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Mariners split with Rangers instead of winning series for some reason

In what was the final series played by the Mariners in the current home of the Texas Rangers (they'll open a new retractable-roof facility next season), Seattle manager Scott Servais decided to be charitable and allow the Rangers to split the four games. At least, that's one theory.

The Mariners won the first game in fine fashion—tied 3-3 going to the ninth inning, Dee Gordon started the final frame with a single and promptly stole second base. Mallex Smith drew a walk, and then J.P. Crawford did something strange for the 2019 Mariners: he played fundamental baseball. J.P. laid down a sacrifice bunt, a strategem all but lost to the Mariners it seems, to put runners—fast ones, at that—on second and third with one out, positioning them to score without needing a hit. Austin Nola followed by executing his part of the fundamental strategy, hitting a ball deep to the outfield to score Gordon. After a walk to Kyle Seager, Omar Narváez plated Mallex with a flare of a base hit for insurance and the M's survived a Matt McGill-pitched bottom of the ninth for a solid win. The game was Felix Hernández's second since returning from injury and he did reasonably well, giving up three runs in five innings and striking out three. The only curious thing about this game was the continued experiment with Magill as closer. This doesn't work for me, even though he got the job done in this one.

Friday night was Marco Gonzales' opportunity to notch win number 15, but he didn't have his good stuff, at least not consistently. His curveball was sharp, and generally if that pitch is working Marco does well, but on this night his other offerings got smacked around a bit by the Rangers and he ended up allowing five earned runs on seven hits in just 523 frames. The Mariners couldn't do much against Texas rookie starter Kolby Allard, mustering only two runs off of him—one on a double-play ball—in his 523 innings; Seattle would get one more off of ex-Mariner Shawn Kelly, but nothing else as they fell by a final of 6-3. Erik Swanson relieved Marco and pitched through the end, a risky move but one in a game already basically lost. It worked out, but using Swanson for more than an inning at a time can be dangerous, plus it left him unavailable for Saturday's game.

Which is unfortunate, but Scott Servais apparently didn't want to win this game anyway. Saturday night Tommy Milone had one of his best games yet, a five-inning start (no "opener" BS, thankfully) that saw just one Texas runner cross the plate. Mariner batters were having troubles of their own with Ranger starter Brock Burke, but they had two across and led 2-1 going to the ninth. At which point Servais stopped trying to win. In the top of the frame, Dylan Moore and Gordon both singled with one out, Gordon advancing on a throw from the outfield, to put runners at second and third and in good position for more fundamental baseball. Trouble was, the exact wrong guy was due up: Keon Broxton, he of the Zunino-esque 45% strikeout rate. No one had been used off the bench yet, both J.P. and Omar were just sitting there waiting for an opportunity just like this one to pinch-hit (J.P. not at 100%, but still). Perhaps knowing his chances to score when Broxton is up were slim, Moore tried to get a little too big a lead and got picked off of third by catcher José Treviño, but it didn't matter as Broxton did what everyone knew he was going to do: strike out swinging (he hadn't K'd yet in three times up, so it was almost a certainty). Still ahead by a run, though, Servais continued not-trying by sending Magill to the mound for the bottom of the ninth. He had already used Matt Wisler, Taylor Guilbeau, and Anthony Bass, and overused Swanson the night before. Remaining options were Magill, Wade LeBlanc, Reggie McClain, and Sam Tuivailala. LeBlanc doesn't really fit the moment, but of the other three, the one most likely to blow it was Magill. Tui has been terrific since he came back from injury, McClain has shown some real chops of late. So, yeah, let's go with Magill, the minor-league journeyman with the 4.50 ERA and 1.200 WHIP instead of the hot hand in Tuivailala with his 1.26 ERA and sub-1.000 WHIP (not sporting enough, I guess). It went pretty much like you'd expect it to go: Elvis Andrus led off with a double to deep center off a meatball of a pitch and scored two batters later to tie it, Stinky Odor rapped a base hit, and Danny Santana walked to load the bases. Isiah Kiner-Falefa then singled in the winning run on a fastball right down broadway that lit up and screamed "Hit me!" on its way to the plate. Now, there's no way to know for sure that the M's would have pulled off the win had (a) J.P. or Omar batted instead of Broxton and delivered a sac fly or an RBI groundout and/or (b) Tuivailala pitched the bottom of the ninth instead of Magill. But they had a lot poorer shot this way, and Servais should have known that.

Which brings us to Sunday, when the M's had no trouble getting the split. They get off to an early 6-1 lead, eventually plating 11 runs total to give them plenty of breathing room should Servais have further thoughts of letting Texas win. Yusei Kikuchi wasn't brilliant, but he got the win with five solid innings of work; the bullpen backed him up with scoreless single frames from newly-recalled Dan Altavilla, newly-activated off the IL Austin Adams, Tuivailala, and freshly-back from injury Brandon Brennan. Mallex Smith finished the series well, going 2-for-5 with three runs scored to give him a series line of .529/.579/.647 with six runs scored and three steals. Dan Vogelbach also showed signs of life for once, clubbing his 29th homer as well as a single and two walks. It was Vogey's first home run since August 21st and just his 8th since the All-Star break. The big guy has slumped badly since June—.168/.278/.366 from June 21st through the end of August—so perhaps this solid showing on September 1st is the start of a turnaround. This game also saw the return of Braden Bishop from the injured list—the rookie outfielder had been on the shelf since June 4th with a lacerated spleen, but will now get a look along with fellow youngster Jake Fraley in the outfield in the season's final month.

 

Mariners vs. Rangers, by the numbers

  • Total runs scored: 36 (SEA 21, TEX 15)
  • Home runs hit: 5 (SEA 3, TEX 2)
  • Bases stolen/attempts: 4/6 (SEA 4 - Smith 3, Gordon)
  • Errors committed: 6 (SEA 2 - Seager, Crawford; TEX 2)
  • Quality starts: 2 (TEX 2 - Lynn, Burke)
  • Pitching changes: 23 (SEA 12, TEX 13)
  • Starters ERA (includes “openers”): 4.73 (SEA 5.23, TEX 4.42)
  • Bullpen ERA (includes “headliners”): 3.16 (SEA 1.32, TEX 4.58)
  • Runners left on base: 59 (SEA 36, TEX 23)

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