Mariners sink Pirates in three-game sweep

With the season winding down and the Mariners hoping to merely avoid the indignity of losing 100 games, this final road trip to Pittsburgh and Baltimore was just what the doctor ordered. Building on their series win at home versus the White Sox, the Mariners' winning streak reached five games with the completion of a three-game sweep of the Pirates in Pittsburgh.

The Pirates were missing their two best players, Josh Bell and Starling Marte, due to injury, making things a little less challenging for the M's. Even so, the club showed some real ability in each of these three victories, with late-season callups Shed Long and Kyle Lewis making good use of their showcase and with the bullpen turning in some solid shutout innings.

In Tuesday's opener, starting pitcher Marco Gonzales had one of his best games yet; Marco pitched seven innings and could have gone longer had manager Scott Servais not opted to give the relief corps some action. In the end it was a combined shutout between Gonzales and relievers Sam Tuivailala and Reggie McClain, with Seattle winning 6-0. Gonzales scattered six hits in his seven frames but walked none, and even helped his own cause by hitting a double in his second at-bat and scoring a run, this being a National League home game. Shed Long drove in a pair of runs, as did catcher Omar Narváez, who also clubbed his 22nd home run. Austin Nola also had a fine night, going 3-for-4 with his 10th homer.

Game two was rookie Justin Dunn's second Major League start, though he functioned as the "opener" for Tommy Milone. Dunn went two scoreless innings, a vast improvement over his first appearance that saw him give up three runs in just 23 of an inning, but he did walk three and struggled with his control throughout. Milone shut out the Pirates for five innings after that before Anthony Bass surrendered the only run of the night for Pittsburgh on a triple by shortstop Kevin Newman (Newman!) followed by an RBI groundout. Meanwhile, the M's had plated four on a two-run double by Dylan Moore and solo home runs by Kyle Lewis and Tom Murphy. Matt Magill threatened to let the Pirates back into the game with a rough ninth inning, but got away with things after giving up two hits to lead off the frame; luck favored Magill then as the next three batters all lined out hard to deep center and left field to end it 4-1.

Thursday's matinee was a closer affair. Yusei Kikuchi started for Seattle and was not sharp, surrendering four runs in the second inning on three doubles and a single by Newman (Newman!). Fortunately, the Mariners had scored four of their own int he top of the frame, thanks in part to a pair of Pirate errors. Kikuchi would make it through the fourth, when he loaded the bases on a base hit to right, a bunt single, and a walk but got out of the jam without allowing further damage; he'd give way to Zac Grotz in the fifth, who gave up the go-ahead run and the score would remain 5-4 Pittsburgh until Austin Nola drove in Kyle Lewis with a base hit in the seventh. Tied at five, relievers Taylor Guilbeau, Austin Adams, and Bass held the Pirates scoreless for the remainder of regulation play and things went to extra innings. The M's would score the go-ahead run in the eleventh, helped again by the Pirate defense. Long reached on an error by first baseman José Osuna and went to third on a single by Narváez, then scored on a ground ball that turned into an unconventional 4-3-6-2 double-play. That would be sufficient, with Erik Swanson succeeding in his first opportunity to save a game, striking out the side in the bottom of the 11th.

Miscellaneous observations form the three games:

  • Gonzales is now 16-11, a career-high for him and a tie with Hisashi Iwakuma for most wins by a Mariner pitcher since 2016 (Felix Hernández had 18 in 2015). He will have one, possibly two more starts before season's end, and thanks to Scott Servais' penchant for pulling him earlier than necessary that may not be enough for Marco to reach the 200 innings plateau (he's currently at 189). He has three no-decisions this year in quality starts, and with better run support in those games would be looking at a possible 20-win campaign.
  • Swanson appears well-suited to closing, in a Todd Worrell kind of way, and should have the opportunity to continue in that role the rest of the way; it could be interesting to see if he can claim that as his specialty and go into next season as the primary ninth-inning guy.
  • Lewis keeps on hitting, though he is also showing vulnerabilities that might keep him in the minors next season; strikeouts seem exploitable with his uppercut swing at the plate.
  • Austin Nola is a keeper and should be part of next year's club in some capacity or other. Whether he's the everyday first baseman or a bench guy/third catcher, he's shown much more ability than anyone expected when the 29-year-old rookie joined the M's in June. His .350+ on-base mark is plenty valuable on this crew of undisciplined whiffers.
  • The quest to find the next Mark McLemore may have paid off with Dylan Moore, who got a start in this series in center field. Moore has now played every position save catcher this season, and been reasonably good at all of them, even if his inning on the mound resulted in a 7.000 WHIP.
  • Next year's bullpen is still a crapshoot, of course, but Sam Tuivailala deserves to be a primary setup guy in it regardless. Tui delivered yet another strong appearance vs. the Pirates and now holds a season ERA of 1.86.
  • Shed Long may not have it in him to be an everyday player, but he's showing he can be a valuable role-player if nothing else. He hasn't been more than ordinary defensively, either at second base or in left field, but he's OK at both and can string together a few hits now and then.
  • You heard it here first: Omar Narváez, 2020 American League All-Star.

On to Baltimore, where ERAs go to die.

Mariners vs. Pirates, by the numbers

  • Total runs scored: 22 (SEA 16, PIT 6)
  • Home runs hit: 5 (SEA 5, PIT 0)
  • Bases stolen/attempts: 0/3 
  • Errors committed: 4 (SEA 1 - Gordon, PIT 3)
  • Quality starts: 1 (SEA 1 - Gonzales)
  • Pitching changes: 28 (SEA 12, PIT 16)
  • Starters ERA (includes “openers”): 3.86 (SEA 2.77, PIT 4.80)
  • Bullpen ERA (includes “headliners”): 2.10 (SEA 1.13, PIT 3.21)
  • Runners left on base: 43 (SEA 22, PIT 21)
  • Pitcher's hitting: 2-for-11, 5 Ks (SEA - Gonzales 1-for-3, 2B; PIT Musgrove 1-for-2, 2B)

Interleague Rules

Interleague play always brings up the debate: DH good or DH bad?