Part 1, Defense – Which Seahawks Players Can Get Even Better?

Coming into a season, analysts look at a variety of factors to determine whether a team is going to be good or not (or improved or not).  They look at which players leave for other teams (or retirement), they look at which players are brought in (either via trade, free agency, or draft), they look at the strength of schedule and that of the teams in their division, they look at the injury situation and the potential injury situation based on player histories, and they look at which players are over the hill and due to start their slide into mediocrity.

There’s one aspect that’s often overlooked:  which players are still at the point in their careers where they’re getting better?

All too often, we look at rookies – whether good or bad – and think we’re looking at those players as they’ll be for the rest of their careers.  But, no one enters the league as a finished product.  Yes, some flame out, but even the really good ones still have room for improvement.

Take Golden Tate, for instance.  He didn’t really get a handle on all the intricacies of the wide receiver position until his third year in the league.  On the downside, that meant we only had two good years with Golden Tate before he left for richer pastures.  But, on the upside, it means there’s still hope for players who haven’t done a whole lot yet in their careers.

Secondary

How long did it take Byron Maxwell before he was able to make an impact on the Seahawks outside of special teams?  Try a little over 2.5 years.  He was one of our most important players when he was thrust into the starting cornerback spot across from Richard Sherman; now he’s entering a contract year where he could get even BETTER.  You have to think Maxwell has dollar signs in his eyes after seeing the deals Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman got this past offseason.  Granted, it probably won’t be with the Seahawks – as who can afford to pay four studs in one secondary? – but at least we’ll have this last year of greatness before he moves on.

In keeping with this section of the team, what about Jeremy Lane?  He was taken late in the 2012 draft, so we’ve got two more years of his services.  He’s always been a special teams standout, but this year he’s going to get his first real shot at the nickel cornerback spot.  He had some time in that position late last season and seemed to do all right.  If he manages to take a step forward and help us all forget about Walter Thurmond, it could be a boon for an already-outstanding secondary.

I’d also like to shine some light on Tharold Simon.  He spent the entirety of his rookie season injured last year.  In the spring camps, he apparently looked really good.  No one is expecting him to start, or take over anyone else’s job in 2014, but it’s nice knowing we’ve got some quality depth.  As mentioned before, we lost Thurmond.  We also lost Browner.  Maxwell took over that job, but he’ll be gone after this year.  If Simon can keep our momentum going in the secondary, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have the best secondary in the league for many years to come.

Now, before I move on, I’ll talk briefly about the rest of the L.O.B.  Normally, when people write about the Legion, these are the first names they talk about.  But, when you’re talking about players improving, it’s hard to see a lot of room for improvement in guys like Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Richard Sherman.  Nevertheless, I think all three of these players have another gear in them.  This is the fun part about having such a young team – even the All Pros have room to grow!  Earl Thomas, before all is said and done, will win a Defensive MVP award.  Chancellor – already an enforcer – can still be a better all-around safety.  And, at this point, I have to imagine the only way Richard Sherman can get better is to completely eliminate the number of attempts to his side of the field.  I didn’t say there was a TON of improvement in these guys, but what if they’re able to squeeze just a little bit more?

Linebackers

I’ve heard people talking about K.J. Wright taking it up another notch, but I have my doubts.  I’ll be the first one to admit, however, that I know very little about the linebacking position outside of:  tackle the guy with the football.  I think Malcolm Smith is probably at the height of his powers.  I still like him as our weakside linebacker, and think he’s a quality playmaker on the outside, but I don’t see a lot of room for growth.  He’ll probably parlay his Super Bowl MVP (and whatever he does for us in 2014) into a nice little long-term deal with another team.  Like I’ve said many times:  you can’t keep everyone.

Bobby Wagner looks like he’s got another level in him, however.  I expect GREAT things in his third year as a starting middle linebacker.  I think 2014 is the year he finally gets his due as a Pro Bowler in a very tough conference for linebackers.  Also, keep an eye on Korey Toomer.  Along with Simon, Toomer was singled out as having an amazing spring camp.  He’s always had the athleticism and the speed, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy.  This year, he could be a real terror on special teams (perhaps helping us ease the blow of inevitably waiving Heath Farwell to save some money on our cap).

Bruce Irvin is one of the biggest question marks on the team.  Yes, he certainly has ROOM to improve, but is it safe to EXPECT improvement?  If he does reach his full potential, he could be a wrecking ball on opposing quarterbacks.  Suffice it to say, I’ll be watching him closely in pre-season games, to see how he’s used, and to see how he bounces back from his hip surgery.  Obviously, if that hip is giving him problems, I won’t be watching him at all in pre-season games, so let’s hope that’s not the case.

Finally, a couple more under-the-radar fellas.  Mike Morgan will be entering his fourth season with the Seahawks.  He has primarily been a little-used depth guy and a full-time special teamer.  I never really had a lot of expectations out of him – especially when Malcolm Smith passed him on the depth chart – so it’ll be interesting if he’s even able to hold down a spot on this team in 2014.  The Seahawks just drafted Kevin Pierre-Louis, who looks like an absolute freak of nature.  The safe bets on this team are:  Wagner, Wright, Smith, and Irvin.  The bubble guys are:  Toomer, Morgan, Farwell, and KPL (among lesser-known guys).  You can forget about stashing KPL on the practice squad, as that’s just a non-starter.  Not only will he get snapped up by another team immediately, but putting him on there would actively reduce the talent level of this team’s special teams.  Morgan is in the fight of his life right now with those other bubble guys.  I’ve heard good things about his spring as well, so it’ll be interesting to see who shakes out.  Obviously, injuries would settle this thing real quick, but that’s neither here nor there.

Defensive Line

Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are veterans.  They’re as good as they’re going to be.  You could see incremental improvements (particularly with Avril, who is going into a contract season), but I wouldn’t expect huge steps forward.  Same goes for Mebane, McDaniel, and recently-acquired Kevin Williams.  You’d be safer in assuming that these three tackles are closer to getting worse than they are getting better.  You just hope they have another year in the tank.

The room for improvement is ALL dedicated to the very young and unproven.  Jordan Hill, Jesse Williams, Benson Mayowa - none of whom played all that much at all in their rookie years.  Greg Scruggs, who was okay in his rookie year, but was injured all of last year.  He has apparently been spending all of his free time bulking up and becoming more beastly, so I’ll be VERY interested to see how he looks, and if he’s ready for a tough rotation.  Then, we’ve got the rookies:  Jackson Jeffcoat, Cassius Marsh, and Jimmy Staten (among others, presumably).  Hard to expect much out of any of these three, unless we’re decimated by injuries and they’re thrust into more minutes.

Very volatile group, this defensive line.  We’ve got enough sure things (so long as they stay healthy) to be able to maintain at least a high percentage of our effectiveness of last year, and a good number of wild cards who will duke it out in Training Camp and the pre-season, to see if we can somehow BEST last year.

In any given year, THAT’S what I’m most looking forward to when it comes to this time of the football season.  Tomorrow, I’ll look at the offense.

