Some of the most bizarre times in my life have been the two months after getting a new job. On one hand, it’s a pain to apply to jobs, and I should by rights be thrilled at having the job. It’s an exciting time, devoid of the monotony that can be so dangerously ubiquitous in modern life. On the other hand, it’s a time of profound discomfort. Everything is unfamiliar. Either I don’t know where anything is, or I’m struggling to learn everyone’s name, or I’m working really hard to make a good impression, but I’m not comfortable with the job, so I don’t feel like I’m doing well, and it all feels like it’s going to fall apart, and maybe I should just quit and go back to that last job that I hated because at least I knew what was going on there.
That’s a little bit like what this Mariners team felt like over the first month or two. There were plenty of wins, but they were close. The losses were blowouts. The team was doing alright, but it certainly didn’t feel stable.
At this point, however, it seems that the Mariners have settled into that sweet spot of confident routine. There’s no fumbling around, trying to figure out how they can possibly win. There’s no dull monotony of repeated mediocre performances. There’s just routine winning. It was strange at first, as any new job is, but it’s starting not to be strange any longer.
For example, Mike Leake came into this game not having allowed a walk in his prior four starts. That’s 27.0 innings pitched without a walk! Bizarre! He’s been a massive reason for the team’s success, and he’s had the control to make it sustainable. The Mariners have been allowing nearly two full runs per game fewer since Robinson Canó was suspended, buoyed largely by Leake turning a 6.48 April ERA into a 3.20 May/June ERA.
Leake pitched to contact today, and did so effectively. He made it through 8 solid innings on only 92 pitches, making his only mistake on a solo home run given up to Daniel Robertson. Better yet, Leake recorded 11 ground outs to just five fly outs. With Dee Gordon slotting into his natural position of second base, the Mariners have a plus defender at every infield position (with the possible exception of Jean Segura, who is average at worst defensively). A pitcher generating a lot of ground balls will be rewarded, and Leake was the beneficiary tonight.
On the flip side, the Mariners made it seem as easy as it’s ever been to score runs. It’s not that they scored them in easy ways. It’s just... it feels inevitable that they’ll score, so even when they score in weird ways, it’s not weird. Take this Mitch Haniger grounder, for instance.
You might call it luck that has to run out eventually, but the Mariners really do make their own luck. If Jean doesn’t score on a heads-up play, the Mariners might not win.
And speaking of starting to feel comfortable in a new workplace, Denard Span might still be weirdly good?
When Mitch Haniger hit a home run in the fifth inning, it was clear that despite getting into Tampa Bay at four in the morning last night, the Mariners were just showing up to work, doing their jobs, and doing them well. It wasn’t weird, it’s just what they do.
It does, however, seem like another part of their jobs might be to make the game seem as difficult as possible. Or maybe the job is to stoke the fires of debate by winning yet another one-run game. In actuality, Álex Colomé was just off his game tonight, and nearly blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning. After Mike Leake gave up a double to open the ninth, he was pulled for Colomé, who promptly loaded the bases and allowed a bases clearing double. Fortunately, he picked that moment to remember that he’s a good Major League relief pitcher, and closed the game without further ado.
We may be past the point of anxiety and second-guessing surrounding this team’s (top!) position in the standings as we get into the meat of a season more promising than any in the last fifteen years. The Mariners are settling into a routine, though. Unlike most routines, this is one that hasn’t needed much getting used to.