tAs some of you know, and most of you don’t, I have a twin sister. We are fraternal, with regards to both looks and talents. My sister is a phenomenal athlete, as well as a good looking young lady. I, on the other hand, am more extroverted, and better versed in sports trivia. When we combine our skill sets, we are a tough combination to beat; however, if our weaknesses are isolated, results can be less than desirable. For example, asking Jamie to knock down an open three-pointer wouldn’t be a problem. Similarly, asking me what Brad Miller’s career wRC+, with some help from Fangraphs, would be simple. But if you have us switch places, the difficulty increases many times over.
I believe a baseball team’s construction can often mimic this dynamic. If you divide the team into pitchers and position players, one group is better throwing the baseball, while the other group has more talent hitting. Just like twins, if one group is struggling, the other can easily come in and save the day. Recall yesterday when the Twins pitching staff surrendered seven runs on 14 hits, but still won because of an excellent offensive performance. Conversely, if an opponent can exploit each unit’s weaknesses, that team would be futile. In tonight’s victory over the Twins, the Mariners executed this strategy to perfection.
First, let’s take examine Seattle’s offensive outing. Ervin Santana, who already had three complete game shutouts, was on the hill for Minnesota. Santana had been lethal to this point in the season, allowing fewer than a base runner per inning and boasting an incredible 88.6 LOB%. His .154 BABIP entering the night could be responsible for his ability to limit baserunners, as well has ability to strand those he allows; however, a number that low is due for some regression. Promptly, the Mariners BABIP’ed their way to a handful of early opportunities, the first of which came in the opening frame of the ballgame. A leadoff single from Ben Gamel brought Mitch Haniger to the plate.
Santana’s FB% is up this year to its highest mark since 2010, and while his HR/FB% is relatively low, a well-hit ball in the air can always produce a dinger. Haniger was given a high slider. Not only did he put it in the air, but he put it over the left field fence.
Seattle’s second strike was initiated by a two-out single from Danny Valencia. Jarrod Dyson followed suit with a roped liner into right, putting a pair on for Mike Zunino, who’s running a 166 wRC+ since being recalled. Santana wanted to start Z with a slider, but made his second mistake of the game with that pitch. One confident swing of the bat later, the Mariners led 5-0.
Seattle’s sixth run of the was generated from another situational advantage. Ben Gamel reached base on an error to start the inning, and Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano also found their way aboard later in the inning. This brought Danny Valencia, tried and true lefty masher, stepped in then, with the bases loaded and a lefty on the hill. He bounced a grounder into left field, scoring the sixth and final run of the game for the Mariners.
From a pitching standpoint, Seattle’s staff was tasked with limiting a ball club that scored 20 the night before to minimal damage. After allowing five homers the night before, an intuitive answer to allowing fewer runs was keeping balls on the ground. No better pitcher than Sam Gaviglio for such a task. The former Oregon State Beaver induced seven groundouts and a flyout, while allowing only one single, his first time through the lineup. Gaviglio lived on the outer and lower parts of the zone early on. He was pitching to contact, and his defense came to play.
After four scoreless innings, the Twins drew blood in the fourth with a pair of solo shots. Two more runs came in the sixth, via a two-run blast from Miguel Sano. None of the three home runs was a result of a poorly placed pitch; however, after a couple times through the lineups, the Twins were looking low and drove pitches in the lower-third of the zone over the wall. Although his final couple innings saw some trouble, Gaviglio did a fantastic job of generating ground balls and keeping the Twins off the board while the offense built a strong lead.
The Mariners didn’t face much more trouble until the eighth inning. Nick Vincent recorded two outs to begin the frame, one of which was an incredible grab in left field by Ben Gamel.
After a Miguel Sano single and Robbie Grossman walk, Scott Servais elected to bring in Edwin Diaz for a four-out save. He was absolutely electric. He ended the eighth by blowing a 100 MPH fastball by Kennys Vargas. He had to navigate through a little trouble in the ninth as well, but got Brian Dozier to fly out for the final out of the contest.
A few favorable BABIP outcomes, generating ground balls early, and high heat at the end proved to be the roadmap to the Mariners 33rd win of the season. After getting shelled the night before, Seattle adjusted enough to generate the opportunities needed to pull ahead in the series two games to one. Just like that, the Mariners are just a game under .500. I love it.