The Mariners’ Season Pivoted On May 27th

Going into that game, the Mariners were a season-high 10 games over .500, at 28-18, going into a home series against the last-place Minnesota Twins, with their ace, Felix Hernandez, taking the mound.  I was in the stands for that one, briefly wearing my brand new bomber hat (before promptly taking it off because it was too warm out), watching in horror as the Twins took the King to the Woodshed, and subsequently swept the 3-game series.

That would be Felix’s last start for quite some time, and the beginning of a long, downward spiral (*).  Including that night, the Mariners’ pitching staff has given up 94 runs in its next 17 games, or a little over five and a half runs per game (yet still somehow leads the league in ERA, which goes to show you how important that stat is).  The team as a whole has gone 6-11 in that time, with the starters averaging around 5.2 innings per start.  The Mariners are getting enough hitting in most of these games to win them, but they’ve obviously not gotten picked up by the pitching staff, and while that’s a nice way to hang around .500 all season and “contend” for the playoffs, it’s also a nice way to fall short by the end of the year.  Just another missed opportunity.

(*) – The Mariners had also lost Leonys Martin – who would be down for 15 days – in the game prior, and were still in the first week of Ketel Marte being on the DL.

The Mariners can never seem to put it all together, can they?  Even when you could point to the pitching being there – perhaps over-achieving in certain seasons – at the same time you’d point to historically terrible offenses ultimately holding them back.  “Just score 4 runs or more, and this team is (insert terrific winning record here)!”  Well, this year, the Mariners are averaging an even 5 runs per game, yet are only 5 games over .500 as we head into the summer.

I could sit here and play the I Told You So game; going into the season, I had this team as a vastly improved offensive unit, with question marks up and down the pitching side of things.  I even pointed out that we could be in store for a large number of high-scoring games from both teams.  Uncharted waters, to be sure, but it really is disappointing.

If I had to go back and get into my own head, I probably would’ve said – before the season started – that the odds were higher of the hitting being a mess than the pitching being elite (or, in other words, I would’ve thought I’d be more wrong about the hitting than the pitching, if I was going to be wrong about anything).  So, in that sense, to be right about how great the hitting has become, while also being more-or-less on the ball when it comes to our pitching as well, has been a tremendous disappointment (and we haven’t REALLY even gotten to the point where the bullpen is a total shitshow yet).

Yeah, losing Felix sucks, but he was having an up-and-down season through two months.  It’s the Miley, Walker, and Karns side of the rotation that has truly kept this team back.  Miley and Karns have particularly benefited from more run support, but they’re not doing much of anything when the Mariners aren’t scoring runs.  And while I think a lot may have been thrust upon Walker heading into the season, as a potential breakout pitcher in this league, he hasn’t even looked like he’s made a progression towards being better than he was in 2015; he looks exactly the same.  A few dominant performances here and there, but twice as many duds; a guy who hasn’t put it all together just yet.  When you factor in the 50/50 nature of any Iwakuma start (not to mention the fact that he’s somehow avoided the DL through the first 2+ months), and you start to get a clearer picture of what this team will ultimately become, without some help at the trade deadline.

Good, not great; hampered by injuries to key players; without the depth to sustain winning in their absence.

The fact of the matter is, the margin of error is razor thin with this team.  They can ill-afford to lose ANYONE, truth be told.  Losing Marte and Martin hurt us both defensively and offensively; just as it would hurt losing literally anyone from Cano/Seager/Cruz, on down to Iannetta/Lind/Lee.  Everyone on this team, from an offensive standpoint, is a remarkable upgrade from the guys we’ve got in Tacoma right now.  Lose one Mariner and you’re essentially replacing him with a black hole, and probably a black hole who plays inferior defense to boot!

On the pitching side of things, the only person on the Rainiers you could conceivably make an argument for is James Paxton, who is now a part of the Mariners and doing pretty well for himself through three games.  None of the bullpen guys can hold a candle to who we’ve got up here now (as evidenced by pulling Edwin Diaz directly from AA without making a single appearance in Tacoma), with the only help on the horizon coming from guys currently on the DL (guys who keep setting themselves back just when we think they’re ready to start throwing again).

We’re already down the ace of our starting squad in Felix; he’s looking more and more like he won’t be back in Seattle until the end of July.  That’s great for us in the stretch run, but how do we get to that point without totally collapsing?  And, what’s worse:  what do we do if another starter gets injured along the way?

Well, we most likely call up Mike Montgomery from the bullpen.  I don’t know of anyone who has disliked what Montgomery has given us in his bullpen role this year; but there’s a good argument to be made that he’s not the same guy as a starter.  He got off to a good start when he was called up last year, but he regressed HARD the more the league saw him, turning in a run of sub-Miley performances before he was shut down.  I’m not so sure I’m ready to go through that again (also, in the DUH department, moving him into a starting role vastly undermines our bullpen).

The problem, as I see it, is that the Mariners aren’t JUST a quality starting pitcher away from making a strong case for the post-season.  They also need guys currently on the roster to start improving in a hurry.  Wade Miley, for whatever reason, hasn’t figured it out; maybe he’s just a guy who’s better suited to pitch in the NL, where you get to face a pitcher batting (a.k.a. “a free out”) 2-3 times a game.  If anyone is the key, it’s him, because I think what you see is what you get out of Walker and Karns.  Ideally, the Mariners would trade for a quality starter, push Karns to the bullpen (or AAA), and either Miley has regressed back towards being decent again, or he’s replaced by Paxton and simply released from his contract (*).  Which is a lot to ask of a rotation with Paxton and Iwakuma, considering both are huge injury risks.

(*) – Which will probably never happen, because he’s guaranteed to make almost $9 million next year, followed by a $500,000 buy-out for the 2018 season (which would be worth up to $14 million with bonuses, if we were to keep him for that year).

All in all, this is a long-winded way of me saying I regret writing this.  Honestly, forget the post-season, I don’t know if the Mariners are even built to withstand the REGULAR season.

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