff through six innings.  He out-pitched Dallas Keuchel of all people (who seemingly always owns the M’s), who went the distance but surrendered 2 runs in a game that finished 2-1.  Paxton gave up a leadoff homer to George Springer to kick off the game (because of course), but cruised the rest of the way, and the usual bullpen suspects kept the Astros off the board through the final three innings.  It was an impressive game any way you slice it, and you might forgive Mariners fans for being a little excited (or a little cocky) heading into the other three games of the series.

But … did you guys see who was starting those other three games?  The Astros had Lance McCullers Jr., Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton all lined up.  The Mariners?  Ariel Miranda, Mike Leake (who, yeah, okay, he’s been pretty good so far in his Mariners career), and Marco Gonzales.  I’m sorry, but it’s no contest.  The Mariners won the one game they did because their ace showed up and the bullpen didn’t blow it, but they were SO CLOSE to getting swept, and quite frankly I’m shocked they weren’t.

As I tweeted before the series, the Mariners just aren’t in the Astros’ league.  They’re not in the Astros’ universe for Christ’s sake!  I don’t even think they’re playing the same sport!  We play them 15 more times this year, and barring about a million Astros injuries (particularly to their pitching staff), I wouldn’t even expect the Mariners to play at a .250 pace.  Winning 25% of the games we play against the Astros would be a miracle, and if you offered it to me right now, I’d gladly take it and avoid the actual drubbing we’ll inevitably have to sit through.  The only saving grace for me was that these games were played on Monday through Thursday, either too late for me to stay up and watch, or during the hours I was at work, so I didn’t have to watch or listen to a minute of that nonsense.

The Mariners have since hit the road for 10 games, starting with a weekend series in Texas.  Friday’s game was super fun.  King Felix looked like his old self through the first two times around the order.  But, with one out in the sixth, the Rangers started to knock him around until he was knocked out of the game entirely.  Scrabble came in and shit the bed, so Felix ended up giving up 2 runs.  Down 2-1 at this point, things looked a little bleak, but the bats finally came alive.  Mitch Haniger hit a bomb in the 8th to tie it, and the rest of the team nearly batted around in the 9th, scoring 4 runs on a number of clutch hits.  The bullpen was lights out after Scrabble left the game in disgrace, and we won 6-2.

That was followed by last night’s barnburner.  James Paxton was pretty terrible throughout, leaving after 4 innings, giving up 5 runs, with the M’s losing 5-3.  It was 6-4 in the top of the 7th when the Mariners’ bats came alive once again, putting up a 5-spot, including a 2-run double by Segura, and homers by Cano and Haniger.  With Juan Nicasio unavailable, and with Scrabble once again faltering in his 1/3 inning of work, Edwin Diaz – having just pitched the night before in a non-save situation – had to come in for the 4-out save.  He got out of the 8th unscathed, but the 9th was a real adventure.  A walk and a single had runners on the corners before the first out of the inning (on a strikeout).  From there, Diaz really lost command of his stuff, as both fastball and slider were running off the plate to the right.  A groundout scored the runner from third, and back-to-back walks loaded the bases with 2 outs and 0 mound visits remaining.  Fortunately, Diaz was able to muster just enough (either command or blind stinking luck) to generate a harmless fly ball to left to close it out for his league-leading 8th save of the year.  9-7 final.

There’s a day game today before the Mariners go to Chicago to play the White Sox.  Then, it’s off to Cleveland to close out our season series with the Indians (in the first month of the season no less!).

Just to kind of put a bow on things, I’ll say this:  The Mariners are 11-8 and in third place in the A.L. West.  The Astros have reclaimed their rightful spot atop the division, with the Angels (falling just a little since their torrid start) a half game back.  Again, barring significant injury woes, this is where I’d expect these teams to finish the season.

The Mariners AREN’T terrible, so don’t get me wrong on that.  This team, with this amazing offense, should beat up on a lot of mediocre teams around the game of baseball.  They should also compete with some of the better teams, or the teams at their Wild Card-ish level.  But, against the truly ELITE teams?  The Astros?  The Red Sox?  Maybe the Angels?  I would expect the Mariners to continue to struggle.

