Yesterday Was A Disaster For The Mariners. Also The Mariners Are A Disaster

“(So and so) just didn’t have it today,” is pretty much the motto for the 2017 Seattle Mariners, whose season died on the operating table on April 25, 2017.  The season – now just a rotting slab of stinking, lukewarm hamburger, attracting flies and rabid dogs – has been a perfect definition of Worst Case Scenario.  Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong?  Multiply that by a hundred thousand, then shoot it in the fucking face.

It’s not just the Jean Segura DL stint (he who made his semi-triumphant return last night at the expense of Mike Freeman), though that’s part of it.  It’s not just the nagging hip issue for Kyle Seager, as I’m told that’s not something that should keep him out of the lineup for very long.  It’s not the fact that none of the starting pitchers can be trusted, least of all the so-called “ace” of the staff, Felix Hernandez, who lasted all of 2 innings last night, giving up 4 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks, before being pulled at a measly 48 pitches, because again, he “just didn’t have it” (or his fucking shoulder is injured, or whatever).  It’s not a bullpen overflowing with too-young power arms and too-useless wastes of spaces.  It’s not the Drew Smyly DL stint for the first 2+ months, or the unceremonious dumping of Leonys Martin, or the lost cause that is Danny Valencia, or Robbie Cano playing like an old & slow turd, or Dan Vogelbach playing like a fat & slow turd, or Mike Zunino being just the latest in an endless string of first round FUCKING busts.  Nor is it just the impending DL stint for Mitch Haniger, who suffered a strained oblique and is set to miss extensive time.  It’s all of that, combined, to capsize what absolutely NEEDED to be a successful baseball season for the Seattle Mariners; and the only way you could define this season as even a remote success is if they made the post-season.  They won’t, so it’s not, and everyone’s to blame, because life is utter horseshit and I wish everyone was dead.

Somebody bookmark this page and save it for later.  Save it for when Mitch Haniger comes back from the DL.  Gaze upon it when we’re all excited to have our rookie phenom back in the fold.  Pull it back up … oh maybe a month or so after he’s returned.  I want you to take a look at his numbers pre-DL:

  • .338/.442/.600, 7 doubles, 1 triple, 4 homers, 16 RBI, 20 runs scored in 21 games played

I want you to really take a good, long look at those numbers, because when he returns, you can kiss those sterling numbers goodbye.  I guarantee you when he comes back, he absolutely won’t be the same player we had pre-injury.  He will be significantly worse, and we’ll all wonder just what in the fuck happened to him.

You know what happened?  He joined the Seattle Fucking Mariners.  Where everything good and happy in this world goes to get collectively buttfucked.

So, who else didn’t have it yesterday?  Well, Chris Heston – who was just called up in favor of Chase De Jong (who just threw 4 innings of shutout ball before being sent back down, mind you) – was supposed to be our long reliever for just this occasion:  he gave up 5 runs in 2 innings.  Then, there was Evan Marshall, another potential long reliever type:  he gave up 7 runs in 2 innings.  And, after Pazos threw a scoreless seventh inning, Evan Scribner came in and allowed 3 more runs in the eighth.  That’s a 19-9 loss, for those doing the math at home.

The hitters did their jobs, but what are you going to do when you score 9 runs and still lose by 10?  And, not for nothing, but Detroit’s pitching staff is the worst in the American League, so it’s not like this was some out-of-nowhere offensive explosion.

This is just a dark day.  A dark day in a dark lifetime of being a Mariners fan.  141 more of these fucking things to go.  God, I hate baseball so fucking much.

Mariners Wore Their Big Boy Pants, Beat Up Marlins

As I noted on Twitter last night, the Mariners’ hitting with runners in scoring position has gone up 40 points in the last two days.  Shocking, right?  They should change the sport’s name from Baseball to Regression To The Mean.

All it took was going 8 for 19 with RISP to bump it up from .157 to .197.  They still have a way to go to get back to league average, so it’s probably reasonable to expect many more fine offensive days to come.

