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Mariners draw straws, award moral victory to Yusei Kikuchi, traditional victory to Astros

Mariners don’t overcome Justin Verlander because he is their superior, but it was close.

Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Is something not constructed to reach a goal meriting of critique for falling short?

That question is what we grapple with when assessing the Mariners in 2019. The same is true of the Tigers, Orioles, Marlins, Royals, and Blue Jays. It’s what the Mariners share with five teams headed for 100-loss seasons: an abdication of intent. Rob Arthur of Baseball Prospectus wrote on the issue of tanking this week, concluding that 2019 was set to have ~40% of its games played where at least one of the teams involved functionally had no hope of a playoff berth. Year-by-year, that number has climbed (per BP’s playoff odds measurements) from just 29.1% in 2014 to 41.4% in 2018 and around 40% so far, likely to climb in the season’s final weeks.

Arthur’s piece focused on the issue of dwindling attendance with regards to tanking, which is one that bothers me as well. But butts in seats are a symptom of the overarching challenge facing franchises and their fans: for teams to compete, they must match the juggernauts that dominate the game. To do so demands either spending as wisely and prodigiously as the Dodgers and Yankees and/or compiling immense stockpiles of young, low-paid players, or both. The Mariners, like most teams at the bottom of the standings, are angling for the latter, which, after an effort to go-in and ignite a rebuild beginning in 2014, finally hit reset. Stepback J Dipoto is almost undoubtedly correct that Seattle’s best chance to make the playoffs outside of spending money well beyond what they’ve done before is to compile youth and take things slowly. One consequence, however is that games like tonight’s, a year ago so full of intensity and verve, are inconsequential affairs bordering on administrivia, and have been since May.

Seattle’s offense of seven LHHs faced down on Justin Verlander in the box score, but Jake Fraley left in the top of the 3rd after his thumb got the worst of a mild collision with Mallex Smith. His early exit pushed Tim Lopes into RF, creating a speedy but terrifying defensive unit of LF Shed Long, CF Smith, and RF Lopes. While Fraley will get an MRI on the thumb, things seemed primed to go inauspiciously yet ultimately the defense scarcely came into play.

Yusei Kikuchi was fairly sharp, with five strikeouts in as many innings and the lone run coming in his final inning against Alex Bregman before being subbed out. His fastball sat at 93-94 for most of the night, and while he was inefficient at times, against the best lineup in baseball it was hardly inexcusable. If it had been nearly any other opponent on the mound, perhaps Kikuchi could have come away with a win.

Instead, it was Verlander, completing the insurmountable Astros visage. Only a Shed Long single and a Dee Gordon triple pierced his armor tonight. A 2-1 loss would’ve been heartbreaking - a missed opportunity a year agao in Houston. Instead, tonight, it is a celebration of how close it came to real, truthful baseball. Some day, one day soon.