The Official 2017 Seattle Mariners Preview, Part II: The Pitchers

You can read Part I HERE.

There are two ways this thing can go down in 2017:  either the Mariners break the curse and make it back into the post-season, or they don’t and the pitching is entirely to blame.

Now, there are also two ways that previous sentence can go down in 2017:  either I’m right, or the Mariners will find another way to screw both me and the entire fanbase by having good-enough pitching and yet still not making the playoffs somehow, but that’s neither here nor there.

It’s already starting, if I’m being honest, with all this Drew Smyly stuff (UPDATE:  out 6-8 weeks).  Why is it, in sports, that it always seems like teams suffer the most injuries at the spots they can least afford to suffer injuries?  It’s like the man with one leg who sprains his good ankle.  I mean, seriously, what the fuck?

It’s unfair to pin your hopes on one guy, but I have a feeling Smyly was going to be a key cog in our rotation.  Obviously, our chances start with what we get from Felix.  He needs to bounce back in a major way and be that Ace we’ve seen from him before.  Then, you figure the next guy up – the guy who has the biggest opportunity to really explode (in a good way) and possibly climb into that Ace realm – is James Paxton.  The variance on that guy ranges from Top End Starter all the way to Injured Waste of Space, with a lot of options in between.  Then, I always figured Smyly had the next-highest variance of possibilities on the team.  He was an erstwhile top prospect who has had success in this league, and it wasn’t hard to picture it all coming together for him.  If you could work out a Big Three of sorts in our rotation with Felix, Paxton, and Smyly, with those guys carrying the major load, you’d take what you could get out of Kuma and Gallardo and probably walk away with something resembling 90+ wins (depending on how the bullpen shakes out).

Kuma and Gallardo, by the by, have the least amount of variance on the team.  You know what you’re going to get with those guys, and as long as it’s something approaching .500 ball, you’ll take it and you’ll fucking like it.

But, now this Smyly thing happened, and we’ve already got to dip into our starting pitching reserves.  The only question now is, how long until disaster strikes again, and will Smyly be back in time to pick up the slack?

As for the bullpen, buckle up buckaroos!

There’s actually a lot to like about this unit, all things considered, but a lot of things would have to break right to expect these guys to be totally lockdown.  Edwin Diaz, for as talented as he is, is still going to be something of a rollercoaster.  Looking beyond just the Opening Day roster, Steve Cishek figures to have a major role in the back-end of the bullpen when he gets fully healthy and ready to fire, and we’ve all seen the kinds of meltdowns he’s capable of.  I look forward to Evan Scribner being a calming, dominant presence – based on his September last year and his Spring Training this year – but we don’t really know!  We’ve yet to see him when the games REALLY start to matter (while the Mariners were still “in contention” last September, it was going to take a minor miracle for them to claw all the way back into post-season play).  We better hope Scribner has what it takes, because Nick Vincent has looked like warm, hittable garbage this spring, and his stuff wasn’t all that good to begin with.  I have a feeling Vincent won’t be on the team by season’s end.  That Scrabble guy was our major bullpen free agent signing, to be our primary lefty reliever, and he’s certainly had his ups and downs.  You don’t sign a guy like him for 2 years and $11 million just to be a fucking LOOGY, so he better figure the fuck out how to limit the damage from right-handed hitters, because so far this spring they’re responsible for ALL of the runs he’s given up.

On the plus side, some of the younger guys look better than expected.  Dan Altavilla has all but won himself a spot on the team.  Tony Zych is also working his way back from injury, and should play a big role in this bullpen when he’s ready.  James Pazos is another lefty the team is looking at long and hard, though he’s suffering many of the same complications as Scrabble, with right-handed hitters bashing the shit out of him.  With someone like Pazos, though, I don’t think you mind as much letting him be a LOOGY for a while, to get his feet wet and build his confidence (especially if this team goes with 8-man bullpens for various stretches of the season).  Beyond that, you’ve got any number of non-roster guys who are doing great, but I’m having a hard time figuring out who’s slated to be in a minor league rotation vs. who’s fodder for our bullpen should the need arise.

Bottom line with these guys, I think the bullpen is good enough to get us there.  I would be legitimately surprised (and yet, as a longtime Mariners fan, not surprised whatsoever) if the bullpen totally fell apart like it did in 2015.

What is a concern is not just the rotation underperforming, but their underperformance having a drastically negative impact on our bullpen.  A dominant bullpen can carry the load for a short period of time, if the rotation goes into a slump (which always happens, at one point or another, on every team).  But, if the bullpen is expected to carry this pitching staff over a super-long stretch of games, it’s ultimately going to get over-worked and severely lose its effectiveness.  So, yeah, the bullpen COULD struggle when all is said and done, but you have to look at the whole picture and decide:  are these guys just duds, or did the rotation totally screw them over?

I keep going back and forth with my predictions for this team.  I know when I was in Reno, I thought the bet of over 85.5 wins was pretty solid.  But, I didn’t think it was solid enough to actually put my own money on it, so do with that what you will.  My feeling on the Mariners seems to change with my mood.  When I’m happy, I can see this team winning over 90 games and going pretty far.  When I’m unhappy, work is getting to me, and I’m obsessing over the 5,000th consecutive overcast day in fucking SEATTLE GOD DAMN WASHINGTON FUCK ME WHY DON’T I MOVE TO SAN DIEGO AND GET AWAY FROM ALL THIS BULLSHIT … my outlook on the Mariners’ prospects tends to swirl down the toilet along with my disposition.

I WANT to believe!  But, I’ve been burned time and time and time and time again.  Sometimes I think it’s safer just to predict another 80-something win season where the Mariners fall oh so short of the Wild Card.  I also think it’s safer because I worry if I predict a World Series championship, I’m jinxing the team, because I’m clinically insane.  Besides, if I go with everyone else and just say the Mariners will win 85 games, I can be pleasantly surprised if I’m wrong and they win more.

Well, I’m not going to do that this year.  THIS time, I’m actually going to go out on a ledge and risk looking QUITE the fool!  95 wins!  I say this not with excitement for what’s about to happen, or with the blind enthusiasm of a mental patient, but with terse resentment and overwhelming expectations.

You fucking owe this to us, Mariners!  I’m tired of pussy-footing around and blindly hoping for a “fun summer” or whatever.  I don’t just want you to keep things interesting until football season rolls around.  Fuck football season!  It’s not like the Seahawks are elite anymore anyway!  We’re all deluding ourselves in believing this team’s championship window is still open; they’ve been on a downward spiral since they beat Denver 43-8.  The Seahawks are old news; it’s the Mariners’ time now!

And we’ve put up with too much of your bullshit to let this thing go on one more season.  You better be great, you better take care of business in this division, and you better deliver the fucking goods come playoff time!  Because I’m sick and tired of carrying a torch for this team!  I want lots of wins and lots of success!

And baseball gods, if you’re listening, you can eat all the world’s dicks, because you fucking owe us too!  The Mariners have been baseball’s whipping boys since forever.  Even when we were good, we were morbidly unlucky!  It’s about time the Mariners defied all expectations, guys out-performed projections, and the team stayed mostly-healthy.  This Smyly shit will not stand!  I want GOOD luck from here on out!

I think I’m losing my mind, you guys, so I’m going to wrap this up.  Just a couple things to keep an eye on before I go.

The current odds for the Mariners to win the World Series is 30 to 1.  I think the odds were lower when I was in Reno (maybe 20 or 25 to 1).  I was thinking, with the way I like to throw money around when I’m down there, of putting $1,000 on this, just to see if I could see a miracle in my lifetime.  I didn’t, of course, but that’ll be something to look back on should something wonderful happen in 2017.

Also, the odds for Nelson Cruz to hit the most home runs in the Major Leagues was a whopping 20 to 1.  Last year, Cruz was second with 43, behind Mark Trumbo’s 47.  The year before that, Cruz was second with 44, behind Chris Davis’ 47.  The year before that, Cruz was first with 40.  Again, we’re talking among the entire Major Leagues!  He’s been 2nd, 2nd, and 1st in the last three years.  This spring, he looks just as good as ever, if not even better somehow.  Would THAT have been a good bet to throw $1,000 on?  I think it’s infinitely more likely to happen than the Mariners winning the World Series, so you could say I’ve been kicking myself for the last two weeks for not throwing money down on Cruz.  We’ll just see, I guess.

There was also a bet to see who could get more combined hits, home runs, and RBIs between Kyle Seager and his brother.  I think the younger Seager is a lock on that one; easiest money I ever left on the table.

The Official 2017 Seattle Mariners Preview, Part I: The Hitters

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been doing these season preview posts, and I’ve been splitting them up between hitters and pitchers.  So, you know, why mess with what’s so obviously working?

Last year, the Mariners were third in runs scored in the American League.  They were fourth in hits, fifth in OBP, slugging, and OPS, and seventh in batting average.  They were remarkably low in doubles and triples, but were second in the league in homers.  All in all, they were clearly in the upper third in most batting categories, which makes them the best hitting Mariners team we’ve seen in quite some time.  So, you can see some of the moves already starting to work.  Cano had a bounce-back year, Cruz kept on chugging along, and Seager had his best season to date.  But, the fill-in pieces, guys like Martin, Smith, Aoki, Marte, and Lee all had nice years too.  It was really a pleasant surprise and one of the main reasons why the 2016 Mariners were so much fun to watch.

