Futility, injuries, and batting around: M's take 1 of 3 vs. ChiSox

The just-completed three-game set against the White Sox left the Mariners with a 3-3 record as they hit the road for the first time in 2021. After taking two of three against the Giants, Seattle dropped two of three to the likely contenders from Chicago's south side and looked a bit schizophrenic when doing it.

Monday night's game saw the anemic version of the Mariners, the group that can't execute with runners aboard but is plenty adept at whiffing at strike three. Tuesday night saw the opportunist M's, ready to pounce on opponent mistakes when at bat, but more than willing to return the favor by serving up opportunities when pitching. Then this afternoon we saw the patient Mariners, the team that makes pitchers work and takes advantage of gift ball-strike calls to draw walks and put pressure on the opposition, scoring a healthy tally of runs as they flash the leather on defense.

The Wednesday version is, of course, what we all want to see more of as the season unfolds. The Monday version is what we're used to and, let's face it, expect in our guts more often than not. Tuesday viewers saw, oddly, a bit of both, as well as a little foreseen disappointment: James Paxton made his first start in his return to the M's on Tuesday, and after cruising through a vintage Paxton inning in the first, had to leave the game during the second after once again injuring his arm. We kind of saw this coming; I don't think anyone expected Pax to get through the year without hitting the injured list at least once, but five batters in? Serious bummer.

The upside of Tuesday night was the performance by Paxton's immediate successor, Nick Margevicius. Nick made two costly mistakes in his 323 innings—hanging breaking balls in the happy zone that were crushed for home runs—but otherwise turned in a solid outing and earning himself at least one start as he'll take Paxton's place the next time through. When he left the game, after finishing the top of the fifth, the M's were still very much in it, down by two runs and nearing the end point for Chicago starter Luis Giolito. But the upside of Monday's 6-0 loss—four scoreless innings of relief from the suspect Seattle bullpen—did not carry over, and a 5-3 game became a 10-3 blowout thanks to three innings from Casey Sadler and Keynan Middleton, each of whom threw almost 40 pitches as they labored too long into the night.

But there was this afternoon. Down 4-1 going into the home 6th, due in large part to a difficult season debut by starter Justin Dunn, who walked eight and threw 93 pitches without getting through five frames, the M's chased Sox starter Dallas Keuchel and reliever Matt Foster while sending 11 batters to the plate in batting around to score seven runs. It was a lengthy inning in a lengthy game that took just shy of four hours to play; 319 pitches were thrown with deep counts all around. But so what, right? It's a COVID-era matinee, we had the time. Aside from Dunn's trouble finding the strike zone, reliever Kendall Graveman also had a difficult afternoon; The Undertaker sandwiched a base hit between two walks but was bailed out by some terrific defense from shortstop J.P. Crawford, who caught a scorching liner off the bat of Luis Robert and turned it into a double play to end the inning and get Graveman off the hook:

Unfortunately, Paxton's injury was not the only physical damage suffered in the series. Seattle also lost the services of outfielder Jake Fraley on Tuesday after he strained his hamstring on a fantastic running/diving catch to end the visitor's 5th, and those of first baseman Evan White for at least one further game when he tweaked his quadricep running out a ground ball this afternoon. While neither player has been hitting the cover off the ball, Fraley had been leading the team in on-base percentage here in the early going and both are excellent defensive players. Fraley is now on the injured list and will likely miss at least a couple of weeks; by the time he returns, Kyle Lewis is expected to also be back and there may be a roster logjam in the outfield.

 Between these three games and the prior series against the Giants, we still don't have a sense of what kind of team these Mariners will be. From here the M's fly east to take on the White Sox's principal rival for the AL Central title, the Minnesota Twins. Things get a little easier after that with four games in Baltimore against the far less intimidating Orioles before the club returns home on April 16th. Will the Mariners have a sense of identity by then?

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