We have just over a week until the All-Star Break, but as far as the Seattle Mariners are concerned, those five days off can’t come soon enough.
To wit: in just the last few days, the M’s have seen three regulars go down with injuries.
Of course, these are complemented by the glaring absence of All-Star second baseman Robinson Canó, who has healed from his broken hand but will still be out for the next month-plus due to his 80-game suspension.
Earlier today, Canó made his first appearance in front of the media since his suspension was announced, and his answers were exactly what you would want to hear. From Ryan Divish’s article:
Canó was personable as always, contrite when talking about his mistakes, giddy about how the Mariners are playing in his absence and hopeful when talking about a chance to contribute to the team when he’s eligible to return on August 14...
“...I would do anything for the team,” he said. “This is not about myself, this is about us as a team. We are playing for the city of Seattle — all of us, the city, my teammates and myself. I’m focused on bringing a title to Seattle so I would do whatever it takes to help this team to win.”
There’s no way around it, the suspension is a black mark on Canó’s legacy and the fault lies squarely with him. But it’s inspiring to see him shoulder the blame and say all the right things here, and it’s hard not to root for him to come back better than ever in August.
Until then, however, there’s baseball to play — much as the Mariners might want to forget about games like today’s.
Remember what I said earlier about those injuries really hurting this team right now? Well, today’s lineup made that clear, with the vaunted John Andreoli/David Freitas/Andrew Romine trio hitting 7-8-9. You would be forgiven if you thought this was a February split-squad game.
Big Maple threw seven strong innings, and his stuff really flashed. By the end of the sixth inning, he had already recorded 20 swinging strikes, per Corey Brock. He also passed another milestone:
James Paxton (154 K) joins Randy Johnson (done 5 times) and Félix Hernández (done once) as the only pitchers in club history with at least 150 strikeouts prior to the All-Star Break. #Mariners— MarinersPR (@MarinersPR) July 7, 2018
There were really only two spots of trouble for the Ladner lad. One came in the third inning, when Pax allowed three straight singles (though one was a bunt) to load the bases with nobody out and the top of the order coming up.
Perhaps a previous iteration of James Paxton would have crumbled under the pressure. The 2018 version, however, wasn’t about to be intimidated, inducing a pop out to center and then striking out both Charlie Blackmon (who K’d four times on the day) and Nolan Arenado.
Sure, the Rockies struck for a run in the fourth on a Carlos González RBI single. But Jean Jean the Hitting Machine returned the favor just an inning later, depositing a no-doubter off the top of the manual scoreboard in left field.
With the score knotted at one apiece in the seventh inning, and the bottom of the order due up, things were looking alright for the boys in white and teal. Yet today was a day that made no sense; D.J. LeMahieu, Blackmon, and Arenado went a combined 0-14 with seven strikeouts, while the 7-8-9 hitters for the Rockies registered seven hits in 10 at-bats and accounted for 4 of the team’s 5 runs batted in.
Okay, brief pause. Please be honest with me: before today’s game, had you ever heard of Noel Cuevas? I consider myself a fairly with-it baseball fan, and I hadn’t heard of the guy. He’s got an OPS+ of 54 in 121 plate appearances this season, his first in the big leagues. He finally flashed a bit of power last season as a 25-year-old in AAA. Today, with two runners on, Paxton made a mistake and left a slider over the middle of the plate, and Cuevas took advantage.
That three-run dinger gave the Rockies a lead they would never relinquish.
From there, the M’s lineup kept up its anemic ways, with strikeouts galore and a double play in the eighth. When Dave Sims let me know that Ben Gamel, Freitas, and Romine were coming up in the bottom of the ninth, I rolled my eyes. You can guess what happened from there.
So, through two games against the Rockies, the Mariners have a grand total of two runs. Ugly. Still, the glass of the Mariners’ season is certainly more than half full, with a seven-game lead in the Wild Card standings. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some worrying signs. Nagging injuries have really hurt the bottom of the lineup. Nelson Cruz can’t keep hitting like a baseball Adonis forever. Dee Gordon hasn’t provided much offense of late. Juan Nicasio continues to confound out of the ‘pen. And on, and on, and on.
Earlier today, however, my dad proudly wore his Mariners shirt with the trident logo on the streets of Dublin, Ireland. A Seattle transplant recognized the logo and said, “Ah, you must be a real Seattle native if you’ve got the trident logo!” And later in the day, he placed a bet (at 10:1 odds) on the M’s to win the World Series.
I know that blind optimism can be dangerous. But after an ugly game like today’s, maybe it’s okay to tap into that reserve. Here’s to another game tomorrow.