Now, the pitching was another story, and the ultimate reason why we failed yet again to make the playoffs, but that’s a story for tomorrow.

This year, the Mariners are poised to be even BETTER on offense.  Last year, the Mariners were a good 110 runs behind Boston for first; this year, the M’s might be able to bridge that gap!  It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see this Mariners team lead the league in runs scored, barring injury of course.  The moves they’ve made to bolster this offense has been nothing short of outstanding:

  • Traded Vidal Nuno for backup catcher Carlos Ruiz (opting to let Chris Iannetta walk)
  • Traded a minor league pitcher for Danny Valencia (opting to let Lind & Lee walk)
  • Traded Taijuan Walker & Ketel Marte for Jean Segura & Mitch Haniger (and a minor league reliever)
  • Traded Nate Karns for Jarrod Dyson (opting to trade Seth Smith for a starting pitcher)

Let’s break this down.  Starting at the top, we’re going into 2017 with a combo of Zunino and Ruiz at catcher, as opposed to Iannetta and Clevenger.  Iannetta, as you may recall, had a pretty good start to the season, but quickly settled into everyday mediocrity.  Clevenger was just plain underutilized before he got injured and was lost for the season.  By the time Zunino got his call-up, he was a man possessed, but eventually settled into some bad habits.  His batting average plummeted, though his on-base percentage was a breath of fresh air.  The hope is, his good habits start to outweigh his bad ones, and he’s able to eventually hit for something resembling a respectable average (to go along with all of his natural power, his natural ability to draw HBPs, and his newfound skill for drawing walks).  And, if he doesn’t, Carlos Ruiz is there to pick up some of the slack.  He figures to be an immediate upgrade over Iannetta, with the option to take over full time if needed.  This is a win all the way around, particularly considering we didn’t give up much to get him.

Next, we’ve got Danny Valencia, who for now will be taking over for the combo of Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee.  Lind was a disappointment for the entirety of 2016, aside from a few clutch late-game heroics.  Lee started off the season as the best story of the year, but as he got more playing time and opposing pitchers got more of a book on him, his numbers declined in the second half, to the point where he had to face a stint in Tacoma to get his swing under control.  Valencia is in no way a perfect, polished player, but he’s been fantastic the last two seasons, particularly against lefties, but improving against righties.  Even if he regresses while starting every day, he should still be a big improvement over Lind and what Lee became in the second half last year.  If Valencia can just hold it together until Vogelbach works on his game in Tacoma and gets called back up, we should be in good shape at first base for the first time in forever.

The deal that everyone’s hoping puts the Mariners over the top is the one that brought in Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger for Walker and Marte.  Marte has already been demoted to Triple-A, meanwhile Segura looks FANTASTIC so far this spring.  He hits for average, he’s got some pop in his bat, he can steal bases; the Mariners might have the biggest upgrade at any position in the entire American League from 2016 to 2017 in their switch from Marte to Segura.  I can’t WAIT for the season to start and I get to watch this guy every day.  Meanwhile, Haniger hasn’t slowed down one iota this spring, as you could make the argument he’s been the best player on the team in the month of March.  I know that means nothing, and I depressingly await his reverting to a pumpkin once the calendar flips to April.  But, if by the grace of all that is holy he manages to be the “surprise” player all the coaches believe he’ll be, we could be talking about this Taijuan Walker trade as highway robbery in favor of the Mariners.  So, you know, remember I said that when both of the Mariners’ guys flop out while Walker wins his second Cy Young Award in a few years.

Rounding out the outfield, we’ve got Jarrod Dyson, who figures to get plenty of playing time in left field.  Between Dyson and Haniger – replacing the likes of Seth Smith and Aoki/Guti – we’re talking about a MASSIVE improvement in our outfield defense.  This is no small thing, particularly when you consider our pitching staff and all the flyballs they tend to give up.  Dyson also figures to be a top-of-the-lineup hitter when he’s in there, who can steal a billion bases for you, so all around speed is the name of the game.  Dyson and Segura will be the primary base-stealers for you, but then there’s Martin (who had 24 last year) as well as Haniger, Heredia, and whoever ends up being our utility infielder.  When you think about late game heroics, I think you’re going to find we’ll be less reliant on the 10th inning home run, and more reliant on pinch runners stealing second and scoring on a single.  This could be HUGE for our record in 1-run games, which tends to be average-to-awful.

So, yeah, the hitting looks good!  As long as the Big Three don’t take significant steps back, or miss significant time with injuries, we should be right around the top of the American League in most important batting categories.  Leaving us with the ultimate question:  will we have enough pitching to win enough ballgames to get a spot in the post-season?

I’ll look into that tomorrow, as well as give you my official predictions on the season.

Here We Go Again: Another Husky Basketball Season

With every year that goes by, Husky basketball gets less and less fun, mostly because it’s the same God damn thing every God damn time.  On THIS side, you’ve got Romar On The Hot Seat, because it’s been X number of years since the Dawgs have made the NCAA Tournament, and really, what the fuck?  On THAT side, you’ve got another great recruiting class for 2017, with an even BETTER one on tap for 2018.  So, you know, what do you do?  Do you shitcan Romar – because he’s obviously not getting it done, to what’s becoming an embarrassing degree – or do you keep him around to see what he can do with what’s looking like a Top 2 or 3 class in the NATION for next year?

This year, the Huskies are down their three best players from last season:  Andrew Andrews, Marquese Chriss, and Dejounte Murray.  In their place, we’ve brought in someone being bandied about as a potential #1 overall draft pick next year in Markelle Fultz, along with impressive big man Sam Timmins from New Zealand.  To round it out, we’ve got holdovers in David Crisp, Matisse Thybulle, Malik Dime, Noah Dickerson, and Dominic Green who appears to be that 7th man in the early going.  All of them have their talents, all of them have their drawbacks, but more importantly, all of them have a year’s worth of experience at the Pac-12 level of college basketball.

The question on everyone’s minds is:  is that enough?  Is that enough to break the string and get back into the NCAA Tournament?  Is having potentially the best fucking player in all of college basketball, plus four other guys, enough to do this fucking thing?

Welp, if Sunday afternoon’s season-opening game at home against Yale has anything to say about it, the answer to that question is:  probably not.  We lost 98-90, and it was – as I alluded to at the beginning of the post – the same fucking shit.  The Huskies will win the games where they have a clear athletic advantage over their opponents, because they do have quite a bit of talent on this team.  But, they’re going to lose against smart teams who limit mistakes, pass the ball well, and take advantage of our frequent over-aggressiveness.

Yale, as you might imagine, is a pretty intelligent basketball team.  They committed 22 personal fouls to our 28, and 7 turnovers to our 13.  They got to the free throw line more often (34 to 26) and made a higher percentage (70.6 to 61.5).  Oh, and in spite of our height advantage, we were out-rebounded 42-29, including a 21-4 edge on the offensive glass.  Considering they also doubled us on assists (20-10), I’m hard-pressed to find any reason why the Huskies should have been anywhere CLOSE to the Bulldogs in this one.  Except, there it is, a 15-0 edge in blocked shots.  Between that and having the clear best player on the court (Fultz put up 30 points on 11-17 shooting, with 7 rebounds, 6 assists, a block, and only 3 turnovers in his first college regular season action), we ONLY lost to the pride of the Ivy League by 8 points.  God fucking dammit.

So, you tell me.  You tell me how this season is supposed to be any different.  Because, I’m all out of ideas.  Make no mistake, I’ve been one of Romar’s staunchest defenders, but I’m even having a hard time with all of this.  I have all the respect for him in the world as a person, as a teacher, as a recruiter … as pretty much anything except an actual X’s & O’s basketball coach.  We’ve got no offense to speak of, except for guys to just run around and make a play; we’ve got no identity whatsoever on defense.  I mean, at least last year we had a philosophy!  Switch everything.  Done.  Sure, there were plenty of breakdowns, but at least it was a plan!  Now that we’ve gone away from that, where exactly did we go TO?  Just kind of stand around and hope the other team makes more mistakes than we do?

I mean, WHAT THE HELL AM I WATCHING OUT THERE!?

This is supposed to be something I want to go witness in person?  This is something to be jazzed about?

I guess, if I had to try to think about something positive, I could point to the fact that Yale was a Tournament team last year, who beat 5-seeded Baylor in the first round, with a great up-and-coming head coach who figures to bolt to a bigtime school in the next year or two.  When all is said and done, and we look back at our wins and losses come Tournament time, a loss to Yale might not look as bad as it looks now.  But, again, I watch this Husky basketball team and I see the same shit over and over.

Aside from Fultz – and the class of 2018 – the only player I find myself getting excited about is Thybulle, who looks like he’s taken a BIG step forward in his game from last season to this one.  They should be a nice one-two punch; but beyond that, I just don’t know.  Crisp looks like the same guy as last year:  takes WAY too many threes, with no business doing so, since he only makes about 20% of them.  Dime is a good blocker, but is so skinny he doesn’t bring much in the rebounding department, and he brings next-to-nothing offensively.  Dickerson is still the foul machine he was last year, with a marginal post game and an okay jump shot from the free throw line.

I sure hope Fultz comes in with a readymade outside shot, because if that’s something he needs to develop, then it’s already too late, because I don’t see a consistent 3-point shooter on this team (unless Thybulle has returned even better than I thought; he’s off to a good start in his first game, having made 3 of 4).  None of that really matters though, because the way this team plays defense, we’d have to average 100 points per game, and that’s just not going to happen when you’ve only got two scorers you can count upon, on a team filled with wild cards.

