It’s been said that baseball’s all-star break wasn’t named a “break” after the physical rest it gives the players, but rather for what it does for the mental monotony that is inherent to a season that lasts well over 100 games. Monotony that is present not only for the players, but sometimes also for the fans. Indeed, that’s a large part of the reason baseball hosts its all-star game in-season. For most, the all-star break is a time to reflect on the first half of the season with a good dose of what went wrong and what went right, and more importantly, how to prepare for the second-half stretch.
For Rainiers fans, however, no such rest was accorded, as Tacoma played host for the first time to the Triple-A All-Star Game.
The all-star festivities brought some of the sport’s most talented young players to the Puget Sound, including 10 of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects. If you came to the game hoping to see a particular player in action, you were not likely disappointed; Toledo reliever Jeff Ferrell was the only player on either side not to see action. Helping toward that end was Pacific Coast League manager Tony DeFrancesco's strict one-inning-per-pitcher rule, which resulted in the oddity of Oklahoma City’s Wilmer Font being tabbed for the start and yet tossing only four pitches. That was all he needed to retire the top three batters in the International League lineup. IL starting pitcher Tom Eshelman (of Lehigh Valley) was given a bit more leash, pitching two innings. He was never forced to pitch from the stretch, but unfortunately for the International League that wasn’t because he pitched two perfect innings but rather because his blemish came by way of a solo home run off the bat of Fresno’s Colin Moran tying the score at one (Home Run Derby participant Richie Shaffer had blasted an opposite field homer off of Seth Frankoff to give the IL a 1-0 lead earlier in the inning).
The PCL jumped out to its first lead with a four-run fourth inning, which was capped off when Nashville’s Renato Nunez demolished a first pitch fastball from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Caleb Smith, depositing it into the left-field seats and plating three. Though the International League answered with two runs of its own (a solo homer by Durham’s Willy Adames and an RBI double by Columbus’ Richie Shaffer) to cut the deficit to 5-3, the PCL would not relinquish their lead, holding on to win 6-4.
After the game, Nunez was named the Pacific Coast League’s All-Star Game MVP for his three-run blast that proved to be the game-winner, while Shaffer’s two extra base hits (a homer and a double) earned him the International League’s award.
The two Tacoma representatives in the All-Star Game, first baseman Daniel Vogelbach and right-handed reliever Jean Machi, didn’t fare too well. Machi allowed three hits and two runs in his inning of work, while Vogelbach struck out in his only plate appearance.
Immediately following the All-Star Game, it was back to the grind for the Rainiers as they began a four-game series with Fresno. Unfortunately for the Rainiers, that series went about as poorly for the team as the All-star Game did for Machi and Vogelbach. They lost all four games by a combined score of 25-7, including wasting a fine pitching effort by Casey Lawrence (seven innings of one-run ball) and squandering a 4-2 ninth inning lead when Jean Machi was unable to slam the door on the Grizzlies. Machi was a sensation for the first two and a half months of the season, allowing just one run in his first 22.1 innings, but has been a struggling since, blowing five saves in the last month and allowing eleven runs over his last 10.1 innings.
After the Fresno series, four Rainiers (Daniel Vogelbach, DJ Peterson, Mark Lowe, and Pat Light) ended up in quite the pickle as they tried to make their way to Albuquerque for the next series beginning Monday, July 17. The quartet had decided to forgo the team’s flight, with its 3 a.m. departure time, and book a flight on their own through American Airlines. Their connection flight from Phoenix fell through, however, due to a dust storm in the area. As a result, they were forced to embark on a remarkable Uber journey that took seven hours and cost $683.52. Luckily for Lowe and Light, they weren’t needed to pitch in Monday’s game. Peterson and Vogelbach weren’t so lucky, as they combined to go 1-7 in the 5-6 loss, though Vogelbach did chip in an RBI. Tacoma would then split a doubleheader the following day dropping the opener 5-3, and winning the nightcap game 9-3.
Tacoma returns to Cheney Stadium on Friday, July 21, for a four-game set against Sacramento.
Up with the big club: The Mariners began the second half right, rattling off a five-game winning streak, including a four-game sweep of the White Sox (who recently sent their ace, Jose Quintana, across town to the Cubs in a blockbuster trade), as well as a win against the Houston Astros. That win against the Astros came with a much bigger story for the baseball world: Astro shortstop Carlos Correa, who started the All-Star Game for the American League, tore a ligament in his left thumb and will miss six to eight weeks of action.
With the trade deadline swiftly approaching and deals starting to fly (including the aforementioned Jose Quintana trade, as well as a deal that sent Detroit slugger JD Martinez to Arizona), it remains to be seen what course of action Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto will take, and how those moves will shape the rosters in Seattle (and in Tacoma). Whether he will position the team as a buyer or a seller remains to be seen - and, in all likelihood, remains to be decided.
Elsewhere on the farm: The Mariners’ first round pick in the 2017 draft, Evan White, now has 14 games under his belt with Low-A Everett. The results have been solid, if unspectacular. He’s slashing .277/.358/.532 with as many walks (six) as strikeouts. White, a first baseman from the University of Kentucky, hit a combined .375 over his last two seasons of college ball, and is known for his excellent glove at first base.