Best (realistic) case scenario for the Mariners is that they get dominated by the Astros and Red Sox (and any other team that really distances themselves from the middle of the pack), while they play around .500 ball against the Angels.  Worst case scenario involves the Mariners getting bombarded by the Astros AND Angels, because that’s a combined 38 games in their schedule.  If they can play the Angels tough half the time, though, they should be in line to steal that second Wild Card spot (again, assuming the worst doesn’t happen again like last year).  But, they’ll have no shot if they’ve got two huge whales in their own division making them the Little Brother getting blasted with noogies all the live long day.

Paxton & Cruz Bust Through Mariners’ Losing Streak

On Kingdome/Safeco Field Snowglobe night, I braved the unforgiving Seattle streets to park down in Pioneer Square for some pre-gaming at The Lodge as I waited for gametime.  Yes indeed, I opted to go to the game with a couple friends, because SOMEONE had to do SOMETHING to stop this blasted losing!  By gar, you knew the players alone wouldn’t be able to get it done without my help!

I bless the rains down in Seattle …

It also came in handy that James Paxton was on the mound.  I don’t know if he was his old dominant self – I saw plenty of fastballs in the 93mph range, but he did start getting up there towards the end of his outing – but it looked like he had good command of his off-speed pitches to get lots of flailing swings and misses.  9 strikeouts overall in his 7 innings of work, giving up just 2 hits, 3 walks, and 2 runs.

For a while there, it looked like that might JUST be enough.  Nelson Cruz had a couple of RBI singles in the first and third innings, and Seager had a sac fly also in the third, to take an early 3-2 lead that held up through those seven innings, as Oakland’s starter Sean Manaea also settled down to go 7 innings.  After Nick Vincent bridged the game in the eighth with a perfect inning of work, it looked like we were headed towards a nailbiter of a finish.

But, in the bottom of the eighth, all hell broke loose.  Valencia (who had 3 more hits today as he’s snuggling into the 2-hole in the lineup) doubled to lead off the inning, followed by a Cano walk (he also had a hit and 2 runs scored), setting the table for the hero of the day.  Nelson Cruz capped off his 3-hit, 5-RBI day with a 3-run blast – the 300th of his career – as the crowd went wild and cheered on his curtain call.  THAT is the Nellie I hope to see more of in the second half.

A Haniger double and a wild pitch set up Seager to get his second sac fly of the night to put the game out of Grand Slam Harm’s Way at 7-2.  From there, it was a matter of getting some of our better relievers some work.  Scrabble came in, threw one pitch, and gave up a single.  As Diaz warmed up in the bullpen, Steve Cishek came in and locked it all down with a double play and a lineout.

In Pre-All Star Break Transaction News:  Sam Gaviglio was sent to Tacoma, since he won’t be needed in the rotation with the break coming up.  Emilio Pagan was brought back for a little bullpen help (what with Gallardo’s heavy workload of late).  We’ll see what happens after next week; will Gaviglio return?  Will Gallardo get his old job back?  Ooo, the intrigue!

The long national nightmare is over; the Mariners won a home game.  There are two more very winnable games this weekend before the break, so let’s make sure we get this shit done, huh?  Don’t make me come back over there!

Mariners Pound Marlins To Take The Series, Look Ahead To A’s

I was at work for most of this game, and for reasons too boring to go into, I was unable to listen to the online radio stream of the game, so I had to do the next-best thing:  follow along on Twitter.

Boy that first inning sure sounded like a mindfuck, huh?  After a very fine start last Friday to kick off this good run of baseball the Mariners have been on, it looked like King Felix just didn’t have it.  Four straight singles to lead off the game, then a sac fly-turned-double play on the arm of Jarrod Dyson, then another single and a hit by pitch before he was able to get out of it only down 2-0.

If ever there appeared to be a day where the offense would have to pick up its Ace, this was it.  And pick him up they did!

