By Raymond Schwabacher
The Royals think they’re a playoff contender, but they’re not. They have a 4.8% chance of making the playoffs, despite their moderately decent record. They’re the worst of the above .500 teams in the American League, and while that makes them not-awful, it doesn’t make them a playoff hopeful. They would be a contender if it weren’t for the Rays and Yankees and Orioles and Indians, but those are four better teams with better records and much, much better odds of playing October baseball. But the Royals are historically delusional, and those delusions predictably extend to the present day. Dayton Moore seems satisfied with his team, which is just a shame. The Royals are not satisfactory. The Royals traded Wil Myers and a package of prospects for James Shields and Wade Davis! Shields has been the team’s best player, sure, but he’ll be gone by 2015. Wade Davis was one of the worst starters in the game and now isn’t a starter. This is a team built on faulty process.
But you know what, this is also a team that is better than the Mariners. The Royals pitching, despite the horrendous cost, is good, and their defense is one of the best in baseball. The hitting is lacking, of course, but it should come as a surprise to nobody that the Royals were able to take two of three from a visiting Mariners team. The Mariners run differential is almost the Marlins run differential. Think about that. The Mariners are closer to being the Marlins than they are to being the Royals, at least by one measure. For what it’s worth, the Royals have the sixth-best run differential in the AL so maybe it’s not too insane that they fancy themselves contenders. But they’re not. Recaps!
Monday, September 2 – Royals 3, Mariners 1
When this game started I was driving across the state of Washington without radio or cellular reception. By the time I got close enough to Seattle to tune in, I was immediately treated to the news that Felix Hernandez’s back strain was “mild.” Naturally, my reaction was to freak out, though not as bad as I would have had the news made it my way ten minutes earlier. Learning that Felix has any kind of injury is unsettling, but seeing him leave a game and having no additional information is pure terror. Had I been listening live when Felix got pulled I would probably have crashed my car. I’m glad that didn’t happen, but not nearly as glad as I am that Felix isn’t seriously hurt. Weird priorities, sure, but Felix is a very important baseball player.
It’s been a rough ride for Felix lately, who has been knocked to pieces in his last few starts prior to this outing. In this game The King allowed three earned runs and had to leave before getting the last out in the seventh because his back hurt, and it constituted a noticeable rebound. The Mariners announced today that his next start will come on Wednesday, not Sunday. One also recalls a rough patch for Felix about this time last year, in the weeks following the perfect game that capped what had been an unbelievable run of success. Still, this was a fine outing, as Felix struck out six and walked one while avoiding hard contact. Kansas City had no extra base hits in this game. Felix was good, save for a run-scoring wild pitch and some singles. He’s going to miss a little time, but odds are he’s fine.
Danny Duffy is an impressive young arm with loads of upside, even after blowing out his arm last year. He’s back now, though he’s being watched closely. Duffy was pulled after walking four Mariners in his first three and two thirds innings. He also had four strikeouts, so huh. With two outs in the fourth, Abraham Almonte doubled and Brad Miller brought him in with a triple. That’s six triples, tops among AL rookies. Brad Miller’s been awesome so far! Huzzah! That’s all the Mariners offense did because the Mariners offense sucks lately.
Tuesday, September 3 – Royals 4, Mariners 3
Erasmo Ramirez is still scuffling, and home runs are still a remarkably huge part of the problem. In this contest he allowed two more, bringing him to eleven on the season in just fifty-five innings. His HR/FB is 15.9%, the same as Brandon Maurer. His home run rate is double what it was in the majors last year, which was a tad higher than anything he ever did in the minors. In other words, the shelling that has been 2013 seems to be coming out of nowhere. Not like he was all that good otherwise in this game – three walks to three strikeouts. He allowed three runs in seven innings, so at least his five non-homer hits allowed were scattered. He’s tentatively pencilled in to the 2014 rotation, but one has to acknowledge that 2013 Erasmo has been shakier than anyone had anticipated.
Franklin Gutierrez opened the sixth with a single, immediately followed by a Kyle Seager home run off of Bruce Chen. Brad Miller had an RBI groundout, and is it just me or is that turning into one of this team’s favorite methods of scoring runs? There weren’t really any other notable offensive performances on the M’s side, save for two-hit games from Seager, Smoak, and Ibanez. Yoervis Medina was the difference-maker, in that he allowed the game-deciding hit. Medina entered the eighth with Eric Hosmer on first and got a quick double play ball from Billy Butler. Mike Moustakas doubled and Sal Perez drove him in and that was that. The game ended on a popped up bunt caught by closer Greg Holland. Mariners baseball my oh my.