And so, like I said up top, here we go again.  What’s my prediction for this team?  Oh, I dunno, let’s see what they did last season:  8-4 in non-conference, 9-9 in conference, 1-1 in the Pac-12 Tournament, 1-1 in the N.I.T.  Yeah, sure, I guess that feels right.  Why the hell not?  The Huskies are Groundhog Day, and we’re all Bill Fucking Murray.  Except I don’t think there’s any Andie MacDowell at the end of our rainbow.

Taking a look at the schedule, it actually shapes up to be a reasonable one.  Aside from Yale, and the usual cupcake schools, we go on the road to Gonzaga in December; they’re already ranked in the Top 15 and figure to be a player come Tournament time.  A win against them seems unlikely, but would be pretty huge.  We also play TCU on the road, which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is a road game.  Then, I guess maybe Nevada would be the third-toughest game of the non-conference slate?  Not knowing who we play in one of these non-conference weekend tournaments, I suppose.

In conference, Oregon’s coming into the season ranked 5th in the nation; we play them once all year, at home, in early January.  Arizona’s ranked 10th and we play them twice; UCLA’s 16th and we play them twice as well.  Colorado always seems like they’re good; we play them twice.  Cal and Stanford, who knows, but we only play them once each, on the road.  We kickoff the new year (and our conference season) on January 1st (against the Cougs), with three straight home games; we end our regular season with three straight road games, finishing on the road against the L.A. schools.  So, yeah, there’s that.

I usually end these Husky basketball preview posts with something along the lines of “they won’t be great, but at least they’ll be entertaining,” but I’m starting to come off of that stance.  Reruns are only entertaining for so long.  Teams that are usually pretty good on offense, but terrible on defense can only get my boner throbbing so hard.  Husky basketball is the cotton candy of the food world.  It’s light and colorful and fun, but it lacks substance, and if you eat too much you get sick.  I’m tired of cotton candy; at this point I just want a fucking steak.

Win games, Huskies.  Not just against the dregs; win against the elites.  You’re not going to draw me into caring about this team if you keep playing the same songs over and over again.

Part 2: Why The Seahawks Will Win The Super Bowl This Year

We got into the Glass Half Empty side of things yesterday.  Today, it’s all about Glass Half Full.

I’ll start here where I started yesterday:  the offensive line.  In this run of dominance the last four years, the Seahawks have never really had a world-beating O-Line.  Sure, Okung was a nice player and a talented first rounder, but he also often found himself injured and being replaced by the likes of Alvin Bailey.  Has that stopped us from winning ballgames or running the ball among the best teams in the league?  Absolutely not!  We’ve gotten by with the likes of James Carpenter, J.R. Sweezy, Breno Giacomini, and Patrick Lewis – all fine players in their own rights, but ultimately all replacement level players who made their money on the back of this team’s success.

People like to denigrate Russell Wilson, saying he’s just a “system quarterback”, and that had he been put into the wrong situation, he’d be another nobody right now.  Well, by the same token, this is a “system” offensive line, behind Tom Cable’s vision for what this unit should do and do well:  run the football.  It’s always going to struggle somewhat in pass protection – it has the last four years anyway – but like I said before, that hasn’t stopped us yet.

Because we DO have Russell Wilson!  And while he might want to thank his lucky stars the Cleveland Browns didn’t draft him, I think he’s pretty great, and fully capable of making up this O-Line’s shortcomings.  Will he be perfect?  No.  He’ll occasionally run himself into some sacks.  He’ll hold onto the ball too long when he should’ve just thrown it away.  But, he’s also going to do some truly amazing things that only he can do.  And, in the end, that’s going to be more than good enough to make up for the O-Line.

I like our ability to run the ball.  I like the continuity of our receiving corps.  And while I don’t necessarily think Russell Wilson is going to double his second half of last year and turn it into a full season this year, I think he’ll certainly take another step in his progression and by season’s end have had his best year ever.  I don’t know if the offense is going to be the dominant Seahawks unit over the defense, but I think we’ll have put up the most points in franchise history when all is said and done.

I also don’t know if the defense will be able to make it 5 straight years with the fewest points allowed, but if not, they’ll still be close to the top.  I just think, at this point, you know what to expect from this defense.  With everyone here, happy, and healthy to start the season, I think that puts us in the driver’s seat compared to last year, where we had so many issues.  Just having the vets around, practicing, playing, is going to be great for our younger guys.  The kids won’t have to play right away, they can soak in more of the system, more of the game plans, so by the time they ARE pressed into duty, because of injuries or whatever, they’ll be that much better than if they had to start right away and be thrown into the fire prematurely.

Finally, I like what the schedule has to offer.  Let’s break it down, week by week:

Miami, to kick things off on Sunday.  I think this game starts off a little too close for comfort in the first half, but ultimately I think the Seahawks start to blow it out in the second half for a double-digit victory.

At Los Angeles, for their regular season home opener.  By all rights, I’d be a fool to lock this one down as a win.  The Rams, particularly under Jeff Fisher, have had our number in ways I’m not even comfortable thinking about.  With this being their first game back in L.A., with upwards of 90,000 fans in a rabid froth, it won’t be easy.  I think this game is a slog, but I also think the Rams are remarkably worse than they’ve ever been, and I think we take this by a field goal to start 2-0.

San Francisco in week three.  Absolute pushovers from top to bottom.  Nothing about this team scares me.  I think we beat them by three touchdowns.

At New York, to play the Jets before our BYE week.  A lot of people have this down as a loss for the Seahawks.  I can see why.  You’ve got a cross-country trip and a 10am start.  You’ve got a team with an excellent defense, some strong weapons on offense, a savvy veteran quarterback, and one of the better up & coming head coaches in the NFL.  But, at the same time, I think you’ve got a team that doesn’t match up with us very well.  Sure, they’ve got Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, but we’ve got one of the top secondaries in the league.  I think we easily shut down their passing attack, and just as easily shut down their mediocre rushing attack.  This game will depend on how well the Seahawks can move the football.  The Jets’ D-Line is ferocious, so it’ll be tough sledding for our O-Line.  They’ve also got Revis, but I think we have what it takes to beat him.  If he clamps down on Doug Baldwin, I think Tyler Lockett has a big game.  I also think the Seahawks take advantage of Kearse’s size in this one and he leads the team in receptions.  I also think our tight ends will be a huge factor, as Jimmy Graham should have played his way back into the #1 role.  It’ll be a dogfight, but I’m seeing something like 17-13, with the Seahawks on top.

Atlanta at home, after the BYE.  I just don’t think the Falcons are very good.  At all.  Matt Ryan has been a mistake-prone mess ever since Tony Gonzalez – his security blanket – retired, and ever since Roddy White’s aging body turned him into a nobody.  Sure, he’s still got Julio Jones – making Jones one of the most valuable receivers in the game, for fantasy purposes – but we’ve got Richard Sherman.  Beyond that, good fucking luck.  I think the Seahawks steamroll in this one by a good 2-3 touchdowns.

The next two weeks are at Arizona and at New Orleans.  The Arizona game is a Sunday Night game, the Saints game is a 10am start.  I think the Seahawks go 1-1 in this set of games, but I’m not going to commit to which game they win and which one they lose.  What does that mean?  Well, USUALLY it means I think the Seahawks will win the game they’re supposed to lose, and lose the game they’re supposed to win.  It’s probably idiotic, but even at Arizona’s best, we’ve been able to handle them pretty savagely on their home turf.  Combined with the fact that we’ll be out for revenge after they embarrassed us on Sunday Night in 2015, and the opinion that I secretly hold – which is that the Cards are due for some regression in 2016 – and I could see the Seahawks walking all over the Cards and solidifying our hold on first place in the division.  As for the Saints game, I’ve seen this one play out too many times before.  It reminds me of the Chargers game in 2014, the Lions game of 2012, and ESPECIALLY the Colts game of 2013.  They have a dominant offense, with a Hall of Fame quarterback who will put up 30+ points against us.  Meanwhile, we’ll probably make one too many mistakes on offense – against a shitty, but improved Saints defense – and gag it away at the end.  Saints 35-27, to put our record at 6-1.

Buffalo on Monday Night to close out the first half of our schedule.  This one should be another home walk-over.  We’ll be jacked up for a home Monday Night game, and the Bills – who have no experience in our environment – won’t know what to do with themselves.  7-1 to close out the first half.

At New England on Sunday Night to kick off the second half.  I try to run this game through any number of scenarios, and I just can’t find a way the Seahawks win, short of Tom Brady being injured.  Another cross-country trip.  All the hype from it being a Super Bowl XLIX rematch.  And, let’s face it, if any team is going to put into use the main strategy of beating the Seahawks – dink & dunk, then try the seams on double moves with their taller receivers – it’s the Patriots.  On the plus side, I think the Pats’ defense is much worse than two years ago.  So, if the Seahawks DO win this game, it’s almost certainly going to require this game being a shootout like last year’s Steelers game.  But, I don’t see that happening.  Patriots by a single score.

Home for Philly and another walkover.  You’ve got a team starting a rookie quarterback, but more than that, you’ve got a team clearly playing for next year.  They’re stocking up on draft picks and kicking out all the old players on the roster, compiled by Chip Kelly.  I don’t see this one being particularly close either.

