I Love Felix; I Hate The Mariners

I say it every year, under these EXACT same circumstances, so why not say it again:  if Felix ever leaves the Mariners, I’m dumping this fucking team in a heartbeat and I’m following him around like the Grateful Dead until he hangs ‘em up.

This is what happens when you “sleep on” a loss like last night’s.

Blow any other game.  Literally ANY other game, not started by Felix, and I wouldn’t be this upset.  But, you could see it coming a mile away.  As soon as he came out for the 8th, as soon as he gave up that leadoff triple, as soon as the manager came out to pull him.  You could see the blown save hovering over the stadium like a tsunami of suck just waiting to crash down and destroy everything in its path.

Of course, I was expecting Furbush to come in and lay the game to waste.  Or maybe Medina getting into trouble and giving up a moon shot.  And then, when he improbably got out of the 8th inning with the lead still intact (although cut in half), I thought maybe we had a chance.  Yes, Fernando Rodney is wild, but he’s EFFECTIVELY wild.  He might blow ten saves in a row, but MAYBE he can get out of this one unscathed!

***

Brad Miller SHOULD feel like dogshit.  I hope he sat up until all hours of the night thinking about botching that grounder that should’ve ended the game and made Felix the first 4-0 pitcher of the season.

By the way, when the FUCK is Brad Miller going to start carrying his own weight on this team?  You know what I see when I look at Brad Miller?  Every time a ball JUST bounces off of his glove and skips into the outfield for a single?  I think, “Brendan Ryan surely would’ve made that play.”  Now, I’m not sitting here wishing that we had Brendan Ryan back, mostly because his hitting drove me crazy.

Except …

You know what I see when I look at Brad Miller with a bat in his hands?  I see someone who sucks JUST AS HARD as Brendan Fucking Ryan!

Brad Miller is supposed to be a decent-to-good glove man with a plus bat.  Instead, he sucks dick at the plate, and he’s always seemingly JUST out of position to make the play at short.  We all had a good chuckle when the ball bounced off of his glove and went right to Cano’s for the head’s up double play the other day, but that happens TOO OFTEN, and last night it bit him in the ass.

So, yeah, Brad Miller, you SHOULD feel like crap.  You deserve all the vitriol from the fans right now.  You deserve to have Nick Franklin breathing down your neck.  Predictably, another wildly successful Spring Training performance has been shot down in flames once the calendar flips to April.  Brad Miller needs to start proving that he deserves to be here, otherwise I have zero problem with the team sending HIM down to Tacoma when we need a spot-starter this Sunday.

***

Fernando Rodney is going to blow A LOT of saves this year.  He’s going to get in trouble just about every time he’s on the mound.  It’s just a foregone conclusion.  So, I’m less inclined to put this loss on him.  Nevertheless, he strikes me as a mental midget who’s going to let the emotion of the game dictate his on-field performance.

Once that error cost him the save and forced him into more work, I think it’s no surprise whatsoever that he threw that wild pitch that forced in the tying run.  After that, it was all academic.  That game wasn’t going into extra innings!  No way!  Rodney’s got some okay stuff, but he’s no pitcher.  He’s just a guy who stands on a mound and throws really hard, but he’s not a pitcher.

Pitching is a thinking man’s game, and Fernando Rodney strikes me as a guy with an 8th grade education at best.  No, he just gets up there and throws hard and hopes for the best.  And, every once in a while, you run into Fernando Rodney’s 2012 season where everything miraculously goes right and you’re the best reliever on the planet.  But, that shit never lasts.  Because he has no real control over where the ball’s going to end up.

***

Seems like it always happens down in Texas.  Not these horrific late-game losses; those happen all the time, all over the place (no place more than Chicago when we’re playing the fucking White Sox, though).  No, the “it” I’m referring to is the end of the season for the Seattle Mariners.  The point where everything falls to shit, and we spend the rest of the year just running out the string of games and hoping for better things NEXT year.

It came a little earlier than we expected this year, but by no means earlier than USUAL.  The Mariners are done.  Their hope for a reasonably okay starting rotation is shot because Paxton & Walker won’t be back any time soon (if at all).  The usual suspects in the lineup are as frustrating as they’ve ever been (looking at you, Smoak, Saunders, Ackley); and SURPRISE, the younger guys who are supposed to be better are exactly the same (Miller, Almonte, Zunino).  Save Robinson Cano, our offseason plan was a total and complete bust (thank you, Hart, Morrison, and Rodney).  I still have faith in Seager, but it wouldn’t shock me in the least if he just stays this way forever until I lock myself in the attic until the voices in my head leave me alone.

There’s no hope.  Not that there ever really was, but now it’s official.  Of course, that word “Contention” is a funny word because it has a wide range of meanings.  Or, really, just two.  There’s Contention in the sense that we’re a good team seriously competing for a division title, or at the very least in a solid position for the Wild Card.  And, then there’s “Contention” where the Mariners approach a .500 record, have a handful of teams ahead of them for the Wild Card, never really SERIOUSLY make a move toward the top, and just kind of hang around until they’re mathematically eliminated sometime in August or September.

The 2007 and 2009 Mariners “contended” in the second sense, but they were never seriously in the hunt.  Those Mariners teams weren’t very good and were playing WAY above their means.  These 2014 Mariners strike me as being very similar.

To be in REAL contention, you have to prove you’re a clear-cut player in your division.  Right now, the Oakland A’s are 10-5 and looking pretty unstoppable.  Then, there’s three teams in the middle of the pack, all at or within a game of .500.  Then, there’s the Astros.  So, if the Mariners want to be a player in the A.L. West, they have to prove they’re the clear-cut second-best team (and then hope the A’s suffer some more injuries or something).

