Over the last four days the Mariners and the Astros played baseball against each other four times. The Mariners won the first three games before dropping the last one in particularly deflating fashion, because losses to Houston are deflating. One of these games was Taijuan Walker’s big league debut, and he was excellent. That’s what matters here, is that Taijuan Walker happened. The other games? Trivial. Taijuan Walker’s the biggest deal right now, and rightfully so. He’s twenty one years old and one of the best pitching prospects in the universe. He’s in the majors now! Tai Walker! Let’s just get straight to the recaps, because one of them is about Taijuan Walker. Taijuan Walker.
Thursday, August 29 – Mariners 3, Astros 2
You know what’s completely uninteresting? A game between a fourth place team and a fifth place team at the end of August the day before a top prospect’s major league debut. Yeah, Erasmo Ramirez is interesting and all, but we want our shiny new toy! The biggest news of the day was not even game-related, as Michael Morse was claimed on waivers by the Baltimore Orioles and subsequently held out of the lineup. Morse was possibly the worst player on the roster, depending on what you think of Endy Chavez, and his waiver claim was the biggest news of the day. This is a fan base hungry for Taijuan Walker.
Then they played the game and the Mariners won. That’s why they play the games! Erasmo was sharp, striking out seven batters in five and two thirds innings. He walked two and allowed a home run to Brett Wallace, but was otherwise excellent. Ramirez might not be a huge part of the Mariners long-term future, but he’s a cost-controlled young arm on a team that has a severe lack of good starters. Success from Erasmo Ramirez means more payroll to devote towards luring guys like Jacoby Ellsbury to Seattle. Maybe. Just as a reminder, the last major free agent to sign in Seattle was Chone Figgins, and that was in 2009.
Franklin Gutierrez led the offense with three hits, including another dinger. Franklin Gutierrez’s isolated slugging percentage is .338, which is higher than Miguel Cabrera’s isolated slugging percentage. It’s higher than everybody’s isolated slugging percentage, except for Chris Davis. Aside from Guti’s two-run shot, the Mariners also got runs from a Nick Franklin first inning solo shot. The dinger was a welcome sign, because Nick Franklin has been gut-wrenchingly awful for a really long time now. He’s closing in on replacement level, which sure as hell doesn’t fit the narrative we collectively strung together after his star-level start at the big league level.
Friday, August 30 – Mariners 7, Astros 1
Finally, the one that matters. I don’t have cable, and as a result listen to almost every game on the radio. For the last month or so, every game I watch on television has been a game I went out of my way to watch, having identified it as a contest that needed visual enhancement. Since becoming a non-cable person, I’ve listened to a lot of games and only watched a couple, all featuring Felix. This one did not feature Felix. Needless to say, this was one worth watching.
Taijuan Walker is electrifying. Everyone loves a big league debut, even if that debut is Abraham Almonte or someone like that, some guy who probably doesn’t have a lengthy big league career in front of him. This is because baseball is a game featuring human beings, and watching human beings accomplish their life-long goals is fascinating. A rookie’s first call-up is about more than how they do against the highest level of competition, it’s about how they react to everything. To the crowd. To the lights. To the pressure. It’s almost as interesting to watch a young player’s emotions as it is his fastball.
Walker’s emotions showed the most early on, predictably, as he did something that he had never done before and had always dreamed of doing. He took the deepest of deep breaths. You could see him focusing himself before every pitch, and the first pitch he threw almost went into the dirt. It took him three tries to get his first strike, and after he did you could see traces of smile creeping over him. Walker’s twenty-one. He’s one of the youngest players in the major leagues, and a guy who many of us have watched closely since he was drafted. This debut was about more than balls and strikes. It was the realization of a goal, a shared goal between player, coaches, and fans. It was the start of a big league career that hopefully lasts a long, long time. The results could have been bad and we would have still had reason to celebrate.
Of course, the results were excellent, as Walker allowed only two hits over five dominant innings, which, again, were the first five innings he had ever thrown at the big league level. He walked Brett Wallace and only struck out two guys, but this is where we get to say eh, whatever, big league debut. He was only allowed to throw seventy pitches, because he’s a twenty-one year old top prospect coming up on an innings limit. His fastball was a sight to be seen, reaching the upper nineties and blowing right past the Astros hitters. Of course, the Astros aren’t much of a test as far as major league competition is concerned, but results are results. Walker’s secondary pitches started off shaky but he improved seemingly every inning, which is a welcome sign. His next test comes against Kansas City on Wednesday, and I couldn’t be more excited for it. Welcome, Taijuan. Stay forever.
