The Mariners will not go winless in 2020! That was an unlikely outcome anyway, but starting on the road vs. the Astros followed by a trip to a rejuvenated Anaheim squad was certainly tilting the tables in that direction. Zack Greinke got the start against the Mariners today, he who no-hit the Mariners into the ninth inning before Austin Nola broke things up the last time the Mariners saw him.
The Mariners made sure there would be no repeat of the near no-no right off the bat by getting on the board quickly, making some two-out magic happen in the first inning. Kyle Lewis showed off some speed, beating out an infield single, and while the hit itself wasn’t super impressive, Lewis hung tough against Greinke in the box, fouling off several tough pitches and setting up Kyle Seager, who stayed hot with an RBI double:
Evan White followed Seager with his first MLB RBI. In his first seven MLB at-bats, White had struck out five times while facing Verlander and McCullers, so this was a welcome sight indeed:
Evan White's first major-league RBI. This ball was scalded: 107.8 exit velocity pic.twitter.com/ahinqFPgya— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 26, 2020
It was an encouraging inning all around, as even the outs were hard-hit off Greinke:
#Mariners getting on Greinke with lots of hard contact early... Yikes— Daren Willman (@darenw) July 26, 2020
The Mariners chased Greinke in the top of the fourth, when Tim Lopes checked in with his first hit of the season, appropriately enough a double (Lopes was a doubles machine this spring before things got locked down). Mallex Smith then doubled in Lopes off new pitcher Joe Biagini, and Shed Long followed with a double of his own to push Smith across and the Mariners out to a 4-1 lead. Unfortunately the good times would end there, when the BABIP gods were unsmiling upon the head of J.P. Crawford, who absolutely scalded a ball with a 110 mph EV, but right into the teeth of the Astros shift.
Kikuchi’s first inning featured him throwing all fastballs, with mixed results. This will be a theme for today, so pay attention. George Springer helped him out by grounding out on the first pitch, but then Kikuchi walked Altuve on four pitches, struggling to find the zone and seemingly not aided by catcher Joe Hudson, who wasn’t able to secure Kikuchi top of the zone calls in the same way Maldonado was for his pitchers. Kikuchi rebounded to strike out Michael Brantley looking, but then put 96 in Bregman’s sweet spot for an RBI double. Bregman, however, would be tagged out...decisively by Kyle Seager while trying to take third on the throw.
Kikuchi again today was a frustrating combination of seemingly good stuff and poor results. The fastball was 95-98 (!) with a cutter-ish version at 92-93, and Kikuchi relied almost exclusively on that combination, throwing his changeup only about 10% of the time (he threw the curve and slider just once each, per Statcast). The results off the change were mixed: Kikuchi was able to use it to retire Gurriel on a soft groundout in the first, but was saved by the defensive play of Kyle Seager at third in the second when George Springer scalded an 89 mph change at 97.6 mph exit velo to end the second (an xBA of .820!).
Kikuchi tried the changeup again on Gurriel in the fourth inning, when Kikuchi was scuffling, having walked Altuve, given up a single (on the cutter) to Brantley, and walked Bregman to load the bases. In a 2-2 count Kikuchi tried to get Gurriel to roll over on the change, but instead Gurriel got under it, driving a single to right field and driving in the then-tying run of the game. After that, Kikuchi almost seemed spooked off the change, going back to exclusively fastball-cutter, striking out Correa on the cutter, and then victimizing 6’7” Washington state native Taylor Jones, making his MLB debut against his hometown team, on 95-98-98:
Inexplicably, Kikuchi followed up this show of dominance with an entirely non-competitive AB against Josh Reddick, whom he walked on four pitches, none of which were especially close, notching a run for the Astros, and following that up with some bad luck of his own, spotting a 95 mph heater on the outside edge that Maldonado—who has somehow blossomed into a Mariners-killer? Which I hate?—squeaked just fair down the left-field line to give the Astros a 5-4 advantage. Zac Grotz came in for mop-up duty and plunked George Springer but then got Altuve to fly out harmlessly to end the inning.
