Philadelphia's ballpark is among my most favorites, with all its flats and angles and variety of spaces outside the main seating area. The only drawback is its location amidst a sea of asphalt in south Philly.
So, yeah, there's a lot of important stuff going on in the news—the governor of Florida seems hell-bent on turning his state into a fascist hellscape that somehow relies on tourism; two-thirds of the Supreme Court is more corrupt than Warren G. Harding, Spiro Agnew, Ted Stevens, and the entire Reagan Administration combined; shootings are rampant across America; and so on—but tonight I'm just going to make a few observations about baseball and the Seattle Mariners. Because, hey, you gotta find some balance, right?
The Mariners just concluded a three-game series in Philadelphia, in which they lost two of three at my favorite big-league venue of those I have actually been to personally. (Philly's corporately-branded ballpark has great sightlines, lovely brick everywhere, angles galore—no rounded walls in sight—lots of great spaces, Phillies history exhibits, lots of great stuff. Too bad it's so far from downtown.) When I'm watching games on television I sometimes mix it up and watch the other team's broadcast feed—since we live in the future and that's a thing we can do now—because (a) the Mariners' broadcast team ranges from OK to bad, with color commentator Mike Blowers the only reliably good voice in the booth, and I like to get a feel for what fans in other markets get to hear day in and day out; and (b) it's fun to get the opposition's perspective on what the Mariners do in the way of, er, let's call it "strategy."
So, the Phillies TV team is headed by Tom McCarthy, a consummate pro and one of the best play-by-play guys working today, with sidekick and color commentator John Kruk, a former All-Star first baseman for the Phils and a general goofball on the air. They make a great and complementary duo, with McCarthy effortlessly shifting from accurate game-calling to engaging with Kruk's blue-collar humor and unfiltered observations of the moment. Some of it is just silly, like their banter about Seattle catcher Cal Raleigh's nickname of "Big Dumper" and how completely off-color it can be interpreted. Some of it, as Kruk himself says on air, gets him emailed reprimands from Major League Baseball for not only skirting the language regs but for not towing the Commissioner's party line (this is the best stuff, naturally).
During these three games, Seattle manager Scott Servais was the indirect subject of criticism by McCarthy and Kruk, though they were generously giving the benefit of the doubt, expressing puzzlement. On Monday the Mariners' starting pitcher was Marco Gonzales, who, as McCarthy helpfully told everyone, was coming off one of the best games of his career in his previous start, one in which he was snakebit by his relief. (Marco had thrown six brilliant innings against Milwaukee, shutting them out on just two hits and an umpire-aided walk; Servais let him start the seventh inning, but then pulled him after just four pitches because the first one was dribbled weakly past the shortstop for a cheap hit and the fourth—which was precisely the type of pitch and in the precise spot catcher Tom Murphy called for, on purpose—was struck for a standard run of the mill big-league single. This was panic time for Servais, who went to the bullpen because, oh my god we're in the 7th inning and we've yet to use a reliever!! and oh my god, Gonzales is nearly at 90 pitches and must therefore be losing it!!! Matt Brash came in to allow both baserunners to score and the score went from 2-0 in favor of Seattle to 5-2 Milwaukee before the inning was over, and there was Marco leaning on the dugout railing, thinking "good grief, I'd have gotten out of that with one run scoring at worst, but nooooo, Scott has to be a slave to the fucking pitch count." I mean, probably. He should have been thinking that if he wasn't.) Anyway, here in Philadelphia, Marco was once more cruising through the game, retiring one Philly batter after another with only one real blemish, a solo home run by Edmundo Sosa. Then in the top of the sixth frame, as Teoscar Hernández is circling the bases on his two-run homer, McCarthy notices activity in the Seattle bullpen. "What's that about?" he asks. Kruk concurs. "Why? Gonzales is only at, what, 70 pitches?" (It was 75, but still.) "There didn't appear to be an injury of any kind, he's not on short rest," McCarthy added (I'm paraphrasing). They were genuinely perplexed.
I, however, have observed Scott Servais manage the Mariners for years and I know what McCarthy and Kruk did not: Servais makes a game plan ahead of time and doesn't let pesky things like what happens in the game deter him from sticking to it, and he's a slave to pitch counts. God forbid a starter goes over 90, it's as if that would bring the horsemen of the apocalypse riding in to rain destruction on all the land.
Tuesday saw the M's start Logan Gilbert on the mound. He too was pulled from the game after just five innings, and once again McCarthy and Kruk were befuddled. Gilbert hadn't been as sharp or as economical as Gonzales had been, but was still in the lead and pitching well. Continuing to puzzle over it, McCarthy seemed to be starting to catch on, opining that perhaps this was just how the Mariners do things because they've had such good relief pitching the last couple of years. I'm not sure how much I agree with the "good relief" part of that, but yeah, that's totally it. The ’pen blew it in this case, though, as Philadelphia came back to win in the late innings.
Then came today, when the starter for Seattle was George Kirby, who, as McCarthy once again told us all—the guy really is a pro, he does his homework—constantly throws strikes and should generate a lot of contact. Which was true, and lo and behold we get to the seventh inning and what's this? Kirby is back out on the mound. McCarthy and Kruk are confused again. McCarthy looks it up: this is the first time Kirby's ever pitched beyond the 6th inning. Is there something different about today? Kruk starts to suggest that since the pitch count is low—still under 70—that's why, but McCarthy reminds him (and us) that Gonzales got pulled with roughly the same count and he was pitching at least as effectively. Confusion reigned again.
For the record, Kirby completed the game. Only eight frames, but still, it's a CG in the books, a rarity in today's game and a near-unicorn-level rarity on a Scott Servais team. Still lost, though, as Philly took it 1-0.
Kruk was also entertaining to me as a critic of the new rules, specifically the pitch clock. There was an issue with time-outs and a clock violation in yesterday's game and Kruk said, "what a great game this used to be." He also remarked that he'd better stop saying such things if he didn't want another email from Major League Baseball. Come on, Kruk, you know you want to say it: Manfred sucks.
Seattle finds itself in fourth place in the standings as the first month of the season draws to a close, three games under .500 and three back of first-place Houston. Not great, but not that bad either, and things still look quite promising despite Scott Servais' inability to think on his feet. One reason they do is the Mariners' third baseman, Eugenio Suárez. Geno has completely changed his approach at the plate from last season. Instead of the uppercut swing of prior years, he's swinging more level and thus hitting more liners and base hits. Compared to this time last year, his batting average is up 30 points and strikeouts are down. Fewer home runs, but more runs batted in. It is exactly the kind of thing I gave up on ever seeing from the Mariners, who for so long have been champions of the "go deep or go home," "launch angle is all" school of dumb hitting coaches. Keep at it, Geno.
Jarred Kelenic is another bright spot on this so-far underachieving team. The former top prospect has learned well from the brutal dose of humility dumped on him in both of his attempts at a rookie season in 2021 and ’22 and is currently the team's best hitter by a mile at .313 (no one else is over .260, though J.P. Crawford has come on strong in the last two weeks). Is he finally going to be the guy that the team brass thought they were getting when they traded Edwin Díaz for him? Is it ridiculous that the word "finally" is in that sentence, as had he not been rushed way too soon to the bigs this is basically when he'd be coming up anyway? (Answers: Maybe, and yes.)
That relief corps that Servais seems to love so much continues to trouble me, but left-hander Gabe Speier has been terrific. Everyone else, well, my confidence is not inspired.
Oh, and last year's big free-agent add, former Cy Young Award winning pitcher Robbie Ray, is this year's James Paxton: One start and done. He'll miss the remainder of the year with a flexor tendon injury. Not great for the M's, but the balance of the starting rotation is really, really good, save Ray's current fill-in (Chris Flexen), who's been pretty brutal. My opinion is that they can weather the loss fairly easily, maybe by taking a flyer on someone recently cut by another team (probably not Madison Bumgarner, though), maybe by recalling Tommy Milone again, who did great in his one chance this year despite being a victim of Servais' absurd proclivities. There's really no one else on the farm that's ready to get a shot. It'll be interesting to see what they choose to do.
The M's go north of the border for their next series, and I look forward to learning how the Toronto Blue Jays' broadcast team handles things and seeing graphics with Canadian spellings like "defence."