Mariners Find Bright Spot In September Loss, As Usual


Ah yes, Seattle Mariners baseball in September. Remember this feeling? The weather starts getting a little cooler and the Safeco Field sunsets start getting a little more majestic. There are September call-ups for us to pin our hopes on. Maybe one will even make an impact in the team’s confidence down the stretch! Any sign that next year’s team will be a little better is a welcome sign.

Except that now it’s different. Now the Mariners are fighting hard to stay in the playoff hunt, with each loss meaning a serious hit to their odds of playing in October (or on September 30th, at least). Last year we would be satisfied with this game simply because of Taijuan Walker‘s performance. But last year the Mariners were just playing for “respectability” or something. This year they’re trying to win the World Series. This year, this game sucks.

Maybe we shouldn’t have stopped looking at Chris Young as a ticking time bomb. I certainly got comfortable thinking of Young as a no process, all results type of anomaly. He’s got the makeup of a AAA journeyman, but gets hitters out at the pace of a decent number two starter. After a couple months even the most skeptical minds start to make room for an exception. After today, it’ll be hard to put that much faith in him again.

Young recorded two outs today. He struck out nobody, but found the time in his busy day to issue two walks. He allowed five runs on four hits, one of which was a two-run homer off the bat of newly-acquired-and-maybe-retiring-soon Adam Dunn. The Oakland Athletics walked all over Seattle’s RA-9 Ace, becoming just about the first team all year to expose him for what his FIP insists he is. It was Lucas Luetge who recorded the last out of the first inning.

These shenanigans set the stage for what was essentially an impromptu Taijuan Walker start. Walker was recalled earlier in the day along with Luetge, Carson Smith, Humberto Quintero, Stefen Romero, Justin Smoak, and Corey Hart. It’s been a crazy, up-and-down year for Walker, who hurt his shoulder and then alternated between being ghastly and brilliant at AAA, with a mixed bag of MLB starts to boot. His role with the big club in September was certainly not defined going into the day. Now there might be a little more clarity.

Walker started the second inning with a five-pitch walk of Josh Reddick. He looked shaky, failing over and over again to do the simple thing that had cost him a successful season: locate the fastball. Without the fastball working, what’s a pitcher supposed to do? But he came back to get Josh Donaldson on three pitches, one of which he swung at and two of which he watched. Both called strikes were on fastballs. He threw the pitch six more times that frame, only missing the zone once.

In short, Walker was good today. His outing was a legitimately impressive one, one which from the get-go presented a compelling case that perhaps the constant tweaking and adjusting that pitchers do had resulted in a legitimate improvement. Taijuan Walker with control of the zone has a good chance of being an above-average major leaguer. That’s the Taijuan Walker we watched for six innings today.

Lost in this performance was the game, of course, as Brad Miller‘s solo shot was the only offense created by the Mariners against struggling A’s starter Jason Hammel. In the past we could brush this off – a loss is a loss, the Mariners suck, at least Walker looked great and can probably help the team win next year. But when the team’s winning this year, the sting of the losses becomes some kind of unbearable. Forget about Taijuan Walker, the best-case scenario for today’s game certainly didn’t involve him throwing six innings of relief, starting in the second inning. The M’s lost six to one. This stunk.

James Paxton and Sonny Gray go head to head tomorrow at 7:05. There are no must-win games in baseball, at least not on September 2nd. But that doesn’t mean a loss wouldn’t be incredibly costly.