The Seattle Mariners reside on the brink of their first postseason berth since 2001. Back when George W. Bush had just taken office, Jennifer Lopez was topping the UK charts with ‘Love Don’t Cost a Thing’ and Polaroid was filing for bankruptcy.
It’s been 13 long years, and during the club’s hiatus from playoff baseball there has been few periods of relevancy beyond the first few months of the season.
That has changed, however, and the club’s decision-makers need to do what’s best in terms of their chances to end their postseason drought.
[pullquote]The club is carrying 11 relief pitchers right now and Thursday’s game is as important a game the club will have played up to that point since The One Where Rachel Tells.[/pullquote]
The Mariners, a half-game off the Wild Card pace and coming off a 10-1 shellacking at the hands of the Astros Saturday, have eight games remaining entering play Sunday in Houston. They’re slated to start ace Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton twice each, with Taijuan Walker and Chris Young scheduled to get one start apiece. But if the M’s wish to maximize every opportunity to claw their way into October, Young should not be handed the ball in Toronto Thursday, despite what present plans may be. The only scenario where Young should make his next start is if the Mariners win their next four games and both the Royals and Athletics lose all four of theirs, handing the Mariners a three game lead with four games left.
Roenis Elias does not appear to be an option having left his last start early with what may be a flexor bundle injury, but the club has plenty of arms to use. My choice? My choice has posted a 2.45 ERA, 3.15 FIP and owns a K/9 of 8.95. That’s right, Bobby Bullpen.
Young threw 623 competitive pitches a year ago, all in the minors, and just under 2,200 in 2012. He’s been through multiple surgeries, several stints on the disabled list and here he is, 28 starts, 162 innings and 2,650 pitches into a successful 2014. Perhaps it’s catching up to him. Perhaps he’s just in the midst of a cold streak. The Mariners can’t chance it.
Rather than expecting Young to provide a reasonable foundation to begin the game and waiting until he creates a hole from which the club has to climb, the M’s should use the bullpen from the very first inning of the game. The club is carrying 11 relief pitchers right now and Thursday’s game is as important a game the club will have played up to that point since The One Where Rachel Tells.
The opposing starter scheduled that day, rookie Marcus Stroman, is fully capable of shutting down the Mariners lineup for six or seven innings. He went the distance in a three-hit shutout versus the Cubs earlier this month and whiffed seven Yankees in six solid innings at Yankee Stadium in his last outing. Seattle isn’t bloody likely to jump all over the right-hander and cannot afford to serve up four or five runs the first two times through the Blue Jays’ lineup.
Young has allowed three or more runs five times since he tossed seven shutout innings at the Baltimore Orioles July 26. The 35-year-old is a great, great story and is a big reason why the Mariners are where they are. But he hasn’t pitched well with any consistency for two months and is a terrible bet to stifle Toronto’s power.
When Thursday comes, give me Wilhelmsen and Dom Leone for two or three innings each, Carson Smith for 3-6 outs, then reassess the situation after the fifth or sixth inning. Brandon Maurer, Lucas Luetge, Erasmo Ramirez, Joe Beimel, Charlie Furbush, Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina and Fernando Rodney can manage the final 3-5 innings without crippling the bullpen for the final three games of the season.
If halfway through the contest it’s a blowout in either direction, utilize Ramirez in a garbage role. Otherwise, it’s matchup for half the game or more.
Young has done his job for this baseball team. He’s earned his paycheck several times over during his 28 starts. Fact is, he’s simply not the team’s best option anymore. Not with 11 alternatives occupying one the league’s deepest bullpens. Not when every game, every inning and every single pitch is as crucial as they have become — thanks in part to Young’s efforts.
Welcome to meaningful baseball in late September, Seattle Mariners. Now act the part and put your best foot forward.