Two interesting pitching matchups defined this series, and for the most part both were duds. Masahiro Tanaka was outstanding last night, but he was the only one to hold up his end of the bargain. Yusei Kikuchi struggled about as much as Tommy Milone, and yielded as many runs as Justus Sheffield today. James Paxton returned to the PNW with an asymmetrical outing aided by multiple baserunning snafus from his former team. Sheffield had his first walk-free big league appearance of the season and just his second ever (this time over 4.1 IP instead of 0.2), but allowed a dinger to Gary Sanchez that nearly reached escape velocity. It all made for uneven, unsatisfying, and uncompetitive (just go with it) baseball.
On the one hand, it’s to be expected. The Mariners aren’t trying to compete this season, while the Yankees will be setting the MLB record for home runs in a season as they collect their first AL East crown since 2012. They are a collection of both home-grown and trade-groomed talent, along with about $84 million in free agent acquisitions for good measure. That the league’s premier franchise has suffered even this relative draught is largely an act of benevolent indifference. The organization rebuilt in their own way, maintaining their now-27-year streak of >.500 records, but choosing not to invest in their big league team to reset their luxury tax penalties. They are in many ways what the Mariners are hoping to become: flush with young talents that create the conditions to augment the roster with free agents and veterans. Even if New York’s perpetual talent engine never need be outdone if their financial will is strong enough, Seattle can look at the Yankees and their perpetual 40-man roster churn of talented fringe players without a home and see their aspirations.
This week, though, they saw how far they still have to go. Neither Paxton nor JA Happ were particularly sharp, but that’s alright when the two are their teams’ No. 2 and 4 starters. Seattle hasn’t had the luxury of off days from their non-aces in over a decade, and they will need a great deal from their promising Arkansas Travelers rotation to earn that flexibility. The Yankees came to town with the top three players on their 1B depth chart sidelined, joined by two of their outfielders, a UTIL, their starting 3B, their ace, and their setup man. They had stocked the larder with talent to weather the storm, and it showed, getting the most out of players who might not strike fear but have been successful all year.
It’s not magic or inevitability, it is a good process backed by buy-in, consistent messaging, and enough money to replace anyone who doesn’t get on board. That’s easy to sell when you’re The New York Yankees, but the Mariners have only fought half the battle. If their minor leaguers really are on board, then the next wave has great promise, and they may well find themselves fighting back hard in the years to come. We may see Judge and Jarred, Giancarlo and J-Rod, Gleyber and J.P., James and Justus, Luis and Logan matched up in games both sides need desperately years down the line. But these games were as good a depth measurement as any, and Seattle has leagues to go yet.
A few other notes...
- I mentioned Sheffield’s lack of walks, and a few times that came thanks to exceptional 3-2 offerings, trusting his slider to be a competitive strike. Five strikeouts and no free passes is great, and his use of his changeup as more than a throwaway offering kept him in the game against RHHs. The dingers were disappointing, as was his heightened pitch count, but the Yankees are one of the best offenses in baseball and have done this to, well, everyone. It’s not a moral victory but it wasn’t a disaster either.
- Aaron Judge did not catch this dinger by Kyle Seager off his former teammate James, and that’s at least partially because of The Fez Hat Guy who made a basket catch in excellent kettlebell lifting position here:
- For a while, Pax was cruising, and he faced the minimum through the first 3.2 innings thanks to both Keon Broxton and Tim Lopes getting caught stealing after drawing walks. Broxton probably isn’t long for this roster, with Braden Bishop essentially ready and absolutely nothing positive going all year for three clubs.
- Matt Wisler the opener needs to sit down and have a chat with Matt Wisler the reliever. He’s gone 10.0 innings without allowing a run to open games but had a 5.86/3.86 ERA/FIP in the bullpen before today and things didn’t improve. He cashed in one of Sheffield’s runs with the cloud-tickler he allowed to Aaron Judge.
- Despite getting sat for a second straight day while dealing with “personal issues”, Jake Fraley pinch-hit for Broxton in the 7th and popped out. It’s been tough sledding for him, but he’ll keep getting nearly everyday work which he needs.