Week 16 Random Mariners Thoughts (Post All Star Game Edition)

Three games were played in the past week (not counting the All Star Game, obvs).  While Felix did very well in his one inning of All Star Game work as the starter, while Rodney did okay in his 1/3 of an inning as an All Star Game set-up man, and while Kyle Seager and Robbie Cano did pretty much nothing in their All Star Game roles as backup DH and starting second baseman (respectively), I’m not here to rehash the fucking All Star Game, so let’s go ahead and move on.

We played the Angels this weekend.  In Anaheim.  (They’re the Anaheim Angels, I don’t care what anyone tells me).  The Angels came into this series as the leading Wild Card team.  The Mariners came into this series as the second Wild Card team.  The Angels are MUCH closer to the A’s than they are the Mariners, and that hasn’t changed in the subsequent three days.

Three days, three 1-run games.  ALMOST three extra innings games, but alas it wasn’t to be.

On Friday, Hisashi Iwakuma almost got the hard-luck loss, as Jered Weaver was rolling and Kuma gave up two runs in the bottom of the fifth.  Somehow, the Mariners scratched across two runs in the seventh, and that’s the way it was for a while.  Kuma was done after seven innings, and seven relievers followed him.  Until the bottom of the 16th inning, with two runners on, some dude scored some other dude with a double and that was that.

On Saturday, Felix started and got a no decision.  What else is new?  He continued his historic streak of going 7 or more innings and giving up 2 runs or less (in this case, 7 innings, 1 unearned run, with 9 strikeouts and 6 combined walks & hits), but of course the offense couldn’t do much.  This game went into the 12th before the Mariners manufactured two runs.  They gave one right back in the bottom half, but Charlie Furbush of all people locked down the save (as Fernando Rodney was used earlier in the evening).  On this day, the Mariners would use another six relievers.  Keep that in mind.

Because on Sunday, the Mariners blew a save for the first time in a while.  The bullpen has been lights out over the last couple months (and really, on the whole of the season), but they were just fucking gassed yesterday afternoon.  Tom Wilhelmsen was out, because he pitched 4 innings in that Friday game (and probably because they’re saving him for the start on Tuesday).  Danny Farquhar was out because he had arm stiffness or whatever after throwing for two straight days.  Dom Leone had pitched two days in a row and sort of struggled (he gave up the game-losing hit on Friday).  So, there weren’t really a lot of options you’d feel confident in.  Chris Young cobbled together 6 innings and after he had left, the Mariners had a 5-3 lead.  With his pitch count right at 99, and with the Angels’ lineup getting ready to see him for a fourth time, I have no problem whatsoever with LMC going to the bullpen.

Yoervis Medina gave up a run in the bottom of the seventh to pull it to a 1-run game, but he got all three outs, putting us six outs from victory.  Joe Beimel was put into an impossible situation and sort of failed miserably.  He got one out in the 8th, but put a man on.  With the Angels soon to be turning the lineup over to the likes of Trout, Pujols, and other big scary bats, Lloyd pretty much had two options:  see if Beimel could work his way out of a jam (and, for him, one runner on IS a jam), or see if Rodney could come in and get the 5-out save.

For the record, I don’t hate the move to bring in Rodney.  He got us into the 9th inning without incident (unless you count him shooting one of his imaginary arrows towards the Angels dugout – but supposedly at the Angels fans who booed him, if you believe Rodney’s post-game comments – after he got the last out of the 8th inning), but from there he pretty much fell apart.  Trout walked.  Pujols doubled him home to tie the game and blow the save.  Josh Hamilton singled.  Howie Kendrick (who has turned into QUITE the Mariner Killer) was intentionally walked to load the bases.  David Freese hit into a double play to give us some hope.  Efren Navarro was also intentionally walked (he hit the game-winner on Friday, and has looked very good in his short stint in the Majors) to re-load the bases.  And, finally, some guy named Grant Green hit the game-winner for the Angels.

We now have less than two weeks before the trade deadline.  If this series illustrates one thing, it’s that the Mariners are NOT far away from the best teams in baseball.  If you look at the two series that bookended the All Star Game, you’ll see that the Mariners beat the A’s 2 of 3 and lost to the Angels 2 of 3.  All the games were close, and if there’s one thing you can point to as the difference, it would be the Mariners’ lack of hitting.

Let’s face it, the Mariners have made their season so far on timely hitting with runners in scoring position.  There are a couple articles out there about how the Mariners are one of the more fortunate teams when it comes to clustering their hits.  It’s one thing to have 9 hits in a game, but if they’re sprinkled out one per inning, odds are you’re not going to score much (if any) runs in that game.  But, if all 9 hits come in the same inning, you’ve got yourself a good chance of winning.

That’s all well and good, and the Mariners are six games over .500 as a result, but what happens when that luck runs out?

Dustin Ackley had a pretty good series, but seriously, he’s the worst.  Stefen Romero is back up with the team for some reason, and he looks just as lost as ever (both at the plate AND in the field).  I would almost rather see Justin Smoak spend the rest of his Mariners career in Tacoma at this point.  We’re lucky if we can get a bloop single out of Corey Hart anymore; he’s BEYOND done.  Brad Miller is almost a lost cause.  And, I know that LoMo has been hitting the ball hard since his playing time increased, but he’s falling back to Earth and earning his reputation as the Marlins’ version of Justin Smoak (that is, before he was traded here).  Yeah, that’s all we need, TWO Justin Smoaks.

This team could use pretty much ANYONE at this point, including the highly disappointing Billy Butler from Kansas City.  You know what a “disappointing” season out of Billy Butler is?  .269/.320/.348.  Yeah, I’ll bite, that’s not so hot, especially for a DH who brings nothing defensively to the table.  You PROBABLY want more than 3 home runs at this point in the season.  But, I mean, have you seen these numbers out of Hart, Smoak, and LoMo – the three guys currently rotating between first base and DH right now?

  • Hart – .211/.287/.331
  • Smoak – .210/.279/.356
  • LoMo – .222/.280/.368

Right now, if you gave us Butler and nobody else, I guarantee this offense would be VASTLY improved.  That’s just one example, but I think you see what I’m getting at.

We’re NOT that far away from being really, really good!  Two hitters, that’s it!  Two run of the mill, league-average hitters.  Obviously, anything above league average would be a huge bonus, but right now I’m not asking for a whole lot.  Not greedy; Dude just wants his rug back!  The less we have to play Hart and Ackley and Smoak, the better.  For all of us.

And, of course, if we want to be World Series contenders, we’d need David Price, but I’ve already belabored that point ad nauseam.  Nevertheless, my plan is simple:  David Price, Ben Zobrist, and another solid right-handed bat a la Billy Butler or someone slightly better.  Get me those three guys and I’ll guarantee you a World Series appearance for the Seattle Mariners.  SPARE NO EXPENSE!

#10 – Kam Chancellor

To see the full list of the Top 10 Most Important Seahawks in 2014, click here.