At Tampa in yet another cross-country flight.  We really got hosed by playing the AFC East and NFC South (which are all pretty much in the East anyway).  This game strikes me as one of those traditional slow starters for the Seahawks.  I think we have to overcome a double-digit deficit, and perhaps have to win this one in overtime, just like the last time we played the Bucs, back in 2013 (except that game was in Seattle).  Ultimately, I think we have just enough to pull this nailbiter out.

Home for Carolina in another Sunday Night game.  If both teams are at full strength, we could be looking at the best game of the regular season.  I just love how these teams match up.  I also wonder how healthy Cam Newton will be, considering all the hits he took in last night’s game.  Will his recklessness in taking hits finally catch up to him?  I kinda, sorta have a feeling this game will come down to who’s actually playing, and for whatever reason I have a feeling Cam will be out for this game.  Either way, I like our chances at home, on Sunday Night, trying to rectify the disaster that was our 2015 season against the Panthers (going 0-2 in two games).  It’ll be a nailbiter, but Seahawks win.

At Green Bay in December.  I think this is another one of those games we’re supposed to lose, but in fact we turn the tables and steal one.  Is it weird for the Packers and their fans to hate Seattle more than teams in their own division?  Well, when we keep ruining their playoff hopes, I guess it’s not!

Home for the Rams and Cardinals the next two weeks.  I think we go 1-1 here too, and while I’m not yet ready to commit, I will say that I feel it’s more likely we beat the Rams and lose to the Cards.  I still think this is the year the Rams go 6-10 or 5-11 and Jeff Fisher gets fired.  A girl can dream, can’t she?

Finally, at San Francisco to close it out.  If we’re playing for anything, I think we win easily.  If we’ve somehow got the #1 seed wrapped up, I think we let the kids get the majority of the snaps and probably lose it in the end.  Let’s just say we win and call it a day.

13-3, number one seed in the NFC, and an inside track for another Super Bowl.  This year, we get back to it, and this year we win the whole fuckin’ thing.  Mark it.

Part 1: Why The Seahawks Won’t Win The Super Bowl This Year

Consider this the start of a two-part season preview for the 2016 Seahawks.  Anything less would be uncivilized.

Speaking of Right Guard, let’s start there.  One of the primary failings of the 2015 Seahawks – particularly on offense – was the offensive line.  Sure, there were early-season defensive breakdowns that were our regular season undoing, but if you want to look at why the Seahawks lost in the playoffs, look no further than the interior offensive line.  Guard-Center-Guard.

Now, at least in the early going, it appears the Seahawks have vastly improved this combo compared to last year.  Once Alvin Bailey proved he wasn’t up to the task of left guard, the team panicked and put Justin Britt there.  He was a disaster.  Eventually, the team settled on Patrick Lewis at center, and things seemed to improve along the line as a whole.  But, Lewis was far from ideal.  And, we were in J.R. Sweezy’s fourth year with the team; four years that saw him plateau pretty early on, then continue to make the same mistakes in pass protection over and over and over again.

Mark Glowinski – after a year on the bench to learn the position at an NFL level – is ready to be a starting left guard in this league.  Justin Britt – in his third position in three years – seems to have finally found a spot that works for him.  And rookie first rounder Germain Ifedi is being broken into the league at right guard, where he’ll hopefully thrive and eventually shift outside to tackle in the coming seasons.  These three guys should be a marked improvement over the three we had there last year.

And yet … HOO BOY, are we thin!  News came down yesterday that Ifedi left practice with an alleged ankle injury.  The severity is unknown at this time – he could be out for the year, or he could play this weekend – but the fright it’s caused this fanbase is all too real:  who replaces Ifedi if he can’t play this week?  The only other guard on this roster is Rees Odhiambo, who was taken at the end of the third round of this year’s draft.  J’Marcus Webb is another possibility – as he’s played both guard and tackle – but as you can see, we’re already greatly reducing this unit’s effectiveness with these diminishing returns.

WE CANNOT HAVE INJURIES ALONG THE OFFENSIVE LINE!!!

Particularly up the middle, which is where we failed against the Panthers in last season’s playoffs.  Russell Wilson improved on his pocket passing last year, and getting the ball out quicker, but you still need to give him SOME time.  Thinning out the interior of this O-Line – when the tackles are already pretty shaky – is going to be a disaster this team won’t be able to recover from.

But, you know, anyone could write a preview about why a team won’t make the Super Bowl and put “Injuries” as the leading cause.  Let’s face it, if your quarterback goes down, you’re not winning the championship.  If too many key offensive or defensive playmakers get injured, you’re not winning the championship.  And so on and so forth.  So, let’s move on.

Another big concern for me has to do with the defensive line.  I still don’t see us having the type of pass rush we had in 2013, and I don’t think we ever will.  Avril and Bennett are great, but Frank Clark is still young and unproven.  And I just don’t see anyone behind those three guys who will have much of an impact.  Does that mean we’ll have to blitz more?  If so, that takes away from a weak spot that is the middle of our defense.  Teams dink and dunk on us with regularity as it is; sending an extra blitzer just opens up that part of the field even more for converted third downs.

AND, I’m not so sure our run defense is up to snuff.  This is the first year in forever that we won’t have Brandon Mebane anchoring the middle.  Will Rubin, Reed, and McDaniel be able to pick up that slack?  There were a lot of times this pre-season where I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the first defense’s ability to stop the run.  Let’s hope that mess is left where it belongs:  in the meaningless pre-season.

All in all, I wonder if this is the year where the Seahawks finally fall from the top in points allowed.  It’s been a record-breaking four year run of dominance, and it’s bound to end at some point.  Part of me wonders if teams have figured us out, and part of me wonders if Kris Richard will be a new whipping boy, a la Darrell Bevell.  Kris Richard can pay lip service all he wants about not changing the scheme from years past, but he’s still the one calling the plays, and this is only his second year doing that job.  Are we sure his situational play-calling abilities are good enough for the NFL?

I mean, come on, if the players are mostly the same, and the scheme is the same, then it has to be the play-calling, right?

Of course, to really derail the Seahawks, they’ll have to lose a few games they shouldn’t.  More defensive lapses like last year.  More oddball defeats to the likes of the Rams, Eagles, or Dolphins.  Arizona will have to be as good as I think they’ll be, and run away with the division again.  The Packers and/or the Panthers will have to be another dominant NFC team.  If we let too many regular season games slip away, and prove we can’t beat the elite teams like last year, we’ll once again be 10-6 and looking at a Wild Card path to the Super Bowl.  Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to believe it, I just don’t think the Seahawks are able to cruise through the regular season and then flip a switch come playoff time.  Hell, last year they SHOULD have lost to the Vikings in the first round!

Finally, I’d say there’s one big concern no one really wants to talk about.  Russell Wilson had one of the better second halves to a season that I’ve ever seen last year.  Rightly, everyone is on his bandwagon for him to continue that trend – possibly with an MVP finish.  Did Wilson figure it out, and take that next step in his development?  Or, is this a matter of momentum?  Because, we all know there’s no such thing as momentum, and it could just as easily go the other way starting Sunday.

In the pre-season, I saw good Russell Wilson and I saw bad Russell Wilson.  I saw the guy who makes quick decisions and rips off chunk passing plays, and I saw the guy who holds the ball too long and takes unnecessary sacks.  It’s the pre-season, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  But, I don’t think anyone goes from Good to Elite without some bumps in the road.

If he does regress, though, with the way this team is counting on him to carry us all the way, it could be a total disaster.

It takes a lot going right for a team to win a Super Bowl.  Luck, obviously, plays a huge factor.  This team has what it takes to go all the way, but there are a good number of other teams who can say the same thing.  Arizona, Green Bay, Carolina, New England, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Houston, Jacksonville, Washington, Oakland, Cincinnati.  We’re damn near through half the league!

So, yeah, I’d say the odds are stacked against us in a number of ways.  Tomorrow, I’ll write about how none of that matters.

Predicting The 2016 NFL Season

Still my favorite post of the year!  Still don’t care how wrong I am!  Still got love for the streets, repping 253!  Still not loving police!  And so on and so forth …

Last year, I had the Seahawks over the Colts in the Super Bowl.  I got something like 2 division winners right, and maybe only half of the playoff participants.  And I had some MIND-BOGGLING picks, like the Rams & Lions & Dolphins in the Wild Card, and the Chiefs over the Broncos and Ravens over the Bengals as division winners.  In short, it was all bad; so let’s try to do better.  As usual, I’ll refrain from predicting actual records, and just list the teams in order of where they’ll finish in the standings in their respective divisions.

NFC East

Washington
NY Giants
Dallas
Philadelphia

I got the Redskins on a big ol’ come-up!  Mostly because I think Scot McCloughan is a roster genius and has turned around every franchise he’s put his hands on.  Their offense improved greatly over the course of the 2015 season and should play well going forward as long as Cousins stays healthy.  I think they’ll find just enough on defense to stay in games.  And, I think the Cowboys and ESPECIALLY the Eagles will be pretty bad this year.  Gods and clods in this division, as I have the Giants taking the next step and returning to the playoffs as a wild card.  I figure 9-7 should be good enough in this NFC to nab a 6th seed.

