BRANDON GUSTAFSON

Mariners Takeaways: Seattle’s woes at the plate put on display in no-hitter

May 5, 2021, 4:22 PM
Mariners C Tom Murphy...
The Mariners' offensive numbers are among the league's worst to start 2021. (Getty)
(Getty)

The Mariners ended their most recent homestand on a sour note, getting no-hit by Baltimore Orioles starter John Means on Wednesday.

Baltimore’s John Means throws no-hitter in 6-0 Orioles win over M’s

Overall, Seattle was able to come away from the two series at home with a 3-3 record after taking two of three from the Los Angeles Angels and dropping two of three to the Orioles. Seattle is now 17-15 on the year as it heads to Los Angeles for the last two of four games this season against the reigning World Series champion Dodgers.

Before looking ahead, let’s look back at this six-game stretch.

No-hitter emphasizes offensive struggles

Make no mistake, John Means is one of the best and most underrated pitchers in all of MLB.

The 2019 All-Star had been maybe the best pitcher in the American League this season even before no-hitting the Mariners. The southpaw, who is now 4-0 with 1.37 ERA, struck out 12 Mariners hitters and allowed just one to reach base Wednesday, which was on a third-strike wild pitch. Talk about dominant.

While Means has the ability to shut down even the best lineups, his performance puts the Mariners’ struggles at the plate under a microscope even more than they already were.

In the six-game homestand, the Mariners averaged just 3.67 runs per game and 5.167 hits per game. Entering Wednesday, the MLB average for runs and hits per game sat at 4.36 and 6.52, respectively. The Mariners entered Wednesday 21st in runs per game and 29th in hits per game.

Thanks to ranking in the middle of the pack in team ERA and near the top in bullpen ERA, Seattle remains over .500 in early May, but it’s no secret the bats need to get going.

Outfielder Mitch Haniger, designated hitter Ty France, third baseman Kyle Seager and shortstop J.P. Crawford are the only Mariners regulars hitting over .200, and none of those four are swinging the bat particularly well right now. France is especially struggling as he hasn’t recorded a hit in his last 23 at-bats.

“We’re not swinging the bats great right now and that’s where we’re at,” manager Scott Servais said after Wednesday’s loss. “We had a rough homestand (at the plate), but I say all that and we went 3-3 on the homestand. There’s still some good things going on but we’ve struggled offensively.”

And while the Mariners have struggled against some good pitchers like Means, they’re also missing pitches they need to hit, Servais said.

“We’ve been pitched differently by different guys, but the majority of the time we’re missing pitches that are up in the zone, up at the top of the zone, and we’re just not getting on those and getting them into play,” Servais said. ” … The thing we’ve talked about is we need to get back to what we do well and get back to our strengths. … You’re going to have streaks like this and we’re in a little funk right now, but I am confident we will come out of this, there’s no question.”

Hat tip to Kikuchi

The Mariners needed a good, long start from Yusei Kikuchi on Wednesday.

Not only was Kikuchi going up against another tough lefty in Means, but the Mariners are down three pitchers – Marco Gonzales, James Paxton and Nick Margevicius – in their six-man rotation. Due to those injuries, the Seattle bullpen that has been great has had to throw a lot of innings of late, and the Mariners even had to do a “bullpen start” against the Orioles on Monday in the first game of this most recent series.

Thanks to Kikuchi, the Mariners enter the off-day Thursday in decent shape when it comes to the bullpen as Seattle relievers only needed to toss two innings on Wednesday afternoon.

“Yusei did exactly what we needed him to do today,” Servais said.

Kikuchi flirted with a no-hitter himself in his last start against the Houston Astros, allowing only one hit in seven scoreless innings. He wasn’t that sharp against the Orioles, but he did throw seven innings of three-run ball while striking out seven and walking one. And aside from a Pat Valaika home run in the seventh, Kikuchi did a good job of avoiding hard contact.

“It’s as good of a spot as we’ve seen him since he’s been a Mariner, so I’m really excited about the strides that he has made,” Servais said.

Obviously it’s hard to keep your team in a game when they’re being no-hit, but on almost any other day, seven innings of three-run ball would be more than enough to get your team a chance to win.

Sort of like last year, Kikuchi’s actual numbers (1-1 record, 4.40 ERA) may not stand out, but he’s thrown the ball pretty well this season. He’s thrown six or more innings in four of his five starts and he’s decreased his walks per nine innings mark from 3.8 last season to 3.2.

With injuries to the rotation, Kikuchi has picked up his game.

Eye on the farm

Minor League Baseball returned on Tuesday and the loaded Mariners farm system is finally playing some real games.

The High-A Everett AquaSox are definitely worth keeping an eye on. Their roster is headlined by outfielder Julio Rodríguez, the Mariners’ No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, and 2019 and 2020 first-round picks George Kirby and Emerson Hancock. But if you’re going to use MiLB.tv (subscription required) to watch any game this week, or if you’re able to go see a game in person, the matchup taking place in Tacoma on Friday is worth checking out.

The Tacoma Rainiers will give the ball to 2018 first-round pick Logan Gilbert, Seattle’s No. 4 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 29 prospect in baseball, for his first career Triple-A start. The big right-handed pitcher will be going up against left-handed pitcher Mackenzie Gore of the El Paso Chihuahuas, the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A affiliate. While Gilbert is obviously a well-regarded prospect not just for the Mariners but for all of baseball, Gore is the Padres’ top prospect and the No. 6 prospect in baseball, one spot behind Rodríguez and two spots behind a batter he’ll likely be facing on Friday – top Seattle prospect Jarred Kelenic.

While clearly a fun pitching matchup on paper, it will also be interesting to see how Kelenic, MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 prospect in baseball, fares against the highest-rated pitcher in the minors, especially since it will be a lefty-on-lefty matchup while the young outfielder is in the box.

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