Look, I’m just going to come out and say it:  Kam Chancellor is my favorite Seahawk playing today.  Full disclosure!  His performance in Super Bowl XLVIII is already legendary; we’ll be telling our grandkids about it decades from now (or, you know, telling random neighborhood kids about it, through a bullhorn, 100 yards away from the nearest playground you’re no longer allowed to frequent).

I don’t want to imagine a world where Kam Chancellor isn’t playing football for the Seahawks.  As it stands right now, though, it may be a reality.  Kam had “minor” hip surgery at some point after the Super Bowl.  We’ve been assured that he’s on the mend and is likely to be ready for the regular season.  If that’s the case, then no harm, no foul.  But, after watching Percy Harvin spend most of the season trying to get over HIS hip surgery last year, color me badd concerned.

Losing Chancellor would be a major blow.  It’s a major blow because of the drop-off in talent from his Pro Bowl-level play to whoever has to step up and replace him (injury-prone Jeron Johnson, or mostly-untested DeShawn Shead).  Chancellor is the enforcer.  He’s the member of our defense that inspires the most fear in opposing offenses (at least, those members who have to go out and run patterns and try to catch balls).  He’s also got enough speed to play over the top and let Earl Thomas come up and fill in underneath.  Kam Chancellor is a big reason why this defense – and especially this secondary – is as good as it is.  Offenses can’t just bank on Thomas playing deep safety all the time.  Chancellor keeps them honest and allows Thomas the freedom to do pretty much whatever he wants.

It’s really difficult to rank one player over another in this secondary, as everyone has a role and it’s when they all perform within their roles that this unit reaches peak efficiency.  Earl Thomas can’t do what he does without Kam Chancellor.  Richard Sherman can’t do what HE does without Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.  The safeties can’t do what they do if they don’t have two outside corners who are able to shut down their sides of the field.  Our secondary is an ecosystem, and when all are healthy and playing up to their abilities, it’s an ecosystem perfectly in balance and harmony.  As a result, you could rank these guys interchangeably and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong.

I’ll just leave it as is:  Kam Chancellor - along with Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman – is one of the ten most important Seahawks of 2014.  Who really cares if he’s #2 or #10?

As far as what to expect, the sky is really the limit for Chancellor.  He, along with Thomas and Sherman, has the ability to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.  Ditto being an All Pro.  It’s difficult when we already have Thomas and Sherman drawing most of the attention and hype, but you figure all Chancellor has to do is run into a handful of interceptions and go from there.  In the end, you figure all three of these guys are likely to cancel one another out, but we as Seahawks fans know the score.

The Seahawks had the best defense in the NFL in 2013.  They’re likely to have one of the best – if not THE best – again in 2014.  Kam Chancellor and the Legion of Boom will be a large reason for this ranking.  Keeping them all healthy will be of utmost importance.  I know that’s a difficult proposition, considering these guys are some hard hitting mofos.  But they’re also just all-around tough guys, so you know it would take something super serious to keep them off the field for long.

Just as soon as I get me some extra money, I’m buying my first new Seahawks jersey in years, and that jersey is GOING to be a Chancellor jersey.  You can count on that.

Looking Ahead To Our Pitching Matchups In The Playoffs

I’m getting this down on paper Internet now, because who knows when the 17-game losing streak will hit and derail our entire season?

There are people questioning the rationale of “going all in” on this season by trading for the likes of David Price and Ben Zobrist, as at best it would probably still mean we have to play that bullshit 1-game play-in game against the other Wild Card team (either the A’s or Angels, and right now, either one of those teams is a scary proposition).

There’s also the very real possibility that we might not have Felix available for that play-in game, as he might be needed to simply secure our spot in that game in the first place!

Here’s what we know right now:  coming out of the All Star Break, we have Iwakuma going tonight and Felix going tomorrow.  If the rotation holds, and Felix starts every fifth game, he will be scheduled to play on the very last day of the season, against Anaheim.

Now, obviously, if we’ve secured one of the Wild Card spots in advance of that final series, and there’s no hope for us winning the division, you’ll see the team push Felix back, out of that start, and into the play-in game.  That means we’ll also push Iwakuma back, so we can save him for Game 1 of the ALDS.  Or, we can keep Kuma on rotation, and probably see him start Game 2 of the ALDS.

To put it another way, the best case scenario is this:

  • Felix starts the play-in game
  • Iwakuma starts Game 1 of the ALDS
  • Felix either starts Game 3 on short rest, or Game 4 on regular rest
  • Kuma starts Game 5

So, if we DON’T need Felix in that final regular season game, and he’s able to win us that play-in game, we’ll still see him once in the ALDS and we’ll see Kuma twice.  That’s not too bad!

(of course, it would look a million times better with David Price lumped in there somewhere, but that’s neither here nor there)

The worst case scenario looks like this:

  • Kuma and Felix continue to pitch in their regular spots (so, Kuma on 9/27 and Felix on 9/28)
  • We need Chris Young to start and win us the play-in game
  • Kuma either starts Game 1 on short rest, or whoever our fourth starter is goes on Game 1
  • We get Kuma back for Game 2 and Felix back for game 3, but neither are likely to pitch again in the ALDS, outside of an emergency bullpen role

That’s got shitshow written all over it.

This just further illustrates my point that we NEED to get David Price, at pretty much any cost.  We can half-ass this thing, trade for an obvious upgrade in left field and maybe an upgrade at DH and probably have enough bullets to make it to the play-in game.  But, if our rotation is shot to shit, and we’re relying on Chris Young to get us through to the next round, we’re going to be in trouble.

Yes, the team needs hitting if it’s going to do ANYTHING this year.  But, if you want a semi-realistic shot at the World Series, this team needs another top-shelf starter.  I don’t want to have to count on Chris Young in the playoffs unless one of these 7-game series goes the distance and he’s needed to start the 4th game.

Does that mean we have to give up Taijuan Walker AND D.J. Peterson AND maybe some other lower-level prospects?  Is both Walker & Peterson too much?  Don’t ask me that right now; I’ve got playoff fever and I’m practically willing to give up everything including my left big toe to make this happen.  If giving the both of them up means we get 1.5 years of David Price and Ben Zobrist, I’m not gonna lie to you, I think I could talk myself into it.

But, if giving them both up means we get some middling crap back from some other loser team, I’ll probably flip out.  To get the best, sometimes you need to give up the best.  But, that doesn’t mean we should over-pay just to get some bullshit in return.

Taking An Early Look At Seahawks’ Strength Of Schedule

The narrative for this year is forever going to be:  It’s So Super Hard To Repeat As Super Bowl Champions, You Guys!

Nevermind the fact that most of these idiot pundits out there pick the same teams to win the Super Bowl every year, and a lot of them keep predicting the same two teams who played last to go back, because they don’t know any better than what they’ve seen most recently.  You’re either in two camps in this thing:  those who believe the Seahawks are at the beginning of their dynasty, and those who believe that dynasties don’t exist anymore, what with free agency and whatnot.  And, the overwhelming majority this year seem to be on the side that the Seahawks won’t repeat as champions.

They cite recent precedent:  there hasn’t been a repeat champion since since the 2004 Patriots.  So that’s, like, 9 Super Bowls in a row where we’ve had a different champion; ergo, this trend must continue forever.