NFC North

Green Bay
Minnesota
Detroit
Chicago

You hate to put all your hopes on the likes of Teddy Bridgewater, but that’s essentially what I’m doing with the Vikings this year.  Granted, I don’t think he’s great, but I think he is good at limiting mistakes and playing within the flow of the offense.  With the team around him, I think he’s worth an extra 1-2 wins over his counterparts (in this case, Shaun Hill and Sam Bradford).  I just think Hill is doomed to get hurt at some point, and Bradford has the misfortune of not having practiced with the team all offseason.  Both guys are clear steps down compared to Bridgewater, which I think relegates this team to 7 or 8 wins at most.  That puts Green Bay in the driver’s seat by default, and a real contender for the top two spots in the NFC.  I like Detroit to play good offense and poor defense, and I like Chicago to play good defense and poor offense.

NFC South

Carolina
Tampa Bay
New Orleans
Atlanta

This feels remarkably easy, but Carolina is simply the most complete team in the division, period.  I think the Bucs take a big step forward this year – especially on offense – and I think they contend for that 6th seed, but I think they ultimately fall short on tie-breakers.  I don’t expect much out of Atlanta’s offense again this year, and I think their defense is considerably worse.  I think the Saints do enough on offense to win some games they should lose, but ultimately they need to do too much on defense to be competitive this year.  Maybe 2017.

NFC West

Seattle
Arizona
San Francisco
Los Angeles

This is the homer coming out in me.  By all rights, the Cardinals should repeat as division champs – they’re just as good as they were last year, if not better in certain areas, AND they have the easier schedule, by dodging Tom Brady and playing the Vikings instead of the Packers – but I just think the Seahawks are hungrier.  I also think the Seahawks are going to get off to a really hot start this year.  Combine that with the fact that Palmer is due for another devastating injury (with the outside chance that his psyche never recovers from that playoff dismantling by the Panthers last year), and let’s just say I’m hedging my bets by having the Cards make the wild card at something like 10-6.

Not for nothing, but I also think the Rams take a HUGE step back this year.  I think the 49ers shock some people – as they have the most negative hype I’ve seen in recent memory – and I think the Rams do so poorly that they have no choice but to fire Jeff Fisher and company (in spite of his recent contract extension).  I just think they can’t afford to waste Goff’s prime on a nothing coaching staff and will look to shake things up by bringing in the hottest offensive coordinator on the market this upcoming offseason (whoever that may be).

AFC East

New England
Buffalo
NY Jets
Miami

Keep picking the Pats until the end of time!  You want a shocker (and the clubhouse leader for the pick I’m likeliest to get wrong)?  I got Buffalo FINALLY breaking their streak as the team with the longest playoff drought!  I like Tyrod Taylor a lot, I like a desperate Rex Ryan, and I like how nobody’s giving this team a shot.  I think 9-7 (with tiebreakers) does it.  I don’t think Fitzpatrick has another year like 2015 in him, and he proves why paying guys like him $12 million per year is a fool’s errand.  I think Tannehill improves with Adam Gase as his head coach, but I don’t think it’s enough, as this team is pretty weak and unimpressive in most areas outside of the D-Line.

AFC North

Pittsburgh
Cincinnati
Baltimore
Cleveland

I like Roethlisberger to stay mostly healthy and put up huge numbers again.  I like the defense to do just enough, but the offense to ultimately carry them.  I think Andy Dalton takes a step back without Hue Jackson holding his hand.  I think Baltimore improves, but only to the 7 or 8-win range.  And, I think Cleveland gets another Top 5 draft pick to throw onto the pile.  Ultimately, I think the Bengals fall short of making the playoffs, with potential coaching casualties following.

AFC South

Houston
Jacksonville
Indianapolis
Tennessee

I think Brock Osweiler is a VAST improvement over all the QBs Houston had on their roster last year, and with the talent around him (particularly Lamar Miller’s breakout year), and that defense behind him, is enough to get them to 10 or 11 wins.  The key for Osweiler is to limit turnovers.  If he can do that (the way Hoyer & Co. could not), the sky is the limit for this team.  I like Jacksonville to take a big step forward and really contend for a wild card spot, but I think they’re probably another year away.  I’m also concerned about Bortles regressing, but I’ll avoid that conversation for now, as I’m counting on him in Fantasy to lead me to glory this year and beyond.  I think Indy is a trainwreck, and no amount of Andrew Luck will be able to carry this team to the playoffs, in what is a vastly improved division.  I think the Titans give the Colts a run for their money, but ultimately fall just short (because the Titans have garbage coaching, and no weapons on offense outside of TE).

AFC West

Kansas City
Oakland
Denver
San Diego

I like the Chiefs for 12 wins and one of the top 2 seeds.  I like Oakland to be the team to make the jump into the other Wild Card spot.  I like Denver for about 8 wins (never thought their defense alone would be enough to carry them back into the post-season).  And, I like the Chargers to be playing in a city outside of San Diego in 2017.

NFC Playoffs

  1. Seattle
  2. Green Bay
  3. Washington
  4. Carolina
  5. Arizona
  6. NY Giants

AFC Playoffs

  1. New England
  2. Kansas City
  3. Houston
  4. Pittsburgh
  5. Oakland
  6. Buffalo

I like the Seahawks because I’m a homer, and I like the Packers over the other three teams because I think they have the most favorable schedule (AFC South & NFC East are the divisions they have to play, while catching Seattle, Houston, Indy, and the Giants at home, and playing garbage Atlanta thanks to their 2nd place divisional schedule).

I like New England because they’re New England.  I like the Chiefs because I think they’re balanced and poised to take that next step.

Wild Card Round

Washington over NY Giants
Carolina over Arizona
Houston over Buffalo
Oakland over Pittsburgh

Divisional Round

Seattle over Carolina
Green Bay over Washington
New England over Oakland
Kansas City over Houston

Championship Round

Seattle over Green Bay
Kansas City over New England

Super Bowl

Seattle over Kansas City

What can I say?  I like me some Seahawks, and I like me some Super Bowls against AFC West opponents!

The Washington Husky Hype Train Is Pulling Into The Hype Station For A Whole Lotta Hype Ass Kicking!

The last time I wrote about the Dawgs, we were just getting into the early part of pre-season prognosticating.  Website rankings and other media types were venturing out onto their ledges with predictions, and there were the Washington Huskies, smack dab in the sweet spot of critical darlinghood.

And let’s face it!  We’re fucking adorable!  We’re the cutest baby at a gathering of hormonal pregnant ladies; just try and not pinch our cheeks while letting out a collective AWWWW!  You can’t resist!

Now, shit is getting real.  The AP has us ranked 14th in the nation; the coaches have us 18th.  Regardless, without having played a down of football, we’re a consensus Top 20 team in America.  It’s not an achievement by any means, but it’s something nice to look at as we reflect upon how far we’ve come.

This time last year, the Huskies were picked to be among the dregs of the Pac-12.  I had them pegged for 4 wins, and I think a lot of media types had the same.  Obviously, the team out-played expectations, netting 6 regular season wins and a 7th in the bowl game.  You have to wonder how things would’ve worked out in another universe where Sark’s alcoholism didn’t implode the Trojans, and where Luke Falk didn’t injure himself before the Apple Cup, but that’s neither here nor there, because aside from the Stanford game, the Huskies were IN all of their games.  They battled!  Sure, they gagged away a few winnable games, against the Bears, Utes, and especially the Sun Devils, but that’s part of the process.  That’s breaking in a bunch of young players at key positions.

You can see by the way the Huskies finished out the 2015 season, though, that they were significantly better than when they started.  Had the Huskies of December played in those games back in September, October, and early November, we’re probably talking about a 9-win or 10-win team.

Well, here we are.  2016.  We’re short a few Sark-era guys, but for the most part we’re intact.  It’s Year Three for Coach Pete, which means it’s the first year of his tenure where he’s playing more of His Kinda Guys than the previous regime’s.  This is where all of those Top 25 recruiting classes come to fruition.

Sophomore quarterback & running back, with a full year’s experience, a full year’s health, and a full offseason’s worth of training in the program.

4 out of 5 returning offensive linemen – and quality linemen to boot.  This is going to be, hands down, the best offensive line we’ve seen since the Rick Neuheisel era (all praise to Jim Lambright).

If there’s a knock, you could say the receiving corps was depleted with the losses of Jaydon Mickens and Joshua Perkins.  But, with John Ross returning, the sky is really the limit for this entire offensive unit.

And that’s not even factoring into the equation a defense that could be Top 10 in the nation.  A defensive line super stout against the run, a linebacking unit returning most of its starters, and a secondary that might be the best in the nation.

When you add it all up, tack on how well regarded Chris Petersen is as a coach, and how this might be one of the easiest schedules in major college football, and it’s not hard to count to double-digit wins, with an outside chance of contending for the entire Pac-12 North.

As it stands, Stanford is the consensus top-ranked Pac-12 team.  But, they’re breaking in a new starting quarterback AND they’re facing an absolute murderer’s row in the first half of their schedule.  They kick off at home against K-State, then it’s USC (20th), @ UCLA (16th), @ UW (14th), WSU (unranked, but pretty damn good), and @ Notre Dame (10th).  Suffice it to say, when they finish that stretch 3-3, they won’t be ranked in the Top 10 anymore.

In the same range as Washington, we have UCLA – who many are picking as the best in the Pac-12 South.  Well, fortunately for us, we won’t have to play them until the Pac-12 Championship Game.  So, that’s a huge plus.

We do have to play USC, but we get them at home, in mid-November, after beating them down in L.A. last year.  I’d say that’s another good sign for the good guys.

