The Mariners Lost The Blue Jays Series Because We Can’t Have Nice Things

Oh .500, how we hardly knew ye …

Coming off of Friday’s impressive win, I actually allowed myself to have some high hopes.  Ariel Miranda on Saturday, James Paxton on Sunday:  our two best pitchers going up against what should be an uninspiring Blue Jays lineup.

So, yeah, of course the Mariners lost both games.  Of course.  Of.  Course.

For the second consecutive start since coming off the DL, Paxton stunk.  Last time, it didn’t really matter, because the Mariners put up 12 runs, so it was okay for Paxton to leave after five, giving up the 3 runs.  But, yesterday he went 4, giving up 4, and didn’t really look all that sharp ever.  This is somewhat understandable, considering how long he was on the shelf, but the Mariners are going to need him to return to form pretty soon here.

A couple of roster moves made their impressions felt in this one.  For starters, Mitch Haniger returned from the DL (forcing Boog Powell back down to Tacoma).  Haniger went 0 for 4 with a walk, but he got his hacks in there, and hopefully he’ll also quickly return to form.

Following Paxton’s brief outing, we saw the return of Emilio Pagan, who was brought back up in favor of Tyler Cloyd.  Pagan went 4 innings of his own, giving up 0 runs, 0 hits, and walking just 1.  This is on the heels of his last Major League appearance, where he also went 4 shutout innings of relief.  Here’s to hoping he doesn’t get immediately rewarded with a Tacoma demotion, because he’s seriously looking like a guy we can count upon in this role going forward.

As for the offense, what can you say?  0 for 10 with RISP.  J.A. Happ got to be everything he WASN’T when he was in a Mariners uniform, again.  And Josh Donaldson got to make us his bitch.

The Blue Jays dominated the crowds this weekend just like they dominated this series.  I’m glad we don’t have to play them again for the rest of the season.

The Mariners hit the road with a 4-spot in Minnesota starting tonight.  Then, it’s on to Texas this weekend, before it’s right back here again, where hopefully the stands will have more Mariners fans than not.

The 2017 Mariners Have Still Never Been Over .500

That was as unlucky of a 2-1 defeat as you’ll ever see.  Down 1-0 on a solo homer in the fourth, Christian Bergman was working around a moderate jam in the fifth.  With two outs, he got Joe Mauer to bounce one to second base.  At the time, you could’ve made an argument that they would’ve given Bergman a shot at going six innings in this one.  But, not so fast, because the ball booted off the heel of Robinson Cano’s glove to put runners at the corners.  The lead runner was past third base enough for the M’s to potentially have a shot at picking him off, but Cano couldn’t get a clean grip on the ball.  By the time he did, it was too late and he should’ve eaten it.  Instead, he tried to rush the ball to third, saw it skip past Kyle Seager, allowing the runner to turn around and score.

Two errors, one play, by a guy who had one error all season.

In the bottom of the fifth, Jarrod Dyson led off with a triple.  One out and a Boog Powell walk later, Ben Gamel hit a sac fly to score Dyson.  Guillermo Heredia hit a single to right to put runners on the corners, which brought up Robbie with a chance to atone for his sins in the top half of the inning.  He hit a screaming liner to center that looked like it was going to score the go-ahead runs for the Mariners, but Byron Buxton made a crazy leaping catch to end the inning.

There’s probably only a small handful of guys who are able to track that ball and make that catch.

The bullpens kept the game the same on into the bottom of the eighth, with the heart of the order coming up.  Cano and Seager singled to put runners at first and second; with one out, the hero of the previous night – Mike Zunino – stepped to the plate.  He didn’t have a particularly good game in this one heading into the at bat, but all of that would’ve changed had he gotten ahold of one.  On a 1-0 pitch, Zunino smashed a liner right at the pitcher that almost certainly would’ve scored the tying run.  But, he hit it right into the pitcher’s glove, who was able to easily double off Cano at second to end the threat.

There would be no blown save for Minnesota’s closer on this night, as he came into the ninth and went 1-2-3.

What can you do, you know?  The confluence of events to get that game to go in Minnesota’s favor was pretty astounding.  Bergman once again pitched good enough to keep the Mariners in the ballgame (funny how he rarely seems to have Gallardo’s problem of The Big Inning, but that’s neither here nor there) and the bullpen pitched good enough to give the Mariners the win.  Four shutout innings by Pazos, Cishek, Scrabble, and Altavilla.

