Mariners Tidbit 21: Mariners Get Swept By Dodgers, Return Home For Opportunity For Lots More Losing

It’s been a shitty week to be a Mariners fan or a part of the Mariners organization itself.  The team blew back-to-back 1-run games, then followed it up with a series-closing turd where Robinson Cano got picked off between third and home while believing the bases were loaded and the walk that just transpired would have forced in a run.  If you sat through those games, you’re probably pretty upset.

But, if you’re Steven A. Taylor, you’re probably pretty detached from the whole thing.  I thankfully gave up on Monday night’s game before it went into extras, because it was taking FOREVER and I needed to get some shut-eye.  I could barely tolerate more than a few minutes at a time of Tuesday’s Iwakuma start as he reverted to his old ways of slowing down the game to the point of unwatchability.  And, I was at a comedy show at The Crocodile on Wednesday and missed the whole fucking fiasco.  With yesterday’s off-day (spent at the Faith No More concert at The Paramount), it’s almost like the Dodgers series never happened!

Who’s that team hitting all those home runs but essentially doing nothing else at the plate but striking out?  Who are those grown men playing like 5 year old Tee-Ball players, running around with the discipline of a toddler after consuming one of those giant Pixy Stix?  I DON’T KNOW, BECAUSE I HAVEN’T BEEN PAYING ATTENTION!  *Plugs ears with fingers, shuts eyes* LA LA LA, I’M NOT LISTENING, I DON’T FOLLOW THE MARINERS, WHAT’S A BASEBALL …

But, all good things must come to an end.  After a Dave Attell show at the Parlor Live tomorrow night, my social plans are pretty dried up.  With nothing else better to do, I imagine I’ll be right back in front of the TV to watch these sorry fucks try to turn things around.

I love how everyone’s looking at the schedule right now, as a point of optimism.  The Mariners have played three really tough teams!  Sure, they only went 3-6 in those games, but now ostensibly the schedule gets easier!  Except, here’s the flaw in that logic:  don’t you WANT the Mariners to be playing on the level of the best teams?  And, not only that, but don’t you want the Mariners to play BETTER than those teams?  What sort of comfort are you going to derive from the Mariners beating up on all the schlubs of the Major Leagues – if they do happen to somehow make the playoffs – when all that’s left are the very best teams?

And, besides that, why are we dismissing the Rangers, Astros, and Twins like these are going to be pieces of cake?  For starters, we don’t know a God damn thing about how good these teams will end up being.  Secondly, since the Astros joined the American League, they were one of the very worst teams in all of baseball.  And yet, they have given us FITS every time we’ve played them!  I’ll believe it when I see it, but I just don’t see these teams rolling over when they play us.

Finally, there’s a 9-game, 10-day homestand laying out there before us, starting tonight.  That’s all well and good, except the Mariners in recent years have been TERRIBLE at home – indeed, much worse than they’ve been on the road.  Maybe that’s a fluke or maybe it’s because Safeco is in their heads like it’s in everybody’s heads, except now our starting pitching sucks dick and can’t throw the ball down in the zone.

Enjoy your beard hats and bobbleheads while you can, fans.  Enjoy your spike in attendance while you can, Mariners front office.  Because this thing is in the midst of going tits up and you’ll have a legion of Mariners fans jumping off of this sinking ship when April is over and we’re 10 games under .500.

Now would be the time to get your shit together, Mariners.  It’s still “early”, but it won’t be “early” for very much longer.  Why is it I feel like I make this same exact point every fucking season?

Mariners Tidbit 20: The Pitching Is The Problem

It hasn’t been easy in the early going, that’s for damn sure.  I don’t know if people were expecting the Mariners to be dominant right out of the gate, but there is a sense of this team being just like all the others we’ve had to endure the last few years.  Now, I’ll give you the fact that the two shutouts in the first seven games doesn’t look great.  But, teams are getting shut out all over the place in the early going!  Every team is going to have its share of games where the offense just doesn’t get off the ground.

But, I would argue that the bigger problem right now is the pitching.  Specifically, the starting pitching.

Felix had his great start on Opening Day, but when does he NOT have a great start on Opening Day?  Paxton followed that up with a solid effort in his first game.  Then, we had Iwakuma giving up 5 runs in the first two innings of his first start.  It was mighty wide of him to pull 6 innings out of his ass that day, but the damage was done early.  Speaking of damage done early, Walker also gave up 5 runs in the first two innings last Friday.  Of course, he went on to give up 9 runs and didn’t manage to get out of the 4th inning.  That was followed by a decent start out of Happ (with the bullpen giving up the lead), a pretty crappy start by an injured Felix (with the bullpen again giving up the lead), and finally the mess we had yesterday with the offense giving us a 4-run lead, only for Paxton to immediately give it all away the second time through the lineup.

