This game is just so damn random. The Mariners have spent 139 games proving that they are not a good baseball team. Still, they came into today with 66 victories. 66! That's a testament to the length of the season, the narrow margin of talent separating major league teams and also that randomness. You see after getting hammered by the Rangers the last two days and finally, mercifully having any semblance of a miracle run at the 2nd wild card stamped out, the Mariners started Vidal Nuno, who is ok. The Rangers, to the great credit of Jon Daniels' organization, have overcome far more adversity than the Mariners and started the day only one game back.
So we have one team surging toward the finish line, overcoming all obstacles, and we have the Mariners, with Vidal Nuno. But it's random, so Vidal Nuno pitched the game of his life.
It started very familiarly. Nuno's command was not sharp and despite keeping the Rangers off the board his pitch count was at 47 after two innings. There is something identifiable about watching Nuno pitch. His stocky frame and everyman appearance, coupled with a delivery that does nothing to hide the inherent violence and force needed to throw a baseball 90+ miles per hour, make his already slim margin for error seem even slimmer. Vidal Nuno, to me, is always in trouble, even when he's not.
But after the 2nd inning it clicked. Much like Mike Montgomery's magical back to back shutouts earlier this summer the years of practice and repetition, for 5 innings, fell fully into place. From innings 3-7 Nuno faced 17 hitters, allowed no hits and struck out 7. On the day he struck out 10, a career high. How'd he do it? You mean other than throwing good pitches that the Rangers had difficulty hitting? You want more detail here? Ok.
Nuno figured out early that home plate umpire Dan Bellino has a poor understanding of where the knee is located and used it to great effect. It's one thing to have an umpire with an oversized strike zone. Identifying it and, more importantly, having the command to exploit it is the trick. Nuno did and he did it correctly, throwing 26% changeups, starting them at the bottom of the real strike zone and moving them down into Bellino's Strike Zone of Magical Make Believe. For comparison Nuno has thrown his changeup just 16% of the time on the year.
After the game Lloyd McClendon indicated that the team will alter it's plans to remove Nuno from the rotation, which, I don't know why they'd want to start sticking to plans now anyway. Also, much like the Mike Montgomery shutouts, there's little reason to think tonight's start was anything more than a career day from a fringy major league starter. It was a treat to watch, as all good pitching is. Vidal Nuno has proven a good value and I am very grateful that the Wellington Castillo Trade no longer haunts my every night and day. But tonight was just one game. A fun one in a season of too few fun games.
- In the top of the 5th Nuno through a fastball up and in that Robinson Chirinos, like a dummy, started to swing at. The ball hit the knob of his bat. Chirinos, channeling the spirit of ex-teammate Jake Smolinski, grabbed his finger and started to writhe. It was sufficient for Bellino, who was really doing his very own special jazz all night long, to award Chirinos 1st base. Only baseball has replay now to help avoid these things. So Lloyd McClendon challenged the call.
Look I don't blame Chirinos. In high school a pitcher threw a pitch at my feet and I jumped over it but when I landed I acted like that ball broke my damn ankle and got first base. Baseball is hard enough without cloaking yourself in faux-morality. The MLB Replay System is just impossibly imprecise. Something like that is going to happen in October and it's going to shift a playoff game and then, only then, will the impetus be in place for refinement.
- The Mariner offense was supplied almost wholly by Kyle Seager and Mark Trumbo, both of whom went 4-4 with two run home runs. Seager raised his wRC+ to 121 and, the first year of his new 7-year deal, is well on his way to cementing himself as a shoo-in 3-5 win player. The guys is a star. Not a superstar. But a star. The one that didn't break.
As for Trumbo he's been hitting well himself recently. In fact his .460 slugging % would be his highest since 2012 if it holds. Trumbo will probably unfairly be remembered iconically by some fans as one of the face's of the season's disappointment. His miserable June was perfectly timed to coincide with an almost team-wide slump, Welington Castillo turned into Mike Piazza for about 6 weeks, and the Mariners were still stuck with Mike Zunino and Jesus Sucre. However, Trumbo's 2015 has by and large been exactly what Mark Trumbo is: Big power, little else. On the team that Jack Zduriencik thought he had the idea of a Mark Trumbo-Logan Morrison platoon at 1B was workable. Of course none of that happened.
- Ketel Marte - last 14 days: .192/.232/.260, 19.3 K%, 5.3 BB%, .058 ISO. He's still acquitting himself better at shortstop than I expected but that thing that initially exciting Mariner prospects do? Ketel Marte is doing that. Without an adjustment from him the next 3 weeks it's hard to feel good about the anyone but Brad Miller manning the position Opening Day 2016.
- Felix tomorrow. Barring further rotation shenaniganizing this looks to be Felix's 3rd to last Safeco start on the season. It's been an up and down season for him, more down than we are used to. But I'm still going to go sit in the sun, drink beer and cheer him on. Baseball is winding down, and it's time to start holding onto it. Yes, even to the 2015 Mariners.