It’s been a great two months of Mariners baseball. But if you aren’t feeling a bit nervous, you aren’t paying attention.
Reason #1: Starting Pitching is Struggling
Before Felix Hernandez went onto the DL, he was rarely looking himself. His strikeouts were way down, and his walks were way up. His fastball was seldom seen. His off-speed stuff did keep hitters from making hard contact, which kept his ERA in shape. But his FIP and xFIP were at career-highs.
Hisashi Iwakuma has struggled with similar issues. His strikeouts are down, and walks are up, his FIP and xFIP at career-highs.
Wade Miley has made some miserable starts and some beautiful ones. But yes, his FIP and xFIP (and ERA) are at career-highs.
Taijuan Walker was impressive to start the season, but slipped in his past handful of starts. After tonight’s poor performance, his FIP and xFIP are at career-highs. (Albeit not by much.)
And finally Nate Karns. Take a deep breath. His FIP, xFIP, and ERA are at career-lows. (Albeit not by much either.)
We’ll hold off with commentary for James Paxton. Let’s see him pitch a few more games.
While plenty of us still like the arms in this rotation, it’s a bit concerning to see the difficulties. You could make the case that regression-to-the-mean would predict better results going forward. Which hey, for a team that carries a 31-23 record, that’s pretty awesome news. But worries about Felix and Kuma—who both have high mileage on their arms—is hard to escape.
Reason #2: Losing to Bad Teams
When your pitching gets blasted, you expect it to come from heavyweight lineups. The Red Sox, the Cubs, the Cardinals. And yes I know, the worst team can beat the best team on any given night. Even three nights in a row! But man, getting lit up by the Twins and Padres? Ouch. (Nevermind getting swept by the Angels and Athletics previously.)
I’m not saying let’s discount the M’s because they played some ugly baseball against bad teams. But I am saying that good teams play consistent baseball and don’t make fools of themselves, even when they lose. I sure hope I’m not the only one scratching my head, wondering what happened. Chalking everything up to “that’s just baseball” can’t be the whole story.
Reason #3: Injuries
Losing Leonys Martin and Ketel Marte—even if for relatively short stints—is terrifying. Martin himself has been as valuable as Robinson Cano and/or Kyle Seager. The elite defense up the middle is vital to this team’s run prevention success. While these Mariners can likely handle a stretch without some key starters, we shouldn’t forget how quickly things can go south when injuries haunt a team. (Especially when their replacements become—ahem— Nori Aoki in centerfield.)
All that said, I still don’t think this team is “fracturing”. They’ve proven to be able to win consistently, by having different players step up on any given night. Their core hitters of Cano-Cruz-Seager are destroying baseballs. Adam Lind and Dae Ho Lee have become a tandem-force at first base. And the bullpen has done its job on most nights.
Plus, altogether, this team has a .335 OBP…. I mean, the Mariners. With an excellent team-wide OBP. Pinch me!
There’s no doubt that this is the best Mariners team in over a decade. And this season has fun written all over it.
But do we have what it takes to overcome the Texas Rangers? Seeing Yu Darvish back in action makes me sick thinking about it. The Rangers have many good things going for them, and the Mariners will need every ounce of good fortune to beat them.
So while we’ve all been impressed so far, the ground feels like it’s shifting. Things need to turn around quickly—like hey stop giving up dozens of runs to the Padres or being swept by the Twins—lest we’ll find ourselves watching Texas run away with the division.
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