Everything Goes to Plan for Mariners in Game 1 Shutout of Blue Jays

Luis Castillo
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

If there were an ideal blueprint for the Mariners’ first playoff game since 2001, it would have included dominant pitching, good defense, and just enough offense to come away with a win. They executed that plan to perfection on Friday afternoon, defeating the Blue Jays, 4–0, in the first game of their Wild Card Series matchup. Luis Castillo was in complete control over his 7.1 innings pitched, folk hero Cal Raleigh hit a two-run home run in the first inning, and Andrés Muñoz slammed the door in the ninth.

The formidable Blue Jays offense never threatened to break through against Seattle’s flame-throwing duo, who scattered seven hits throughout the game; Toronto’s only extra-base hit came with two outs in the ninth inning. A pair of two-out base hits put runners on first and second in the third and again in the fifth, but Castillo escaped those jams with ease.

It was a bit of an atypical start for the right-hander, who struck out just five Blue Jays, three of them coming in the seventh inning. Toronto’s batters had the fifth-lowest strikeout rate and the seventh-lowest chase rate in the majors this year; they’re a difficult bunch to whiff. Instead of mowing down the opposition with swings and misses, Castillo pitched to the edges of the strike zone, content to let opposing batters reach for pitches. The result: tons of weak contact. He allowed 22 balls to be put in play with an average exit velocity of just 82.6 mph and only six registering as hard hit.

All that weak contact allowed Castillo to be efficient with his pitch count: He never threw more than 20 pitches in a single frame and cruised into the eighth inning. He ended up throwing 108 pitches in the game, 30% of which were called or swinging strikes. Plunking George Springer in a 1–2 count with one out in the eighth proved to be Castillo’s end, but Muñoz entered and retired Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. en route to a five-out save. His only blemish was a two-out double by Matt Chapman in the ninth.

Between the two of them, Castillo and Muñoz fired 71 fastballs in the game; all but two of them were 97 mph or faster. Castillo averaged 98.6 mph on his four-seamer and sinker, regularly hitting triple-digits with both pitches, and Muñoz averaged 101.9 on his heater. The Blue Jays couldn’t handle the heat or the location. Take a look at Castillo’s pitch chart:

There’s nary a pitch in the heart of the zone, with plenty of four-seamers and sinkers dotted on the edge.

It was obvious from the get-go that Castillo was feeling good. The velocity on all of his pitches was up over his season norms, and that boost lasted throughout the game. His sinker carried an additional two inches of arm-side run on the night, and his four-seamer saw four extra inches of horizontal break. That increased movement combined with his impeccable command meant the Blue Jays had no chance to barrel up anything.

After the game, Whit Merrifield broke down exactly what he and his teammates were up against:

“Well, the velocity is what it is. We’re used to seeing velocity. But when he’s got two different fastballs at that level, he has a sinker pounding out your hands at 99 to 100, and then he has the four-seam that he’ll throw up and away. You’re going to have to make a decision on what that 100 mph pitch is going to do, and that’s what makes it tough. He did a good job of keeping that four-seam away and keeping that two-seam in on your hands all game.”

The result was a lot of swings that looked like this:

Things were stress free for Castillo, too, as the Mariners got on the board right away with three runs in the top of the first. Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah was uncharacteristically wild, hitting Julio Rodríguez on the forearm with the fourth pitch of the game and riding the next pitch up under Ty France’s chin. As he did throughout Seattle’s second-half surge, Eugenio Suárez drove in Rodríguez with a one-out double into the right field corner. The next batter, Raleigh, dumped a center-cut sinker over the fence in right to push the lead to 3–0. After a breakout season at the plate, Raleigh reached hero status in Seattle when he launched the home run that clinched the team’s first postseason berth in two decades. His homer today might not be as memorable, but it was just as impactful.

Manoah mostly settled down after that rough first. He struck out Rodríguez with one out and two men on in the second inning, then flew through the third and fourth, notching six straight outs. The Mariners added a run in the fifth on a fielder’s choice from Suárez, once again scoring Rodríguez, who had once again been hit by a pitch. Despite having thrown just 79 pitches, Manoah’s day came to an end in the sixth after recording two quick outs, with manager John Schneider pulling him ahead of a trio of lefties due up for Seattle. Five different relievers finished out the game for Toronto.

This was exactly the kind of performance the Mariners were hoping to get out of Castillo when they traded for him at the deadline and then signed him to a five-year extension before the end of the season. With another Seattle win on Saturday, he’ll get a chance to do it again and keep this storybook run going.

Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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1 year ago

Introducing your World Series Champions…the Seattle Mariners*.

*this is an anti-consensus pick. My favorite kind of pick.