I fully understand that nobody who’s anybody really cares about batting average with RISP as a stat, because they see it as just hitting.  Good hitters are going to be better with RISP than bad hitters, and it all evens out in the end.  But, I think it’s important.  We talk all the time about pitchers – particularly relievers – in high-leverage situations.  Well, what’s a batter walking to the plate with a runner on second or third base if not a high-leverage situation?

The fact of the matter is, every hitter has the same goal:  get on base.  Take what the pitcher gives you and work a walk, bloop a single, line a double, or destroy a homer.  But, there are always variables.  What’s the score?  A guy is apt to try a little harder in a 0-0 game than he is in a 10-0 game, regardless of whether his team is winning or losing.  Is a runner on base?  Well, that’s an RBI opportunity!  Say what you will about baseball players, but they love batting runners in.  Is that runner on second or third base?  Well, shoot, then all the batter needs to do is hit a single into the outfield to get him home!  Your approach changes depending on the situation.  And, factoring in game score, time of the year, whether your team is in contention for the playoffs or not, the pressure is ramped up.

On the flipside, the pitcher doesn’t want to give up those runners in scoring position!  They’re trying to preserve their ERAs!  So, they’re going to bear down, so to speak.  They’re going to focus a little bit harder on making good pitches to get the batter to do what they want them to do.

And, since the name of the game is to score more runs than your opponent, I’d say hitting with RISP is a pretty important aspect to the game of baseball.  So, I think keeping track of the day-to-day on this thing brings value.  If nothing else, I hope to gain a little more understanding about the game I’ve been following for so long.

Last night, the Mariners came to play from the jump.  Dyson walked to lead off and Cano ended up bringing him home with a 2-run moon shot to right-center.  Cruz followed that up with a blast of his own to make it 3-0.  Thankfully, the Mariners were able to add on, with two more runs in the fourth and one more in the fifth.

In the fourth, Martin got a single and stole second, before advancing to third on a poor pick-off move by the pitcher.  From there, Dyson hit a double down the line the other way, then proceeded to score on a double by Cano that was very close to being his second homer of the night.

In the fifth, Taylor Motter joined the party with a towering homer to left field in the upper deck.  Good golly Miss Molly is this kid fun to watch.

On the pitching side of things, Ariel Miranda had his best outing of the season.  He was perfect into the fourth inning, got into a little bit of a jam with 2 outs in the sixth (giving up back-to-back singles), but got out of it and made it through seven scoreless innings, with 5 strikeouts and 0 walks, on only 4 hits.  Outstanding!

It’s too early to get too excited about Miranda’s performance last night, particularly after his first two underwhelming starts.  But, he’ll be one to watch going forward.  With Smyly injured, with Iwakuma hit or miss, and with Gallardo not likely to impress too much, it’ll be important for Miranda to pick up some of the slack.  For what it’s worth, he looked as good as I’ve ever seen him last night.  Fastball touched 95, he was locating well, and for the most part he kept his off-speed stuff down in the zone.  The key is to do that every time, or most every time.  Up next for him is a game in Oakland; they don’t strike me as an offensive juggernaut.

Nick Vincent and Evan Scribner each got an inning of work.  They were the only two bullpen guys not to appear on Sunday, so that’s fine.  Scribner gave up a hard-luck homer the opposite way in the 9th.  I thought his stuff looked good, I just thought the guy hit a quality pitch out of the park.

I hope the offense continues its hot streak tonight, with Gallardo on the mound.  I’ll never know what to expect from him, but hopefully he’s able to get on track a little bit.

The Astros Are Better Than The Mariners At Baseball

If you learn one thing from this series, it’s that the Astros are destined for greatness and the Mariners are destined for something … less than.  You can tell me it’s early all you want, but this is a great Astros team, and they’re not even playing all that well right now!  Altuve has yet to do anything, the rest of their lineup has been spotty at best, and yet they’ve still been able to demolish the Mariners through three games, with the fourth coming tonight.  Just imagine what this team is going to look like when all elements are firing.

