The 2021 Mariners have been surprising for a couple of reasons. The first, and most obvious, has been their success in the standings. Run differential is imperfect, and its value has been talked to death, but the team’s -60 run differential is a bit more representative of the Mariners team most of us projected going into this season than their 81-69 record.
Still more surprising, I would argue, has been the degree to which the 2021 Mariners have been likeable. The personalities have been fun, the top of the order has anchored a (usually) competent lineup, and the rotation has been surprisingly steadfast. Each of those things was on display tonight as the Mariners took on the A’s in a game that they absolutely had to win in order to maintain a shred of their 2021 postseason hopes.
Tyler Anderson’s starts have become must-watch attractions, for his taste in uniforms as much as his pitching performance. The Mariners haven’t often rocked the teal (read: Northwest Green) uniforms while they’re away, but Anderson has made a habit of having the team don them.
The Mariners going with a different than usual road uniform -- teal green jerseys and the navy hats with the teal bill here in Texas.— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) August 18, 2021
Usually the starting pitcher chooses uniforms. Maybe Tyler Anderson thought the teal was close to Oregon Ducks green
Of course, it helps that Anderson has backed up his choice in uniforms with a shockingly excellent performance thus far for the Mariners. Against an Oakland A’s lineup that has floundered over the past month, he continued that run of excellent starts tonight. As has been the case for the entire year, Anderson didn’t blow the A’s away. Rather, he kept the A’s off-balance with a mix of precise command and pitch selection, resulting in hapless swings such as this one.
Mark Canha’s swing and miss here elicited an audible curse after he found himself unable to make contact against a pitch he felt like he should have had.
Of course, Anderson’s excellent performance would have been for naught had the Mariners failed to create offense against A’s starter Sean Manaea, against whom they’ve historically had trouble. Manaea had a relatively easy time cruising through the Mariners lineup the first time around, with just a Mitch Haniger double that caught the left field chalk being his only blemish through two innings.
The third inning, however, saw the Mariners figure out Manaea’s schtick. Dylan Moore jumped on a sinker and lined it up the middle for a one-out single, and then J.P. Crawford ripped the exact same pitch up the middle for a single of his own.
Ty France, who has pretty obviously been playing hurt since getting smashed in the elbow with a 98 MPH fastball a few weeks ago, managed to sit back on Manaea’s curveball and sneak a ground ball into left field to score Moore. A Mitch Haniger walk loaded the bases, setting the stage for Kyle Seager.
Seager, who had impotently rolled over on a pitch for a first inning groundout, fouled off a couple of sinkers before lefting a curveball deep into left-center. At first, it didn’t look like such a massive double: I said “okay, sure,” thinking the ball would be good enough for a sacrifice fly to score Crawford. Instead, the ball kept carrying and carrying before eventually bouncing off the warning track for a two-run double.
Haniger seemed to have been similarly fooled on the pitch, holding near first, which probably prevented him from scoring. Luis Torrens and Abraham Toro were each retired to end the inning and strand two, causing Mariners fans to grimace and hope that the stranded baserunners wouldn’t come back to haunt them.
Two innings later, both Seager and Haniger teamed up to provide the mariners with an additional run of cushion. A Haniger double set the stage for a Seager line drive single. Seager, unfortunately, misread the hit and attempted to stretch the hit into a double, and was easily caught at second base.
The game continued in mostly quiet fashion after that, with Anderson trading blank frames with the A’s bullpen. That threatened to come apart in the eighth inning, when Diego Castillo relieved Anderson. Castillo, who has had a (perhaps unfairly) difficult run with the Mariners thus far, gave up three hard-luck singles in a row. An Elvis Andrus ground ball found its way between Toro and France for a single, and then Josh Harrison’s bat exploded as he made contact with a pitch that ended up dropping into right field for another single. Starling Marte ripped a third single to score Andrus, which was enough for Scott Servais to give Castillo the hook.
In came Paul Sewald, who just continued his excellent 2021. Almost effortlessly, Sewald struck out both of the Athletics’ Milquetoast Matts (Olson and Chapman), requiring just eight pitches to do so while not even throwing a ball. Sewald stayed in for the ninth inning, and continued his dominance: Tony Kemp and Mark Canha both made weak contact and popped out, while Seth Brown watched a perfectly placed slider catch the corner for a game-ending strikeout, triggering one of Sewald’s emotional screams that have become a late-game mainstay.
In all, Sewald threw a total of 17 pitches, 16 of which were strikes. While the baseball community has regarded relievers as volatile commodities, Sewald’s dominance this season has been so thorough that the Mariners have to like his chances of at least putting up a very-good encore next season.
The Mariners still aren’t particularly likely to make the playoffs. After entering tonight with a 1% chance per Fivethirtyeight, they find themselves now with a 3% chance. 3% isn’t 0%, however, and it’s certainly enough to keep everyone thinking they have a shot, for better or for worse.