Coming into this season, most of us had very high expectations for our beloved M's. We believed that they were a good team full of good men that would play good baseball. When the month of April came to an end, with the Mariners sitting at a mediocre 10-12, most of us still believed.
It's early! There are so many games left!
May came and went, with the Mariners continuing to tread water. They went 14-14 that month, but were still just 6.5 games back of Houston. Most of us soldiered on; it'd be silly to lose faith when the season wasn't even one-third of the way over.
They just need one hot streak and they'll be right back in the thick of things.
And then June came... and then the beginning of July... and all of a sudden we were at the All-Star break. The M's were 41-48, but still somehow "only" 7.5 games back in the AL West. At this point a lot of Seattle's supporters had grown grumpy with the team and jumped ship, writing them off as a bunch of bums and even "refusing" to talk about them in some cases. But there was still a not small contingent of optimistic fans. They would whisper to each other about how if the M's could just come out of the break strong... maybe win a few series to build up some momentum... they still had a shot. Right? After all, the double Wild Card format really opens things up. And the M's schedule looked fairly squishy in the second half. And there weren't really any teams in the AL that had separated themselves from the pack. So maybe...?
This maybe was not to be.
Today was MLB's trade deadline. After shipping Ackley away yesterday, this afternoon saw the Mariners flip Mark Lowe and J.A. Happ for four minor league pitchers of various ages/skill levels. It is 2015 and the Seattle Mariners were sellers at the trade deadline. This is a sad thing. Of course, baseball is crazy and I suppose that anything could happen... but the Mariners are not a good baseball team this year. They have not been playing well, and at this point you'd have to be more delusional than A.J. Preller to think that this team has a shot. Admitting this sucks. But it's not all bad.
Letting go of one's hopes for this season has the magical ability to enable a person to relax a little bit and simply look for things to enjoy in each game. Or inning. Or at bat. With no more expectations, the implications associated with each individual act (a powerful punch-out or a towering home run) are severely diminished. Instead, we can simply enjoy each act for itself. (This is probably what we should do anyway, regardless of our expectations, but that can be difficult.)
Fortunately for us, there were many things to enjoy about tonight's game.
First of all, holy shit did you guys see what Taijuan did tonight??? He was amazing. Tai spun his first complete game in the majors, dazzling with all four of his pitches, as he tied a career-high 11 strikeouts while allowing just one base hit (a solo shot) and one walk. Minnesota certainly isn't the biggest offensive juggernaut, but they've been swinging the bat pretty well lately (wRC+ of 106 in July). Tai needed just 101 pitches to work his way through nine innings of brilliant baseball.
Here are a few Tai-related bullet points.
- According to Brooks Baseball, Tai's average fastball tonight was the fastest that it's been in any start of his career. The average fireball that Walker launched at Twins batters tonight was 96.9 mph! (His previous high was 96.5 mph, which came back in April against Houston).
- Of his 101 pitches, Tai threw just 24 balls... and seven of those came to the first three batters he faced. After the first inning, 80.2% of his deliveries were strikes and he didn't have a single three-ball count. Tai was ahead of batters all night, consistently peppering the strike zone, but the Twins struggled to do much of anything with his offerings.
- For the second game in a row, Tai relied heavily on his curveball. He threw the pitch 21 times tonight (20.8% of the time), generating five beautiful, sweet sounding whiffs. In his last outing against Toronto, Tai threw his curve 23 times (24.4%). However, in his 19 starts before that this season, he'd only used his curve 4.7% of the time. This change in approach has the potential to enable Tai to worker deeper into games and be more effective the second and third time through a lineup, especially if he can consistently throw his curve for strikes.
- The home run that Miguel Sano hit off of Walker in the fourth inning was the TWENTIETH dinger that he's given up all season. That is a large number for someone who has only pitched ~120 innings. (Tai currently ranks T-11th in total home runs allowed and T-9th in HR/9.)
Offensively, Seattle also did a pretty good job tonight. The Mariners found themselves up 3-0 early thanks to a couple of sacrifice fly RBIs from Brad Miller and an RBI double, hit on a ground ball just inside the third base line, off the bat of Jesus Montero. Montero would follow up his two-bagger with a DINGER to center field in the sixth inning to put the M's up 4-1. It was his first major league home run in 409 days. Welcome back, Jesus.
Mike Zunino hit a single in the sixth inning to extend his hitting streak to 10 games (dude has a wRC+ of 177 of that period) and Cruz also checked in with a home run in the ninth inning (his 27th of the season) because why not? In total, the Mariners had 13 hits and everyone contributed offensively. The only negative from this game was the fact that the Mariners continue to be SO TERRIBLE at hitting with runners in scoring position. They went 2 for 11 tonight and are an MLB-worst .213 on the season. There are lots of reasons why the M's have fallen on their faces this year, but their inability to hit the god damn ball with RISP might be their biggest shortcoming.
Finally, it should be mentioned that Ketel Marte made his MLB debut in tonight's ball game. Marte batted leadoff and filled in at second base for Cano (who is continuing to recover from an abdominal strain he suffered a few days ago). Although Marte failed to get a hit - seeing just eight pitches in his first four plate appearances - he did draw a six-pitch walk in the top of the ninth and came around to score on Cruz's long ball. On the defensive side, Marte didn't get any opportunities to field the ball until the eighth inning (silly Taijuan was striking too many people out). As a result, it was hard to get a real good read on his fielding ability. However, he did make two routine plays on groundballs and looked fairly comfortable. So that's nice. It'll be fun to see what he can do over the next few weeks.