Right now, I’m pretty confident that the Mariners are at least as good, if not WAY better than both the Astros and Angels.  But, again, to be that player, we’ve got to also be better than the Rangers.  We’ve ESPECIALLY got to be better than the Rangers when they’ve got so many guys on the DL!  We can’t be frittering away these fucking games like last night if we expect to REALLY be in contention for the post-season.

Of course, if we just want to be in “contention”, like the 2007 & 2009 Mariners were in contention, then go right ahead and keep playing grab-ass, BRAD MILLER.  Boot these fucking games away.

Everyone likes to bring up the movie ‘Groundhog Day’ when they talk about the Mariners, but they forget that there were a lot of good times in that movie.  Yes, it was the same fucking day, every day, forever, but Bill Murray found a bunch of different ways to entertain himself.  He got to have easy sex, he stole a bunch of money from an armored truck and bought pretty much whatever he wanted, he got to party with the guys and do everything he’d ever wanted without consequence, he got to eat all of that delicious diner food.  It wasn’t all down times and misery.

Of course, with the Mariners right now, it IS all down times and misery.  If this part of the season is ANY part of the ‘Groundhog Day’ movie, it’s when Bill Murray is just beating the shit out of his alarm clock as it plays that God damned Sonny & Cher song for the 50,000th time.

Coming up next:  dozens upon dozens of daily suicides.

Taijuan Walker’s Shoulder Is A Problem

The entirety of this season is built up around the hope for younger players to break out and make a big positive impact.  In the early going, it’s been very up and down for this team, but we’ve won more than we’ve lost and reinforcements are on the way.

The hitting was always going to be iffy at best (see the last two nights as proof of that; 7 runs one day, 0 runs the next), but the real concern was always the rotation after Felix Hernandez.

We started with Felix, followed by three very inexperienced throwers, and a guy off the scrap heap.  One of those inexperienced throwers got injured and we had to reach down into our AAA reserve for a week’s worth of starts.  All along, though, help was on the horizon:  Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker were returning from supposedly minor injuries.  If we could just tread water until May, ostensibly when we get those guys back, we might REALLY be in business.  The first month would be long enough to get a good handle on the rest of our rotation and see who’s worthy of sticking with the big ballclub.

It was perfect.  A little TOO perfect.  And now we see the folly of our ways.  Don’t ever rest your hopes on the arm of a pitcher recovering from mystery shoulder pain.  Not ever!

Maybe it’s nothing, but I’ll bet you every last dollar to my name that it’s something.  Taijuan Walker was supposed to make another rehab start last night, this time in Tacoma.  If he did well, and Blake Beavan did poorly for the Mariners, we MAYBE could have seen Taijuan Walker on the Mariners by the weekend.  Now?  Who the fuck knows?!

Listen people, you heard it here first:  forget about Taijuan Walker.  He’s finished as far as 2014 is concerned.  There are two ways this goes:  surgery, or he continues to rehab and ultimately returns by the end of the summer, when the season is too far gone to recover.  And, dollars to donuts, even if he does rehab all summer, he’s still gonna need surgery anyway!

This is Danny Hultzen all over again.  Once they go under the knife on their throwing shoulders, it’s over.  Curtains!  You can just forget about these guys ever reaching their full potential.  If they make it to the Bigs, they’ll be “nice stories”.  You’ll root for them because they’re coming back from something so severe, fighting impossible odds to return to their former glory.  They’re impossible odds because it’s so physically difficult to return from these things!  Even the steroids guys had trouble coming back from shoulder surgery!

No, best to forget about Walker.  Gotta focus on what we have.  I’m a little more optimistic now that Iwakuma will indeed return, so that’s probably some good news we’re desperate to hear.  With Iwakuma, we’ve got him and Felix and Elias and Ramirez and Chris Young.  It’s obviously FAR from ideal, but then again it beats whatever the hell we’ll have to do the next couple of weeks, now that we know Blake Beavan pitched all four innings yesterday with shoulder tightness/dead arm.  If HE can’t go on Sunday (and he’s by no means any sort of prized pig), then I don’t know what the fuck we’re going to do.  Bullpen day?  Pick up ANOTHER guy off of the scrap heap?  I’m not gonna lie to you, the Tacoma rotation is full of nothing but fuck-ups.  To be honest with you, I’d rather just kill our bullpen and take Sunday’s game as a loss than bring up anyone else from the Rainiers.

Here’s some advice:  try to forget everything I just said.  Just focus on today.  Today, it’s Felix vs. Yu Darvish in an epic battle to try to not fall below .500.  Nothing else matters … until Thursday, and the rest of the week, and the rest of the month, and the rest of the year.

Roenis Elias Looks Better

It feels like forever since I wrote about something not Mariners-related, but in reality it’s only been two and a half weeks since I’ve blathered on about the Seahawks (withdrawals-much?).  That was a pointless way to start this post and I immediately regret it.

The season is mighty early, but Roenis Elias just pitched the best game of his career last night.  I should preface this by saying that the Texas Rangers we’re watching this week aren’t the same Texas Rangers that were once feared as recently as last season.  Injuries and free agency have sort of pulled their offensive firepower down to earth.  As odd as it sounds, pitching is this team’s strength right now.

Nevertheless, to go down to Texas, in what I assume is still a bandbox of a stadium, and shut down the Rangers through 6.2 innings (as a rookie, having bypassed the AAA level) is mighty impressive.

That isn’t to say Elias was BAD in his first two starts, but he was pretty bad.  The results don’t necessarily scream out in the negative, but the eye test certainly does.  Last night was the first time he’d gone beyond five innings.  We’re in the middle of a stretch where we play 13 games in 13 days, so “quality starts” are a premium right now as the team tries to use its bullpen wisely.  Too many 5-inning starts (the Bedard Special) will tax your bullpen, especially during a 7-day road trip.

