SEATTLE -- The Mariners might have downplayed its significance, but this weekend’s series against the Astros had a little more juice, carried a little more weight and gave Seattle a little more of a jump-start in its quest to march up the competitive ladder in the American League West.
Haniger and France each had a season-high three RBIs thanks to consecutive hits from the tandem in both the fifth and seventh innings. France drove in Haniger with a sky-high homer after Haniger hit a two-run triple over Myles Straw’s head in center field in the fifth, which chased Astros starter Jake Odorizzi. Then in the seventh, Haniger and France had back-to-back RBI doubles that proved to be the dagger.
The Mariners have now won seven of their past nine games, and in that stretch, their bullpen has given up just three runs (two earned) in 27 2/3 innings, good for a 0.65 ERA. Seattle also joined Boston as the only clubs in the AL with at least 10 victories, and it retained its first-place standing in the division.
There was quite a bit to unpack from Sunday -- most of it related to pitching. Here are three key takeaways:
1) Bullpen’s numbers among MLB’s best
Seattle’s relievers have faced 103 batters since their April 10 win over the Twins -- including 19 on Sunday due to Margevicius’ departure in the top of the fifth -- and they’ve surrendered only eight hits, just under half as many as the second-fewest team in that stretch (the Mets, with 15).
Mariners’ bullpen since April 10 (MLB Rank)
ERA: 0.65 (1st)
Opposing BA: .092 (1st)
Opposing OPS: .321 (1st)
HR allowed: 0 (t-1st)
Ljay Newsome relieved Margevicius in a pinch and walked his first batter, but after that, he, Casey Sadler, Anthony Misiewicz, Rafael Montero and Drew Steckenrider combined to throw first-pitch strikes against each of the final 16 hitters they faced.
There’ve been two blown saves in this stretch of nine games, both by Montero in Baltimore earlier this week, but the righty bounced back and pitched a 1-2-3 eighth against Houston’s best hitters: Yuli Gurriel, Michael Brantley and Carlos Correa.
2) Margevicius’ status looms
The left-hander was cruising with just one hit and one run allowed over his first four innings, but he threw four awkward pitches to lead off the fifth that prompted the Mariners to make an immediate change.
Mariners manager Scott Servais chalked the issue up to arm fatigue given that Margevicius wasn’t as fully stretched out as the rest of Seattle’s starters since he broke camp as the longman in the bullpen. And Servais anticipates that Margevicius will make his next start, which would be next Sunday in Boston if the club stays on turn.
“He just didn't feel right,” Servais said. “He looked a little tired. When he went out his warmup pitches that inning -- sometimes I'll keep an eye on that -- and it just didn't didn't look right how the ball was coming out. And after the first couple pitches, clearly it wasn't right. So, he got checked out by the doctors and they think he's gonna be OK. No issues medically. We’ll give him a couple days off and then go from there.”
Still, a pitcher exiting early is alarming -- and that’s particularly true for the Mariners, given that Margevicius was the rotation replacement for James Paxton, who will soon undergo season-ending surgery related to a left forearm strain. When Margevicius was installed to the six-man staff, Newsome took his spot as the longman. That indicates that the 24-year-old righty, who picked up his first career win on Sunday, would slot in should it come to that. But beyond Newsome, even with a six-man rotation, the Mariners’ depth is thin.
Jimmy Yacabonis and Robert Dugger are the lone starters at the alternate training site, and Minor League reinforcements aren’t an option right now since those respective seasons don’t begin until May 6 and those pitchers aren’t stretched out.
3) Beating the Astros
Houston was down its MVP (Jose Altuve), its MVP runner-up (Alex Bregman) and its unanimous Rookie of the Year (Yordan Alvarez) this weekend due to COVID issues. But taking two of three from the perennial division powerhouse still carried some weight. At the very least, the strong fan reaction throughout the weekend indicated as much.
Entering this series, the Astros had won 25 of the past 29 meetings between the two clubs dating back to the start of 2019. And including the final meeting between these two last September, Seattle has now taken two straight series against its division rivals for the first time since 2015.
“It's huge,” Haniger said. “A series went against anybody is what you want, but definitely over the Astros -- perennial team in our division. Usually every year, they finish first or second it seems like every year. So, it's big, and going out there taking two or three of them at home, it sets the tone.”