Last year, the offense was pretty mediocre, but you could see it start to turn a corner.  Nevertheless, it was heavily propped up by a top-notch pitching staff that was great for most of the year.  This year, the team has worked to improve the offense, and I think we’re starting to see some turnaround.  Seth Smith and Dustin Ackley have started out on fire.  Nelson Cruz has done EXACTLY what we’d hoped he would at the plate (4 homers in 7 games).  Seager and Miller have started off a little sluggish, but their power numbers look good in the early going.  The infield defense has been superb for the most part.  And, well, you take what you can get out of the outfield defense (and I refuse to hold these National League games against LMC when he’s choosing his lineups; what, are you NOT going to play your high-priced power hitter because the N.L. foolishly sticks with their stance against the DH?).

The 2015 Mariners aren’t going to match the 2001 squad when it comes to offense, but it should be more than good enough.  Good enough, that is, unless the pitching falls apart.  Obviously, Felix will be fine, but I have real concerns about the rest of this group.

I think it’s totally reasonable to wonder if Iwakuma is done.  Or, at least, on the road to being done.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a pitcher as good as he was totally hit the wall like this.  In his final 7 starts of 2014, he was an absolute trainwreck.  And, to be perfectly honest, if you wanted to blame a single guy for why the Mariners didn’t make the playoffs last year, it wouldn’t be totally inappropriate to look Iwakuma’s way.  28 runs – all of them earned – over 32 innings.  Somehow, the Mariners still managed to go 4-3 in those games, but there isn’t a single game in that run where you can look at his numbers and be impressed.  He’s since followed up that stretch with a dog of a first game this year, and here we go.  In his last 8 games (including this year), he’s given up 7 homers.  Before that – dating back to the beginning of the 2014 season, he gave up only 14 homers in 21 games.  He’s leaving the ball up in the zone too much, which is a problem because he’s about as easy as it gets to hit when he’s up in the zone.  If the Mariners fail to make the playoffs this year, he’s going to be the first guy I look at.

Happ is Happ.  It’s pretty easy to expect the worst.  But, he’s a fifth starter, and ideally you just want to be somewhere around .500 in those games.

Which leaves Paxton and Walker, the two wild cards.  Paxton has shown a lot of promise when he’s been healthy, but he’s still young and prone to go through growing pains.  Walker is even less of a certainty.  He’s got the stuff, and he’s got the moxie, but if the radar gun in Oakland is accurate, then he’s got a pretty lifeless low-90s fastball, with offspeed stuff that isn’t nearly good enough to compensate.  Felix can throw in the low-90s, because Felix is amazing and his changeup is the best pitch in all of baseball.  Walker doesn’t have the best anything in all of anything, so he needs to still be overpowering while he’s young enough to have such an overpowering arm.  He has time to develop his offspeed stuff into plus weapons, but he won’t have an opportunity to develop them in the Major Leagues if his limp-wrist fastball is getting crushed left and right.

The offense is what it is.  Stop worrying about the offense.  Start worrying about how this team is royally fucked if it can’t get its pitching squared away

Mariners Tidbit 19: Huge Early Turnaround

That was some kind of memorable series down in Oakland, as far as first-week series go.  Kick it off with the drubbing to end all drubbings – and yet another example of the Mariners being totally inept against left-handed starting pitchers – to drop our record to 1-3.  If you weren’t freaking out after Friday, then you’re better than I am.

On Saturday, we got a surprising quality start out of J.A. Happ.  Yet, going into the 8th, we were down 2-1 and staring into the hopeless pitch-black maw of our crushing reality.  Then, with two outs and two runners on, Nelson Cruz did what we all expected him to do:  jack a 3-run bomb to change the course of the game.  And to think, it almost didn’t happen, but for an error by the short stop to keep the inning going.

Of course, that lead would be promptly given up in the bottom of the inning, making it 4-4.  Some nifty bullpen work and defense (including the winning run getting thrown out at the plate in the bottom of the 10th) got us to the 11th, where LoMo scored on a Brad Miller double, with Rodney locking down the save.

You have to like the scrappiness of this Mariners team after Saturday’s comeback victory, but they were back to their old tricks on Sunday.  With Felix on the mound, of course the Mariners were no-hit through five innings.  Felix was dealing with some lower body issues that sapped some of his ability, resulting in three runs scored in the bottom of the fourth.  It appeared to be another one of those games where Felix gets nothing from his offense (against a pitcher I’d never heard of before yesterday).

But, don’t forget, these aren’t your slightly older brother’s Mariners!  These guys are here to play, and frankly, no lead by the other team should be necessarily considered safe.

The Mariners knocked Jesse Hahn out of the game in the 6th thanks to 3 hits, 2 walks, a sac fly, and a crucial 2-out error on the right fielder.  The Mariners ultimately managed to score 4 to take the lead and put Felix in line for the win.  Three more were tacked on the very next inning thanks to a pinch-hit Rickie Weeks bomb to dead center, and all looked very right with the world.