Offensively, we’re talking about 0 for 7 with RISP, which obviously won’t get the job done on many nights.  The Mariners will try again to get back to .500 (and maybe over .500) against the Blue Jays this weekend.  Sam Gaviglio goes tonight, which is cause for concern.  The fact that the Blue Jays have practically everyone back and healthy is another cause for concern, considering they were pretty beaten down by injuries the last time we played them last month, and they still managed to sweep the M’s in a 4-game series.  On top of all of that, we have to deal with a park full of insufferable Blue Jays fans.  Part of me wants to go to Safeco this weekend and mix it up, but the rest of me knows the Mariners are just going to lose anyway, because we always fucking lose to Toronto.

On a minor positive note, both Drew Smyly and Hisashi Iwakuma threw off of a mound yesterday.  It’s not much, but it’s an important next step.  Also, Mitch Haniger had a good game down in Tacoma, drawing the game-winning walk.  And, word around the team is that Nelson Cruz should be back tonight, but we’ll see.

Mariners Bullpen Blows It, Offense Walks It Off In The Ninth

Yeah, I don’t care, I’m bringing back the phrase Walk Off, even if the winning team doesn’t walk in the winning run!  COME AT ME BRO!

Sam Gaviglio got the start yesterday, and like Christian Bergman the day before, he was greatly effective.  Five shutout innings, on 3 hits and 1 walk, with 2 strikeouts.  Considering it sounds like he wasn’t TOTALLY stretched out – I kept hearing about how the Mariners were only expecting to get four innings out of him – that was quite the amazing performance.  Once again, someone else who has leapfrogged Chase De Jong on my Chase De Jong scale.

The Mariners’ offense did some work early, with Dyson pulling a solo homer in the third, and with Segura jacking a 3-run homer in the bottom of the fifth.  They turned things over to the bullpen with a 4-0 lead, and I dunno, maybe I’m shortsighted.  I figured a day after Bergman spun his magic, and Pazos cleaned up after him, we’d have a more available bullpen with which to work.  But, apparently the plan was to get whatever they could out of Gaviglio, and then immediately turn the ball over to Casey Lawrence for something resembling long relief.

I would argue, once you get five innings out of the 10th starter you’ve used this season, and once your offense gives you a 4-0 lead, you don’t mess around.  By all means!  Use Casey Lawrence!  You brought him into the organization, you called him up, it’s the least you can do.  When you’ve got four full innings of relief to spread around, the bottom man in the bullpen is good enough to throw in there in the sixth inning.  And, to his credit, Casey Lawrence did a fine job.  Other than an infield single, he got the White Sox out in order.  Bingo bango bongo.

So, WHY would you bring him back out for the seventh???

Double to left, homer to left, 4-2 Mariners.  I don’t get it.  Everybody should’ve been fresh-enough!  You go one inning per reliever, use up four relievers, and you worry about Friday on FRIDAY!

Thankfully, Lawrence was able to settle down and finish out the seventh, but it could’ve gotten REALLY hairy there if he didn’t.  At that point, still with the 2-run lead going into the eighth, I was at least moderately confident we could get this thing to the ninth with a lead.

WRONG.

I don’t really blame Servais for using Altavilla in this spot, though I understand if you do.  He was coming off of a real bonzer outing two days earlier, but before that he’s been inconsistent as the day is long.  In gratitude for Servais’ confidence in him, Altavilla got the first two outs of the inning, then gave up back-to-back solo homers to tie the game.  Just brutal.

But, you know, what can you do?  Edwin Diaz was just demoted and is working on his mechanics; I think they’re looking for a softer landing for him than eighth inning set up man.  Steve Cishek just came off the DL and he too just blew a game recently.  Tony Zych is apparently also being handled with kid gloves.  Even though he was used three straight days from May 13th through the 15th, I guess he needs three full days off to recover?  I dunno.

What I do know is that it was pretty clear they were saving Nick Vincent for the ninth.  With Overton being saved for Sunday in all likelihood, that only left Scrabble as a possible eighth inning guy, but there were a bunch of right-handed bats coming up that inning, so Altavilla was the guy.  Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just telling you my theory on this whole thing.

Still doesn’t totally forgive putting Lawrence out there for a second inning, because that guy was already terrible when we got him, and it’s not like joining the Mariners is going to magically fix all his issues.

Anyway, Vincent got through the ninth inning without incident, and there we were, the bottom of the ninth.  I was tired, hoping to get to sleep in the near future; I’m sure the Mariners were tired; it was a long, cold night.  The bottom of the order got things going.

