What a double-play tells us about the 2020 Seattle Mariners

So, we’re just over a week in to a baseball season that may not finish. Seattle Mariners Pitcher A has shown some “good stuff”, Hitter B has struck out more than his previous stats might suggest, and Outfielder C has shown that he might not be an ideal fit for the position he’s playing in.

Fancy some of that? Thought not.

The Mariners have done some good stuff, some bad stuff, and generally played baseball like you’d imagine the team with the youngest average age in the league might. A mixture of excitement and frustration, like going on a first date with someone then finding out they don’t drink. I’m happy to be here with you, but eventually I’m going to get frustrated you aren’t laughing as much as I am at the fella dropping a full pint glass over there.

They’ve ended a 15-game losing streak to the Astros (Woo! Yeah! Finally! We’re unstoppable!) and have the worst combined team ERA in the league, at 6.49 (Boo! Hiss! Get off the mound, you charlatan!).

J.P. Crawford and Kyle Lewis both sit in the top ten for Offensive Wins Above Replacement. J.Ps’s position driven by his 13 runs; Kyle’s driven by six consecutive multi-hit games and 22 hits so far leading to a .355 batting average.

However, Mallex Smith is currently averaging .135; and Daniel Vogelbach, All-Star man-mountain Daniel Vogelbach, make-or-break season Daniel Vogelbach, is averaging a stellar .088.

But I don’t want to bore you with stats all day. What I want to pick up on is one simple thing that happened on Saturday 1 August, in a game the Mariners eventually lost in extra innings to the A’s, taking them to 4-5 on the season.

Simply put, the Mariners turned a double play. A 4-6-3 (second base-shortstop-first base) inning-ending, double play.

It was the first thing I saw on waking on Sunday morning, thanks to notifications from the Seattle Mariners YouTube channel, MLB At Bat, and Twitter. I knew about this play before I knew the score from the game itself, which is indicative of wider problems with how sport is consumed now, but that’s a discussion for another day.

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With one out and a runner on first at the top of the third inning, A’s catcher Sean Murphy (on his way to reducing his average from .167 to .143 that evening) put bat on an 0-1, 84mph, delivery from Yusei Kikuchi (who was, conversely, on his way to reducing his ERA from 12.27 to 4.66). The pitch didn’t really alter trajectory and passed the batter somewhere near 9.20pm on the imaginary pitching clockface. It was lovely ground-into-double-play material.

The ball, like a leathery labrador let off its leash, took two big lolloping bounces as it paced its way up towards second base, passing the bag on the left-hand side on the second-long hop.

Second baseman Shed Long Jr, patrolling the right-hand-side of the bag, shifted quickly across and scooped up the ball. His momentum was carrying him away from second base and toward third, but crossing his path in the opposite direction, heading to second, was shortstop J.P. Crawford. Long, shades in place, concentrating intensely like a child trying to colour inside the lines, switched the ball from glove to hand and laid up the ball like a waiter bringing a silver platter to a restaurant table.

Crawford caught the ball in mid-air – it was slightly behind him, but I’m going to let Shed’s delivery off here – and raced full-pace to put his foot on the bag, ending Stephen Piscotty’s involvement in the inning.

Hurdling Piscotty’s flailing leg and springboarding off second base, gold chain suspended in mid-air having bounced off his chest, Crawford threw a one-bounce dart down the line to masked first baseman Evan White.

White, stretching to his right and doing a semi-splits in one of those first basemen moves that always make me wince a little, wobbling as he balanced on his left knee, kept his foot on the bag and safely gathered up the ball to get Murphy out.

He turned matter-of-factly off the bag, and jogged toward the dugout, pausing only temporarily to exchange a gloved high-five with catcher Austin Nola.

It’s an obvious web gem, the kind of thing that MLB and Mariners social media accounts push across all platforms to show the beauty of the game and the team. It will be the only Mariners play that East Coast American baseball fans see, as it gets rotation on the morning sports shows, shorn of all context and detail save perhaps the names of the personnel involved.

For me, it sums up this side and signifies who the 2020 Mariners are and where they’re headed. It’s three young players showing off their individual skills and combining them together to show how they unite as a team.

There was so much that could have gone wrong with it. Long could easily have misjudged the bounce, or not been able to switch the ball from glove to hand in the 0.7 seconds he had at his disposal. J.P. might not have had the speed to make the bag, or might have fumbled the throw from Shed; he could have lacked the athleticism to hurdle Piscotty, or the ability to throw, mid-air and in full pelt, anywhere in the vicinity of Evan White. White, in turn, could easily have lacked the balance, agility, suppleness or ability to get his body in position to be able to scoop up the ball.

But those things didn’t go wrong.

It was a third of the Mariners starting nine doing things that are 25% more difficult than they ordinarily might be, but making them look routine, to support a quality pitching start and end an inning quickly. An inch off from all three could have left two men on base with the top of the line-up due up next. It’s fast, fun and fantastic, fearless players with faith in their abilities, singularly focusing on the moment and delivering a team to success.

Shed himself summed it up after the game:

This only added to my enjoyment. The fact that Shed called Evan White “Ev”, showing a little dose of familiarity, of brotherhood, of togetherness, is something I love. The fact he praises both of his teammates in so few words while exuding obvious pride at his own part in proceedings is perfect.

This play, and the reactions to it from not only the wider world but the players themselves, sums up why I love this young Mariners team. And sure, no one knows what’s happening in this absurd and bizarre baseball season. But for this moment, and for a good few others so far this season, everything was perfect.

I love this Mariners team. They might not win 50% of their games this year. Hell, they didn’t win this one in the end. But it’s going to be fun watching them work together and grow. And they sure as hell will win more than 50% of their games in future years.

Here it is, one more time, in case you missed it above. The Seattle Mariners could be good, you know.

Bamos is covering the Seattle Mariners during 2020 as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @applebamos

Make sure you subscribe to the Bat Flips and Nerds podcasts and follow us on Twitter @BatFlips_Nerds. News, views and interviews, all with a British twist.

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