They also cite the difficulty of the NFC West:  the Seahawks have to go through the next-best team in the NFL, and a couple of strong up-and-comers.  Every team in the NFC West has an elite defense.  Surely, the Seahawks won’t be able to make it through that gauntlet two years in a row!

Finally, they’ll have us take a look at strength of schedule:  8 of our 16 games are against teams who made the playoffs in 2013, with two more against Arizona who won 10 games and just missed out.

Look, it’s hard to argue with recent precedent.  Winning just ONE Super Bowl is a pretty daunting task!  You’ve got to make the playoffs, you’ve got to win 2-3 playoff games, and then you’ve got to beat the best (or the hottest) team from the other conference in the most hyped specacle of the year.  It’s HARD!  Why do you think it took the Seahawks so long to win their first one?  A lot of shit had to go right at the exact same time.  And even then, the Seahawks faced their share of adversity.

Which leads me to the second point, about the difficult NFC West.  Yes, it was the toughest division in football last year.   Yes, it’ll probably be the toughest division in football this year.  All four defenses have elite talent and all four offenses have what it takes to compete in just about every game.  Yes, the teams have improved, but I wouldn’t say that one team has dramatically improved over any other.  Each team scares me for different reasons, but no team has done enough to be better than the Seahawks.  I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but then again, it wasn’t easy last year either, and we still managed to go 13-3 and lock up the #1 seed.

So, ultimately, it’s going to come down to the schedule.  And yes, it looks scary on paper.  The AFC West might be the second-toughest division in football.  They sent three teams to the playoffs last year, but you have to figure that feat won’t be repeated again.  Injuries and regression appear to be in order.

So, let’s go through the list of games.

We kick off on Thursday, September 4th, in a nationally televised game at home against the Green Bay Packers.  I’m not saying they’re a bunch of push-overs, but come on.  The fans are going to be out of their MINDS for that game.  It always seems difficult to play elite teams – and the Packers figure to repeat as NFC North champions, so long as Rodgers can stay healthy – but catching them at home, in the first week, when our last game of significance was a Super Bowl championship?  I’d say that’s got walk-over written all over it.

Then, 10 days later, we go to San Diego.  I’ll admit, this game is a little troubling.  I could see the Chargers dinking and dunking it up and down the field on us; succeeding where the Broncos failed in the Super Bowl.  The Chargers don’t take too many chances down field like they used to, they’re a young and hungry team on the rise, and I fully expect this game to come down to a final possession.  Not the type of game you want to see early on your schedule.  Having the extra few days to prepare might make all the difference, but I could easily see us dropping this one.

The following week, we have the rematch with Denver on our home field.  Again, it’s a game you don’t like to see early on in your schedule.  If you’re like me, you get the nagging feeling that injuries are going to overwhelm the Broncos in 2014.  But, week 3 is probably too early in the season for those injuries to really break them down.  Either way, you like seeing your toughest opponents at home, so the Seahawks probably shouldn’t have much trouble in this one.

After the BYE week, we’ve got three of four on the road (@Was, vs. Dal, @St.L, @Car).  The defenses of the Redskins and Cowboys don’t scare me whatsoever.  Those feel like two games where we can really impose our will (and, since it’s still relatively early in the season when we’re playing in D.C., hopefully the field won’t be a sloppy shit-pile like it was the last time we played there).  Going to St. Louis is always a challenge, but I have no reason to believe that they’re better than us.  Here’s to hoping our offensive line can remain healthy and give Russell Wilson a chance back there.  Carolina will take a HUGE step back in 2014, because they’ve lost too many good players and because Cam Newton has zero weapons.  There’s a game you’d think you’re supposed to fear, but I’ll put good money down on the Panthers not making it back to the playoffs.

After that stretch, the Seahawks have 3 of 4 at home (vs. Oak, vs. NYG, @ KC, vs. Ari).  The Raiders are easily the worst team in the AFC West, they should be easily handled here in Seattle.  You’d think the Giants would be better in 2014 (as they can’t get much worse than they were in 2013), but that’s another game you like to see in Seattle.  They don’t have the weapons to hang with us three time zones away from home.  The Chiefs are probably one of the bigger regression candidates in the NFL.  They’ve lost some useful pieces, and had one of the easier schedules in 2013.  Nothing about them – outside of their starting running back – scares me, and Jamaal Charles has shown to be injury prone in the past.  Finally, we get Arizona back here for a rematch of last season’s shocking defeat – our only loss at home.  Like the Rams, I don’t see a reason why we should lose this game.  Because we’re better than them.  But, like the Rams, you can never really count them totally out either.

So far, through the first 12 weeks, I only see a couple games that scare me.  San Diego for sure, and Denver kinda (you gotta think that the Broncos have revenge on their minds; they’ve also got a radically improved defense thanks to free agent pickups in Ware & Talib).  The Rams and Cardinals scare me a little bit, but again, they’re just not better than us, so to defeat us would be a fluke.

Then, the meaty part of the schedule comes into play.  A Philadelphia Eagles sandwich with the 49ers as the bread.  We go to Frisco on Thanksgiving night, so that’s great.  Not gonna lie to you, that one has loss written all over it.  I hate playing them on Thursdays (of course, I hate Thursday games period, but that’s neither here nor there).  Maybe we’ll get lucky and the 49ers will run into a slew of injuries at all their key positions.  Somehow, I doubt that.  Then, we go all the way to Philly.  Again, we get 10 days off, so that’s nice.  This game actually looks pretty solid, as it’ll be strength against strength:  their explosive offense vs. our explosive defense.  In the end, this reminds me of the Super Bowl all over again, as our offense is leaps and bounds better than their defense.  You have to expect regression out of Foles, considering he was somewhat lucky in a lot of his big plays last year.  Also, they cut their best receiver in Desean Jackson; don’t think that won’t bite them in the ass.  We’ll see if they get enough out of Sproles to make it work, but he’s getting up there.  The following week, we play the 49ers again, this time in Seattle.  On a Sunday.  In the afternoon.  I’d gotten so used to playing them on national television, this is going to be a weird experience.  Of course, with the NFL clamping down on Seattle home games at night (because we keep embarrassing our opponents and making the games unwatchable blowouts), it’s to be expected.  I’d like to think the Seahawks could go 1-1 against the 49ers, but as always it’s a tall order.  Thankfully, Kaepernick gets the yips when he comes to Seattle, so it should work out.

Then, we close the season at Arizona and at home against St. Louis.  Two more semi-tough games that we should win.

All in all, there’s only two games outside of the division that really put the fear of God into me.  Every game inside the division puts SOME fear into me, but what are you gonna do?  Is it a tall order to repeat as champions?  Of course it is.  But, it’s far from impossible.

As always, it’ll come down to injuries.  We can’t suffer too many of them.  And, we’ve got to build up our depth to mitigate those that do hit us.  Keeping Russell Wilson alive will be our top priority.  After that, it’s just hoping that one position group doesn’t get hit inordinately harder than the others.  We’ve got the talent – more talent than most.  If we can keep that talent on the field, we should be able to defeat any team put on our schedule.