That is, until we got to Fernando Rodney with a 4-run lead in the bottom of the 9th.  Never send a closer into the game in a non-save situation unless ABSOLUTELY necessary.  That’s one of those adages you hate to hear and hate even worse to say – because what is a “save” but a useless stat that has no meaning in the real baseball world?  But, there’s one thing about baseball you can’t deny, nor can you explain away with all the stats in the world:  it’s primarily a mental game played by individuals who are all out on their own little islands.  For whatever reason, a closer just isn’t going to be as invested in a non-save situation.  That doesn’t mean he’s out there not trying, but I would argue the sense of urgency isn’t there.  We’re talking about a guy who’s used to going in with a 2- or 1-run lead most of the time; to him, a 4-run lead must feel like a million.  So, once things start steamrolling, it’s hard to find that sense of urgency again.  By the time the lead’s been cut in half, you’re essentially in a sinking lifeboat trying to bail out the water with your hands.

Plus, you know, the A’s just have one of those annoying offenses that will give a guy like Rodney fits.  Patient, able to lay off the balls, and secure enough to take what the pitcher gives them, even if it’s dinking and dunking singles and doubles to the opposite field.  They’re not out there trying to hit a home run with every swing, which is what teams tend to do when confronted with a deficit and the other team’s hard-throwing closer.

Anyway, yeah, Rodney gave up the lead, pushing us into extras.  Would I have given the ball to Rodney with a 4-run lead?  Probably not.  If it’s me, I’m either letting Furbush go out there and pitch until he gives up a baserunner (and, essentially, turns the game into a save situation), or I’m going straight to Medina.  Either way, I probably get Rodney up so he can come in if we need him, but I’d be okay with him warming up and never pitching if that’s the way it shook out.

But, I can see why he was used.  The rest of the bullpen has been severely over-worked in the first week (as is usually the case, with starters still trying to build up their arms).  Before yesterday, Rodney had only made two appearances this year.  To the point where he entered the game, he’d pitched the fewest innings on the team.  It makes SOME sense to try to spread out the burden.  But, at the same time, he’d just pitched on Saturday, and you’ve gotta figure there will be opportunities in the Dodgers series.  Now, who knows if he’s ready to go tonight?  If he does, he’s almost surely not available tomorrow.  So, putting him in the game yesterday probably does more harm than good (but, who can predict how the next series is going to turn out?).

Then again, we would’ve missed out on more Nelson Cruz magic, with his 2-out solo homer to put us ahead in the top of the 10th.  Medina locked down the save, so ultimately it all worked out.

I’ll say this:  the 2014 Mariners almost certainly would’ve lost Sunday’s game.  And, I would argue they’d also lose Saturday’s!  I’ll also say this:  if I’d written this post after the top of the fifth inning yesterday, this would be one long diatribe with no end to my bitching in sight.  What a difference some timely hitting makes!

We made it through the first week with a 3-3 record.  It’s not ideal, but guess what:  we’re officially tied for first in the A.L. West with the Houston Astros.  Yeah, can you believe it?  The Angels went and got swept by the Royals over the weekend, while our series win dropped Oakland to a game behind us in the loss column.  The first week could’ve been a helluva lot worse, and ultimately I still think there’s more to like about this team than the other way around.

Of course, there’s almost nothing to like about what we’re all forced to read on Twitter each and every game.  If it’s not fans bitching about every little thing, it’s the local sports media bitching about all the bitching.  But, I suppose that’s a topic for another day.

Nigel Williams-Goss, Others Leave UW

I’m not even mad, really.  How could I be?  What right do I have to begrudge a kid for doing what he thinks is best for his career?

When I think about it, it reminds me of when Isaiah Thomas left the program to enter the NBA draft with a year of eligibility left.  Surprisingly, I took that news pretty well, even if I wasn’t at my most emotionally stable.  Even when other high profile guys left the program early – Tony Wroten, Terrence Ross – I’ve found it hard to blame them.  In basketball more than any other sport – if for no other reason than the relatively small number of roster spots in the NBA compared to football and baseball – you’ve got to get yours while the iron is hot.  When your stock is as high as it’s going to get – and the risk of staying in college outweighs the potential rewards – then you’ve got to do what’s best for you.

College basketball is a frustrating, imperfect system.  I hate the One & Done rule.  I think they should either make it a 2-year minimum (like they do with football), or offer up the D-League for kids who just don’t want to go to a university.  Also, they should be giving these kids some money for attending, but that’s getting into a whole other issue entirely (I’ve come around quite a bit on this issue, to say the least; I’d be for a stipend rather than treating it like a Wild West free agency system).

On a micro level, relative to the University of Washington, I understand completely why a kid like NWG would want to leave.  Look at it from his perspective:  he’s going into his Junior year.  He was once one of the highest-touted incoming Freshman point guards in the country.  If the league was able to draft him straight out of high school, it’s highly likely he would’ve passed up going to college entirely.  Now, two years in, the world has had a chance to examine the flaws in his game.  He might still be a guy who’s able to make it in the NBA, but he’s no longer the hotshot point guard prospect he was two years ago.  On top of that, he’s been the jewel of a crappy basketball program the last two years.  It’s hard to get noticed – and show off what marketable skills you do have – when you’re on a bottom-dwelling team who can’t even crack the N.I.T.  In that same vein, look at the players around him.  A point guard can only do so much to make the rest of the players around him better; at some point you need those players to pick you up as well and make you look good too!  The Huskies haven’t had the horses to boost up NWG’s already-somewhat-flawed game, and it doesn’t appear likely they’ll have anyone in the next year or two.

