Chaos Ball has taken Mariner fandom by storm in the first few weeks of the season. How couldn’t it? Wild comebacks, a walkoff walk on Opening Day, sparkling defense, seven runs on three hits?? It’ll run out at some point, sure, but as a playstyle and a fandom-wide meme it’s the most fun April the Mariners have had in years.
Of course, sometimes it cuts both ways, and after nearly two years away, we were reminded that Fenway Park’s chaotic energy is as old as the hills.
It was apparent from the very first batted ball, with a screaming fly ball from Mitch Haniger clanking two-thirds of the way off the top of the Green Monster. What would have been an easy home run in nearly every other park instead turned into a bang-bang double, with Mitch spared solely thanks to a bobble by Christian Arroyo. After a Ty France groundout, Kyle Seager finally broke out of a quiet, yet deep slump, and the Mariners had a run in the first inning for just the third time all season:
I guess we can thank the Monster for that one, as well - it’s debatable, but I think that would have been an easy out in Seattle. Kyle Lewis followed suit with his first base hit since returning from the injured list, and Evan White put a good swing on a 2-1 sinker in the heart of the plate, but Xander Bogaerts snuffed out any hopes of more offense with a slick double play.
Not content with simply robbing hits, Bogaerts almost immediately took back the lead in the bottom of the frame by way a towering home run of a slider down and in. This, as least, could not be blamed on nonsense park gimmicks.
This one from J.D. Martinez in the third, though, can equivocally be!
I mean, really. That went 343 feet and had an expecting batting average at just .290. As the crow flies, that may have been out at some other parks, but anywhere with normal foul poles, that likely hooks away. Aghhh. It didn’t get much better after that, either. Sure, J.P. Crawford finally came up with a big hit:
...but the Red Sox never relinquished the lead after taking it back in the first, although Kyle Seager tried his mightiest in the ninth:
There were plenty of other things of note besides the plot of this game, too. After all, it’s about the journey, and who doesn’t love bullet points?
- Tonight was, sadly, Yusei Kikuchi’s roughest start of the season. He labored all evening, fought spotty command and runners on base in every frame except the fourth, and failed to make it through five. Walking three and only striking out Christian Arroyo in the second, he nibbled often, and ran his pitch count up quickly. His velocity was down a couple ticks through most of his outing, and while his slider was effective for him, generating six swinging strikes, it was purely a secondary pitch tonight, with 22 thrown on the day. Kikuchi continues to be cutter and four-seam heavy, and with the drop in velo on both fastballs today, probably could have benefitted from throwing the bendy stuff more. As of now, it’s a total question mark on whether his option will be picked up after the season, but starts like these don’t feel too optimistic.
- Tonight was a good night to have Kyle Lewis back. Getting his first hit out of the way was a relief, and he added an easy opposite field double in the eighth. We all raved about his plate coverage and dumping hits the other way in 2020, but it was nice to see him really put a charge into one into right field - the exit velocity of 106.9 MPH was the hardest hit by a Mariner all night. Him getting back on track quickly would be such a boon.
- Surprise! The bottom of the order was highly productive tonight. Dylan Moore and Sam Haggerty both walked twice (!), Crawford pushed his walk rate into the double digits, and in all, the trio combined to reach base seven times across nine innings. That will work! Their gloves were on display, too, with Haggerty ragdolling Skate 2 style on a screamer at him in left field:
Moore also stole a base, and notched this third sparkling play at second base in four days. Words can’t do it justice.
- He’s only ever really pitched in low-leverage situations, but color me interested in Drew Steckenrider. Coming in for Yusei to finish the fifth, he stayed in to toss a scoreless sixth. He struck out three, his pretty curve and amped-up fastball were both on display, and his command was impeccable, putting up an overall CSW% of 50% in his outing tonight. I don’t expect it to stay that good - Steckasaurus had some walk issues even when he was healthy and effective in Miami - but after tonight, his FIP sits at 2.10, second-best in the bullpen behind Kendall Graveman. With a ground-ball rate in the mid-60s, I think he’s earned a look in some higher leverage spots, especially if Will Vest isn’t available.
- Evan White had quite a peculiar evening. Yeah, we talked about the double play, but he also smacked a line drive off of the Green Monster that turned into an out thanks to Seager flashing back to his 2014 self on the bases. If you know, you know. He also struck out and made an uncharacteristic error in the field in the seventh inning; Xander Bogaerts struck again with a hard-hit ball right through his wickets, scoring Boston’s sixth and final run of the night. You might say the ghost of Bill Buckner was haunting that spot, but come on now, that error didn’t happen in Fenway. As much of a bummer as that was, though, he worked a walk from being down 1-2 in the eighth, and had a medium liner with a .550 xBA find a glove to end the game. His wRC+ rose to 56, which we all know isn’t great. You don’t need to tell me twice. Both his strikeout and walk rates trended in the right directions, too, and although the walks are down from last year by just under two points, the Ks are down by thirteen. It’s slowly turning around for Evan, and a good game or two in the next week will have his line looking spick-and-span.
Chaos Ball was dormant tonight, but that’s the nice thing about it; it rarely sleeps for long. In fact, it will awaken again bright and early, with Chris Flexen and his 2.91 FIP (!) taking the hill at 10am. I realize it’s early on a Saturday, but please, manifest any chaotic energy you may have into his performance. I feel like we’ll need something extra to conquer Fenway.