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Pitching failures turn series win into series loss vs. Cards

The just-completed Interleague series vs. the St. Louis Cardinals was a frustrating experience from before the first pitch of the first game, and not just because I was prevented from getting into the ballpark on time Tuesday night because of an electronic ticketing fiasco. In the greater Mariner fan universe, we were given yet another experiment with "the opener" Tuesday (and Thursday), which was enough to make one shake one's fist and scream into the void and diminish any expectations of things getting better.

Oddly, Tuesday night's game was the only one of the three that the Mariners won. The opener gambit failed again, as Matt Carasiti served up a first-inning home run to St. Louis DH José Martínez, but the M's came back to take the lead on an Omar Narváez homer in the middle innings. By the seventh, Seattle was up 4-2 and in control. Enter Scott Servais, who decided to keep Anthony Bass on the mound to start the seventh. He had escaped the sixth with a lucky lineout to J.P. Crawford at short, but Bass hasn't exactly shown himself to be, what's the word, reliable in close games. His numbers are misleading; yeah, he came in with a 3.57 ERA, but his FIP mark—that's Fielding Independent Pitching—is over 6.00. He gets hit hard and benefits from a lot of those liners right at someone. Frankly, it's a wonder he hasn't been designated for assignment yet. But there he was, pitching in the seventh to the Cardinals and unsurprisingly giving up the game-tying two-run home run. Then Servais went to his better relievers, Austin Adams and, after Tim Beckham hit a pinch-hit home run to retake the lead, Roenis Elías. The M's won that one almost by accident.

Wedensday's game was the real heartbreaker. Mike Leake was outstanding, pitching 723 shutout innings against his former team, and was relieved for no reason other than he was approaching 100 pitches. It was a poor decision, but at least the reliever was Adams, who has been the hot hand out of the bullpen. Adams got the third out without trouble and all was well going to the ninth. Still 2-0, Servais left Adams in the game, hoping he would close it out for the save, and for once I can't fault him for the choice. For once a pitching decision that made sense is the one that backfired—Adams ended up loading the bases on two ground balls and a walk, and Elías was hastily brought in to stop the bleeding. Also not a bad move, also backfired. The first three batters Elías faced hit a single, sac fly, and three-run bomb and just like that it was 5-2 Cardinals. Tough break, Mike Leake. You were awesome, outpitched the beloved Adam Wainwright, and get nothing to show for it.

Then came Thursday. The July 4th game once again saw the M's use an opener—why, Servais, WHY??—with Tommy Milone following on the mound. Seattle's offense did its job, even getting some solid situational hitting from the top of the lineup to go with the requisite home runs, and held a slim 4-3 lead going into the seventh inning. Milone was relieved after a base hit and a walk put two Cardinals on with one out, with Matt Festa, who hadn't pitched since giving up the game-winning home run to Yuli Gurriel in Houston on June 28th, taking over. Festa didn't have it, gave up the tying and go-ahead runs without retiring a batter, and that was all she wrote for the M's.

There were positives for Seattle in the series, though. The bullpen may have been a mixed bag, but both Leake and Wade LeBlanc were very good in their games. The Mariner defense was very good, especially in the infield with five double-plays turned. Mallex Smith continues to hit—he's now gotten at least one hit in 27 of the last 30 games and 30 of the last 35, a span over which he's batted .290/.351/.452—and run, as he's now at 22 steals on the year.

With a few breaks, the Mariners could have taken all three of these games, yet the fact that they got one seems like a stroke of luck. At this point, it seems the Mariners' problems are all about the pitching, and by extension the managerial choices regarding said pitching. Seattle made another trade today, getting right-handed reliever Matt Wesler from San Diego for cash considerations, so they'll have a new arm out in the 'pen when the A's come to town for the weekend. Wesler is just the latest in the long line of relief pitchers the M's will trot out in their season-long bullpen tryout camp; will this latest DFA pickup be more Austin Adams or more Mike Wright? And will Wright finally be let go now? Tune in tomorrow to find out.

 

Mariners vs. Cardinals, by the numbers

  • Total runs scored: 25 (SEA 11, STL 14)
  • Home runs hit: 11 (SEA 5, STL 6)
  • Bases stolen/attempts: 2/5 (SEA 2 - Gordon, Smith)
  • Errors committed: 1 (SEA 1 - Moore)
  • Quality starts: 1 (SEA - Leake)
  • Pitching changes: 22 (SEA 10, STL 12)
  • Starters ERA (includes "openers"): 4.37 (SEA 0.93, STL 6.92)
  • Bullpen ERA (includes "headliners"): 4.15 (SEA 6.75, STL 0.69)
  • Runners left on base: 33 (SEA 19, STL 14)
  • Daniel Vogelbach series OBP: .500

"The Opener"

What do you think of teams using an "opener"?

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