For the last few weeks – months, really – the Kansas City Royals have been a playoff contender, albeit only technically. The Royals have long been close enough to a postseason spot for their faithful to remain hopeful, yet far away enough to be seen as the fringiest of the barring-a-miracle teams. Despite the long odds, the Royals more or less stayed in the thick of things right up until now. Now they’re done, or at least, they’re as close to done as they possibly could be without making it official.
The Mariners shut out Kansas City last night, bringing the Royals playoff odds down to 0.1%. They’ve still got that one game lead over the Yankees to feel good about, but the Yankees aren’t exactly playoff-bound either. Last night’s Mariners victory all but closed the door on KC’s already-unlikely chances of making the postseason. This is the fun non-contending teams get to have in September, and while it would be more fun if the Mariners were in the Royals’ position, cutting down the Royals isn’t too bad of a consolation prize.
James Paxton was the big story, and really, his 2013 season has been ridiculously encouraging. Down in Tacoma there’s less access to things like radar readings, so it becomes easier to focus solely on a prospect’s results. What the results told us is that Paxton was having control problems and getting tagged for a lot of contact. What we’re reminded of every five days now is that Paxton has pretty incredible raw stuff and can touch 98 with relative ease. The James Paxton we’re seeing now isn’t wildly different from the Paxton we saw in Tacoma, except he’s walking way less batters. And his stuff can’t be overlooked. And to hell with the talk of him being a reliever in the near future.
Paxton’s line against a now-former contender: seven innings, ten strikeouts, four hits, no walks, no runs. He threw almost seventy percent strikes and induced eight ground outs to two in the air. The only Royal he didn’t strike out was Sal Perez. This was by far the best outing from Paxton so far, and stands out as one of the best pitching performances by a Mariners starter all season. Paxton’s already twenty-four years old, which is important to remember, as he’s much closer to his peak years than Tai Walker, but more importantly, his big league career is off to an excellent start. Instead of reminding people why he’s been considered a potential future reliever, he’s reminding people why he’s been considered a potential future ace. Paxton will get one more turn in the rotation before the year’s over.
Kendrys Morales went three for four with a double and a first inning RBI, and since his re-signing has become inevitable it’s at least nice to see him hitting a little during the season’s ultimately meaningless final week. I’ve always scoffed at the notion that professional athletes would ever be playing less than their best on purpose, but then again, I’ve always been in the minority there. Apparently this is a real thing that athletes do, lose motivation and play bad and not care. If hits are any indication that a player is trying hard, then Kendrys Morales is indicating that he is trying hard. Justin Smoak must be trying hard too, as he had a three-run home run in the fifth inning. He hit the home run right-handed, by the way. That’s two times this week, and two times all season. Again, it’s probably not time for him to give up switch-hitting.