The unfortunate thing about “chaos” is that everything eventually regresses to the norm. You can get a bunch of blips in every direction, and maybe they average out to an end result that resembles something normal. But as you accrue data points, blips become less and less likely. That’s why they’re blips, after all.
The past couple of games have seen the Mariners regress to the norm, in a sense. You can only score so many runs when nobody outside of your top three hitters is running a positive offensive value on the year.
I guess there are no hard-and-fast rules for when regression has to come. Years ago, I heard that it takes about 40 baseball games to find out who a team really is. The 2019 Mariners are a famous example of a team that looked great after 15 games, but not so great after 40 games.
Well, this team is at 31 games. Even if they go 3-6 over their next nine games, they’ll still be sitting at 20-20. By all accounts, they have no business being anywhere close to .500 when you actually look at the players who are, well, playing. And yet.
For most of tonight, the Mariners looked like a team bound for a swift regression. They were facing a true replacement-level “talent” in Jorge López, a journeyman who hasn’t done much of anything in five MLB seasons. It didn’t seem to inspire the Mariners, who put up three innings of groundouts, strikeouts, and weak flyouts.
On the other side of the ball, it seemed like everything Justin Dunn could do to prevent the Orioles from scoring. Dunn dodged four walks as he danced his way out of trouble, highlighted by an escape from a second inning jam with the bases loaded and one out.
Finally, in the fourth inning, Kyle Seager broke the stalemate.
The swing gave the Mariners one (1) run on two (2) hits, a ratio which has become consistently weird enough to keep track of for this team.
Unfortunately, the Orioles answered with a dinger of their own the very next inning. Justin Dunn, who ended up allowing four walks tonight, was lucky that it was just a solo dinger. Two innings later, he needed something a bit more than luck.
Dunn opened the sixth by allowing a single to Trey Mancini, inducing a flyout, and walking DJ Stewart to put two on. Scott Servais decided that he’d seen enough and brought in Kendall Graveman to try to extinguish the fire.
Graveman, who has made a strong case this season for “most valuable Mariner”, was nothing short of phenomenal.
Two dirty sinkers to Ryan Mountcastle resulted in a soft lineup to first base. Graveman, who was a bit wild, did walk Freddy Galvis to load the bases. Another sinker to Chance Sisco (who is apparently a real player) induced an inning-ending groundout. At least one person was appreciative of Graveman’s work.
justin dunn was fired up after graveman escaped the sixth. the passion on this team runs so deep and it’s great to see it on display on a near-nightly basis pic.twitter.com/mpfAS4O2Wy— Connor Donovan (@kennerdoloman) May 5, 2021
Graveman’s excellence continued into the seventh inning, during which he made short work of the Orioles’ 9-1-2 hitters.
The Mariners’ bottom-of-the-lineup woes reared their ugly head during their half of the seventh. Luis Torrens cracked a double that missed being a dinger by about two feet. That double was immediately spoiled by three straight strikeouts from Evan White, J.P. Crawford, and Dylan Moore. If this team is ever in a situation where they need a timely hit, they’d better hope one of the top four hitters is up.
They didn’t have to wait long for such a situation tonight. Sam Haggerty led off the eighth inning with a single to right, bringing up... the top four hitters. Orioles reliever Travis Lakins walked Mitch Haniger and Ty France on ten total pitches. Lakins actually threw strikes to Kyle Seager, who responded by hitting a sacrifice fly to put the Mariners up 2-1. The Mariners, who had already used Graveman to put out one fire, would need more than a one-run lead. Kyle Lewis delivered.
The swing, which produced the Mariners’ sixth hit on the night, drove in their third, fourth, and fifth runs. And so the regression to the mean was delayed a little longer. That is, if it’s coming at all.
It has to, right? The only thing more atrocious than the bottom half of the Mariner lineup is the second half of the Mariner rotation. Thus far, it hasn’t seemed to matter. The top half of the lineup has gotten plenty done on their own. And as long as the pitchers can keep the ball in the yard, the phenomenal defense has been able to do the rest.
The 2021 Mariners probably aren’t good. But for now, they’re certainly worth watching. And that’s more than I bargained for.