Seattle Mariners posts
Saturday October 01, 2022
Stay Fair! 21 Long Years of Frustration End as Seattle Mariners Make the Postseason
A second later, everyone knew.
I was at the game. My friend Erika's husband got tickets from work, and they had an extra. Did I want to go? This was Thursday morning, I said “Yes!” then began to do the math. The M's had been so-so, middling to blah, since those great series against the Braves and Padres in mid-September, but the Orioles had been worse. In the past week they'd lost four of five and now the Magic Number for the M's was a mere 3. After Thursday's games (O's loss, M's win) it was down to 1, and the O's were in the Bronx against the mighty Yankees, 4:05 PST start, and we were playing the lowly A's, 6:40 start, and Logan Gilbert was going against a pitcher sporting a 7.15 ERA. Odds were pretty good, I thought, that I'd be at the park when the Mariners clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2001.
M's fans on social media yesterday were rooting for the O's. They wanted us to do it on our own, not back into it with another team's loss, but it was more of a shrug to me. I mean, yes, we should do it. At the same time, the M's had last been knocked out of the playoffs by a Yankee victory, Oct. 22, 2001, Game 5 of the ALCS, so it wouldn't be unseemly, and maybe even a little poetic, if we were knocked back into the playoffs by a Yankee victory.
I crunched other numbers just for fun. The last time the Mariners were in the postseason ...
- The Dow was at 9,200
- The #1 movie in America that week was “K-PAX,” starring Kevin Spacey
- Mark Zuckerberg was captain of his fencing team in high school
- Barack Obama was in the state senate in IL
- TIME magazine was about to name its “Person of the Year” ... Rudy Giuliani
You could do this forever. Most of the guys in our starting lineup were toddlers, our starting pitcher was 4 years old, our rookie star wasn't even 1. I'm turning 60 in January and I was in my 30s the last time the Mariners were in the postseason. Twenty-one years is a long time, basically. It's a quarter of a life. If you're lucky.
I arrived 20 minutes early. The seats were great seats, section 119, row 11, seat 10, close to the Mariners dugout, the area where Mariners players toss baseballs coming off the field. That gets a little sad. The greed. The battles for tossed baseballs. At the same time, I saw a few adults giving them to kids. That warms the heart.
In the Bronx, the Orioles were winning 2-1 in the 8th.
For a moment it looked like it would be a breeze. In the bottom of the 1st, Dylan Moore led off with a single, stole second, and Ty France drove him in with a double. 1-0. Nice. And then nothing. Then Ken Waldichuk turned into Roger Clemens. He struck out the next two, got a ground out. He allowed a leadoff walk in the 2nd and a one-out double in the 4th but no one even got to third. And in the 2nd, Logan Gilbert gave up a two-out, two-strike, towering homerun to rookie catcher Shea Langaliers that tied it.
And the Orioles won it in the Bronx.
By the time Waldichuk left after 5, he'd lowered his ERA by nearly a run. Each inning we got an A's pitcher with a better ERA and an equally ridiculous name: Waldichuk ceded to Pruitt, who was replaced by Puk, who gave way to Cyr. Thankfully, A's batters weren't doing much, either. Their No. 3 hitter Jordan Diaz led off the 4th with an infield single that should've been an E-6 (J.P. Crawford pulled Ty France off the bag), which was their third hit of the game, and which turned out to be their last hit of the game. Gilbert went 8 full.
And in the bottom of the 9th, the A's brought in Domingo Acevedo, 6'7“, 240, a mid-3.00 ERA and a WHIP below 1.00. Leadoff hitter Mitch Haniger went to a full count before striking out swinging. Carlos Santana went down on three straight pitches. I'd been hoping for a homer, an emphatic final yes, but those were the guys to do it. The next hitter was Luis Torrens, our backup catcher, whom we'd sent down mid-year, and he wasn't exactly Johnny Bench. Erika and Chris said every game they'd been to this year went into extras. The M's won them all, but none of them finished after 9. It seemed like we'd get that, and the stupid ghost-runner rule, again.
And then Cal Raleigh came to the plate to pinch-hit for Torrens.
From the looks of him, I'd always assumed Raleigh was a kind of journeyman, someone who'd knocked around for lesser teams in the N.L. for, say, 10 years, but no, he's just 25 and he's always been ours. We took him in the third round of the 2018 draft from Florida State, and he made his debut in July 2021. His debut year numbers don't exactly leap off the page (.180./.223/.309). and this year his OBP is still below .300; but he's great behind the plate and he keeps hitting homers. I read the other day that he's the first catcher with 1.5 defensive WAR and 25 homers in a season since Johnny Bench? Nice company. I'd wondered why he wasn't starting but apparently it was a thumb thing?
Against Acevedo he got two quick balls on him and I was hoping, with that 2-0 count, that hitter's pitch, for a nice sendoff, but he swung through it. It's fun checking out the pitches against him and what he did with them. The slider was the trouble pitch. Cal swung through the first two he saw. On 3-2 pitch, he fouled off the third one. And Acevedo tried it one more time.
If you look at the footage, he's almost on one knee. He was ready for it. He would not swing through it again.
Off the bat, even from my unfamiliar seat, I knew it had the distance but I couldn't tell if it would stay fair. Rick Rizzs, with way better seats, thought the same. ”Stay fair!“ he cried. For once the baseball gods listened. And 21 long years of frustration was over.
That's Dave Niehaus' line, of course, from the '95 clincher against the Angels. His was 19 long years of frustration, and back then that seemed forever, even though I'd only been following the team and suffering with them for ... four years? Really only three years: '93 was when I became a true M's fan. But the M's had never made the postseason, and there they did, and miracles kept happening. And it was joy. It was pure joy.
So is this, but I feel slightly removed from the greater Seattle celebration. The M's finally made it back to the postseason with a pinch-hit walkoff homerun with two outs and on a 3-2 count. Not only doesn't that happen every day, it's never happened. The crowd went nuts, the team celebrated, they did their little circle celebration dance with like everybody, including trainers, or at least people in street clothes, and hardly any of the fans budged from their seats. They stayed and cheered. They wanted to keep celebrating. The team went into the locker room, they came out again, they high-fived fans around the park. But by then I'd already left. It was partly to beat the crowd, it was partly leftover pandemic concerns, and it was partly because, well, as great as the end was, the game was kind of frustrating. Playing the worst team in the A.L., facing a pitcher with a 7.15 ERA, we did nothing for eight innings. It's a reminder that, while the M's have good defense and a solid bullpen, they also have the third-worst batting average in the Majors. That's why they have trouble with the likes of Waldichuk, Puk and Cyr.
I guess it's like Joe Posnanski's rejoinder for people who say baseball is boring: ”Baseball is boring. Until it isn't." The M's are a frustrating team ... until they aren't.
Goodnight, Mr. Niehaus, wherever you are.
Friday August 26, 2022
SeaUsRise, Sewald Fall
94 middle-in: Not sure I agree with you 100% on your pitching work there, Paul.
