You can do everything right in life and still fail. You can leave half an hour early to get to an appointment, then hit forty five minutes worth of traffic. You can eat right and exercise, but still get sick. You can pour yourself into a job application, and still get rejected. You can save up to buy a house, only to see it burn down.
When those things happen to us, it’s very easy to to see what went wrong (i.e., something out of our control). We’re at the center of it, after all. “Life ain’t fair” is one of the first lessons parents teach to their kids. Unfortunately, our first instinct is not to apply that standard to others. The just-world fallacy is a well-documented mental phenomenon. People operating under the just-world fallacy (which is most people who don’t actively choose not to) assume that people get what they deserve. If they have success, it’s because they worked hard. If they suffer tragedy, they committed some sin.
Though the fallacy lies at the root of much that is wrong with the world (see: the general attitude of our society to the sick, poor, and elderly), it holds a seductive allure. After all, if “what goes around comes around”, then that means that we have control over what happens to us. Bad things won’t happen to me because I am Good. Then, of course, bad things happen.
The fallacy is somewhat easier to quantify in baseball. The statistical revolution of baseball has been, in some ways, a battle between process and results. One school of thought asks: what should have happened? The other asks: what did happen? The process-oriented people (likely most of the people reading this) argue that because statistics such as FIP and wRC+ are more predictive than ERA and AVG, they should be used to assess performance. The results-oriented would say: “OK, tell that to the guys holding the trophy.” After all, you don’t get a trophy for “Best Team FIP”.
Of course, chasing AVG and ERA is a surefire way to run a team into the ground. Assessing a team’s process based on results is a mostly shortsighted exercise. And there is no time during which it is easier, or more futile, to fall victim to results-based analysis than in a particularly impactful stretch of games.
The clubhouse fallout of the Kendall Graveman trade has caused the Mariners to exude a miasma of negativity. The trade was followed by two straight losses to the Astros, and that this weekend’s series was against a Texas Rangers lineup recent stripped to the bone put the Mariners in a bind. Anything short of a convincing series win would be seen as a condemnation of the Mariners’ activity (and subsequent lack thereof) at the deadline.
The initial win on Friday gave reason for optimism, which was immediately immolated by yesterday’s blown save by Diego Castillo. How singular an indictment of the deadline that moment was. I had no less than three people text me some variant of: “trade’s looking real good, huh?”
So, going into tonight, my only wish was for the Mariners to not lose via blown save. I’m comfortable with the Mariners’ process at the deadline (more opinions to come soon here at Lookout Landing dot com), but there would be no event more devastating to the clubhouse (or encouraging to the haters and losers) than another blown save.
Today’s matchup pitted Marco Gonzales, who has struggled throughout the year, against an even-worse Mike Foltynewicz. The Mariners started off with a demoralizing 1-2-3 inning against Foltynewicz, though in keeping with the process vs. results theme, both J.P. Crawford and Kyle Seager had line drives with expected hit probabilities north of 50%.
A quick inning from Marco made things feel better, and the Mariners were more-or-less gifted two runs by Foltynewicz in the top of the second off of two singles, two walks, and a hit batter. Two hard-hit balls allowed by Marco led to a run for the Rangers, making the score 2-1.
There the score remained for quite some time. The Mariners and Rangers found themselves trading hapless frames. Each scoreless effort against Foltynewicz felt like a missed opportunity against a pitcher in the midst of a dismal season. Each blank from from Marco was a small bit of assurance that maybe he’s fixed. Ignoring, of course, the actual names Marco was facing.
Finally, the Mariners made something else happen in the seventh inning. A J.P. Crawford two-out walk and a Mitch Haniger line drive single set the stage for Kyle Seager. For the second time this year, Kyle did what every fan on the couch begs of players facing a shift: just bunt! Bunt, Kyle did, and a beauty it was. J.P. scored easily to make it a 3-1 game. The camera pans to the Mariners’ bullpen, where a couple of players were stirring. Gulp.
The Mariners’ two best bullpen arms in Diego Castillo and Paul Sewald had both pitched on both Friday and Saturday, so Scott Servais likely wanted to avoid using them if possible. Up first was Casey Sadler, who easily and uneventfully retired the Rangers he faced in the bottom of the seventh.
The Mariners had a chance to take the pressure off of the bullpen in the top of the eighth. Jarred Kelenic, Cal Raleigh, and Jake Bauers each clubbed consecutive one-out line drive singles to load the bases for Dylan Moore and J.P. Crawford. Unfortunately, D-Mo’s eyes lit up at the sight of a high fastball. Hoping for a repeat of his heroics from last week, he swung under what would have been an RBI walk. J.P., on the other hand, was caught haplessly chasing a fastball in the dirt.
Anthony “Sandwiches” Misiewicz followed Sadler’s effective inning with one of his own, and the Mariners were summarily retired in the ninth inning. This set the stage for Erik Swanson, who is distinctly and violently Not Kendall Graveman, to try for a save. Swanson, who has been quite good in limited time this year, was terrible.
A belt-high fastball to Nate Lowe was clubbed into center for a single. Swanson followed this up with the most hung slider of all time to Andy Ibañez. Ibañez teed off on the batting-practice-caliber pitcher, tying the game and blowing the save. Up came the hero (or villain) of last night’s debacle: 80 wRC+ catcher Jonah Heim.
Swanson possibly thought something along the lines of “Okay, slider bad. Fastball good.” He threw five straight fastballs to Heim, the last of which was pretty much right down the middle. The outcome was apparent before Heim had even finished swinging.
Heim deposited the ball well beyond the right-center field fence, and the game was over. The Mariners had lost, and they’d lost in the worst possible fashion. A clubhouse, incensed over having traded away their star closer despite being just a couple of games out of a playoff spot, lost two straight games to one of the worst teams in all of baseball via blown save.
This series was hard to watch. The clubhouse drama has taken some of the sparkle off of a fun season during which actual success felt like gravy. Some of the players and fans may see the outcome as vindication, right or wrong though they may be. Kendall Graveman would never have blown a save to Jonah Heim, they might say. Psst. Kendall Graveman already blew a save to Jonah Heim this year.
Everything happens for a reason, they will say. The reason the Mariners lost these games in the fashion they did feels like cosmically bad luck.