Taylor Motter’s leadoff single was erased by a subpar sac bunt by Dyson, but in a way if you had to choose who you want standing on first, you certainly would rather have Dyson there via the fielder’s choice.  Obviously, in an ideal world, the bunt would’ve worked and they both would’ve been safe, but that’s neither here nor there.  Unfortunately, with a lefty on the mound, Dyson couldn’t steal second.  He did run on a 3-2 count to Ruiz, who grounded out, thus allowing Dyson to advance to second.  With two outs, they walked Jean Segura, because that guy is a machine; plus I’m sure they liked the lefty/lefty matchup with Gamel coming to the plate.

Except, Guillermo Heredia was still on the bench (getting a rest day, with Boog Powell getting the start), so he came out to pinch hit.  Blowers noted that the White Sox had a righty warming up in the bullpen, so I figured it was academic:  they’d bring him in to face Heredia, and we’d go from there.

Instead, they left the lefty in there, Heredia knocked a single to right-center, and Dyson came flying around to score the WALK OFF run.  Just like Servais drew it up, right?

All in all, a nice little win for a desperate team.

In Injuries Rule Our Lives news, Paxton, Felix, Kuma, and Smyly all threw baseballs this week.  Paxton actually threw a legit bullpen, and is looking to do a rehab start in the near future.  Mitch Haniger is setting out for a rehab assignment of his own this weekend, with the hope that maybe he’ll be able to return during the next road trip.  As always, I’ll believe it when I see it.

The Mariners Won Their First Non-Paxton Shutout Of The Season

It’s true.  The Mariners have won four shutouts this season; the first three of them were on the arm of James Paxton.  Yesterday?  The pitcher of record was … Christian Bergman?

This was Bergman’s third appearance for the Mariners this season.  In his first outing, he piggy-backed on a Dillon Overton start, outshining the lefty by going 3.2 innings, giving up just 1 run.  He got the start five days later against Toronto in a losing effort, going 5 innings and giving up 3 runs (in a game where the Mariners were shut out).  So, you’ll be forgiven if you didn’t really know what to expect out of him against the A’s last night.  Of the mediocre Quad-A starters/long relievers the Mariners have employed this season (De Jong, Overton, Weber, Marshall, and Heston), Bergman has looked the most reliably effective.  But, again, VERY small sample size.

Regardless, I don’t think anyone expected Bergman to go 7.1 innings of shutout ball, giving up 2 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 9.  Those are elite starter’s numbers by a guy whose fastball is Jamie Moyer-esque!

I won’t say “the pressure was on” or anything ridiculous like that, because all of these games are equally meaningful (in spite of the fact that they feel less important with each passing Mariners defeat), but I will say that he picked a great time to have the best game of his career.  I know I keep harping on the 8-man bullpen thing, but those guys have been seriously over-worked lately!  You wouldn’t think it’d be possible, but you also have to take into account the fact that the Mariners have to hold back some of these long relievers so they can be spot starters later (when the next injury inevitably crops up), so it’s not like the Mariners actually have an 8-man ‘pen at all.  So, for Bergman to pitch into the eighth inning, and for James Pazos to go the rest of the way (without the need for someone else to start warming up behind him), it was just what the doctor ordered.

In “The Mariners Make A Transaction Every Day” news:  Chase De Jong was sent back to Tacoma in favor of an extra reliever, Casey Lawrence.  Lawrence was recently DFA’d and looks pretty terrible, but it also seems like he’s just here temporarily until we can replace him with someone better.  De Jong wasn’t really making any progress as a starter, and it’s safe to say Bergman has officially lapped him on the depth chart, so to speak.  James Paxton is up and throwing again, with no ill effects so far, so the hope is he goes out on a rehab assignment and returns to the Mariners by month’s end.  As for who starts for De Jong in the next turn in the rotation, I haven’t the foggiest, but the tea leaves are pointing to Dillon Overton again.

With Cano still on the shelf, it’s nice to see Cruz and Seager step up of late.  And Jean Segura has been a godsend at the top of the order (which makes me uncomfortable when people talk about him being trade bait later this summer, when the Mariners officially give up on the season).  Ben Gamel got back on the horse with 2 hits last night (including a triple in the first) and a run scored.  Boog Powell and Guillermo Heredia also got in on the act last night, which was nice to see.

The White Sox come to town for a 4-game set, starting tonight.  Sam Gaviglio will make his first-ever start in the Major Leagues a week after making his Major League debut in relief against the Blue Jays, going 2 innings, giving up 1 run.