Moreover, Elias just didn’t look good when he made those first two starts.  He had trouble throwing strikes, which brought up his pitch counts.  He also had a lot of trouble keeping his off-speed pitches down in the zone.  Case in point:  the 2-run homer to Albert Pujols on April 9th in a 2-0 loss to the Angels.  That was an 80-something mph change in the middle of the upper portion of the strike zone.  You don’t EVER want to throw that pitch in that location, but ESPECIALLY to someone like Pujols.

Last night, Elias had that pitch down in the zone, and he got the type of results you’d hope for.  I don’t think he’s ever going to be a big volume strikeout guy, but he got five whiffs last night, and he had left handed batters absolutely baffled at times.  Also, that hard slider in on right handers should be an effective weapon for him in two-strike counts.

As we all know, there are strikes and there are quality strikes.  Last night, Elias was throwing quality, and he dominated accordingly.  This is a good sign.  The Mariners are pretty iffy in their rotation right now outside of Felix.  With Paxton down for Christ knows how long, and Iwakuma still at least another couple weeks off (if not longer, depending on how his finger handles that splitter he uses to strike people out), the Mariners need someone else to step up and fill the void until these guys can return.

We’ve got Felix.  If we can count on Elias, that’s a big plus.  Throw in Iwakuma, Paxton, and Walker (who should hopefully be back within the next week or so), that’s a starting five I’d be happy to bring home to mother.  I no longer trust Erasmo Ramirez will reach his full potential and wonder if he even has what it takes to be a #5 starter anymore.  Chris Young is a nice stopgap, but he’s someone I’d MUCH rather see in the long reliever role for the majority of the season.  I feel like the more Chris Young we get in the starting rotation, the more diminished our returns will be with him.

If I’m wrong about Ramirez, then great, we’ve got six or seven guys capable of starting in the Major Leagues.  Believe me, that’s a GOOD problem to have.  Of course, that all hinges on Elias reaching HIS full potential.  Last night was a big first step.  He faces the Miami Marlins next before a rematch with these very Rangers up in Seattle (on the fabled Beard Hat Night, so I’ll be guaranteed to NOT attend that one).

It’s been a nice little start to a career for Elias.  Let’s hope he keeps it up.

More Random Mariners Thoughts From The Second Week Of The Season

Anybody else sick and tired of playing the A’s & Angels?  Well, you’re in luck!  On a side note, I hope you like playing the Rangers & Astros!

I tweeted this thought out yesterday and I’d like to expound upon it today:  yes, the Mariners’ offense has looked pretty piss-poor at times.  But, aside from that one game against the Angels, all of our poor offensive outings have come against the A’s.  The A’s, as you know, have one of the best pitching staffs in the Major Leagues (even WITH the injuries they’ve suffered).  They especially have one of the most incredible bullpens I’ve seen in a long time.  If the game is tied and both starters have left the game, you should just bank on the fact that the A’s are going to win that game eventually.  They might finish you off in regulation, they might require an extra 7-12 innings, but they’re GOING to beat you.  It’s just a fact.

So, a lot of people are waking up this morning, they’re checking out the box score, and they’re seeing a LOT of averages well under the .250 range.  Almonte & Miller have struggled mightily of late.  Aside from a few homers, Hart & Smoak haven’t done the job consistently.  Kyle Seager is probably trying too hard at this point; he needs the calendar to flip to May in the worst way.  Stefen Romero likely needs to take a step back (to Tacoma) before he can take that step forward and remain on the big league roster.  Logan Morrison doesn’t look like he belongs anywhere NEAR a Major League roster and should probably stop getting so much playing time.

My point in all this is:  the bats have gone cold, and people are freaking out.  “Same Ol’ Mariners” and whatnot.  But, I’m here to say:  they’re not as bad of an offense as they looked against Oakland.  Just like they’re not as GOOD of an offense as they looked against Anaheim (because Anaheim’s pitching is a trainwreck; a beautiful, blessed trainwreck).

I will say this:  right field is a zoo right now.  Logan Morrison should be a triple-A lifer.  Michael Saunders has reached his full potential (which is a 4th or 5th outfielder who mostly comes in as a late defensive replacement, and should NEVER be starting on a regular basis).  And Stefen Romero just plain isn’t ready to handle the load (also doesn’t help that he’s not getting regular playing time; only starting when we face the occasional left-handed starting pitcher).  I hear that fans are calling for Kendrys Morales, but that just sounds idiotic to me.  Unless you’re ready to cut ties with Smoak and platoon Morales & Hart at first base (two old guys with creaky knees who are no damn good at fielding what is widely considered the easiest defensive position in baseball), I don’t see the point.  Especially when you consider the fact that NO ONE has established themselves in right field.

I have no ties to Logan Morrison, so ostensibly I should be a little more open to giving him a chance.  After all, new is different, and different isn’t Michael Saunders, who has proven through YEARS of his inconsistent-at-best play that he’s not the guy to handle the job full time.  But, Logan Morrison has never proven he’s belonged in the Majors either.  At best, he’s proven that he’s had potential, but a bunch of knee injuries and aging doesn’t make you a BETTER baseball player.  I know, crazy right?

I’ve made my peace with Corey Hart.  He is what he is:  a home run waiting to happen.  He’s not going to bat much better than .200-.220 in the average department, but he’s going to hit JUST enough homers to be somewhat useful.  I’ve also made my peace with Justin Smoak.  He’s a streaky hitter whose cold streaks dwarf his hot streaks.  I’m coming around on Ackley as being a solid bottom-of-the-order guy who hits for average.  Almonte and Miller will come around.  Zunino should probably hang around .250 all year with some well-needed pop in his bat.  Cano is a godsend, of course.  And I fully expect Seager’s bat to jump start just as soon as May 1st comes around.  I feel like if things broke right with our pitching staff, we MAYBE could contend with those eight positions set.

But, I’m afraid that right field is forever going to be a black hole for this team.  And I don’t see a whole lotta options out there.

