Mariners 3, Royals 2
(Seattle, WA) The Seattle Mariners did not hit seven home runs again on Sunday as they wrapped up a three-game series and season series with the Kansas City Royals. Still tied at the top of the AL West with the Texas Rangers and just one game ahead of the Houston Astros as well, Seattle was playing at the same time as those other two AL West teams. That meant all they had to focus on was taking care of business. They got an ace like performance from their ace Luis Castillo and while Texas blew a lead late, Seattle hung on late to get the sweep with a 3-2 win over the Royals.
Scoring started in the bottom of the 2nd for this one and while they didn’t hit seven home runs, Seattle did flex their muscles with a couple of long balls. Teoscar Hernandez would hit the first in this one. A hanging breaking ball landed right down the middle and Teo sent it to straightaway center field for a solo shot. It was Teo’s 22nd of the season and third in the last two games. With how Luis Castillo was looking on the mound, it also felt like it might be enough despite it just being a 1-0 lead for the M’s.
Only once did Castillo get in any sort of trouble in his outing. In the top of the 3rd, with the bases empty and one out Castillo issued a harmless walk to Matt Beaty. He bounced back by striking out Kyle Isbel for the second out but then allowed the only hit of his outing. Maikel Garcia singled to center to put runners on first and second. With the dangerous Bobby Witt Jr. coming to the plate, Castillo was fortunate only need one out to get out of the inning. A 1-0 slider hung in the middle of the plate but Witt rolled over on it. A harmless grounder to J.P. Crawford was flipped to Rojas at second to cut down Garcia and end the inning with the Mariners still leading.
Some deep fly balls just stayed in the yard for the Mariners but they would get another one out in the bottom of the 5th. A one out walk for Josh Rojas turned into a double when he stole second for his 10th stolen base of the year. J.P. Crawford couldn’t move him over as he struck out looking on a pitch that was off the plate for the second out. The very next pitch is where the damage was done. Alec Marsh tried to sneak in a first pitch sweeper for a first pitch strike to Julio Rodriguez. Julio was ready for it as it floated on the inner third. J-Rod shot a rocket to left center for his 23rd home run and practically solidified himself as the AL Player of the Month. The two-run shot continued to build the Mariner lead to 3-0.
It was smooth sailing through most of the day for Luis Castillo. Known for getting better as the season goes on, Castillo turned in one of his best outings of the year after making some adjustments from the first time he faced Kansas City. Some great defense also helped as Dominic Canzone made a tremendous diving catch in right that landed him the #4 spot on ESPN’s top 10 plays of the day countdown. For the most part though, it was weak contact by the Royals. La Piedra only allowed one hit through seven scoreless innings, walking one and striking out six. Castillo gave way to the bullpen in a good spot, up 3-0.
Coming in to pitch the top of the 8th was Gabe Speier but he had a rare rough day. Facing Michael Massey to begin the inning, Speier missed his spot with his sinker and Massey reached with a base hit to right center. That would bring up Nelson Velázquez and he did the big damage for KC. Another sinker was belt high and on the outer half and Velázquez showcased his opposite field power. The eighth home run of the season for Velázquez sailed into right center and quickly changed the vibes as the Mariner lead was cut down to just 3-2. Matt Duffy sent a chopper off of the glove of Speier and reached on an infield single. Dairon Blanco ran for Duffy, but would be erased on a 5-4 fielder’s choice as Eugenio Suarez made another gold glove caliber play to take extra bases away from Kyle Isbel. Justin Topa replace Speier, trying to protect the one-run lead and got the second out with a strikeout of Maikel Garcia. Bobby Witt Jr. put more pressure on Topa with a base hit to left, but a strong throw from Dominic Canzone kept Isbel at third with two outs. Witt then stole second for his 38th stolen base, putting the go-ahead run at second and the tying run at third. Topa would then battle with veteran Salvador Perez but finally got Perez swinging on the seventh pitch to end the inning and keep the M’s out in front.
Andrés Muñoz came in to pitch the 9th and had been dealing with some bumpy outings since taking over for Paul Sewald. The M’s knew Texas had lost so they were three outs away from sole possession of first place in the AL West. That seemed to light a spark in Muñoz. He threw 14 pitches and 10 of them were strikes as he struck out all three batters he faced for a quick inning for his 10th save of the season. The 3-2 Mariner win gave them a sweep of the Royals and the outright division lead.
With the division lead now in their grasp, Seattle (74-56) will now try to build their one game lead on both Houston and Texas as they host another bottom feeder as the Oakland Athletics (38-93) come to town for a three-game series. The Mariners are a perfect 7-0 against Oakland this season and Bryan Woo (1-3, 4.58 ERA) will look to keep that trend going in the opener. Woo was a little rusty in his first outing since coming off the IL last Tuesday in Chicago but got better as the game went on. Woo went just four innings and allowed only one run on three hits with one walk and three strikeouts. Woo could go five innings if his pitch count allows, but don’t expect to see him go beyond that especially with a fairly fresh bullpen. Kyle Muller (1-4, 7.28 ERA) will get the ball in game one for Oakland. Muller has been a short outing pitcher for Oakland this season as his longest outing of the year was just 5 1/3 innings. He is coming off a decent start against the Royals where he went four innings and allowed just one run on one hit but did walk two and punch out three. Game one is scheduled for Monday at 6:40pm.
Well look what we have here. The Mariners have sole possession of first place in the AL West in the month of August for the first time since 2003. That is fun and all, but they can’t let their foot off the gas. With another series against Oakland before the schedule toughens up a bit again, the Mariners need to take care of business again. If Julio, Teoscar, and Cal can stay hot with the speedy guys at the bottom of the order and J.P. Crawford getting on base, the M’s should be able to sweep Oakland. The bullpen is an area that still needs a little bit of work. It is more about guys settling into their new roles. Muñoz is clearly the closer, and Justin Topa and Matt Brash are high leverage guys with Tayler Saucedo as the lefty specialist. Trent Thornton, Isaiah Campbell, Luke Weaver are the other guys. Weaver seems like a very solid long relief guy and might get some bigger opportunities as well. If they can just tighten things down a bit then everything will be just fine. But with Texas and Houston about to get some easier opponents, the M’s need to continue to take care of the games they should win. Three of them are this week so it is time to prove that they are World Series contenders.
- Nelson Velázquez- 1-3, HR, 2 RBI, R
- Michael Massey- 1-4, R
- Alec Marsh (L, 0-7)- 5.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO
- Luis Castillo (W, 11-7)- 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 SO
- Julio Rodriguez- 2-4, HR, 2 RBI, R
- Teoscar Hernandez- 2-3, HR, RBI, R