The Holes On The Mariners’ Roster

We talk all the time about how the Mariners have holes on their roster that need to be filled if we’re going to watch a playoff team come October.  So, what are these holes?

Obviously, with the Mariners sitting at seven games over .500, there are fewer holes than you’d think.  Let’s start on offense:

I don’t know why people would be down on someone like James Jones, but to me he looks like a keeper.  I don’t consider center field a hole whatsoever.  Obviously, we’ve got All Stars at second & third base, so no problem there.  And catcher seems to be on lockdown with Mike Zunino getting his feet wet and occasionally providing some pop.  Those are four spots you can be really happy with!  Rejoice!

Obviously, our corner outfield spots leave a lot to be desired.  A LOT.  I’m ready to ship Ackley off at the first sign of a reasonable, league-average replacement.  Endy Chavez isn’t much better, except he is a better fielder and he actually hits the ball for an okay average.  No, Endy Chavez doesn’t get nearly enough walks, but Ackley sort of does, and Chavez STILL has a better on-base percentage!  Ideally, of course, the Mariners would find two outfielders, but we don’t live in an ideal world, so don’t count on it happening.

Short stop is another hole, whether anyone wants to outwardly admit it or not.  Brad Miller might eventually be the real deal, and it might not necessarily be a hole you’re so desperate to fill at the moment, but I also wouldn’t dismiss the opportunity to add to the position if the right deal came along.  In spite of Miller’s improvements in the month of June, he’s still hovering around the Mendoza line, and that’s simply not good enough.  With his power, and his reasonable ability to walk on occasion, all Miller has to do is bat around .250 to no longer be a hole in this lineup!  But, asking him to raise his average another fifty points by season’s end might be asking him to do a bit too much.  Part of me hopes he gets a longer leash – like Zunino – considering he’s playing one of the more difficult defensive positions on the team; but the rest of me has seen this story play out all too many times before.  I don’t know if 2014 is “Make Or Break” for Brad Miller, but I do know this is the last year he’ll be guaranteed a starting spot on this team if he doesn’t get his shit together.

Finally, the big bugaboo is the 1B/DH spot.  If you believe that Logan Morrison is good-enough (which, over the last few weeks, he certainly HAS looked good-enough), then what you’re saying is:  we’ve filled one of these holes.  Truth be told, his numbers don’t even significantly dip when he’s going up against left-handed pitching, so that’s encouraging.  I still like him more as a DH than as a first baseman, but I’ll take what I can get.  If we can find some big, dumb ol’ clodhopper of a DH who is better than Corey Hart and Justin Smoak (and, really, how hard can THAT be?), then fine, leave LoMo in there at first base.

So, by all accounts, that’s four holes.  Left field, right field, short stop, DH.  I don’t anticipate a deal that forces out Miller or Chavez, so that just leaves left field and DH as the primary goals.  If we somehow luck into a right-handed power hitter, I have to imagine Justin Smoak is getting the demotion (as he still has options), with Corey Hart hanging around as a bench player/last resort.  And, if/when Michael Saunders comes back, that’ll push Endy Chavez out of the everyday lineup (hopefully), with whoever we bring in taking over for Ackley (who needs to be traded/demoted, like, yesterday).

That’s the hitting.  Let’s move on to the pitching.

Felix, Iwakuma, and Chris Young are here to stay.  Roenis Elias is almost certainly here until he’s hit the 170-180 innings pitched mark.  Yes, he’s on a bit of a downturn at the moment, but that has to be expected with a rookie starting pitcher.  I would expect him to vacillate between being good and bad through the rest of his season.  Just having him stick in the Major League rotation for a full 180 innings without injury or being sent down would be a victory in itself.  I’m not quite ready to declare the existence of TWO holes in the rotation, but if Elias keeps sliding on this bad streak he’s been on, it may come to be.

Certainly, there is one hole in the rotation:  that of the fifth starter.  Erasmo Ramirez has proven he’s not the guy.  Brandon Maurer has proven he’s only effective as a bullpen arm (not to diminish that or anything; he looks like he could be an amazing closer one day).  Taijuan Walker is finally healthy, but he looks as inconsistent as anyone we’ve put in that spot.  The thing with Walker is:  he has the natural gifts to be able to get himself out of trouble with more regularity than anyone else we have on our 40-man.  I’ve said multiple times that I’m willing to trade Walker if the right guy comes along; but, just know that if we do trade him and don’t pick up a pitcher to fill this fifth starter spot, it could get pretty ugly.

Picking up two starters – like the A’s did recently – would be ideal, but again, when is the world ever ideal?  They also have one of the best lineups in the game, so they can afford to pile on the pitching.  If we trade for two starters and leave our hitting the way it is, that doesn’t really do much for us, now does it?

I’m still firmly in the camp that Chris Young will be more of a liability than an asset in the second half of the season.  I would argue that we should probably sell high on him if we can, and find a way to add THREE pitchers to our arsenal, but that’s crazy talk, so I’ll just move on.

I wouldn’t consider us as having any holes in the bullpen.  Or, at least, holes you want to place any sort of priority on filling.  I’m sure it’s possible to improve on Furbush, but is that REALLY where you want to dedicate your time and resources, when there are far more pressing concerns on this team?

Corner outfield, DH, starting pitcher, and maybe short stop and/or first base.  Those are the holes.  In order of importance.  I wouldn’t anticipate the team will be able to fill ALL of these holes, but filling two or three might make all the difference.

Is This A Joke?

I wasn’t going to write about this when I first heard about it last night, because it’s pointless and stupid.  It’s a list, of the 32 NFL head coaches, ranked in order of best to worst.  I guess.  Anyway, it’s dumb.  Everyone makes lists all the time and they’re all retarded, except this guy KINDA takes the cake.

Remember the name Elliot Harrison, because this guy’s going places.  I mean, if he can generate this type of chatter in the middle of July, he must be pushing just the right buttons.

I’ll get to what’s really grinding my gears in a bit, but first, I’ll just say that for the most part, I don’t have a problem with this guy’s rankings.  The guys at the bottom are there for a reason – they lack NFL head coaching experience.  I might have ranked Gus Bradley a little higher, partly because I’m biased and partly because I like to look at someone’s potential when I do these types of things.  I think Gus Bradley has a chance to be great.  And, I think the Jags will be one of the most improved teams this year.  So, to get in on the ground floor, I probably would have put Gus around 20 or 19 or something.

I would have put Jason Garrett dead last.  He is, BY FAR, the worst head coach of them all.  I know he doesn’t get many favors from his GM (except further employment for some ungodly reason), but he has bungled more than his fair share of games and probably should’ve been fired a season or two ago.

I also think Joe Philbin is a ninny and should be placed closer to the bottom than he already is.

I’m a little higher on Ron Rivera and probably would’ve put him in the mid-teens.  I think Rex Ryan’s coasting on his AFC Championship games he had way back when and isn’t nearly as good as his ranking.  Mike Smith is probably a little too high, as is John Fox, but really, these are all minor quibbles.