The enraging thing – the thing that’s bound to prove my point even further – is going to be when the Mariners sweep the Angels this weekend and everyone will say, “See!  Nothing to worry about!  It was just one series in early April!  These games CLEARLY don’t matter as much as the games in September!”  And for a while, people will relax, because it’ll look like the Mariners are back on track.  Except, here’s the thing:  I never said the Mariners are terrible; I just said that the Astros are really fucking good and there’s no way we’re going to top them this season, short of the Astros suffering a slew of key injuries while the Mariners from this day forward remain relatively healthy.

This series is the fork in our division-winning hopes.  The Mariners are simply worse than the Astros, and quite frankly they have been since the Astros joined the A.L. West.  Even when the Astros were fucking God awful, they were still better than the Mariners.  It is our cross to bear.

So, now we know, with 159 games to play, it’s Wild Card or Bust.  I just hope there aren’t many more teams like the Astros on the schedule to give us fits.  If we can’t figure out a way to win some divisional games – thank you Unbalanced Schedule – not even the Wild Card will be on the table.

Last night’s game might have changed my mind, had the Mariners scratched out the win, but instead it only reinforces my resolve that the Astros are the better team.  We had everything going for us in that game, and by “everything” I mean James Paxton.  He looked fucking phenomenal in throwing six shutout innings, while giving up 2 hits, walking 1, and striking out 5.  If he’d only been able to keep his pitch count under control, this really should’ve been a 7- or 8-inning performance.  But, it’s his first start of the season, so stopping him at 100 pitches is the right thing to do.

I’ll tell ya, though, Paxton was something else.  He was pounding the inside corner of the plate like I’ve never seen!   The Astros had, what I distinctly remember as an all-right handed lineup, and Paxton didn’t bat an eye!  He even managed to power through some of those unlucky Paxton-esque moments without allowing a run to score; like in the second inning, when a 1-out walk managed to reach third base on an out and a wild pitch; or when Springer reached on a strikeout in the dirt and advanced to third base on a double (he had to get through Altuve and Correa to get out of that jam unscathed!).  These are the kinds of minor inconveniences that – in the past – would somehow come around to destroy a Paxton start.  But, last night, he locked those shits down!

(of course, that isn’t to say those types of things won’t ruin him in future starts, but this was an encouraging way to bring in the new season for a guy known for his inconsistency)

The Mariners managed to not only score a run with a hit out of the infield, but they hit their first homer of the season!  Jean Segura hit an opposite-field 2-run homer that was remarkable in the way it kept carrying.  For such a little guy, he has a surprising amount of power.  On top of that, it was the Mariners’ first lead of the season!

It didn’t last long.

As I noted above, Paxton was finished after six innings, but the Mariners went right to their best set-up man, Evan Scribner … who promptly gave up back-to-back hits and was pulled for Scrabble (our next-best set-up man), who did his job and got the first out of the 7th inning.  That brought us to Dan Altavilla (our third-best set-up man), who gave up a single to load the bases and a double to tie the ballgame.  He ended up getting out of the jam after that with the tie intact, but the blown save damage was done.

From there, it was a comedy of poor clutch hitting through the 12th inning.  Pazos was brought in, even though their entire lineup was right-handed.  He gave up two hits before being pulled.  Casey Fien cleaned up the mess without incident.  Then, Edwin Diaz got his first action of the season, and was forced to go two scoreless innings as we plowed into extras.  That brought us to Nick Vincent, who somehow pitched out of a Runner On Third With Less Than Two Outs jam (of his own creation) and ended up going two more scoreless innings.

At that point, the only reliever left was Chase De Jong.  The Mariners, in the 13th inning, managed to eke out a run on four consecutive walks with nobody out, but could not play add-on, and thus you know how this game concluded.  With a tenuous 3-2 lead, Chase De Jong – who was making his Major League debut, who has all of 1 appearance in AAA (i.e. who was – for all intents and purposes – making the leap from AA to the Majors) – got one quick out, walked the next batter, induced the following batter to foul out, and gave up an opposite-field single to Nori Aoki.

That was the game.  It wasn’t the subsequent 3-run homer by George Springer; it was letting that snake in the grass Aoki, in the 9-hole, weasel his way on base to turn the lineup over.  You get Aoki, you win the game, you get your first career save, and they’re showering you with the Champagne of Beers in the locker room.  Instead, you leave one out over the plate, it gets crushed, and you’re living in your own personal Hell.  Welcome to the Big Leagues, son.

