The Seattle Mariners waste several chances to sweep the Cleveland Guardians on Sunday afternoon, resulting in a 7-6 loss in extra innings
One of the trademarks of the Mariners the two previous seasons, was their ability to flourish in tight-game situations. It resulted in them leading the Majors in one-run wins in both years, with a combined 77 victories.
Early on in 2023 however, the M’s have struggled in similar scenarios. This was perhaps best highlighted on Sunday afternoon at Progressive Field, in a tough 7-6 extra innings loss.
Three times the Mariners were in position to win and sweep the series with the Guardians, in the ninth, 11th and 12th innings. Unfortunately for M’s fans, their ball club failed to take advantage of any of the favorable positions.
As a result, Seattle fell to 1-3 in one-run games in 2023. Further, they missed the opportunity to return to .500, instead dropping to 4-6 on this young season.
A wind-aided collapse in the ninth
Arguably the most frustrating collapse was the first one, in the ninth. The Mariners held a 3-1 advantage, with Matt Brash coming out of the bullpen to close the deal and secure the win.
Brash started off well enough, as he struck out the first batter. However, he then followed this with a walk and a single, before managing to record his second strikeout.
Faced with the chance to record his first Major League save, nerves appeared to get the better of Brash. He quickly fell behind 2-0 in the count to the Guardians’ Will Brennan.
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Brennan subsequently connected with the third pitch for a hard line drive into right field, in the direction of Teoscar Hernandez. Unfortunately for the Mariners’ off-season acquisition, the ball bounced in and out of his glove.
This resulted in a double for Brennan. More damaging for the M’s, it allowed the hosts to score two runs and tie the game at 3-3.
While Hernandez should have done better, the windy conditions didn’t help. Speaking after the game to the media, he said:
“The wind is weird. Sometimes it’s blowing in and then it blows from the side. You have to go with your feeling and just make the play … When (Brennan) hit the ball to my left, I got a pretty good read on it, but the wind pushed it to my right side, so that’s why it kind of went over my head. At the end, I tried to jump and tried to make the play, but unfortunately I didn’t.”
Two more blown leads
A rejuvenated Jarred Kelenic helped the Mariners gain another two-run advantage in the top of the 11th. First he hit a double to bring Cal Raleigh home and then scored himself, after a sacrifice fly from Kolten Wong.
However, J.P. Bukauskas was unable to come through in the bottom of the 11th. Two hits, a couple of walks and two earned runs resulted in a blown save and another tie, this time at 5-5.
For the third and final time, the Mariners gained an advantage in the top of the 12th, at 6-5. Hernandez made up somewhat for his earlier miscalculation, with a single that brought Julio Rodriguez home.
The Guardians again responded, this time taking the lead for the first time all game and winning 7-6. The defining moment was a soft hit from Josh Bell, resulting in an erratic throw from Wong that allowed Jose Ramirez to score the winning run.
Mariners manager Scott Servais was his usual level-headed self afterwards. He said:
“A lot of positives. We played very well in this series; just not quite well enough to get the sweep. It’s hard to sweep on the road. You’re down to needing one more out. You’ve got to give (the Guardians) credit. They found a way to hang in there and get it done.”
Kirby looks better for the Mariners
Somewhat lost in the drama, was an strong outing from George Kirby. It was also welcome, after struggling in his first start of the 2023 season.
Kirby lasted 6.0 innings, allowing six hits, no walks and just one run, while striking out four. He may not quite be back to last year’s form yet, but he is definitely trending in the right direction.
Servais discussed the young pitchers’s performance, particularly how he dealt with potential trouble in the sixth . He said:
“George threw the ball outstanding. I thought after the first couple of innings he found his breaking ball. His sliders, fastballs and curveballs were really good all day. He got in a nice rhythm there starting in the third/fourth, and then getting out of the jam in the sixth was huge for him.”
An over-taxed bullpen
As the Mariners head to Chicago for a three-game series with the Cubs, the state of the bullpen must be of some concern. With several relievers needing a rest and/or overused, two pitchers were called up on Sunday from Triple A.
It also doesn’t help that Andres Munoz has been placed on the 15-day injured list, with a right deltoid strain. If Sunday’s game had advanced to a 13th inning, the M’s would have turned to position players Tom Murphy or Cooper Hummel.
Amazingly, the Mariners’ bullpen is still seventh in the Majors in ERA, tied-eighth in batting average and tied-fifth in strikeouts. On the flip side they are 25th in WHIP and worst for most walks, making this a unit to keep a close eye on. *
One thing that will help is if the starters can play better and go longer, thus giving the bullpen more rest. The Mariners’ relievers have so far combined for the second-most innings in the Majors, 0.1 inning behind the Guardians. *
In terms of better and longer outings from the rotation, at least the M’s can turn to their staff ace Luis Castillo on Monday. Castillo has so far thrown 11.2 scoreless innings in 2023, with Seattle going 2-0 in his starts.
* All statistics are up to and including Aug. 9.
How concerned are you about the current state of the bullpen? This aside, do you believe the Mariners got back on track in Cleveland, or do you have any questions about their ability to contend this year? Let us know in the comments section below.