Thirty-two year-old Mariners reliever Paul Sewald is having a great season. In 50 innings pitched, he’s got a 2.66 ERA, an amazing 0.69 WHIP, with 56 Ks against 13 BBs. Any team would want him.
So why do I always flinch whenever he trots in from the bullpen?
Here’s why: I’ve been to eight games this year, he’s appeared in six of them, pitched a total of 5 innings and given up 5 runs—all earned. In those games, he’s got a 9.00 ERA, a horrendous 2.20 WHIP, with 4 Ks against 6 BBs.
And it’s not just a consequence of one bad outing. In two of those games he didn’t give up a run but still gave up the game. On May 29, Marco Gonzalez was pitching a tight 1-1 game against the Houston Astros when he gave up a one-out double in the 8th. In comes Sewald. He gets a groundout, walks a guy intentionally, walks a guy uninentionally, then gives up the go-ahead (and ultimately game-winning) single. We lose 2-1. My next game, June 15, Marco Gonzalez is pitching a tight 0-0 game against the Minnesota Twins when he scatters a walk and single in the 7th. There are two on and two out. In comes Sewald. And he promptly gives up a single to break the tie and the Twins go on to win 5-0.
Again, those are the games where, statistically, he doesn’t look bad. The only game I’ve been to where Sewald trotted in and did what relievers (and he) tend to do was the 13-inning beauty against the Yankees in early August: three up, three down. Otherwise, in those six games, he’s been on the mound four times when the M’s gave up the lead.
That includes Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Washington Nationals—the literal worst team in baseball (41-83), whose two best hitters (Soto, Bell) are now with the Padres. Plus we were facing a pitcher with an ERA over 6.00. I assumed, OK, we got this. And sure, Mariners starter George Kirby gave up a run in the 1st. But this was the Nats, the literal worst team in baseball.
This is what we managed through the first six innings:
- One-out single, erased in DP
- Leadoff walk, bupkis
- One-out HBP, bupkis
- One-out walk, erased in DP
- Leadoff double, stranded
- One-out single, bupkis
It wasn’t until two outs in the 8th that Julio Rodriguez tied the game with a homerun to left—his 20th. Finally! Now we’re talking!
And in trots Sewald for the top of the 9th:
- 2-run HR
Cue Charlie Brown-ish sigh all around T-Mobile Park.
I guess the ump wasn't great throughout the game—J.P. even got tossed late—but that's bad placement from Sewald on a 1-2 pitch with two outs in the 9th inning of a tie game. If there's a general zone for hitters, he placed it exactly there. Charlie Brown could've hit it out.
For the bottom half, we got a leadoff double and a walk. And with two outs Cal Raleigh soared one to center, the deepest part of the park. Caught at the warning track. It was that kind of blue-ball game. All promise and no follow-through.
So what to make of this statistical anomaly with Sewald. Am I just bad luck for the guy? I go to a lot of day games so I thought maybe he’s just bad at day games. Nope. He’s better during the day: 23.1 IP, 1.93 ERA, 0.64 WHIP. However, he is worse at T-Mobile. His home/away innings are all but split down the middle (25.2/25) but he's given up 14 of his 15 earned runs, and 6 of his 7 homers, at T-Mobile. His away ERA is 0.36. At home, it's 4.91. Wow.
Paul, my next scheduled game is Sept. 6 against the ChiSox. Give me a call if you’d rather I didn’t go. I’d understand.
Wednesday August 10, 2022
Mariners Turn Ghostbusters on Yankees in Extras
Well, I never thought I'd see that again.
By which I mean a game that goes 13 innings because the two teams keep putting up goose eggs in extras. Every inning, each team essentially got a leadoff double and stranded them all. In two of those innings, the Yankees made baserunning blunders that erased their Rob Manfred-mandated ghost runner. You know the old “three up, three down” line? For the Yankees, it was “two up, three down.” Which ... yeah, I can't even.
I also never thought I'd see that again: my long-suffering Seattle Mariners manhandling the mighty New York Yankees like it was 1995. Or how about watching a true ace pitch for your side? That was fun. Welcome to Seattle, Luis Castillo. How about a packed stadium in which, whenever Yankee fans began their idiot “Let's-go-Yank-kees!” chant, we drown them out with “Let's-go-Marin-ers!” That was funner. That made me proud.
I've been tracking these 2022 Yanks for a while now, initially out of fear. By mid-June it felt like they couldn't lose: they were 49-16, 33 games over .500. That's a .753 winning percentage, which put them on pace to win 122, which would've shattered the 116-game mark the Mariners set in 2001. They'd lost just once that month. They were big, moneyed, and unstoppable. Then, suddenly, not. They lost a game here, a game there. They split a four-game series with Houston at the end of June. They split a two-game series with Pittsburgh at the beginning of July. They lost a three-game series to Cincinnati before the All-Star break. And since the All-Star break, they've gone 7-12, getting swept in two-game series by the Astros and Mets, and in a three-game series last weekend by St. Louis. They've been no-hit, one-hit, two-hit, and last night, after crushing the M's 9-4 in the opener, they managed just three hits in 13 innings: a single in the 1st, a single in the 4th, a single in the 8th.
They couldn't run the bases. Their 10th-inning ghost runner was speedy, Andrew Benintendi, but he got caught stealing—by the pitcher. He made his move to third before our pitcher, Paul Sewald, made his move to the plate and got caught in a rundown. We kept playing pickle with the Yanks. It was little league again. It was elementary school. In the 11th, their ghost runner Miguel Andujar was doubled off second after a leadoff lineout, and in the 12th, their ghost, Jose Trevino, was caught between second and third on a comebacker to the pitcher. After we ran him down, we ran down the batter, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, trying for second. Ghosts were falling everywhere. The Mariners were Ghostbusters.
But the M's, still Julio-less, weren't doing much against Gerrit Cole, either. We got a single in the third from Sam Haggerty, who's still batting over .300 and still batting near the bottom of the order for some fathom-less reason. Next inning, leadoff hitter Adam Frazier lined a single to right and improbably tried to stretch it to two, and was out by a country mile. Since Ty France then grounded out to third on a slow roller that would've advanced Frazier, and Mitch Haniger lined a single that would've scored him, my friend Jeff complained for the rest of the game about the run Frazier cost us. Meanwhile, I kept wondering over why Jake Lamb and his .200 SLG was hitting cleanup for us. It was a beautiful summer evening, with wafts of cool, clean sea air, and we had nothing but complaints.
A one-out double by Cal Raleigh in the 5th went nowhere. A two-out single from Sam Haggerty (again!) in the 8th went nowhere. In the 9th, a leadoff HBP was erased in a DP. In the 10th, our ghost never moved. In the 11th, we sacrificed him, then ended the inning on a DP. In the 12th we loaded the bases on walks but Eugenio Suarez struck out with two outs and promptly broke his bat over his knee, Bo Jackson style.