(also, not for nothing, but does this happen if Dillon Overton’s wife doesn’t have that kid this week?  Is it too much to ask to get the C-section a week early?  Okay, I’m horrible, I’ll move on)

I mean, what can you say?  I can’t get angry at De Jong; that’s an impossible situation to enter into as your Major League debut!  Yeah, it’s his fault, but it’s not really his fault.  He probably shouldn’t even be up here in the first place.  In a perfect world, Drew Smyly is healthy and Ariel Miranda is the 8th man in the bullpen.  But, I can’t even blame our own bad luck, because this offense is SERIOUSLY shitting the bed like I haven’t seen since 2010.  Except it’s a million times worse, because whereas the 2010 M’s had shitty hitters, the 2017 M’s have really good ones!  And they’re doing JACK SHIT right now.

Take a look at the blown scoring opportunities in this game alone:

  • 1st Inning – Haniger at 2nd with 1 out; Cano strikes out, Cruz grounds out
  • 2nd Inning – Zunino doubles with 2 outs; Dyson pops it up to the short stop
  • 4th Inning – Cruz leadoff double; stranded at second
  • 7th Inning – Martin walked & stole 2nd with 1 out; stranded at second again
  • 12th Inning – Dyson singled & stole 2nd with 1 out; stranded
  • 13th Inning – 4 walks to lead off the inning & score the go-ahead run; Valencia fly out, Zunino strikeout, Dyson strikeout

That’s just unforgivable.  The pitching this series hasn’t been perfect – not like it needs to be, apparently – but it’s been BEYOND good enough.  It’s even more aggravating because you know the pitching isn’t going to stay this good over the long haul.  We’re fucking SQUANDERING games that we should be winning!  And don’t tell me it’s early, because a loss is a loss is a loss; they all count the same fucking way regardless of whether they’re in April or September, so fuck off with that nonsense.

0-3 as we head into the next two days with our worst two starters.  Oh, this should be fun.

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.

How Are The Mariners’ Pitchers Looking Thus Far?

In case you missed it yesterday, here are some random thoughts on some random hitters.  Today, we’ll dig into some random thoughts on some random pitchers, which is significantly more problematic, because we’re talking about an even smaller sample size.  Also, not for nothing, but this WBC thing is throwing everything off.  I mean, go Dominican Republic and everything, but tell me when this is over so we can focus on getting the Mariners back into the post-season!

It’s also difficult to formulate an opinion on the pitchers because by and large the pitchers getting the most appearances are the guys least likely to stick with the Big League club.  I’m more interested in the guys who will actually be Mariners this year, so let’s talk about some of them.

Probably the guy generating the most interest is Felix.  This is also probably the guy who will be toughest to predict heading into the regular season.  The King is the epitome of a veteran just getting his work in.  He got a jump on matters, as he was preparing to play in the WBC this year.  His two spring starts were pretty mediocre, and he followed that up with a mediocre start in his first WBC appearance for Venezuela, going 2.2 innings, giving up 2 runs, 1 earned, while striking out 3 and walking 2.  Tough to say if the lack of command is a holdover from a year ago, or just part of ramping up for the season ahead, but you can’t say he was “just getting his work in” in this case.  I have to imagine if Felix is going to participate in the WBC, he’s going to be trying his hardest.  In which case, maybe we should be a little nervous?  We’ll see how he looks in his next outing.  For what it’s worth, there’s been a slight uptick in his velocity by about 1 mph, which would be great if that continues, as he generally sees his velocity increase as the season goes along.

Sticking with the WBC guys, let’s look at Yovani Gallardo next.  His first appearance in Spring Training was something of a disaster, giving up 4 runs in 1 inning of work, but he followed that up with a nice 3-inning, 1-hit, no-runs appearance before going off to play for Mexico.  In his lone start in the WBC, he went 4 innings, giving up 4 runs on 3 homers.  He did strike out 5 while walking 0, so while it’s not anything to write home about, I’m also not ready to write him off either.

