It's late August and the Mariners and Astros are two of the best teams in baseball. Houston is 88-44. They are a juggernaut of 2001 Mariners-esque proportions. Their road to the playoffs is and long has been laid clear, flat and stretched out before them. The Astros are an amazing team and, while they've been slow to catch on the city of Houston did its best tonight, leaving only ~5,000 of the 40,000 seats in Minute Maid Park unoccupied. The setting was ideal for close, tense baseball.
The Mariners are stuck in a dogfight for a wild car spot. At 73-59 to start the day the M's were 2 games behind both Boston and the A's (seriously how ridiculous is the AL West this year?). Bud Selig sold the sticky residue that was left from where his soul used to be to give each league a second wild card and STILL the Mariners are struggling to make head way. That made tonight and this weekend series against Houston so desperately intense. Not only are the Astros a model by which the Mariners can measure their own quality, but the chances to gain wins were dwindling more and more. After tonight only 29 precious games remain.
A 3-0 lead was built early off of home runs by Nick Franklin and Franklin Gutierrez. Erasmo Ramirez got through 5 2/3 before handing it off to the bullpen and the delicious drama of late inning, competitive baseball began. There's nothing quite like the tension that comes from close, late-inning games. When Danny Farquhar walked the 1st batter of the 9th my heart could have powered my house it was beating so quickly. But a strike out was followed by a double play and low and behold the Mariners had their 74th win on the season.
It's one thing to follow a good baseball team. It's another to follow a good baseball team playing another good team. It's still another when those two teams are division rivals jockeying for position heading into the season's final month. Football started tonight, you guys. The playoffs are so close I can taste it. September is going to be wild.
It was Nick Franklin, who's been so bad recently, that got things started. During Franklin's 1st at bat Mike Blowers was mentioning the "adjustment" that Nick needs to make. Blowers' theory isn't uncommon: When a rookie, especially one as unintimidating as Franklin is physically, makes his debut pitchers are going to make him hit the fastball. Franklin obviously did that and the league adjusted, throwing him more breaking pitches, which is what has led to Franklin's struggles offensively.
It passes a rudimentary logic test, hopefully I'll have time to see if it's based in fact for a future post. In the meantime Franklin's 1st inning at-bat went to 3-2 when a low and away fastball was sent to the opposite field and into the Crawford Boxes. It's a commentary on the shitastic state of AL rookies and of Franklin's ability to generate back spin that Franklin leads all AL newcomers with 12 home runs. We're left now wondering if there is more of Kyler Seager or Dustin Ackley in Nick Franklin. Given his ability to grow facial hair, I'm leaning Ackley. But I'm hoping I'm wrong.
- Franklin Gutierrez, 2011-12: 511 PA, 5 HR. 2013: 76 PA, 7 HR. Without detailed knowledge of both medicine and Guti's specific maladies I don't know what else can be written about the situation anymore. A healthy Gutierrez adds a 3-5 win player at a position of desperate need for the 2014 Mariners. But he's never healthy, unless, MAYBE next year....
- Erasmo Ramirez had a very Erasmo Ramirez day. He struck guys out, showed generally good command and floated up just enough mistakes to give up more damage than it seems like he should have. He's also struggling with his pitch count. In 9 starts Ramirez has made it through 6 innings only once and it's not about pitch count. The team has allowed him to throw 100+ pitches in 6 of those starts.
It's part of the normal development for a pitcher to learn how to be more efficient and avoid mistakes. But that always assumes development. Sometimes, they just don't get better.