Yanks had a real shot in the 13th. Matt Brash was pitching his second inning of relief and walked the bases loaded with one out. But then he got Gleyber Torres swinging and a groundout to short from Andujar. Which is why, in the bottom half of the 13th, even after a leadoff single by Cal Raleigh and a IBB to Haggerty, it still felt problematic. It was the third straight half-inning that the bases were loaded and so far no one had scored. And with one out, our pinch-hitter in the nine-hole was .200-hitting backup catcher Luis Torrens, who quickly went 0-2. Same old, same old, right? Wrong. A line single to right. Stadium goes nuts. We go nuts. Aaron Judge in right goes nuts trying to get Haggerty in a force at second. With one out? Was he just being a dick? Or was he too tired to remember what was happening?
Anyway, it's been a while since I've seen such a game. I guess never.
Sunday August 07, 2022
Nothing Guys from Nowhere Clobber M's 7-1
Bernardino’s stat line: How could a guy come in for 1/3 of an inning, give up a hit and a walk but no earned runs, and still lose?
A viral video made the rounds last week of a young New York construction guy complaining about the Yankees latest loss—which included Gerrit Cole giving up six run in the first inning—to, of all teams, the Seattle Mariners. It was the way he said it that was the chef’s kiss. He said it like it was preposterous. This podunk team, these nothing guys from nowhere, beating his team, the mighty New York Yankees, and raising his blood pressure. The Seattle Mariners. We all had a good laugh as the M’s took a series in the Bronx for the first time since 2016. It was a sign we were going places.
Last night at the Mariners game, I felt a bit like that guy. We get clobbered 7-1 ... to the Anaheim Angels???
To be fair (to me), if we’d lost 7-1 and Shohei Ohtani had hit two homeruns, well, god bless. But Ohtani went 0-3 with a walk and a sac fly and didn’t look good at the plate. At all. So not only did the Mariners not win but we didn’t get to see a historic player doing historic things.
Instead we saw guys who don’t walk (Jared Walsh, 20 BBs against 117 Ks) walking on five pitches. We saw guys without hits (Mickey Moniak, 2 for 11) hitting the ball all over the place (he went 2-4 with a homerun). None of their 5-9 guys had OBPs over .300, a few had OPSes in the .400s, and their clean-up hitter, with the World War II-ready name Max Stassi, had a SLG in the .300s. Those stats reminded me of the bottomless futility of the early 2010s Mariners team, pre-Cano, when we were at the bottom of every important offensive stat in the Majors. Our 30-30-30 years. And yet these nothing guys from nowhere cleaned our clocks. Their 5-through-7 guys went 5-for-11 with 4 runs scored and 4 RBIs.
Meanwhile, the usually sure-handed J.P. Crawford kept letting things slip past him. We’ll give him the infield dribbler that he couldn’t barehand, even though it led to the Angels’ first run. But then he botches a relay? And in the 9th he bobbles a sure double play for an error? By then we were down 6-1, so it didn’t really matter, but it mattered for its pile-on effect. The thing didn’t happen cleanly and smartly. It was just … this again.
And just when we thought we were done with “this again.”
That accounts for some aspect of my frustration: I expect something from the Mariners now. Each game matters. It’s been a while.
I was also more laser-focused on the game because I went by myself. It was the second half of a “day-night doubleheader,” meaning two games played on the same day with separate admissions, and so, on my Mariners calendar printout, where normally I have a big circle around the date so I can tell at a glance which games I’m going to, this one had a smaller, tighter circle around the second game. And I never noticed. It wasn’t until Friday night, when MLB sent me a reminder that my tickets were now available in its Ballpark app that I went “Oh shit,” and tried to drum up business. To no avail. First Sat. night in August. Everyone was busy. So I went solo. As a result, I could focus on the Angels’ hitters horrific stats. And I could wonder over why Adam Frazier, a lefty, was leading off against lefty Reid Detmers. And I could wonder whether the scoreboard crew had screwed up yet again when it flashed M’s relief pitcher Brennan Bernardino’s stats:
0.1 IP, 1 HIT, 1 WALK, .500 BAA, 0.00 ERA, 0-1
I mulled over that one for a while. How could a guy come in for 1/3 of an inning, give up a hit and a walk but no earned runs, and still lose? If he’d let inherited runners score, it wouldn’t be his loss. I was guessing errors and unearned runs, but the answer was simpler if dumber. Bernardino game in for the 10th inning of a game against Houston and let the ghost runner score. Not an earned run but a loss. The ghost runner. Rob Manfred strikes again.
Mitch Haniger got a nice round of applause in his first game back, and went 1-3 with a walk—the one hit being a two-out, nobody-on double in the 8th. Eugenio Suarez followed with an HBP (why are they always hitting our batters?), and Carlos Santana strode to the plate. A homerun would make it 5-4 and we would be back in it. Instead a fly out to right and the fat lady cleared her throat.
I miss Julio. The Mariners miss him more.
Wednesday July 27, 2022
Mariners Beat the Heat, Rangers
For the first time in a long time, I showed up at the park early just to hang out.
At first I thought the magic was back. And then I thought, OK, maybe not. Then it was. Or was it? Umps? Guys? Pause... Pause...
That was the roller-coaster ride at last night's Mariners game, played in the 90-degree heat against Texas.
Reminder: Before the All-Star break, the Mariners, my Seattle Mariners, the only franchise in baseball without a pennant and the professional sports team that has the longest active postseason drought (21 years of fun), had been on a roll, winning 14 in a row and 22 of 25. We'd swept Toronto, we'd swept San Diego. We couldn't be contained.
And then our young, fun superstar, Julio Rodriguez, center field, #44, showed up on the national stage for the Homerun Derby and blew everyone away. He didn't win—he lost in the final round to Juan Soto—but he hit more homeruns than anyone; and he lit up the stage. Everyone was like, “Who's this guy? And where can we get some of that.”
And when we returned from the All-Star break, for a weekend series against the Houston Astros, we didn't have any of that. Julio was out. Wrist soreness. From the game last Sunday and probably exacerbated by all those HR swings. And we got swept by the 'Stros: 5-2, 3-1, 8-5.
On Monday, Texas rolled into town and we eked out a victory against them. But no sign of Julio.
Until last night when my friend Jeff and I went to the game. Julio was leading off.
I expected not much. There's talk that the Homerun Derby ruins guys for the second half, it messes with their swing, and besides he'd just missed four games. Well, really, almost 7-8 games. He played a week ago Sunday, did the HR Derby Monday, played a few innings on Tuesday's All-Star Game, and that was it until last night. He'd been out a week. So I assumed rusty.
And in that first at-bat in the bottom of the 1st, he looked rusty. Texas pitcher Dane Dunning got two quick strikes on him, and Julio just seemed off. He worked the count to 2-2, fouled off a pitch, and then rocketed a linedrive homerun into the left-field seats. The magic was back.