It’s my understanding that Drew Smyly hasn’t appeared in the WBC yet, but he’s set to go this week.  Either way, in two Spring Training starts, he’s yet to give up a run over 5 innings, so that’s really promising.  Paxton’s numbers are a little less encouraging from a pure runs perspective, but he’s got 7 K’s to 1 walk in his 5 innings of work thus far.  He also looks better than he did at this time last year, which is important because he started out the regular season last year in Tacoma.

Of course, I had to pick today to write about the pitchers, a day after the single worst pitching performance of the entire spring in losing 24-3 to the Brewers.  Hisashi Iwakuma was no small part in yesterday’s “effort”, giving up 7 runs in 2.2 innings.  One start prior to that, he gave up 0 runs in 2 innings.  And, in his first spring start, he gave up 1 run in 2 innings.  All in all, I don’t think you take much away from a start like yesterday’s or Spring Training in general when it comes to Kuma.  He is who he is.  Sometimes that’s dominating, sometimes that’s terrible.

As for the bullpen, Edwin Diaz has yet to give up a run in 2 appearances with the Mariners and 1 with Puerto Rico.  A lot of the younger guys slated to start in the minors are putting up some bonkers numbers as well.  That’s probably important, because some of our veteran guys are looking pretty crappy thus far.  Nick Vincent has given up runs in each of his three appearances so far.  Marc Rzepczynski had a disasterous first appearance before settling down for 3 scoreless appearances.  Dan Altavilla’s overall numbers are hampered by one bad inning as well.  And, Ariel Miranda was cruising right along until he hit a speedbump over the weekend.  There is a lot to like about what Scribner has brought to the table, though.

Again, you really can’t learn a whole lot about a pitching staff after 3 appearances apiece, so consider this to be a VERY premature look at some of the guys we’ll be counting upon in the regular season.  By the end of the month, hopefully things will round into shape and we’ll have a good idea of what we’ve got with this team.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Drew Smyly

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

There’s a pretty good amount of turnover this year, compared to the starting rotation on Opening Day 2016.  The only holdovers are King Felix and Kuma, as we rounded out the rest of our starting five with Taijuan Walker, Wade Miley, and Nate Karns.  With those five, you figured you had an Ace, a solid #2, a stopgap veteran innings-eater, and a couple of young power arms to build your rotation around for the future.  Well, Miley turned out to be a dud, Karns evolved into an injured dud, and we salvaged whatever remaining value Walker had by trading him for an important, everyday player at shortstop.

In their place, we have a holdover in Paxton, alongside newcomers Yovani Gallardo and Drew Smyly.  I’m not expecting much out of Gallardo, which puts that much more pressure on Smyly to succeed.  The 2017 Mariners can ill afford two black holes in the rotation if they expect to break into the post-season.

There was a good amount of hype that, for whatever reasons, failed to fully materialize for Smyly as he broke into the Major Leagues.  He followed up a solid rookie season by being thrown into a bullpen role in his second year.  Smyly’s best season was in 2014, when the Tigers shipped him off at the height of his value for a David Price deadline deal.  Smyly went to the Rays and closed his season on a tear.  It ALMOST looked like they’d flipped an ace for an ace, but then Smyly spent most of 2015 injured.  He pitched the full year in 2016, but was no better than replacement level.  At which point, here we are, hoping a change of scenery will do everyone some good.

Since we do have a full season’s worth of data, I’m mostly interested in what he was able to do last year.  He pitched a career-high 175.1 innings, striking out 167 and walking only 49.  His big problem was giving up 32 homers in 30 starts.  I know that sounds like something Iwakuma is known for, but in 33 starts he only gave up 28 dongers last year.  So, that’s a bit of a red flag.  Yes, he’s going to limit baserunners where he can, by being around the plate, but that’s only a good thing if you’re avoiding getting too much of the plate at the same time.  It’s a slippery slope, and one that saw him with a career-high in opposing slugging percentage and a career-low in ground ball to fly ball ratio.  With a respectable strikeout percentage, it would seem to me this is a guy who wants to make his living pitching up in the zone, inducing weak contact pop ups and fly balls.  Given his numbers last year, I take it he failed to get the ball up enough, and those hanging whathaveyous were pounded into submission.