The Mariners apparently traded for Gaviglio last year with the Cardinals, for infielder Ty Kelly.  He worked his way from AA to AAA, putting himself in a position to get the start tonight.  I hardly remember what his stuff looks like from a week ago, because all of these guys are starting to look the same to me, but considering he’s the TENTH different starter the Mariners will have used (a mere 6.5 weeks into the season), I don’t have the highest of hopes for his success.  The bar for me right now is Chase De Jong.  If he’s better than De Jong, we’ve got a shot.  If he’s worse than De Jong, it’s going to take a heroic effort from our offense.  And, considering good ol’ TBD is scheduled to start for the Mariners on Sunday, I’ll repeat myself:  Christian Bergman couldn’t have picked a better time to save this bullpen.

Every Mariners victory this month feels like five, because they’re so unexpected and so unlikely.  The mantra continues to be:  hang in there until guys come back, and I don’t think that’s going to change at least until the July trade deadline.  But, that mantra also dies a little more with every new injury and I don’t know how much more I can take of this tug o’ war with my soul.  It’s probably too much to ask for a nice, long winning streak, or for guys to return from injury without other guys immediately going down, but I’d sure like to rest easy for a spell.

Mariners Got They Asses Whupped By The Indians

I don’t see the point in getting all up in this game, considering I’ve written a ton about the Seahawks’ draft (set to post Monday morning, bright and early).  A day after losing a squeaker – thanks to some amazing Indians pitching after the first inning – the Mariners brought out Chase De Jong to start in place of Felix, he and our defense got rocked, and we ultimately lost 12-4.

Word is, Felix will miss a minimum of 3-4 weeks.  I don’t know what that means as far as when he can start throwing again, but if he doesn’t respond well when he does, we could be in for a long absence.

Word is, also, that Haniger will miss a minimum of 3-4 weeks, but again, I don’t know what that means for when he can start swinging a bat and such.  If he has a setback, he too could be in for an extended DL stay.

But, right now, pitching is the primary concern.  True, De Jong didn’t get a lot of help out of his defense today, with various booted balls and sun triples allowed behind him, but he also doesn’t strike me as a Major League calibre starting pitcher.  I wonder if he’ll get another crack at starting in five days, though I don’t see there being many other better options under him in the minors.

Casey Fien returned to stink up the joint; 3 runs in a third of an inning.  He needs to be DFA’d; he obviously doesn’t have it.

Dillon Overton mopped up the final 5 innings of this thing, to at least save the rest of our guys in the ‘pen.  I don’t see him supplanting De Jong just yet, or really going anywhere at this point, considering we’ll need lots of long relievers in the coming weeks, with the way this rotation has played.  While Overton didn’t really “keep us in the game” per say, giving up 3 more runs (2 earned) in his 5 innings of work (after we’d just pulled the game to within 9-4 after the top of the 6th), he ate up a bunch of innings and didn’t walk anyone, so he gets a C grade from me for today.

Cruz and Heredia continued their torrid hitting.  Segura, Gamel, Cano, and Seager all did a little bit.  Vogelbach looks completely inept at the plate (and worse in the field, letting a pop up drop in foul territory).  The fact that the Mariners have gotten exactly nothing from their catcher and first base positions is a fucking travesty (only mitigated by the fact that the young outfielders are all doing great jobs).  Boog Powell got his first Major League start (in left field) while doing nothing at the plate but ground into a double play, so we’ll see how he bounces back from that.  I wouldn’t expect him to play a lot unless we have more injuries.  He was spelling Dyson, who got a much-needed day off (pushing Heredia to center).  Considering Powell mostly just walks and slaps singles around, he’s probably more of a backup/pinch runner in late innings than anything else.

As I noted above, the Mariners had a chance to plow right back into this thing.  It was looking bleak going into the sixth, down 9-1, but the first six batters got hits, pulling the game to within 9-4 with the bases loaded and nobody out.  Taylor Motter pinch hit for Worthless Vogelbach, and I couldn’t help thinking, “If he can get a hold of one, it’s 9-8 and we’re back in this thing!  But, Motter struck out instead.  Chooch Ruiz was up next, but he lined it right at the short stop, who threw to second to pick off Kyle Seager to end the inning.  After that, the Indians put the game away in the bottom of the seventh with three more runs, and that was that.

Off-day tomorrow, then the Mariners go home to play Anaheim and Texas for six games.  As we’re STILL in last place, having a 5-1 homestand would seem to be of utmost importance.  So, get ready for a 1-5 homestand, because Mariners.

Yovani Gallardo Sucks & Other Mariners News

Staked to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, Yovani Gallardo was in the driver’s seat before he even threw a single pitch.  Then, he proceeded to drive that car into a fucking revine by giving up 4 runs in the very same inning.  Both starting pitchers would settle down and throw a bunch of innings in this game, but the Mariners still lost 4-3 because Cleveland’s bullpen.

