Observations from the Texas series
Kyle Lewis after being tagged out at home to end this evening's game
May 8, 2021
It's been a tough week for Your Seattle Mariners, what with losing two of three to an objectively bad Baltimore team, being no-hit by said Baltimore team's one good pitcher, seeing the team batting average drop perilously close to the .200 mark, and then effectively beat themselves in a winnable game in the DFW Metroplex against the Rangers.
At this writing, the M's are two-thirds of the way through the three-game set in Texas, winning the first 5-4 and losing the second 9-8. Some observations from the series thus far:
- In the category of better-late-than-never, manager Scott Servais finally moved Evan White to the eight-hole in the lineup. This should have been standard practice from opening day forward, but instead Servais had the young first baseman plugged into a middle-of-the-order slot, most often batting fourth or fifth. In one sense, an at-bat is an at-bat, how one produces isn't necessarily related to where one is in the order and that order's relevance changes from inning to inning depending on circumstance, but there is a psychological factor to the 3-4-5 spots in the lineup. Those are the traditional "RBI positions," where the manager wants the team's best power threats and/or clutch hitters, and throwing an inexperienced batter than spent all of last year's mini-season struggling mightily in that position was less than smart. White was clearly pressing under expectations and it wasn't doing him any favors to maximize the pressure. Batting him in the lower third of the order relieves that psychological expectation and allows him to develop in a more relaxed fashion, and as much as it's frustrating to see Servais take forever to figure that out, it's nice to see him act on the idea once it did come to him. (It's almost like he read it somewhere.) And so far so good—no hits on Friday night, but better-looking swings and contact; then tonight he clobbered two extra-base hits and drove in three runs. Yes, against lesser pitching, but it all counts and any success helps the psyche.
- The no-hitter on Wednesday afternoon left the Mariners with a team batting line of .201/.279/.379. Calling that sad would be a generous description. That Seattle could be over .500 with that kind of offense was rather amazing. But perhaps that was hitting bottom, literally and figuratively—the M's have gone 21-for-72 (.292) so far in the Texas series, against good pitchers and middling ones alike, and plated 13 runs to bring their runs-per-game mark up from 3.79 to 4.15 (MLB average is around 4.3).
- Though the offense on the whole seems to be awakening, Ty France and Sam Haggerty are still slumping pretty badly. France had been 1-for-36 until doubling off of Mike Foltynewicz Friday, but with Saturday's 0-fer is still 2-for-43 (.047) since April 26th. Sam has dropped from a season-high .270 batting average on April 25th to an even .200 after today, with a concerning 14 Ks in that span. I still like the idea of making Sam the regular at second base, but given this stretch maybe give him a couple of days off and/or run him through some contact and bunting drills. This is temporary, of course; both guys are talented, both will hit—especially France, who practically embodies the phrase "professional hitter"—but it's almost painful to watch them at the plate right now.
- Scheduled bullpen games are dumb. Servais went with another one today after using seven guys to pitch last Monday. When you decide in advance that you'll burn through most of your relief corps in one game, you're rolling several rounds of dice; eventually you'll bring in someone who doesn't have it, or to quote Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, with every change "you draw ever closer to the poison donut [read: reliever]." And by the time you get to him, whomever it might be that day, your options for replacing him are severely thinned. Even if everything goes well, you've hampered yourself for the next day, maybe two, by tiring out several relief arms in one game—on purpose. Today there were two poison donuts in the ’pen, Ljay Newsome and Anthony Misiewicz, and together they accounted for five earned runs on seven hits and a walk in 11⁄3 innings. Last Tuesday, the day following the previous bullpen game, starter Justin Dunn couldn't finish the 6th inning; tomorrow afternoon, Justus Sheffield will be asked to go as deep as he can to spare the bullpen. Yes, the M's have further stuffed the already-overstuffed ’pen with two starters out (they now have ten relievers and four starters), but remember—poison donut. Hopefully Marco Gonzales will be recovered from his forearm strain and back in action for his next scheduled start a week from today, but in the meantime there's still what to do when the James Paxton/Nick Margevicius spot comes up on Tuesday. Now, Monday is an off day, so Servais could simply skip that spot and move up Dunn (on the normal 5 days' rest), but that just kicks the can to next Friday. Would Marco be ready then? There's still a vacancy, especially with Newsome leaving today's game with apparent injury himself. Someone needs to be brought in, either from outside or from the minor leagues, or Servais needs to abandon the six-man rotation experiment. Continuing the status quo is just foolish.
- You know nobody feels worse about Luis Torrens' brain-cramp today than Luis Torrens does. The Seattle catcher allowed a Texas run to score because he thought the bases were loaded when he took a throw from the infield and thus could record a forceout at the plate, but in reality there were only two aboard and a tag was necessary. Charlie Culberson was a dead duck on the play, but since he wasn't tagged he was safe with the Rangers' ninth run. Ouch. Without that unforced error things may have played out much differently, especially with the Mariners' 9th inning starting off with a walk and a single. A one-run deficit is a lot different from a two-run hole in that scenario.
- Who had J.P. Crawford as the Mariners' leading hitter in the office pool? Put your hand down, you did not. But wouldn't you know, there John Paul sits at the front of the pack, batting .264. .264 isn't a surprise, it's about what one would expect from J.P. But no one has a better mark than that? Well, as noted above, things are looking up in that regard; someone will catch and surpass J.P. soon.
- I am a huge proponent of the feet-first slide, it is, 99% of the time, the best way to slide into a base. Too bad that Kyle Lewis slid feet-first into home with the potential tying run in the 9th inning today in the rare circumstance that a head-first slide is called for. Alas, Lewis was unable to dive in wide of the plate and reach back with a deft hand to score and instead charged his shin right into catcher Jonah Heim's sweeping tag for the last out of the game. (A wider feet-first slide might also have worked, but he'd be trying to touch the plate "blind" that way.) Sigh.
Series finale tomorrow afternoon. Let's hope Top Sheff can deliver at least seven frames and the bats continue to come alive.