55-63: Mariners top Rays 5-4 as they embark on brutal road trip

J. Meric

The Mariners "took care of business" in an impressive win against a skidding Rays team.

The Tampa Bay Rays stadium situation has reached the point where even the mayor of St. Petersburg has said, essentially, "Yeah, sure, you should probably look to play elsewhere—as long as it's in the Tampa area." I hadn't heard this, and though it wasn't surprising, the part where they're contractually obligated to play at Tropicana Field until 2027 blew my mind.

Tropicana Field first opened in 1990, and there isn't a single feature that's the least bit redeeming, and I can't imagine how there ever was one. I mean, really, you wanted to play there in almost its 40th year of existence? The entire place is awful, and though you can run down the list of specific reasons for why it's such bummer, the biggest is simple: it sucks the life out of games played inside of it. For a team fighting to chase down a playoff spot, there were 13,294 in attendance.

If the the stadium gives the impression that no one gives a damn about the Tampa Bay Rays, why should we care about beating them?

Though I didn't come into this game expecting a win, and it isn't unimpressive in the way that beating the Astros or Twins might be, it still felt relatively unexciting. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm the only one to whom this felt like a no-frills win, but even as someone who felt like this was a bit of a "ho hum" victory, the feeling has its positives.

Taking on one of the better (best? meh.) teams in the American League, the Mariners went out and "took care of business," as the narrative goes.

Their best performer, by WPA, was Dustin Ackley. And though he had three hits, only one of them drove in a run, and he didn't score on either of his other two knocks. Their starting pitcher, Erasmo Ramirez, had flashes of the stuff that have some fans slotting him into the #3 spot in the rotation next year, but the entire package, looking back, was mediocre at best. Their biggest hit (again, by WPA), was a BABIP special right through a shift. And while the Miller home runs were great, the first one happened before we could even get settled in (or leave work) and the second was just "Oh. Huh. He hit two again. Awesome."

And through all of that, the Mariners picked up a win over a contending team, beating the reigning AL Pitcher of the Month and had their bullpen hold a one-run lead for three and two-thirds innings. Not bad.

Bullets, yo.

  • That start was quintessential 2013 Erasmo Ramirez. And when it started, it looked like quinessential 2013 Aaron Harang—after a ball and a strike to leadoff-hitting Ben Zobrist, the Rays hit his next three pitches hard, including, of course, that Zobrist leadoff home run. Wil Myers would eventually give the Rays the lead on an RBI groundout, but Ramirez would then strike out Yuniel Escobar and Luke Scott, both swinging. 

    Ramirez's most impressive inning, subjectively, was the third. After getting an impressive play by Seager on a soft Matt Joyce grounder, Ramirez would strike out Evan Longoria and Myers. Longoria went down on a 95mph fastball across the letters and Myers stared at a 96mph fastball right down the middle after seeing two good sliders low and away earlier in the at-bat. In the fourth, it was more of the same as Ramirez struck out two while throwing 14 of 16 pitches for strikes, with his fastball topping out at 96.7mph—though he did allow a ground-ball single up the middle.

    But the fifth, woo boy, the fifth. It was back to the beginning for Ramirez as Kelly Johnson lined the first pitch he saw, a hanging curveball, into right field for a single. On Ramirez's next pitch, a 92mph fastball up, Zobrist hit his second homer of the game. It was damn near back-back-shots as Matt Joyce hit a deep fly to center next. Ramirez would retire Longoria on a grounder before exiting. 

    The stuff is there, and with that the potential, but being good isn't about having the ability to be good—it's demonstrating that ability the vast majority of the time. So far, Ramirez has yet to accomplish that.

  • Through one inning, I was certain I would have to write about Brad Miller in the way that I wrote about Ramirez—that with the good comes some near-unacceptable level of bad. In the top of the first, he of course had that line drive home run he crushed out to right center-field. But then, in the bottom half, he had a brief bobble on a ball that may have produced a double play and prevented a runner from getting to third with less than two outs. The next hitter singled, so it didn't really matter, but while the bad throws and basic gaffes are easy to see—small things like this can be just as impactful. 

