The Seattle Mariners — still fighting for a Wild Card spot — went into Friday’s series opener with a clear-cut plan. Like many other teams, the plan was to let anyone not named Shohei Ohtani beat them, and the Los Angeles Angels had to adjust.
After Ohtani struck out in his first plate appearance, he came to the plate again with the Angels down 3-0 and Brandon Marsh on second base. The Mariners intentionally walked him and Phil Gosselin grounded out to the end the inning.
Then in the fifth, trailing 3-2, Ohtani drew a legitimate walk with no one on and two outs, but no runs scored. Down 6-4 in the seventh with a runner on first and no outs, Ohtani drew his third walk of the night with the Angels late making it 6-5 in that inning.
Finally, in the ninth down a run, the Mariners intentionally walked Ohtani with no one on and one out. It was an unorthodox strategy, but they walked Ohtani four times throughout the night and won the game.
Joe Maddon understood why the Mariners and other teams have been taking this strategic approach in recent weeks, according to Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com:
“That’s what’s going to happen, their team is in the playoff hunt and they’re not going to permit him to beat them,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “When we get back to full complement, it’ll be different. But until that happens, it’s going to be the case unless that team’s not in the playoff hunt. But give us credit. We were in a good position, but we just couldn’t get the run.”
Ohtani tied an MLB record on Friday night, becoming just the second person to walk 11 times in three games. Bryce Harper was the first to do it back in 2016. Barry Bonds is the only other person to be walked 10 times in three games.
With Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and to a lesser extent, Justin Upton out of the lineup, teams are going to feel much more confident pitching away from Ohtani knowing that Gosselin is likely next to bat in the order.
This has led to the uptick in walks and the decrease in home runs, as teams refuse to pitch hittable strikes to a guy who has 45 home runs hit this season.
We’ll see on Saturday if Ohtani becomes the just the third person in MLB history to be walked three or more times in four consecutive games. Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle are the other two.
Maddon endorses Ohtani as easy choice for MVP
The AL MVP debate was likely closed a long time ago, as Ohtani should win in a landslide. However, recent debate has sprung up about the potential of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to steal the award away.
Maddon tried to shut that down as best he could, saying that while Guerrero has been great, he doesn’t pitch, making Ohtani inherently more valuable.