One shortstop has been the talk of baseball since the first pitch of the 2020 season, while the other started off as an on-base machine and unexpected leadoff hitter, fell into a “slump” and is slowly trying to fight his way out.
On this Tuesday night in the Mariners’ easy 8-3 victory over San Diego, Seattle’s J.P. Crawford, who came into the game with just three hits and 14 strikeouts in his past 40 plate appearances, was the best shortstop on the field.
Crawford reached base three times, scoring two runs and driving in three runs with a two-run homer to center and a run-scoring double.
Meanwhile, Fernando Tatis Jr., who has been the best player in baseball since the first pitch of this shortened season, was held hitless and not allowed reach base for just the fourth time this season.
While Crawford might have prevailed in this one-game duel, it’s likely that the 21-year-old Tatis will be in the running for the National League MVP for this season and many seasons to come. Also, the Padres are on pace to be playing in the postseason, while the Mariners will be watching the postseason from their homes for the 19th consecutive season.
But does playing against baseball’s latest darling and “next superstar” provide any additional motivation for Crawford because they both play the same position?
“He’s a great player, but you know we’re on the same field and he’s on the other team,” Crawford said in a postgame video conference. “I want to win. He’s a great player to watch, but I love competing against (great players) and try to beat them. I don’t need no love from all the media stuff and the hype. I’m good. I know I’m good.”
To be fair, the Mariners have maintained that Crawford hasn’t been in as bad of a slump as the numbers might indicate. Seattle manager Scott Servais has referenced their internal data on swing decisions based on pitches in and out of the strike zone and hard hit percentages, saying Crawford’s process is fine. The results were being skewed by some bad luck. Still, he knows that positive results like extra-base hits help a players’ psyche.
“You can’t control it once it leaves your bat,” Servais said in a postgame video conference. “J.P.’s hit a lot of balls hard the last couple of weeks and hasn’t much to show for it. And he continues to play unbelievable defense. He’s always in the right spot, and he can finish plays.”
But Crawford didn’t let it snowball on him mentally.
“That’s the baseball gods,” he said. “That evens out with the broken bats and little bleeder hits I get. You have to stay the course and stay positive.”
The hard-hit balls help.
“The results are going to pay off for the approach and the plan you go into each AB,” he said. “You just try to hit the ball hard and on the line. You just do your job. If he catches it, you’re still hitting the ball hard. You just keep going and eventually they will fall.”
But it wasn’t just Crawford providing the offense in the Mariners’ fourth consecutive victory – their longest streak of the season.
Catcher Austin Nola continued to swing the bat at torrid pace, tallying three hits, scoring two runs and hitting a solo homer. Nola has 11 hits in his past 25 at-bats with three homers and eight RBI in his past six games.
First baseman Evan White, who was once mired in a funk worse than Crawford, added three hits, including a pair of run-scoring singles.
Seattle jumped on Padres starter Chris Paddack immediately, scoring two in the first inning. Crawford drew a leadoff walk and later scored on Kyle Seager’s sacrifice fly while White delivered a two-out, run-scoring single.
The Mariners pushed it to 4-0 in the second inning when Crawford smoked a line drive to center that carried over the fence. Statcast measured the blast at 420 feet with a 103 mph exit velocity.
“That’s about as far as you can hit one,” Servais said. “That was an absolute no-doubter.”
Nola’s solo homer to start the sixth inning, followed by White’s double, ended Paddack’s night.
All that early offense allowed Marco Gonzales to get a victory on a night when he had to labor through just five innings, allowing three runs on nine hits with no walks and five strikeouts.
“It was a grind,” Gonzales said in a postgame video conference. “They’re a good lineup and balanced. They were aggressive in different counts than we were anticipating so we had to pivot a little bit especially after the third inning. My job is to go out and set the tone, throw strikes and give us 5-6-7-plus innings. Tonight, I gave everything I had and obviously the pitch count was a little high. If it’s five, you are going to get my best five to help the team.”
The Padres had base runners in every inning, but scored all three of their runs in the third – all with two outs. Gonzales gave up a double to Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer pulled a change-up into the right field seats.
It looked like the inning ended when right-fielder Jake Fraley appeared to throw out Wil Myers at second base on a hustle double attempt. But a replay review changed the call on the field and ruled Myers safe. It allowed Ty France to double to right-center.
Editor’s note: The Times declined to send reporter Ryan Divish to San Diego for this game because of COVID-19 safety concerns.