The Seattle Mariners, invincible world-crushing baseball team, is a thing of the past. The Mariners won three of four from their longtime heel, the Chicago White Sox, then swept a three-game home set against the Toronto Blue Jays. By this time people were already freaking out, but then they went and took two of three (and the wild card lead) from the Detroit Tigers. All of a sudden it was 2001 again, and the next Mariners loss was scheduled from spring training. Then they played three with the Philadelphia Phillies, winning exactly once.
Losing two of three to a bad team is no big deal. Really, it’s not – it happens all the time. Worse happens, even. It’s the timing of this series that makes it especially excruciating, and the fact that the Tigers have started to win baseball games again. The Mariners were always vulnerable, even when they were impossibly hot, and now we’re being reminded of that again.
A series like this doesn’t necessarily make for a great Mariners viewing experience, but it does provide us a nice opportunity to take a forced deep breath and look at what we have before us. In lieu of actual recaps (sorry everyone, I was camping, everyone should camp more) let’s look at three things that happened in these games, and see if there’s anything we can gain.
Item 1: Chris Taylor really knows his way around the spin-and-throw.
Chris Taylor is exciting right now because he’s a young, well-regarded middle infield prospect who’s hitting .338 while closing in on his hundredth major league plate appearance. While it’s easy to lump Taylor in with Brad Miller and Nick Franklin before him, it’s also easy to miss that each time the M’s call up another young shortstop, they call up a guy with a better defensive reputation than the one who came before. Franklin’s glove sucked at short, but Miller was (and is) pretty strong there. Taylor is even better.
Monday and Tuesday both featured pretty fantastic spinning throws from Taylor. The first one was a Chase Utley grounder that Taylor caught, spun, double-clutched, and still threw to first in time for the out. The next day he did himself one better, catching a bouncer mid-leap and finishing his 360 with plenty of time to make the out. Two days in a row, Taylor demonstrated that he could turn a particular hard play and make it look easy.
We already knew Chris Taylor was supposed to be a high-quality defender at first base. What we’ve seen shouldn’t make us think he’s the AL Andrelton Simmons; it should, however, serve as a reminder that this guy rules. The 138 wRC+ isn’t sustainable, but the defensive prowess sure is.
Item 2: Logan Morrison wants to be fast, but isn’t.
Mariners DH/1B/RF Logan Morrison is in the midst of a season spent mostly at or below replacement level. He’s currently at -0.3, which includes a baserunning score of -2.0, which is worse than everyone on the team aside from Corey Hart. On Monday, Morrison was thrown out trying to steal. On Tuesday, Morrison was again thrown out trying to steal. On Wednesday, he finally stopped trying to be fast. Because he’s not fast.
It should also be noted that Morrison was observed over the week trying to do things like leg out infield hits and beat runners to first instead of tossing to the pitcher. He wants to use his legs, and he tried damn hard over the last few days to create value by moving fast. Except, thing is, he’s not fast, and his efforts ultimately hurt the team.
Morrison’s been awful this year, make no mistake. He’s looked helpless at times, and has struggled to make any kind of positive contribution to the Mariners. Watching him try to steal bases reminds me of that time Brendan Ryan said that the Mariners asked him to try hitting more home runs. Power is not something Brendan Ryan does, just as speed is not something Logan Morrison does. It’s important for players (and coaches) to understand the limitations of their players. LoMo is more limited than he wants to be. Unfortunately, trying over and over again won’t change that.
When a prospect comes up and plays over his head, people freak out. Only sometimes – nobody’s chiding the Mariners for not offering Chris Taylor a $100 million extension – but sometimes, definitely. James Paxton lost a major league decision for the first time in his career yesterday. It wasn’t a freak or a fluke – he deserved the L, and maybe that’ll be reason for people to take a step back when it comes to the rookie starter.
Paxton, long a top prospect for the Mariners, has thrived virtually every time he’s pitched as a major leaguer. There’s a lot to like about him, and that’s why he was a top prospect. But his upside was never really that of an ace. His performance over his first nine starts led many people to declare that he was looking like something more ace-like. Four runs in four laborious innings is a good way to bring our expectations back to earth. Especially with the way the whole pitching staff is going nuts right now, it’s important to be reminded that this shouldn’t be our baseline.
Paxton’s not an ace now for the Mariners and likely won’t ever be. But he doesn’t need to be – he just needs to be a quality arm, and one notices that even in this cover-your-eyes clunker he had five strikeouts and only one of the runs he allowed was earned. He doesn’t need to win every time out, and he’s not even going to be decent every time. We should celebrate his career to date, while simultaneously expecting regression. When the regression comes, which it just did, we should try our best to be okay with it.