Entering a 1-0 game with one on and two outs in the eighth, Kerry Wood walked three straight batters to tie up Thursday’s matinee between the Cubs and Nationals.
It wasn’t a case of Wood completely losing the strike zone, but he did keep just missing after getting to two strikes on both Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth. Werth’s walk with the bases loaded proved to be the equalizer, denying Ryan Dempster a chance at a victory after a strong outing.
The Cubs have themselves pretty good rotation depth and a lineup without any huge holes, but the bullpen could be a disaster. Closer Carlos Marmol was a mess last year and he gave up seven runs in 8 1/3 innings this spring. Wood is bound to get hurt at some point. Right now, their other four relievers are James Russell, Rafael Dolis, Shawn Camp (who failed to make the Mariners this spring) and Lendy Castillo (a Rule 5 pick from the Phillies who has only been pitching for two years). It’s easy to envision them losing a lot of games late this year.
Update: Marmol ended up taking the loss in this one, though incredibly enough, no walks were involved. With two outs in the ninth, Marmol gave up a shot to right that David DeJesus got all turned around on, resulting in a double for Chad Tracy. Ian Desmond went on to single him in, giving the Nats a 2-1 lead they were able to hold on to (barely) in the bottom of the ninth.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.