Wednesday, September 4 – Mariners 6, Royals 4
Taijuan! Walker! Happy Taijuan Walker Day! The M’s phenom made his second career start Wednesday, and for most of it it looked like he could be writing himself into the history books. In a sense he was, because everything that has happened in the past and been recorded is history, but my point here is that it took the Royals a little while to get their first hit. This is how the first three innings went for Walker: called strikeout, infield popup, swinging strikeout, fly out, ground out, walk, infield popup, fly out, ground out, ground out. Not too shabby, and remember, these were innings six through eight of his major league career. Everything was working, and his confidence must have been up. Way up. Deservedly.
Meanwhile, the Mariners offense was busy scoring runs, plating two in the third and adding two more in the fourth. Mike Zunino singled, Nick Franklin doubled, Brad Miller drove in the first run on a sac fly, and Guti singled in run number two. The next inning started with a Raul double and a Smoak walk. Ackley moved Ibanez to third at the cost of Smoak, then Zunino walked to load the bases with one out. Nick Franklin singled to bring Raul home, and just like that, Ervin Santana was out of the game. Santana is in the midst of perhaps his best season, so this was really quite a feat. Wade Davis immediately uncorked a wild pitch that scored Ackley, and it was four to nothing M’s with Walker looking unhittable.
Then Walker allowed hits, and runs. He walked Emilio Bonifacio to lead off the fourth, then allowed consecutive singles to Hosmer and Butler that scored the first run. A Moustakas fly moved Hosmer to third and a Perez sac fly scored him, then David Lough doubled to put the pressure back on. Jarrod Dyson singled to score two runs, and suddenly it was four to four, advantage nobody, with a shaken Walker being bailed out by a runner caught stealing. Eric Wedge opted to do something smart – he let Walker go back for the fifth, intent on seeing how the young ace-in-making reacted to having made a big mess the inning before. Walker responded admirably, getting outs with a fly ball, grounder, and line drive.
Walker’s final line shows two walks and two strikeouts in five innings, with four runs on four hits. The strikeouts are still MIA at the big league level, but, ten innings. Also, look at what Gerrit Cole’s doing in Pittsburgh, succeeding as a top prospect who isn’t living up to his strikeout pedigree because he’s just trying to make outs. Strikeouts are the cleanest kind of outs, and Walker has the track record to suggest they’ll show up. Right now Walker is simply trying to get batters out, and so far he’s gotten batters out admirably. Taijuan Walker recovered well from his first, and so far only, rough inning in the majors. Oh yeah, and his next start is at home. Get hyped.
Kendrys Morales won the game with a big ol’ home run in the ninth that plated the go-ahead and insurance runs. Without checking the numbers I’m going to go ahead and say that this is probably the first time the 2013 Mariners have won a close game with late-inning dramatics. I don’t know, that just doesn’t sound like a very 2013 Mariners thing to do, does it? Ned Yost had a lot to do with this win, as he refused to use his closer in the ninth inning of a tie game. Instead of Greg Holland, Yost chose Aaron Crow, and Crow coughed up the decisive homer. Danny Farquhar had a rare no-strikeout save, and holy crap Danny Farquhar has a 13.5 K/9! He’s nuts! Danny Farquhar, of all people, is an elite closer! Weird.
Thursday, September 5 – Royals 7, Mariners 6 (13 innings)
It started with Joe Saunders being Joe Saunders and ended with Mike Moustakas going deep off a mountain man who hadn’t played a big league game in two years. Raul Ibanez was supposed to be the twenty seventh out of a 6-5 Royals win, but instead he hit a game-tying homer off of Greg Holland, who has a higher strikeout rate than Danny Farquhar. It should be noted that Moustakas used to be the top prospect in the top-rated minor league system ever, except that now he sucks. But then he hit the game-winner in this one, so who even knows what to think anymore? Baseball is bizarre, and baseball involves the Mariners losing. This game was bizarre and involved the Mariners losing, but not before making things interesting, then uninteresting again. Let’s back up a few steps.
