Drayer’s Notebook: Why Mariners stand behind Game 1 decisions
While Mariners fans, reporters, columnists, talk show hosts and just about anybody else who witnessed what happened in Houston on Tuesday likely spent hours dissecting, discussing and of course second-guessing the pitching decisions late in the team’s 8-7 walk-off loss, it didn’t appear there was much second-guessing on the part of the manager.
“We made the decisions we made based on the players we had available, based on the numbers and the information I had available, and we stand by it,” Scott Servais said at the podium Wednesday about the Game 1 loss in the best-of-five division series against the Astros.
The delivery was not terse by any means. It followed an explanation not so much about the decisions but the decision making and the process behind it.
For those who do not know, the Mariners rely heavily on the numbers. “Gut” decisions are not a thing in their dugout, nor are standard metrics available to all. Like most teams in Major League Baseball, they have their own proprietary numbers developed by a large analytics staff and are but just one part of the equation that leads to a pitching plan each day.
The daily planning meetings involve not two, three or even six individuals; rather, it’s closer to a dozen participants. The manager, coaches, analysts, strategists and trainers all weigh in on the daily decision-making preparation for each game. Plans are laid out for where to go in as many situations that could possibly come up that night, and Servais stays true to that plan.
“It didn’t work yesterday. It has nothing to do with our process. We have a really good process,” he said.
Obviously the preference would have been to never see Yordan Alvarez at the plate in the ninth inning with the chance to win the game, but there he was Tuesday evening. As one of the best hitters in the game, there are no magic bullets to getting him out. Thoughts of “perhaps Jerry Dipoto should have acquired a reliever at the deadline who has had good success against him” can be put to rest with a quick search of Baseball Reference. There are none.
The Mariners’ options on-hand included Robbie Ray, Erik Swanson, Matt Festa, Matthew Boyd and Penn Murfee in the bullpen, or sticking with Paul Sewald on the mound. Ray, according to their numbers, ended up being the best matchup.
“You have to weigh the odds and where it is right there,” said Servais. “It’s not just the handedness of the pitcher. It’s what that hitter hits, what that pitcher fires out there. You are trying to predict the future but the game is played by humans. There’s a lot that plays into it and you have to go out and execute it and hopefully it goes your way. Even if you execute sometimes, the guys on the other team are good too at this time of the year.”
Servais understandably would not reveal at the podium exactly what the analysts wanted to see at that point, but the closest thing Alvarez has to a weakness – and to be clear, it’s not very close – is the ball down and in. That without question was in the scouting report. How Ray got the ball there, what pitch he used didn’t matter as long as he got there. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.
As painful a loss as it was, it does not appear there was a lot of hindsight on the part of Servais when it came to the ninth inning pitching move. For him, the process was sound. As sound, he pointed out, as it was when George Kirby was brought out of the ‘pen to get the save that locked up the Wild Card series in Toronto.
“You rely on it,” Servais said. “You stay true to the process in understanding the pieces you have available. Players you have available to go ahead and hopefully finish the game. It didn’t happen yesterday. It didn’t work out.”
• With Ray coming out of the ‘pen Tuesday, it should be obvious that George Kirby will indeed start Game 3 Saturday at T-Mobile Park.
• Why haven’t we seen Erik Swanson pitch in a postseason game as of yet? He has been available, but according to Servais his number has not come up.
“There are certain hitters and parts in the lineup that he matches up better than others against,” he said. “I can’t imagine us winning the series without using Erik Swanson in key moments.”
• ICYMI, times for all 5 possible series games have been set. Game 3 at T-Mobile Park will start at 1:07 p.m. Saturday, while Game 4 on Sunday if necessary will be 12:07 p.m. also in Seattle, and a potential Game 5 in Houston (subject to change) is set for 2:07 p.m.
• The Mariners held an optional workout at Minute Maid Park Wednesday. Players could come in and hit in the cages if they so wished, but other than the relievers playing catch, there was no work on the field.
More on the Mariners in the ALDS
• K.J. Wright: Mariners’ Game 1 could be ‘good’ loss like 2012 Seahawks had
• ESPN’s Passan: Why Mariners still have a shot vs Astros in ALDS
• The keys to Mariners moving on from devastating Game 1 loss
• Mariners Reaction: Wyman & Bob on ALDS Game 1 loss, Ray decision