All told, our schedule features only 3 pre-season ranked teams:  Stanford, USC, and Oregon.  We get two of those games at home, and only have to travel to Eugene for the other.  We all know Oregon is a paper tiger this year anyway.  THE. STREAK. WILL. END. NOW.

The non-conference schedule is full of cupcakes, which is nice.  Get off to an easy 3-0 start while we work the kinks out.  Maybe one of those games is a little too close for comfort, allowing Coach Pete to get everyone focused without it actually costing us a game.  That sets us up for what I’m going to call a scary trap game down in Arizona.  The Wildcats are getting pegged to be near the bottom of the conference, around the .500 range, but I could easily see this game being overlooked, as the very next week we host Stanford, followed by a game down in Oregon.

If we somehow get past Arizona, I think we’ll be able to take out Stanford in a fired-up Friday night atmosphere.  That will carry us through to Oregon – which, again, paper tigers – before a mid-October BYE week to reflect on our 6-0 start and our Top 10 placement in the rankings.  At that point, people will be talking about the Huskies in the same breath as people talk about the College Football Playoff, and quite frankly, by that point, we might be the Pac-12’s last hope!

We come out of the BYE week with a home game against the Beavers, which again is a nice, soft landing, before probably the Game of the Year.  On the road.  At Utah.

Now, make no mistake, if I decide to pull it back here and be rational for a second, the Huskies could EASILY lose to any and all of our first three Pac-12 opponents.  But, where’s the fun in that?

For the purposes of this prediction post, I’m saying the Huskies start out the season 7-0 and in the Top 10 in all of college football.  And, I think it’s in Utah where our run of good fortune ends.

But, we’re set up nicely for a bounce-back game down in Cal, whose previous quarterback – you may recall – was recently drafted #1 overall by the Rams.  That sets us up for back-to-back home games against the Trojans and Sun Devils.  I’m not really impressed by either of those teams, and see no reason why the Huskies shouldn’t take care of business.  That gets us to 10-1 and a showdown in Pullman in the Apple Cup.

If 10-1 doesn’t already win us the Pac-12 North, that will only be because the Washington State Cougars – with an equally as creampuffy non-conference schedule, as well as a Pac-12 schedule that sees them avoid Utah & USC – are 9-2 at the time.

THAT’S RIGHT!  I’m predicting that the Apple Cup will decide the winner of the Pac-12 North!

And, I’m also predicting that the Huskies will win that game, beat the Bruins in the Pac-12 Championship Game, for the right to play in their first Rose Bowl since 2000.

The Huskies are back, baby!  This season is going to be magical!  Mark it!

Another Pointless Mid-Pre-Season Seahawks Roster Prediction

I’m not immune!  I rail against these things (particularly the regularity with which they’re produced) and laugh at people who take them too seriously.  That having been said, it’s Monday.  We’ve seen two pre-season games so far, and I don’t know any more than anyone else covering this team.  But, that also means I really don’t know that much less than anyone else, particularly when it comes to predicting the season-opening 53-man roster.

These things are, like, 85% duh, with another 13% educated guesses, and 2% batshit insanity so you can look back in a couple weeks and say, “See, I was crazy, but I was right!”  Or, with a laugh, go, “Hoo boy, what was I thinking, right folks?”  Sad!  Fun!  Sad!

Without further ado, feel free to pick it apart:

QB (2)

Russell Wilson
Trevone Boykin

Put this in the ol’ Duh category.  I think the ship has sailed on Tarvaris Jackson.  I mean, if we cut Clint Gresham to save a few sheckles at long snapper, there’s no reason to expect this team to shell out a million bucks just to have Tarvar calling the coin toss for us in overtime games.  They’ve given Boykin every opportunity to win the job, and so far he hasn’t really disappointed.  You don’t want him starting for you anytime this year (or next, or ever, really), and he doesn’t look like he could win you any games if you needed him in an emergency basis.  But, he’s the kind of guy who could grow into the role, learn behind Wilson, and build value over the next 3-4 years.  Plus, if Wilson ever was severely injured, guess what?  Nobody’s signing Tarvaris Jackson anytime soon, so you could very well see him back with the club if it came to that!  Win-win, everyone!

RB (5)

Thomas Rawls
Christine Michael
C.J. Prosise
Alex Collins
Will Tukuafu

I am … not confident at all in this grouping.  Prosise has yet to do much of anything since we drafted him; I keep getting an IR vibe off of him.  Collins has looked pretty bad in the first pre-season games, but I’m hard pressed to judge the kid based off of running with the reserve O-Linemen.  Tukuafu was just re-signed, so that seems like a no-brainer.  He knows the system and they obviously like what he brings to the table.  On my cut list, that ices out Brooks & Pope.  It’s a numbers game at this point, and I think one of these guys makes it on the practice squad.  With a VERY outside chance of Pope weaseling his way onto the roster outright, if he keeps looking amazing, and the team doesn’t want to risk losing him to another team.

TE (4)

Jimmy Graham
Luke Willson
Nick Vannett
Brandon Williams

Pretty easy, this one.  I guess you could consider me buying into all the Brandon Williams hype, as the best blocking tight end on the team.  His spot gets cemented even further the longer Graham sits out of practice.  And, this ankle sprain from Vannett is another nail in the coffin … of Williams’ continued good fortune!  Were the top three guys fully healthy, I could easily see the team only keeping three tight ends, but with each guy bringing something different to the table, I like going with the four.  For now.

WR (5)

Doug Baldwin
Jermaine Kearse
Tyler Lockett
Paul Richardson
Kenny Lawler

Here’s where I’m going to stick one of my batshit insane picks.  Receivers 1-4 are obvious no-brainers.  But, I get a sense everyone is jumping off of the Lawler bandwagon.  I see what you all see:  a VERY skinny kid who looks like he’s about to snap into a million pieces with the next stiff breeze that crosses his path.  But, he’s looked pretty resilient so far in the first couple games.  He definitely looks like one of those receivers who’s ahead of the game, compared to where he’s at in his career (rookie 7th rounder).  If he plays smart, avoids excessive contact, and stays healthy, I think he has as good a shot as anyone of making that 5th WR spot.  I also think that if he’s released, he won’t make it onto the practice squad; I bet some other team snaps him up in a heartbeat.  Kevin Smith is doing himself no favors by being injured all this time.  Kasen Williams has been out with injury for a while too (and already has experience being passed through to the practice squad).  4th quarter hero Tanner McEvoy is someone you’d think would be in the mix, but I don’t think he’s all that refined in his route running.  I do think teams are looking at him, but I also think he’s a year or two away from making any sort of impact at the NFL level.

OL (9)

Bradley Sowell
Mark Glowinski
Justin Britt
Germain Ifedi
Garry Gilliam
J’Marcus Webb
Joey Hunt
Rees Odhiambo
Will Pericak

The surprises here land in who gets left out.  No Patrick Lewis:  I think the team feels he’ll be available if/when they need him; and I think Hunt has the higher upside (with being more likely to be picked up by another team, and thus not on our practice squad).  Also, no Jahri Evans:  I think he came a little too late to the party, and I think the team likes the guards it has.  That having been said, not all the veterans are set for dispatch.  I think Sowell and Webb both stick, as this team is pretty thin at Tackle and needs all the quality depth it can get (I also think the younger tackles just aren’t ready yet, and have a higher likelihood of making the practice squad since they suck so bad).  I think Odhiambo will prove he’s able to play multiple spots on the line, as a rookie, which gives him HUGE value.  And, I think Pericak is one of those developmental guys the team keeps on the 53-man roster all year, but never plays.  Seems like there’s always one – too valuable to sneak onto the practice squad, but not quite ready to even be a 2nd stringer just yet – and this year, my money is on Pericak (just don’t ask me to pronounce his name … W-ill?).

That puts us at an even 25 for the offense, which is about what you should expect.  Save a wide receiver spot by having Graham (who is already a quasi-receiver), and hope at least one of those young running backs makes it onto the practice squad.

DE (4)

Michael Bennett
Cliff Avril
Frank Clark
Cassius Marsh

This part is tough sledding, because 3/4 of these guys play multiple spots (Bennett as end & tackle; Clark as end, tackle, and linebacker; Marsh as end & linebacker), but I’m going to put them here and call them “primary pass rushers”, and if you don’t like it, tough titty.

DT (4)

Jarran Reed
Ahtyba Rubin
Quinton Jefferson
Tony McDaniel

Reed and Rubin are both locks, barring injury.  Jefferson sure looks like a guy who can fit into our rotation right away.  Which leaves newly-signed McDaniel, who looks as good as ever, providing that veteran leadership.  If I’m off-base anywhere in this list, the number one spot is probably leaving off Jordan Hill.  As you’ll see, I ended up keeping 6 linebackers, which is probably a mistake.  But, I haven’t seen anything from Hill this pre-season, or at any point last year for that matter, that would justify he HAS to be a guy this team keeps.  I think Jefferson takes over his role, and he’s left either stashed on the IR-to-return list, or he’s just cut and replaced.

LB (6)

Bobby Wagner
K.J. Wright
Mike Morgan
Kevin Pierre-Lewis
Brock Coyle
Eric Pinkins

Again, if I’m off-base, it’s here.  Pinkins feels like a stretch.  I think it’s going to take a monster final couple of games for him to win a spot, but I also think he has it in him.  He provides value on special teams and as a backup to Mike Morgan.  It just feels like it’s time to give him a shot and see what he can do in certain situations.

