The Pacific Northwest is once again getting caught up in a twilight craze. No, not Twilight, the Forks based fantasy tale that once had the masses dividing into Team Edward and Team Jacob, but rather the twilight on a specific stretch of the season. With less than 48 hours to go until the trade deadline on Tuesday, front offices across the league have been assessing their current situations and making potentially franchise direction-altering decisions that fans, reporters, and players alike must wait for with abated breath.
Today’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks was balanced on a tie, with the winner taking the series, but for the Mariners every game this month has been splitting the fandom between being on Team Buyers and being on Team Sellers. Gradually they have been pushing more towards supporting the Buyers side of the argument, with one of the best records in the league in July, star center fielder Julio Rodríguez heating up and currently running a twenty-four game on base streak, and with a 4-0 shutout victory today over the Diamondbacks, their third straight series win.
Today’s pitching matchup looked to be a well-balanced one, with the Mariners setting up behind ace starter Luis Castillo, himself a trade deadline acquisition from last year, and the Diamondbacks sending out righty Merrill Kelly to the mound. La Piedra is one of the few players we can say with almost certainty is safe from even the wildest speculations on potential trades, and his performance on the day was just one more reiteration on why that is. Sure, his command was far from his sharpest (although there were more than a few moments of questionable calls as well from, of course, C.B. Bucknor), but sometimes it’s not about how you start, but rather how you finish. Even when Castillo was behind, he managed to battle back. He threw 102 pitches across six shutout innings, only allowed two hits and a walk, and fanned seven. A more than solid outing, where he generated sixteen whiffs from the Arizona squad; ten on his four-seam, five on his slider, and one on his changeup.
His night started well enough with a 1-2-3 first that, despite a full count worked by second batter Ketel Marte, Castillo escaped the inning with only thirteen pitches thrown. He needed a lot more work to get the job done in the second and third innings, where he was made to throw 23 and 26 pitches, respectively. With that in mind, it’s actually impressive that he had so little traffic on the basepaths, although some of that was luck. After leading off the inning sending Christian Walker to first with a hit-by-pitch, Dominic Canzone lined one right into Ty France’s glove at first, who easily was able to touch the bag for the unassisted double play. Known enemy Lourdes Gurriel Jr. did single to put a runner back on, but a Josh Rojas strikeout erased him by ending the inning.
Then, in the fourth, it happened again, not exactly but close enough. Christian Walker reached again, this time due to an error from Crawford, who was unable to glove the easy infield grounder. Dominic Canzone hit a sharp liner to the right of the infield, again, but this time it was caught by Kolten Wong who made the toss to France for the out. One Gurriel Jr. groundout later, and that inning ended. Castillo faced the minimum in the fifth and sixth to end his night.
Remember when I said it’s not how you start, but how you finish? I lied. Sometimes, it’s how you start. Just ask Merrill Kelly. As the night wore on he locked in, culminating in a fourth and fifth inning where he notched two strikeouts in each, and faced the minimum. Shame about that first inning, then. Kelly ended his day with 90 pitches, and he needed 41 of them just to get through the first. A Crawford walk, Julio and Teo single, a Mike Ford walk, then a Ty France single, and the Mariners had an early 2-0 lead. Which brings us to the Mariners offense, and a little bit back to the Buyer/Seller conversation.
An unusual set of circumstances exist as the deadline approaches where a player’s poor or good play could possibly result in equally either improving their chances of being moved, or lessen them. The main deciding factor in which direction it will go is an unknowable one, to any except the few privy to the thinking of the front office. Many names have floated around concerning the Mariners and who they are listening to offers on, and might potentially move, but the most recent list bears the names of Paul Sewald, Teoscar Hernández, and Ty France.
Teo had a 1-for-5 night with two strikeouts, so all-in-all a standard performance from the right fielder set to be a free agent come season’s end, and one that likely didn’t move the needle. Paul Sewald has continued to pitch well, but didn’t appear in tonight’s game. Ty France’s night may have helped move the needle as much as any one game performance possibly can, going 3-for-4 with an RBI. Which direction that needle moved for the decision makers remains to be seen.
One of the few names safe from these speculations is J.P. Crawford, who the Mariners have made clear time and again they are committed to as their starting shortstop and as a team leader. Given that he is having a career year, good for them, and good for us. Captain Crawford of the Good Ship Mariner had a stellar day, going 2-for-3 with two walks, and swatting a solo no-doubter to right field in the second inning to increase the Mariners lead to 3-0.
Crawford was largely responsible for the Mariners fourth and final run as well in the ninth, when he doubled to start the inning, and some heads-up baserunning brought him home on a Eugenio Suárez single into center field. Innings three through eight went without mention up until now because that is when the bats went cold. The potential strength of this lineup was on display when they racked up ten hits, but so was it’s weakness with their thirteen strikeouts, and an eleven batter stretch nestled in the middle of those dead innings, where nobody reached base. The final impactful performance from the lineup came from one Cade Marlowe, who continues to impress since his recent debut. He went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout, but the really impressive part was the way he worked deep counts, with some impressive takes.
After Castillo left the game, the bullpen made sure to finish the job. Topa, Brash, and Saucedo each went an inning. Justin Topa had a clean seventh, striking out one. Matt Brash allowed the lone hit of the three in the eighth inning, but sent two down swinging on some nasty curveballs, and got out of it with no other damage. Then Tayler Saucedo worked a clean ninth with two strikeouts of his own to close the door, setting down both Ketel Marte and Christian Walker on 0-2 counts.
This team is clearly Team Buyers. This team clearly still has some fight in them. This team has a high ceiling; this team has no floor. The future is unknowable. This roster as constructed is heading into the twilight days of the trade deadline, and they are giving us answers to our questions, we just don’t know it yet. Today, tomorrow, this team may truly be in it’s twilight as it exists. Or, they may just survive that twilight, and together, witness a dawn on the rest of the season, a guiding bright light back to winning, much like last season’s second half heroics.