Pete Carroll is ranked 7th.  In a vacuum, that doesn’t sound so bad.  If I looked at him, then shut my eyes, and tried to think of a good ranking for him, I feel like the number 7 would pop right into my mind.  But, that’s without any consideration for the other coaches listed above him.

Mike McCarthy is ranked 6th.  Say what?

Tom Coughlin is ranked 5th.  Ehh, that feels right.  Guy has been around a long time, has a couple championships to his name.  Yeah, he’s missed the playoffs a few times, but the guy has made a champion of Eli Manning twice over!

John Harbaugh is ranked 4th.  Again, I’d probably rank him ahead of Pete Carroll as well.  He’s had a lot of sustained success since he got the head coaching job with the Ravens.  They share the same number of championships; I’m okay with that.

Here’s where it gets me – and I’m sure it was intentional.  Jim Harbaugh is ranked 3rd.  You see, this is the genius of Elliot Harrison.  Ideally, if he wants to piss off any fanbase, it’s probably that of the Patriots.  They’re the loudest and most easily-peeved by any slight against them.  But, to do so would have meant ranking Harbaugh over Bill Belichick, and that’s just insanity.  Belichick might go down as one of the greatest head coaches of all time.  To rank anyone ahead of him would immediately render his list as invalid.

So, instead, Elliot Harrison decided to troll TWO fanbases – Seattle & Baltimore – by not only ranking our most hated rival FOUR SPOTS ahead of Pete Carroll, but also ranking the wrong Harbaugh brother ahead of the other.

Let me see if I get this straight:  the two Harbaugh boys coached against one another in the Super Bowl before last, and the LOSER of said Super Bowl ends up getting ranked ahead of the victor?  Just because he’s 3 for 3 in NFC Championship appearances, that gets him the nod?  Even though John Harbaugh had made the playoffs in five consecutive seasons, making three AFC Championship Games and the aforementioned Super Bowl victory over his brother … he gets docked a point for missing the playoffs one time?  Are you KIDDING ME?

I think I’m more upset about this whole John/Jim fiasco than I am with Harbaugh being ranked so far ahead of Pete Carroll.

You want my opinion?  Here’s my top ten (I’m not going all the way to 32, because what’s the point?):

  1. Bill Belichick
  2. Sean Payton
  3. John Harbaugh
  4. Tom Coughlin
  5. Pete Carroll
  6. Jim Harbaugh
  7. Andy Reid
  8. Jeff Fisher
  9. Lovie Smith
  10. Mike Tomlin

Now there’s a ranking that’s somewhat respectable.  But, it’s not a ranking that’s necessarily going to draw a bunch of fire from pissed off fanbases.  It’s just a ranking that makes SENSE.  Jim Harbaugh inherited a team that already had a ton of talent on it.  Pete Carroll, and some of these other coaches ahead of Harbaugh, took over teams that were pretty bad.  They’ve BUILT something.  They’re not living off of the success of previous regimes.  You know what’s going to happen when the talent on the 49ers gets too old?  You’re going to see Jim Harbaugh start missing the playoffs more and more.

However, the Seahawks – a team not afraid to play younger guys at key positions – should be able to regenerate on a yearly basis, thanks to Pete Carroll’s coaching style and philosophy.

I’ll say this:  this Elliot Harrison guy’s rankings will look a lot different next year, after the Seahawks are coming off their second of two championship seasons.

How Many All Star Appearances Does Robinson Cano Need To Make His Mariners Contract A Success?

That title is a little unwieldy, but go with me on this.

The objective behind that question isn’t to overly glorify the All Star Game.  As adults, I think most of us give that honor some degree of importance below what we gave as kids.  Yeah, making the All Star Game is nice for the player, but it’s sort of a meaningless honor where players who don’t necessarily deserve it get rubber-stamped into the game beyond their primes (see:  Derek Jeter).

Robbie Cano is an All Star for the sixth time in his career; obviously the first time as a Mariner.  He earned the honor in his second season in the bigs, then missed out for three years, and has been going back ever since.  You could say Cano is in the Rubber Stamp phase of his career, except clearly he is still deserving of the honor.

The thing about All Star Games is, you often don’t get recognized until you’ve put up a second season of greatness.  That’s obviously not true across the board, as you see rookies make it all the time, but it’s more of a general rule of thumb.  You also tend to get recognized at least a year after you should stop going.  Take Ichiro, for instance.  He was an All Star from his rookie year through 2010.  Are you telling me he was one of the three best outfielders in all of the American League in 2010?  I highly doubt it.

Getting back to Cano, you have to figure he’s got a number of All Star-worthy years left in him, followed by probably another Rubber Stamp year that we won’t really count because it’s not important.  What’s important is:  how many elite years will the Mariners get with Cano?

I ask that, because I don’t see a dramatic falling off a cliff in him.  I figure there will be ‘X’ number of All Star-worthy years, then there will be a more gradual decline.  Maybe a couple of just-okay seasons, followed by ‘X’ number of pretty bad years where you’re not getting NEARLY the return on investment as you’d like.  That’s just the way it’s going to be, unless Cano is superhuman (which, for the record, I won’t rule out).

So, I ask again:  how many All Star appearances does Cano need to make his contract a success?

2014 is the first year of 10.  He’s 31 right now.  He will be 40 in 2023.  He’s making $24 million in each year of his deal.  There is no opt-out that I’m aware of.

I like the Ichiro example when it comes to Cano, because I feel like we can see some parallels there.  Ichiro was 27 when he hit the Major Leagues.  That was his rookie season and arguably it was the best season of his career.  I don’t know what he was like in Japan, but let’s just say his year-27 season was the first season of his “Prime”.  I would argue that Ichiro’s prime extended through the 2010 season, when he was 36 years old.  2010 wasn’t on par with 2001 or anything – this was definitely the tail end of his prime – but it was still a very good year with 200 hits and all that.  In 2011 and 2012, while still playing a full slate of games in each year, Ichiro’s hit totals declined to 184 and 178 respectively.  Again, not a dramatic drop-off, but you can see that he’s a shell of his former “Prime” self.

I know Cano’s game and Ichiro’s game are dramatically different – Ichiro’s game was based on speed and infield hits, batting leadoff, and playing a very good defensive right field; Cano’s game involves more power, more RBI production, more walks, and the more-important defensive position of second base – but just go with me on this too.  Cano’s year-36 season will be in 2019.  If he can hang onto his “Primeness” through 2019, that will be 6 of the 10 years.  And, if he declines gradually, as Ichiro did, then years 7 and 8 shouldn’t be too bad either.  It’ll be in the two final years where we probably won’t want to play Cano every day (but might be obligated to, considering the heft of his contract).

So, how does that sound?  Does 6 years of All Star-calibre play, followed by 2 years of just-okay play sound like something you could live with under Cano’s $240 million deal?  Because, I could TOTALLY live with it.  And, obviously, anything beyond that (if, indeed, he is super human).

But, what happens if it’s only 4 or 5 All Star years before he starts his decline?  At what point is the contract a failure?