CB (6)

Richard Sherman
Jeremy Lane
DeShawn Shead
Tharold Simon
Marcus Burley
Tye Smith

If there’s anyone I’m not sold on, it’s Tye Smith.  Now, maybe we haven’t seen his name called much in the pre-season because he’s being quietly effective in pass coverage.  All I know is, he hasn’t stood out like you’d expect a young member of the L.O.B. to do.  Who HAS stood out is Marcus Burley.  He looked as good as I’ve ever seen him last week!  I know, I might be making too much out of a 2nd pre-season game, but he’s been with us a long time, he knows the system, and he’s probably the second-best nickel corner on the team (if we just keep Sherm on the outside and don’t have him following around the other team’s best receiver).

S (5)

Earl Thomas
Kam Chancellor
Kelcie McCray
Brandon Browner
Tyvis Powell

Is 11 DBs too many?  Feels like it’s too many.  Feels like I’m short 1 DE and 1 DT.  Anyway, Kam, Earl, and McCray are all locks.  I’m hopeful Browner makes the team, but could easily see the Seahawks walking away if it comes to a numbers game (injuries at other positions might dictate we need to keep extra resources elsewhere).  Powell has been the hotshot of camp and pre-season so far; I think the team figures out a way to keep him.  Since both he and Browner can play CB, maybe the team skimps there?  Or, maybe it comes down to Browner vs. Powell, at which point I bet the team goes younger and cheaper.  We’ll see.

That puts us at 25 defenders.  Again, I’m not married to this, but it’s just my feeling for today.  Obviously, a lot is going to change.  Up to and including:

Special Teams (3)

Steven Hauschka
Jon Ryan
Clint Gresham

You’re damn right!  I think Nolan Frese’s days are numbered!  I think the flaws in his young career become too many to overcome in these last couple pre-season games, when the pressure is increased.  I think the Seahawks figure out a way to find the money to pay a pro like Gresh, and I think we move on from this nightmare once and for all.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The Official 2016 Mariners Preview

I got into a bunch of stuff last week, if you missed it.

So, without further ado, why not kick this post off by talking about the hitters and fielders?

I’ve been on record for a while now as being pretty impressed by the collection of hitters the Mariners have amassed this year.  I think we’re across-the-board better than we were last year, and better than we’ve been in I can’t remember how many years.  Adam Lind should be an improvement over the streaky LoMo.  I’m not really all that high on Brad Miller (again, streaky), so I think we’ll get more consistency out of Ketel Marte.  Chris Iannetta should be leaps & bounds better than the black hole that was Mike Zunino.  Nori Aoki should be a HUGE upgrade over Dustin Ackley.  And, considering there was absolutely nothing special about Austin Jackson, that means we’re not taking much of a hit offensively with Leonys Martin, while at the same time getting a bigtime player defensively in center.

When you tack that onto Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz still in their primes, the improved health of Robinson Cano leading to a dramatic return to form, and the steady presence of Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez in a platoon situation, I think we’re going to see this team be quite competitive offensively, compared to in years past where most of the time we were struggling just to score a run or two.

In fact, I’ll take it one step further.  I think we’re going to see a high number of shootouts, where the Mariners are scoring 7+ runs, while at the same time giving up 7+ runs.  While the obvious home run numbers won’t be there, I think this COULD prove to be the best offense we’ve had since 2001.

Which is a shame, because usually it’s the pitching I have the most confidence in.  This year, terms like “potential” and “cautiously optimistic” have been uttered by me when talking about the collection of starters and relievers we’ve got on the roster.  It’s less than ideal.  You can make the case for and against just about every one of these guys.

I’m like 85-90% sure Felix Hernandez is going to continue being great.  But, while I won’t damn him for the so-called poor finish to his season last year, I will say there were a disturbing number of appearances where he got absolutely annihilated.  8 runs against Houston, where he only got 1 out.  7 runs each against the Yankees and Diamondbacks.  10 runs in 2.1 innings against Boston.  I’m not used to seeing my guy struggle like he did in these games.  I mean, I didn’t think I’d EVER see a time where he couldn’t get out of the first inning!  It’s not cause to be alarmed, but it’s cause to be on alert.  King Felix is still performing at a high level for the most part, but winter is coming.

On any given day, I’m 50/50 as to whether we’ll see Good Iwakuma or Crap Iwakuma.  He had that 2013 season where he was amazing (and amazingly healthy), but he’s followed it up with two so-so years.  While he finished pretty consistently strong, he had a run from late 2014 through early 2015 where he was giving up homers at an insane rate.  Even in his best year, he was giving up almost a homer a game, so that’s not entirely a negative issue with him.  But, keeping guys off base and keeping the ball from looking like a juicy piece of meat for opposing batters to mash will always be the key.

Wade Miley is more or less an effective innings eater, but he reminds me of every soft-tossing lefty starter we’ve had here in the last 8 years or so.  Vargas, Saunders, Elias, Happ, Washburn, Rowland-Smith, and I’m sure I’m forgetting countless others.  Vargas was probably the best of the bunch, but he didn’t come as a finished product and had his share of growing pains along the way.  Does Miley have an effective out pitch?  If he doesn’t have an awesome splitter or change up or something, I don’t have high hopes for him being very good.

Taijuan Walker seems to have the most promise among players taking a big leap forward.  But, at the same time, he could just be who he is.  When his command is on, he’ll be tough, but ultimately falling short of that elite, Ace status.

Then, there’s what’s sure to be a revolving door of sorts at the bottom of the rotation.  Karns is young, and I don’t really know what he has.  Paxton is down in Tacoma, waiting for either Karns to slip up, or someone else to get injured.  Neither one of them inspire too much confidence (I mean, our main injury insurance in Paxton is himself injury-prone!).

Ultimately, this is going to be the highest variance season we’ve seen out of the Mariners since 2007.  You know how, in every Preview post I’ve ever written about the Mariners, I talk about the Best Case Scenario?  Well, usually my scenarios are based in far-off delusions (Ackley/Smoak/Montero/Miller/Zunino will hopefully be ready to take the next step into being a productive and elite member of baseball society).  But, the actual variance in possibilities isn’t usually that great.  A normal range of outcomes is usually anywhere from 70-80 wins.  But, this year?  I could see this team winning anywhere from 65 games to 90 games and not have it be totally crazy.

What does a 65-win Mariners team look like?  Well, probably injury-riddled at its core.  One would think that team will have to face significant time with King Felix on the shelf, and at least one of the big three (Cano/Cruz/Seager).  As this team doesn’t really have a ton of depth, nor a ton of talent coming up through the pipeline, it just won’t be able to overcome significant health issues at its premium positions.

What does a 75-win Mariners team look like?  Well, tbh, a lot like last year’s team.  The bullpen struggles, the starters are somewhat effective, but have their own peaks & valleys to deal with, and the hitters aren’t as good as we thought going in.  That means Iannetta is just as black of a hole as Zunino; Lind isn’t much of an upgrade over LoMo, as he struggles to adjust to Safeco Field; Ketel Marte is drastically worse than the low bar Brad Miller had set for us; Nori Aoki looks more like Austin Jackson than we care to admit; and Leonys Martin looks more like James Jones than we care to admit.  That team also has one of the big three (let’s say Cruz, for shits and giggles, since he would appear to be due for some regression towards the mean) unexpectedly struggling a lot more than they did last year, due to nagging health issues or simply advanced age.

What does an 85-win Mariners team look like?  Well, for starters, the hitters match my expectations of being the strength of this team.  The pitching likely struggles at spots, and maybe Iwakuma or Karns miss a month or two due to injury (probably at different points in the season, giving us a lot more of Paxton than we expected).  The bullpen goes through hot periods and extra cold periods, but the offense is just clutch enough to give us a Kansas City Royals-esque spate of walk-off wins.  This team stays relevant throughout the season – giving Seattle fans lots to talk about all summer – and might even break that streak of seasons without a postseason appearance, depending on how things shake out in the rest of the American League.  Ultimately, this team probably disappoints in the playoffs (if it does get there), but it gives fans a ton of hope going into the 2017 season.

What does a 90-win (or 90+ win) Mariners team look like?  Well, here’s your Best Case Scenario.  Here’s where absolutely everything that needed to break right DOES break right.  Felix is in the Cy Young conversation.  Iwakuma is back to his 2013 tricks.  Wade Miley comes better than advertised and not only eats up innings, but figures out how to be an effective #2 or #3 starter.  Taijuan Walker goes thermonuclear.  And, the duo of Karns/Paxton are pleasant surprises whose ability to pitch finally catches up to their raw stuff.  This team gets strong seasons out of its primary 8th & 9th inning bullpen guys, and gets enough out of the rest of the bullpen to make it one of the top five units in the league.  And the hitting is not only as good as I think it’s going to be, but it still manages to come through on that clutchness factor, where we’re winning a vast majority of 1-run games (what some would say is an unsustainable rate of winning in those types of close games).  This team probably catches some luck among the rest of the A.L. West and takes the division, and cruises right into the ALCS.  Felix gets to show the world what it’s been missing by not having him in the playoffs, as he blows away the field in his post-season starts, and this team makes its first-ever World Series appearance (where it goes on to lose in five games, because this is Seattle, and we can’t have nice things).

So, where do I have my money?

