The two game sweep of the A’s might as well have been a decade ago. There’s plenty to enjoy about a poor baseball team, but losing games in a non-competitive fashion three nights in a row with the Twins in town made for gallows humor at best. It’d been utterly miserable baseball, highlighted only by a bit of late offense and Tom Murphy’s 90-mph heat and devastating slide piece. Last night’s eruption led Minnesota to wrest control of the MLB lead in runs scored (likely for good), while their lead in the other direction on runs allowed ballooned. They needed a stopper. They found a pair in Edwin Encarnación and Yusei Kikuchi.
It can’t be easy being the veterans on a peculiarly assembled team of youths. The Mariners aren’t the youngest team in the league, but EE is 5-10 years older than every position player on Seattle’s 40-man not named Jay Bruce. Age grows more relative as the years go on, but if he wanted to talk about playing during the Nationals’ first season of existence or what Rich Hill looked like in 2006 vs. now, he’d have hitting coach Tim Laker to commiserate with and no-one else. But since the season has begun he’s done anything but mope. Reportedly taking a leadership role in partnership with the more vocal Bruce, Encarnación has accepted a heavier defensive workload, everyday play, and an inferior team and delivered an uptick in performance over the past several seasons.
Today he made plays big and small, beginning in the first inning with a toe-scraping effort to snag a wide throw from Kikuchi and record the third out of the opening frame. He’d follow that with a grace-half-ful diving play that, well, I wouldn’t say it was TOTALLY necessary but it sure was pretty.
Concerns that he might’ve aggravated his taped wrist were understandable, but Edwin showed off his athleticism again on a Willie Mays-approved over-the-shoulder basket catch in foul territory the following inning. None of it was Gold Glove material, but between his advanced baseball age and the Mariners butchery in the field this year, we’re grading on a curve. He’d later add insurance runs that proved vital, but for chronology’s sake we’ll save that treat for the conclusion.
For his part, Yusei Kikuchi has looked every bit the mid-rotation starter the Mariners needed, particularly since his impeccable one inning ‘Opener’ outing on April 26th. After seeing the rest of their rotation get mollywhopped three nights in a row, Kikuchi’s dictionary definition Quality Start might as well have been Blake Snell in peak form. Kikuchi got whiffs on 12 of his 93 pitches, better than both his and league average this year, and stifled the Twins to the tune of 6.0 IP and not a single earned run. That grading is a bit generous as well, since the runs that scored came all in the same inning as a result of two walks, his own throwing error on a bunt, and a slow chopper J.P. Crawford couldn’t glove with two outs. Once again though, grading on the curve of the weekend and his fellow starters, Kikuchi stood on his head.
That run prevention allowed the Mariners offense to do enough. Seattle got to Kyle Gibson, who had been steady much like Kikuchi this season, getting the ball elevated and proceeding to celebrate commensurately. First it was Domingo Santana, clobbering a double to drive in Encarnación who had just doubled himself (it was a really good day for him, I can’t stress this enough).
Putting enough charge into the ball to flummox and outpace Byron Buxton is a win any day. The M’s would lose the lead on Kikuchi’s one bad inning, but snatched it right back on back-to-back dingers from Mitch Haniger and Daniel Vogelbach. In a four-step process, Mitch also snatched Willians Astudillo’s soul.
Reducing ‘La Tortuga’ to a pose reserved for a Dark Souls boss or an ensemble member of the ‘Remember the Time’ music video isn’t part of Mitch’s typical job description, but as a typical millennial he’s always got a couple gigs going. The no-longer-slumping Vogey swatted another out of Buxton’s reach and the Mariners would not relinquish the lead again.
A well-rested Brandon Brennan worked a pair of 1-2-3 innings, and even Roenis Elías getting a bit sloppy in the 9th to bring in a 4th run for the Twins didn’t hurt. That was, of course, thanks to old man Edwin.
111-mph off the bat, bringing his wRC+ to 144 on the season. The dugout signaled their elation with gusto, and the losing streak was halted.
there are so many DEE-lightful parts to this I don't know where to begin, but Mallex reminding Dee to give the parrot a ride might be my favorite pic.twitter.com/M84djQjF8w— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) May 19, 2019
At the conclusion of the toughest stretch of their schedule all year (combining quality of opponent and travel distances), the Mariners are... about what we expected. 23-26, with bursts of brilliance and boneheadedness. On the days like today, at least, it’s easier to smile about them all.