I know this post probably could’ve been written when we first signed Cano (and, indeed, I’m sure some variation or another is out there in Mariner Blog Land), but I didn’t feel like writing it then.  When someone signs a huge contract with a new team (especially one that plays half its games in Safeco Field), it’s not out of the question to wonder if you’ll get ANY All Star-calibre seasons out of a player.  How have the Angels done with Pujols?  How about the Tigers/Rangers with Fielder?  At least with Cano, we KNOW we’ve got at least one All Star year!  And, you’d think, as long as he stays healthy, we’ll have at least a few more.

I’m not gonna lie to you, I think I need these first six years to be great.  I’d settle for five years of great (as long as the subsequent three years were in the just-okay range, as opposed to two), but I wouldn’t be thrilled.  Four or less?  That’s got disaster written all over it.  Six years or more of Cano struggling might seriously wipe me out.

Of course, the good thing about all of this is that we don’t have to worry about it now.  Because Cano IS good.  He’s great, even!  And, if he helps me win my futures bet against Adrian Beltre at season’s end, he can go on to have nine years of ineptitude for all I care!

Week 15 Random Mariners Thoughts (Pre All Star Game Edition)

Well, shit, you can’t sweep ‘em all.

Another losing homestand.  In seven games, the Mariners went 3-4, bringing us to 24-26 at home on the season.  Which is another way of saying we’re 27-18 on the road.  And, of course, when you put it all together, the Mariners are 51-44 at the All Star Break.  Third place in the division, 8 games behind Oakland, and 2.5 games UP on Kansas City & Toronto for the second Wild Card.  I don’t care who you are, if you’re a Mariners fan and someone guaranteed that to you coming into the season, you’d take it in a heartbeat.

Doesn’t mean the Mariners are a finished product.  Doesn’t mean we can simply ride this out and coast into the playoffs.  Right now, the two best and hottest teams in baseball are right in our own division:  Oakland and Anaheim.  You figure Detroit is a pretty safe bet to win the Central.  And, at the moment, Baltimore has gone on a tear to take a 4-game lead in the East.  I’m not so sure they’re going to run away with the thing, but the East is pretty much wide open, so it’s not impossible.

That still leaves a lot of pretty good teams out there to worry about when it comes to getting that second Wild Card spot.  As I said earlier:  Kansas City & Toronto are right on our tail.  Either one of them has the capability to get hot, and I would imagine either one of them is just as likely to make a deadline deal to improve.  I’m not so wild and crazy about the Yankees, but you can see they won’t stop trying to get better.  Cleveland is hanging around.  Tampa or the White Sox – if they don’t decide to sell their stars – could just as easily go on a tear and get back into this race.  Doesn’t seem likely, but the point is:  there’s a lot of baseball left and anything can happen.

Since day 1, I’ve been of the opinion that the Mariners HAVE to hit that 90-win mark to be in a solid position to make the playoffs.  That’s why contention with this team seemed so remote at the beginning of the season.  Yet, here we are at the All Star Break, and the Mariners have a .537 winning percentage, good for fifth in the American League.  Our run differential is good for third!  To get to 90 wins, the Mariners will have to go 39-28, which is a .582 winning percentage.  It’s certainly not impossible – and it will certainly be made easier if we can find another outfielder or 1B/DH in a trade – but the easy part of our schedule is over.

Back in early June – after a 2-game sweep of a very good Braves team – I talked about the schedule leading us into the All Star Break.  From that date onward, the Mariners went 20-16, which is less than ideal, but still pretty good for this team.  The fact of the matter is, we have continued to prove in the last five weeks that in spite of our flaws, we ARE in contention.  That’s outstanding!  We ARE buyers at the trade deadline!  This is all really good news!

Coming out of the break, it’s a little nasty.  We play games against the following teams who are also in playoff contention:  Anaheim, Baltimore, Cleveland, Baltimore again, Atlanta, Toronto, Detroit, Washington, and then the month of September, which is a total orgy of difficulty, as we play nothing but the A.L. West and the Toronto Blue Jays on the road for 4 games.  As for the “bad” teams we play in the next six and a half weeks, we’ve got the Mets, the White Sox and their crazy-good starting rotation, the Phillies, the Red Sox, and the Rangers.  I know those last two teams are bad, but you never count out the Red Sox in Boston, and the Rangers are still a division rival and will want to play spoiler like nobody’s business.

It’s a little scary out there, that’s all I’m saying.

In other news, I already wrote about that craptastic Twins series where we went 1-3, so I won’t revisit.  We ALMOST made up for it by really taking it to the A’s this weekend.  King Felix was superb and Iwakuma was nearly better!  Chris Young couldn’t quite bring it home yesterday afternoon, but that’s neither here nor there, because unsurprisingly, the offense was the story of the game.

In the fourth inning, Cano and Seager both singled to put runners on the corners with no outs.  We held a tenuous 1-0 lead and needed to play add-on in a big way.  We proceeded to leave that runner stranded and Sonny Gray went on to pitch into the 8th inning.  If we score there – even one run – I feel that it changes the complexion of the game somewhat.  Chris Young had rolled up until that point.  Maybe their batters get more desperate and start over-swinging or something.  I dunno.  All I know is:  the game was decided in that inning, with Dustin Ackley fouling off two fastballs right down the middle with two outs and a chance to do some damage, before he rolled over and died.

A sweep of the A’s would’ve absolved the Mariners of their sins in that Twins series.  Instead, we got a much-needed series win at home and now we get a few days off to rest.

We should hear about Felix starting the All Star Game later today.  Cano will be there, starting at second base.  Seager seems likely to get some playing time at third.  And, for good measure, we found out over the weekend that Fernando Rodney is another injury replacement.  I don’t expect him to pitch at all unless this thing goes to extra innings, but it’s still a nice honor.

Justin Smoak was called back up as Michael Saunders went back on the DL.  With an oblique strain.  Sounds like he’s going to miss a lot more than just the 15-day minimum.  Might be upwards of 4-8 weeks, which would put him out for pretty much the rest of the season.  We’ll see; maybe he’s a quick healer.

We know who 4/5 of our rotation is coming out of the break, but apparently Taijuan Walker is on the hot seat a little bit.  I don’t know what the plan is outside of him; Erasmo for a third time?  I can’t help but wonder if Tom Wilhelmsen will get stretched out.  We’ve got this massive bullpen now, Brandon Maurer is really making a name for himself as someone we should keep in that role.  SOMEONE has to go; why not convert Wilhelmsen into a starter?

I don’t like that role for him long term, but it’s something interesting to look at.  The 5th starter position for the Mariners this year has been a fucking dumpster fire.  Until Taijuan Walker can get a little more consistent with his pitches, I have no problem working out Wilhelmsen to see if this run he’s been on in the bullpen can translate to the rotation.

That’s all for now.  Next game on Friday down in Anaheim.

The Mariners Really Fucked Up That Twins Series

Look, I’m not saying that the Mariners are 0 for their last 3 because they cut John Buck on Monday.  I’m just saying that they’ve made a lot of seemingly unnecessary moves this week.

