Yesterday’s win over the Cubs was just that, a win over a crappy team with a crappier bullpen. But everything surrounding Friday’s 5-4 Mariners win made it seem like a little more than just a game.
The ballpark was buzzing with excitement, hoping for fireworks during the game but knowing they were guaranteed them after. Mariners shortstop-of-the-future Brad Miller was making his major league debut. He wasn’t expected to debut anywhere near this fast, and so the anticipation for him was extremely high.
Also making his “debut” of sorts was Dustin Ackley 2.0, outfield addition. Ackley would be facing a lot of lefty pitching, so optimism for his offensive return was tempered, but the people wanted to see Dustin in the outfield, especially in the most difficult position, centerfield. Throw in a great pitching matchup between Hisashi Iwakuma and Travis Wood, and this game had a little bit more riding on it than a typical Friday night game between two teams both 11 games under .500. When the dust settled, here are three things we learned from the Mariners yesterday.
1. Hisashi Iwakuma has a home run problem
Don’t get me wrong: his 2.42 ERA and 7-3 record in 17 starts is still brilliant. Still, in his last two starts he’s given up a whopping five home runs. For context, he’d given up five home runs in his previous 10 starts before last Friday against Oakland. It’s a sudden crack in the armor of a pitcher who had looked pretty unbeatable in his first 15 starts.
That being said, he’s getting hit by pretty good home run hitters. Yoenis Cespedes and Alfonso Soriano can hit the ball a long way. So, maybe it’s just a two start fluke. But if Iwakuma wants to be an all star in a few weeks, it’s a trend that will have to change. While I’m at it, here’s an awesome thing that Baseball Reference does with all pitchers. Its a log of every homer Iwakuma has given up, organized by hitter, ballpark and even place in the batting order. Check it out.
2. Brad Miller is a major league shortstop
The word on Miller in the minors defensively is that he makes some spectacular plays but boots the occasional routine one. My first thought reading that was: “ummmm, Brendan Ryan?” But Miller showed just what the scouts meant by the first part of his defensive report last night on two highlight reel plays.
The first wasn’t anything ridiculously special. But the range he showed tracking down this foul out impressed me and Dave Sims. He made a long run to get it, and he showed a lot of initiative by blazing past Kyle Seager and calling him off to make the play.
But the second defensive play was truly magical. His diving stop up the middle and pop up throw to rob Starlin Castro of a base hit showed the defensive flair he possesses and showed why he stuck at shortstop and Nick Franklin didn’t. Miller is a pure shortstop, and if he can hit like he did at Tacoma, he’ll be murder for Mariners’ opponents.
3. The vets and youngsters can work together
Just look at the two big scoring innings for the Mariners, the eighth and the tenth. In the eighth, Franklin (youngster) doubles. Morales (vet) promptly doubles him in to cut the Cubs lead to 4-3. Then Saunders (youngster) pinch runs for Morales and Ibanez (vet) triples him in to tie the score.
In the tenth, the professional at-bats from both young and old won the game for Seattle. Saunders draws a leadoff walk and Ibanez walks behind him. Bay (vet) lays down a beautiful sacrifice bunt to move them over and Smoak (youngster) is intentionally walked. The Zunino (youngster) works a full count before singling up the middle for the walk off win.
It’s a great thing for the Mariners to see both young players and experienced players contributing at the same time. That’s the kind of chemistry this team needs to win games. As Eric Wedge said Wednesday, “it’s time to hit.” The Mariners, both young and old, heard his message loud and clear.