Mariners Takeaways: Marco Gonzales continues brilliant pitching run, but bats still cold
It wasn’t the prettiest or easiest series, but the Mariners took care of business the last few days as they took the three-game set over the Texas Rangers after a stellar pitching performance carried Seattle to a 3-1 win on Thursday.
Let’s take a look at what went right and wrong for the Mariners not just in this series and on Thursday, but also look at what’s been working and not working of late.
Arms keep Mariners competitive as bats are cold
We’ll get to the star of Thursday’s game soon, but first, let’s look at the bigger picture for the Mariners of late, including in this series.
The Mariners have had their share of struggles at the plate this season, and that’s been the case again of late. Luckily for Seattle, the pitching has stepped up and been fantastic.
Entering Thursday’s series finale with Texas, for the month of August the Mariners ranked 20th in baseball in batting average, 14th in on-base percentage, 23rd in both slugging percentage and OPS, and, most importantly, 24th in runs scored. The team didn’t fare much better in July, finishing 28th in average, 22nd in on-base percentage, 26th in slugging and OPS, and 17th in runs scored.
The Mariners were able to go 14-10 in July due to some timely hitting and better results at the plate in terms of home runs and extra-base hits, which was important because the pitching staff was just OK a month ago. In July, Seattle ranked 18th in ERA, 13th in WHIP, 23rd in opponent batting average and 17th in strikeouts. Where the staff did excel, though, was in limiting walks, as Mariners pitchers allowed the fewest walks in baseball in July.
On Thursday, the Mariners did get some big blasts from J.P. Crawford (more on him later) and Jake Fraley, who each homered in Seattle’s 3-1 win.
Rake Fraley 🚀 pic.twitter.com/z1Sh2Forre
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) August 12, 2021
But Seattle still struggled at the plate during the series despite taking two of three. The Mariners scored just nine runs on 25 hits against a very poor Rangers ballclub.
While the Mariners’ overall success hasn’t been great in August (5-6 after Thursday’s win) as they look to stay in the playoff hunt, that record would be a lot worse if not for the great pitching performances the team has gotten of late.
Entering Thursday, Seattle was second in ERA, seventh in WHIP, 12th in opponent batting average, 15th in strikeouts and third in walks allowed this month. In the first two starts of the series, Logan Gilbert allowed two runs in six innings and Tyler Anderson gave up just one run in 5 1/3.
The best performance, though, came last, and it came from someone who’s been on his game of late after a rough start to the year.
Marco Gonzales back on track
After Marco Gonzales allowed seven runs to these same Texas Rangers on July 3, his ERA was an ugly 6.00. That was far worse than his 4.00 mark in 2018, his 3.99 ERA in 2019 and his career-best 3.10 ERA a year ago.
Gonzales struggled with consistency and he battled a forearm injury, and that start against the Rangers was another low point of the year for Seattle’s opening day starter.
After July 3, though, Gonzales has turned things around in a big way and looks a lot like the Marco of old.
In his five most recent starts entering Thursday, Gonzales has been on his game, allowing just eight runs in 29 innings, good for a 2.48 ERA in that span. And he was absolutely exceptional on Thursday as he turned in his best start of the year against Texas to give the Mariners a series win.
Gonzales allowed just one run (on a solo home run) in a complete game effort while tallying a season-high nine strikeouts. He gave up just two hits and one walk to throw the first complete game by a Mariners starter this season. It was also far and away the best performance by any Mariners starter in 2021.
“Any time a guy throws a complete game in this league, it’s quite the accomplishment,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said.
In his last six starts, Gonzales has allowed nine runs in 38 innings, giving him a 2.13 ERA in that span. That’s lowered his 2021 ERA from an even 6.00 to a much more respectable 4.35.
Both Servais and Gonzales pointed to Gonzales’ prior start, where he threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the New York Yankees, as a sign that he’s really on his game. Gonzales called Thursday’s performance a “snowball” off of his last start while Servais had a gut feeling that Gonzales was going to have a deep outing today.
“After his last start in New York, certainly he had a lot of confidence coming out of that start knowing like, ‘I kind of have it back going again,'” Servais said. ” … Sometimes you need that one big outing against a ballclub like the Yankees to kind of get that confidence going again. I felt really good about him going into this game today. I knew he was going to go deep today but I didn’t know he was going to throw a complete game. I’m really excited for him.”
For Gonzales, he made sure to give rookie catcher Cal Raleigh plenty of credit for the complete game.
“Cal Raleigh, what an amazing job he did today. I think I shook him (off) three or four times but we were right on the same second pitch,” Gonzales said. ” … He had to pump me up a few times to get through it and he did a fantastic job.”
Crawford goes bombs away off Foltynewicz
Shortstop J.P. Crawford is more known for his contact skills, elite glovework and speed than his pop, but he showed off some power on Thursday with a 400-foot blast, which gave the Mariners their first lead of the ballgame.
1️⃣0️⃣7️⃣ off the bat.
4️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ feet. pic.twitter.com/ohEE1Yp0bU
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) August 12, 2021
The home run was Crawford’s sixth of the year, and it came off someone who Crawford evidently is comfortable against.
Mike Foltynewicz got the start for the Rangers, and while he turned in a quality start with three runs allowed in seven innings, Crawford got to him twice, beginning with a leadoff double in the first inning and later with the fifth-inning blast. That home run was Crawford’s third of the year off Foltynewicz, meaning half of his six homers this season have come against the same pitcher.
Funny enough, Crawford entered Thursday hitting just .188 off Foltynewicz (3 for 16) with two home runs during his career. That’s now up to .263 with the three home runs.
Crawford will have an opportunity to take Foltynewicz deep again next week when the Mariners travel to Texas to take on the Rangers in a three-game series starting Tuesday.
Expect T-Mobile Park to sound like a road game for the next three days as the Toronto Blue Jays come to town for the first time since 2019. That will be a key series for both squads as Toronto is directly above the Mariners in the American League wild card race. The Mariners will send Chris Flexen to the mound in the series opener, and he’ll be followed by All-Star southpaw Yusei Kikuchi and rookie Logan Gilbert.