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With lifeguard on lunch break, Mariners avoid drowning

The team comes within a half-game of third place in the AL West, and within four games of a playoff spot

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

If there was a common thread about the recent iterations of the Seattle Mariners, going back even a decade, it’s that they’ve refused to let anyone let go. They’ve been inept at times, snake-bitten at others, but above all, they’ve been frustrating. Their dearly departed streak of ineptitude was marked by just enough well-timed winning streaks and desperate runs to keep things interesting.

I have kept feeling the temptation to compare these Mariners to those of 2017, but I’ve realized that, aside from the outcomes of the games, these Mariners are pretty much nothing like that luckless squad. These Mariners have not suffered multiple devastating pitching injuries. They don’t have multiple quad-A outfielders clawing at scraps of playing time. They’re certainly not dealing with multiple underachieving veterans the team perplexingly signed in lieu of actual talent.

OK, maybe they’re a little similar.

Without forcing you to relive that most cursed of seasons, know that the 2017 Mariners hit the .500 mark 18 times over the course of the season before finally being eliminated on September 24. Nobody was forcing me to watch that Mariners team, but it did kinda feel like the Mariners were forcing me to watch them.

To further drive home the point, here’s when the last decade of Mariners teams were eliminated from the postseason.

Mariners Elimination Dates

Season Date Eliminated
Season Date Eliminated
2013 September 16th
2014 September 28th
2015 September 28th
2016 October 1st
2017 September 24th
2018 September 22nd
2019 September 6th
2020 September 25th
2021 October 3rd
2022 October 15th

Other than 2019, every Mariners season has lasted until the final week of September. Now, don’t get me wrong — we’ve been privileged to see some fun teams contend deep into the season. But teams like 2017, 2018, and dare I say 2023, have felt more than capable of making more than a run — and don’t.

All of this is to say: the Mariners won today, and I’m really happy about it after seriously having considered checking out of the season last week. It sure would be nice for them to continue playing up to their potential.

The beginning of today’s series opener between the Mariners and the Astros held some serious tension. A brief and scoreless first inning contrasted with a long and drawn-out second inning. Longtime Astros farmhand Ronel Blanco came into tonight with a decent K% of 22.2, a bad BB% of 12.5, and a putrid HR/9 of 2.25. He was pretty much as-advertised: he struck out two in the first before walking two in the second and giving up a two-run home run to Eugenio Suárez.

George Kirby ran into a bit of trouble of his own in the second. He eventually got out of a first-and-third jam, but needed 24 pitches to do it. Kirby’s command was certainly there tonight, but his pure stuff didn’t seem to be: he finished with just three strikeouts in 6.2 innings.

He wasn’t helped by home plate umpire Nestor Ceja. The first inning saw would-be called second and third strikes get called balls during Kirby’s showdown with Kyle Tucker. Once Tucker eventually walked, Kirby made his frustration visible. Ceja gestured at him, as if to say “you got something to say about it?”

Ceja would go on to have a terrible game in general, seemingly favoring neither team, nor a consistent zone. He did eject Mike Ford midway through the game after striking out Ford on a ball, but that’s show business, baby.

After that second inning, Kirby cruised through his next four, only again running into trouble midway through the seventh inning. After giving up a Corey Julks one-run double, Kirby was lifted for Matt Brash. Brash easily overwhelmed minor league journeyman Bligh Madris for the third out of the seventh.

On the Mariners side of things, Eugenio Suárez continued to have himself a hell of a day. He followed up his second-inning dinger with a double, another home run, and a beautiful catch at third base to rob José Abreu of a double.

On the back of their beautiful third baseman, the Mariners secured a 5-1 lead for their bullpen, who performed exactly like we all thought they would coming into the season. Los Bomberos allowed just one baserunner over 2.1 innings, with Brash, Andrés Muñoz, and Justin Topa slamming the door on the Astros. I’d be remiss not to highlight a spectacular play that J.P. Crawford made in the ninth to put an exclamation mark on a very satisfying day.

Once the Mariners got out of the second, it felt like they were in control the entire game. This was a game that has been far too rare. It was a game that felt easy and comfortable, like a good baseball team was beating a less-good one. Now, George Kirby versus Ronel Blanco might be the most lopsided Mariners-Astros pitching matchup you could engineer, but the Mariners have found ways to lose these matchups in the past.

They’ll hand the ball to 2023 All Star Luis Castillo tomorrow, who has a chance to once again propel them over .500. For now, the Mariners sit just four games out of the playoffs.

I’m buying in.