This is a move that would’ve been much more celebrated before the Mariners moved in Safeco Field’s fences.  Now that the park plays much more closer to league average – indeed, last year played like a bandbox as far as homers are concerned – the addition of Smyly is less of a projected sure thing.  It’s not enough to be a lefty with a good offspeed pitch and just hope your fly ball gets run down in deep centerfield, now you have to pitch like you actually mean it!  Like you know what you’re doing.  Like you’re in a place that won’t forgive you a big, fat, juicy meatball right in the middle of the plate.  If he’s got enough control to avoid giving up tons of walks, let’s hope he’s able to also paint those edges and avoid those hot zones.

Smyly could end up being huge for this team.  If he pans out and we opt to keep him, he’s young enough to stick around for a good, long while.  If he pans out and we suck this year, we can also flip him at the deadline for quality prospects.  If he sucks, he’s still a lefty pitcher with starting and relieving experience, and those guys will always have SOME value.  I’m just hoping he and the rest of this rotation can keep their shit together to give us the best season we’ve had in over a decade.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Hisashi Iwakuma

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

I don’t know if I could’ve reasonably asked for much more than what Kuma gave us in 2016.  He stayed off the DL for the first time since 2013 – which is more than you can say for every other starter on this team last year – and he kept us “in the ballgame” in about 25 of those starts (give or take; I’m doing a rough eyeball test of his game log here).  As I’ve said countless times, expecting him to return to his elite 2013 form just isn’t happening.  The best we can expect is pretty much what he gave us in 2016.  And that … wasn’t bad.

You’re going to find me talking about each and every one of our five projected starting pitchers in this series because they’re all super important to the success of the team this season.  The order isn’t a coincidence (Felix 1, Paxton 2, Kuma 3 …) because I feel like – at this stage in his career – Kuma is a #3 starter.  You hope he stays healthy, you hope he doesn’t fall off the cliff with his production, and you hope – with a top-tier offense – he’s able to win you a bunch of games.  He’ll be 36 years old as the season starts, which is really getting up there in baseball years, so here’s to hoping he’s taking good care of himself this offseason.

I’m writing about all the starters because our depth is rail thin.  I already have zero confidence in Gallardo as our fifth starter, so pointing to Ariel Miranda as a part of this team’s “depth” just isn’t going to do it for me.  In essence, I’m already banking on Miranda getting significant time in this rotation thanks to ineffectiveness alone.  That’s not even factoring in the usual bumps and bruises you get with your average starting rotation.  It’s damn near impossible for the same five guys to make all the starts for your team for a full season; someone is GOING to get injured.  Given his age and his track record, I think it’s easy money to bet on Kuma seeing the DL at least once.  Beyond that, Paxton has a history of a billion different weird injuries, and you gotta figure there’s not much tread left on Felix’s arm; it’s only a matter of time before he blows it out and has some REAL rehabbing to get through.

So, with that being the case, and with the guys in Tacoma being who they are, it would be an absolute godsend for Kuma to somehow make all his starts for the second year in a row.  Or, at the very least, hold out until July when this team can make a deal at the deadline.

Not for nothing, but if we’re going to venture out and dream a little dream, Kuma doesn’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence as the #3 starter in a playoff series.  In an ideal world, King Felix bounces back, James Paxton takes a big step forward, and this team trades for an elite starter at the deadline to bump Kuma down to 4 or 5 in the rotation.  But, you know, let’s not go nuts dissecting our playoff chances here when pitchers and catchers haven’t even reported.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: James Paxton

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

The topic of this team – and particularly the pitching staff – having a high variance of outcomes in 2017 has been discussed to death.  But, it’s a topic for a reason.  You could see these starters collectively falling on their faces, collectively carrying this team to 100+ wins, or anywhere in between.  My point of contention is that it feels like the odds of the starters stinking up the joint far outweighs the odds of them dominating.