Another game tomorrow at 10am, Chase De Jong gets his first career Major League start, so that’s enough of talking about today’s game.

In other news, Evan Scribner is on the DL with a flexor bundle or some damn thing.  Boog Powell is up to bring added outfield depth, so goodbye 8-man bullpen!

Blowing A 5-Run Lead For The Mariners Is Child’s Play

Much like the night before, this game started off pretty promising.  The offense jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, Mike Freeman hit his first-ever Major League home run in the second inning, and Taylor Motter – the untamable beast – hit a 2-run homer in the third inning to really set things up nicely.  Yovani Gallardo was cruising along, so it should’ve been a cinch for him to go 6 innings and get that quality start.  And, from there, surely our finest bullpen arms would be able to put the game away easy peasy!

Except, starting in the fourth inning, Gallardo decided to give the whole lead away.  Two runs in the fourth & two more in the fifth made it 5-4 Mariners, but at least Gallardo got to qualify for the win!  Because that’s fucking important!  Not the fact that he clearly lost his command way back in the fourth inning and probably should’ve been pulled before he could do any more damage!

But, where would that get us?  As it was, we pulled him after five, and the bullpen STILL managed to more than give the game away.  Scrabble kept it tight in the sixth inning, but Dan Altavilla – ostensibly our best reliever after our closer – wiped away everything by giving up 3 runs in the seventh.  After that, I just turned the fucking game off.

I mean, the game was already a collosal bore, dragging on WAY too long thanks to both starters futzing around on the mound all damn day.  There was no way the Mariners were going to get that lead back.  When the dregs of the bullpen gave up 3 more runs in the eighth, let’s just say I wasn’t surprised.

The obvious point of contention is to look at the offense that didn’t do a God damn thing after the third inning.  That isn’t the way to put most teams away, let alone the Astros who are really fucking good and really have our fucking number.  But, it’s not like there were tons of opportunities.  After the third inning, the Mariners never had more than 1 baserunner in an inning, and all told spread out just three hits.

Quite frankly, this is the type of game I expected to see a lot of this season.  Crappy starting pitching followed by really sketchy bullpen pitching.  The offense did enough to win on many days, but obviously 5 runs isn’t going to cut it every time out for this pitching staff.

This thing sort of goes deeper though.  We’ve had to count on A LOT of young arms this year, less than two weeks in.  Altavilla is 24, having just made the jump from AA late last year.  Dillon Overton is 25 and has just 9 Major League appearances to his name.  Evan Marshall is 26, and has just one full Major League season under his belt.  James Pazos is 25 and had just 18 Major League appearances before this season.  Chase De Jong is just 23 and made his Major League debut in that extra innings Houston loss.  And, hell, our closer, Edwin Diaz is only 23 and is still more or less getting his feet wet as he made the jump from AA last year.  So, you know, don’t be shocked if you see these guys come up here and struggle from time to time.  Also, don’t be shocked if some or all of them ultimately flame out, because we simply don’t know how they’re going to respond when they get punched in the mouth like they’ve been recently.

Also, not for nothing, but the veterans we’ve sprinkled in around them haven’t exactly been world-beaters.  Aside from Scrabble – who’s pitched 2.1 innings in 4 appearances – we’re talking about Nick Vincent (very underwhelming), Evan Scribner (far from ideal), and Casey Fien (who was just outrighted to Tacoma to make room for Evan Marshall on the 25-man roster, and Boog Powell on the 40-man roster).

I’ll say this, the team could REALLY use Tony Zych and Steve Cishek back and healthy.

On the offensive side of things, I can’t help but be dazzled by Taylor Motter, who has 4 doubles and a homer in the last two days.  I said it before, kind of joking, but now I’m serious:  he NEEDS to be the everyday first baseman as long as he’s hitting like this.  Between him and Haniger, they’re in the early running for Biggest Pleasant Surprises (the Dae-ho Lee Award).  The longer Motter hits, the more the team is going to have to play him.  If he becomes a starter (either at first base or in the outfield), we’re going to be talking about this past offseason for many years to come.  Two very big black holes are currently being filled by Motter and Haniger, and if they continue to play well for a full season, it’s going to bode REALLY well for our chances down the stretch.

First thing’s first:  start taking care of business in the division.

Today is an off-day, which I’d say the Mariners desperately need.  Here’s to hoping this weekend goes better than last weekend.

Who Are Our Mariners Spring Training Darlings Thus Far?