In Tahoe, there was a Futures bet.  The over/under for the Mariners was 82 wins.  Now, considering I had 1 good betting day out of 4 when I was down there, you can take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt.  If I still had money on the last day there, I would’ve bet everything I had on the Mariners winning under 82 games.  What does that mean?  Well, my gambling prowess notwithstanding, I believe there is a greater than 50% chance that the shit hits the fan with this team (either with injuries, or a struggling bullpen, or the hitters just not being as good as we expected) and the Mariners struggle to remain competitive.  You know me, I hate a team that doesn’t pitch well.  Even if the key guys stay healthy, I still think this team – at the end of the day – will look a lot like it did last year, at least in the win/loss column.

That having been said, there’s a part of me that believes in this team more than last year’s team.  I wonder if that’s just because it looks so different (13 of the 25 players we have going into Opening Day will be playing their first games as Mariners).  I mean, different = better, right?  Well, at least different = more exciting, for the first few weeks anyway.

My hunch is that the offense will ultimately be one of the better ones we’ve seen in recent history, but it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see this offense get off to yet ANOTHER slow start in the month of April.  All the better to make me look foolish in my predictions (because everything in the world revolves around me and what I think).  Conversely, the pitching will probably start out on fire, and this team will be a couple games under .500 going into May.  It’ll tread water – as the Mariners like to do – through the All Star Break, and then on that road trip at the end of July the Mariners will go something like 1-7 and play themselves right out of contention (and a season-saving deadline deal).  From there, it’ll just be a matter of playing out the string of yet another losing season.  I think the record will be 77-85.

I like this team, but I’ve been burned too many times in the past.  I’ll go into this year expecting the worst, because why shouldn’t I?  We’ve got national morons predicting the Mariners will shock the world – like we read about just about every single year – but what are they basing it on?  The same things I’m basing my prediction on:  the high variance nature of this roster.  When has that ever worked out in our favor to spell out a post-season appearance?  Not bloody often.

Surprise! Husky Basketball for 2015/2016 Starts Tomorrow!

Yeah, tell me about it, right?

It’s back for another year.  What did YOU do over your Summer Vacation Away From Husky Basketball?  I went camping with my family, spent a long weekend down in San Francisco, worked a lot, did some writing, had my car broken into … I bought an iPhone.

It’s been a rough last four seasons for Husky basketball.  Lots of talented-enough players have come and gone, but the collective has failed to make the NCAA Tournament each and every year.  That in spite of the fact that last year’s team had potential NBA hopeful Nigel Williams-Goss (since transferred to Gonzaga of all places); the two years before we had NBA first round draft pick C.J. Wilcox; and the year before THAT we had NBA first round draft picks C.J. Wilcox, Tony Wroten Jr., and Terrence Ross, along with NFL second round draft pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins.  Suffice it to say, a lot of talent has passed through these hallowed halls, but not much in the way of actual on-court success.

Which, right or wrong, has led a lot of Husky fans to lay blame at the feet of the coaching staff, which in itself presents a conundrum.  On the one hand, you’re saying Lorenzo Romar isn’t good enough to mold the talent he has into winners, but does any other coach the Huskies could legitimately hire actually manage to recruit the type of talent we’re getting?  And, obviously, when you look at lists of colleges who produce NBA talent, you’re seeing Washington among some pretty prestigious college programs.  So, if he’s turning these guys into viable professional players, can he really be that bad of a coach?

To counter that, you just have to argue that there’s more to coaching than just recruiting and prepping guys for the pros.  There’s in-game decision-making.  There’s installing an offensive system.  There’s game-planning for your opponent.  You could argue that Romar and Co. have been lacking in all of those areas in recent years.  The old knock on Romar was that he didn’t really even HAVE an offensive system.  So, with the talent he brought in the last few years, he tried installing the High Post offense; it failed spectacularly.  He must have done it with the specific players he had on the roster in mind, but either they weren’t as suited for it as he thought, or they didn’t have the ancillary players around their stud point guards to make it work.  Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter, because the dedication to the High Post is gone now, replaced by the old motion offense he had so much success with early in his Husky coaching career.  I, for one, am ecstatic about this change.  If there’s one thing that’s been impossible to watch the last four years, it’s been this Husky offense struggle to grasp their half-court sets.

Something else you’ll notice about this year’s team is how VASTLY different it looks.  Take a quick scan of the roster and the only name that’ll instantly pop out to you is Andrew Andrews, back for his fourth and final year.  His numbers have steadily improved over each year – a staple of a Lorenzo Romar Guy – but they were never all that impressive to being with, and they’re not all that impressive now.  Last year, he averaged 15 points, but it took him 11 shots to get there.  He’s a solid, if unspectacular 80% free throw shooter, and hits about 37.6% of his three-pointers.  On the plus side, they’re moving him back to point guard, mostly to lead the offense as he’s surrounded by youngsters (aside from him, there are only 2 Juniors, everyone else is a soph or frosh), but also because they appear to have better players on the team to play shooting guard.

Aside from Andrews, the only returning players I can see are 6’7 wing Donaven Dorsey (who didn’t show a ton as a Freshman last year), and 5’10 mascot/garbage minutes phenom Dan Kingma (who played some serious bench minutes the last three games of last season and showed a knack for his quick release on 3-point shots, and overall pumping up the crowd and the rest of the team with his tenacious play).  I seem to recall Kingma earned a scholarship this year, and I honestly hope we get to see more of him off the bench as an Instant Offense type of shooter.

One other familiar face shows up on the coaching staff, with Will Conroy coming on as an assistant.  Love the move.  Loved Conroy as a player.  He’s a diehard Husky, which never hurts.  He’s young enough and has played professionally recently enough (albeit, overseas, but still), that I’m sure he’s able to help these kids a lot, especially the guards.

As I don’t really follow the whole recruiting trail enough to be at all knowledgeable, I don’t have a lot to say about the new guys.  I do know that our recruiting class this year is one of the best in the nation.  We trimmed A LOT of fat off of one of our shittier rosters last year.  And, while the loss of NWG may sting a little bit (time will tell, I suppose), it sounds like we really won’t miss him all that much.  He was disenchanted with all the losing, and we have all these studs coming in who’d be gunning for his job and his minutes.  I’d rather start fresh, hand the keys to Andrews (who feels more like a true Husky, rather than the hired gun that was NWG), and watch this team go to work.

The Dawgs played an exhibition game last week against Seattle Pacific.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t televised, or even on the radio, but we have stats to look at!

Andrews and Dejounte Murray led the team in minutes as the starting backcourt.  Andrews shot 6/12 overall, 1/4 from three, and 8/9 from the free throw line, for 21 points and 5 assists.  Murray shot 6/10, 2/4 from three, with 4 assists, 5 boards, and 16 points.  Rounding out the starting five, we have forwards Marquese Chriss, Matisse Thybulle, and Noah Dickerson – all Freshman, and all played at least 19 minutes.  Dickerson was 7/10 from the field with 17 points and 6 boards; Chriss shot 5/9 for 11 points and 5 boards; and Thybulle only netted 3 points, but if his line is any indication, he’s going to be one of those glue guys who fills up the stat sheet in other ways (2 boards, 3 assists, 3 steals).  Our primary bench guys in this game look like guard David Crisp (20 mins, 4/8, 2/4 from behind the arc, 3 assists, 3 boards) and forward Malik Dime (21 mins, 4 pts).  For what it’s worth, Kingma played 1 minute and didn’t show up on the stat sheet.

The consensus about this team is that they’re young, they’re fast, they’re athletic, they can score, the defense might be a little shaky, but they’re going to give you everything they’ve got.  In other words, pretty much the opposite of what we’ve seen the last four years.  If nothing else, we should be entertained by the product we’re watching.  No one is picking the Huskies to do much of anything, which is probably accurate, but could be rife for fodder if this team comes together and goes on a nice little run.

We kick off the season in China tomorrow against the Texas Longhorns.  Then, we return home for a couple of tune-up games before going to the Battle 4 Atlantis, where we’re guaranteed to play Gonzaga, and it also features teams like Texas (again), Texas A&M, Syracuse, UConn, Michigan, and Charlotte (seriously, I wanted to go to this, but it would cost an arm and a leg, and it takes place over Thanksgiving, so it was tough finding people interested in going with me).  The rest of the non-conference schedule features a lot of smaller schools I really don’t know much about (Cal State Fullerton, Montana, Oakland, TCU, UC Santa Barbara, Seattle U), but at this point I don’t know if the non-conference schedule really matters a whole lot.  No one really expects anything out of the Huskies this year, so it’s going to take a lot to get on the national radar.

I feel like a broken record when I say I think this team has a chance to shock the world (or at least the conference), but really it’s now or never.  You have to like the way Romar has recruited of late, and his upcoming classes appear to be filled with just as much talent as the one we’ve got this year.  Now, it’s time to show it on the court.  I don’t want to see Romar get fired; I’ve got a real soft spot for the guy.  I really DON’T think he’s a bad coach; I do think he’s been saddled with some players that haven’t improved like they normally would under him.  And, obviously, he’s missed out on some highly-touted recruits in recent years that have hampered some of our plans (along with some seriously savage injuries to key players – Jernard Jarreau comes immediately to mind).  But, now, he’s getting those highly-touted guys, and he’s also been working hard on the JuCo circuit to bring in some transfers who are ready to play right away.

Will this be the right mix?  God, I hope so.