Is it time to convert Nick Franklin to full time outfield?  Is this Cole Gillespie guy down in Tacoma ready for the jump?  Do we give Endy Chavez another go?  He’s a proven singles machine who’s not bad defensively, but brings nothing else to the table as a hitter.  Is James Jones or Xavier Avery ready for the call?  Moreover, how much more time do we give LoMo, Saunders, and Romero?  I’m almost 100% sure Saunders doesn’t have any options left, so we should probably hang onto him as a 4th outfielder type.  LoMo and Romero both DO have options, so they can go anytime.  I’d still like to see Romero get some steady playing time over the course of a full week to see if he can get into some kind of rhythm, but if all three of these guys continue to struggle through the upcoming road trip, I’d seriously think about making some moves.

The Mariners went 2-3 last week.  It’s not the end of the world, but then again don’t forget that James Paxton went on the DL after the home opener and it’s PROBABLY worse than we thought.  He had an injection, which almost never does the trick.  We never really got definitive news on the MRI, so that’s a little off-putting.  Blake Beavan is making his 2014 Mariners debut this week down in Texas.  And Hisashi Iwakuma still hasn’t thrown a split-fingered fastball yet.  I’m just waiting for the news that he reinjured his finger because it causes too much strain when he throws that splitter.

Lord help us, they got us again …

We’re 4-1 against Anaheim and now we’re 2-4 against Oakland.  Felix is 3-0 and everyone else is 3-5.  It’s too early to start making bold statements, but these next two weeks are going to be VERY telling.  At Texas for 4, at Miami for 3; home against Houston for 3 and home against Texas for 3 more.  The Mariners have already proven they’re the better team than the Angels.  They’ve proven they’re currently inferior to the A’s.  It would be nice to get a big jumpstart on the Rangers and make this a two-team race for the A.L. West.

My Second Supreme Court & My First Time In The ‘Pen

I went to the very first Supreme Court the week after Felix’s perfect game.  For reasons I don’t remember, I wasn’t able to make it last year, but with this year’s landing last night, I couldn’t resist.

I work in downtown Seattle, near Westlake center (where there happens to be a Mariners team store).  I bought my tickets a week in advance and avoided all of those “convenience” charges.  Word to the wise.  My brother drove up from Tacoma and picked me up from work where we drove to my apartment, dropped off his car, and walked back to the light rail station in Westlake.  I had on my Felix Hernandez 2013 All Star jersey and I brought along my hoodie for good measure.  Because, while the sun was beating down in the afternoon, it would turn mighty chilly by the end of things.

We hit the line for The ‘Pen right at 4:30.  For those of you who don’t know, The ‘Pen opens two & a half hours before first pitch (in this case, it would open at 4:40).  Surprisingly, the line wasn’t very long at all.  Once it started moving, we were inside in just a couple minutes.  We got our t-shirts & K-cards and somehow, miraculously, found a table.

Here’s something I didn’t know until it was too late:  they don’t serve $5 beers at just any spot in The ‘Pen.  See, the whole draw of The ‘Pen IS the $5 beer (and, I guess, getting into the stadium a half hour before everyone else, so you can watch batting practice and stuff).  Normally, when I go to a night game straight from work, my friends and I hit up Sluggers or the Pyramid beer garden or something.  But THIS, I gotta tell you, has me re-thinking everything.

The ‘Pen isn’t just $5 beer.  You can also get food, as a number of eateries align the rear wall.  Being a total n00b to The ‘Pen experience, I just assumed that wherever you went, you could get $5 beer.  NOT SO!  I went to the pizza place, because it was the first spot after you walk in that you can buy beer, and asked if they had “happy hour beers.”  The guy nodded yes, so I had him give me two.  Even though the prices were listed above, I just assumed they’d be charging less from the time we got in there, until 6pm (when Happy Hour is over and they start charging full price throughout the stadium).  No dice.  I got socked in the gut to the tune of $19.

When we were properly quenched, I decided to do a little investigating and was dismayed to find that if I had just walked another 30-or-so feet, I would have been face-to-face with the bar that sells the $5 beer.  It’s right in the heart of The ‘Pen, and it’s glorious.  If you get there early enough, the lines are nothing.  The closer it gets to 6pm, however, the longer you’re waiting.  My brother bought a round at around 5:20 and it took him a solid ten minutes before he made it back.

In hindsight, there’s a lot we should have done differently, but I’ll tell you what, locking down that table was a crucial element during our time in The ‘Pen.  Other friends showed up and hung out with us leading up to 7pm, then we made our way to the seats (not before running to Blazing Bagels to grab a couple bagel dogs before first pitch).

At Safeco, the Left Field Entrance is sort of the “Main Entrance”.  It’s the one that faces CenturyLink, and if you’re like me and you ride the light rail into downtown to get home, it’s the ideal entrance.  Well, here’s a tip:  Section 143 is RIGHT THERE by the left field entrance.  Easy getting out if you’re in a hurry to beat the rush.

***

Felix was absolutely on FIRE last night!  If you ever wondered how Felix would handle pitching in a charged environment like the playoffs, look no further than his Supreme Court games.  Like I said before, I’ve been to the two Supreme Courts now; the only other time I’ve been in the regular ol’ King’s Court was the day he struck out 12 Rangers in shutting them out over nine innings (it was far and away one of the very best pitching performances of his career).  I dunno, maybe the credit goes to myself; maybe I’m just good luck when it comes to watching Felix pitch live (probably, though, it’s because Felix is the baddest motherfucker on the planet).

Last night, Felix made it through 7 innings and change, giving up 4 hits, 0 walks, and striking out 11.  He let two runners get on in the top of the 8th inning, was pulled from the game to a standing ovation, and watched as the bullpen melted down some and let them both score (along with two more of their own).  Thankfully, they managed to get out of it still holding a 6-4 lead.

