3 Months In: How About Them M’s?

45-38.  +56 in run differential, which places us second in all of Major League Baseball (behind the A’s, who are a fucking brickhouse).  Third place in the division (3 games in the loss column behind the Angels), 1.5 games ahead of the next-best teams for the second Wild Card spot.

We’re in there!  We’re doin’ it!  Scrapping, yelling, mixing it up!  And yet, it seemed so impossible only three months ago.

Three months ago, I was of the opinion that everything had to go right for this team to do what it’s doing right now.  To be fair, a lot has gone right, but it’s by no means a perfect storm.  After the first month of the season, it felt like the same ol’ Mariners.  A big, fat, 8-game losing streak ruined what was an otherwise fine first couple weeks of the season.  And, thus far, this season as a whole has come to be defined by that losing streak.  There’s the Mariners through the 8-game losing streak:  7-13, hopelessly out-matched by teams like the Marlins and Astros (thought to be the two worst teams in all of baseball), ready to run out the string of shitty performances like we have in 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008, 2006, and so on.

And then, there’s the Mariners AFTER the 8-game losing streak:  38-25, amazing pitching, just enough hitting on most nights, an absolutely lights out bullpen, and a leader getting the most out of his players on a daily basis.

People still talk about the 8-game losing streak like it was an asteroid striking the Earth and wiping out civilization as we know it.  In a way, it did.  It destroyed the early-season bandwagon jumpers straight away.  All that was left were the hardcore, die hard Mariners fans.  Who watch games on a regular basis even though they have eyes and are able to comprehend simple arithmetic.  We the lowly, we the shivering, we the starving for a contender.  Any scraps or morsels of winning baseball, we pounce on and hungrily devour.  And since that 8-game losing streak, we have THRIVED!  My God, what a glorious last couple of months!  Two straight months of winning baseball, capped off by an 18-10 run in the month of June.

April seems so long ago now.  Remember when Abraham Almonte played in 27 games and started almost every one in centerfield, as our leadoff hitter?  Remember how he batted .198 with streaky defense and streakier base running?

Remember when James Paxton had two good-lookin’ starts out of Spring Training before being injured?  Remember how he was supposed to be back by now?

Remember how we lost Taijuan Walker to injury in Spring Training?  Remember how he just returned last night and threw himself a Quality Start?

Remember Kyle Seager’s slump to start the season?  And then he single-handedly ended the infamous 8-game losing streak and subsequently went on a tear that saw him raise his slash line from .156/.280/.219/.499 to what it is today:  .274/.345/.483/.828.  Even Kyle Seager defines his season by that 8-game losing streak!  Where his fortunes go, our fortunes go.  At the start, Seager was hovering near the bottom of the lineup, and now he’s entrenched as our cleanup hitter!

Remember how Iwakuma missed the first month of the season?  He hasn’t been his regular, Cy Young-ish self since his return, but he’s been plenty damn good, and certainly a huge upgrade over some of these other starters we’ve used.

It’s been a rough go with injuries, but I guess most every team could say that.  What’s most impressive is how players have responded.  Felix Hernandez is probably having his best-ever season, and that’s saying a lot, considering – in my estimation – he’s the best pitcher in baseball.  In this era of dominant pitching, it would be an amazing achievement for him to get his second Cy Young Award.

Roenis Elias has stepped up HUGE.  I don’t think anyone expected a whole lot out of him to start the year.  I know, for me, I was just hoping that he’d sort of be okay for a month until the rest of our rotation returned from injury.  Instead, those guys have had significant set-backs, and Elias has picked up the slack in a huge way.  What’s even more impressive:  Elias has a lot of room for growth; who knows what he’ll be doing in a year or two?!

Remember Randy Wolf?  Remember how he was supposed to be a thing?  And remember how he left the team because we wanted him to sign a contract that would allow us to cut him after 45 days, without penalty?  Yeah, he got REAL pissy with a process that happens ALL THE TIME.  Guys like Randy Wolf are a dime a dozen.  They don’t deserve guaranteed contracts because they’re old and coming off of injury.  They deserve what they get:  a safety net for the team that’s sticking its neck out by giving this guy a chance.  So, Randy Wolf split, and on the year he has appeared in six games.  He’s 1-3 with a 5.26 ERA, and it doesn’t appear that he has a job at the moment.  If he does, it’s not with a Major League team.

The Mariners, meanwhile, went out and picked up Chris Young, who was only more than happy to sign that contract with that 45-day clause.  He felt it was better to prove oneself and EARN that full-year pick up.  And, as it turned out, circumstances dictated that he was necessary to have in the rotation, with all the injuries and poor performances from guys like Ramirez and Maurer.  So, what did he do, with the circumstances he was given?  Made the most of them and proceeded to kick a lot of Major League ass!  He’s the current owner of a 3.15 ERA and MOUNTAINS full of regression potential.  But, that’s neither here nor there, because you can’t take away his first three months of the season, and those first three months have been AMAZING!

This could have been yours, Randy Wolf.  But, you let pride get in the way.  Tsk tsk.

For as solid as the rotation has been (or, at least, 4/5 of the rotation), the bullpen has been even better.  Currently, all but one guy has an ERA under 4 in the bullpen.  And that one guy?  Our eighth man, Brandon Maurer, who recently converted to the ‘pen and introduced the world to his 99mph fastball.