Ostensibly, you cut Buck in favor of Jesus Sucre because you value Sucre’s defense at the catcher position.  And because you need to spell Mike Zunino more often to keep him fresh for the stretch run.  And yet, here we are, running Zunino out there every day anyway!  My guess, which will certainly come true, is that Sucre won’t get the start until the day game on Sunday, which takes us right back to Zunino getting only one day off a week anyway!

It’s all so aggravating.  It’s not Buck’s fault, or the lack of Buck’s fault.  This offense is completely inept about half of its games, and somewhat reasonable in about half of its games.  Right now, we’re in one of those inept periods.  Since we scored 28 runs in the three games against Houston last week, the Mariners have scored 9 runs in 7 games against the White Sox and Twins – two SHITTY FUCKING TEAMS.  With the White Sox, you can kind of understand it, because they were running out some quality starters.  But, the Twins?  There is NO fucking excuse for the kind of poor play we’ve seen.

Of course, unlike most of the times our offense is inept, we’re actually getting hits.  In the 2-0 shutout, we had 8 hits and left 6 on base.  In the 8-1 drubbing, we managed 12 hits … and left 12 on base.  Finally, in last night’s 4-2 fiasco, we had another 12 hits and 10 left on base.  Opportunities were there!  And, for the record, Corey Hart can eat my whole asshole.

Can’t just blame Corey Hart, but it’s fun to try.  Since his return from the DL, he’s played in 7 games and has 5 hits.  All singles.  What does it tell you that I’d rather have Justin Smoak as our DH?  What does it tell you that I’d rather have fucking Jesus Montero?  Shit man, right now I’d settle for Endy Chavez again!  At least when he hits the ball into a gap, he has a chance to motor in for two bases!

Corey Hart is a waste of fucking space who doesn’t deserve multiple weeks to get his shit together.  He’s hitting the ball like my grandmother, he runs like the fucking Tin Man from the fucking Wizard of Oz, and he’s getting too many opportunities with runners on base because LMC is batting him in or around the cleanup spot.

You want to DFA someone?  DFA Hart, not Buck.  Bring Smoak back, tell Hart to go fuck himself, and put LoMo at DH where he fucking belongs.  The Corey Hart Experiment was a disaster, we all know it, might as well stop giving him plate appearances so we just have to pay him more for sucking all the dicks.

In other Suck A Dick news, we had our Bullpen Day yesterday.  I’m sorry, did the Mariners defect and join the Pacific Coast League and nobody told me?  What kind of low-rent, Minor League bullshit are you selling us?  Frankly, I think everyone in attendance should get their money back.  Yes, I agreed with the move to push Felix back to the Oakland series, but I didn’t think we’d call up all of Tacoma’s relievers this week just to see if we could literally put ANYONE out there on the mound and try to win a game.  Why wouldn’t you bring up Erasmo for a spot start?  You knew you were pushing Felix back with enough advanced warning to adjust Erasmo’s pitch count!  It’s not hard to get five fucking innings out of the kid!

The Mariners – in an effort to get cute and gear up for this all-important weekend series against Oakland – were totally out-classed by the Twins this week.  You want to motivate a team?  Push your #1 starter to the next series, because you think pitching him in this series would be “wasting him”.  You don’t think the Twins wanted to ram this week down our throats?  Then, instead of bringing up another starter, we’ll go ahead and use six relievers instead.  Fuck it, right?  The Twins aren’t any kind of competition!

Yeah, so the Twins had that bulletin board material this week.  What did the Mariners have?  The Buck DFA, which was unanimously panned by the rest of the team, except for a few pitchers, I guess, who didn’t like the way he received the ball.  One could argue that was another motivating tactic, to show these players that nobody is safe.  Except, at that point, you’ve just got everyone playing scared.  Playing to NOT lose their jobs, instead of going out there and trying to improve.  Fear breeds mistakes, which you’ve seen all over the place this week.

In short, this week was the perfect storm of motivation backfiring on the Mariners.  And now we’re here.  The table is set.  We went and dropped dinner on the kitchen floor multiple times, but now the table is set and our guests have arrived.  The Oakland A’s are in town.  They’re ahead of us by 9 games, because they HAVEN’T spent the week shitting the bed.  That’s neither here nor there, of course, because Anaheim has also been on a tear and currently sits a whopping 5.5 games ahead of us.  We’ve still got that second Wild Card spot by 1.5 games, but what’s the point?

This thing won’t come to fruition if we don’t make some serious moves.  Standing pat, hoarding all of our prospects:  that’s not the way we’re going to make the playoffs.  One of these teams below us in the Wild Card hunt is going to get super hot at some point.  If we’re not prepared to improve our ballclub, we’re going to be left in their dust.  Yeah, a few of our prospects might turn into another Kyle Seager.  But, most of them will be Dustin Ackley and Brad Miller.  Sometimes, you just have to take a chance and hope for the best.

And, at this point, I’m not just talking about improving our hitting.  Yes, we do need upgrades.  We need an average everyday left fielder to replace Ackley and an average everyday 1B/DH so we can drop Hart.  We ALSO need another starter.  At this point, how can you trust Roenis Elias, when it looks like the league has adjusted to what he has to offer and he’s struggling to adjust to their adjustments?  When you factor in Taijuan Walker also being a rookie, and Chris Young being moments away from turning into a pumpkin, this rotation could really use a jumpstart.  At that point, we have to hope our bullpen can remain reasonably effective, and hope it doesn’t take too many of them to bring in the other pieces we need to improve.

I dunno, maybe it’s a lost cause.  Maybe there are too many holes to make this dam operational.  Maybe, no matter what we do, we’re doomed to be mediocre and miss out on the playoffs.

This All Star Break can get REALLY depressing in a hurry.  You hate to put a whole season on one series, but it is imperative that the Mariners not only look good against the A’s this weekend, but WIN this fucking series.  And, ideally, sweep it.

I mean, this is it!  If things stay the way they are and the Mariners make the playoffs, these are the three guys you’re going to see pitching:  Felix, Iwakuma, Young.  We’re putting all of our cards on the table right now, against the best team in baseball.  If we go out there in these next three games and duff the ball around, and stink at the plate with runners in scoring position, and lose a bunch of games 3-2 and 2-1 and 1-0, reality is going to hit this organization like a ton of bricks.

There are many turning points in any Major League season.  The Mariners had one on April 23rd when they ended an 8-game losing streak and proceeded to have one of the best records in baseball over the next 2+ months.  This series against Oakland could be another turning point, for the worse.  Losing this series would mean the Mariners have gone 3-7 in the ten games leading up to the break.  Getting swept would mean the Mariners have gone 2-8.  It’s not the worst stretch of baseball you’ve ever seen; those types of stretches happen to most teams at one point or another.  But, this will have the added symbolism of coming at the end of the honorary “first half”.  With two more weeks of baseball before the trade deadline, followed by another two months of going through the motions.

And, here I was, getting all excited for being in contention.  The next four weeks will sure be interesting.  After that, if the Mariners happen to fall apart, at least we’ve got pre-season football on August 7th.