Tonight was familiar. I can’t tell you how many games I’ve watched at Safeco that were just like this one. I know it isn’t quite this many, but it might as well be hundreds.
A quiet and comfortable crowd gathered on a nice, but not amazing, Seattle evening, and took in a baseball game played between two not-great teams. There was an average starter on the mound, and he was made to look anything but.
The other team, yeah, they had some very big hits from some expected contributors—but they had just as many that shouldn’t have happened, or at least easily couldn’t have have. And with one team sporting a historically bad offense, the game was over mere moments after it began.
Tonight, finally, the Mariners were on the other end.
We’ve experienced our fair share of bad offense, over the past couple years and the past couple days. We know what this looks like. And what it looks like isn’t always complete domination. The first inning is a lot what it looks like.
It isn’t as if the Padres were completely blanked, and didn’t have at least something of an opportunity. In that first inning, it looked as though the Mariners might fall into an early deficit when San Diego put runners on first and second with one out, thanks to singles from Seth Smith and Carlos Quentin.
From there, it really doesn’t take much to score. A looping liner over short gets one, a hard grounder past first gets two. The Padres didn’t get anything, and it wasn’t even close. Chase Headley, who has a career wRC+ of 114, struck out on a middle-middle changeup. Yonder Alonso popped out in foul territory.
Though they'd put a leadoff man on three more times before Chris Young exited in the sixth, the meatball-throwing seven-footer wouldn't allow another runner in scoring position. He struck out six, and only walked one. Which, yeah, yeesh Padres. That's horrible.
You know what wasn't horrible? The Mariners making this game comfortable the whole way through. Like I mentioned, there were some hits that an opponent might wince at—like getting Robinson Cano to pop up, and have it drop in for a RBI double, or Brad Miller ripping a home run. To us, we know there's more to the latter—but to opposing fans, that's a guy who came in hitting a robust .176 smacking a dinger. Even if it isn't, that looks cheap.
But hell, you know what isn't? Your best hitter letting it fly 3-0 and hammering a game-defining three-run bomb into the right-field seats. Yes, Kyle Seager is still the Mariners' best hitter, by wRC+ at least. It's close, but that 127 puts him just ahead of Robinson Cano's 124. And, as it's fun to do it, a quick look at Kyle Seager offensively among his peers: he's fourth in wRC+, one point behind Adrian Beltre and three back Josh Donaldson. Todd Frazier is out in front at 138.
Now, I don't mean to say that the rest of it—everything that wasn't Seager—was cheap, because it wasn't. It's just that, sometimes, it isn't that hard to score five. You don't need some great lineup to do it. You do to do it consistently, but, with injury-caused holes throughout theirs, the Mariners managed a comfortable victory tonight.
Now, I don't mean to imply the Mariners are adept offensively, or anything near it, as they did rank third-to-last in all of baseball in wRC+ coming into tonight. But after a week of ragging on this offense—which is bad, no way around it—some perspective: the difference between the Mariners (28th) and Padres (30th) is the same as the difference offensively between the M's and the Cardinals (18th).
The Padres are a team the Mariners need to be able to beat. And they went out and did it tonight.
Let's do some bullets.
- Ever since I discovered the Hit It Here Cafe sells $5 tallboys (it's open to all, they do it all game), I've spent a lot watching games while walking along the concourse. In doing so, I've started to take notice of which players I'll stop and watch for, and which ones I'll catch between the stands while I continue back to my seats. The Mariners have more stop-and-watch players than they used to, and James Jones is one of them.
The average fan will fall in love with that batting average, especially in comparison to the rest of the Mariners. In that regard, he's the best non-Cano and Seager. And really, how can you have the heart to explain that the average masks a few other things—like the lack of power and, for the most part, walks—when it's still all so entertaining to watch? If he gets anything, it's going to be a single. But when those singles are nearly built-in doubles with his ability to swipe a bag, how can you hate? He had three stolen bags tonight, matching Ichiro's rookie record—one I suspect Jones might make all his own. Despite going 1-for-5, he scored twice. Most nights he's beating out double plays, and tonight he broke one up.
There may be a few rough edges, sure, but James Jones is one useful player.
- So, Logan Morrison. What do we have here? I think I like what I see, and I don't believe I'm alone here. He seems to make good contact, works a count pretty well and has always had a bit of pop. And of course, it doesn't take a whole lot to be a significant upgrade over Smoak. But still, I was surprised to see tonight was the first time he's gotten a hit since notching a double and a home run in his second game back. He's also struck out six times and walked just twice since returning from Tacoma.
It's too early to know for sure either way, but it's hard not to wonder if there's really something there, or it's all just wishful thinking on our part. Either way, I'm more than willing to give it some time and find out.
- It's gotten to the point where it isn't crazy to hope for a Brad Miller extra base hit. Entering tonight, his wRC+ for June was up at 86, and while I don't have a clue on how to calculate wRC+, I'd guess it's now up near his 2013 average for the month. Not long ago, it was well above it. There are still some issues, like a strikeout rate near 30 percent this month, but he's getting there. If you're a shortstop with a 100 wRC+ and not-disastrous defense, you're a valuable player—and Brad Miller is very nearly back there.
- I wish I had a really good Tony Gwynn story, some great fond memory from my childhood, but I don't. The thing I have is managing to, with my dad, scalp my way into the 2001 All Star Game for face value. At one point, we sat in some unoccupied seats in the center field bleachers, and chanted "Tony! Tony! Tony!" with a few others hoping the Padres legend would play in what was his last summer classic. He didn't. Wikipedia calls him a "non-playing squad member."
This past off-season, Mariners PR pro Jeff Evans invited Scott and me to the annual media luncheon. It was the first time I'd been to anything like it, and the first question I ever asked someone as a journalist covering professional sports, if you can call this that, was to Chris Gwynn, the Mariners' farm director and Tony's brother. I asked about Abraham Almonte, and if the Mariners had anything to do with him getting better since coming over from the Yankees. Chris chuckled, and said "Well we hope so" before giving a good answer about how Abe was more than just a good player (then), but also a good person. As I listen to it now, it's something to hear Chris recognize—look for?—that in someone else, as many have said the same about his brother. Thoughts and prayers with Chris, and the rest of the Gwynn family.
Also, while this is a terrible tragedy, as the world loses a baseball legend and even better person, it's worth noting what killed Tony Gwynn. Watch out for yourselves, everyone.