Game 97, Rangers at Mariners

marc w · July 25, 2022 at 4:42 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Chris Flexen vs. Glenn Otto, 7:10pm

Another huge home series capping off a remarkable run and another deflating sweep. It doesn’t feel great, but it’s probably not that shocking. The Astros remain the best team in the division, and while the M’s have played them tough this season (and in this series!), they’re better than the M’s. That’s never going to feel great, but 1) the M’s are still on a hot streak and now face an inferior opponent and 2) they don’t need to beat the Astros to get to the postseason.

That kind of tees up the big question about the M’s 2022 season and their rebuild, really. What’s the goal? Is squeaking in with the last wild card enough (“the streak is over!”) or is the goal to win it all? To be a top seed? These aren’t exactly mutually exclusive; the former can set the stage for further development, enabling their full flourishing into an Astros/Yankee style behemoth. But the *way* the M’s have gone about their business suggests that they’re not attempting to jump to World Series favorite very quickly. Part of the frustration so many have felt has been the result of slow-playing free agency as they assess what they’ve got bubbling up through the system. That system has produced some starting pitchers, and it’s now produced a legitimate sport-bestriding colossus in Julio. But for a long while there, it sputtered out flawed players, and for a while there, the M’s trade acquisitions seemed geared more towards wild card squeaking than dominating a division or league.

Again, that’s not necessarily bad, but it means that they’re going to have to promote ending the streak endlessly, or they’re going to need to raise their sights. I hope they can acquire Juan Soto, but if not, they need to be active in free agency. The trade that brought them Winker and Suarez hasn’t quite gone to plan, but it’s worked (Suarez better than expected, Winker worse): now they need to do more of that. It’s tough, because all of that activity really could imperil the slow, measured improvement they’ve shown. In a lot of ways, it’s easier not only to build a wild card contender, but also to sell one to a public starved of any postseason games. It’s harder to actually go for it, and fans will cheer when you lose your job having gone for it and failed. But I sincerely hope they do. Series like this past weekend’s will keep coming. It’s never bad to measure yourself against a team like Houston. But I want the M’s to be the reference that the other teams in the division measure themselves against. I want the M’s to be the divisional bully for a change.

This year, the M’s are in the position they’re in because of their insane hot streak, but also because of how things are shaking out in the AL East. I’d initially thought that the non-Yankee contenders could beat themselves up, and that they’d all end up with around 85-87 wins or so, keeping the bar for the wild card much lower than last year, when two teams won at least 90 and didn’t make it. That could conceivably still come to pass, as Tampa’s now dealing with serious injury woes. But instead, we saw one of the three teams that were leading the WC chase in mid-June essentially drop out. The Boston Red Sox have a run differential of -72…in July. Giving up 28 runs in one game is part of that, but they have simply looked awful – completely unable to pitch at all, cycling through a bunch of fungible relievers. Boston is too good for this to continue, but the gap is now fairly sizable between the Sox and the Rays (4.5 games). If anything, the M’s biggest competitor may come out of the Central, where Cleveland’s a touch over .500 and the White Sox are at .500 and dangerously talented. It’s strange to see the league, or at least the Wild Card, break this kindly for the M’s, where even that rough home sweep doesn’t really dent their chances. At this point, the path is pretty clear: beat the teams you should beat, starting with Texas tonight, and don’t go on any crazy losing streaks. Vital towards *that* is health, which is why I’m not bothered that both Jesse Winker and Julio Rodriguez are out tonight. IL stints really change the outlook, so if they’re sore, give them some off days and don’t let a little thing fester. Get healthy, and then get some wins.

Robbie Ray was bad yesterday, as his four-seam – which has continued to look even better after he also started throwing a sinker – got hit a bit. I’d still say he’s not throwing enough of it, but I can’t really argue with how he’s looked since going to that sinker. Still, the novelty’s wearing off a bit, and it got hit quite hard yesterday. He showed more of the four-seamer in his last start against Texas, back before the break, but I’ll be interested to see if he does anything different in terms of his pitch mix going forward.

I’ve talked a lot about Glenn Otto in this space for some reason, and feel like I’ve kind of hit the maximum I can write about a guy who’s been pretty much replacement level.

1: Crawford, SS
2: France, 1B
3: Santana, DH
4: Suarez, 3B
5: Raleigh, C
6: Frazier, LF
7: Toro, 2B
8: Moore, CF
9: Haggerty, RF
SP: Flexen

The All-2B-OF rides again. Get well soon, Jesse and Julio!

Arkansas blanked Texas’ affiliate in Frisco last night, 3-0. This was a big pitching duel between Jack Leiter, one of the biggest pitching prospects around, and last year’s #2 overall draft pick, and Taylor Dollard, kind of an afterthought as a 5th rounder out of Cal Poly in 2020. Ah, but baseball doesn’t care so much about your draft position. Leiter, seen as one of the most MLB-ready pitchers in years coming out of Vanderbilt, is now 2-8 with a 6.24 ERA that’s not reflective of the 48 runs he’s yielded (6 unearned). He’s striking out batters, but walking too many, and has been oddly hittable. Dollard, meanwhile, is now 9-2 with an ERA of 1.54. His stuff is not Leiterian, but it’s proved very confusing to Texas league hitters. It’s been a remarkable season for Dollard, who K’d a lot in the low minors, but was bit by the HR bug in Everett. He’s been excellent in that regard in AA, and is now an actual Guy, and no longer a college-trained pitcher overwhelming kids. He’s a prospect.

Eugene continues to pound Everett pitching, so a Mitch Haniger HR couldn’t save the day for the AquaSox.

Salt Lake topped Tacoma 5-4 in 12 in a remarkable game. With 1 out in the 11th and a Bees runner on 3rd, the SL batter hit a screaming line drive to RF. Marcus Wilson made a diving catch of the liner, then popped up and threw a strike to the plate to double up the stunned runner (it wasn’t even close). One of the better plays you’ll see, considering the situation/context. Unfortunately, even though Tacoma pushed a run across in the 12th, Salt Lake scored two to win it.

San Jose easily beat Modesto 8-2. Prospects Joseph Hernandez (93 K’s in 72 1/3 IP) and Andrew Moore (56 Ks in 31 1/3 IP) were pretty good, but the Giants scored 5 in the middle innings to make it a comfortable win.


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