Servais does nothing wrong in Mariner win
Look, Ma, no mistakes!
June 14, 2021
The last couple of days here on GS.net the lead posts have been about how the manager of Your Seattle Mariners, Scott Servais, tends to screw up, fail to act, or otherwise make unforced errors in strategy during everyday in-game circumstances. Yesterday's was a rant based on merely theoretical suppositions from personal observations regarding closer Kendall Graveman, and I caught a bit of flak for it over on Facebook (always on %&@#ing Facebook) because it was just me observing things that seemed to go unnoticed by Servais, not something backed up by data. On the other hand, the prior post was met with a chorus of "hear hear" type replies (again only on %&@#ing Facebook), so all that tells us is that the Internet is fickle.
Still, in the interests of fairness and presenting a larger picture, rather than let it go by unremarked upon, tonight we will celebrate: On this date the Mariners defeated the visiting Minnesota Twins and did so without any boneheaded moves or failures to act or inflexible stubbornness in the face of unfolding events from their manager. In other words, Scott Servais performed adequately.
As I have pointed out before, as recently as yesterday, my personal bias regarding Servais has been formed and honed and reinforced by over five years' worth of head-scratching decision-making, particularly when it comes to adapting on the fly, handling a bullpen, and roster makeup. And it remains unclear how much influence Servias even has on roster makeup. (That's actually something I would really like to know—does general manager Jerry Dipoto take a lot of input from Servais on that score? They have a long history and would figure to consult on such things, but if so it's not publicly discussed. I wonder if the overly pitcher-heavy roster breakdowns are borne more from Servais requests or Dipoto sensibilities. It does appear that Dipoto acts to take away problem elements from Servais' menu of pitching options, though, so points to Jerry for that.)
So we'll spotlight today. No mistakes!
Marco Gonzales made his third start since returning from the injured list without any rehab time, meaning he was still on a bit of a leash in terms of pitch count. Since the no-rehab thing was already in place, we won't count that as a today error (and good arguments can be made either way on whether or not it was an error at all), and giving Marco a soft 90-pitch limit made sense. He ended up throwing 91 in five full innings and wasn't at his best, though he was snapping off a pretty nice curveball and getting ahead of most batters. It was a solid effort under the circumstances and should be the last of the "non-rehab rehab" starts for him. Moreover, Servais left him in to finish the fifth despite two hits in the inning. Kudos.
Servais opted for reliever J.T. Chargois to pitch the sixth and seventh frames, a departure for him—in 15 prior appearances, Chargois had only been allowed to go two full innings once, about a month ago. Good choice, as Chargois hadn't pitched in several days and other middle-relief options were somewhat dubious. After Chargois, he went to Paul Sewald for the eighth; last seen making a game-ending error in Cleveland on Saturday, Sewald was also in need of some playing time and has been quite effective, throwing errors aside. Then, with a mere one-run lead in the ninth, rather than do what I in my negative bias thought he'd do—turn to alleged closer and white-knuckle stress-inducer Rafael Montero—he called on Drew Steckenrider to lock down the win. Steckenrider has been surprisingly good this year and easily the best option in this circumstance. Again, kudos for, well, doing the obvious, I guess.
Even the lineup construction I had no beef with tonight. Yes, J.P. Crawford is not the hitter at home that he is on the road and all else being equal would be better off down in the order, but the M's currently have no viable alternative at leadoff and many candidates for the 8th and 9th slots. Putting Jake Fraley in the two-hole for the first time was the right choice as well, and not just because Mitch Haniger was out of action after fouling a pitch off his kneecap yesterday. Fraley is a perfect number two batter and should remain there even when Haniger is in the lineup (Haniger is well-suited to the three-through-five slots anyway). I did question putting Shed Long in left field and Fraley at DH, but (a) Long needs reps in the outfield if he's going to be much use long-term, and (b) Fraley was put in for defense in the ninth. One could argue that taking Fraley out of the DH spot and thus losing the DH for the rest of the game was dangerous, especially given the paucity of the Mariner bench (just two catchers, José Godoy and Luis Torrens), but it was the right move and in the event of extra innings we're living with Commissioner Manfred's disgusting free baserunner rule anyway.
There was no instance where Servais failed to use a needed pinch-hitter—even if there had been such an instance, there was no bench to speak of anyway, a separate problem from tonight's game action—nor any situations that called for other-than-by-the-numbers strategy offensively or defensively. The stolen base attempt was justified though unsuccessful, and that was probably Fraley's choice anyway, and the batters generally took a solid approach to the plate in sharp contrast to earlier in the season.
Will this become a trend? Is Scott Servais getting better at his job? Will the GS.net worldview have to undergo a radical shift to be more trusting of Servais?
Whoa, there, let's not get ahead of ourselves. This was a refreshing bout of competence, but in a game where there was little to manage outside of choosing relievers. Let's see if we can string two or three of these in a row before considering such crazy talk.