OK, we can give up hope now
What's fun about a blowout loss? Your backup catcher pitching better than the whole bullpen.
May 19, 2019
Remember back when the Mariners were taking baseball by storm, the early surprise in the Majors with a 13-2 record that was this close to being 15-0? Yeah, fun times. It might seem now like those days were back in 2018, but really it was just a little over a month ago. Mariner fans were riding high, thinking this whole "step back," "sort-of-rebuild year" thing was just unwarranted pessimism.
Well, after this series with the Minnestoa Twins, I think we can officially call it: That fun start was a mirage, and what we've seen since then are the real 2019 Mariners.
When the Twins got to town, the M's had swept a brief two game series from Oakland to postpone the plunge into mopery fans were bracing for—maybe they were finally coming around, maybe now that they're done with the road trip from hell hey can find their confidence again. But no. No, those wins were the aberrations. The blowout losses are the norm.
Today the Mariners managed to salvage one of the four games against Minnesota, riding a strong Yusei Kikuchi start to a 7-4 victory, but having lost the first three by scores of 11-6, 7-1, and 18-4, this series falls squarely in the Mariners' We're Just Not Very Good bucket. All four games re-emphasized the biggest problems with this year's Mariners: The bullpen is a crapshoot, the defense is a gaping sieve, and, perhaps most importantly, the offense is beholden to the home run and rarely scores without it.
Four pitchers that threw in this series are no longer with the team. Alleged starter Erik Swanson and reliever Matt Festa are back in Tacoma after Swanson got lit up in the third and fourth again and Festa drew the short straw when no more rested relievers were left, while Mike Wright and Zac Rosscup have been designated for assignment. Somehow Parker Markel is still here, despite being battered to the tune of a 4.125(!) WHIP and 16.88 ERA, but you have to think he'll be gone soon as well. The M's will need a starter for Tuesday's game in what would have been Swanson's turn in the rotation, so a move will be coming then if not before. Already, the Mariners have used 18 relief pitchers this year (not counting position players Dylan Moore and Tom Murphy, who've thrown three innings between them and collectively have done better than both Dan Altavilla and Nick Rumbelow), shuffling through a deck of not-ready-for-the-show farmhands and never-made-the-cut veterans looking for wheat in a huge pile of chaff.
Connor Sadzeck and Brandon Brennan have been two examples of good finds, and Austin Adams certainly has the look of another. Along with Roenis Elías, they may well be a decent backbone for the bullpen the rest of the way. But they will need help—especially given manager Scott Servais' tendency to make odd choices there. Help might be on the way in the form of injured relievers Sam Tuivailala and Gerson Bautista, both currently on minor-league rehab assignments and expected to be ready by the end of the month. Meanwhile, we roll the dice on whomever is out there on a given day.
As for the defense, Seattle continues to lead the Majors in errors by a light-year, having compiled 53 (the White Sox are next with 37), and unsurprisingly lead the bigs in unearned runs allowed too, at 43 and climbing after surrendering five in this series. This too might be improved upon before long, as with J.P. Crawford having displaced Tim Beckham at shortstop for the moment and Kyle Seager scheduled to return from his injured-list stint within a few weeks time, the worst offenders—Beckham and incumbent third baseman Ryon Healy—will have fewer opportunities to blunder. Domingo Santana remains an adventure in left field, but the M's need his bat and will put up with the dropped flies and bad throws from him.
Then there's the homer fetish. It's possible that setting the record for most consecutive games with a home run to start a season was a bad thing—it may have formed (or at least contributed to) some bad habits. We're now 30% of the way through the season and the Mariners have scored 53.1% of their runs on homers. They have not won a single game without hitting one or more home runs. They have lost three games in which they hit four or more. Yes, yes, "chicks dig the long ball" and all that, but the long ball is only one tool available and successful teams have to be proficient in more than one method of scoring. The M's have fallen in love with hitting tape-measure shots and have not practiced the art of advancing runners. Manufacturing runs is not a skill to be ignored, it's often necessary; even the teams of Earl Weaver, the champion of the three-run-homer strategy, could score a runner from third without a hit when they needed it.
In this series, the Mariners struck out 16 times with runners on base, seven with runners in scoring position. Of course, not all strikeouts are the result of swinging for the fences, maybe not even most. But some are. Plate discipline had been a strength for the M's in the early going, but there's a lot less of it now, and a few guys are really struggling with whiffs. Mitch Haniger, Santana, and Jay Bruce are among the league leaders in Ks, all three making that U-turn to the dugout roughly 30% of the time. With Santana and Bruce, both of whom have always been home-runs-above-all type hitters, that's not too far off their career averages, but for Haniger it's a real concern. His OBP is currently 30 points below what was his career mark coming into the season, and at this rate he would top 200 strikeouts for the year—something only three Major Leaguers "achieved" in 2018.
Yeah, Yusei was good again today. Yeah, the club went .500 for the homestand, which given recent history seems OK. But this series was a stake driven into the heart of Mariner Fandom.
Mariners vs. Twins, by the numbers
- Total runs scored: 58 (SEA 18, MIN 40)
- Home runs hit: 18 (SEA 7, MIN 11)
- Bases stolen: 1 (Dee Gordon)
- Errors committed: 9 (SEA 6, MIN 3)
- Quality starts: 3 (SEA - Kikuchi, MIN - Pineda, Pérez)
- Pitching changes: 20 (SEA 14, MIN 6)
- Starters ERA: 7.30 (SEA 11.57, MIN 4.44)
- Bullpen ERA: 6.23 (SEA 6.41, MIN 5.06)
- Position players' ERA: 0.00 (Tom Murphy, 1 IP, 0 R)
- Runners left on base: 50 (SEA 27, MIN 23)
- Runs scored without benefit of a homer: 26 (SEA 6, MIN 20)