Hisashi Iwakuma pitched a gem Monday night against the Minnesota Twins, going seven innings, giving up four hits, zero earned runs, and striking out 10. With the victory, Iwakuma’s seventh of the season, the Seattle Mariners starter became the first pitcher in MLB history to allow zero earned runs in five consecutive starts against the Twins.
The victory pushed the Mariners record to 49-40, an impressive mark that is still only good for third place in an AL West, a division with the likes of the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Angels leading way. Hopes are high that the Mariners can make the playoffs, but the team will need a strong second half from Iwakuma to remain in contention.
Iwakuma has shown signs of being one of baseball’s elite pitchers, but his inconsistency in 2014 has been frustrating. Since May 2o, Iwakuma has allowed three or fewer runs in six of his 10 starts. In those games in which he has allowed more than three earned runs, he has allowed five runs three times. In one of those starts, a June 25 outing against the Boston Red Sox, Iwakuma only managed to go four innings.
The Mariners would love to have another ace to pitch behind Felix Hernandez, who has had a stellar first half of 2014 and who is arguably the best pitcher in baseball. Iwakuma seems to fit that bill perfectly, and he will need to for Seattle to be dangerous in the second half of the season. Assuming the Mariners can at least earn a Wild Card spot, the team will need a potent one-two punch in the rotation to advance in the playoffs.
Oakland, Seattle’s division rivals, made a blockbuster trade just a few days ago, grabbing Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs. It appears as if the Athletics now have the best top-to-bottom staff in the AL, and probably all of baseball, with Samardzija and Hammel adding to the likes of Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez, Tommy Milone and Scott Kazmir.
With that kind of pitching juggernaut within the division, there is a ton of pressure on the Mariners’ pitching staff to keep opposing teams off the board. Beyond just Iwakuma, Seattle really needs Chris Young and Roenis Elias to be just as good, if not better, than they have been in the first half.
Iwakuma absolutely has the potential to carry the Mariners pitching staff along with King Felix. In 2013, the Tokyo native pitched 219.2 innings and registered an incredible 2.66 ERA to pair with a minuscule 1.01 ERA. In that same season, his WAR sat at 7.0. In 2014, a season that started with Iwakuma on the DL, the Seattle pitcher has a WAR of just 1.2.
Despite his inconsistency early in 2014, Iwakuma’s ERA is still sub-3.30. Should he become more consistent after the All-Star Break, he could be the catalyst that takes Seattle back to the playoffs for the first time since 2001.