How they got that lead was nothing short of superb.  I went to the bathroom in the first inning and came back to a 1-0 lead.  I left again to go to the bathroom in the fourth inning and the Mariners tacked on two more.  I was starting to feel like That Guy a little bit, but thankfully Mike Zunino uncorked a massive bomb with Ackley on base to make it 5-0 (while I watched and hollered with delight).  Brad Miller added another on a solo shot to deep center field in the very same inning, and that was that.

***

Not gonna lie to you, my brother and I stayed through the Felix standing ovation as he tipped his cap & walked off the field, and then we immediately bolted.  Here was our situation:  it was the 8th inning, beer sales had ended, and we were left with one tallboy apiece.  We COULD have stayed for the entire game, nursed those tallboys, and then fought the horde as we made our way back to the light rail.  But, what’s the fun in that?

We came for Felix, we watched Felix, we cheered for Felix, we stood and chanted for every two-strike count (of which, it seems like there was one on every fucking at-bat, because he was that unhittable), and we feel like we got our money’s worth out of the experience.

Plus, we were two drunk yahoos who SERIOUSLY got on every last nerve of the two quiet, elderly people sitting in front of us.  They left around the sixth inning or so; I’m shocked they held out that long.

On the way out, we hit the pisser real quick and were out of the gates within minutes.  We walked next to CenturyLink and got to the end of the road there by King Street Station.  Fortunately, there were cabs aplenty, so instead of walking all the way to the train, I ponied up the 16 bucks to get home quickly.

We missed the entire 8th inning after Felix left.  HOWEVER, we were inside my apartment just as the top of the 9th kicked off.  Fernando Rodney did his thing, and everyone who was still there got to go home happy.  My brother and I stayed up all night drinking and watching the movies Tombstone and Frailty, but that’s a story for another time.

In conclusion, I highly recommend The ‘Pen, as long as they keep that $5 beer promotion going.  Multiply that recommendation by a million for the Supreme Court.  There was just short of 39,000 people there, and for the life of me, I don’t understand why it wasn’t a sellout.  Where WAS everyone?  You need to go to these things!  $25 tickets for the lower level, are you joking me?  Get on it, people, we only get to enjoy Felix for so long!

The Encouraging Small Sample Size Of The 2014 Mariners Bullpen

Six guys on the Mariners have a 0.00 ERA right now.  All of those guys have come out of the bullpen to do so (Chris Young will switch to being a starter in this weekend’s series against Oakland).  Six guys, ranging from 1-4 appearances, totalling 17.2 innings, have given up zero runs while walking 9, giving up another 7 hits, and striking out a whopping 19 batters.

The others in the bullpen aren’t too shabby either.  All told, the bullpen has given up 5 earned runs over 25.2 innings, walking 13, giving up 14 hits, and striking out 29.  But, here’s the thing:  that includes Hector Noesi’s never-should-have-been-here-in-the-first-place ass.  Take away his brutal numbers, and this has been your Mariners bullpen through the first eight games:

24.2 innings, 13 walks, 12 hits, 2 earned runs, and 27 strikeouts.

That’s a 0.73 ERA!  Again, it’s only 8 games, and the bullpen performance can change on a dime at any time, but it beats the alternative.

I still have some problems with how certain pieces are being used, but I feel that it will work itself out eventually.  Tom Wilhelmsen seems to have the 8th inning set-up role on lockdown, when really it should belong to Danny Farquhar.  Or, at the very least, go situational.  Tom Wilhelmsen should avoid pitching to left-handed bats at all costs.  And he should NEVER be brought in with runners on base.  I mean, this should be a no-brainer:  Farquhar averaged nearly 13 strikeouts per 9 innings last year!  That’s insane!  He’s on a similar clip this year, while Wilhelmsen sunk to a little under 7 strikeouts per 9 last year, and is not making much of a case that he’s regained that once-dominant out-pitch he flashed in 2011.

I think Wilhelmsen is destined to be a guy who’s on fire one night and a complete trainwreck the next.  That kind of performance deserves to be used exclusively in games where we’re already behind, or already up by a number of runs more than 2.  And it also deserves a very short leash when he starts getting himself into trouble.

I think Yoervis Medina is entirely underrated and mysteriously over-used.  With a lot of our starters struggling to go past 5 or 6 innings, Medina has usually been the first man out of the ‘pen.  Again, this role should probably belong to Wilhelmsen (I tend to waffle between saving him for a less pressure-packed role on the Mariners and sending him down to Tacoma for good, depending on how he has affected my mood that particular day), but I also find it curious that Charlie Furbush isn’t being used more.  He doesn’t throw particularly hard, and that seems to be a prerequisite to getting an abundance of playing time on this team.  Maybe it’ll work itself out over time.  Either way, if I had my druthers, I’d have the bullpen go Medina-Farquhar-Rodney (7th/8th/9th innings), with a lefty sprinkled in depending on matchups and such.

Of course, that’s my preferred rotation RIGHT NOW.  That’ll change when Fernando Rodney inevitably falls off the wagon and starts blowing saves left and right (this WILL happen, it’s only a matter of when).  Never trust a closer who has trouble with his command (and who seemingly NEEDS to be put into a jam in order to ratchet up the intensity required to start pitching effectively).

But, I’m not here to set myself up for easy “I Told You So’s” later.  Right now, I’m just enjoying the ride.  I want the good times to continue for as long as humanly possible.  And, as for the rest of the lads down there – Joe Beimel, Dominic Leone, and Lucas Luetge – we’re cool until you start fucking our shit up.  Beimel seems to be a savvy situational-lefty who should probably never EVER face a right-handed bat (unless he’s turning around a switch-hitter whose preferred side is the left side).  I certainly trust Beimel over Luetge (who seems destined to go back down to Tacoma once we call up our fifth starter for that series in Texas next week).  Dominic Leone is a rookie just getting his first taste.  He’s another hard-throwing righty and so far I dig his style.  Seems to have some good movement out of his breaking pitches, which is always a plus when you’ve got a plus-fastball like he does.