Then, you’ve got the mythic incoming class for 2015/2016.  It’s supposed to be the best class Romar’s brought in maybe in his whole career.  From the perspective of the program, it would’ve been ideal to have NWG around one more year, to help the kids acclimate to the college game.  From NWG’s perspective, there’s a ton of risk involved with this proposition.  What if these kids aren’t as good as advertised?  Or worse, what if they’re BETTER than advertised and they make you look bad?  Then, you’re on the same team with a number of player(s) who might be picked ahead of you.

In this situation, NWG’s holding all the cards.  I mean, the offense was already pretty much tailored to his skillset, and to showcase his gifts.  You’d have to think nothing would change in that regard next year.

But, I truly believe this is more of an issue of wanting to win above all else.  There’s a very small chance of UW being a winning program next year, and that small chance just flew out the window with NWG transferring.  If I’m NWG, and it’s looking like the NBA draft isn’t in the cards for me right now (in other words, I know I’m stuck in college at least another year), I’d MUCH rather go to a school that’s more of a sure thing to make the Tourney.  Winning is just more fun than losing, period.  The winters in Seattle suck about as much dick as possible; now imagine you’re the leader of a bottom-feeding basketball team who has to try to keep his head up in the face of all that losing and all those grey skies!

Believe you me, if I were qualified to blog for no pay about sports for other cities, I’d be gone in an instant!

Also, as for these rumors about players not getting along, I dunno.  I’m reluctant to delve into all the team chemistry issues in sports.  Players tend to get along better when they’re winning.  Players tend to bicker a little more when they’re losing.  Considering the lack of talent on this roster, I wouldn’t begrudge NWG one iota if he was a little selfish.  It wasn’t something I particularly noticed as being a problem, but again, what’s he supposed to do? Defer to players who suck?  How is it going to help our team win more ballgames if we take the ball out of the hands of our best player?  I like Kingma as much as the next guy, but let’s get real.

This sucks, but don’t blame the kid.  Loyalty to your school is probably one of the last things a professional franchise is going to look at.  They want talented players who will help them win; they don’t give a shit if a kid transfers.  And, staying true to your school for your entire college basketball career is only worthwhile if you have any ties whatsoever to that school.  NWG is from Oregon.  His ties to the UW are as deep as Lorenzo Romar’s recruiting ability and nothing more.  He’s not a local kid making good.  He’s a hired gun brought in because we’re good at showcasing our guards, because Lorenzo Romar is a great man, and because he has a history of sending guys to the NBA.  What’s he going to miss out on, playing in a few UW Alumni Games?  Yeah, that’s a rough one, but I think the kid’s future career and earning potential trumps that a little bit.

If the UW program was good – or at the very least on an upswing – I’d probably be more upset.  But, at this point, what do I care?  We’re a year away from blowing it all up anyway, so might as well not get all bent out of shape over something you can’t control.  And, who knows?  If we get a little Ewing Theory bounce-back from this move that no one could possibly foresee, then all the better.

In other news, Darin Johnson and Gilles Dierickx are also transferring.  Ooooo, oh no, whatever will we do without these two guys?!  I assume:  forget they were ever a part of the program by this time next year.

Mariners Tidbit 18: What The Hell Is Going On Here?

The team looks sloppy.  No other way around it.  They’re playing, quite frankly, like a team that’s spent the entire offseason basking in the warm glow of the Mariners Hype Machine.  We don’t need to try hard!  We’re just going to come out and be better!

Maybe that’s unfair.  Maybe the Angels, right now, are just a bad matchup for us.  Maybe we’re just better off playing someone else, like Oakland.  It would seem to me a 3-day trip to the Bay Area is just what the doctor ordered.  I dunno.

There were a few bright spots coming out of last night’s game.  Brad Miller and Kyle Seager both hit their first bombs of the year.  That’s not nothing.  The bullpen has been keeping it tight the whole first three games.  And, for a team that spotted the Angels 5 runs in the first two innings, it was comforting to see us make it difficult on them.

Obviously, the key inning was the 8th.  The Mariners had pulled to within 5-3, Ackley singled and Cano doubled to lead things off.  We were RIGHT THERE, in the heart of the order, with the Angels on the ropes.  Then, Nelson Cruz struck out and the whole thing went in the toilet.  Kyle Seager was intentionally walked – because seriously, why would they pitch to him in that situation? – then Weeks struck out (getting the start over Seth Smith, who’s dealing with a pulled groin from Opening Day) and LoMo flew out.

On the one hand, it’s pretty God damned frustrating.  Runners on 2nd & 3rd with no outs should get you a minimum of two runs!  That’s two sac flies, bada bing, bada boom.  And, we’re supposed to have this top flight offense now, you’d THINK we’d be able to get the job done in that situation.

But, it is only one game and yadda yadda yadda.  On the plus side, between now and late June, we only play the Angels three times, down in Anaheim in the first week of May.  They might be the best team in the American League, so taking a nice long break from them will do us all a lot of good.

