On Thursday the M’s outlasted the Tigers in Detroit for a twelve inning 3-2 victory. In an interview yesterday on 710 ESPN, Brad Miller told broadcaster Jim Moore that it made the four hour flight home seem half as long. The win started and ended with good pitching. Though starter Hisashi Iwakuma gave up both Tiger runs in the first inning, that was all they got. Iwakuma was the Iwakuma of old. Not only that, but each of the four bullpen guys who followed was nails. It was somehow fitting that Fernando Rodney got the win, and one of my all time favorite Mariners, Tom Wilhelmson, got the save. Closing time again in Seattle?
Friday was more of the same. In a crowd of 43,000 plus mostly Blue Jays fans King Felix kept ’em quiet, surrendering an unearned run in the first, and a gopher ball to Jose Bautista in the sixth. Meanwhile the boys from Seattle scored five and drove starter back to the clubhouse after five innings. But the story was Felix and his ability to pick and choose his moments to make various Blue Jays look silly. A key moment was in the seventh inning, with the speedy Kevin Pillar on third and Devon Travis on first and two outs, Hernandez struck out the dangerous Jose Reyes on three pitches: executed on the order of the King. Rally over.
All week there were good signs offensively. With three homers, Nelson Cruz showed his power hasn’t evaporated with heat, and in fact, at .307/.375/.554, Nellie exceeds my expectations for the season. Robinson Cano continues to look like he’s turned his struggles around, with a key two-run triple last night, For the last month the $240 Million Man is hitting .321, and the last two weeks he’s shown much more power. Kyle Seager is pretty much “Steady Eddie” with his .271 batting average and his timely home runs. Even Mike Zunino’s black hole of strikeout death seems to be shrinking a bit. Mikie Z has a five game hit streak, with four doubles, including the game winner Thursday, and only three strikeouts.
The M’s need to continue scoring, but it all starts with pitching. Consistent starting pitching is where it all begins. So it was great to see the M’s get great back to back starts from ‘Kuma and Felix. It was also a reminder that as maddening as the M’s inability to put a winning streak together is, their starting pitching often has made that impossible. Roenis Elias, J.A. Happ, Taijuan Walker, and Mike Montgomery have all had their moments, but each and every one of them have had some horrendous outings. The struggles in the bullpen haven’t helped, so it was good to see them perform well as a group on Thursday.
It’s unlikely the M’s put together a meaningful run until the rotation and bullpen consistently perform. That’s not to say they can’t or won’t; it’s sure a lot more fun when they do.