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The ten best whiffs of the first half

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Toronto Blue Jays v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

For Mariners fans, the All-Star break is usually a good time to check out of baseball for a few days, to reset and gather our strength, knowing we’ve got another few months of frustration headed our way. Not this year. This is the highest high I can remember going into the break with since at least 2001. So instead of mentally checking out, let’s check out some highlights.

Specifically, let’s take a look at the ten best swings and misses of the first half. A quick note on my methodology: I used no methodology. These are not the whiffs with the highest WPA swings or the whiffs on the nastiest pitches, though there are some of both. These are just ten I think we should all revel in for a few minutes, and since “best” is subjective, that’s what I’m calling it. So please, use the comments to link to your favorites that I missed.

The one limitation I put on it was to spread the love and only include one whiff per pitcher. So, with apologies to Chris Flexen and Penn Murfee (whose best whiffs can be found here and here), let’s do it.

April 12 at CHW: The wizard pitch works

It’s been a bit lost to time, but early in the year, the Matt Brash Hype Train was going supersonic. And although he’s lost his rotation spot at this point, there’s little doubt he’s an MLB-caliber pitcher, which ain’t bad for a PTBNL. The reason he’s clearly got a career in front of him is his slider, which is really two pitches. When he used it to get a sword from no less a hitter than José Abreu to finish out his first Major League inning, we knew Brash was for real.

April 24 v. KCR: Swanny pops off

Erik Swanson was kind of an afterthought in the James Paxton deal. But after a few years of eating innings, in his fourth season with the club, he’s developed a legitimate slider and become a pitcher that I stop what I’m doing to watch. When he struck out one of the 2021 Mariners nemeses during the last game of the 2022 team’s electric first homestand, we got the first glimpse of the late-inning weapon he’s turned himself into. We might owe you an Erik Swanson article.

May 1 at MIA: A Mariner gets a Marlin to go fishing

Much was made of Ty France’s All-Star snub, which was eventually corrected. But also maddening was Logan Gilbert’s, which wasn’t. In his sophomore season, he’s still a bit too reliant on his dominant fastball, using it more than 55% of the time. But the thing is, it works, to the tune of the 15th-best ERA among qualified starters. And he’s still developing his secondaries. Here he is making his silder look enticing enough to get last year’s World Series MVP to swing at a pitch so far outside it needed DEET.

May 13 at NYM: More like Mark Canh’t-a

Marco’s been doing incredible things this year. One of the most remarkable, however, has been his ability to step up in big games, such as dominating the home opener and outdeuling Kevin Gausman to salvage the team’s trip to Toronto. But he saved his best work for his biggest stage. On a Friday night game in Queens, our soft-tossing lefty went tip-top-toes with literally Max Scherzer. And while he’s mostly been getting his results with weak contact rather than whiffs, when he got longtime Lookout Landing nemesis, Mark Canha, to miss a pitch way up out of the zone, I’m confident New York’s finest baseball reporter’s heart was really on Seattle’s side.

May 15 at NYM: Diego shows the Polar Bear what ice cold really means

The Mariners went into the ninth inning with a three-run lead, but Drew Steckenrider quickly turned it into a one-run lead. With the tying run at third and go-ahead run at second, one out, and the heart of the Mets’ order coming up, the Leverage Index reached a hearty 6.00. Scott had no choice to bring in Deigo Castillo. Why? Because for someone who fidgets as much as he does, Diego Castillo does not experience anxiety.

Nursing that one-run lead, Castillo struck out Starling Marte. But then Scott wanted to test the bounds of Castillo’s iciness, and intentionally walked Francisco Lindor, to load the bases, bringing Pete Alonso to the plate and the Leverage Index to 10.82. You thought this was heart-pounding? Diego Castillo just laughs at your nerves and works a full count. There are few things in life that I take as seriously as the sanctity of Amtrak’s quiet car, but when I saw this, I couldn’t help but yell out “WHAT?!” (and was promptly shushed). Dominican Big Boss just laughs at my nerves.

May 31 at BAL: Kirby spins Mullins right round, baby, right round

George Kirby’s been so good, they’ve sent him down to Tacoma. No really, that’s a good thing. They have to manage his workload and want him to be available for the stretch run. This whiff was part of a dominant outing from the Westchester Wizard, where he struck out eight birdos, while walking just one. The whole game got a little silly—this was the game where Julio got ejected for a nonsense reason (excuse me, one of the two games where Julio got ejected for nonsense reasons), and Luis Torrens ended up playing second base. This whiff wasn’t at a high-leverage moment in the game, and came during a low point in the season, but spinning Mullins around like a top is just fun.

June 17 v. ANA: Oh, right, Robbie Ray’s a Cy Young winner

Was I the only one who spent most of the winter forgetting that the Mariners had signed the defending AL Cy Young winner? His first twelve starts weren’t doing much to make me remember. It got so bad, I was roasting our ace on Twitter:

How were we to know how consequential that clip would turn out to be. I am now 100% sure that this was the moment they decided to start having Robbie Ray throw his sinker again. He broke it out the following inning and hasn’t looked back. On June 17, he made sure everyone he was back, striking out ten and walking just one. Getting noted crybaby Mike Trout to strikeout, retiring his 16th in a row, was the exclamation point on Ray’s announcement of his return to greatness.

July 8 v. TOR: Sewald silences our noisiest rivals

The win streak has had a lot of memorable moments, but I think the four-game sweep of Toronto will likely be the most lasting memory. Sending in our fireman to get the game to the bottom of the ninth and hosing down the flames coming from the Canadians in the stands was as emphatic as anything since Félix told the world whose house T-Mobile Park is. Damn it if we didn’t all do the Hulk Hands at this one.

July 9 v. TOR: Andrés’s new toy

Recapping the June 10th game, I wrote:

But if [the rest of the bullpen was] Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well”—sharp and flawless—Andrés Muñoz was “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)”—unrestrained and embarrassing. Muñoz’s tools are so flashy, but if doesn’t refine them, that 100 mph fastball and sometimes-on/sometimes-off slider are going to keep getting him in trouble. His first batter, Seattle-born Bobby Dalbec, had no trouble laying off two 99 mph four-seamers way up out of the zone. Now sitting on the slider, he took one that landed middle middle and deposited it into the left field seats.

When Rob Refsnyder (who, again, I promise is an actual ball player) predictably ended up with two strikes, Muñoz couldn’t take advantage, instead hitting him with a fastball. Devers moved him to third and J.P. Crawford had to let him score in order to turn two against JD Martinez, bringing the score to 4-2. If you only focus on the velocity, as Aaron Goldsmith and Dave Sims seem to do, Muñoz looks like he should work, but until he can harness his tools, he’s three kids in a trenchcoat.

After my defamatory assclownery, Muñoz reworked his slider, adding a few mph. Since then, he’s struck out 56.3% of the batters he’s faced with a FIP of -0.19, bested on both marks by only Edwin Díaz. He’s allowed just one run to score, which was unearned. Here he is sniping George Springer on a slider that was, no joke, 93 mph.

July 16 at TEX: Chiuderista

In his 40 in 25 on Matt Festa, John said, “Do indeed call it a comeback.” Matt Festa has clawed his way back from injuries and ineffectiveness to become a fixture in the 2022 pen. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is over five, and he’s only had one meltdown all season. With the win streak in jeopardy on Saturday—the game in extras, a Manfred Man on second, and an exhausted bullpen—Scott turned to Festa to close out Saturday’s game, and Festa delivered, getting all three batters he faced to strike out swinging. He earned his first career save a batter later, but his best whiff came from longtime Mariner pest Qatari Chrysanthemum.