For years we’ve seen the Angels roll out teams on a “stars and scrubs” philosophy, also known as the “rub a little Trout on it” method of roster construction. Recently the Angels have leaned even harder into the stars-and-scrubs methodology; having been gift-wrapped a generational talent because he.. didn’t like cold weather? to pair alongside Trout, the Angels threw some money at the infield in the form of Anthony Rendon, and step three, profit.
Only that hasn’t been the case, as both Trout and Rendon are currently injured, and the Angels’ off-season strategy of mid-to-lower-tier pitching investments has borne little fruit, with recent acquisitions Dylan Bundy and José Quintana relegated to the bullpen. As outstanding as Shohei Ohtani has been, he is only allowed to bat once per nine batters, despite Joe Maddon’s protestations to the contrary, and even with breakout star Jared Walsh and David “All BABIP, No Barrels” Fletcher keeping the lineup chugging along, it just hasn’t been enough to put the Angels into postseason contention. Stars and scrubs, nevermore.
The Mariners won’t be accused of having an overload of stars, but their lineup was even more starkly divided tonight between seasoned producers at the top vs. the bottom half of the lineup—two rookies, one player with fewer than 500 MLB ABs playing out of position to boot, and one struggling utility player. Even with J.P. Crawford going hitless tonight, it was the top of the lineup that accounted for all of tonight’s runs, in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score shows.
First of all, it must be said: offense gets all the attention, but the Mariners aren’t in a spot to win this game without Chris Flexen’s performance tonight. Flexen was stellar, scattering six hits across seven innings, giving up just one run on a Max Stassi solo homer. Flexen danced out of trouble a couple of times, mostly on bad-luck hits—an Adam Eaton double that snuck down the left field line, a David Fletcher “double” with an exit velocity of 67 MPH—and probably could have pitched an eighth inning as he seemingly had the Angels under his spell, needing just 79 pitches to clear seven innings.
Meanwhile, the Mariners made some hard contact off old pal Andrew Heaney early; J.P. started off scorching a ball at 102 MPH but right at the left fielder, and then Mitch Haniger singled (99 MPH). Ty France got hit by a pitch, because apparently we’re still doing that, and then Luis Torrens brought Haniger home with a solid RBI single.
Then the bottom of the lineup tried their hardest.
Back to the top of the lineup in the third, Mitch Haniger copied Eaton’s double down the line to lead off, and Ty France cued a changeup off the edge of the plate past a diving Jared Walsh to bring him home. Then Kyle Seager decided a 2-1 lead wasn’t quite enough of a safety blanket, and tattooed this shot (106.6 EV, 419 feet) into the bowels of Angel Stadium:
Seags is back from the break with a BANG pic.twitter.com/3c1ltb34eG— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) July 17, 2021
Then the bottom half of the lineup tried their hardest.
The Mariners offense was quiet until the seventh, at which point the Mariners were on their first pitcher of the game and the Angels their fourth as Joe Maddon frantically cycled through matchups to make sure Jarred Kelenic faced a steady slate of lefties. Maddon lifted Alex Claudio to have Dylan Bundy face Mitch Haniger with one one and two out and Mitch Haniger took the moment to hoover up all the starpower in Angel Stadium for himself:
Mitch Haniger - Seattle Mariners (21) pic.twitter.com/6JNuqAEp4V— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) July 17, 2021
Also, it should be noted that even as the bottom of the lineup again tried their hardest over subsequent innings, Jarred Kelenic did finally notch a hit, breaking an 0-for-whatever streak but also, more importantly, thumbing his nose at the endless line of lefties Joe Maddon paraded out of the bullpen to face him, working that hit off Jose Quintana.
With a 6-1 lead the Mariners should have been able to cruise to an easy win, but unfortunately, Anthony Misiewicz was a little rusty, giving up a run in his inning of relief, and Kendall Graveman suffered from an untimely Dylan Moore error that made the game much closer than it had any business being as the Angels attempted to breathe life into this game in the ninth like a dad desperately trying to reinflate a bouncy house at his kid’s birthday party. The Angels ran out of helium, though, and they also ran into the brick wall known as Paul Sewald:
It won’t help the run differential, but a win is a win, and a win over the Angels is especially sweet. The Mariners might be more scrubby than they are stars, but they’re shining where it counts: in the win column.