When the plucky 2022 Mariners set foot in the Rogers Centre 202 days ago, no one outside the Pacific Northwest gave the upstart team much of a chance against the terrifyingly-deep Blue Jays lineup. Two days later, the Mariners emerged triumphant over their heavily-favored foes, transmuting the magic of Cal Raleigh’s walkoff winner that sent the team into the playoffs for the first time since flip phones into a trip to the ALDS, where they predictably fell to the dragons of the AL West in the Astros. It was a great story, one most people outside the Pacific Northwest could appreciate: the brave little tailors of Seattle taking on the giants of the rest of the league (if not the actual Giants).
But after an off-season spent in making marginal upgrades rather than gearing up to slay the dragons, things are very different now. The Mariners aren’t the best story in baseball anymore; currently, they’re an afterthought, at best, shelved with the other teams with a “disappointing start” to 2023. One of the chief culprits has been their performance in one-run games, a genie that has successfully wiggled out of the lamp and made a break for it so far this season, and tonight was yet another one-run loss for a club that used to make that their specialty.
Even more disheartening, this is a game that theoretically the Mariners had a good chance to win, with their ace on the mound, Luis Castillo, facing the Blue Jays’ ace in Alek Manoah. Neither ace was particularly acing tonight, though; the difference is the Blue Jays made the most of their opportunities, while the Mariners let them pass by. Once again, the Mariners offense scraped together a paltry amount of runs, not scoring after the third inning, and not recording a hit after the fifth—a single by Jarred Kelenic, who, along with Julio and Cal Raleigh, accounted for all six of the Mariners’ hits tonight, with two apiece. Ty France was a liability in the two-hole, going 0-for-4 with a particularly egregious first-pitch-swinging GIDP that killed a scoring chance and a potential big inning in the second, when the Mariners got one of their two runs on a Cal Raleigh home run.
But today’s worst WPA belongs, deservedly, to Teoscar Hernández, who returned to the Rogers Centre to a warm welcome and lengthy video board tribute only to go 0-4 with three strikeouts. Not exactly the story as he would have written it. Meanwhile, the trade piece the Mariners gave up to acquire the outfielder, Erik Swanson, looked utterly dominant in a high-leverage inning of work, setting down the side 1-2-3 with two strikeouts. Meanwhile, Trevor Gott, one of the arms the Mariners are using to try to plug the Swanson-shaped hole in their bullpen, surrendered the go-ahead run in an outing where he just wasn’t as sharp as he has been. Sometimes you’re just on the wrong side of the narrative.
Swanson wasn’t the only Blue Jays reliever to dominate; every reliever out of the pen struck out two tonight en route to 15 Mariners batters striking out; nary a one allowed a hit. Even if Luis Castillo had been at his sharpest—which he wasn’t, striking out just four while walking two and only lasting five innings against the pesky Blue Jays lineup—that’s a tough ask for the pitching staff to shoulder the load, with Castillo giving up two runs (one on a home run from the eternally-pesky Alejandro Kirk), Gott one, and Brash and Murfee with two perfectly clean innings. It’s hard to fault the pitching staff for this loss, even as Castillo was—worryingly—not his best for a second straight outing. Sometimes, the offense has to do their jobs, too, and fifteen strikeouts at the professional level is sort of the definition of “not doing one’s job.”
It feels especially diabolical, after facing a Phillies lineup that seemed eternally long, to switch over to a Blue Jays lineup where Whit Merrifield, hitting .324, is hitting eighth—and especially twists the knife for Mariners fans watching a bottom of the lineup composed of both Kolten Wong and Jose Caballero. It’s a story that, less than 30 games in the season, we’re already sick of telling.