I can plausibly see a bounce-back year out of Felix, because he’s the be-all end-all for human beings.  Drew Smyly is a total unknown, and I’m always at least a little guarded whenever we bring in someone from another organization.  He’s coming off of a down year as well, but at least he’s coming off of a year where he made 30 starts.  Anything goes with Smyly, but I highly doubt we’re going to see a huge uptick in productivity.  I’m firmly on the record that there’s no way Iwakuma stays healthy for a second consecutive season, so at the very least I’m anticipating a 15-day DL stint.  On top of that, his best season by a million miles was in 2013; we’re never seeing those days again.  I feel like our best-case scenario for Kuma is an exact repeat of last season, which was just sort of okay.  And as for Gallardo, *giant fart noise*.

The only candidate for a tremendous step forward is one James Paxton.  He started the 2016 season in Tacoma, worked on his mechanics, and was called up at the beginning of June to slide into the rotation.  After a spotty couple of months, Paxton started to bear down, culminating in his finest start of the season when he pitched into the 9th inning against the Angels, giving up 0 earned runs.  Unfortunately, that’s also the game where he took a liner off of his pitching arm and had to go on the DL for a little over two weeks.  He was able to return for the stretch run, but was never quite the same in those final 7 starts, mostly reverting to his early-season form.

Nevertheless, he’s a big, young guy with a power arm.  We tend to go into every new season thinking This Could Be So-And-So’s Breakout Year, but in the case of Paxton, we might actually be there.  I’m at least not willing to rule it out.

Felix is this team’s ace, and even if he comes back and pitches like he did last year, he’s still going to feast on the weaker teams, and he’s going to keep the Mariners in most ballgames overall; an improved offense could even see him get to 20 wins for the first time, albeit probably with an inflated ERA.  Kuma is the consummate 50/50 guy who will be terrible half the time and great the other half.  An improved offense might see his win total spike a little bit, but he is who he is.  Smyly feels like another guy who’s just going to eat innings and maintain a .500 record.  And, here’s to hoping the offense is able to pick up the #5 starter so it’s not a total drain.  If you figure those four starters are going to get you maybe 55 wins or so, with the bullpen set to get you 25 or so, that gets you to 80 wins for the entire pitching staff not named James Paxton.

So, can he get us 15 wins?  If you think 95 wins gets you the division, then you gotta be rooting for Paxton to take a significant role in that.  It’s a tall order, to be sure, as his previous high in wins was 6.  That means he not only needs to stay healthy for the full season, but he needs to be really fucking good.

(also, not for nothing, but those 80 wins get chipped away the more this team has to deal with injuries in its rotation, so let’s just hope no one gets injured ever, okay?)

If he’s ever going to do it, no time like the present.  He’s even more critically important if this team does make the playoffs.  You know Felix is going to get slotted into the first game of any series if this team can swing it; unless a trade gets made at the deadline, Paxton is clearly this team’s most talented #2 starter.  So, we need him on his game in 2017 to prove to the organization that he’s capable of taking the reigns.  That slots Iwakuma or Smyly into the #3 role where they belong.

I know that’s getting ahead of things, but as long as we’re putting the cart before the horse, can I just BEG the Mariners to go all in for an ace starting pitcher at the trade deadline to really bolster our chances?

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Felix Hernandez

The last time King Felix was really KING FELIX was in 2014.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s always been good, but 2014 was the last time he was an elite, Top 5 level starting pitcher.  Over the last two seasons, things have been trending disturbingly downward.  His strikeout rate has gone down, his fastball velocity has gone down, his command comes and goes, and his innings pitched has started its decline.  Obviously, last year he had his first major injury that saw him miss significant time; I don’t know if he’s ever missed more than 3-4 starts in any year since his first call-up to the Majors.  Last year, he had 25 starts, upwards of 8-9 off of his usual pace, and when he made those starts he wasn’t all that effective a lot of the time.

We’re looking for a bounce-back year in a big way out of the King.  He sets the tone.  He starts the very first game of the year, and he’s the man we count on every fifth day to be the stopper of losing streaks and the starter of winning ones.  When he pitches like a 4th or 5th starter – i.e. you never know what you’re going to get out of him from start to start – the Mariners feel off.  For so long, he’s been the one constant on a team of total disappointment, it’s weird to see him struggle and need to be picked up by others.