It’s early, but it’s also encouraging.  Here’s to being happy for once about the Mariners’ bullpen.  And, here’s to hoping we don’t need them tonight, with Felix mowing down the A’s.

I’ll Freak Out Now: James Paxton On The DL

I feel like the “lat strain” is the pitcher’s version of Guti’s “digestive issues”.  Seems really vague, and like they’re trying to play it off as no big deal.  And then a month or two goes by with no improvement, and all of a sudden it’s something completely different.

Look, the Seattle Mariners just aren’t meant to have nice things (which makes Felix’s ongoing presence in our lives that much MORE miraculous).  Every time I feel like a corner is about to be turned, by the time we get there it’s just another fucking brick wall.  The problem with the Mariners, as I see it, is that the best players (Felix aside, thank God) never seem to stay healthy, while the worst players keep going on and on and on.  That’s probably not true, but it’s just a real fork in the eyeball knowing that one of our great, young starting pitchers is about to miss a minimum of 2 weeks (but, realistically a minimum of a month or more).

The REAL problem with the Mariners is a lack of depth.  I dunno, though, seems like every team would have that problem.  You’ve got your starting nine position players, your starting five pitchers, and the drop-off after that is pretty huge.  Bench players are bench players for a reason.  Guys in the minors are in the minors FOR A REASON.  You don’t get a shitload of roster spots like you do in football, to foster a bunch of competition and such.  You toss off the losers into a sub-bracket and you let them fend for themselves against inferior competition until a need arises and you pull them up into the bigs hoping they’re ready to handle the load.  Seems unfair, really, but that’s the system baseball has in place.

I would argue, though, that the Mariners are more lacking in depth than most.  We’ve got a 3-man platoon in right field for crying out loud!  We’re starting a guy in our rotation whose previous highest level was AA, and another guy we just picked up off the street!  We’ve given others on this roster so many chances to prove their worth, it’s literally a crime punishable by public flogging just to say their names aloud.  So, when we lose someone with a lot of promise, who was supposed to be a huge part of why we MIGHT contend this year, it hurts us more than most other teams.

Why Paxton?  Why not Elias or even Ramirez?  Hell, why not Blake Beavan or Michael Pineda again or literally anyone on the A’s?

So, what does this mean?  For starters, it means Chris Young slides into Paxton’s spot in the rotation, coming up this Sunday.  It also means that next Tuesday, we’re going to finally need a fifth starter.  Taijuan Walker just had a good start down in AA, so maybe he’s ready.  Blake Beavan was moved up a start in Tacoma to line up properly, so maybe he’s the guy.  Anyway you slice it, I’m just glad Chris Young isn’t making a start down in Texas next week.

Also, this means that Erasmo has certainly bought himself some time.  Obviously, when I wrote that post a couple days ago, I was going off of a VERY small sample size when I talked about the possibility of Erasmo being the odd man out when Iwakuma & Walker return.  Well, I don’t think that Elias did much to hurt or help himself with that start last night, but that’s neither here nor there.  With Paxton on the shelf until May, Erasmo has at least the month to get into some semblance of a groove.  Here’s to hoping he bounces back strong against the A’s on Saturday.

Speaking of Elias, he went another five innings last night and made a lot of mistakes.  However, the only mistake that really counts was the 2-run homer he left hanging to Albert Pujols.  He’s got a real knack for leaving that change up high in the strike zone.  If I had to guess, I’d say that’s probably the worst pitch you’d ever want to see left belt-high right down the middle.  When he leaves it up, his change has almost no movement.  That shit needs to be corrected real quick if he aims to stick with the big ballclub.

Really, the less said about yesterday’s game, the better.  We burned through four relievers who continued their shut-down performances (aside from Noesi, we actually have the best bullpen in baseball through the first week and change).  Our hitters were 1-hit and don’t ask me how, because I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.  That Garrett Richards guy looks like he’s got some stuff that’s going to make us miserable for the next decade – fastball in the high-90s, good movement on his off-speed material – why couldn’t HE have left the game with tightness in his lat instead of Paxton?

Today’s an off-day, then tomorrow’s Felix & The Supreme Court.  I’ll be in attendance, wearing my Felix 2013 All Star Game jersey, with a Seahawks Super Bowl t-shirt underneath.  They call me Homer, Steven Homer …

Corey Hart Saves Opening Day For The Mariners

It didn’t look great early – in a 3-0 hole before the Mariners even came to the plate in the first inning – but look at how it turned out!  Two home runs and four RBI from Corey Hart later, and here we are!

There are a couple of other, bigger stories coming out of yesterday’s game:

  1. It was Opening Day, even though the Mariners had already played six games prior.
  2. James Paxton strained his lat … or something.

I’m going to refrain from freaking out about Paxton’s injury – which took him out of the game in the top of the 6th inning even though he was straight up dealing – until we get the MRI and I’m given something to freak out about.  As for Opening Day, whoop-dee-doo, another Opening Day that doesn’t actually take place on Opening Day because Major League Baseball doesn’t care about black people Seattle.

The REAL story is Corey Hart, because God damn those were some amazing home runs!

Like the overall record of the Seattle Mariners, it’s probably a good idea to pump the ol’ brakes on getting too excited about Corey Hart.  Yes, it is VERY encouraging that he had his first multi-homer game a little over a week into the season, but I’d still like to see him hit a homer against a team not named the Angels.

