J.P. Crawford did his best on defense. Jarred Kelenic didn’t chase crap and walked two of his three plate appearances. Ty France hit a ball reasonably far once, getting a double that would later lead him to score. That is about the most that can be rosily praised in tonight’s game, a sloppy snoozer that Seattle handed to Kansas City early and never looked back upon.
Two groups can readily be handed blame for tonight’s loss - Yusei Kikuchi, and, well, the entire lineup save for France and Kelenic. Let’s start with the lineup, which can be somewhat easily summarized as lethargic and uninspiring. Kansas City Royals starter Kris Bubic, who struggled to miss barrels or find the strike zone in his previous outing against these Seattle Mariners, once again was scattershot, walking four and striking out just two in 6.1 innings. Yet an overaggressive M’s club lobbed pop ups and grounders into the gloves of Kansas City’s eager defenders all night, putting just two hits on the board against Bubic, and three all night. Disappointing, disinteresting, and dismal.
And yet, the offense was scarcely given an encouraging place to work from. Kikuchi’s complete disintegration as a pitcher has been one of the worst parts of the second half of the 2021 season, as the sticky stuff rules enforcement appears to have near-wholly cratered his ability to be a consistent starter. With his spin rates down and his grip seemingly inconsistent at best, Kikuchi once again relied on his atrocious cutter to get strikes, seemingly unable to locate his 95-97 mph four-seam that is significantly more effective if it can even appear somewhere close to the zone.
Instead, once again, it was a hit parade, combined with the added indignity of three wild pitches, seemingly a showcase of mixed sign signals as well as unreliable command. Tom Murphy did not cover himself in glory, but Kikuchi was as liable to hit the backstop as he was to hit the target Murphy laid out for him all afternoon, and unsurprisingly the southpaw lasted just three innings. While Kikuchi miraculously avoided any walks, scattering eight hits across his three innings on 85 pitches, yielding three runs, yet again he put the Mariners in a difficult situation both in the short and long term by failing to get through even five innings.
I am by and large prone to forgive (or at least not castigate) individual players so long as there’s no indication they are giving less than their full effort, but at this point I confess to loathing watching Kikuchi’s starts. This outing could have come from 2019 just as easily as it could have this September, the now-30 year old making the same mistakes, struggling with the same issues, showcasing so many components of being a quality starting pitcher and yet at no point establishing any degree of reliability. The All-Star pitcher that Kikuchi was in the first half is not purely a product of foreign substances on the baseball - he has a toolkit few southpaws in MLB do. But I do not want to watch him pitch again until he figures out how he’s going to be successful in the new reality, and the Mariners need to figure out a way to avoid these nights going forward too. No more 8-1 losses to bad teams like tonight because the starter was non-competitive with his stuff from the jump. If we are looking forward to next year, nights like tonight are something everyone must leave in 2021.