The top of the lineup absolutely did its job, as Dyson through Seager went a combined 10 for 18 with 8 RBI, 7 runs scored, on 7 walks, 3 doubles, and only 3 strikeouts.  They also went a combined 5 for 9 with runners in scoring position.  Just an awesome, awesome day from the guys you expect to regularly have awesome, awesome days.  That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve recognition for a job well done!

Felix was able to settle down somewhat, but it looked like a battle all day.  He got into the seventh inning, going 6.1, with 12 hits, 1 walk, 4 runs, and 5 strikeouts.  Zych was able to get out of a little mini-jam in the seventh, by inducing a double play.  Vincent continued on his comeback trail by going a scoreless eighth.  And then something wonderful and annoying happened.

Evan Marshall came in to close out a 6-run lead in the ninth inning, and leading off – perhaps for the final time ever in Safeco Field – was Ichiro Suzuki.  I had made it home by this point, and had the television on for just an amazing sight:  Ichiro, drilling a homer into the right field stands to the astonishment and glee of Mariners fans (almost) everywhere.  I’ll admit, I let out a loud, “YEAH!” when I saw where that ball was about to land.

There aren’t many opposing players I’d openly cheer for over the Seattle Mariners, but Ichiro is definitely one of them.  Now, if the game were tied in this situation, I’d probably be a lot less thrilled, but as it was, Ichiro merely reduced the lead to 5 runs.  NBD, right?

Marshall walked the next guy, which is simply unforgivable in that situation, but he got the next two hitters to fly out.  It almost looked like he’d save face, but he gave up a single to the next guy and that was that.  Scrabble came in and one pitch later the game was over.

I know I called out the top half of the lineup for their good work, but individual kudos need to go to Seager for his 2-hit, 2-walk, 4-RBI day; as well as Haniger, for his 3-hit, 1-walk, 3-run, 4-RBI day.  Haniger now leads the team in average, homers, doubles, RBI, runs scored, OBP, and is second to Motter in slugging.  His RBI and runs scored numbers are 4th in all of baseball, and he’s up there in a bunch of other categories too.  That ROY award is practically all sealed up less than a month into the season!

***

Looking ahead, here are the pitching matchups for the A’s series:

  • Thurs:  Cesar Valdez vs. James Paxton
  • Fri:  Sean Manaea vs. Hisashi Iwakuma
  • Sat:  Jharel Cotton vs. Ariel Miranda
  • Sun:  Andrew Triggs vs. Yovani Gallardo

To say that I’ve never heard of any of these A’s pitchers would be an understatement!  Valdez looks like a journeyman minor leaguer who hasn’t appeared in a Major League uniform since 2010 with the Diamondbacks.  I’d say that game is safely the biggest mismatch of the weekend, with Paxton going for the Mariners.  The rest of those guys all had their Major League debuts in 2016, with Manaea being the youngest and the one with the most starting experience in the Bigs.  No doubt these guys must have some talent, but they’re definitely not bona fide regulars.

In three starts so far, Manaea has one okay start and two pretty bad ones.  Cotton pitched a gem against the Royals (7 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits, 3 walks, 6 K’s), but sandwiched around that one were two very crappy starts.  Triggs has looked the most impressive in the early going, giving up 0 earned runs (3 unearned) across 17.2 innings (3 starts), including just out-duelling Yu Darvish in his last outing.

The A’s bullpen has a 4.08 ERA, with 3 saves in 5 opportunities.  Doesn’t look like anything special, but we’ll see when we get out there.

As far as the bats go, Khris Davis has come to play this year, with 6 homers and leading the team in most offensive categories.  As for the rest of the regulars:  nothing too special.

On paper, this is a series the Mariners should win at the very least, and is probably a series they should sweep.  But, this is the Mariners, and those are the A’s, and it’s a divisional matchup and it’s on the road and I’m just sayin’ … don’t be shocked if things don’t exactly go our way.  I won’t be anyway.  I’ll be pretty pissed, but I won’t be shocked.