Dustin Ackley tried his damnedest to steal the spotlight, and really has been commanding attention for the last month-plus. In this game he went four for five, driving in four runs and saving one with a phenomenal diving catch in center field. He hit a freaking triple. Just when everyone was ready to write him off as Jeremy Reed, Ackley is as hot as he’s ever been. He’s been playing center over Gutierrez, for what it’s worth. At this point it’s probably safe to assume Ackley’s going to be factored into the team’s plans this winter, and it’s suddenly easy to remember why he was the number two overall pick a few years ago.
This was just about as awesome as a late August M’s/Astros game could be. The Mariners scored seven runs and two important young players led the way. Abraham Almonte did in fact make his debut and was just fine. Huzzah to baseball.
Saturday, August 31 – Mariners 3, Astros 1
It will be a shame if and when Joe Saunders makes multiple September starts. Not that he was especially bad in this game, but he did walk more batters than he struck out and he is thirty-two and having a vile, unwatchable season. Not that the Mariners have great options or anything, but they have options. Chance Ruffin, for one. Blake Beavan, for another, and I can’t even believe I just typed those words. It’s September, the Mariners are way the hell out of contention, and hey maybe it’d be weird and interesting to see what happens if a broken Tom Wilhelmsen starts a major league game this month. Anyways, Saunders pitched and limited damage while walking three and striking out two. He lowered his ERA to 4.92 and if Aaron Harang is gone then why is Saunders still here? His salary is a sunk cost. Time for more Brandon Maurer starts, or anything. Give Raul Ibanez a start for all I care.
The Mariners won this game, and not entirely because of the Astros. In fact they won in spite of the Astros, as the offense was entirely shut down for innings two through nine. Everything came in the first against Dallas Keuchel, who’s day began with a single by Brad Miller. Guti flew out, then Kyle Seager singled before a Kendrys Morales single brought Miller home. Raul Ibanez walked, then Nick Franklin walked with the bags juiced. Dustin Ackley scored Seager on a groundout, because Newly Productive Dustin Ackley sparks the offense even when grounding out. Keuchel went on shutdown mode for the next six innings before ceding to Erik Bedard, who is now a reliever on the Houston Astros. Bedard walked two and struck out none while allowing no runs and is a reliever on the Houston Astros. He’s also the highest-paid player on their roster, making just a hair over a million dollars.
Sunday, September 1 – Astros 2, Mariners 0
This game was started by Hisashi Iwakuma, who will probably get some down ballot Cy Young votes, and Brett Oberholtzer, who you are just now hearing about for the first time ever. Oberholtzer is some young guy who only pitches for the Astros because the Astros don’t have any major league baseball players on their roster. In addition to starting the game, Oberholtzer finished the game. This is because the Mariners got four hits against him, and turned those four hits (and a walk) into zero runs. Oberholtzer threw a 113-pitch complete game shutout, and who is Brett Oberholtzer? Again, he is nobody, and he shut down the Mariners to help his “team” avoid a sweep.
Not to say that Iwakuma wasn’t brilliant, because he was. Over seven innings Kuma struck out seven Astros and walked only one. Like I said, don’t be surprised if and when his name shows up towards the bottom of some Cy Young ballots, because that’s the kind of season he’s had. His ERA is back under three. Brett Oberholtzer’s ERA is under Hisashi Iwakuma’s ERA. Seriously who is this guy? Charlie Furbush allowed some doubles or something, who cares, the Mariners got shut out by an imaginary baseball player. Tom Wilhelmsen made his triumphant return by facing one batter. He got him out! Good for you, Tom!
UP NEXT: Mariners @ Royals
The Royals have been some kind of enigmatic this season, which is a marked improvement over just about every other Royals season I can ever remember happening. Dayton Moore famously traded Wil Myers to Tampa Bay over the offseason in an attempt to turn the Royals into contenders. While James Shields has been excellent, Myers has been excellent too, as a rookie outfielder raking at the league minimum with another half-decade of club control. Worse yet, the Royals offense has been bad. Worst yet, the big trade has simply turned the Royals into the worst AL team over .500, nowhere near playoff contention. Which is what most analysts expected at the time.
The last few months have seen the Royals turn from a disappointment to the hottest team in the AL, then back into a pumpkin and now they’re playing good again. They’re three games over .500 and traded their top prospects in order to get here. The Royals are exactly the team the Mariners should want to avoid becoming. The Royals are a fun team to beat because they’re perennially mismanaged and do lots of important things wrong. Remember, this is the best Royals season in a long, long time. PITCHERS: Felix vs. Danny Duffy, Erasmo vs. Bruce Chen, Taijuan vs. Ervin Santana, joe saunders vs. Jeremie Guthrie. The Mariners are one DFA away from having four compelling starters in this series. Imagine that!