Matt was initially going to do this writeup. However, he's currently hanging out in the eastern time zone and after that 3+ hour rain delay I volunteered to take over tonight's recap so as not to force him to start writing about a baseball game at ~2:30 am. I like Matt and I didn't want him to suffer from crazy amounts of sleep deprivation. However, after watching the first five innings of this game, I was working very hard to suppress my inner Dante. I love the Mariners and watching them fight for a playoff spot this year has been uniquely exciting... but it's still not terribly fun to write about disappointing baseball. During the first half of this game, I was a bit worried that this might be the case tonight. Thankfully, it is not.
Chris Young's last start was was absolutely atrocious. Fortunately, he was able to bounce back tonight (somewhat) and grind through five relatively productive innings. He did allow a pair of unearned runs to score in the fourth, after Brad Miller gave the Rangers an extra out by ~bobbling a sharply hit ground ball, but that was the only damage Texas would do all night. I wouldn't say that Young was wild tonight, but his pitches didn't look particularly sharp. He routinely missed his spots too high by two or three inches and he failed to record a single 1-2-3 inning. As a result, his pitch count escalated quickly and he was pulled after the fifth inning. Nevertheless, he was able to repeatedly work out of trouble and keep the M's in the game.
Starting for the Rangers tonight was rookie Nick Martinez. He has had a rough first season. Although he has five or six pitches in his repertoire, none of them are rated favorably (his four-seamer is his best pitch, rated at -0.26 runs per 100 pitches) and he ranks last in xFIP among the 132 starting pitchers with more than 100 innings pitched. And yet, for the first five innings of tonight's game, he successfully held the Mariners offense in check. During that period, the Mariners only really threatened once (in the second inning), but Zunino squandered the opportunity by grounding into an inning ending double play with men on the corners. Thankfully, Kyle Seager is a beacon of grace and talent and we were not forced to lament any of tonight's wasted opportunities.
Tonight, especially in the later innings, the middle of Seattle's lineup looked/performed like a real MLB-caliber lineup. Their #3-6 hitters went 7 for 17 and knocked in all four runs. Seager and Robinson Cano have been stalwart contributors all season long, but it isn't too often that everyone in the middle of the lineup has a big hit in the same game. This is how this lineup is supposed to perform, and it's really fun to watch when all of the pieces come together.
Finally, the M's bullpen was able to continue its season-long dominance, allowing zero runs and just four baserunners over the final four innings. Lloyd has received ample praise this year regarding his management of the bullpen and I think that this has been mostly warranted. Now that there are more arms in the 'pen, it'll be interesting to see how often Lloyd tinkers around by throwing a new guy into the fire versus how often he sticks with the guys who have performed well all season.
- Tonight, in the first inning, Leonys Martin stole second base. He did so again in the third inning. Somewhat surprisingly, in his 27 starts this season, this is only the third time Chris Young gave up more than one stolen base in a game. Prior to this season, Young had allowed 162 stolen bases (against only 17 caught stealing!) in 1235 stolen base opportunities. In other words, 13% of the players who'd had the opportunity to steal against Chris Young did so successfully. However, this season, Young has allowed only 12 stolen bases (against three caught stealing) in ~206 opportunities; fewer than 6% of would-be base-stealers have capitalized on their chance to sneak an extra base. This is a dramatic decrease. Mike Zunino has undoubtedly influenced these numbers, but it seems like Young is making an extra effort to hold the ball before his delivery when runners are on base.
- In the top of the sixth, Logan Morrison popped out to the shortstop to end the inning. This, in itself, is not particularly noteworthy. However, before recording the out, Morrison forced Martinez to throw him 11 pitches in the at bat.
This brought Martinez's total pitch count up to 93; he did not return to the game to pitch the seventh and the Rangers were forced to rely on their bullpen for three full innings. The Mariners took advantage of this and scored two runs in the eighth to take the lead. At bats with high pitch counts oftentimes have a meaningful impact on games. Watching these prolonged battles is definitely one of my favorite parts about baseball. I really appreciate pointing them out when I have the opportunity.
- Brad Miller had FOUR hits tonight. He's never done that before! During a particularly rough stretch in May (the 3rd through the 27th) he had only four hits in 65 plate appearances. Over his last 16 games (10 starts and 42 PA), he's rocking a .353/.415/.735 slash line. Obviously this is a small sample size and obviously he won't keep this up for the rest of the season, but it sure would be nice if Miller hit like a semi-decent ballplayer over the next few weeks.
- Dustin Ackley left tonight's game in the seventh inning with an apparent left ankle injury. He likely hurt himself doing this. It doesn't look like he'll be back tomorrow. Hopefully Ackley (and his beard) feel better soon.
The M's currently hold a 1.5 game lead in the second wild card race. They're also only two games behind in the race for the first wild card spot. There are 21 games left in the regular season. Lets do this!