On paper, the Mariners and Rangers look surprisingly similar. They each have about the same amount of pitching fWAR. The Mariners have a better offensive fWAR, and better defense, although that’s compounded slightly by their loathsome BsR score. The Mariners sit at 54-53, while the Rangers trail them and the Angels, at 50-55. But the Rangers are in sell mode, and the Mariners were buyers at the deadline. Theoretically, they are two teams headed in opposite directions. Theoretically, the Mariners should possess the firepower to defeat the Rangers, especially after the Rangers began selling off pieces like Jonathan Lucroy, Jeremy Jeffress, and Yu Darvish.
For the first few innings tonight, it didn’t look like that would be the case. Félix Hernández struggled with his command early, needing 21 pitches to get through the first inning, in which he only threw 12 strikes. He began his night by walking Shin-Soo Choo on four pitches (side note: Shin-Soo Choo walks up to “Despacito,” which seems appropriately annoying), and then left a fastball hanging in the middle of the plate that Rougned Odor bazooka’d into the RF seats like he was playing Call of Duty. Note: I do not know if there’s a bazooka in COD, and I don’t care to know. Félix would slog through the rest of the first without allowing another run, but his pitches were catching way too much of the plate. The fastball, especially, looked straight, with no life on it, and topped out at 91 (on the home run pitch to Odor), but mostly sat 88-89. Although he was more efficient with his pitches in the second, only needing 14 and throwing 11 strikes, he was again stung by the longball, throwing a 90 mph fastball up and over the plate to Carlos Gomez, who pounced on the offering to hit a ball that definitely wouldn’t have been a home run in Safeco, but Arlington Park gonna Arlington Park. Two batters later, he would leave another fastball out over the plate for Choo, who punished it over Guillermo Heredia’s head for a double, and then gave up another RBI double to Elvis Andrus to make it 4-0 Texas. The Rangers were being aggressive and making a ton of hard contact, and it looked like we were in for a very long day at the ballpark.
But starting in the third inning, Félix settled. He leaned on his fastball less and started mixing in his curveball more, and his changeup started biting a little harder. Even the fastball showed a little more movement later on, but the difference in the offspeed pitches was especially noticeable. Earlier in the game, Félix was leaving his changeup up in the zone, which is of course the land of Bad No Good Very Bad things for changeups, but as the innings progressed he started being able to get it to dive down out of the zone, and his curveball started biting more sharply as well. It was a good game plan for the free-swinging high-strikeout Rangers, and Félix started being able to work ahead in the count more and execute his plan against hitters. This allowed Félix to go deeper in this game despite a shaky start, and he made it into the sixth and over 100 pitches before getting into some trouble. Marc Rzepczynski came in to clean up the mess and finish out the sixth, and then David Phelps relieved him in the seventh to act as a bridge to Díaz in the ninth. Phelps collected five strikeouts over just 1.2 innings of work, striking out the side in the eighth. His fastball touched 97 and in the eighth, while K’ing Gomez, Robinson, and Chirinos, he threw exactly one ball, and then called 911 I assume. Diaz worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth that was surprisingly stress-free, striking out two of the three batters he faced. Thank you for
smoking swinging, Texas Rangers.
Side note: is it appropriate to call this David Phelps’s coming-out party as a Mariner? Because holy hotcakes, he was good:
Meanwhile, the bats kind of, mostly, did their part. It could have been better, to be honest. In the third, the Mariners mounted a little mini-rally, when Carlos Ruiz walked and Jean Segura singled. A passed ball on Chirinos gave the Mariners runners at second and third with two outs but Robinson Cano was up! He’d do the thing, right? [Narrator voice: He did not do the thing.] In the fourth, after Cruz and Seager doubles, Danny Valencia made up for a little oops-right-through-the-wickets-guvnor error he’d had earlier with a two-RBI single. Guillermo Heredia, OBP machine, then was hit by a pitch, and Leonys Martin grounded out to score a run and bring the Mariners within one. But he would be picked off (NOOOO WHYYYY LEONYS) attempting to steal and Ruiz’s double would come to naught after Ben Gamel grounded out. This could have been a huge inning, but the Mariners did scrape three runs out of it, so I guess I shoulddddd be happy? Truthfully, though, the Rangers were not playing sharp baseball, and the Mariners should have jumped all over them, and did not. This is the kind of game where the score could have been 12-4 and we could have seen some sweet position player pitching. [Looks longingly in the direction of Jesus Sucre.]
Guillermo Heredia and Leonys Martin did combine for another run in the sixth, as Heredia reached on a Beltre throwing error and Leonys then tripled him home. But it would take into the ninth for the Mariners to take their first lead of the day, again capitalizing on some sloppy play by the Rangers as Ben Gamel avoided a double play thanks to an Odor throwing error, and then a balk by “interpretive dancer in his free time” Alex Claudio moved Gamel to third and Segura, who was intentionally walked, to second. Robinson Canó then singled to bring home those two runs, but was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double, because TOOTBLAN! All the merry TOOTBLANs! Truthfully, aside from the Mariners’ bullpen performance, this was a sloppily played game on both sides. For all the (mostly deserved) crud that has been flipped to the M’s bullpen this year, let this stand as their win. After Félix settled down and then the bullpen took over, the Rangers would not score again, allowing the Mariners to claw their way back into this one. It wasn’t pretty. But, as they say, a W is a W.
And you know what, I don’t even care if this was a TOOTBLAN, Robi forever: