Just when I and most Seattle Mariners fans assumed this season was another playoff-less summer sunset; just when we all started to turn our attention to football season, the Mariners swept the Houston Astros in a four-game series for the first time ever, in Houston.
Again: The Mariners, who had never swept the Astros in a four-game series in their history, defeated the defending World Champions—in their home stadium—four straight times. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to rub it in or gloat, I’m simply astounded.
The Mariners were reeling heading into the Houston series. Seattle was 4-9 in their last 13 games, dating back to July 27th. They lost two of three to Houston and three of four to Toronto and their invading British Columbian fans at home. Their faceplant coincided with a winning streak by the Oakland A’s, who have quietly assembled a deep pitching staff in pre- and post-deadline deals and taken over the second Wild Card berth.
Seattle, before their historic sweep of Houston Sunday afternoon, sent their franchise ace Felix Hernandez to the bullpen for ineffectiveness. The move was difficult but necessary for this season. Hernandez was 8-10 with a 5.73 ERA in 23 starts. A Mariners legend, who pitched for garbage teams, mediocre teams, and teams that came close to the postseason, is now dethroned in the heat of a pennant race. A heart-wrenching demotion. The King said in an interview after the move: “I tell you, I’m going to be a starter [again] anyway. I’m not a reliever. I’m a starter.” Maybe he could be if he shakes up his pitching tendencies.
The Mariners defeated Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Dallas Keuchel in order after losing two straight to the last-place Rangers in Arlington by a combined 22-11 score. Here’s the kicker: Erasmo Ramirez, taking Hernandez’s spot in the rotation, in his first start since April 27th, shut out the Astros for five innings, allowing three hits. The Astros rallied in the eighth, took the lead, had Ryon Healy down to Seattle’s final strike—and lost. Healy tied the game with a home run, and a red-hot Mitch Haniger hit the go-ahead double in the 10th. Edwin Diaz, who had saved all three previous games and was given the day off, called the dugout from the bullpen himself, saved his 46th game. That’s the game of baseball.
Seattle is now 1.5 games behind Oakland heading into their showdown in the Bay. The Mariners head to the Coliseum for three games starting Monday night. We’ll see if Seattle can keep ahead of their Pythagorean record with their smoke and mirrors tricks they’ve been using all season. But if their shocking series in Houston was any indication, they’re not done yet.
Rest of the West
To be fair, the Astros were missing George Springer, Jose Altuve, Brian McCann, Lance McCullers, and others in their disastrous four-game home set with Seattle. They still own a four-game lead over the Mariners, but their lead over the streaking A’s has dwindled to 2.5 games. Despite their recent offensive struggles while trying to plug multiple holes in their lineup, the Astros are still the third-most effective offense by some advanced statistics in the American League. Still, they’ll have to get their bearings before hosting the Colorado Rockies starting Tuesday night at home. The Astros now have a head-scratching 32-28 record at home; they’re 41-18 on the road. Baseball is weird.
The A’s keep rolling along, stopping at home to try and fend off the suddenly plucky Mariners. They’ve now built a bullpen that can effectively shorten games and lessen the burden on their starters. And they even added a starter in Mike Fiers. And if Oakland rookies can keep making throws like this, they’ll remain in this AL West race until the end.
The Los Angeles Angels were operating against Oakland this weekend with mostly relievers. Manager Mike Scioscia started the recently acquired Taylor Cole against the A’s on Sunday, and it almost worked…but Jim Johnson allowed four runs in the fourth, and a late rally fell short. Mike Trout is on the disabled list after reports claiming he was ‘day-to-day’ and ‘could return on August 10th’ (not a real quote), but Shohei Ohtani is throwing again, so there’s that.
The Trade Deadline has come and gone, but the Texas Rangers might still be trying to deal a few of their veterans this season. Shin-Soo Choo, despite a healthy .274/.389/.475 slash line, didn’t generate much interest during trade season in July, but the rumors are still swirling around the outfielder/Designated Hitter. Could Cleveland reacquaint themselves with the Korean star? The Indians will be without slugger Edwin Encarnacion for a chunk of their stretch run, due to a hand contusion and difficulties adjusting his swing after the injury. Choo is a defensive liability who is owed $21 million in 2019 and 2020, but a team with enough of a need for a bat might be willing to take a swing at him, especially if Texas eats part of the contract.