The rest of the inning was near magic. With two outs, we drew two walks, the Texas mucky-mucks closed in around Dunning, probably telling him to challenge us, and the Mariners rose to the challenge. Kyle Lewis, our frequently injured 2020 Rookie of the Year, also finally back in the lineup, rocketed a single to left for a run. Then team leader J.P. Crawford rocketed a single to right, but he rocketed it too much and Jesse Winker couldn't score from second. And we left the bases loaded. But we were up 2-0.
And that's how it stayed for six innings. And some part of me kept thinking, “We really should've scored more in the 1st when we had the chance.”
In the 8th it was 3-1, and the game kind of seemed over. We had Paul Sewald on the mound, our kinda closer, who got two quick outs. Then he walked two guys. “Sewald never does good when I'm here,” I warned Jeff. Which is when Adolis Garcia dribbled a ball just inside the bag at 1st and down the right-field line for a WTF 2-run double.
And they weren't done. In the top of the 9th, iit went single, sac, single, and they had the lead. And it felt like the magic had left the room.
Until J.P. Crawford led off the bottom of the 9th with a single, and catcher Cal Raleigh followed with a double in the center-right gap, and J.P., our man J.P., tore around the bases and scored. Then it was our turn to sacrifice. Which brought up Julio again.
“It began with him and maybe it'll end with him,” I said.
Nope. They intentionally walked him. Him and Ty France. “They're walking all of our All-Stars,” I said. That brought up Carlos “Not that Carlos Santana” Santana, who, in a month with the team, has come up with a lot of big hits, and who could hit a deep fly ball in his sleep.
But why did we still have Cal Raleigh at third? That's what I wondered. Didn't we have anyone on the bench faster than our catcher?
“We used our pinch runner in the 8th,” Jeff said.
Yes, in the 8th, after a two-out walk to Winker, we'd brought in Sam Haggerty to pinchrun and Abraham Toro to pinchhit. “Our pinchrunner is hitting 100+ points higher than our pinchhitter,” I said. “That make any sense to you?”
“Maybe it's a lefty-righty thing,” Jeff said.
And now the speed of Cal Raleigh was putting the game on the line.
“If he hits a sac fly,” I said, “I hope it's deep.”
It wasn't. It was midrange, center field. Raleigh began chugging home ... the throw came in ... SAFE! Excitement. Jubilation. Full-throated cries from the people around ... Wait, what was this? ... Why were the Mariners pausing in their celebration? Why were the Rangers not exiting stage right? Why were the umpires conferring? Was there a challenge? Whose? The Rangers were out of challenges.
But there was a challenge. Did someone say Raleigh left early? Did someone say he didn't touch the plate? Or that the throw beat him? Whatever it was, it went for naught. Play stood, Mariners won, and Julio picked up Santana in celebration. I'll take it. I'll take delayed magic rather than none. I suppose Raleigh chugging home was part of the magic. With Haggerty, we wouldn't have been in doubt. With Cal, we had nothing but doubt. It shouldn't have happened but it did. That's what magic is.
I found this interesting: One of the lead stories on ESPN.com is about the game. Except not really. This was the hed: Julio Rodriguez back in Seattle Mariners' lineup, homers in first at-bat. It's been a while since any Seattle Mariner created headlines like that.
Sunday July 10, 2022
The Revenge of St. Felix
On Friday night a friend texted me her great view at the Mariners game against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays. The next morning we had the following conversation:
- Nice! And looks like you saw a good game. Or a long one anyway.
- All the games I go to seem to be extra innings these days.
- What was the % of Blue Jays fans to Ms fans? And how annoying was that?
- It was about 70% Blue Jays fans. We passed a pile of 9 stuffed tour busses on the way out! But they’re polite drunks anyway. I’ll take them, happily.
- I don’t go to Mariners-Blue Jays games for that reason. I just find it embarrassing they do that in our park. This was the last time I went. (Link)
- I love fans that will drive 1300 km for a game! You can’t argue with their determination to go to a ball game!
- Aww, just read this… you are a certifiable curmudgeon! 🤣
- Curmudgeon is my default. When all those BJ fans come to town, I become certifiably psychotic.
Indeed, that game in Sept. 2016 is the last time I went to a Mariners-BJs game at our park. I hate them turning it into their park. Drives me nuts. Can't deal.
But this weekend did much to wipe that shame away, with the M's winning 8-3, 5-2 (11), 2-1 and 6-5 for THE SWEEP. Recent pickup Carlos Santana struck the big blow Sat. night and the two big blows Sun. afternoon for the wins. To be honest, I didn't get trading for him on June 27. I looked at his recent numbers and went “Why?” I hope to keep being wrong.
I hope to keep being wrong about the Mariners. At the beginning of the season, my friend Tim over at GrandSalami.com asked a bunch of us to make predictions for the season, and I was the only one who didn't put the M's in the playoffs. Everyone else had them winning 90+ while I figured 84-79 seemed about right. A month ago, that looked horribly optimistic. Right now, after a 16-3 run, the best record in baseball during that time, I seem gloriously wrong. Please let me keep being gloriously wrong.
Over the weekend, including to my above friend, I texted or tweeted that 2016 gif of Felix Hernandez shutting down the BJs in the 2016 getaway game—two days after my horrific experience—and telling the polite, assembled Canadian crowd, “This is MY house!” and I loved him forever for it. But they kept coming. This weekend, despite their presence, it was our house.
Thursday June 30, 2022
M's Beat O's in Fun Fashion, and How OBP Can Be Lower than BA
Yesterday I saw my first in-person M's win of the season (I was 0-3), and it was pretty definitive, 9-3 over Baltimore. All the damage was done in two innings.
In the second, off starter Austin Voth, whose name sounds like something out of “Star Wars”—some mix of Hoth, Darth Vader, and the western themes of “Boba Fett”—we got a one-out double from Abraham Toro, and then relied upon pee-wee baseball from the opposition: E-5, E-5, and the O's catcher hoping J.P. Crawford's dribbler would go foul. Add a sac fly and we're up 3-0.
Two innings later, it's 3-1, and the O's sub out Voth for another V pitcher, Vespi, Nick, a 25-year-old rookie who sported a nifty 0.79 ERA and a similar 0.794 WHIP in 11.1 innings. So I guess he was due because the M's made it seem like he was throwing batting practice: double, single, double, SF, HR, single, double, and that was all she wrote for Vespi. In came Bryan Baker, who promptly threw a wild pitch plating another run. Then a walk and another sac fly made it 9-1. Toro, who began the inning with his second double, finally ended it with a pop-up to second. It was a fun inning. The homer, by the way, was from rookie Julio Rodriguez and it was a jaw-dropper: upper deck, left field, and not just down the line, either. It was halfway to center. The kid's fun.
This team is fun. M's are still, whatever, five, six games below .500, with seemingly no shot at the postseason, but I actually look forward to seeing players now. You have a choice as to favorites. Hell, they're having fun with the music at the park. The walkup music for journeyman Sam Haggerty (28 years old, .580 OPS) is the theme from “The Godfather,” they riffed on Paul Simon's “Me & Julio” for our rookie star, while we got a nice mix of Seattle icons: a couple of Hendrix songs, a mashup of Nirvana's “Smells Like Team Spirit.” More Seattle, please. And less John Fogerty. They played his '80s hit “Centerfield,” whose opening riff always make me think we're about to get “La Bamba.” (Did the Ritchie Valens estate ever sue?) Just play “La Bamba.” Go to the source.
