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M's celebrate Edgar weekend by losing three times

It was Edgar Martínez Hall of Fame weekend the last few days at the ballpark by Elliott Bay, with celebrations, giveaway goodies, and a speech by the newly-minted Hall of Famer himself on Saturday during pregame activities. The honors for Edgar were fun and, of course, well-deserved, and we look forward to next year's unveiling of the new statue of Edgar commemorating "The Double" from the 1995 ALDS that was announced on Saturday.

But the games against the Tampa Bay Rays better reflected the likes of Jeff Schaefer and Darnell Coles than Edgar Martínez. In getting swept by the Rays, the Mariners did average seven hits a game, but they also struck out twenty times with runners on base, twelve of those with fewer than two outs. The failure to advance runners along has been a big problem for the M's all season, and the apparent lack of effort in addressing the matter doesn't bode well. This is a transitional year, to be sure, and more losses now doesn't really mean a lot, but what does is the development of the Mariners of next year and beyond; letting these guys just swing for the fences and/or ignore fundamental baseball strategies to move baserunners along and make productive outs when called for is troubling. And these were close games. The M's lost 5-3, 5-4, and 1-0. Moving a runner up and setting up a potential sacrifice fly, for example, would have been a difference-maker.

That was the case in the first inning on Saturday night, when Mallex Smith doubled to lead things off and was left there three batters later. You don't necessarily have to adopt the Japanese style of bunting a runner over in the very first inning, but young J.P. Crawford can be schooled to hit the ball on the ground in such situations, to hit behind the runner, to still go for your base hit, but give the runner the best chance of getting to third with no more than one out. Instead, J.P. popped up. Now, J.P. Crawford is a good baseball player and he may well have been attempting to do things properly and just lost the battle against a very good Major League pitcher (Charlie Morton), but this sort of thing isn't an isolated incident. Dee Gordon struck out with two on and one out (on a strikeout) in the fourth and struck out again with Nola on first with one out (on a strikeout) in the sixth. Friday night saw a leadoff double followed by a strikeout as well (then a walk, then another strikeout). Friday's bottom of the fifth was perhaps the most egregious example of this, with Crawford and Domingo Santana starting things off with a base hit and a walk only to see Daniel Vogelbach, Tom Murphy, and Kyle Seager all strike out. And this was not against a Charlie Morton, but facing 5.34 ERA rookie reliever Colin Poche. Sunday the M's had but one such opportunity, a leadoff single in the fifth that was followed in quick succession by a foulout and two swinging Ks on a total of just nine pitches. If the Mariners are ever going to be contenders again, they're going to have to learn situational hitting. To set up RBI opportunities for the next guy in the lineup rather than swing for the fences all the time, and manager Scott Servais and his coaches do not seem to be acknowledging this at all.

On the plus side, Marco Gonzales was terrific again on Friday. Though he had trouble in the early innings, he mitigated the damage well and settled into a groove starting in the third inning, setting down 13 of 15 Rays before Servias foolishly decided to pull him with one out in the seventh. The reason seems to have been that Marco (a) was approaching 100 pitches, and (b) had just taken a ground ball off his body in the midst of a 1-3 putout. Marco clearly did not want to leave the game and was visibly perturbed about it, but Servais relieved him in favor of Cory Gearrin anyway and denied Marco the opportunity to win his 13th game. Gearrin did his job, retiring his two batters, and the M's failed to do anything at all in their half of the seventh, so that 13th win may not have been in the cards anyway; the score would remain tied at two until the ninth. Anthony Bass, who had been doing rather well of late, was brought on then and was brutally bad. Eric Sogard led off with a base hit then Kevin Kiermaier drew a walk. The Rays then executed situational hitting by sacrificing the runners to second and third. Willy Adames was then intentionally walked to set up force plays all around, which was not the swiftest move given how wild Bass had been, an observation that proved prophetic when he walked Ji-Man Choi to force in the go-head run. Tommy Pham then hit a tough grounder that Crawford tried to make a play on but went for an error and Austin Meadows turned in another productive out to score the third run of the frame and seal the Mariners' fate.

On Saturday the M's actually outhit the Rays 9-8, but the four runs they managed to score off Morton wasn't enough to overcome three home runs coughed up by Mariner "headliner" Tommy Milone. Mike Zunino, Kiermaier, and Avasaíl García all went deep—very deep, at that—off Milone to account for all five Tampa Bay runs. It was a winnable game against one of the league's better pitchers, but too many Ks and not enough fundamentals did the M's in.

It wasn't Morton, but former Mariner farmhand Ryan Yarbrough that dominated the M's on Sunday afternoon. Yarbrough—whom the M's had traded to the Rays with two others for Drew Smyly in early 2017 (oops)—allowed only four baserunners, including one on catcher's interference and a Dee Gordon bunt single, over 823 frames. Why 823 and not nine? Good question, and one plenty of the Rays had as well. Zunino, who had caught the entire game, said the decision was "above my pay grade." The guy who relieved Yarbrough, former Mariner Emilio Pagán—whom the M's traded to Oakland for Ryon Healy after the 2017 season (oops)—was surprised he was summoned in, but "I don't make those decisions." Rays manager Kevin Cash  was looking at the match-ups, though, and didn't want Yarbrough to face Domingo Santana with a mere one-run lead. Servais had less faith in Santana than Cash did, though, and after the call for Pagán went out, Servais pinch-hit Omar Narváez for Santana, who grounded out to end it and the Rays won that rare 1-0 decision. The one run was a solo homer from Sogard, the only blemish on Wade LeBlanc's six innings of work, unless you count not being allowed to start over an "opener" to be a blemish. (For the record, Bass pitched the ninth inning here as well and did fine, allowing no runs on one hit and striking out one.)

It was a sad, sad series, despite the Edgar festivities. If you'd been told ahead of time that in these three games, respectively, (a) Marco Gonzales would throw another gem, (b) Seattle would score four off of Charlie Morton, and (c) hold the Rays to one run, you might surmise that the sweep would go the other way. Alas, no. These are Your 2019 Seattle Mariners, who do not advance runners and feature a Bullpen of Adventure.

It's on the road to the east next, with three in Detroit followed by three in Toronto and three at Tampa Bay. Yippee.

Mariners vs. Rays, by the numbers

  • Total runs scored: 18 (SEA 7, TB 11)
  • Home runs hit: 6 (SEA 2, TB 4)
  • Bases stolen/attempts: 1/5 (TB 1)
  • Errors committed: 3 (SEA 1 - Crawford, TB 2)
  • Quality starts: 2 (SEA 1 - Gonzales, TB 1 - Yarbrough)
  • Pitching changes: 17 (SEA 8, TB 9)
  • Starters ERA (includes “openers”): 2.28 (SEA 1.93, TB 2.45)
  • Bullpen ERA (includes “headliners”): 3.08 (SEA 4.08, TB 1.04)
  • Runners left on base: 31 (SEA 16, TB 15)
  • Starting pitchers angry at being relieved without good reason: 2

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