Just a God damn black hole of sports nothingness going on.  REALLY need the NBA to come back to Seattle …

The fun part about Spring Training is seeing the guys whose numbers really explode from out of nowhere.  Going into the season, you know who the stars are going to be, and you know those guys mostly use the month of March to work on their timing and rounding into everyday playing shape.  But, for the younger, fringe guys, sometimes their careers depend upon what they’re able to show in this limited period of time.  It’s the difference between starting the season in Tacoma vs. Seattle, or the difference between staying in the Mariners’ organization vs. becoming eventual trade or DFA fodder down the road.  Have you done everything the coaches have asked of you?  Have those changes improved things?  Do you have what it takes to contribute to the Big League club?

For the 2017 Mariners, there are fewer open spots than ever before.  This team is mostly set at most of its positions.  There are some backup outfield and bullpen spots up for grabs, but that’s about it.

Of course, the worst part about Spring Training is seeing those guys whose numbers really explode from out of nowhere, and then seeing them turn back into pumpkins once the games start meaning something.  So, it’s important to remember that with Spring Training, it’s not just a small sample size, but an inflated sample at that.  Balls are easier to hit in that warm Arizona air.  Minor league pitchers show up with more regularity, and often are the ones throwing to those minor league hitters whose numbers are popping.

Yes, it’s important to show up in Spring Training, but it’s VASTLY more important to show up in the regular season.  So, let’s take a look at some of the guys who are kicking ass now, and hope beyond hope that they continue kicking ass in the future.

I think the names that are generating the most excitement thus far are Mitch Haniger and Guillermo Heredia.  Both are hitting well over .400, both have 6 extra-base hits, and both are coming up huge in the clutch to bat runners in.  Haniger has a little more upside in the power department, but Heredia has more upside in the speed department, so both have a lot of value.  They’re also getting a ton of playing time, considering they’re trying to win jobs in that crowded outfield.  We know Leonys Martin and Jarrod Dyson are locks, but that right field spot – when Nelson Cruz and Danny Valencia aren’t there – is up for grabs, and it might come down to the last day of Spring Training before that job is won.  It’s probably unrealistic to expect both of these guys to carry their numbers over into April – indeed, it’s WAY more likely that neither of them are worth a damn in the regular season – but if just one of them can do it, I’d be a very happy camper.

Behind those guys, we’ve got the following utility players:  Boog Powell, Taylor Motter, Ben Gamel, Shawn O’Malley, and Mike Freeman.  Powell is another guy looking to make an impression in the outfield, but he’s at a significant disadvantage considering he’s technically still suspended for using steroids or some damn thing.  Fortunately for him, he’s hitting .500 as of this writing, and earning lots of commendations from the coaching staff.  I’d look for him to be an everyday player out of Tacoma when he comes off suspension, but he’s definitely a guy who could work his way to Seattle if he keeps at it.  Ben Gamel has really had a nondescript spring thus far, which doesn’t bode well considering how Heredia and Haniger have played.  What he’s got going for him is that he bats lefty, while Heredia and Haniger are both righties, but I don’t know if that’s going to be enough to keep him in Seattle on Opening Day.  He’ll need a big surge in production these next couple weeks.

Shawn O’Malley probably has the inside track for the utility infielder position, given that he’s probably the best defensive short stop of the bunch.  He’s certainly underwhelming from an offensive standpoint, with a complete and utter lack of power, but the fact that you can put him almost anywhere on the field is his biggest selling point.  I know less about Taylor Motter, but his Spring Training hitting numbers are certainly more promising.  While defense is important in a utility bench guy, if one of our infield starters has a significant injury that causes them to miss a lot of games, it wouldn’t shock me to see Motter usurp O’Malley as the guy who plays everyday.  And, then there’s Mike Freeman, who has already been outrighted to Tacoma.  Barring a trade, he’ll probably start there until Seattle has an injury need, in which case you could do a lot worse than Mike Freeman.

The final fringe guy I’ll talk about is Dan Vogelbach.  He’s obviously slated to be the left-handed platoon partner at first base, and thus far he’s done pretty well for himself while garnering the most at-bats of anyone.  It’s pretty obvious the Mariners want to give him as much work as possible, to ensure his defense is up to snuff, as well as to see if he can hit Major League pitching.  It’s a little concerning he only has 2 doubles and no homers to date, but from what I’m hearing he’s hitting to all fields, working counts, and getting on base with regularity.  It’s better than nothing (i.e. Logan Morrison).

