May 4, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Seattle Mariners catcher John Buck (4) drives in a run with a single during the eighth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Every year we hear the same story about the Seattle Mariners: good pitching, but not enough to overcome the forever-woeful offense. Often it’s true. Sometime’s it’s half true, like last year. Certainly the 2013 M’s featured a crappy bunch of hitters, but they weren’t really the kind of all-world terrible that the team’s record would indicate. That’s because the “good pitching” mantra was essentially a falsehood, as the team rostered Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Danny Farquhar, and various degrees of garbage. That’s not “good pitching,” that’s “three good pitchers and various degrees of garbage.” Such an approach shouldn’t be expected to take the current roster far, either.
Don’t look now, but it’s happening again. The pitching staff has put together some messy games lately, including a couple high-scoring affairs against the Houston Astros. The rotation’s been Felix and patchwork, and the bullpen has again fallen apart after the top guys. This isn’t the kind of pitching staff that would be leading the team to the pennant, if only it weren’t for that pesky offense. This is last year’s pitching staff, plus Fernando Rodney. Getting Hisashi Iwakuma back is a big boost, but it can only push the team so far. And besides, the bullpen seems like the bigger problem.
Houston is last in the AL in runs scored. They used to be last by a lot, until this series happened. The Astros scored five runs in their game one win. They lost the next two, but scored eight and seven, respectively, after trailing by large margins both days. Twice the Mariners came within a run of coughing up a big lead to the worst team in the game. But both times the Mariners were able to hold on and win because their own offense had similarly exploded. So while we are all now knee deep in Charlie Furbush worries, at least the offense stepped up against a weak opponent.
For the second time in as many weeks, the Mariners drew Colin McHugh, who’s out-of-nowhere dominance against the Mariners and Athletics caused some minor buzz. McHugh, a mediocre journeyman, pitched two dreamlike games to open the 2014 season, leading many to speculate that he had made some kind of a tweak that would allow him to keep striking everyone out and being awesome. In his third start of the season he looked more like Colin McHugh, though he still struck out a batter per inning. Which means he struck out four batters, because that’s how long it took him to give up six runs (five earned) and get bounced from the game.
As nice as it was to see McHugh suck, Brandon Maurer pitched even worse. It was Maurer’s longest outing of the season – five whole innings! The guy’s saying he doesn’t have his arm strength fully back yet, and there’s no reason not to believe it what with the short outings and bad results. The bad results, of course, have less to do with arm strength than they do poor pitching, and that’s a drag. Maurer allowed two home runs. He allowed four runs, walking two and striking out three. He’s not yet ready to pitch past the fifth inning, and is getting shelled by the Astros. There is no viable option to replace him in the major league rotation. Write Jack Zduriencik a letter and tell him the team needs to acknowledge depth in the future. Sign a petition for the M’s to admit that depth is integral. This is an embarrassment.
Offensively the team did it’s part, with John Buck of all people leading the charge. His three hit day raised his average to .300, which is indicative of nothing more than the huge amount of playing time Mike Zunino has received early on. Michael Saunders, Robinson Cano, and Corey Hart all had two-hit days, and Hart in particular really needed it given his recent little slump. Cano was responsible for the best piece of hitting on the day, a long RBI triple to center that anchored a four-run third. He also had a first inning RBI groundout on a ball that probably went forty feet, but Saunders was running on contact and somehow made it look easy.
With the M’s up 8-4, Furbush came in to pitch the eighth. Except he didn’t get anyone out, allowing a single and a ground rule double before being replaced by Danny Farquhar. Furbush was supposed to be one of the AL’s top setup men, and instead he’s been this. Farquhar was the closer for the day, as Rodney was getting a breather, and came in fully knowing he’d have to get six outs for the second time in three days. He allowed a liner single to score both of Furbush’s runners before retiring the side. He allowed a ninth inning double and RBI single to bring the game within one, and while Farquhar is certainly not one to worry about in this pen, it was stressful seeing him do his best Rodney impression by making things terrifying. Rodney and Farquhar have been awesome, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been messy at times.
So the Mariners take two out of three games in a series where they scored 21 runs and allowed 20. These high-scoring affairs showed the offense stepping up and the pitching stepping down, which is squarely in not the best, not the worst territory. They’re in Oakland today, pitting Chris Young against Scott Kazmir. Kazmir’s been an ace so far, and Young’s been himself. Oakland leads the world with a +51 run differential, almost twice over the best in the league. They’ve certainly been playing like the best team in baseball, with nobody a particularly close second. So, uh, yeah, go Mariners. Keep on, uh, doing cool stuff.