By the way: those E-5s in the 2nd inning? That was O's third baseman Jonathan Arauz, a recent waiver pickup from Boston, who, for the season, sported the statistical oddity of having an OBP lower than his batting average. I'd forgotten how that was possible until I looked it up online. It's the sac flies. They don't count toward BA but do toward OBP. Add in zero walks in 24 plate appearances and you get that anomaly. Sadly, for him, none of his numbers were any good. At the start of the game, his line was .136/.130/.273, and then he went 0-4 with two errors. Ouch.
Thursday June 16, 2022
0-5 for Buxton, 5-0 for the Twins
I went to the Mariners game yesterday, a Wednesday afternoon getaway game against the Minnesota Twins, expecting not to see Byron Buxton.
You see, whenever I've gone to Twins games in the last few years—in Seattle when they're playing the Mariners, or in Minnesota, which I visit often—no Buxton. He's injured or resting or something. They've been resting him a lot this season, too, hoping he doesn't get injured again, and DHing him even though he's one of the best defensive center-fielders in the game, so I expected more of that. He'd played Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday was a getaway day, so I assumed no Buxton. If I'd checked I would've seen he actually played the entire previous series against the Rays, and the series before that against the Yankees. The last game he'd sat out was Sunday, June 5, against Toronto, which is an eternity in Buxtonville, an unbreakable Lou Gehrig-like string of consecutive games played. The point is I'd been chasing Buxton, one of the most exciting players in the game, for years, and never caught him.
Yesterday I finally caught him. Not only was he in the lineup, but he was leading off and playing center field. I felt like I'd been handed a gift.
And then he went 0-5: groundout, strikeout, groundout, strikeout, groundout. He did make a nice catch in center field early in the game, but he was one of only two Twins who went hitless. I was bummed.
“Are you rooting for the Twins?” my friend Hal asked early on.
He knew I was from Minnesota. And it made me wonder: Am I rooting for the Twins?
“Well, the Twins have a better shot at the postseason,” I said. “They're leading the AL Central, while we're near the bottom of the AL West.” Pause. “I guess I'm rooting for Buxton.” Another pause. “Also Luis Arraez, this kid from Venezuela who's leading the league in hitting. He's kind of a throwback. Hits singles everywhere. I don't get why he's not leading off, to be honest. They got him batting fifth? He doesn't have much pop. You'd think you'd want him to bat before Buxton and Correa and Sanchez so they could drive him in.”
Arraez's position in the batting order was just one of the things I didn't get about the game. I also didn't get why they closed the roof in the middle of it. It wasn't raining and wasn't scheduled to rain. Was it the glare? It was vaguely glarey out. Did someone complain? Some hitter? So they could hit better. If that was the case, it worked—for the Twins. In the top of 7th, shortly after they closed the roof (which always closes to the sound of the Imperial March/Darth Vader theme in my head), the Twins broke up the scoreless game with a two-out single. Starter Marco Gonzalez had begun the 7th, but with one out he gave up a single and a walk, then, I think, he nearly got a double play but just got the force at second. Either way, it was two outs, men on first and third, and they pulled him for Paul Sewald. Who gave up the tie-breaking single to Twins catcher Ryan Jeffers. This was almost a replay of the last M's game I went to, Sunday, May 29 against Houston, when Marco was pitching into the 8th in a 1-1 game, gave up a one-out double, and was pulled for Sewald, who untied the game with a two-out single. Marco got the loss in both; they were his runners.
But it made me wonder why we kept going to Sewald in those situations. (I guess his 0.85 WHIP, Erik.) More, when I got home, it made me wonder why “Inherited Runners Scoring” isn't a more easily findable stat for relief pitchers. It's often the whole ball game.
This game was lost in the 8th when M's manager Scott Servais tapped double-unique reliever Penn Murfee and his sterling 0.79 ERA to keep the game tight. He didn't: single, K (Buxton), RBI double (Correa, forever booed), 5-3, BB (Sanchez), which brought up the oddly placed Luis Arraez. A wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position.
“This isn't good,” I said, apparently rooting for the Mariners at this point. “I saw footage of a game where Arraez just kept hitting singles to left. One of those here, it's 4-0.”
He hit one of those there. It was 4-0. So maybe fifth in the order for him was a smart move?
By the 9th, my main wish was just to see Buxton again. He was due to bat fourth in the inning so the Twins just needed one un-erased baserunner. And they got him and more: walk, double. And Buxton was announced by the Mariners PA announcer Tom Hutyler.
“Wait, Buxton?” I looked at the scoreboard, the runners on base, then back to the scoreboard. “Didn't they just get two guys on? And nobody out? So how could that be Buxton?”
It wasn't. It was the Twins No. 9 hitter Gilberto Celestino.
“That's embarrassing,” I said.
To his credit, Hutyler sounded a bit embarrassed when, after Celestino's RBI groundout, he announced Buxton again—correctly this time. I think it was Hutyler's second slip-up of the game but I don't recall the first. I know my friend Tim has complained about Hutyler in the past, and I guess I have, too. He seems like someone paying nominal attention. I guess in this way he seems like the typical Mariners fan: someone rooting more for hydro races than pennant races. But you want more from your PA guy.
Anyway, that was the final score, 5-0. Nice seeing Buxton, even if he went 0-5. Nice seeing Arraez. Good luck, Twins. It's June 16 and you're the only team this month to beat the New York Yankees, who are on pace to win 120 games.
Tuesday May 31, 2022
I took my wife to the Mariners game Sunday afternoon but forgot to tell her about MLB's new bag policy. Basically, you can't bring most bags, including purses, into the park. Patricia's purse was smallish but not small enough for the gatekeepers at T-Mobile Park, who measured and said no. When we told them we'd walked to the park from First Hill, so we had no car to return the purse to, a storge locker on Occidental was suggested. “It's just over there,” we were told. “On Occidental.” Once we found it, we also found out it cost $10. That's when Patricia put her foot down, hid her purse beneath her jacket, and we went in via another gate. But man was she steamed. Don't come between a woman and her purse, MLB. Just asking for trouble. Just asking for it.
The policy, I guess, is for security reasons and to speed up the entrance process, but it delayed ours. By the time we got to Section 327 it was the bottom of the 2nd and the M's were down 1-0. And that's where it stood for a while. M's didn't get a baserunner until the 5th (Suarez, walk), a hit until the 6th (Torrens, single), and a run until two outs in the 6th (France, RBI single, scoring Torrens).
“I don't know any of these guys,” Patricia said.
“It's a young team,” I said. “Doesn't help that I don't watch the games, because we don't have cable.” Then I told her what I knew about our starting lineup:
- Ty France is among the league leaders in hits. “He's hitting .340,” I said. “I can't remember the last time we had a guy hitting .340.”
