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Blowout Bumbling

Well. That was embarrassing.

The Mariners' just-completed four-game split with the Texas Rangers did more to support the preseason evaluation of the M's as a mediocre-at-best, possibly-really-awful team than anything that came before in the young season. After cleaning the Rangers' collective clock in the first game last Thursday—by the football score of 14-2 on NFL draft day—the M's barely eked out an extra-inning win on Friday after minor bullpen failures (and a bad managerial choice to pull Yusei Kikuchi in his first scheduled short-start after merely nine pitches, leading to a shortage of viable arms later in an extra-inning game). Then Saturday and Sunday came and the M's got pounded into the ground, crushed like so much sno-cone ice by a terrible team that will probably lose 100 games this year.

Saturday's loss is, in the grand scheme of things, plenty acceptable. Texas was throwing their only good pitcher in Mike Minor and the M's had Mike Leake, who was due for his monthly implosion. That one we can write off. It's the Friday and Sunday games that sting and make us question the abilities of the Mariners generally.

Friday's game had an air of doom about it when the second inning began and Yusei Kikuchi was nowhere to be seen. We all knew he was only going to go an inning or two as part of the planned transitioning schedule for the Japanese lefty, but he threw just nine pitches in the first inning, which is arguably too few to work as even a "short start." But this is Scott Servais we're talking about, a manager who plots out all of his moves, at least so far as pitching is concerned, ahead of time and gives little to no thought to what actually happens in the game, so Yusei was one-and-done and things were turned over to top-prospect rookie Justus Sheffield in his Major League debut. He was reasonably decent and kept the team in the game despite a high pitch count, no worries there. The 'pen failures weren't terrible, a run each surrendered by Brandon Brennan and Anthony Swarzak, bringing the total Texas tally to just four. Problem was, the M's had only managed four as well, with just five hits and nine Ks in the first ten innings against a Ranger pitching corps that is 14th in the league in ERA; 14th in batting average against; and dead last in on-base against, WHIP, and strikeouts. 

Given the performance of Seattle's offense in the first month of the season, you could be forgiven for expecting all four games of the series to be high-scoring affairs, at least for the Mariners, but for three games there was next-to-nothing. Give Mike Minor credit, he threw an excellent game on Saturday and has been excellent all year; Minor by himself skews those awful collective Texas pitching numbers toward normalcy. He shut down the M's on three hits and one walk. Kudos. Let's move on. Sunday, though. Ugh.

Lance Lynn, Sunday's Ranger starter, is the epitome of middling. He is not Mike Minor. He was coming off a start that he was bounced out of after three innings and was carrying a 6.50 ERA into the game. He wasn't exceptionally sharp once the game got going. He threw a ton of pitches early. Yet the M's did nothing against him, striking out with runners in scoring position and generally failing at every opportunity. Meanwhile, the defense reminded us that it is gawd-awful by committing four official errors and two unofficial ones, and Scott Servais reminded us that he doesn't consider what's actually happening in front of him when managing a game. Starter Erik Swanson had nothing from the get-go, everything was hit hard off of him, even most of the outs, and by the time we were three batters or so into the third inning it was clear to the whole ballpark that the game was going to get out of hand unless Swanson was relieved. And yet, a glance at the bullpen showed no activity. Meanwhile, another hard-hit ball for a single. No activity. A monster home run. No activity. Hard-hit line drive, deep fly ball, stolen base... no activity.

Swanson would escape the third giving up "only" four runs and would get through the fourth 1-2-3, but it was despite more hard contact. And Seattle was doing nothing at the plate. Other times this month, the M's down 5-1 in the mid innings wouldn't seem dire, but you just knew it was going to get worse as long as Swanson was in the game. He would finally get pulled in the fifth, but ended up surrendering nine runs (and sure, his defense didn't help) on 11 hits. Laser-beam hits. Because, presumably, Scott Servais had plotted out ahead of time that Swanson should throw five or six innings or 75-80 pitches in the game and didn't pay any attention to the idea that he could even be relieved until he approached those metrics.

There's no way to know if the bats would have remained impotent the rest of the way had Swanson been relieved when he should have been in the third inning. Unlike Scott Servais, batters approach things differently depending on circumstance, and if the team is down 4-0 in the middle innings you keep working counts and push to get into that brutally bad Texas bullpen. When it's 9-1, the approach and the psychology changes. Things appear out of reach, guys press too hard, slumps get worse. The M's ultimately struck out ten times, again versus the team dead last in strikeouts. Lynn lasted seven innings, when early on it looked like he'd only make it through three or four the way he was racking up the pitch count. We can't say for sure that Scott Servais lost this game for the M's, but we can say he didn't do anything to help win it. (For the Mariners, I mean. You could argue he helped win it for Texas.)

Yeah, Thursday was fun, Friday ended up OK, and Saturday was excusable, but overall this series just reeked of a shameful display of failures despite the split. 

Next up: the Chicago Cubs. Thank god for the day off today beforehand.

M's vs. Rangers, by the numbers

  • Total runs scored: 56 (SEA 21, TEX 35)
  • Home runs hit: 12 (SEA 3, TEX 9)
  • Bases stolen: 5 (SEA 2, TEX 3)
  • Errors committed: 10 (SEA 9, TEX 1)
  • Quality starts: 3 (SEA 1 - Gonzales, TEX 2 - Minor, Lynn)
  • Pitching changes: 30 (SEA 17, TEX 13)
  • Starters ERA: 5.20 (SEA 3.88, TEX 4.66)
  • Bullpen ERA: 4.97 (SEA 4.71, TEX 5.29)
  • Position players pitching: 2 (SEA - Dylan Moore, TEX - Jeff Mathis)



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