    But then Miller hit his second home run and I started making something I'd been meaning to for a while:
    Millerwilliams
    The two swings aren't quite as similar as I initially believed, and before going on I want to say this was just done for fun, not to imply anything of importance. But it's interesting nonetheless, and it's the biggest thing that makes him seem, to me, like an old school ballplayer—more than stirrups and the hustle. But on the swing, you see some similarities: the very quick first step, the high hands and the slight uppercut swing. Miller dips a bit more, and no one's wrists are anywhere near as quick as Williams's, but it in this comparison Williams is pulling a ball off a tee and Miller's staying back on a breaking ball he hit for a triple to center

    Again, Miller's not Ted Williams, but I don't believe we should settle for him as a league-average hitter. He has some work to do against lefties, but that swing is simple and great—and the kid obviously has some pop. For fun, here's Brad hitting one halfway up the light tower in Tacoma.

  • We've reached a fun point with Justin Smoak, or at least I can say I have: I've turned the corner from hoping for and then being pleasantly surprised by Smoak coming through in key spots to having confidence that he will and then having him reward that confidence. It's happened at least three times just in the past week, with today's seeing-eye two-run single (that'll happen when you don't go down flailing in key spots), his insurance-run dinger against Milwaukee and his two-run double to bring the Mariners all the way back against Toronto. I mean, were you even surprised when he hit that two-run homer to cut into Milwaukee's lead?

    Sure, the WAR isn't where you'd like due to positional weight and baserunning, but over the past calendar year Smoak's wRC+ ranks 19th in all of baseball. He's tied with Matt Carpenter and Evan Longoria, and just ahead of Prince Fielder, Allen Craig, Carlos Gonzalez, Freddie Freeman and...Kyle Seager.

  • Dustin Ackley picked up three hits tonight on a ground ball off the mound and up the middle, a triple into deep center field and a ground ball single into left. The triple, naturally, was the most impressive—I saw it aptly called "one of his superball liners" on Twitter. Myers seemed to initially take a step in before retreating, and chasing, and chasing some more before it eventually one-hopped the struck the base of the wall in dead center, scoring Smoak. 

    It needs some double-checking, and I'd check it myself if Baseball Reference's game logs/custom splits updated quicker, but per M's PR whiz Jeff Evans, Ackley is up to
    .275/.318/.373/.691 OPS since his promotion and.328/.355/.448/.803 since the all-star break. Not too bad. 

    But as I mentioned in the Chart thread, I'm more wary of Ackley's improvements than anyone else's, because the problem seems to all be in his head. He has the talent, and though you could validly say "maybe it's just the outside pitch," Ackley's said previously confidence is a major issue. And if it all comes down to confidence, does any progress immediately go away as soon as he loses faith in himself?

  • Following the all-star break, in a story on how much Ibanez had worked out when most players were vacationing, Raul said  "Inactivity is the enemy of middle-aged players." He managed a single today, but man, he looks like toast—and has since that break. Lifting, swimming and hitting may not have been enough.

  • Holy hell, how nice is it to have a closer again? As Thompson said after the game, confirming what everyone already assumed, Farquhar has earned his spot as the go-to guy in the ninth. Tonight, he struck out the first two guys he faced before Longoria flew out to center in a bit of a "holy shit don't ruin this story" moment. Farquhar battled against Zobrist before getting a called 95 mph cutter on the inner half. Against Joyce, he spun a 3-2 curveball up there that Joyce would watch in amazement with the rest of us. Again, so nice to have a closer again.

  • Also, hey, nice job bullpen—3.2 innings of shutout ball. They'd allow a couple walks—one from Oliver Perez and two from Medina—but they also allowed just a single hit and struck out five. Hell yes.

Because of JAH's inspiration in the game thread, I have some Thai food to enjoy. Tomorrow, it's Aaron Harang against David Price. Have a good night, everyone.

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