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No-stakes losses to Houston already lost to memory

At this point in the season, when only the very last playoff spots have yet to be clinched and most teams are just playing out the string, things take on a less meaningful aura. I mean, this is sports, and in the grand scheme of things it's all not-that-meaningful, but you get the point. In the case of the just-completed two-game mini-series between the Mariners and Houston Astros, things were even less meaningful: The Astros are already American League West division champions again and the Mariners have been rooted in last place for a while and are assured of finishing there. The stakes were non-existent, there's not even the possibility of the M's losing 100 games anymore (the worst they can do is 96 defeats).

Still, even with the urgency of a lazy Sunday nap, interesting things tried to happen. For the Astros, anyway. Both games went to Houston by identical 3-0 scores and both games featured the kind of elite starting pitching that the Astros have in spades. Gerrit Cole was on the mound in Tuesday's tilt, and all he did was pitch seven shutout innings while giving up just two hits, one to J.P. Crawford and one to Dee Gordon. Cole struck out 14. In seven innings. Some of that is bad habits on the Mariners' part, but a lot of it is just awesome Gerrit Cole dominance. The two relievers that pitched the final two frames also collected four Ks, making the total for the game 18 strikeouts. That is equal parts impressive and pathetic. Wednesday night, Zach Greinke tried to outdo Cole; he took a no-hitter into the ninth inning, having allowed just one baserunner, a walk to Gordon, who was quickly doubled off when the next batter lined out to Greinke himself. Greinke wouldn't get the no-no—Ausitn Nola and Tim Lopes hit back-to-back singles off him in the ninth—but he did arguably outdo Cole's gem of the night before even though neither pitcher got to finish his game.

There were a couple of nice things here for the Mariners, though. Wednesday night was also Yusei Kikuchi's final start of the year and it was one of his best. Facing the Astros is always a challenge and a half, but Kikuchi was up to it. Despite allowing two runs in the top of the first inning—on consecutive doubles from Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez—Seattle's Japanese southpaw was in fine form, walking none over six innings while striking out four. Manager Scott Servais relieved him after six because reasons, but as it was a game of no stakes, why not. Besides, the Mariner bullpen did well in these two games. Not counting Tommy Milone's "headiner" appearance Tuesday, six Seattle relievers combined for 523 innings of near-shutout ball, with Matt Magill allowing just a solo homer in his frame. Justin Dunn was also impressive in his abbreviated "opener" start on Tuesday, just one hit over two innings, a far cry from the wildness of his earlier appearances.

No one will remember those things, though, because this was a series destined to be instantly forgotten. It's over, and there is but one series remaining in the Mariners' sad season: four games against the Oakland A's which will not be stakeless. Oakland is in the midst of a three-team battle with Cleveland and Tampa Bay for the privilege of playing the Wild Card game to open the postseason, and the M's could knock the A's out of October if they deliver a few wins against them.

 

Mariners vs. Astros, by the numbers

  • Total runs scored: 6 (SEA 0, HOU 6)
  • Home runs hit: 2 (SEA 0, HOU 2)
  • Bases stolen/attempts: 2/2 (SEA 0, HOU 2)
  • Errors committed: 0
  • Quality starts: 3 (SEA 1 - Kikuchi; HOU 2 - Cole, Greinke)
  • Pitching changes: 10 (SEA 7, HOU 3)
  • Starters ERA (includes “openers”): 0.76 (SEA 2.25, HOU 0.00)
  • Bullpen ERA (includes “headliners”): 2.84 (SEA 3.60, HOU 0.00)
  • Runners left on base: 19 (SEA 7, HOU 12)

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