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18-13: Mariners drop series finale to Houston, still hold onto division lead

Robinson Cano hit another dinger donger, but the Astros got in some work off Iwakuma, taking the game from the Mariners, 5-1.

as it turns out this is suboptimal
as it turns out this is suboptimal
Bob Levey/Getty Images

chart5.8

Not Texas: Robinson Cano (.041 WPA)

Texas: Hisashi Iwakuma (-.105 WPA)

Jerry's Equation: (1 M BB + 11 M SO) - (3 Astro BB + 6 Astro SO) = 4 what happened

Well, the Mariners will be leaving Houston with a series split, which is better than leaving Houston with a series loss, or having all your credit cards stolen, or like, I don't know, a nasty sunburn. I mean, it's already in the nineties down there. No, they will take a series split and roll with it, especially considering today's loss has them still multiple games over .500 with a couple of hot hitters with more left in the tank. The worst? Well the worst was that Taijuan Walker's neck kind of hurt on Friday, which believe me, mine hurt a lot more on Saturday morning but also I'm not a millionaire baseball player so, whatever, you take what you can get.

Today the Astros came out of the gate swinging, and it just so happened that Iwakuma was giving them things to swing at. On one hand, that's literally his job. On the other Hey! Stop That! What are you doing!?

kumayikes

The problem with trying to diagnose what's wrong with a pitcher like Hisashi Iwakuma is a methodological one: the whole reason he is here in the MLB in the first place is because he defies both expectations and molds, and he does this in a way which is neither shocking nor unpredictable. That might sound contradictory, but it's true. There are many pitchers who survive on high-eighties stuff in this league. Chris Young is Very Tall and an 85 mph toss to the middle of the zone is said to look like mid nineties due to his unique release point. Iwakuma gets crazy movement and has a deadly split so close in speed to his fourseamer that he can just tear through a brick wall like he's the goddamned Hulk or something. Except slower. Velocity is not the issue here.

Iwakuma has never been elite. He's been quirky, and he found a way to make success on a few tools which were at the top of his game back when he found himself an unproven reliever in Eric Wedge's bullpen. But now he's averaging two ticks less on his fourseamer while the rest of his pitches, for the most part, remain pretty close to his career norms (his splitter has dropped notably since his rookie year, but dropping it seems to have been part of what led to his success in 2013). The Mariners were smart to not chain themselves to the unseen future last summer, and if we're being honest, the only reason he's still pitching for the Mariners is because we got lucky with a favorite falling back in our lap. But he fell back into our lap for a reason. Slowly, those old corner-nibblers are going to turn more and more into what you see above, three eighty-something fastballs right down the center lane of I-5. But it's not going to happen all at once. And that's the problem with trying to glean any useful information off Iwakuma's start today. You just, you just don't know.

Iwakuma lasted five innings and struck out eight. But in the process, he gave up three free bases and seven hits. So while  you're looking at a guy who can still make you look silly, there might be a few more people on base now and then. And when your mistakes start coming with people on base rather than once in a blue moon, it's going to seem a lot worse than it is. So you know, whatever. It is what it is. This will either get a whole lot worse before it gets better, or it will be more of the same, or it will be none of these things and the comet from Deep Impact will come and wipe us out and Robert Duvall won't be around to save us and we'll wish we had Iwakuma giving up dingers in the end.

MEANWHILE BACK IN HAPPY TOWN...

Yeah, so this was all the Mariners had going for them today, and it came pretty early in the fourth before things got too out of hand. Iwakuma ran into the aforementioned early trouble in innings two and three, and after this blast it still felt like there was something salvageable out of the entire process. There was a BABIP dragon, sure, but after the doom and gloom of ring-around-the-rosie from the Astros bats, it really felt like it should have been worse than 3-1. Oh, don't worry, it got worse.

Mayckol Guaipe threw a scoreless sixth, but ran into some trouble in the seventh after the Astros had their gears turning the way they so often did last year which was obnoxious and painful to watch, but also I heard something about the standings which may or may not be true and which I will not invoke any further at this moment. ANYWAY, Jose Altuve, a person one inch shorter than me currently rolling out a slugging percentage of .659, led off the inning with a single, then stole second, and scored on a bobble from Ketel off the bat of George Springer. Carlos Correa then sent Springer home and you really had to realize at that moment that the core of this Astros team can be extremely dangerous as long as they have their shit together. MiMo and Steve Johnson closed out the game to get on the plane back to SeaTac, and with Texas having already finished playing by the time this piece goes live, the Mariners get to hang on to a .5 game lead on first as they bring this thing home on Monday.

We all know the story--carrying the division this late in the year for the first time since something something, Cano is probably a space robot, that Darth Vader helmet thing is going to become the next rally fries. I, on the other hand, would just like to leave you with this brief bit of information, the anthropomorphic version of Go Biz embodied in one 140 character paragraph which should make you realize how lucky we are to be able to see something like this slowly unfolding throughout the season on our screens, whatever they may be:

There are six year old kids currently watching the Mariners to whom the names Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez are mere soundwaves bouncing from the television speaker through their ears every other time they watch a baseball game with their parents, older siblings, grandparents, or what have you. There is an entire generation of sports fans who are going to grow up watching Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano spend the better part of their careers playing for what was a bad baseball team--hey that sounds familiar--and who are trying to do something with it all to make it Matter, not because the team is going to leave this time but simply because nobody believed it could be done.

So when we drop a shitty game to the Astros like this--hey it wasn't 13-0--its just water under the bridge. Let's go back to Safeco and get some biz done what do you say?