- J.P. Crawford is a great defensive shortstop, a team leader, fun to watch.
- Julio Rodriguez is our highly touted rookie who began wobbly, is righting himself, has wheels and steals, and wears an iconic number (44) at an iconic position (CF).
- We got Jesse Winker in a trade with the Reds but he's hitting about 100 points below what he did last year.
- We got Eugenio Suarez in the same trade, he was supposed to suck defensively at 3B but hasn't been bad.
- Adam Frazier I don't really know.
- Mike Ford I don't really know.
- Luis Torrens I don't really know.
- Taylor Trammell I don't really know.
In the 7th, the M's had a chance to go ahead after two leadoff singles and a sacrifice. But the Astros went to a reliever, former Mariner Rafael Montero (M's ERA: 7.27; Astros ERA: 0.35), who got two quick Ks on two bottom-of-the-order dudes hitting below .200 (Ford, Torrens).
“Why do we use a guy who can't hit as DH?” Patricia asked of Ford.
“I guess because he's better than our other options?” I said, shrugging.
Top of the 8th, we again sent out our starter, Marco Gonzalez, but he couldn't finish off their bottom-of-the-order dude hitting below .200, Martin Maldonado, who doubled on a 3-2 pitch. And then our reliever, Paul Sewald, who arrived with a tidy 16-2 strikeout-walk ratio, got sloppy. He walked two before allowing a two-out single. That put the Astros up again, 2-1. In the bottom of the 9th, the M's loaded the bases with one out but Torrens ground into a double play to end it. Yuck.
On the plus side, we didn't see that last part. We left after 8 because it was low 50s, rainy, and we were freezing. Plus my wife was still a little pissed about the purse. She might not be back anytime soon. But I get it, M's. When you're selling a product that has never won and seems unlikely to in the near future, featuring relative unknowns playing in often chilly temperatures, and in a stadium paid for by us but named for a corporation, with high-priced goods that are bad for you, well, in circumstances like those, you get to make your own rules.
Thursday December 30, 2021
Kyle Seager Says See Ya
Longtime Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager announced his retirement yesterday, which I first heard through retweets of his wife's Twitter account. That seems to be the way they announced it. Seager, who always seemed sensible, doesn't do social media.
I'm seeing a lot of commentary about how he went out with a bang, hitting 35 homers with 101 RBIs in 2021, both career highs, and how the 35 dingers are the second-most in baseball history for a player's final season—after David Ortiz's 38 in 2016. That is impressive. Less impressive, and less commented upon, is Seager's career-low 2021 batting average, .212, and the second-lowest OBP of his career, .285. He also set a career low in hits over a full season (128) and a career high in strikeouts (161). He became a kind of two-outcome guy: 24% of his plate appearances were strikeouts and 27% of his hits were homers.
His saddest record, though, isn't on him: For players who played their entire careers in the 21st century, Seager is second to Adam Dunn in games played without ever making the postseason. And with Dunn you can spread the blame around; he played for six teams. Seager just played for the M's. The onus is on them. And if you expand the parameters to players who played their entire careers in the post-1969 playoff era? Seager is 15th on the list, but, again, every player above him played for multiple teams. Think of that, M's fans. In the playoff era, no player has played more games for just one team without ever making the postseason. Unleash the mojo.
That mojo was apparent from the beginning. I'd forgotten this, or never knew it, but Seager made his Major League debut on July 7, 2011, after only two weeks in AAA, and went 0-4 in a 5-1 loss to the Angels. At that point, the M's were only two games below .500 and 4.5 games out of first place in the weak AL West. They still seemed to have a shot. Instead, they would go on to lose the next 15 in a row, setting a team record with 17 straight losses, and Kyle started in seven of those games before being reassigned to AAA Tacoma on July 21. That was his intro to the club: lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, lose. It was a horrific team, finishing dead last in almost every major offensive category. And the reason Kyle was rushed to the Majors the way he was? Our everyday third baseman was a guy named Chone Figgins. Yeah, that team.
But Seager showed us something. He was brought back in early August and was hitting .111 on August 6. Three weeks later, he was hitting .310. In a 10-game stretch from mid-to-late August, he hit .500 with an .816 slugging percentage, and the Mariners future suddenly seemed more than just hoping Dustin Ackley might finally turn things around.
Did Seager ever live up to that promise? He was a solid .200/.300/.400 guy with a slight upward trajectory in his early years. His batting averages, for example, went: .258, .259, .260, .268. We were hoping at some point he'd bust loose, and the M's, probably hoping the same, took a gamble. In December 2014, a year after we'd shoveled a ton of money at Robinson Cano, and a day before we signed Nelson Cruz to a four-year deal, the M's inked Seager to a seven-year, $100 million contract. In 2014, he'd made the All-Star team and won a Gold Glove, and maybe the M's were banking he'd keep doing that, but he would never do either again. For a few years, though, the upward trajectory continued, and in 2016 he went .278/.359/.499 and finished 12th in the MVP voting with the 8th-best bWAR in the American League: 6.7. And he was only 29. But all of those would be career highs. He would never hit over .250 again and would retire with a .251/.321/.442 line.
He's all over the M's record books, particularly in the counting stats, firmly lodged in fourth place in Games Played, At Bats, Hits and Total Bases, with the same triumverate ahead of him: Edgar, Ichiro, Junior. He's fourth in homeruns and RBIs, with Jay Buhner replacing Ichiro. He's third in strikeouts. Seager has the seventh-most bWAR in M's history. One asumes he'll make the Mariners Hall of Fame. One assumes no one wears #15 again except the fans in the stands.
Sunday October 03, 2021
Well, so much for that.
What did I write a few weeks ago about the M's playoff chances?
If we went 10-2 [the rest of the way] maybe we would make the postseason for the first time since 2001.
We wound up going 10-3 (I forgot a game) and lost out on the playoffs on the final day, as we fell to the Angels, 7-3. (Moot point, since both the Yankees and BoSox won their games to take the wild card spots regardless of what we did.) Shohei Ohtani hit a homer on the second pitch of the game, Angels scored four runs in the first two innings, and we were never really in it. By the end, Mariners announcer Rick Rizzs kept telling us if we could only load the bases—we're just a grand slam behind. Yes. If only. Just.
Last March, my friend Tim asked a few of us to make predictions for the Mariners season and this is what I wrote:
Erik: 83-79, 2nd place, will miss a Wild Card berth by one game.
They did better than I thought (90-72), with less than I thought (last year's Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis was injured), and they made this city care about baseball again. It's been a while. Twenty seasons, basically.