And so it felt like the game was taking a turn for Playing In Houston. In the top of the fifth, the Astros trotted out yet another reliever with 70 velocity and 40 control, this time Bryan Abreu, which at the very least was an opportunity for Kyle Lewis to practice some patience in the box (he did, and took a walk, yay!). Evan White also put up a fairly good battle, pushing Abreu to a 3-2 count before flying out. Abreu also hit Tim Lopes with a pitch, loading the bases with two outs, but Mallex grounded out to quell any threat.
One could almost feel the 5-4 loss in the air. Matt Magill pitched a perfectly cromulent fifth inning, including making Bregman look silly on a slider diving into his toes, although again was bailed out of some potential hot water after allowing a base hit to Gurriel and walking Correa when Seager snatched a 94 mph EV ball out of the air off the bat of Abraham Toro. Carl Edwards Jr. decided to spice things up in his inning by allowing a leadoff triple to Josh Reddick, but then used his stringbean frame to squeeze right out of the jam, striking out Maldonado (finally!) and getting Altuve to chase a pitch in the dirt. More on that later. Dan Altavilla pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning where he mowed down Brantley, Bregman, and Gurriel, with the highlight being Bregman swinging through a 99 mph fastball. Meanwhile, the Mariners hitters provided little to no resistance to something called a Blake Taylor who definitely looked like he came out of the reliever factory.
Chris Devenski came on in the eighth, ostensibly to grind the Mariners down before another member of the Astros bullpen could fully swat them in the ninth, but Tim Lopes wasn’t having any of that, hitting a hard single off Devo and then swiping second for good measure (off Maldonado, who made a perfect throw! And especially useful since Mallex, after a particularly poor PA, struck out). Devenski then seemed fearful of Astros No-Hitter Killer Austin Nola, in as an offensive replacement, and walked him to bring up...Shed Long?
It wasn’t a Shed Long Long Dong, but it got the job done, as Lopes’ stolen base proved to be key in tying up the game. Then it was, and I love saying this, Kyle Lewis Time:
Shoutout those 10 teams that passed on Kyle Lewis in the first round of the 2016 draft. Y’all hella dumb. pic.twitter.com/76XOeyHdlJ— Mason Prince (@MasonPrinceTV) July 26, 2020
It’s hard to overstate how excellent this AB was by Lewis, who fell behind 0-2 in the count after taking the first two pitches (both breaking balls with late movement) for called strikes. Lewis battled back, spitting on a slider away then fouling away that same pitch right on the edge of the zone before taking a fastball up out of the zone. Devenski then tries to go fastball to that same spot away and Lewis reaches out to just muscle the pitch into right field, somehow managing an 83 mph EV on the pitch despite barely tapping it. The kid is Strong with a Superman S. Also, shoutout to Shed Long there getting it done—he stole second during Lewis’s AB, then was able to motor home with an excellent slide around Maldonado. Watch the little bit of extra oomph Shed gets on the last step of that slide and his perfect aim to the back corner of the plate. After years of watching the Justin Smoaks and Richie Weeks and Seth Smiths flop around like fish out of water, it sure is nice to have some legitimate athletes on the basepaths.
Anthony Misiewicz, in a high-leverage situation, was tasked with holding on to the Mariners’ two-run lead in the eighth, and did so admirably, clearing out the bottom third of the Astros lineup, and then Taylor Williams was handed the ball in the ninth for his first shot at a big-league save. We joke a lot around these parts about not knowing who the Mariners relievers are, but if you don’t know TWilly, it’s understandable—he was claimed by the Mariners on the eve of Spring Training after being dropped by the Brewers, and only had a few appearances with the team before landing in this very high-leverage spot.
Williams ran into trouble right away when he tried to sneak 95 down the middle past Kyle Tucker, in as a pinch hitter, who promptly smacked a double into one of the deepest parts of MMP, missing a home run by mere feet. Tucker would make it home anyway on an RBI double by Michael Brantley, but not before he struck out Springer and Altuve on his nasty slider. Remember how earlier I said remember the part about Altuve striking out? Here’s the payoff for that:
Always a good day when you can make a batting title winner look silly.
And an even better day when you can end the game, earning your first-ever MLB save for your hometown team, by making an MVP look silly:
Way to go TWilly, way to go Mariners.