I can’t say enough good things about the bullpen.  If this team was ever going to go anywhere, the bullpen needed to over-perform its pre-season projections.  And it has, in spades.  Fernando Rodney has been one of the few (only?) free agent closers to sign with a new team this past off-season and be worth the money he’s been given.  It was dicey to start, but Rodney has really come on since about mid-May or so.  His save opportunities aren’t NEARLY as frightening as they were to start the season.  He has better command of his stuff.  And, finally, he has quieted those of us (myself included) who thought Farquhar deserved a crack at the closer’s job.  With Rodney in there locking shit down, that bumps everyone else back a level, and they seem to be handling it with great alacrity.

Leone has been good, Medina has been good, Farquhar has been good, Hell, even Wilhelmsen has been good!  Those are four really good right-handed set-up men, not counting Maurer, who has been lights out in his few bullpen appearances.  Joe Beimel has been rock-solid from the left side, if a bit underutilized (though, I guess with a guy his age – 37 – you probably want to keep him fresh by using him less often).  And, while Furbush has had his moments of being truly awful, he has picked it up of late, and there really isn’t any other option from the left side that you feel confident about.

On the offensive side of things, we’ve been just as unlucky with injuries.  Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison, and Corey Hart have all spent time on the DL.  That’s a starting corner outfielder, a starting first baseman, a platoon outfielder/first baseman, and our starting designated hitter, all missing significant time.  The jury is still out on these guys, but thus far Saunders has looked really good, Smoak has looked really bad, LoMo has looked great since his return (and since he was given a chance to play everyday), and Hart looks incomplete.

Compounding the problem, the usual and unusual suspects have underperformed.  Dustin Ackley had one short stretch of goodness surrounded by an ocean of ineptitude.  Brad Miller really took a shit after one of the hottest Spring Trainings I’ve ever seen.  Almonte was given too long of a leash.  Nick Franklin was a strikeout machine in his two brief call-ups.  Stefen Romero could never take advantage of the opportunity he was given.  And while Zunino has shown brilliance behind the plate, his discipline AT the plate leaves a lot to be desired.

Nevertheless, there have been just enough bright spots to be pleasantly surprised.  At the top of that list, as far as hitters are concerned, is Robinson Cano.  He has been WELL worth the $240 million paycheck, at least in the first half of his first season here.  We’ll see how the rest of it goes, but it’s nice knowing we have at least one guy we can count on, day-in and day-out.

The aforementioned Kyle Seager has been another.  I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m surprised by his performance, but it is pretty thrilling to see what he’s done at home this year.  11 of his 12 bombs have come at Safeco, and his splits from there are pretty mesmerizing (you have to figure his road numbers will pick up in a matter of time).

James Jones has been rock solid since coming up to replace Almonte.  He’s like Almonte with a better contact rate, and not as skittish in the field or on the basepaths.  Almonte could be a disaster, or he could make other teams look foolish, but there was rarely an in-between where you felt comfortable with him out there.  Jones, on the other hand, is a calming influence.  And, not for nothing, but he’s up to 17 stolen bases with only 1 time being thrown out.  This guy slaps an infield single, and he’s on third in moments!

When you tack on Saunders’ solid play, with the surging Morrison and the power-streaky Zunino, and you’ve got six guys who range from “amazing” to “pretty good”.  Then, factor in Brad Miller’s improvement in the month of June, and Endy Chavez’s ability to hit a lot of singles and nothing else … well, you get the idea.

As the fan said in the movie Major League, “Ya know, these guys ain’t so fuckin’ bad.”  This is a team that had a lot of holes coming out of Spring Training.  Shockingly, they’ve managed to fill a lot of those holes with guys inside the organization.  If I were to rate the roster based on various confidence levels, this team has more positives than negatives.  Let’s go down the list:

I Feel Great About:

  • Felix Hernandez (SP)
  • Robinson Cano (2B)
  • Kyle Seager (3B)

I Feel Good About:

  • Mike Zunino (C)
  • Hisashi Iwakuma (SP)
  • Roenis Elias (SP)
  • Michael Saunders (OF)
  • James Jones (CF)
  • Everyone In The Bullpen

I Feel Adequate About:

  • Logan Morrison (1B/DH)
  • Brad Miller (SS)
  • Chris Young (SP)
  • Taijuan Walker (SP)
  • Justin Smoak (1B)
  • Cole Gillespie (OF)
  • Endy Chavez (OF)
  • Willie Bloomquist (INF)
  • John Buck (C)

I Feel Bad About:

  • Dustin Ackley (LF)
  • Corey Hart (DH)

There’s really only two guys I don’t trust, who figure to have a big impact on this team.  Two guys who I would be more than happy to replace with outside help at the trade deadline.  This team needs a new left fielder in the worst way.  It also needs someone to pick up the slack at DH.  If it were up to me, we’d leave LoMo at first base and see if he can continue this run he’s been on.  If he starts to falter, then maybe platoon him with Smoak.  But, either way, someone to play DH is a must.

But, who knows?  Maybe this organization struggles to make any trades and is forced to take another look at the guys we’ve got now.  Maybe Corey Hart finds his timing again and rips off a nice little second half.  Maybe Smoak gets healthy and turns it around.  Maybe Ackley has a fire lit under his ass with all this talk about the Mariners trying to unload him for nothing.

Or, maybe the Mariners fall apart in the second half and we go back to ripping this team on a weekly basis.  The fact of the matter is, I’m actually excited for what the second half could bring for this team.  I’m excited about the future, and for vastly different reasons than before!  Because the future isn’t some nebulous, intangible blob way off in the distance.  The future is here and now!  Right before us!  Three more months to go!

Three more months before – dare I say – a little bit more?

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