To say that the last month has been painful would be something of an understatement. We always knew that this month was going to be difficult for the Mariners. That made it somehow harder when, up until this last week, the team was actually making it through August relatively unscathed. The playoffs weren’t just within reach: we convinced ourselves that a playoff appearance might even be likely.
The Mariners were 66-63 just one week ago. Fangraphs gave them a 22.6% chance of making the playoffs, but it felt like at least 50%. Five losses later, a wannabe playoff team without Felix Hernandez or James Paxton suddenly found those playoff chances quartered. The fans that let themselves believe in something good suddenly felt silly.
When I woke up on Wednesday, the Mariners were a game below .500. I came downstairs and found out that the team had traded for Mike Leake. To be honest, the first thought I had was Why bother? The trade seemed to me to have been too-little, too-late. James Paxton got injured weeks ago, and only now does Jerry make a move? And that move is for Mike fucking Leake?
Well, it turns out that Mike Leake has been worth at least 2.0 fWAR for three out of the past four years. Turns out that only Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton equaled that last year. And with both of those guys out, it turns out that Mike Leake is... the team’s best pitcher.
Tonight, Mike Leake pitched like the team’s best pitcher. Well, he pitched like the team’s best pitcher after the first inning. The A’s started the game with three hard-hit balls in a row, leading to a run and runners on second and third. Mike Leake’s sinker was barely touching 90 MPH. Up to bat stepped one Khris Davis, the man whose name lends itself to so many infuriatingly banal “kHRis Davis” puns on Twitter after every dinger he hits. Things looked, well, bad.
And then Mike Leake somehow generated an extra 3 MPH on his sinker, and made Khris Davis look sillier than the spelling of his first name (read: very silly).
One more run would score on a feeble grounder, but Leake kept most of that extra velocity and used it to great effect for the remainder of the game.
On the offensive side of the ball, a Jean Segura first inning fly out to Boog (sad) finally put his batting average on the year below .300. Gone are the times when he was competing for the AL batting title with a .350+ average. He’s been going through a hell of a slump lately, and that final dip below .300 felt disgustingly symbolic.
The struggle persisted through the second inning before Mike Zunino finally broke through in the third.
Just in case any one needed reminding:
Hi Mike Zunino is 2-for-2 and here's a reminder that he is the #8 catcher in all of MLB by fWAR.— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 2, 2017
He hasn’t been fantastic, but he’s been pretty good, and it turns out that that’s all you really need to be a top-10 catcher in the MLB.
The M’s followed that up by actually stringing together some hits, which is pretty cool when it happens. A Jean Segura single, a Mitch Haniger single, a Robinson Cano HBP, and a Nelson Cruz walk set the table for Kyle Seager to break a 2-2 tie. They didn’t need much, and all Kyle had in him was a sacrifice fly. That would’ve been cool, and still would’ve left room to score runs had it not been for a Robby Cano TOOTBLAN.
Don’t really know what to say about that other than “yikes.”
So it was 3-2. Most games, the M’s were gonna have to score some more runs. Ariel Miranda, Yovani Gallardo, Andrew Moore, or I don’t fucking know, Sam Gaviglio (miss you) would give up another two or three runs. And the way this team’s been playing, it didn’t seem like those runs were gonna come.
Turns out, they didn’t. It also turns out that Mike Leake is better than any of those other guys. Not that that’s a particularly massive accomplishment, but it meant a lot to this team. He went 7.0 full innings, which no Mariner had accomplished since Paxton did on July 24th. That’s 40 days. Again, yikes.
Mike Leake’s Felix-quality-start gave way to Marc Rzepczynski, Nick Vincent, and Edwin Diaz. The first two have been consistently lights-out, and Diaz was the lights-out version of himself. The 8th and 9th innings went by without incident, and the Mariners emerged with a win.
They emerged with a win that they probably wouldn’t have gotten had Jerry not made the move for Leake. Was the move too-little, too-late? It’s still a possibility. Does this team still have a chance? Definitely. Fangraphs gives them over a 5% chance of making the playoffs. It’s not a lot, but it’s definitely not nothing.
I don’t think we’re ever gonna just cruise into the playoffs. It’s gonna be long, it’s gonna be drawn out, and it’s gonna test our collective patience. This probably won’t be the year, but maybe it will. After a win like tonight’s, “maybe” feels better than it probably should.