The Mariners won today by a score of 8-5, avoiding a sweep at the hands of the Angels, and while that’s not the kind of score that usually indicates the pitching was the star of the show, the pitching is really what I’d rather talk about. It feels weird to complain about a game where the Mariners scored eight runs, a little Dudley Dursley complaining his Knickerbocker Glory doesn’t have enough ice cream on top (I just finished listening to the podcast Paxton was on talking about Harry Potter, if you can’t tell). The score of this game makes it seem closer than it was, but far, far from what it could have been.
It took until the fifth inning for the Angels to get on the board, on a Justin Upton two-run homer that just sneaked over the wall, when Upton attacked a first-pitch curveball from starter Marco Gonzales and managed to just squeeze it inside the foul pole. They would score three more in the seventh inning, when Nick Vincent had a shaky appearance, giving up a single to pesky David Fletcher, walking Mike Trout, and then missing what could have been an inning-ending double play when Upton, who better hope MLB doesn’t test for Felix Felicis, bounced a ball off the mound and into center field for an RBI single. Albert Pujols then snuck a seeing-eyes single into right for another run. With two on, Andrelton Simmons sent a deep, deep fly ball to left field, but Denard Span wasn’t having any of that nonsense:
If Mariners hold on to win, they can thank Denard Span for this one ... pic.twitter.com/dTrk4BSaUc— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) July 29, 2018
Juan Nicasio would rescue Vincent from the inning by getting Ian Kinsler [insert John yelling “WASHED”] to pop up, and then Alex Colome would work a very fine 1-2-3 inning and Edwin Diaz a less-fine 1-2-3-4 inning that involved him walking
Kitten Chainsaw Khaleesi Corduroy Choad Qualuude Kole Calhoun but also getting Mike Trout God of Baseball to fly out, putting a quick stop to J-Up’s lucky day with a strike out, and then striking out Albert Pujols on a 98 mph heater. But the pitching star of the day was Marco Gonzales, who turned in another strong effort, going six innings of seven-hit, two-run ball, with seven strikeouts, two walks, and the two runs coming on the aforementioned squeaker home run. It’s also important to note that one of the walks, as Mike Blowers would say, didn’t need to be:
The most impressive part of this outing was Marco didn’t have his best stuff today. He was struggling to throw first-pitch strikes like he normally does early in the game, his changeup was staying high and his curveball had very little bite. The pitch that was working best was his cutter, which showed nice late movement, so Marco leaned on that pitch early along with his fastball, sneaking in the curveball and changeup where he could but depending on the cutter primarily as his out pitch. After a somewhat shaky first inning, he came back and worked a 1-2-3 second and an almost 1-2-3 third (David Fletcher pulled a curveball down the LF line for a double) that ended with a beautiful three-pitch strikeout of Mike Trout: a called strike inside on the curveball, a foul on the cutter in almost the same location that Trout was late on, and then this beautiful paint job:
I mean, look at this:
Marco’s FIP and ERA are now within .01 of each other and he’s now been the most valuable pitcher for the Mariners this season at 2.4 bWAR. And even though pitcher wins don’t matter, his 12 (!) wins put Marco towards the top of the league and in rarefied air with names like Scherzer/Kluber/Sale/etc., which has to feel pretty good for a guy who the Cardinals decided was expendable.
Marco was backed up by an offensive explosion in the first inning that would have been the lead for this recap if the Mariners had been able to sustain it. It feels weird to complain about eight runs—who complains about eight runs? But the offense’s “set it and forget it” strategy, while delicious in making crockpot chili, won’t sustain them down the stretch. The Mariners jumped all over poor Felix Pena, a sacrificial lamb acquired from the Cubs, for whom he was a reliever, in the first inning. Dee singled and stole second, Segura knocked him home (shoutout to yet another terrible throw to the plate from Justin Upton), and then Denard Span, Mr. Steal-Yo-Spot-in-the-Lineup, blooped a double to score Segura. Nelson Cruz followed with a sharp single of his own, scoring a surprisingly speedy Span, and then Seager was the unfortunate strikeout in the middle a Haniger-Healy walk sandwich. Kyle PLEASE. Gamel, who would go on to have a big day, singled to make it 4-0, and then Haniger scored on a wild pitch. 5-0. The rout was officially on. Mike Zunino, who had several good plate appearances today where he saw a lot of pitches, knocked two runs home with a double down the left-field line, and it was 7-0, leaving Mariner fans everywhere looking for their fainting couches. Jim Johnson would come in and clean up the rest of the mess, but the promise of double-digit run-scoring loomed ahead.
Sadly, as we’ve seen so many times, that would be mostly it for the Mariners’ offense for the day. The offense scraped across one more run in the third, thanks to my two new favorite short films: Ben Gamel’s Big Day and Mike Zunino Remembers How to Hit. The bats didn’t go completely silent; the Mariners had a runner on base in every inning except the second and the ninth. But let’s see if we can maybe pinpoint a problem here:
I call this the Hole of Sadness. See all the happy little numbers above and below? And then there’s this pit. None of the left on base numbers are good, but Seager alone left six! I’m not sure how much further he could be pushed down in the batting order, but I know that Seager-Healy is not a back-to-back that is going to work unless one of them goes on some wild tear here over the next month. But again, leaving 20 runners on base is not a recipe for success, which is why the pitching got to be the lead in this recap. When one-third of your order has three-hit days, one expects to see a few more runs cross the board, monster first inning or no. The Mariners might have avoided the sweep and done so in noisy fashion, but the memory of last night’s shellacking and Friday’s heartbreaker looms large. It feels like the Mariners are still just a little shy of clicking like they did in June—something that would be aided by Dee Gordon rebounding into health, Nelson Cruz emerging from his slump, and Mike Zunino finding his stride again. If that happens, this team will be one to reckon with down the stretch. Just avoid the Hole of Sadness, guys. Please. Mariners fans have spent the last two decades there.