Baseball is a game of numbers. Here is a baseball number: Six. Here’s another one: Fifteen. The first number is the Mariners total tally of extra innings wins this year, while the other number is their extra innings losses. Only the White Sox have lost as many games in extras, and they’ve played (and won) two more games that went past nine innings. Here’s another miserable number: Fourteen, which is the number of walk-off losses the M’s have suffered this season. So what we have here is the worst extra-innings team in the game, and a team that loves losing in deflating fashion. Perhaps you could call it an obsession with painful losses, an organizational philosophy devoted to avoiding victories. The big point: the Mariners lose a lot of close games.
On Monday night, the Mariners played twelve innings of baseball against the Kansas City Royals. The Royals won, mostly because Lucas Luetge walked two batters in the top of the twelfth. But before that, they almost won by virtue of scoring more runs through the first nine frames, until the M’s got back to back home runs off of a strong reliever. This game had its ups and downs, considering how down the outcome was.
Brandon Maurer started and unquestionably had his finest outing of the season. He lasted seven innings, striking out six and walking one while allowing a paltry four hits. He allowed only one earned run and didn’t allow a single extra base hit. This is the Brandon Maurer the Mariners have wanted all along, it’s just taken him a while to show up. Perhaps the next good Mariners team will be rewarded for the current bad one’s willingness to put up with Maurer’s seventy-five-odd innings worth of getting his feet wet. Maybe there’s a productive pitcher in there, and suddenly it’s hard to forget that Maurer was rushed to the bigs out of spring training. For a guy who looked like a lost cause a month ago, Brandon Maurer now looks like something entirely more promising.
Charlie Furbush, on the other hand, has recently seemed dedicated to sucking all the positive out of his campaign. He had another ugly outing Monday, allowing three runs in less than a full inning’s work. Furbush spotted the Royals some hittable balls, and, predictably, they hit them. The rest of the bullpen was fine, I guess, and Eric Wedge deserves credit for using his closer in the ninth inning of a tie game. That’s about all Wedge deserves credit for, however.
With the bases loaded in the eleventh, Wedge pinch hit Endy Chavez for Mike Zunino. This is a mind-blowingly dumb move, despite the fact that Zunino hasn’t hit much in his short big league career. In fact, he’s hitting just about as poorly as Endy Chavez this season, which is kind of mind-blowing in its own right. But consider this. What does Zunino have to gain from getting pinch-hit for by 45-year old nothing player who has been a stagnant dredge with the bat? How could this possibly have a positive affect on him? Also, despite their similar 2013 numbers, Zunino obviously has more potential than Chavez, even right now, to deliver a game-changing hit. Endy slaps grounders at infielders. Zunino does too, but he’s only getting better. This was a terrible move and the result was an inning-ending double play. Eric Wedge really blew this one, and this incident should remain in our minds as a classic example of why it’s dangerous to employ a manager who is obsessed with “veteran presence.” Managers who think like that often aren’t proven to be very good at thinking.
The ending really makes this one stink, but the back-to-back bombs by Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders off Luke Hochevar in the eighth do a lot to retroactively lessen the sting. Hochevar’s got an ERA under two after being a failed starting pitching prospect for much of the last half-decade. His move to the bullpen was delayed by a stubborn Royals team who refused to admit they’d drafted a reliever with the number one overall pick. He’s been something of a relief ace this season, and at the least is a critical piece of one of the better bullpens in the game. Guti and Saunders are finishing the year strong, and their homers on Monday provided a nice highlight to showcase their big months.