M's drop another series but look less bad
Photo: ROOT Sports screencap
Daniel Vogelbach watches his home run achieve escape velocity and orbit the Earth
May 30, 2019
The Mariners' latest homestand opened with something we hadn't seen in Seattle for a good while now: a well-played baseball victory. It was, sadly, a one-and-done phenomenon, as the next two contests against the visiting Texas Rangers went into the loss column, but in all three games there were positive take-aways to mitigate yet another series defeat.
On Monday we saw the beginnings of the rebirth of center fielder Mallex Smith. Throughout the series, Smith has been the player the M's thought they were getting when they shipped Mike Zunino and Guillermo Heredia to Tampa Bay last fall: a leadoff man that gets aboard, steals bases, and plays a solid center field rather than the hopeless-looking .164 batter that lets fly balls pop out of his glove we'd been seeing of late. Monday night Smith reached base three times in four plate appearances and stole four bags—or to be more accurate, three bags and a plate. In the eighth inning, Smith drew a walk and promptly stole second base; three pitches later he stole third; and after a walk to Mitch Haniger, stole home when Texas pitcher Kyle Bird made a pickoff attempt at first base. That game also featured a Vogelblast that towered above the foul pole to eventually land in the first row of seats of the upper deck in right field, a solid start from fill-in Tommy Milone, a steal from the unlikely legs of Jay Bruce, multiple runs scored without relying on a homer, and 31⁄3 shutout innings from the Mariner bullpen. It was the best game the M's have played in quite some time.
The next night, though, things were back to what is now normal—a lopsided loss to a mediocre pitching staff. Texas took the game 11-4, the twelfth time already this year that the opposition has scored at least ten runs against the Mariners. Marco Gonzales was hit hard in the fifth inning and was knocked out of the game much earlier than he's accustomed to, giving up six earned runs in the poorest start of his season. That said, there were positive elements: Mallex continued his resurgence, notching another three hits in his return to the leadoff spot; Omar Narváez had some excellent at-bats; and JP Crawford kept up his impressive run at the plate before unfortunately leaving the game after twisting his ankle in a rundown play.
Wednesday afternoon was a see-saw affair in which the M's and Rangers traded the lead four times, Texas ultimately plating their winning run in the ninth inning to take the game 8-7. Again, unearned runs made the difference, with two on the board for Texas due to errors; the three official miscues were not by the usual suspects, though, rather by relievers Jesse Biddle and Austin Adams. Silver linings from this one included more Mallex Smith being the real Mallex Smith, with two more hits (including a triple), a walk, and a stolen base; improvement from rookie Shed Long, who clubbed a pair of doubles; and a strong relief outing from Adams.
Plenty of problems remain, of course. Mallex may have upped his batting average 37 points, but Mitch Haniger was just 1-for-9 and added six strikeouts to his league-leading tally. Roenis Elías, who had been Seattle's best reliever, had another poor outing and saw his ERA jump to 4.15 (it had been 2.16 when May began). And losing Crawford for at least a few weeks to his ankle injury is a serious disappointment.
But at this point, Mariner rooters need to be looking at these games as we might look at spring training games—wins aren't the main objective any more (though we of course prefer them), instead we evaluate how the building blocks of next year's team develop and improve. Yeah, Jay Bruce has been better lately, but he's not in the long term plans; same with Edwin Encarnación. Do well, guys, yes, but not because we're counting on you; because we want to get as much return as possible when we trade you. But the guys we're looking to for 2020 and beyond—your Mallexes, your Crawfords, your Vogelbachs, your Narváezes—these are the guys to pay attention to.
Mallex Smith: He seems to be on a mission to reclaim his former greatness. JP Crawford: Making great strides, very sad to lose him to the injured list for a time. Daniel Vogelbach: Still impressing the hell out of us with his patience and power. Omar Narváez: Still not exactly Pudge Rodríguez behind the plate, but coming along defensively and among the best hitting catchers in the American League. Shed Long: Improving, but could and will be better served with more Triple-A experience; it'll be good to get Dee Gordon back to full health.
On the other side of things, Mitch Haniger: continued concern. What happened, Mitch? Where's the guy that was the strength of this team last season? Mitch needs help, let's get him some. The bullpen: this patchwork group of nobodies is starting to shake out somewhat, but it remains a mystery from one game to the next what kind of performance we can expect from most of them. Adams has been a bright spot, as has Connor Sadzeck, but whether any of these guys has staying power or not is anyone's guess.
Hopefully we'll continue to see good things as the Angels roll into town for four games. Wins will be nice, the club could certainly use the morale boost. But if we don't get them, let's see more excitement from Mallex leading off and continued improvement form Omar behind the dish. Maybe he can even throw out a runner or two just to show us it's possible. Stay tuned.
Mariners vs. Rangers, by the numbers
- Total runs scored: 38 (SEA 17, TEX 21)
- Home runs hit: 6 (SEA 3, TEX 3)
- Bases stolen/attempts: 10/10 (SEA 7 - Smith 5, Bruce, Santana; TEX 3)
- Errors committed: 5 (SEA 4 - Narváez, Biddle 2, Adams; TEX 1)
- Quality starts: 1 (TEX - Lynn)
- Pitching changes: 19 (SEA 8, TEX 11)
- Starters ERA: 5.56 (SEA 6.75, TEX 3.38)
- Bullpen ERA: 5.29 (SEA 4.38, TEX 6.30)
- Runners left on base: 45 (SEA 19, TEX 26)