On Twitter, someone mentioned how the Mariners were imploding today, and sportswriter Howard Bryant trotted out the usual SABR/common-sense response, which is: Yeah, they're not that good. To which I would say: Yes. And that's exactly the point. They're not that good and yet they won 90 games. They took it to the final game of the season. Among their regulars, they have zero .300/.400/.500 guys. Wait, scratch that. Not only do they not have one player with that batting line, which Edgar did regularly, but they don't have any player that fits any of that criteria. We don't have a regular who hit .300. We don't have a regular with an on-base percentage of .400. Nobody on our team slugged .500. Instead, we had this:
- .200/.300/.400: Mitch Haniger, Ty France
- .200/.200/.400: Kyle Seager, Luis Torrens
- .200/.300/.300: J.P. Crawford, Tom Murphy (Murphy barely on two of those)
- .100/.200/.300: Jarred Kelenic, Dylan Moore
It's not a recipe for success; it's actually a recipe for disaster. And yet somehow these guys won 90 games. That's the story. How did they do it? I hope the Mariners are trying to figure it out.
I like these kids—particularly J.P. Crawford and Mitch Haniger, and I have every finger crossed for Jarred Kelenic. I just wish I could've seen them more often. I have the MLB.TV package but don't have cable, which means I can watch pretty much any team at any time except for the Mariners. There's a blackout on local teams. Makes zero sense if you have any kind of long-term vision for the sport. But that's who's running the sport: people without long-term vision.
Anyway, here's to the kids. I don't know how you did it. But thanks for doing it.
Sunday October 03, 2021
Turns I went to the wrong game.
That wasn't an issue in '95, when I went to all the games, practically. I remember when I missed one because I had to work the cash register at University Book Store on a Sunday, and that turned out to be the Tino Martinez walk-off homer to the bunny-hopping fan in right field. I still regret missing that one. Back then I had little money but a lot of time, and spent both on the M's.
Last night, it was reminiscent of all that. M's went up 1-0 in the 3rd, Angels tied it in the 5th, M's went up by two in the bottom of the 5th. Then in the 8th, the usually reiiable Paul Sewald couldn't find the strike zone and walked the first two batters, then Jared Walsh went deep to put the Angels on top and take the air out of the stadium.
Momentarily. The fans got their second wind.
It was all bottom of the 8th. We started off with the bottom of the order and got a HBP and a BB. Then for some reason we sacrificed. Sure, scoring position, but c'mon. You give up one of your three outs. So the Angels intentionally walked J.P. Crawford then forced Kelenic at home on the next play. (And it was close.) Two outs, bases still juiced, and the batter was Mitch Haniger, who had driven in all the M's runs at that point: one-run single in the 3rd, two-run HR in the 5th. And he worked the count and worked the count. And at 3-2 he lined a base hit through the left side, plating two, including J.P., the IBB, who slid into home and popped up and exalted like Lo Cain in 2015. Then Kyle Seagar followed with an RBI single to center, a dunker that fell in. We had a slight scare in the 9th when David Fletcher doubled with two outs, but a lineout to second ended the game: M's 6, Whatstheirfaces 4. It was our 90th victory on the season, the most the M's have had since 2003.
I didn't see any of this live, btw. No cable, so the M's and MLB give me no way to watch my local team. I listened on the radio. (I still have one of those.) And when things got exciting, I was texting friends. That's how I'm doing it these days. It's a system. Until the main system corrects itself. If it corrects itself.
Meanwhile, the Yankees got crushed by the Rays, while everyone else won. It's the last day of the season and the AL Wild Card is wild:
Either the Yankees or Red Sox have to lose for the M's to have a chance. But they still have a chance. #Believe.
Saturday October 02, 2021
Did a portly Venezuelan with a 5.49 career ERA end the dream?
Well, that was brutal.
Last night was my sixth Mariners game of the season but the first where the park was packed—sold out even. And it was sold out because this young, surprising Seattle Mariners team was suddenly tied for the second wild card spot with three games to play:
Yep, this scruffy team of cast-offs and no-names was up there with the big-money crowd. I've written about this before. Yesterday even. It's been fun.
I think I got too excited writing about it, to be honest. I think I felt I had to be there for this final weekend series. I wanted to be part of a baseball crowd where, you know, there was electricity in the air, where something was possible, where amazement at what was happening might wash over you like a wave. Like on Wednesday. Or like in '95.
Initially I was looking to go Sunday: day game, sunny, last of the season. Perfect. Then I thought like the true Mariners fan that I am: “What if we've already blown it by then?” So I opted for last night. Splurged on good tickets, found a friend, was excited.
And worried. I'm a germaphobe, we're still in a pandemic, it's been eight-plus months since my last vaccination.
Did the Ms require vax cards? No. They did for a bit, but no. You had to be masked unless actively eating or drinking. That was the rule. And in the past that rule seemed fine. The game I went to in early September seemed fine. Plus we would be outdoors, sitting close to the field, away from indoor-like structures. In expensive seats, too, so surely away from the anti-mask crowd. Surely, people in expensive seats would behave responsibly. Surely.
I don't know what I was thinking.
In section 120, I'd guess 30-40% of the crowd went regularly unmasked. There were more than a few Nosenheimers, too. Many were just not taking it seriously. Pandemic schmandemic.
And how did the Seattle Mariners organization and/or T-Mobile Park police this sudden huge crowd in the midst of a pandemic? Here's how. In our section, every other inning, a diminutive sexagenerarian hobbled down to the first row and silently held up a small sign that said wear a mask.
I loved that diminutive lady, by the way. She did what she could. She was tough, considering. But the crowd was big, excited, and 30% didn't give a fuck. Looking around at all these folks, I thought, “Oh right. I hate humanity. What am I doing here?” I'd forgotten. This Mariners team made me momentarily forget.
I wish the game made up for all this but it wasn't to be. We scored in the bottom of the 2nd on a double by (who else?) Jarred Kelenic, who plated (who else?) Abraham Toro, scoring from first. All with two outs. Nice.
The Angels got it right back in the top of the 3rd. Our starter, Marco Gonzalez, lost control of the strike zone and the bottom half of the Angels lineup. Their number eight hitter led off with a single, followed by a walk to their number nine hitter. “Not good,” I told my friend Erika, who had joined me despite not being a huge baseball fan. I tried to explain that these guys were the lesser hitters and the better hitters were about to come up. “So,” she said, “statistically, these guys at the top of the lineup have a better chance of getting a hit?” At which point their leadoff hitter doubled to left, scoring both men. “Yes,” I said.
But that was it. Marco stopped the bleeding.
But that was also it. For the scoring. For the game. Final: 2-1, Angels. Our best hitter, Ty France, kept grounding into double plays, and the team kept blowing opportunties. Bottom of the 7th, Luis Torrens led off with a triple in the right-field corner that just missed going out and everyone went crazy. Toro followed with a walk and everyone went crazy. That brought up Kelenic, Wednesday's hero. And that brought in Jose Quijada, a portly left-hander with an ERA over 5.00. And it went: strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging, strikeout looking. And just like that a lot of the air went out of the stadium. I didn't want to think it, I still wanted to BELIEVE, as the Mariners were telling everybody, in homage to “Ted Lasso,” as if we were a ragtag Ted Lasso-type team with a cinderella story that had already been scripted, I didn't want to think it but I did: that inning felt like the end. That was the opportunity. You don't blow opportunities like that with the season on the line. Whooooosh. There it went.