I’ll close by talking about Leonys Martin a little bit.  He’s hitting a whopping .179 with no walks and 3 doubles to his name, which is somewhat concerning.  When you figure he’s slotted to be our everyday centerfielder, we’re going to need more than that at the plate.  Apparently, he’s been working on his swing, to cut down on strikeouts, and at least that looks like it’s working (only 3 K’s in 28 at-bats).  The saving grace for Martin is that while it’s true that you shouldn’t get too excited about really great Spring Training numbers, you also shouldn’t get too depressed about really poor Spring Training numbers.  As I said before, a lot of the veterans are just getting their work in, and don’t really flip the switch until April.  While Martin certainly falls in that veteran category, he’s still a guy who shouldn’t totally dismiss working on his offense, considering that’s the part of his game that needs the most work.

Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the pitching.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Mitch Haniger

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

Okay, this is it.  The end of the line for this series.  I wasn’t even going to include Mitch Haniger in this thing, but I feel like wrapping this up on a Friday has a nice feel to it.  I can start next week fresh, writing about something else.

Mitch Haniger is an unknown at this point.  He’s a lottery ticket for this team.  He came over in the Taijuan Walker/Jean Segura deal, and certain pockets of Mariners fandom are pretty high on Haniger’s prospects in ways that are baffling to me.  Yeah, it looks like he’s more or less mastered the upper minors and is ready to get his shot in the Big Leagues, but we’ve seen billions of those guys and how many actually pan out?

Haniger got his first call-up in Arizona in August of last year and played more or less every day.  That having been said, obviously there’s not a lot you can learn from 34 games.  If he earns his way onto the Mariners’ Opening Day roster, that likely will mean he’s the best of a pretty mediocre group of Quad-A outfielders.  Ideally, with his feet wet last year, it all won’t feel so big to him anymore and he can just come up here and play like he always has.

The thing is, the Mariners need SOMEONE to play right field.  For the time being, Haniger has the inside track, but it could be anyone’s job to lose, from Ben Gamel to Guillermo Heredia to Taylor Motter to Boog Powell to who knows what.  I think everyone’s in agreement that Haniger has the best pedigree, and therefore the best opportunity to blow up, so in that sense he gets the majority of the focus.

If he fails, the team can always fall back on Danny Valencia moving to right field on a more permanent basis, but that move would also hinge on Dan Vogelbach panning out at first base, which I feel is as much of a given as it is for Haniger to lock down the right field spot.

There are two unproven guys on this team getting real shots at Major League careers:  Haniger and Vogelbach.  It’s concerning, particularly for a team looking to break a long playoff drought, but it beats the hell out of what we’ve had around here since forever.  Usually, instead of two of these guys, it’s six, and all of them stink.  We’ll see I guess.

I’m going into the season banking on right field being an offensive black hole whenever Nelson Cruz or Danny Valencia aren’t starting there.  So, if I get anything out of Haniger & Co., it’ll be gravy.

The Mariners Made Two More Trades Last Week

  • Seth Smith (OF) to Baltimore for Yovani Gallardo (SP)
  • Nathan Karns (SP) to Kansas City for Jarrod Dyson (OF)

When I look at that, I see one good trade and one bad one.  Let’s start with the bad.

Seth Smith has real value as a platoon outfielder, mostly for his bat, and if dealt to the right team, could be a nice little addition to a championship roster.  In that sense, considering how good Baltimore already was, this feels right for them.  He doesn’t need to play every day, he doesn’t even need to start!  He’ll come in and pinch hit for them down the stretch or in the playoffs and make a big impact, I’m sure of it.

Gallardo, meanwhile, is a guy whose best years are CLEARLY behind him.  He peaked between 2009-2012 with Milwaukee and has seen his strikeout numbers plummet ever since.  Considering he’s ostensibly supposed to be a right-handed power arm, that’s certainly cause for concern.  He was still more or less effective through the 2015 season, but that saw him hover around the 180 innings range.  For a guy who’s also supposed to be an “innings eater”, I mean, I guess averaging 6 innings per start is okay, but I dunno.

Then, last year, he played in Baltimore, and he didn’t play well.  He had a shoulder injury that kept him out of the rotation for 8 weeks, and upon his return he could never get it going.  The Orioles sent over $2 million to offset the $11 million he’s making this year.  And, if he totally flames out, all it will take is $2 million more to take care of his buyout next year (he’s set to earn $13 million otherwise).  Like a lot of other guys Jerry Dipoto has brought in during his tenure here, we’re hoping for a bounce-back year.  And, considering it looks like he’s more or less locked into the #4 starter role – with the loss of Taijuan Walker – we’re REALLY hoping he bounces back.

My ultimate takeaway is that I knew all along the Mariners were going to do something to bring in another veteran starter.  It’s just a shame this is the best we could do.  I feel like any number of free agents on the market would be a better gamble.  Considering the starting pitching on this team was already a weakness coming into this offseason, and then we traded away Taijuan, I was just hoping we had something more impressive up our sleeves than a guy who might be done as soon as this year.

