On September 18, 2011, the Seattle Mariners lost to the Texas Rangers 3-0. Félix Hernández lasted seven innings, and allowed three runs off of nine hits. He struck out five and he walked one. Two of those strikeouts came against Nelson Cruz, and one of the hits allowed came from Endy Chavez. The Mariners managed six hits, but struck out a staggering thirteen times in a game started by Matt Harrison, who is 31 years old and currently a free agent. Mariners shortstop, Luis Rodriguez, had two of those hits. Seattle ultimately finished the season 69-95.
On April 3, 2017, the Seattle Mariners lost to the Houston Astros 3-0. Félix Hernández went five innings, and allowed two runs off of five hits. He struck out six and he walked on one. Two of those strikeouts came against Jose Altuve, and one of the hits allowed came from Norichika Aoki. The Mariners had just three hits, but struck out eight times in a game started by Dallas Keuchel, who is 29 years old and won the Cy Young Award in 2015. Mariners shortstop, Jean Segura, had two of those hits. Seattle ultimately finished the season...
Baseball frequently lends itself to comparisons about life; the steady ebb and flow of the game, and the season itself, the high percentage of failure, even within the upper echelons. But baseball is not always applicable to life. Where were you six years ago? For reference, on April 3, 2011, the Mariners lost to the A’s 7-1 and soon-to-be-signed free agent Doug Fister took the loss. Though I never wish to speak for everyone, I can say with a strong degree of certainty that you are not the same as you were six years ago. Time is both too cruel, and too kind, to allow that. This is where the “baseball is like life” simile falls short because, for whatever Rob Manfred and Bud Selig may try to do, the structure of the game remains fundamentally unchanged. It only took me a few minutes to find a previous 3-0 Mariners game, where Félix took the loss, and this is perhaps the most tired trope in modern Mariners fandom; the Same Old Mariners game, wherein Félix (or sometimes another pitcher, but most typically the King) pitches well and the offense sleeps their way through nine innings.
Yet this game was different. These were not quite the Same Old Mariners. We saw a new Félix; not dominant as he was in his prime, but craftier and still completely in control. Both runs he allowed came from solo home runs to George Springer and Carlos Correa, two of the brightest young talents in the game. One was a mistake, and just the fourth pitch Félix had thrown in the game.
One was not.
In an injury-shortened outing (but don’t worry, he’ll be FINE), Félix averaged a mere 13 pitches per inning, and threw 45 of those 65 pitches for strikes. He struck out six but, after a 2016 fraught with command issues, arguably the best part of his stat line is the big ‘ol goose egg in the BB column. Interestingly, he threw a number of sliders tonight during his first run through the order, then seemed to shift to his usual curve midway through the third inning when he faced the top of the lineup again. In the last two years he’s thrown his slider 6% of the time; in this game he threw it 10.7%. Small sample size and all that jazz, but I’m intrigued by this strategy of alternating breaking balls after going once through the lineup, rather than on a start-by-start basis. Incidentally, in that September 2011 start, Félix also threw more than two-thirds of his pitches for strikes.
The Mariners offense provided very little to discuss here, which is historically par for the course. However, it’s worth noting that, despite a measly three hits, only eight of their 27 outs came from strikeouts, and that they managed four walks against some decent pitching. The lineup ran into some crummy BABIP luck, not to mention an egregiously rude strike zone, but I will always prefer to see outs on contact, instead of flailing strikeouts.
In the recap of that 2011 game, Jeff Sullivan wrote that Félix’s outing was “fine, but short of terrific.” In the years since that game Félix has changed, for better and for worse, and our expectations of him have changed too. Similarly, the Mariners offense has changed since the days of that September 18 Dustin Ackley/Miguel Olivo/Mike Carp heart of the order. We expect more from Robinson Canó, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager, and rightfully so. For better, or for worse, this is not the Same Old Mariners Félix. This is not the Same Old Mariners offense. Our expectations for ourselves six years ago would not hold up to our expectations for 2017, so why should we saddle this new team with an old narrative? This team deserves, at the very least, to be judged on a greater sample size. Game 1 wasn’t great, but it’s in the books. At least 161 more to go. See you all back here again tomorrow.