Thankfully, the scheduling gods graced us with a cheesy month of April.  Three off days on three consecutive Thursdays, starting today.  Let’s put this first series behind us and move on to teams who are better matchups.

Mariners Tidbit 17: Same Old Mariners?

There are two warring factions in the world of Seattle Mariners Fandom:  those quick to criticize and those quick to criticize those who are quick to criticize.  I can see it from both sides and I’m happy to tell you all to calm the fuck down.

To the people who think they’re better and smarter than the average fan, who sit in their ivory towers, tweeting away at all the dumbards, defending the Mariners while extolling the virtues of patience, I’ll say this:  don’t act like the Mariners didn’t bring this upon themselves.  Yes, without even watching a game, I know the 2015 Mariners are much better than any team we’ve seen here in the last decade.  But, there’s a REASON why fans are so quick to kill themselves over a 2-hit shutout in early April!  We’ve seen this time and time and time an dtim e a ndt im e a n d t i m e again.  We had to endure the very worst offense in the modern era, for fuck’s sake!  So, how about cooling it and letting the fans come around on their own?  It may take longer than you’d like, but that’s why Twitter has the mute button.

And, guys, my people.  Those of us who’ve slogged through all the shit.  I know, nobody wants to sit through a 2-hit shutout where a guy who’s VERY mortal against the rest of the league looks like the second coming of Tom Glavine against us, but you know what?  Sometimes, you just run into those guys who – for whatever reason – just have your number.  Hell, the good Mariners teams from 2000 & 2001 still got mowed down on a regular basis by Pedro Martinez, and those were some of the best offensive teams we’ll probably ever see!

I will say this, though:  I’m starting to get a little sick and tired of this offense being super-inept in the month of April.  I don’t want to hear about any marine layer or chilly evening temperatures.  A bat is still a bat and a ball is still a ball, no matter what month it is.  It shouldn’t be THIS hard to get hits.  I’m not even asking for them to rope me 30 Safeco dingers this month!  Just give me some line drives into the outfield!  Give me something more than rolling over on balls at the bottom of the strike zone!  This is all in your heads and you need to buck up and get over this shit.  I eagerly await an early Lloyd McClendon meltdown to light a fire under these guys.

There isn’t much to make of this team after two games, and there especially isn’t much to make of this team after last night’s snoozer.  On first glance, the New & Improved right-handed lineup doesn’t look all that potent.  I’ll be interested to monitor this as the season goes on.  It’s hard to be quite as pathetic as we were against lefties last year, but we’ll see.

Mariners Tidbit 16: Opening Day

And Seth Smith jumps out to a commanding lead for YOUR Favorite New Mariner!

Boy, that game was something, wasn’t it?  It had it all:  hits, strikeouts, leaving work before 11am, drinking during the day, incredibly long bathroom lines you had to time JUST right (meaning:  you had to step away with Cano at the plate, two outs, and a runner in scoring position, just to run up the aisle and see a man about a horse before 20 people jumped in line behind you).

I had seats right on the edge of the King’s Court, in section 147.  So, the energy was pretty jazzed up, but I got the feeling that the whole stadium was into it from the first pitch.  I don’t have a real coherent narrative, so I’ll just bust out with the random thoughts.

I thought the best at bat of the entire ballgame wasn’t anything by Seth Smith, it wasn’t Trout’s mammoth home run, and it wasn’t even Austin Jackson getting off to a great start.  For my money, you’re not going to beat Robbie Cano’s 2-out RBI single in the third to give us a 2-1 lead.  To that point, Jered Weaver was working his slow-pitch magic.  Sure, the preceding double & triple tied the game, but Weaver isn’t usually one to give up the Big Inning.  He tried to steal a cheap strike to get ahead in the count (where, I’m sure, he’s at his deadliest), and on a day where only one of his pitches surpassed 86 mph, Cano ripped the first pitch he saw in that at bat straight up the middle for the go-ahead score.  That’s what we call using the ol’ noodle.

As it has been noted everywhere, Seth Smith went 3 for 3 with 3 extra base hits (the first Mariner to ever do that on Opening Day).  They won’t all be days this great for Seth Smith, but you gotta like a guy who’s proven capable in pitcher-friendly parks in the past.  He’s put up decent numbers in Oakland and San Diego, which leads me to believe he’s ready to tangle with a place like Safeco.

The bottom two and top two spots in the order did the bulk of the damage.  Nice to see Ackley hit a bomb, nice to see Miller and Jackson get on base twice.  These are the players who will make the biggest difference between us merely contending and us grabbing the division by the horns.

What can you say about King Felix?  Another Opening Day victory, another 7-inning, 10-strikeout, 1-run performance.  You want easy money?  Put it down on the Mariners on Opening Day with Felix on the mound.

The Most Important At-Bat of the Game:  Carson Smith vs. Mike Trout.  2-on, 2-out, top of the 8th.  You might argue the previous at-bat – where Furbush struck out Kole Calhoun to get us to 2 outs – was the more important, because if he walks him there, who knows what happens after?  All I know is, Carson Smith had 9 appearances before yesterday’s game, and he was called in (over Tom Wilhelmsen, over Yoervis Medina) to face the best everyday player in the game of baseball.  And, he struck him out on four pitches.  Outstanding.

