Game 131, Blue Jays at Mariners – Return of the King

marc w · August 24, 2019 at 4:53 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

King Felix vs. Wilmer Font/Brock Stewart, 6:10pm


Bo Bichette did his best, and the infernal corvids tied the game in the 6th, but the M’s came right back thanks to the bat of Dee Gordon (?) and scratched out a win. The Jays have young pitchers, but they’re not quite ready to make the club competitive, despite their young position-player core.

JP Crawford’s home run was a key moment, and a great sign going forward. I mentioned yesterday that he was in another hot streak, and it’s great to see. He was still a productive player even when his average dropped below .240, but he’s markedly better when his value comes from more than walks and defense. He’s got the ability, but he just suffers from prolonged slumps. Part of growth, part of a hitter’s aging curve, is adapting more quickly when pitchers challenge them or adjust their plan of attack. I hope next season will have a better ratio of hot streaks to cold.

As encouraging as Crawford’s been, I’m less and less sure about Sheffield. To be sure, in mid-May or so when he was struggling in AAA, if you’d told me he’d have this kind of outing, I’d take it in a heartbeat. But the more we see him, the more I’m worried that his fastball/slider combo isn’t quite potent enough to make him a middle-of-the-rotation starter, let alone a #2. It’s not bad, and I’m not about to suggest the M’s try him in the bullpen. But I’ve been worried that he needs more to attack right-handed bats, and I’m even more worried about that now. This isn’t to say the old bromide about improving his change-up or developing another pitch. I mean, that’d be wonderful, but the concern is more basic than that: they’re seeing his primary pitches far too well, and doing more damage. With his low arm angle, he’s been much better against lefties, and any improvement in command/control should help him be a deeply unpleasant match-up for lefties. But righties…they’re not missing his fastball, and they did most of their damage off of the slider yesterday. It’s just 4 innings, and the slider’s a solid pitch. But I still think the M’s need to redesign the fastball to work better with that slider.

All of that’s for the future, though. Sheffield and Crawford and Kelenic and Juliooooo are, we hope, a part of the next good M’s team. Today’s game isn’t about that at all. It’s about honoring the M’s past, and the M’s greatest competitor and champion of a barren era. That it comes during one of the annual infestations of Jays was annoying, but I think I’ve come around. I worried that Felix would never face Bo Bichette or Vladito. These guys figure to be playing in 15 years, in a game that may look quite different. But they’ll have faced Felix. Sheffield and Crawford will have played with Felix. He’ll be the link between the pain of 2005-2019 to whatever glory the M’s may stumble into in the future.

Do you know how much charisma and will it takes to make this :gestures at the M’s history: tolerable? Why are any of us still here, beyond the accident of our birth or a great season that’s receded far into the past? What grabs your attention about this slow, stately game? Felix is the reason I’m still here, and I say that having lived through the M’s worst and best seasons. I’d probably still call myself a fan, but I wouldn’t be doing any of this; I’d be focused on the Seahawks, same as most people around here. Felix made the game come alive; I keep thinking that his bearing, his movement was like an interpretive dance for leverage. When he got a key strikeout in a big moment, he led us in cheers. When he’d go on one of his runs, he was appointment television. We all know he’s not that guy anymore. He now views the game through a business lens, just like so many others do. He’s not commanding a throng of followers, he’s not the high priest of baseball anymore. He’s applying for a job next year. Even Kings have to settle.

A part of me wants to be mad at all of this. The relationship between the club and the King ruined. Another lost season, and a meaningless appearance in front of a horde of drunken Canadians. It all feels cheap and undignified. But I hope the full house rouses him, and I hope the King reaches back to make T-Mobile his house once again. This is another opportunity for a bunch of youngsters on the M’s team to understand what this guy meant to so many, and how to compete and wear your heart on your sleeve for an entire region of fans. If the coaches and GM never quite “got” Felix or found him difficult, I hope the players take the opportunity to learn whatever they can. I hope he whiffs Vladito on a great change-up, providing a great lesson not only for, say, Sheffield or Wisler, but for Vladito as well. I think Felix makes baseball *better.* Whatever happens tonight, it was better for having Felix in it. Hopefully, this isn’t Felix’s last start, so we can say goodbye another time. But I’ve never been so happy to see him back. Shut up some Jays fans, my King.

1: Smith, RF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Nola, 1B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Narvaez, C
6: Vogelbach, DH
7: Lopes, LF
8: Fraley, CF
9: Gordon, 2B
SP: El Cartelua

Brock Stewart was just recalled to pitch this one behind the opener, Wilmer Font. Stewart’s a righty with an even lower arm slot than Sheffield, and features a similar fastball/slider combo. He pitched for the Dodgers org for years, making sporadic relief appearances for them as recently as this April. But he’s been stretched out a bit more by Toronto, and he’s done OK. He throws more strikes than Sheffield, and his slider has a different shape, more sweep and less drop. But the real issue for him has been the long ball. He gave up 3 in 5 1/3 IP in his last big league appearance, and then gave up 6 in his last 4 appearances in AAA. Just as with Sheffield, his low-slot sinking fastball and slider combo has made him really vulnerable to opposite-handed batters, so in this case, lefties. This is a great match-up for Seager and Vogie.


One Response to “Game 131, Blue Jays at Mariners – Return of the King”

  1. mrakbaseball on August 25th, 2019 12:26 am

    Felix pitched well and the bullpen failed him, sigh. It’s sad to see Vogelbach’s 2nd half decline. At this point, he’s going from All-Star rep to non tender candidate. His free fall has been so dramatic.

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