A strange duality was present going into today’s game. Yes, the Seattle Mariners and their fans were riding high coming off a win and gleefully celebrating Jarred Kelenic leading the entire league in wRC+, yet their spirits were also dampened not only by a rain delay but also the news that former Cy Young award winner Robbie Ray would be out the rest of the season after a newly discovered complication with his injury that would require surgery. Despite some big, scrappy moments it was the bad vibes that overwhelmed and Seattle ultimately fell to the Philadelphia Phillies, 6-5.
The conflict in this team’s identity goes even further. Their 11-13 record betrays where the rotation ranks as a whole in fWAR, or how many of their starting lineup are sitting above average in wRC+ and OPS+. In many areas this team is good, and even continues to get better. Unfortunately they haven’t gotten better enough where it counts to leap over the glaring holes that continue to pester them. They continue to drop one run games, the pitching seemingly giving up all their hits in clusters and the bullpen nowhere near their performance that earned them the term Los Bomberos. If they are firefighters, it is in the Ray Bradbury sense. Infield defense, some might say more important now than ever in recent years thanks to the shift ban, continues to fall short in big moments. With rare exception, and there truly are exceptions, the lineup is anemic when batting with runners in scoring position.
There were no ump shenanigans, no excuses for Logan Gilbert today. His command was terrible, especially to start the game, but even throughout, as a familiar problem of fastballs catching too much of the plate reared its ugly head. It took him twenty-six pitches to get through the first inning, and only after giving up a two run shot to Nick Castellanos when he, well, let a fastball catch entirely too much of the plate.
What started with power on the Phillies part ultimately turned into death-by-a-thousand-cuts as they churned out single after single. Two more runs were scored against Gilbert, both on singles, and he ultimately gave up four earned runs total on seven hits, one walk, and struck out six. He lasted five innings and only had one clean inning, the second, getting J.T. Realmuto and Jake Cave to strike out swinging and Alec Bohm to ground out.
The blame doesn’t rest solely on Gilbert’s shoulders. When he left the game his team had a 5-4 lead. All five of those runs came in the second inning, and therein lies the problem. This team can score, they can score big, but ask them to do it more than once or when the game is on the line and it seldom happens. Today they were 1-for-4 with runners in scoring position. The Mariners eight hits and two walks only produced those five runs in the second, whereas the Phillies converted their twelve hits and one walk into six runs, scattered across four innings throughout the game. Seattle was beat, pure and simple, but they weren’t toothless. In fact, their second inning was downright gutsy.
With two outs Cal Raleigh drew a four pitch walk, A.J. Pollock hit a broken bat grounder and hustled to beat the throw at first, and Kolten Wong drew a four pitch walk as well to load the bases. Cue John Power-hitter Crawford.
Resting in the nine hole of the lineup, Crawford has been quietly having a great year, not just with a good eye and walks pulling up his OBP, but in making contact too. His slash on the year after today is .271/.407/.414. It’s no surprise looking at those numbers or to anyone familiar with JP that power isn’t his usual weapon, but today marks his second career grand slam. JP finished the night 3-for-4, adding on two singles later in the game. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Julio Rodríguez has been off to a slow start to the season and has been seemingly pressing at the plate as he continues to chase pitches out of the zone he shouldn’t, and fail to square up the pitches he should. Today, he had four strikeouts. This is all relative of course; a struggling Julio is still an above average hitter, and immediately after the Crawford grand slam he powered one over the fences as well.
Dave Sims on that call was brave enough to prophesize it was Julio breaking out of a slump, and while it was certainly welcome to see him blast one, he certainly has more work to do before we can make that call. Speaking of “did some good but still has a long way to go”, let’s talk about Kolten Wong. He was 1-for-2 with a walk, a decent follow up to his last game where he went 3-for-4, and that certainly helps his numbers be, well, less bad. However his bat wasn’t the only concern when he was traded for, and his defensive woes on the year continue. Some of the framing around his performance in the field is a little unforgiving for just how tough some of the plays he misses out there are, and yet there are the other plays that should be routine for any infielder, especially a veteran of his tenure. His glovework in particular leaves a lot to be desired.
Members of the starting lineup going hitless on the night were France (0-for4, one strikeout), Kelenic (0-for-4, three strikeouts), Teoscar Hernández (0-for-4, two strikeouts), and Cal Raleigh (0-for-3, one strikeout, one walk). If you hearken back to July 9, 2022, staff writer Grant Bronsdon wrote a recap for a game where the Mariners pulled off a 5-2 walkoff win over the Blue Jays. He wrote about how the team had faced adversity, but was starting to overcome it with a “Doesn’t Matter, Get Better” mindset. Yes, with Kelenic breaking out and the lineup order looking more set than ever, there is a lot of good happening. It doesn’t matter, they need to get better. Yes, with their smart young pitching rotation they are able to fight, and adapt, and usually overcome. There will be growing pains, there will be injuries. It doesn’t matter, they need to get better. Los Bomberos may be missing the fireballer that gave them their name, they may be figuring out which of the new pieces will stick or not. It doesn’t matter, they need to get better.
And yet.. that may just be the path they are on. Progress is gradual more often than it is dramatic. Nestled between Kelenic’s scorching start and relatively weaker end to last season is a long offseason of work we didn’t get to witness. Before Grant’s piece in July of last year, I wrote about the positives in a loss on May 22nd, asking fans to imagine a path forward to growth based on what we had seen. That same team was still learning those lessons in July. That same team went to the playoffs. Today’s team has a lot to work on, but it is a night and day improvement over last year’s team at this time in April. It is still only April, and it’s been a rocky one, but it Doesn’t Matter, They Will Get Better.