The Mariners have completed their series against the Texas Rangers. They won two games. They should have won three, by a lot.
Look. If you have read me for a while you know I am not, generally, in the business of hot-taking. Despite pressure to declare the team dead at multiple points over the season, I refused; I felt we didn’t know who the team was, yet. I’m not sure we do, still. Mostly, this comes from my deep familiarity with narratives, and how baseball frustrates those understandings over and over again, which is part of the reason I love it. Baseball, despite adhering to many of the fundamental conventions of the narrative impulse, is deeply, deeply weird. The Royals, after looking like they were dead in the water for the first couple months of the season, now look like genuine contenders. The Indians and Red Sox don’t look as scary as they looked on paper curled in winter frost. The Tampa Bay Rays, you guys. The Tampa. Bay. Rays. This is what I love about baseball: its capacity, like poetry, to surprise and delight, often at the last possible moment; how it feels, like Philip Larkin said, like a bomb going off in your chest.
But the Seattle Mariners versus a Texas Rangers team that is limped and staggering: this, we should be able to know. At the trade deadline, the Mariners were buyers, sort of; the Rangers were sellers, definitely. The victories should be decisive.
Instead, the Mariners dilly-dallied. They won, 6-4, in a game in which the Rangers’ aged ace (Hamels) outdueled the Mariners’ aged ace (Felix); Hamels lasted longer, gave up fewer earned runs, fewer home runs, and struck out more batters. Ultimately, the Mariners’ bullpen was able to hold the line longer than the Rangers’ bullpen, as Alex Claudio remembered he was due to play the clown Clopin in a Disneyland stage production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
On Tuesday, the Mariners eked out another win where they used seven pitchers to lock down a win in a game where they had once held a five-run lead. Truthfully, this one was mostly on the pitching, as Erasmo Ramirez is now on the “One Weird Old Trick To Make You a Starter” plan, and it was a very all-hands-on-deck scenario. This one, I could have taken as the narrow escape win.
But really, there’s not much of an excuse for yesterday, when the Mariners lost an entirely winnable game. Andrew Cashner couldn’t control his fastball early on and hit several batters, but the Mariners said “no thank you please we will do it ourselves” and proceeded to strand multiple runners on base. Miranda couldn’t keep the ball in the park, but the Mariners, despite getting men on base, couldn’t manufacture any runs against a reeling Texas team. Every time there was an opening, the Mariners failed to capitalize. That’s not what playoff teams do.
The Mariners should be a demonstrably better team than the Texas Rangers. This series, record aside, didn’t exactly prove that. Perhaps this particular pitching staff, with Felix and Miranda, was more victimized by the longball in Arlington’s teeny-tiny park. Maybe that won’t be a problem in Kauffman. But I admit to being suspicious. The Royals and the Mariners are both teams that have struggled early in the season; both teams that are surging late. I hope the Mariners come out on top in this series. After their showing against a depleted Rangers team, I admit to feeling hesitant about their ability to do so.