I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on exactly what Corey Hart is going to be.  Feast or Famine.  Except, in his case, the times of famine are going to heavily out-weigh the alternative.  I’m thinking .225-.250 batting average, with a lot of strike outs, a lot of pop flies, and yes, a lot of home runs.  Where his Mariners career will be defined is WHEN he hits those home runs.  If he’s coming up in clutch situations – like last night, with two outs in the bottom of the third, down 3-1 with two runners on – and turning games around for us, then he’s going to be a hit (so to speak).  You don’t need a guy like Corey Hart to hit .320 and go on a bunch of long hitting streaks.  Obviously, if he did that, it’d be a huge bonus, but it’s unrealistic.  What you really need out of Hart is for him to maximize his opportunities with men on base.

The RBI stat isn’t an ideal indicator of how great a hitter is, but in this case it’s ALL I care about.  I’m not expecting Corey Hart to get on base at a .400 clip.  I don’t care if he works counts.  His BABIP is completely irrelevant to me.  If he’s going to hit around .250 – which I think is a foregone conclusion – I want him getting those hits when guys are on base.  Solo homers are an entirely worthless enterprise.  A meaningless single when the rest of the lineup is struggling on a particular day doesn’t do it for me.  For Corey Hart to be a success on this team, it’s ABSOLUTELY dependant upon the rest of the lineup performing around him:  guys getting on base ahead of him, or guys behind him knocking him in somehow.

This team has one superstar (Cano), one Steady Freddie (Seager), one wildcard (Almonte), a couple of younger guys with serious promise (Miller & Zunino), a few bottom of the lineup hitters you hope will contribute every now and then (Ackley, Saunders, Morrison), and two guys who are absolutely crucial to this team’s success (Smoak & Hart).

It’s been said so much, it’s gone from being cliché to part of the Public Domain:  Robinson Cano, by himself, will not turn this team around.  That’s true.  But, if we’re able to stack Smoak and Hart onto the fire, with Cano and Seager, and a couple of promising youngsters, an occasional positive contribution from the wildcard, and every now and then some production out of the bottom of our lineup … we can most certainly compete!  With anybody!  And especially in this division, which is losing key guys by the day to injury!

Of course, we’re going to need our rotation to hold it together.  And that means we’re going to need James Paxton to approach 30 starts this year.  But, that’s a freakout for another day …

Erasmo Ramirez Is In An Early Hole

There’s an interesting couple of decisions looming.  Taijuan Walker – if he’s able to knock management’s socks off in his next rehab start – could be back in the starting rotation as early as next week.  Hisashi Iwakuma – who’s throwing the baseball like a real boy again – could be back in the starting rotation as early as the month of May.  We are days, if not weeks, away from improving our starting rotation tenfold!  And that rotation, thus far, has been pretty good to boot.

This means that two of the starters currently on the team will have to be removed.  Now, obviously, Felix Hernandez doesn’t have to worry about his spot, because he’s the best.  But, those other four guys?  Well, they can consider these first few weeks of the regular season as “Extended Spring Training.”

Normally, teams have these issues figured out by now.  Decisions are made based upon a series of meaningless practice games, and while people may question this practice, there’s nothing they can do to change it, because that’s the way it’s always been done.  HOWEVER, in this instance, we’re getting into a situation where jobs are won and lost based on real baseball games that matter!  How often do you get to say that?

If I was going to rank them in order of Most Safe to Least Safe, I’d rank our starters like this (again, keeping in mind that I’m leaving Felix out of the discussion because there’s no way in a snowball’s chance in Hell that he’s going anywhere):

  1. James Paxton
  2. Roenis Elias
  3. Erasmo Ramirez
  4. Chris Young

I’m of the opinion that regardless of what happens, Chris Young is going into our bullpen as a long reliever.  It’s where he belongs, so make it happen M’s.

Now, most of you would think that Elias’ job is less safe than Ramirez, but I’m here to tell you, “Not So Fast!”  Before the season started, when they had all yet to throw an inning in a regular season game, I would have said, “Sure, Elias will be sent down to Tacoma when Iwakuma returns to Seattle.”  But, now Elias has an advantage:  he’s only pitched in one game thus far.  Erasmo Ramirez just pitched his second game on Sunday and looked pretty miserable in so doing.  He was also in the doghouse a little bit in Spring Training for throwing too many pitches into the meaty part of the strike zone when he was ahead in counts.  I’ll say this:  if Elias pitches a great game on Wednesday, then follows it up with another great outing in Texas next week, we could very well be looking at Erasmo Ramirez going down to Tacoma.

Of course, it’s still VERY early.  But, these guys might have 1-2 starts max before a decision needs to be made.  They’re going to have to prove that they’re worthy, or the team won’t hesitate to put them down and let them work out their issues.

Gambling man that I am, if I had to put money on it, I’d still say that Elias gets sent to Tacoma and Young gets put in the bullpen (probably with Dominic Leone going back to AAA in favor of Tom Wilhelmsen, because of course), but right now, if Vegas were putting odds down, I’d say Ramirez’s performance on Sunday has him teetering on the edge of the plank, with a dozen circling sharks swimming in the water below.

Random Mariners Thoughts From The First Week Of The Season

A 3-0 sweep of the Angels left us all with the loftiest of expectations.  An ugly 4-day weekend in Oakland brought us back down to Earth a little bit.

Going into that Oakland series, I told you that I would have taken a 2-2 split and called it a day.  Turns out, that was probably a little unrealistic.  After Thursday night’s shit-show of a performance by Sean Barber:  Professional Umpire, the morons who run the stadium decided it would be fun to leave the tarp off of the field while an overnight storm was on the horizon.  With the field a soggy, sinking mess, Friday’s game was cancelled and Saturday’s game was in some serious jeopardy.

Saturday’s game was indeed played, however, and it was about as enjoyable as it gets.  Felix was ripping out their throats for nearly three hours, then Fernando Rodney came in and did his job, getting the final two outs of the game.  Whole lot to like out of the pitching in that game, but we can’t forget Dustin Ackley’s 2-run bomb, and Almonte’s solo bomb.  They’ve both been hitting the ball quite hard, which is good to see.