Joe Saunders made the start, for some awful reason, and he came within an out of completing the fifth inning. He didn’t get that out, however, and exited having allowed eleven hits, a walk, and a homer, as three runs crossed the plate. He struck out three batters, and yeah I definitely notice when Joe Saunders strikes out more dudes than he walks. He’s bad, and he’ll never be a Mariner again after this month god forbid. He’s here because half the rotation has innings limitations to worry about, and he’s not going to stop being a pile of crap in the season’s dog days. He yielded the ball to Brandon Maurer, who pushed his ERA even closer to seven by allowing three runs in an inning and a third. It is worth considering the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Brandon Maurer is Hector Noesi. Then came Charlie Furbush (good) and Tom Wilhelmsen (acceptable) and Lucas Luetge (good). The bullpen was good. Of course the bullpen was good; this game went thirteen innings.
Chance Ruffin is the reliever of note here, because Chance Ruffin made his first appearance in a couple years and was great aside from his last two tosses. A history of Chance Ruffin, Seattle Mariner: he was the PTBNL in the ill-fated Douglas Fister trade with the Tigers and made the Mariners as a reliever after the deal went down. He was bad and his stay was short – in fact, I had forgotten entirely that he was ever up at all. Then he had a terrible 2012 in the minors, a 2012 so terrible that the team opted to convert him into a starter at AA, because when you suck as a minor league reliever you should become a starter. Starting started out alright but soured, and upon a promotion to Tacoma’s bullpen Ruffin flourished, earning himself a call-up. He registered five outs Thursday, three by strikeout. Then came a long, long Moustakas foul, and then a long, long Moustakas homer. Game over. Hey wait, the Mariners scored six runs?
Indeed, the Mariners scored six runs. Against Jeremie Guthrie – a Joe Saunders impersonator on a backloaded three-year deal – the M’s jumped out to an early three-run lead on an Almonte double, Morales RBI single, and two-run Justin Smoak bomb. Smoak flew out in the third, but Seager scored when Eric Hosmer completely failed to catch the throw in from the outfield. Little league fever! Michael Saunders doubled in the fourth and scored on a Brad Miller sac fly. Then there was Raul’s homer, and yeah, the Mariners scored six runs and lost. Raul’s now three away for tying that one Ted Williams record that everyone keeps talking about. Keep at it, gramps.
UP NEXT: Rays @ Mariners
The Rays enter this weekend series suddenly in jeopardy of losing the playoff spot that they’ve had on lockdown for months and months, as the Yankees resurgence and their own ineptitude has turned the AL Wild Card race a lot closer than it looked even a week or two ago. The Rays and Red Sox were neck in neck, but now the division is almost assuredly Boston’s to lose, which they probably won’t, because they’re really good. The Rays are as close to the Royals as they are the Red Sox. They’re also being chased by New York, Baltimore, and Cleveland, so yeah, Tampa Bay is going to have to play hard for the next month in order to avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight year.
Luckily for them they have Evan Longoria, still a superstar, and Wil Myers, who has thus been everything he was advertised as. Immediate prospect gratification is a funny thing, because now there’s going to be a crazy threshold attached to Myers for the rest of his career. Same goes for Yasiel Puig and any other rookie who comes up with high hopes and immediately dominates. Any future seasons that are less than spectacular are going to be heavily scrutinized, and probably unfairly. Anyways, all this to say that these Rays are still the same team that was neck in neck with the Red Sox a few weeks ago. They’ve been scuffling, but they’re good. Real good. This is going to be a really fun series to catch in Seattle, if you have the chance.
This is as much fun as the Mariners rotation has been since the day before Brandon Maurer’s MLB debut, and that coupled with the Rays good staff makes for a series full of fun matchups. Friday features Hisashi Iwakuma and Alex Cobb, both of whom are in the midst of excellent seasons. Saturday features the debut of James Paxton, who will make his highly-anticipated first major league start against presumed AL Rookie of the Year frontrunner Chris Archer. Sunday’s game was supposed to feature Felix Hernandez but will now presumably be an Erasmo Ramirez start, against Matt Moore. Feel better, Felix. All six of these pitchers are favorites of mine, and as a result I’ll be making an effort to spend a lot of time at Safeco Field this weekend. Do join! Great fun!