It’s no secret that I’ve got my qualms about this year’s rotation.  Iwakuma’s getting up there, and what are the odds he stays fully healthy for two consecutive seasons?  Paxton has always been a wild card, with his injury and effectiveness issues.  Smyly is an unknown at this point, but he obviously hasn’t panned out as an elite starter people once thought he might be.  And I think we can all agree Gallardo’s best days are behind him; the question now is:  can he cobble together something close to respectability?  If not, will the Mariners nip him in the bud in time, and can Miranda pick up the slack in the stretch run of the season?  There’s a ton of volatility in this rotation, and I’ve got it going bad about 70% of the time; that’s BEFORE I even factor in Felix Hernandez and what could be a make-or-break season in his career.

To his credit, he’s working his butt off this offseason, and he’s letting it be known to everyone with an Internet connection.  He’s only going to be 31 when the season starts, so we should still have a few more years left in his prime.  But, as everyone loves to mention, he’s got a ton of miles logged on that right arm.  He was 19 years old as a rookie.  He’s made 359 starts and thrown 2,415.2 innings in his Major League career.  What we need to see now is what kind of a second act are we going to get out of the King?  I think his days of striking out more guys than innings pitched are over.  Can he transition into a pitch-to-contact type, and can he still be as effective doing so?

I think we’ve already started to see him transition into this role, to middling results.  But, we’ve seen increased use of the curveball and his other offspeed pitches.  The problem is, we’ve seen batters increasingly lay off those offspeed pitches, and when Felix struggles it’s with his fastball command.  He catches too much of the plate and gets pounded accordingly.  I think, more than anything, he needs to work on improving his sinker, get guys swinging on top of that early and rolling over on more groundballs.  Once he starts getting ahead in the count again, the offspeed stuff will be more effective.

King Felix has been on a Hall of Fame pace through his first 12 seasons, but he’s by no means a lock if his career ended today.  The all-time greats pull off an impressive second act nobody saw coming, ideally full of post-season appearances and dominating performances on a national stage.  If these Mariners are going to break the streak and get back to the playoffs, they’re going to need their ace doing his thing.  And, if these Mariners expect to do anything in the playoffs, they’re going to need their ace to set the tone.

It all starts with Felix.  Now it’s up to him to carry the load.

Ready Or Not: The Very Important Mariners Of 2017

It honestly feels like I could take the better part of the next two months off from Seattle sports blogging.  I went back, to see what I was doing at this point last year, and it was A LOT of Husky basketball stuff; I just can’t see myself doing that again.  This year’s Husky basketball team is a fucking broken record of mediocrity.  The only player worth a damn is Markelle Fultz, and I just feel sorry for him because he’s drowning in a sea of worthlessness.  I didn’t really get into the Seattle Mariners until March of 2016 as a result, but I think that’s going to have to change this year.

See, it really feels like Now Or Never with this franchise.  All our chips have been pushed into the middle of the table, and we’re ready to flip over our cards for the rest of the league to see.  This is it!  Either the 2017 Mariners make the post-season, or they don’t.  And if they don’t, who knows?  Maybe we try to run it back with the same vets in 2018; but that feels like a fool’s errand.  If we can’t get it done now, what magic potion would we have to drink to somehow be better NEXT year?  No.  This is it.  It’s either 2017, or we wait for the next big rebuild.  At which point, what are we looking at, another 5-10 years of losing before we can even get back to this point?

So, given the increased significance of this season, I’ll be kicking off my Mariners coverage a little early this year (in spite of my overall reluctance to be sucked into the ever-expanding baseball season; GOD GIVE ME BACK THE NBA ALREADY!), with my list of Very Important Mariners.  These are the players we’re going to need to play well this year, if we have any hope of breaking the curse hovering over this franchise.  In no particular order, I’ll devote individual posts to the following (feel free to bookmark this page and come back to it, as I’ll be linking to each as they’re posted):

I’ll probably add to the list, as the 25-man roster becomes clearer.  So, yeah, look for that.