As for the good trade, SO LONG KARNS!  I can’t say that I’m going to miss him.  I really don’t give a shit that he has a ton of team control (while Dyson has just one year left on his deal), because we’ve already played that game.  Team control is meaningless if the player is terrible.  Karns had a full year in 2015 with the Rays and showed some promise, but it was also clear that he couldn’t go deep into games and they were really protecting him with his innings count.  He had every opportunity in 2016 with the Mariners to cement his status as a starting pitcher in this league, but in 15 starts I’d say he really only had about 2 good ones.  Most games, he struggled just to get through 5 innings.  Eventually, the team had to demote him to reliever, before he was demoted to Tacoma, and then put on the DL.  At that point, he fell off the face of the Earth, so I don’t even know if he’s healthy again, or if he’s spending this winter rehabbing.  For all I know, he might not ever start again!  Considering he didn’t throw all that hard, and his stuff wasn’t all that good (he had an okay curve ball, when he could control it, which was almost never), I’m hard pressed to peg him as even turning into a quality reliever.  He feels like a guy who’s going to be out of baseball in the next year or two.  Better to cut bait now and get what you can.

Which, in this case, is a guy I really like!  Dyson isn’t an impressive hitter by any stretch.  He’s got no power whatsoever, so go ahead and put that out of your mind.  I’m not even sure he’s destined to be an everyday starter with this team.  He’ll probably hit for around .250-.260, he’s improving with his on-base percentage, and across the last five years he’s averaged over 30 stolen bases per season.  When you top him off as a quality defender, and pair him with Leonys Martin in center, you’re talking about a ton of speed at the bottom of our lineup (unless he starts to hit out of his mind, in which case you could see him move up in the lineup) and a ton of outfield defense.  Which, for this pitching staff, it’s pretty easy to see how this will be a good thing.

So, in taking these two trades as a whole, did the Mariners improve?  Well, if you look at it this way:

  • Gallardo for Karns
  • Dyson for Smith

I think you could say we did.  Say what you will about Gallardo, but he’s sure as shit better than Karns!  And, I know we all like Seth Smith’s bat, but he’s been prone to cold streaks (particularly late in seasons) and has batted around .250 both years he’s been in Seattle.  You figure his on-base percentage will be better than Dyson’s, but the difference in baserunning and defense puts Dyson WAY ahead in this thing.

It’s still not an ideal team, but it’s rounding into something respectable.  The lineup in particular is something you’ve gotta like.  I’ve got it like this:

  1. Segura (SS)
  2. Valencia (1B)
  3. Cano (2B)
  4. Cruz (DH)
  5. Seager (3B)
  6. Ruiz (C)
  7. Martin (CF)
  8. Haniger (RF)
  9. Dyson (LF)

Or, depending on the opposing pitcher, and how well guys are playing, you could sub in Vogelbach at first base, pushing Valencia to one of the corner outfield spots.  Also, put Haniger in the same outfield pile as Gamel, Heredia, Powell, and O’Malley; not all of those guys will crack the Opening Day roster, but they’re just a phone call away if they start out in Tacoma.  Still, I like the first seven guys in that lineup an awful lot, and there are many reasons for optimism about Haniger and Dyson as well.

The tricky thing is the pitching staff, particularly the rotation:

  1. Felix
  2. Kuma
  3. Paxton
  4. Gallardo
  5. Miranda

Word from Dipoto is that the Mariners are still looking to bolster their depth in the rotation, which I would say is a MUST.  Nevertheless, it sounds like we shouldn’t expect a big splash.  If we get a free agent, expect it to be a low-level guy.  If it’s a trade, expect it to be for another fringe prospect.  It doesn’t sound like, at this time, the Mariners will be selling the farm (what little farm we’ve got left) to bring in a stud.  We’ll see where they’re at by the end of June though.

The bullpen actually looks like it’s rounding into shape.  There are plenty of guys to choose from, and I’m sure a few more moves will be made here, but these are the guys I like:

  • Closer – Diaz
  • RHP – Cishek
  • RHP – Scribner
  • RHP – Zych
  • RHP – Vincent
  • LHP – Scrabble

There’s room for one more reliever on there, I would expect a second lefty, but we’ll see.  On paper, those six guys look pretty good, but they don’t play the games on paper.

Next month, pitchers and catchers report, and we get this thing going.  I’m sure we’ll have a better idea of what to expect regarding the Opening Day roster by then.