Game 138, Mariners at Astros – Hold Fast

marc w · September 6, 2021 at 3:31 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Yusei Kikuchi vs. Lance McCullers, Jr., 4:10pm

The Mariners once again picked themselves off the mat, shook off what looked for all the world like a wrenching, playoff-chase-ending series, and fought on. Sure, it helps to face the out-of-it Diamondbacks, but those were each hard-fought wins, and it’s often been those “bad” teams that have inflicted some damage on the M’s. Well, bad teams and the Astros.

This has not been a friendly ballpark for Seattle, going back to the days before the Astros become a juggernaut. Sure, some electronic trickery had *some* part in that, but the biggest problem has been that Houston’s put out far more talented rosters. They still do. But as we’ve seen time and again, from the last Astros series in Seattle to the recent sweep in Phoenix, the M’s bullpen becomes an equalizer. If the M’s starter gives the team any kind of chance, the bullpen gives the team every opportunity to take it.

The M’s playoff odds have increased recently as they’ve passed the Oakland A’s for 2nd in the AL West. They had been in 3rd place (or worse) every day from May 9th to September 4th. Even so, the primary beneficiary of the A’s losing streak – according to the projections – is Toronto, a club that is legitimately red hot, and are coming off an 8-0 win against New York today. The Jays will have a rough schedule, but they are in the midst of playing a bunch of playoff contenders, and they are *destroying* them. In a normal world, the Jays would be 10 games ahead of Seattle, but thankfully, nothing is normal.

That helped clarify who this bizarre M’s team reminds me of. There are no perfect parallels in a sport whose offensive environment has changed somewhat dramatically over the past 10-20 years, but there are a few echoes. I’d initially thought of the 2005 Padres, a team that won the NL West with an 82-80 record. That team had a below-average offense, Jake Peavy-and-then-not-much in the rotation, but baseball’s best bullpen. That pen (Trevor Hoffman was the closer, sure, but it was Scott Linebrink’s big year) helped the club overcome a 77-85 pythagorean winning percentage, but they were quickly eliminated in the playoffs.

Some of the great Giants teams were more great-in-clutch-situations than out-and-out great. The 2010 team had a great pitching staff and a line-up that rated as below-average, but had some very good performances up and down the line-up. The 2012 was the least-M’s-like, with an offense that helped prop up a so-so pitching staff weighed down by a mediocre pen (who, of course, played out of their minds in the playoffs). The 2014 team is closest, with a slightly below-average line-up, but even that club had big offensive threats like Buster Posey, and they had a great starter in Madison Bumgarner.

But that 2014 team *beat* the club that might be the best analog to this year’s weirdly awesome Mariners: the Kansas City Royals. The 2015 team that won it all actually had a good offense, with one Alex Gordon’s last great years, and Kendrys Morales and others driving in runs. The 2014 version of the Royals just couldn’t hit. And despite an utterly dominant bullpen, the club still had a K rate in the bottom third of MLB, thanks to starters who were allergic to whiffs. OPS is not a perfect stat, and the run environment was dramatically different back in 2014, but the Royals made the playoffs without a single starter posting an OPS over .800 that year. That’s…that’s incredible. That 2005 Padres team had a bunch of sub-800 guys, but also a peak Brian Giles season. The Giants had Posey or Mike Morse or Pat Burrell. It’s hard to score without someone hitting well over .800, but the Royals managed to score just enough. It helped, of course, that *nobody* scored in 2014, but even for that year, they stood out. I bring it up because the M’s are one cold snap from Ty France away from finishing without an .800 OPS slugger. In 2021.

Now, the Royals could do one thing better than anyone, and that was play defense. That’s not really the M’s strength, as they grade out poorly by, say, UZR or OOA. They’ve had to do…whatever this is purely through sequencing, but they keep doing it, and the bullpen keeps giving them extra chances, like Yohan Ramirez’s escape in extra innings yesterday, or Paul Sewald’s season against Houston.

I thought that 2014 Royals team was pretty bad, but they made it all the way to the 7th game of the World Series, and they won it all the following year. It doesn’t matter how something looks or even how sustainable it is. You just need to win.* The M’s desperately need to keep this momentum going, even though they’re entering their house of horrors in Houston.

1: Crawford, SS
2: Haniger, RF
3: Seager, 3B
4: France, 1B
5: Toro, 2B
6: Marmolejos, DH
7: Kelenic, CF
8: Bauers, LF
9: Raleigh, C
SP: Kikuchi

You know who else is enjoying a playoff push? The Tacoma Rainiers, who’ve ridden a hot streak into a tie for first in the AAA-West, uh, West. The R’s are facing the team they’re tied with, Reno, right now. Tacoma’s got a late lead.

Arkansas’ Matt Brash predictably won the AA-Central’s Pitcher of the Week after starting a no-hitter.

SS Noelvi Marte’s been promoted from Modesto up to Everett.
* At the team level, or from the front office’s view, sure, sustainability matters particularly for a growing/young team like this one. But the M’s won’t be disqualified from the playoffs due to run differential.


3 Responses to “Game 138, Mariners at Astros – Hold Fast”

  1. Stevemotivateir on September 6th, 2021 4:38 pm

    New York and Toronto have tough(er) schedules. It’s Boston that worries me. After they leave Seattle, they’ll face the Mets, then the Yankees, but close out the season with 6 against the Orioles and Nationals.

    None of that matters right now, though. If Seattle wins tonight they can pull within two.

  2. Stevemotivateir on September 6th, 2021 4:55 pm

    What should have been a double-play leads to two runs for Houston.

    Toro will take the heat for that, but Kikuchi walking the bases loaded was the bigger issue.

    And now the bases-clearing HR.

  3. Stevemotivateir on September 7th, 2021 5:10 am

    I don’t know if Kikuchi was having issues gripping the ball, or if there is a hidden injury/issue, but he was all over the place last night.

    Absolutely brutal.

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