Well, that was one of the longest, most unfun road trips in recent memory. Frigid weather, two scheduled off days, two blowouts, and a postponement (heck to you Minnesota), all in nine days? Yuck. Thankfully, the Mariners are returning to Safeco and will have a long stretch of games to get comfortable in, allowing them - and us - to put this brutal trip behind them.
Wait a second.
They went 4-3 on this trip? Seriously?
Maybe there was some fun on this trip after all.
The M’s bats came out of the gate patiently today, with a walk to both Robinson Canó and Mitch Haniger loading the bases following a knock from Dee Gordon and a Jean Segura popout. Kyle Seager strode into the box, and with a 2-0 count, ended up like this:
Oh, no. Kyle’s been struggling out of the gate once again, and this feels like another rub of salt. Getting no runs here would suck...
Whoops! Cam Gallagher wasn’t able to corral that pop-up, and Seager seized the chance to hit a fly ball into right to bring in a run. Danny Duffy uncorked a wild pitch in the next at-bat to bring home Canó, and just like that, the Mariners had put two runs on the board for James Paxton to work with.
And man, did he work. The first inning was a little dicey - after allowing a four-pitch walk to Jon Jay and a hard base hit to left to Whit Merrifield, the Royals were threatening early. Paxton had yet to hit 94 on his fastball, and with the ~dangerous Mike Moustakas coming up, things looked a little tense.
Ever the unflappable, though, James worked out of the jam, getting Moustakas to pop out to short and coaxing an easy grounder out of Cheslor Cuthbert. David Freitas also lended a hand:
After the first, Paxton dominated Kansas City’s lineup. He lived at the lower third of the strike zone seemingly all game, racking up twenty-one (!!!) swinging strikes along the way. His fastball touched 97 multiple times, he spotted his curve much better after the first inning, and his cutter was moving so much I mistook it for a slider on several occasions. Sadly, BABIP magic comes for us all at some point, and with two on and two out in the fourth, Paulo Orlando (...really?!) roped a two-run double into right field to tie the game.
Ouch. Thankfully, Paxton beared down and proceeded to tear poor Alcides Escobar to shreds:
Unfortunately, for as good as Paxton looked, Duffy righted the ship quickly, retiring eleven straight at one point. He flashed some outright video game movement on his curveball, and the M’s bats were stymied through the fifth, but started waking up in the top of the sixth. After hits from Canó and Seager finally chased Duffy, Guillermo Heredia greeted Brad Keller with a sharp infield hit, and once again, the bases were loaded. Daniel Vogelbach came in to pinch-hit for Taylor Motter, but couldn’t execute:
Yeeeeeeesh. Things again would get hairy in the bottom of the inning, this time by way of a Cuthbert base hit and an infield single/throwing error by Jorge Soler/Jean Segura. Although there were two outs, the Royals had guys on the corners and the suddenly fearsome Paulo Orlando at the plate. Things could have gotten ugly...
...but they didn’t because James Paxton is James Paxton. While he didn’t get the win, the Big Maple went six very strong innings, tying a career-high with ten strikeouts against just the leadoff walk to Jay. After a somewhat shaky first two starts, this outing was fantastic to see, and is easily the best start by a Mariners pitcher so far this year.
After a quick seventh inning courtesy of Nick Vincent, Haniger worked a very tough walk against Justin Grimm with two outs in the eighth, setting the stage for Kyle once again:
Thanks to the will of the wind, Soler juuuuuust missed robbing that ball, and the Mariners were on top 4-2. Seager’s wRC+ after today’s game jumped over thirty points to 93, and his hit in the sixth inning was smoked off the bat at 104 MPH. What, like you were worried about him?
While Juan Nicasio again looked a little shaky out of the gate in the bottom of the inning, he dug in nicely, ringing up Cuthbert on a beautifully placed 95 MPH fastball on the corner and inducing weak contact for the other two outs. Edwin Díaz proved himself to be at least half-mortal, allowing a baserunner on a Segura error and getting two out of three of his outs via the batted ball, but finished off the game with a fine strikeout of Jon Jay:
The Mariners have yet another off day tomorrow, but return home for a quick homestand against the A’s and Astros starting Friday. This was a perfect way to cap off a seemingly nightmare trip, and the team is four whole games better than where they were at this point last season. Things are good! Hopefully they stay good.