The Mariners are going to make the playoffs, but they’re going to make you suffer first.
Tonight’s game was another in a string of largely unwatchable baseball games played by the Mariners over the past week in which their magic number went down due to an Orioles loss, proving that simply coming home to the “Electric Factory” doesn’t solve the offensive ills plaguing this team. As the saying goes, wherever you go, there you (still) are.
The depleted Mariners lineup—featuring Eugenio Suárez as the nine-fingered man, Cal Raleigh with one working thumb, and like schoolchildren and video games, there’s no Julio for us until the weekend—couldn’t get anything going against a crew of relievers and Triple-A starters in what was supposed to be their easiest win of this series. In the game preview I said opener Jesus Tinoco has big stuff but has issues with throwing strikes and the Mariners should try to outlast him and see if they could possibly get something going before having to face their kryptonite: a soft-tossing Quad-A arm with a deep repertoire. J.P. listened, working a four-pitch walk to start the game, but the Mariners went down 1-2-3 after that, and then 4-5-6 after that. I think they should read our game previews.
Sure enough, after Tinoco blanked the Mariners in his job as the opener, Tyson Miller came on and pitched 3.2 more shutout innings, allowing just two hits, walking one and striking out three. It was exactly the kind of deeply cromulent pitching performance that has stymied the Mariners all season. After that, it was a parade of relievers from the Rangers, who sneakily have put together a pretty good bullpen down the stretch—at least, a bullpen that strikes a lot of people out but also walks a lot of people. The Mariners did work five walks off Rangers pitching tonight, but weren’t able to manufacture any runs out of it. Once again, sequencing was their enemy, as the few baserunners they had largely reached with at least one or two outs.
The exception to that was the fourth inning, when Ty France and Mitch Haniger led off the inning with back-to-back singles, but Eugenio Suárez—clearly still getting his timing back—struck out for the second time (he’d strike out three times in the game), followed by a lineout from Cal Raleigh that somehow couldn’t advance the slug-footed Ty France, and a rare but ugly inning-ending strikeout from Carlos Santana. Santana later reached to lead off the seventh against pesky Matt Moore, but Jarred Kelenic immediately grounded into a double play to kill any scoring threat. It was that kind of night.
But don’t judge Jarred too harshly for the GIDP, even though it obviously sucked. The box score line for Jarred doesn’t look great, with an 0-for-3 night with a walk and the GIDP, but he hit the ball hard each of those 0-for-3 times—the double play ball was hit at 95, and his two other groundouts were hit at 107 and 102 MPH. More importantly, he made good swing decisions against a parade of different bullpen arms, and worked a walk in the 9th against hard-throwing Jose LeClerc after just missing a double down the line that would have likely scored the Mariners’ first run of the night. If you’re looking for silver linings in tonight’s garbagefest, that’s one of them, as is a two-hit night for Mitch Haniger following his three-hit game on Sunday.
It feels bad to beat up on the Mariners pitching when the offense was so so inept, but beat up we must, because Josh Jung single-handedly hung five runs against Mariner pitching, shutout or no shutout. Robbie Ray came out with his hair metaphorically on fire (realistically Robbie loves his luxurious mane so much he’d never put it in danger) in the first inning, striking out Marcus Semien and Corey Seager and getting Nathaniel-don’t-call-me-Nate-Lowe to ground out. Ray was fired up, sitting at 96 and touching 97 with his pitches.
Unfortunately, soon after that Ray reverted to what we’ve seen in previous outings: failing to command, falling behind batters, and not getting swings on that supposedly-deadly slider. Post-game Ray said the slider felt as good as it has, but the Statcast data tells a different story: 28 pitches, only 9 swings and 3 whiffs suggests that pitch was not fooling the Texas batters. In the second, after falling behind Josh Jung 2-0, Ray decided to challenge him with a fastball right in the middle of the plate, which Jung fouled away. It was a dangerous pitch, and for some reason, Ray opted to throw it again on the sixth pitch of the at-bat, except slightly slower. It did not work out.
Woof. That pitch aside, it wasn’t a bad night for Ray, who recorded eight strikeouts, taking advantage of a generous zone from home plate umpire Adam Blake. The pitch that did the most damage was his fastball, as the slider wasn’t particularly tempting to the Rangers hitters—of the 28 he threw, he only got swings on it nine times, and since the slider isn’t generally in the zone, that means a lot of inefficiency with that pitch. That inefficiency caught up with Ray in the sixth inning, where he needed 33 pitches to get two outs, 20 of which were hoovered up by Adolis García and Sam Huff. García had six fouls; the Rangers had 15 foul balls in that inning. Post-game Ray said he didn’t feel like he labored, even with all the foul balls, but 33-pitch innings are not ideal, Robbie! Josh Jung’s at-bat was a relatively tame six pitches, but with two on, he managed to reach out and contact a two-seamer that was well off the plate, looping it into right field for an RBI single. Young Jung is good, and as much as Rangers fans detest the feeling of having to watch Julio Rodríguez for years to come, we should similarly be gnashing our teeth about the Rangers getting some third-baseman revenge on the Mariners for years of Kyle Seager.
It’s a moot point since the Mariners couldn’t score a run, but the Rangers did close up any hope of the Mariners coming back when Matt Boyd came in in the eighth and hit Corey Seager so hard you could see the imprint of the baseball on his forearm when he was standing at first, and then started off facing Nathaniel Lowe with a pitch at his chin. He then gave up a hard-hit ball but Dylan Moore, going full tongue-out mode, made a spectacular catch. The Mariners then opted to intentionally walk Adolis García (!) before bringing in Diego Castillo, the pen’s best groundballer, to ideally roll an inning-ending double play. Instead this is what happened:
Josh Jung’s second homer of the night! pic.twitter.com/O6q5qfIipH— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) September 28, 2022
Hey, I know Josh Jung is new to the league and there’s not a huge book on him, but a hanging slider in the middle of the plate is pretty much never the move. It’s not Julio’s fault that he’s not available right now, but it sure sucks to see the Rangers’ promising young rookie Josh Jung singlehandedly take over this game. For those of you who haven’t been counting along, Jung drove in all of the Rangers’ five runs. Maybe next time, pitch to Adolis.
The Mariners will make the playoffs. The math is in their favor, and it would take more than this bad stretch of baseball to knock them out of it. And while I usually resist the old line of thinking that “Mariners fans can’t have nice things”, it does feel uniquely Mariners-y to limp into the playoffs in a historic drought-breaking season like an idiot panda falling down a hill. Perhaps my Slack avatar was prophetic.