Except we got another opportunity in the bottom of the 9th: Kyle Seager led off with a ringing double down the line, and we had three not-bad guys coming up: Torrens, Toro, Kelenic. Guys who had already delivered in this game. But Torrens grounded out and Seager couldn't move up. (At that point, he was replaced by a pinch runner, which maybe should've happened before Torrens' at-bat?) Then a pop-out to short. Then a fly ball to center. It was the sac fly we needed Kelenic to hit in the 7th. And that was that. Overall we got five hits, three walks; they got four hits, two walks. They won.
Was it us? The crowd? I was wondering about that from the get-go, when I heard that Friday night's game was sold out, and Saturday and Sunday's games were close to sell-outs. The players aren't used to this. They're used to what I'm used to: sparse crowds making tepid noise, with fans of the opposition team often making more of it. I was wondering if maybe that wasn't a driving force for these kids: We're playing well, and yet no one is showing up. We'll show them. Then we showed up and they lost that edge.
Now the standings look like this:
We're still in it, just less so. Every team is within two of each other with two to play. Ya gotta believe. Or, as I suggested as a team motto in July: Ya never know.
Friday October 01, 2021
A week and a half ago I wrote a post about whether the Mariners, who were then a solid 80-69 but didn't seem postseason-bound, could at least win enough games to win their most games in, say, five years, 10 years. I was looking for a consolation prize to an impressive season. Except then I saw we won 89 games in 2018 so even that seemed off the table. I wrote:
Winning 90 would mean going 10-2 the rest of the way, with nothing rained out, and that's a tough ask. Hell, if we went 10-2 maybe we would make the postseason for the first time since 2001.
Well, so far, the Mariners have gone 8-1 and are now tied with the Boston Red Sox for the second wild-card spot with three games to play. We get the Angels here (they're 75-84), they get the Nationals in D.C. (65-94). The Blue Jays, after losing to the Yankees yesterday, are one game behind both of us, the Yankees two games ahead. Like us, the Yankees are on a win streak. The Blue Jays (4-6 since that post) and BoSox (3-5), not so much. That's where it stands.
I've been as excited about all of this as a jaded, germaphobic fan in the middle of a pandemic with zero TV access to the games can be. (Basically, to watch M's games, you have to have cable or cheat, and I'm not much of a cheater.) Which is to say, I'm still very, very excited.
That previous post mentioned our negative run differential, which, over a season—so the SABR argument goes—will play out. You run out of luck, show your true stripes, etc. Hasn't happened. What I forgot to mention, and what I'd harped on earlier in the year, is that we don't hit much. We're last in the AL in batting average, second to last in OBP, second to last in SLG. We're last in hits and third in strikeouts. Unless you have a pitching rotation of Randy, Pedro, Maddux, that shouldn't translate to a postseason opportunity. Yet here we are.
Fans keep bringing up the '95 season, as in, “Hey, I haven't felt like this since '95,” which I totally get, and which I also feel. But in a way this year is more impressive. The '95 team had three future Hall of Famers (Junior, Randy, Edgar), two on the first ballot, as well as an incredible supporting cast (Tino, Buhner, Nellie, Norm, Joey, A-Rod as a rookie). They should've been in the running from the get-go. But these guys? No-names and castoffs and second-chancers. We have nobody hitting over .300, no regular with an OBP above .375. We have two guys nearing 40 homers (Haniger, Seagar) but nobody slugging .500.
And yet they keep winning. They defy math.
The big blow Wednesday night came from rookie Jarred Kelenic, who has the sixth-most at bats on the team despite a hitting line of .177/.260/.349. And it's only that good because he's improved. He was called up in May and promptly hit .118 for the month (8 for 68), then hit .000 for June (0 for 15) and was sent back to Triple A. I think at that point he'd been hitless in his last 39 at bats? Whatever it was, he was nearing a Major League record for futility. But he returned in July and hit .154, then .196 for August. This month it's .242. And on Wednesday he came up with one out, two on (both via errors), and the M's down 1-0. And he rifled a shot to the right-field corner, a double plating both men, then pumped his fist and pumped his fist. Art Thiel said if he pumped it one more time he was worried he'd need Tommy John surgery. But I'm sure all the frustration of this season was finally getting out of him. He was supposed to be a top prospect, a phenom, and yet he was barely hanging on. He wasn't even hitting Mendoza. And yet look at him now.
How can you not be romantic about baseball?
Tuesday September 21, 2021
It took me by surprise. Yesterday, I went on Baseball Reference's Seattle Mariners page because while it felt increasingly unlikely we'd make the playoffs this year (four games back of the second wild-card spot with two weeks to go) I was curious how many games we'd have to win to be the winningest M's team in the last whatever years: five, 10. Maybe since 2003? That could be a goal to shoot for. That could be something to root for.
Except that seems unlikely, too. Before last night's win over the A's, we were 80-69, which is nice, particularly since we have a -62 run differential. But I'd forgotten the 2018 team won 89 games, the 2016 team won 86 and the 2014 team nabbed 88. We'd also had winning seasons in 2009 and 2007. Now I could see us winning more than 86 games. But winning 90 would mean going 10-2 the rest of the way, with nothing rained out, and that's a tough ask. Hell, if we went 10-2 maybe we would make the postseason for the first time since 2001.
That's when I noticed the oddity. You could see it in the pythagorean win-loss column, which tracks what your record should be based on your run differential. Our 2021 season was below .500 because of that -62 number. But so was our recent 89-win season, when—and I'd forgotten this—we'd given up 34 more runs than we'd scored. Same with the 2009 season (-52 runs) and 2007 season (-27). That's what took me by surprise. The Mariners record since 2003 is horrible: just six winning seasons in 18 years, and no postseasons since 2001—the longest current postseason drought in professional sports. But it's actually worse. In those 18 seasons, we've only had two where we scored more runs than the opposition: 2014 (+80) and 2016 (+61). Since 2003, we've given up 1,129 more runs than we've scored.
Some might think: pythagorean schmythagorean. You go to see real wins, not would-be wins. It's what you do, not what you should do. And that's correct. In 2016, for example, our +61 run differential was way better than Texas' +8, but we still finished nine games back. They won 95 and went to the playoffs instead of us ... where they got swept by Toronto. Hell, the 1987 Minnesota Twins won it all despite a negative run differential. So what does it matter?
But it still matters. Those other guys scoring more than we do seeps in. You keep thinking: We shouldn't be here. I mean, six winning seasons out of 18 is really, really bad. So it's astonishing to find out we were just lucky to win that much.
And yet, I have to admit, part of the joy of this 2021 no-name team is that they keep winning. They get clobbered and come back. We look at that run differential, assume they'll start slipping, but they don't. They defy math. They won again last night to go 81-69 and ensure only the 15th .500 season in Mariners history, and, more importantly, put us only three games back of that second wild card spot. What did St. Tug say? You gotta believe.
All previous entries