This is what everyone wanted to see.
James Paxton was setting guys down with 99mph fastballs one after another. His counterpart, Mike Zunino, crushed bombs (plural!) over the fence and nailed greedy opposing runners with a laser arm. The lead expanded and the win was never in doubt. This was the dream in 2013. Today it was the reality.
Neither of these two has a safe roster spot. Both of them are only with the big club because of injuries, and both of them have their individual issues to work out at the big league level. Paxton has trouble pitching effectively late into ballgames. Zunino recently put up one of the worst offensive seasons in Mariners history. However, each of them has made himself into something of a reclamation project and is getting the attention of Mariners fans.
Today the Mariners were led to victory on the shoulders of these two players. The road ahead is long for both of them. Their futures, unknown. But with a new front office in place who've developed something of a rapport when it comes to salvaging "lost" prospects (see: Peterson, D.J.), the road is slightly more well-lit than it was before.
The M's brought themselves to within 1.5 games of a wild card spot today and are a win away from a four-game sweep. Let's make it happen.
Onto the bullet points:
- James Paxton finished the game with a line of 5.2 IP, 4 R (3 ER), 3 BB, 2 K. He's something of an enigma right now. His stuff is outstanding. His 2.96 FIP backs up that claim. But the results haven't really been there. At times he looks like the Mariners' best pitcher. At other times he looks like a guy who can throw hard but still has trouble commanding his pitches. I'm definitely happy that he's made the kind of progress he has and that he's even in the conversation right now. But I'm curious to see what the team does with him going forward. He's clearly not a finished product, but what will it look like when he is?
- Mike Zunino had perhaps the best return game he could have possibly had. He finished the game 2-for-4 with two homers, a walk, and no strikeouts. He also made an incredible throw to nab Manny Machado trying to steal second and his pitch framing was excellent throughout the game. He's by no means "fixed" at this stage. He couldn't possibly be after one game. Not to mention the fact that he's had games like this before. But if he were fixed, this is what it would look like. The early signs are as encouraging as they get, and I'm excited to see more of him.
- Seth Smith had a helluva game. It went a little bit unnoticed, but he ended the contest 3-for-5 with a homer and 4 RBI. His blast came on a 3-0 pitch, a fastball right down Main St. He worked some excellent at-bats and raised his line on the season to .280/.372/.444. He's quietly one of the team's most reliable bats. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but it's funny how easily I forget his presence on the team when mentally scanning through the roster. The dude is a rock.
- Shawn O'Malley C'd that Z all game long. He went 2-for-3 with a pair of walks, which is exactly what you want from a catalyst. He had a scary moment when he fouled a ball of his ankle and the trainer had to come out to talk to him for several minutes. He ended up staying in the game until Ketel Marte took over as a defensive replacement. Good thing too, because the last thing this team needs is more injuries.
- I should probably mention Adam Lind here, too. He went 4-for-5 with a homer. I was surprised when I read that he had four hits on the box score because the only one I remember is the home run. His on-base percentage is still garbage but his wRC+ was raised to 93 after the game. He's the most confusing guy on the team for me because he's probably gonna hit like 25 home runs this year and we're still gonna hate his presence on this team.
- Nathan Karns got his first save of the season by virtue of that weird rule where he gets a save if the throws the last three innings of the game (hi, Hisashi!). Zunino definitely helped him frame a few strikes but overall his line was sub-par as he surrendered a two-run jack to Chris Davis. I will say it's nice to have a long reliever like him in the bullpen given how gassed Edwin Diaz and Steve Cishek had to be. We need more effective bullpen arms, guys.