Game 145, Red Sox at Mariners – Baseball as Comedy

marc w · September 14, 2021 at 4:23 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Tyler Anderson vs. Nathan Eovaldi, 7:10pm

The Mariners have a team OBP of .301, and thus have a real chance to have a sub-.300 OBP and be in the thick of a playoff chase. This is the fundemantal incongruity that we’ve all been dealing with for the past 5 months. We can worry about the future, we can lament the loss of a key free agent pick-up on the M’s playoff odds, we can wonder what to make of Jarred Kelenic’s struggles, or we can laugh and clap. It’s time to laugh and clap. The M’s are not a great baseball team. They don’t really look like a *good* baseball team most of the time, and that’s the reason why they’re in historical territory for wins above their expected (ie. pythagorean or BaseRuns) winning percentage. Why is this so compelling?

Aristotle defined comedy “as an imitation of men worse than the average,” and if that isn’t nearly too on-the-nose to abandon this entire analogy, I don’t know what is. Last night’s game was tied in the late innings, and the first two M’s batters made outs. Up to the plate strode Jake Bauers, decidedly worse than the average hitter or MLB-caliber ball player. He slapped an easy grounder to first, but Kyle Schwarber booted it, and the inning rolled along. Not long after, Mitch Haniger hit a 3R-HR that won the game. The M’s beat their wild card rival, and moved to 12 games over .500, and a big part of that hinged on *Jake Bauers* who has a career 81 wRC+ and a 64 this year, rolled over a grounder, and it worked. For some of last night, the M’s had a line-up without a single .800 OPS hitter, until Mitch Haniger’s 4-4 night pushed him over. The M’s may end the year with a sub-.300 OBP. The story – THE story – of 2021 is Jake Bauers hitting an easy ground ball to 1B over and over and somehow reaching base.

This is, I think objectively, hilarious. What we’re seeing here is subversion: we see the set-up, we see some initial results that illustrate important things about that set-up, and then something random happens and the M’s win. Sports, with their combination of true talent levels and just the right amount of variance, kick off so many pat narratives because both components: evaluating true talent and randomness provided by variance – lend themselves to them. Think of all of the easy stories we had going into this year. They started before the year with the evil and miserly team President bragging of service time manipulation. You had the story of the next wave of talent trying to break through. You had the Wisconsin WonderBoy calling out the Org and the destroying AAA for a week or two. You had Jerry Dipoto’s vaunted rotation and his repeated predictions of a big “step forward.”

So much of those easy (but potentially compelling!) stories have just blown up. None of it’s gone according to those scripts. FINALLY freed from service time manipulation, Jarred Kelenic didn’t carry the M’s – he’s been terrible. The M’s young rotation didn’t rise to the occasion, they showed themselves as, uh, “men worse than the average.” So is the easy narrative that Dipoto’s bluster and spin failed and he was taught some sort of lesson? No! The team is 12 games over .500 and he got a promotion and contract extension! Why? Because Jake Bauers keeps hitting ground balls that get booted.

This sounds like an easy farce, something that almost mocks sports. By essentially eliminating the true talent part and running a season on 100% variance, they’re replacing the outsized efforts and talents of the Blue Jays or Yankees and their stacked rosters with the fart jokes that are Jake Bauers ground balls and that week where Luis Torrens only hit clutch homers. This seems like 5 months of a Mr. Bean video or a direct-to-video “American Pie” sequel.

But it’s not. The subversion goes beyond that. In the Rob Arthur BP piece I linked above, he notes that this kind of divergence between expected and actual record is increasing in recent years. Thus, this surrealist comedy involving whole swaths of a line-up below the Mendoza line could actually teach us something. Is it the shift in total innings towards (more volatile) relief pitchers that keeps allowing the M’s to Jake Bauers their way to “underserved” wins? Is it the over-the-top run suppression going on at T-Mobile (the inability of the M’s to hit at home is like a bit the M’s keep going back to, or a leitmotif if you’re a fancy intellectual) that keep more games (that would’ve been out of reach had true talent been allowed to express itself) within striking/variance distance? Is this knowable/resolvable?

I’m not really sure, but I *am* enjoying the fact that essentially everyone’s priors, everyone’s expected stories of this season have been dashed. I didn’t think the M’s would be good, but here they are in a wild card chase – and not one borne of a season in which 83 wins would get you to the playoffs. The optimists expected Kelenic/Raleigh/Sheffield to step up and dominate. Dipoto and Servais thought the rotation would keep them in a lot of ballgames and give their offense a chance. Everyone thought that talent would win out, but we all disagreed on where we might find it. Instead, this season has essentially shown us what success looks like in its absence, a kind of success in negative space or those double images of a rabbit and a duck. None of this is very predictive, and it may not last until the end of the season, let alone the next one. But I think that just heightens the comedy and entertainment value of this season. This is pure, absurdist genius, and the fact that it has no real author makes it one of the most compelling things I can recall. The M’s history has had so much tragedy and so much losing. I never really imagined they could weave that right into a successful season, but here we are. I’m laughing just thinking about it.

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

Bauers DHing. Perfect.

Yes, Jake Fraley’s back from his rehab stint. Sadly, his return necessitated the DFA’ing of Jose Marmolejos.

Tacoma’s back in action against Sacramento to close out their series.
Arkansas faces Wichita tonight and former Jays/Mets prospect and current Twins prospect, Simeon Woods-Richardson.
Everett’s Taylor Dollard is on the hill vs. Spokane.
Modesto finally gets back to action after their Covid outbreak, and they’ll face Stockton.


One Response to “Game 145, Red Sox at Mariners – Baseball as Comedy”

  1. drw on September 14th, 2021 5:48 pm

    Beautiful, Marc. I don’t know how they are doing it, but I am enjoying the ride.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.