Hey!  We get to do this all over again tonight!  And tomorrow night, I’ll be back at Safeco for the second time in three days!  I think I finally understand why Dave Sims continues to be employed by Root Sports; his on-air presence compels people like me to attend more games in person just to grab a little peace of mind.

The Year The Mariners Make It Back To The Playoffs

The 2014 Mariners finished the final two months of the season with a 31-22 record.  The team fell into a nice little routine, once all the kinks were worked out.  Logan Morrison officially supplanted Justin Smoak at first base.  Dustin Ackley looked more comfortable at the plate.  Felix Hernandez had a Cy Young-ish season.  The bullpen was the best in the American League.  You could point to any number of reasons why those Mariners ultimately failed, but never forget that as it stood, those Mariners were only one game away from a shot at the post-season.

Every year, at least since I’ve started this blog, I’ve gone into each Mariners season looking for reasons why the team might succeed.  If THIS and THIS and THIS and THIS happens, our best case scenario is:  the Mariners make the playoffs.  Usually, whatever THIS stood for was something huge.  Like, if the starting pitching holds up, and if the bullpen is lights out, and if all of our young players make big leaps forward in progress, and if the best players on the other teams in our division get injured, then MAYBE the Mariners would be good.  It was always a fantasy, where I ended every preview article with some variation of:  just keep me interested until football season, that’s all I ask.

Then, 2014 happened.  Robinson Cano provided us with a real middle-of-the-order presence.  Kyle Seager continued to progress into the All Star we all knew he could be.  Felix had another Felix-like year and the bullpen WAS lights out!  We still couldn’t fill in that DH spot to save our lives, and the offense in general was just inconsistent enough to keep us out of post-season action.  But, we were right there.  One or two moves away.

Those moves ended up being Nelson Cruz, a right field platoon, and a different veteran starter to hopefully lock down the back of our rotation.  Considering right field and DH were easily our worst two positions on the team last year, and in the early going, the fifth starter was a circus, you couldn’t have asked for a more efficient offseason from a front office perspective.  Everything else pretty much stays the same, which in this case isn’t the worst thing in the world.

The fact of the matter is, going into 2015, instead of searching far and wide for reasons why the Mariners might be good, I’ve found myself searching far and wide for reasons why the Mariners might fall short.  Will the bullpen regress back to 2013 levels of frustration?  Will key players get injured and miss the majority of the season?  Will our younger players fall apart as so many have before them?  These are the questions I’ve got floating around my head, but if I take a step back, forget I’ve been a Mariners fan for these last 10+ years of futility, and look at the whole situation with a fresh perspective, then I have to admit that what I’m looking at right now is a very good baseball team.  A playoff baseball team!  And these are the reasons why:

  • Felix Hernandez is the best right handed pitcher in baseball.  He has more than paid his dues with this organization, and now the organization looks like it’s FINALLY paying him back.  There have been years where we looked forward to a potentially contending season out of the Mariners, but this is easily the best team we’ve ever put around the King.  We’re coming off of an authentic winning season, he just got snubbed a little bit for the Cy Young Award, and now we’re better than ever:  you’re telling me Felix won’t be jacked up for 2015?  I think it’s possible he’s even better than before!
  • The bullpen is back.  We’ve got so many good, young arms behind Fernando Rodney that we’ve got legit Major Leaguers starting off the season in AAA.  Last year, they were the best in the league; if we can keep them somewhere around the Top 5 bullpens in the A.L., I think that’s more than enough to push us into the 90-win range.
  • The 3-4-5 spots in our lineup rival anyone in baseball.  Cano-Cruz-Seager, should they stay healthy, will be filling out the stat sheets on a regular basis.  We should be looking at anywhere from 60-70 homers, 250-270 RBI, and lots of hero moments as they come through in the clutch.
  • There are still regulars on this team who can get even better.  Specifically, I’m looking at Mike Zunino.  He’s super young and just starting his second full season behind the plate.  Now that he’s more or less acclimated with the pitching staff, and what it takes to be a superb defensive catcher, he can work on his bat.  He may not yet be the perennial All Star we all think he’ll be, but I’m looking forward to a big step forward in his pitch recognition and overall production at the plate.
  • I also think Ackley has something to prove – as he’s staring down the barrel of a platoon in the early going.  I’m a little dubious on Rickie Weeks carrying over his hot spring into the chilly April air of Seattle.  Here’s to hoping Ackley carries over his second half of 2014.
  • Logan Morrison needs to prove he can stay healthy and play 140-150 games, so why not have it be this year?  If you think about it, 2015 is really his last chance at being an everyday player.  If he misses half the season, I’m sure he’ll be relegated to a bench role for the duration of his career.
  • Brad Miller is another guy who could be a wonderful surprise.  If he does what he did last September – and not so much what he did last April – we could be in for a real boost at the bottom of our lineup.
  • The rest of our rotation behind King Felix has a lot of promise.  Hisashi Iwakuma has, for the most part in his Major League career, been a VERY effective starter.  He hit the skids late last season, but his entire 2013 season was rock solid.  He’s also in the last year of his deal, so I’m sure there’ll be a little extra juice in his appearances.  Walker and Paxton won spots in the rotation and are looking to jumpstart their careers.  One day, they’ll be multi-millionaires many times over; to be able to get strong production out of them while they make peanuts is a big reason why this team will be successful.  J.A. Happ is our bottom-of-the-rotation innings eater who we’re banking on being successful in Safeco.  He’s essentially fighting for his career too.  If he can’t make it in Seattle, what hope does he have of making it anywhere else?
  • Lloyd McClendan & Jack Zduriencik are not fucking around.  Dominic Leone had a shitstorm of a Spring Training one year removed from dominating at the Major League level as a rookie.  So, what happens?  Any other year, he would’ve had his 25-man roster spot warmed for him; but not this year.  This year, he gets to work out some things in Tacoma, as the guy who had the better spring takes his place.  Roenis Elias also had a phenomenal rookie season last year.  This year?  He was automatically placed into a dogfight with Taijuan Walker, which he ultimately lost.  LMC did everything in his power to downplay Walker’s outstanding spring – as he didn’t give up an earned run until the final week – when in years past, he might have been puffing him up.  There’s definitely an air of seriousness to what’s going on.  We are IN a pennant race, and the fucking season hasn’t started yet!  But, that’s the mindset you have to have.  Most of the players on the team – especially those brought up through the organization – haven’t been in this situation yet.  Well, they’ve been getting a hard and fast lesson thus far:  it’s do or die.  If you don’t produce, the Mariners have no problem replacing you with someone who will.  This isn’t about getting guys experience and preparing them for future seasons.  This is about 2015.

