It’s the last week-plus of the Mariners’ season, and any fan, casual or otherwise, would be hastily forgiven upon admitting that they are now completely checked out. One ganders that the number of individuals outside the Mariners organization who remain emotionally invested in the 2013 version of this team is minuscule Perhaps there are twelve people who aren’t on the Mariners who care about the rest of the Mariners season. That number sounds startlingly reasonable, and that’s a shame. The Mariners, despite not appearing as such, actually have a few things to play for over the next (and final) six games of the ill-fated 2013 campaign.
First, and most importantly, the Mariners absolutely should be concerned with winning as many of their remaining games as possible. Wins are (usually) the result of players playing good baseball, and what the Mariners most desperately need are good baseball players. Any signs of encouragement from the youth movement will be welcomed, and hey, who amongst us wouldn’t stand and cheer for one last Raul dinger? The Mariners, young and old, could all possibly do their part to end this season on a better note. Everything’s better when the Mariners are winning.
A common argument against the Mariners winning games late in the season is that they should be more concerned with draft positioning. The team once famously swept their last series of a lost season and were rewarded by receiving the right to Dustin Ackley (4.4 career WAR) instead of Stephen Strasburg (10.7). However, what’s really important this year is simply finishing in the top (bottom) ten, since those picks are going to be protected. This means that the Mariners can sign top free agents without giving up this pick, which is wildly important since all signs point towards free agent acquisition playing a big part of the M’s offseason plan. The Mariners are currently slotted to pick at number six, with a full game-and-a-half lead over the Brewers, who pick seventh. The Mariners have a three and a half game “lead” over the team picking tenth. The pick, for all practical purposes, is safe. It’s okay to focus on winning without worrying about the draft.
And most importantly, Felix is going to make one more start this year. In his last start, Felix Hernandez made major league history! Didn’t hear about that? You’re about to! To the recaps!
Friday, September 20 – Angels 3, Mariners 2 (11 innings)
Erasmo Ramirez started and didn’t allow a home run. He also didn’t allow an earned run, and he lasted six innings while striking out three and walking one. That’s a good outing! Not a dominant outing, of course, but arguably his best start of the season, which is kind of sad. He came out to pitch the seventh but didn’t get any outs, as Mark Trumbo reached on a throwing error and Kole Calhoun walked. Those guys came around to score, but the runs weren’t “earned” by Erasmo. Oh yeah, and Ramirez left because of a groin injury. Doesn’t sound all too serious, based on what we know so far.
The offense didn’t really show up because the offense isn’t very good. Los Anaheim started Matt Shoemaker, who was making his major league debut, and the young righty had no problems in throwing five innings of two-hit ball. He struck out five and walked two before turning things over to the pen. Nick Franklin had a three-hit day, which holy crap did you guys remember how good he hit when he first came up? Michael Saunders laced a single in the seventh that scored Franklin and Mike Zunino, and that was it for regulation scoring.
This one went to extra innings, which means the Mariners lost. A walk-off loss, in fact, as Bobby LaFramboise allowed two well-placed singles in the eleventh. The Mariners have been ridiculously bad in extra innings this season, and while people are quick to say “bad luck” in situations like this, I’m inclined to think it’s more a problem with how the bullpen is crap-your-pants bad. Because yeah, this bullpen is crap-your-pants bad.
Saturday, September 21 – Angels 6, Mariners 5
If the Mariners were solely interested in winning all of the baseball games, Joe Saunders would not be on the team. This is because he sucks, plain and simple. He’s old, he’s bad, and his career is winding down in painful fashion. But trying solely to win all the games wouldn’t be a prudent strategy at this point, since that would involve acquiring good players, which costs prospects, which are more important to the Mariners than upgrading over Joe Saunders for the final month of the season. This is why the Mariners still employ Joe Saunders, innings sponge, and let him do things like pitch seven innings of six-run ball.
Credit where credit is due, however: Saunders struck out nine Angels, which is mighty impressive especially considering that he’s Joe Saunders. He allowed a home run, and he walked two, but those six runs came on six hits. He got unlucky with timing, essentially. This is a perfectly fine start, by Joe Saunders standards, and yet six runs, because that’s the kind of season this has been. Colin Cowgill, who hit the solo homer, also stole home successfully. What a season.
The M’s loaded the bases in the third before getting one run on a groundout to the pitcher. It was frustrating because ugh what a waste of opportunity. Abe Almonte scored on a balk in the seventh. They tacked on a pair of runs in the eighth, but the real treat was Raul Ibanez tying Ted Williams’ old-guy homers mark in the ninth with a solo shot. Congrats, old guy, you’re now legendary, in part for being old.
Sunday, September 22 – Mariners 3, Angels 2
Felix Hernandez made his triumphant return to the Seattle Mariners rotation, and working on a pitch count, did something nobody has ever done before. Pulled after four innings and ninety-two pitches, Felix managed to tallie ten strikeouts. He also walked four and allowed only one hit, in case you were wondering how he managed such a high pitch count in so short a time. Ks and walks will do that. Anyways, nobody’s done that before. Nobody in the history of the sport has posted that exact line, and for that matter, no pitcher has ever struck out ten-plus batters in a four inning start. Four innings is twelve outs. Felix struck out the side twice and struck out two of three twice. Felix was a bit wild and on a short leash, but he was dominant nonetheless. Appreciate this man, appreciate him to no end. He’ll be back for one more turn before the season ends.
The Mariners plated their first run in the second, when Kendrys Morales and Mike Zunino doubled. They tacked on the tying and winning runs with Justin Smoak’s first right handed home run of the season, a two-run shot in the seventh. That’s eighteen homers on the year for Smoak, with seventeen of them coming as a left-handed hitter. There’s talk that the big first baseman should abandon switch hitting, but who’s to say he’d hit more dingers as a lefty facing lefties? Maybe Smoak is just a platoon bat. Don’t bet against Smoak being just a platoon bat. Justin Smoak is probably a platoon bat
UP NEXT: Royals @ Mariners
Kansas City is still somehow locked in a playoff race, though their odds are still awful and they’ve all but run out of season. They’ve now leapfrogged New York and Baltimore, and are only two games off the Rangers’ pace. But they’re three and a half games out of an actual playoff spot, and the two teams currently occupying those coveted spots are on fire right now. The Royals have come awfully close, but that’s probably as close as they’re going to come.
The Mariners have a great opportunity now to play spoiler against a really obnoxious team that has been infamously mismanaged for a really long time. This is exciting, as the infamously mismanaged Mariners are flatlining this year while the Royals have finally put together a competitive season. People are going to start suggesting, and not insanely, that the Royals are a better run organization than the Mariners. The further Kansas City finishes from the playoffs, the better, as far as Mariners pride is considered. This would be a particularly satisfying sweep, given circumstances.
Yordano Ventura starts against Brandon Maurer on Monday, and Ventura throws harder than any other starter in the history of ever, pretty much. Tuesday’s game features James Paxton and the yawn-inducing Bruce Chen, who is having the kind of inexplicable decent season that propels weird wild card chases. Wednesday is a battle of borderline aces, as Hisashi Iwakuma takes on Ervin Santana. Seriously, this would be a great sweep. Make it happen, Mariners.