But what is the PLAN?
Tonight could have been described as the start of Phase One: Justus Sheffield was starting after his best outing in the bigs, Kyle Lewis was making his big league debut, and a smattering of the farm had just been brought up. That alone was reason to tune in regardless of the end result, and boy, did we get a treat.
Justus started off the night with a bang, needing just fourteen pitches to send the top of the Reds’ lineup down in order, including two pretty strikeouts of Alex Blandino and Eugenio Suárez. The Suárez strikeout in particular was impressive - after getting ahead 0-2 on a 95 MPH fastball and a changeup just below it, Sheffield threw two sliders in the dirt that were laid off, and then brought it up juuuust enough for a called strike three.
That first inning would be the smoothest of Sheffield’s night, though - all evening, he was battling out of trouble. Thanks to four double plays (the ghost of Ross Detwiler must have smiled upon him tonight), he limited the damage to just one run by way of a Phillip Ervin “triple” and a Freddy Galvis knock in the second. His command wavered in the middle innings - though I can’t fault him for pitching around Joey Votto and Suárez in the third - and his swinging strike count fell all the way down to six, but he kept the ball on the ground all evening and was able to work through six innings - good for his first big league quality start (i know i know it’s a dumb metric but still good for him). He also tore poor Tucker Barnhart to shreds to end the fourth:
His ground-ball rate after tonight is sitting at a pretty 56.1%, which would be good for seventh-best among qualified pitchers. After a painful season debut and a rough couple first starts, Sheffield has started showing more and more why he was such a prized prospect, and his development at the big league level has been a key storyline in these last few weeks of the year.
Now for the other big story of the night: KYLE ALEXANDER LEWIS. Much has been written and spoken about the gruesome ACL tear he suffered in his first pro year, his subsequent recovery, and his up-and-down 2019, but tonight he was here! In Seattle! After ripping a hard grounder to third in his first big league at-bat - against Trevor Bauer, no less - and a couple of unfortunate misplays in right, he stepped up in the fifth, and on a 2-0 count, provided what was easily a top-three moment of the season:
LOOK AT ALL OF THIS JOY
could watch Kyle Lewis’ fam and the happiness dugout circle all night long pic.twitter.com/wdmCs8rkVl— Lydia Cruz (@TheLydiaCruz) September 11, 2019
There was absolutely nothing cheap about that dinger, either: 106 MPH off the bat, 426 feet... certainly a major league blast. He even broke up the no-hitter Bauer was throwing! Just glorious all around. One inning later, Dylan Moore continued his inexplicable power surge:
Despite sporting a booty that rivals Hank Hill’s, Moore pushed his season ISO up to .186 with the big fly - just one over his listed weight. Since August 16th, he’s quietly been pretty productive at the plate, putting up a .240/.345/.440 slash with a double digit walk rate and a manageable K-rate over 58 turns at bat before tonight (shoutout to Ryan Blake in the game thread for digging these numbers up). He’s within shouting distance of a double digit homer/steal season, all while playing competent defense all around the diamond. He should be a fun piece in the next couple years.
Alas, Austin Adams coughed up the lead in the seventh. After getting two quick outs, he walked Barnhart on a full count, and gave up a moonshot to something called Brian O’Grady - a Create-A-Player name if I’ve ever seen one:
That was also the first big league homer for O’Grady. Good for him. Adams gave way to Taylor Guilbeau, who got his one out, and Dan Altavilla worked around a leadoff walk (some things never change) to fire a scoreless eighth inning, and there was still some magic left. It was nearly a mirror image of the seventh: Michael Lorenzen needed just seven pitches to send down Omar Narváez and Dee Gordon, but Austin Nola struck back with a hard-fought walk. Lefty Amir Garrett was brought in to face Kyle Seager, and...
After tonight, Seager sits at 3.1 fWAR - and that’s after two pretty miserable months to start the season! His bounceback has been unreal to watch, and he now has just as many homers against lefties as righties. What platoon split?
Anthony Bass tossed a quick ninth to seal the win, and all was well in Marinerland. Donnie Walton even got in on the fun, becoming the 65th player to put on a Mariner uniform this season - a big league record. Hopefully he gets an actual turn at-bat before season’s end (he probably will). Marco Gonzales will square off against Sonny Gray tomorrow, and you can bet that there will be more Lewis, more Shed Long (sidenote: he worked a walk as a pinch-hitter in the seventh after falling behind 0-2 to knock Bauer out of the game. C that Z!), and other prospecty goodness. I, for one, cannot wait to see what it will bring.