It’s that last bullet point that gets me most excited.  We all figured someone like J.A. Happ would be slotted in as the #3 starter, just given his experience alone.  But, no; the Mariners have him in the 5-hole.  Happ has more or less had a rotten spring.  While I understand the rationale for giving him a spot in the rotation – injuries always happen, we needed the depth – I can see straight away that he’s not going to have the long leash we all expected.  If he flubs up the month of April, and we aren’t beset with injuries to other starters, it wouldn’t shock me in the least to see him DFA’d (or mysteriously placed on the DL) as the team brings back Elias.

The biggest positive I have about this team is that there aren’t the holes that there were in years past.  There are potential problem areas – as there are with all teams – but there aren’t outright holes, guys you KNOW are going to be terrible.  Here’s the lineup:

  1. Austin Jackson (CF)
  2. Seth Smith / Justin Ruggiano (RF)
  3. Robbie Cano (2B)
  4. Nelson Cruz (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Logan Morrison / Willie Bloomquist (1B)
  7. Dustin Ackley / Rickie Weeks (LF)
  8. Mike Zunino / Jesus Sucre (C)
  9. Brad Miller (SS)

I could see A-Jax bounce back; it’s not impossible!  I could see the Smith/Ruggiano platoon being very effective.  I could see LoMo magically remain healthy.  I could see Ackley continue to improve as he gets more comfortable with his position.  And, I could see Miller reach that high ceiling we all dreamed he might.  If it all clicks and falls into place, this team could be a 100-win monster.  If certain players struggle, or if we run into a few DL stints here and there, I think we’re still looking at an 85-win minimum, with room to grow depending on luck and how well our pitching staff holds up.

I don’t think we’re in for a torrid start.  I’d be happy with an April that gets us to or a little above .500.  The thing with 2015 though, is if enough players are able to carry over their hot spring numbers, these Mariners have a better chance than any of the last 10+ Mariners teams of jumping out of the gate on fire.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see them win around 20 games in the first month, but I don’t think that’s mandatory for us to have a division-winning season.

I don’t really have a good handle on the other teams in the A.L. West.  The Rangers will probably be terrible.  I think the Astros and A’s will duke it out for the 3rd place spot.  And, I think Anaheim will be our primary foe.  I’d like to believe that the Mariners are a little more balanced.  I think the Angels might be a tad more top-heavy with some of their elite players, but if you look at us and them, 1-25, I think the Mariners are getting more bang for their buck.

Ultimately, I see a 95-67 record out of the Mariners in 2015.  To put it one way, that amounts to the Mariners winning approximately 16 games per month.  You’re telling me the 2015 Seattle Mariners can’t go 16-11 every single month?  That seems BEYOND reasonable!

I’ve got the Mariners just squeaking the division away from Anaheim, bumping them down to the Wild Card.  And, not for nothing, but I like this Mariners team to make a deep run in the post-season.  Oh yes, this is really, FINALLY happening.

The season starts in a few hours.  Who’s ready?

