Every super hero needs a kryptonite. Every story needs a villan. Every set of twins needs someone to be the evil one. Well, I'm not 100% sure about that last one, but I guess the Mariners need the Astros, or something. They need them to be the most obnoxiously unbeatable team despite all reason and logic pointing to the opposite.
On one hand, it's kind of nice in the long run. The Mariners have been without a true rival for the entirety of their franchise, what with being locked away in the upper left hand corner of the country miles away from any other American League team. It can't really be the Athletics, because they were bad for a long time, and then good in 2003 and then kind of bad again, and now they are in the playoffs. Even if the Mariners wanted to pretend the A's were their rivals, the A's would just laugh at them while Sonny Gray watches tape on whatever team he will be facing in October. Same with the Rangers.
Franchise history suggests maybe the Yankees, for both the magic of 1995 and the sorrow of 2001. Maybe the Ichiro thing too, or just the New York Press always fawning over Felix and joking that the Mariners are a farm team for New York. But that's another one sided thing, as the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry is older than all of us even watching baseball in the first place. Major League Baseball has tried to invent a couple rivalries in order to drum up a narrative around interleague play, and for a select few, the Rockies seem to pop up as potential arch-villans, and the battles with the Padres in spring training even has a name referencing an old grunge musician who doesn't even root for either team.
But now, we have the Astros. The Mariners can't beat the Astros. Well, they can, and they've done it before, even as recently as Friday. But on Friday the Mariners started one of the best pitchers in baseball and snuck out a win. Today, they started another one of the best pitchers in baseball, and they looked utterly inept on the offensive end while the Astros came out looking like a competent and dangerous baseball team. It wouldn't even be as annoying if the Astros were good on paper. It's that we all know the Astros are terrible and then they come in and clean house.
Today, the Mariners were facing Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel, who is quietly really damn good at looking like a good pitcher. He's a good pitcher, too, but the Mariners certainly did their part to help him look like a good pitcher, racking up a whopping four hits on the day. One was on a throwing error, too, and it should have ended the inning.
Most of those hits came in the bottom of the second, which was the only time the Mariners did anything in the entire game. After falling to two outs, Mike Zunino tapped the M's first hit of the game into shallow left field on a line drive, and was then sent to second on the bat of Michael Saunders. Colle Gillespie walked up and worked a full count before dribbling the ball right to Keuchel to ostensibly end the inning. It dropped down like a bunt, and both Keuchel and catcher Carlos Corporan ran for the ball at the same time. Look where they end up:
Corporan wasn't right in the line of Keuchel's throw to first, but he certainly was a bit of an obstacle, and Keuchel's throw landed right at Gillespie's feet, here:
Zunino scored on the error, and Brad Miller grounded out to end the inning a few moments later. It was the only time the Mariners threatened, or even hit the damn ball for the rest of the game, aside from one lonely Kyle Seager single in the seventh inning. I'm not trying to break this down to take it away from the M's or anything. Hitting wins ball games, and making errors does the opposite. It happens all the time, and if the Mariners didn't let the Astros score they would have won the baseball game, despite earning a run on an error alone. But still: they didn't really earn it, and at the end of the day, it's possible Keuchel could have pitched a complete game three-hit shutout against the Mariners with six strikeouts. Instead, he pitched a complete game four-hit game with one unearned run and six strikeouts. It's the small things, right?
But yes, the Astros scored four runs of their own today. Iwakuma left things hanging just a little high throughout the game, and managed to give up a home runs to George Springer and Marc Krauss late in the game. All things considered, Hisashi Iwakuma really didn't pitch outside his profile today, as he's always had a tiny bit of a home run thing going on despite otherwise good peripherals. Before today's game, Iwakuma was riding a .207 BABIP, which was bound to regress a little bit through the rest of the season. His nine hits will help that a bit, but the fact that he did this with six strikeouts and two unlucky home runs should be comforting--this was far from a meltdown or anything.
No. The Mariners offense just needs to stop being the Mariners offense of yore. I have the feeling the deck chairs will be shuffled around in a few days, but I'm not entirely sure how much it's going to help with this trend of attacking early and letting pitchers ride crazy low pitch counts into the sixth and seventh innings seemingly every week. Lloyd likes his aggressiveness, and if the offense wants to be potent, they need to hit. But there's a pretty big difference between being aggressive and being jumpy. This is far from the Mariners' only offensive problem, and it's certainly not their biggest. But it doesn't really help any, either.
The next couple of weeks are going to be really important for the Mariners if they want to carry any sort of momentum into the late days of summer. I couldn't help but feel pretty down in the eighth inning, however, when the already thinned crowd at Safeco was serenading Yoervis Medina with a circular cascading round of the wave, echoing off empty seats and building up under the closed Safeco roof like that thin layer of marine air that apparently so threatens the flight of baseballs in April. I couldn't help but wonder if that collective "WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHH" was threatening anything else, either, as a pitcher that often has difficultly seeing the edges of the plate was pitching in potential garbage time that could have built a little confidence for a later, high stakes appearance. Nope.
So there you have it, folks. The Mariners may have a new rival, and it may be the hapless Houston Astros. They aren't exactly emotional rivals with some sort of Celtic/Laker history, nor are they competitive rivals like the Giants and the Dodgers, and they most positively aren't the rivals any of us think want and or hope to have. But with every series looking more and more like this one they just played, it seems the Mariners have decided to just go out and claim a rival on their own, and it looks like it's Houston. Thanks, guys. Thanks a lot.
The good news is that Mike Trout comes to town tomorrow, and he's second in all of baseball in strikeouts. He's also already been worth three wins. That's unfortunately the first optimistic thing that came to mind when I tried to end this on a happy note.