Sunday’s game was about as miserable as it gets.  After jumping out to a 3-0 lead, the Mariners failed to score in the final six innings, as thousands upon thousands of youths in the crowd were non-stop whistling these free plastic bracelets that were given out (which apparently had some way to make them whistle and drive me slowly insane … I can still hear it when I plug my ears!).

I mean, seriously, that weekend series was FUCKED.  If I ever had even the slightest inkling to visit Oakland, that inkling has been smothered in its sleep.  Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just COMPLETELY surrounded by fuck-ups and idiots?  Because that’s what that weekend series was like for the Mariners (a refreshing change-of-pace from the Mariners being the fuck-ups and idiots).

Anyway, here are my random thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Robinson Cano is amazing.  I know we get to see effortless greatness every five days out of Felix, but I honestly forgot what it felt like to see that out of an everyday player.  When was the last time we ever LOOKED FORWARD to a batter for the Mariners?  Now, I find myself counting the outs in the inning, and counting the number of hitters it’s going to take to get back to Cano.  It’s exciting!  And by God, I won’t HEAR a negative comment about my boy Cano!  He’s perfect, and if you want to mess with the bull, you better believe you’re going to get the horns!
  • Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley are off to hot starts:  7 extra base hits between them, to go along with 14 of the team’s 34 RBI.  If this is indeed the beginning of their career turnarounds, then holy Hell it’s about time!  But, if this is just another hot streak that these guys have been prone to from time to time (only, in this case, the “streak” just happens to coincide with the beginning of the season), then I’m going to be seriously disappointed.  Still, it’s got to mean something that they’re getting off to such a hot start, right?  Better to see that average at a high level than to see it impossibly low and constantly think about how you’re going to dig yourself out of that hole.
  • Speaking of digging out of an early hole:  Kyle Seager has two hits in five games.  Of course, they’re both doubles, and he HAS been hitting the ball pretty hard.  One of his outs came on a sharply hit ball that collided with the first base bag, bouncing up into the running arms of the pitcher who beat him easily to the bag for the out.  I’m not worried about Seager.  He could go 0-for-the-next-week and I’ll still remain confident in his abilities to turn things around.  Still, you have to expect some of these other guys to cool off a little bit, at which point, we’re going to need Seager to pick up the slack.
  • The two most exciting players on this team right now are Brad Miller and Abraham Almonte.  While raw and a little reckless, Almonte looks like he’s going to fit right in as a center fielder and leadoff hitter for this team.  If he can manage to be a pain in the ass for opposing teams, that’s going to be a HUGE plus for this team and its offense.  Just need to reign him in a little bit on some of the wildness (especially on the basepaths).  Once he’s able to hone that energy into being predominantly positive, he’ll really have an impact on this game.
  • Brad Miller is another one of those guys who’s hitting the ball hard and seeing some sub-par results.  If he keeps it up, he could be a near-.300 hitter.
  • Would someone explain to me why John Buck wasn’t starting yesterday with Erasmo Ramirez on the hill?  He was SO GOOD for him, calling the pitches and working to ensure that Ramirez was putting the ball where it needed to go.  Seems to me that Buck could have used that game to keep fresh, and Zunino could have used that day off to give him back-to-back days off before the home opener tomorrow.
  • Also, does someone want to tell me why we have Corey Hart batting in the 5-spot, when all I’m reading about is how he’s still trying to get his stroke and his timing back at the plate?  I get that he needs to see live pitching to improve, and that live pitching should probably be at the Major League level, but why in the 5-spot?  He’s been out of the game for so long!  It’s probably going to take him at least a month of hardcore struggling before he figures it out!  Why not put him in the 9-hole until he proves that he’s earned his way up the ladder?
  • I’ll tell you another thing, I’m not wild and crazy about LoMo either.  In fact, overall our DH/RF spot on this team has been pretty pathetic.  I can’t get too mad, though, because every time LoMo starts in right field, he’s only blocking Michael Saunders, who has NOT proven he deserves to be an everyday outfielder.  Nevertheless, I don’t think we’re very far off from me (and everyone else) calling for Stefen Romero to get a chance to play everyday.  Here’s to hoping that we see another couple left-handed starters in the near future.
  • Taijuan Walker made a rehab start and all went well.  He’s got another one coming up soon and after that he could be ready to return to the Majors.  It’ll be interesting to see what the club decides (fingers crossed it means Tom Wilhelmsen goes away).
  • Felix is 2-0 and already looks like he’s in mid-season form.  Remember when we had to wait around for May or June before Felix kicked it into high gear?  He’s on another level in 2014.
  • They stuck Chris Young into the bullpen this week, thanks to the rainless rain-out in Oakland on Friday (and thanks to the team DFA’ing Hector Noesi after that horrendous Thursday night outing where he gave up the game winning home run on his second pitch of the night).  Young pitched a couple innings yesterday and looked halfway decent.  I think there’s a good chance, if he keeps it up, that we keep him in the long-relief role for the rest of the season, once Iwakuma returns (or until the rotation has another opening).
  • James Paxton gets to start the home opener tomorrow.  The last few years, it’s been the likes of Jason Vargas and Safeco Joe Saunders, so this’ll be a nice reprieve.  I won’t be going to that game, but I WILL be going to the Supreme Court game this Friday.

Overall, in spite of the way things ended on this road trip, my outlook is positive on this team.  The Angels are clearly a mess, and the A’s aren’t all that mind-blowing.  Our offense compares pretty favorably to theirs.  Our starting rotation compares pretty favorably to theirs.  The only real difference between the two teams is the fact that the A’s have one of the best bullpens in baseball and the Mariners … don’t.  In other words, you don’t want to get into a battle of bullpens like we had on Thursday night.  Then again, if Jim Johnson continues to struggle, who knows?