Mariners Tidbit 15: We Have A 25-Man Roster

UPDATE 4/3/2015:  And, forget almost nothing of what I said below; Dominic Leone will be starting the season in Tacoma while Carson Smith gets called back up …

Mostly, it’s who you’d think.  The rotation:

  1. King Felix
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. James Paxton
  4. J.A. Happ
  5. Taijuan Walker

The bullpen:

  • Fernando Rodney
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Yoervis Medina
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Dominic Leone
  • Tyler Olson

The Starting Nine:

  1. Austin Jackson (CF)
  2. Seth Smith (RF)
  3. Robbie Cano (2B)
  4. Nelson Cruz (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Logan Morrison (1B)
  7. Dustin Ackley (LF)
  8. Mike Zunino (C)
  9. Brad Miller (SS)

The Bench:

  • Jesus Sucre (C)
  • Rickie Weeks (INF/OF)
  • Willie Bloomquist (INF)
  • Justin Ruggiano (OF)

Considering Taijuan Walker was the favorite to make the rotation since before Spring Training even started, hard to find a surprise there.

There’s a moderate surprise with the bullpen.  We were all wondering if the team would go with an 8-man or 7-man bullpen.  Carson Smith made a huge splash in September of last year, leading us all to believe he’d be a shoo-in for the final 25 this year.  But, an underwhelming spring apparently did him in (even though you could argue Leone has been an absolute trainwreck in 9 appearances, giving up 10 earned runs in 7 innings).

The big surprise ends up being the seventh man in the bullpen, lefty Tyler Olson.  He has yet to give up an earned run in 10 appearances, striking out 15 in 12.2 innings.  He makes the jump from AA and gives us a little Furbush insurance (who has been his usual awful self this spring).

No shocks in the lineup; this thing was nailed down the minute we signed Rickie Weeks.  Once Bloomquist proved he’s back and 100% healthy, the only question was whether the team would go with Sucre or the veteran John Baker.  Considering this is Zunino’s team, and he’s ready to grab the bull by the ol’ horns, I don’t see any point in having a veteran backup just for the sake of having a veteran backup.  Sucre is the better defender, they’re probably both equally terrible with a bat in their hands, so when in doubt, go with the better defender.

Obviously, no 25-man roster is going to stay the same for the full season.  Players will get hurt, players will be sent down to Tacoma, players might even get cut.  But, the bulk of what you see above is what should lead this team to its first playoff appearance since 2001.

I may or may not do a proper season preview ahead of Monday’s opener, but I’ve yet to miss one in the last however many years and I’m not about to start missing them now.

Mariners Tidbit 14: Erasmo Ramirez Traded For A Bust

Well, this played out pretty much like everyone expected.  The starting rotation – in some order or another – will be Felix, Paxton, Iwakuma, Happ, and Walker, with Elias waiting in the wings as needed.  Erasmo Ramirez never had a shot, but he was never really GOING to have a shot so long as the six guys above him on the depth chart stayed healthy.

Erasmo Ramirez probably isn’t a guy who’s ever going to be a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues.  He’ll get opportunities, because he’s young and cheap and under club control for however much longer.  He’ll start, but he won’t be a starter.  Unless he lands on a very bad team – and who knows, maybe the Rays are that bad team – I don’t think he’ll ever consistently win a job in a starting rotation.

He’s a decent fill-in guy.  Someone who – if you can afford to keep him around on your 25-man roster – will spot start for you when someone else goes down.  But, I highly doubt we’re looking at someone who’s going to make the significant leap required to be an everyday Major Leaguer.

It’s pretty amazing that the Mariners got anything for him at all.  Then again, that’s what we said about the Jarrod Washburn trade, the Carlos Silva trade, the Jeff Clement trade, and so on and so forth.  On the one hand, you feel over the moon that you got ANYBODY; the ol’ “I’ll Take A Bag Of Balls & A Couple Batting Donuts” deal.  You see what you get in return and you try to start plugging holes with your new acquisition.  But, you gotta remember that whenever you’re trading away a disappointment, odds are you’re getting another disappointment in return.

Mike Montgomery was a first round pick out of high school for the Kansas City Royals.  He’s a lefty with a good fastball and a decent change up, without a third pitch or the confidence to hack it.  He was poised to break out in 2011 but immediately went in the tank.  His 2012 actually saw him sent from AAA to AA before being traded.  The Rays were in the process of converting him into a reliever, which sounds like the way to go.  It worked for Brandon Maurer, after all.  The only thing is, he’s a lefty who’s better against right-handed bats, because he could never figure out how to throw his curve ball effectively and consistently.

The important thing is:  he has options.  Well, option.  He’ll get to start out in Tacoma, he’ll continue to work out of the bullpen, and he’ll get to take this year to do nothing but work on his craft.  No pressure of him being called up immediately.  Just let him do his thing and see if the conversion does the trick.  Maybe when September rolls around, he’ll have earned himself a call up.  At which point, we’ll get a better look at him ahead of next year’s Spring Training to see if he’s worthy of a shot at our bullpen in 2016.

This is probably as good as we could’ve hoped for.  We got something in return – another left-handed bullpen arm to throw onto the pile – we traded him out of the division – in the event he goes Full Noesi and comes back to bite us in the ass every time we face him – and it frees up the spot on our 25-man roster.  Now, let’s put this in the rearview and go win us a division.