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M's sweep worst team in Majors, feel good about it

Your Seattle Mariners were having, to be blunt, a miserable July. A week ago they were at 3-11 for the month, nearly the reverse of that blissful 13-2 opening run at the start of the season and about as fun to watch as wood rotting in the rain. But: This was a good week.

It began with the badly-slumping Texas Rangers giving the M's their first series win since taking two of three in Milwaukee in June and continued with a gift from the scheduling gods, a four-game set against the Detroit Tigers, owners of the worst record in the big leagues. The Mariners won all four games against Detroit, two by blowout dominance and two in exciting walk-off fashion. Fans at the ballpark by Elliott Bay got to see some of the most enjoyable baseball their team has played this year.

And, sure, it helped to be playing the Tigers. But the M's looked like a real live Major League team this weekend, with outstanding pitching from Marco Gonzales, a bullpen (not counting "headliners," but including "openers") that allowed zero runners to score—zero!—a grand slam by Tim Beckham, a four-hit game from Omar Narváez, a 31-year-old rookie's Major League debut and first MLB hits and RBIs, a pair of triples, game-ending hits from Mallex Smith and J.P. Crawford, and one of the greatest defensive plays a shortstop has ever or will ever make in the history of the game.

Don't misunderstand, the Mariners are still bad. They remain well under .500 (17 games at present) and only have one more series against the Tigers to look forward to. But a week like this can boost their confidence and show us fans glimpses of what the future may hold even though the air of failure still permeates the season.

The series commenced on Thursday night with yet another unwise use of an "opener." Manager Scott Servais appears to have decided Wade LeBlanc only does well as a reliever, so failed starting pitcher Erik Swanson took the mound for the first two innings. As much as I deplore the use of an opener, if ever a pitcher was suited for it, it's Swanson. Only good for an inning or two—as we've noted before, Swanson reliably gets lit up like a bonfire after two innings—Swanson's future, if he has one in baseball, is as a short reliever, and at least as an opener he can't give up a walk-off home run. And he did well here, allowing only one baserunner, a leadoff walk to JaCoby Jones. LeBlanc followed with six innings of solid ball, allowing two runs (one earned, a solo homer) on just four hits while the Seattle offense teed off on Tiger starter Drew VerHagen (seven runs in four innings, including Beckahm's grand slam). The M's would plate two more off of reliever Trevor Rosenthal and make it a laugher, winning 10-2.

Friday night saw Yusei Kikuchi survive a pitcher's duel with Daniel Norris; both pitched into the seventh inning allowing just two runs, all (of course) on homers—two solos for Detroit and a two-run jack from Seattle's Tom Murphy—setting up the exciting walk-off opportunity for Mallex with two out in the bottom of the ninth. It was just the fifth time Kikuchi lasted past the sixth inning and his tenth quality start. He got some great relief from an unexpected source, too—right-hander Anthony Bass, who until recently had been a bit of a punching bag for the opposition, was brilliant in his one inning of work, throwing hard fastballs in good spots and breaking pitches that darted out of the strike zone like an actual big-league closer or setup man. Bass has impressed greatly over this past week, with four scoreless appearances and eight strikeouts going back to July 20th; his FIP has come down to striking distance of his ERA as his command improved. But the highlight from Friday that will be played over and over again in highlight reels for decades to come is this unreal play by J.P. to end the top of the ninth inning:

Mallex would single in Kyle Seager to win it a short time later, but J.P. gets the mad props for this even though had the runner reached it would just have been a bases-empty single with two out.

Saturday was Marco's turn to shine. Though the Tigers got on the board first—with a quick double-single combo over the span of just three pitches—Gonzales was masterful, breezing through seven innings before leaving with a comfortable seven-run lead. Though he threw 105 pitches, his control was impeccable; only one batter managed a three-ball count (Jeimer Candelario in the second inning) against Marco and of 31 pitches called balls in his seven frames, according to ESPN's pitch tracking only seven were definitively out of the strike zone and six were clear strikes, the rest were borderline. His fifth inning was one pitch away from being immaculate: After Bobby Wilson and Gordon Beckham each struck out on three pitches, Jones connected on an 0-1 fastball to ground out. As it was, the inning saw eight pitches, all strikes, one short of three consecutive three-pitch Ks (he still had eight strikeouts for the game). His velocity stayed consistent the whole way and I've no doubt he could have gone at least one more inning, but you know how Servais is with his predetermined pitching moves. Seven was all Marco was going to get, barring some sort of magical circumstance. Instead, the Matts finished it off—Magill pitching a scoreless eighth and Carasiti a scoreless ninth to close it out. Marco's batterymate had quite a game as well, as Narváez rapped four singles and scored twice to bring his season line up to .298/.369/.483. Tim Beckham and Austin Nola also combined for five hits and four RBI while Ryan Court celebrated his long-awaited ascension to the Majors with his first two big-league hits. Gonzales is now 12-8 on the year, with an ERA that would be just 3.36 if not for the two starts straddling the May-June calendar flip, no-decisions against Texas and the Angels that account for 16 of his 63 earned runs.

Saturday's game also brought an end to the record-shattering string of games the Mariners have played in which a home run was hit. Every game prior to this one in 2019 saw either the Mariners or their opponent hit at least one homer. The streak mercifully over after 107 games and 357 longballs.

For Sunday's series finale, J.P. was the one to walk it off, singling in the bottom of the tenth inning to score Dylan Moore from second base for the final tally of 3-2. Matt Wisler was gambled on as another "opener" in front of Tommy Milone, and though still foolish it didn't do any harm. Wisler pitched two scoreless, and Milone took it through the seventh inning allowing just two runs. Hunter Strickland, fresh off the Injured List, threw a perfect eighth; Bass continued his improvement with a 1-2-3 ninth; and Roenis Elías, who had been slumping badly not too long ago, had his fourth straight scoreless outing to get the victory. The M's won despite a strong performance from Detroit starter Matthew Boyd, the Tigers' ace, who struck out ten in his six-and-a-third frames. He left with the lead, but reliever Joe Jiménez served up a meatball to Domingo Santana that went for a game-tying home run with two out in the eighth inning, a no-doubter off of the hand-operated scoreboard in left field. Is this the start of a new streak? One can only hope the reliance on homers goes the way of the dodo, but yeah, this probably starts a new streak.

The Mariners also made yet another trade after Sunday's win, sending utilityman Kristopher Negrón to the Dodgers in exchange for minor-league infielder Daniel Castro. The team figures to add recently-acquired outfielder Keon Broxton, claimed off the waiver wire on Saturday, to fill Negrón's spot on the Major League roster prior to Tuesday's game in Texas.

 

Mariners vs. Tigers, by the numbers

  • Total runs scored: 31 (SEA 24, DET 7)
  • Home runs hit: 8 (SEA 4, DET 4)
  • Bases stolen/attempts: 4/6 (SEA 3 - Crawford, Lopes, Negrón; TEX 1)
  • Errors committed: 5 (SEA 4 - Tuivailala, Lopes, Seager, Vogelbach; DET 1)
  • Quality starts: 4 (SEA 2 - Kikuchi, Gonzales; DET 2 - Norris, Boyd)
  • Pitching changes: 25 (SEA 11, DET 14)
  • Starters ERA (includes “openers”): 3.72 (SEA 1.53, DET 5.57)
  • Bullpen ERA (includes “headliners”): 3.62 (SEA 1.40, DET 6.92)
  • Runners left on base: 55 (SEA 34, DET 21)
  • Shortstop plays to wow even Omar Vizquel: 1

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