The Mariners and Orioles, two of the sport’s worst teams over the last three years, probably did not expect to be the center of the baseball universe today. Both teams have an off day tomorrow, and with the Wednesday afternoon start, were probably looking forward to over 24 hours of rest before they suit up again on Friday. Perhaps sensing that no one was really watching or caring about this game, both sides powered through the early innings, as if they’d reached some sort of tacit agreement to make this as quick and painless as possible.
Except for here’s the bad part: John Means missed the “painless” bit. Instead, he was unbelievably brutal on the Mariners. Means faced the minimum 27 hitters over his nine no-hit innings, striking out 12 and exposing Seattle’s offense as the feckless unit that it is. While it’s easy to point at the nine hitters who made up today’s lineup – particularly the ones in the five through nine spots – let us not forget that the Mariners’ front office did nothing at all to address this obvious weakness.
Knowing damn well that they weren’t going to bring up Jarred Kelenic for Opening Day, and that any given lineup would contain two to three guys who should probably be in the minor leagues, the suits in charge did absolutely nothing. They saw Evan White’s meteoric strike out rate, J.P. Crawford’s incapacity to hit the ball with any sort of conviction, Sam Haggerty’s whatever, Dylan Moore’s 60 games of promise, and Taylor Trammell’s rawness, and thought to themselves, “This is a major league team”.
They were catastrophically wrong.
This is not to take away from John Means, who is one of the best pitchers in the American League, full stop. His ability to tunnel his fastball and changeup – firing the former to the top part of the zone while the latter clips his arm-side corner – makes him a true nightmare for right-handed hitters.
John Means, 92mph Fastball and 83mph Changeup, Overlay pic.twitter.com/QrR7DdJN0t— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 5, 2021
Means was also working ahead all day. He somehow threw a first-pitch strike to 26 of the 27 hitters he faced, which is both a testament to his command and also a sign that the Mariners struggle immensely with in-game adjustments. According to Statcast, Means threw 35 changeups today. Fourteen of those became swings and misses. Altogether, the Mariners swung and missed on 26 of Means’ pitches. None of those pitches were harder than 96 miles per hour. Coincidentally, none of the Mariners’ 15 batted balls exceeded 96 miles per hour either. If you’re thinking, hey, 15 batted balls is pretty low, you are correct! Means also got 12 strikeouts today. It was a complete and utter domination of a team that was completely and utterly powerless.
The cruel irony of Means’ dreamlike day is that one of those strikeouts cost him a chance at a perfect game. I will fully admit that the dropped third strike rule is stupid and does nothing more than punish the pitcher for throwing a nasty pitch. However, that doesn’t mean that, from a Mariner perspective at least, it’s not funny. A pitch in the dirt – not unlike the one that nearly derailed Philip Humber’s perfect game nine years ago – was the only thing keeping Means from a perfecto of his own.
Fire the dropped 3rd strike rule into the sun. pic.twitter.com/QvQNuhIe4g— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 5, 2021
By the way, if Means had been able to throw a perfect game, it would have been just the 22nd in MLB history, and the third in Safeco Field/T-Mobile Park. What the hell, man? As it were, Means will have to settle for a no-hitter, which is the fourth one thrown during a day game at Safeco/T-Mobile. There must be something about a listless afternoon in the Northwest that makes people not want to do their job.
This phenomenon does not apply to Yusei Kikuchi, who punched out seven Orioles in seven innings of work. Means and Kikuchi’s back-and-forth made this game feel like it was from a different era, one that Rob Manfred fantasizes about every night as he’s coming up with ideas for shortening game times. Wednesday’s affair felt truly out of reach for the Mariners when Pat Valaika – a guy who would have had an offseason job at the tire factory in that bygone era Manfred is trying to recreate – socked a solo homer to put the Orioles up by three. Once Valaika’s ball landed in the socially distanced crowd, all attention turned to Means’ pursuit of history.
He never wavered at any point of the afternoon, instead realizing that the Mariners could not do anything with his chosen approach, and sticking with it until he was mobbed by his teammates. That doesn’t mean he didn’t get a visit from Lady Luck, though. As with every no-hitter, Baltimore turned in a trademark defensive play to save the day. Oriole center fielder Cedric Mullins made a slick play on this J.P. Crawford blooper, which is a sure hit if it lands two feet closer to the infield.
Kyle Lewis also sent a 348-foot flyball to the warning track in the bottom of the eighth, which goes for a home run if it’s hit down the line rather than into the gap. Facing the bottom of the Mariners’ order, the ninth inning felt a bit like a formality. When Dylan Moore came up empty on this 92 mph fastball down the middle, not only did it perfectly sum up the Mariners’ current offensive production, it also crystallized the fact that the M’s were one thousand percent not getting a hit today.
The Mariners will look bad against pitchers who are far less talented than John Means. They will also face pitchers with much better stuff than his. Something has to change, whether in terms of game plan, scouting, mindset, or all three. This mismatched sampler platter of a lineup is not scaring any pitcher in the league, and those pitchers will all bring bad intentions to their games against the Mariners. The M’s are a team that can, and, as they showed today, will get no-hit. With over 130 games left on the calendar, opponents are going to have ample opportunity to embarrass them. It’s up to the guys in teal to decide what type of team they want to be, and right now, they look like the miserable teams of the early 2010s.
Jarred Kelenic is only one person, and I’ll remind you that he’s younger than Lil Nas X. He will not snap his fingers and provide seven or eight runs every night. That’s up to everyone with a bat, and right now, we can’t trust them to do much of anything.