A Roster Shake-Up & A Mariners Victory

One did not necessarily lead to the other, of course, unless you believe in the motivating factor of roster transactions.

The minor move is that Chase De Jong was sent back down to Tacoma – a day after going 4 scoreless innings in relief of Ariel Miranda – in favor of Chris Heston, another spot starter/long reliever type.  Obviously, this was through no fault of De Jong’s, but simply because after pitching 4 full innings, he wasn’t going to be available in relief again for a few days.  And, with this rotation (specifically with guys like Gallardo, who got the start in yesterday’s game), you never know when you’re going to need an extra reliever.

Also, not for nothing, but De Jong and now Heston are merely keeping this spot warm until Steve Cishek works his way back into MLB playing shape, which is probably a week or so away.

The major move made yesterday was the DFA of Leonys Martin.  That’s a pretty tough pill to swallow.  I wouldn’t say he was a fan favorite or anything, but I’m sure the fans liked him enough.  He played great defense and he had a good run at the plate just last season.  It seemed like just a matter of time before he’d pick it back up at the plate and at least be passable in the everyday lineup.  But, thanks to the Mariners losing 3 in a row in Oakland – and starting off the season 1-9 on the road heading into yesterday’s game – time is exactly something the Mariners DON’T have a lot of.  This season is going down the toilet in a hurry, and we can’t sit around waiting for all of our slumping hitters to get their collective shit together.  In that sense, you could say the DFA of Leonys Martin is just as much about the entire team as it is about Martin’s own deficiencies.  Which, I’m sure, made the move that much more hard to swallow.  Because, while the fans liked him enough, the players and the coaching staff adored this kid, and I’m sure the move was as painful as it gets.

The thing is, I’m not super convinced it’s a moved that needed to be made.  Right now, we’re a team with just three outfielders, that is, until Jean Segura comes back from the DL, which should be any day now.  When Segura returns, you’ve got Motter who can play there too, but he’s a utility guy who can play anywhere.  He’s also the only guy on the roster who can back up at any infield position (assuming Mike Freeman gets sent back to Tacoma upon Segura’s return).  For all intents and purposes, Danny Valencia becomes your traditional fourth outfielder, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him at first base either.

See, the corresponding move with the Leonys Martin DFA is the calling back up of Dan Vogelbach, who hit .309/.409/.473 in Tacoma, with 3 doubles and 2 homers in 16 games.  The talk is, for now, Valencia rides the pine while Vogelbach gets to start every day.  THIS is a move that’s been about a week overdue, but again, I don’t know if it needed to be made at the expense of Martin.

Here are my concerns:

  1. I’m not convinced Guillermo Heredia is an everyday player
  2. I’m not convinced Dan Vogelbach is ready (or will ever be ready) for the Major Leagues
  3. What do we do if Jarrod Dyson gets injured for an extended period of time?
  4. I also lowkey have my doubts about Taylor Motter, as it feels like the other shoe is about to drop anyday now, and we’re in for an extended stretch of no hitting and lots of strikeouts

The Heredia thing, I think, sort of goes without saying, but let me try to elaborate.  I think he’s okay.  I think he’s a fine fifth outfielder, maybe.  He’s been a big help in the early going, and right now I’d say he’s DEFINITELY playing better than Leonys Martin.  But, I think long-term, Heredia isn’t much more than a Quad-A player.  The speed is great, don’t get me wrong, but he doesn’t seem to hit it out of the infield very much, and he can’t rely on infield base hits and bunts alone!  He walks about as often as Mike Zunino, which is to say hardly at all, and if he’s not pulling his weight in OBP, I don’t see him adding a whole lot of value with his bat.  He needs to be walking a ton and stealing a ton of bases for him to be an everyday outfielder for us.

The Vogelbach thing, I’ve been harping on for a while.  I just don’t know if he has it.  He’s still pretty young though, so I don’t know if it’s necessarily fair to expect him to have it right out of the gate.  I think he’s going to struggle at least in this early going, which means he’ll fall back into the platoon they’d planned for him and Valencia in the first place.  You gotta figure, at some point, Valencia is going to start hitting for us, and the more he does that, the more he’s going to see the field.  At which point, you’ve sort of got Vogelbach here as a lefty pinch hit bat off the bench.  Is that worth giving up on Leonys Martin?

Because, yeah, what if Dyson has to go on the DL for something?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have Martin there, with everyday playing experience?  Without Martin, I guess you slide over Heredia, and maybe call up Ben Gamel as an extra outfielder.  Is that a better situation than what you would’ve had with Martin?

And, if everything else works out, Vogelbach takes the first base job and runs with it, and the rest of our infield stays healthy, that means Motter effectively becomes your left fielder.  But, does increased playing time for Motter equate to decreased production at the plate? You figure pitchers are going to figure him out EVENTUALLY.  Does he have what it takes to re-adjust?  Or, will he flail along and watch his strikeouts skyrocket?

To counter all of my hemming and hawing, you’re probably right to ask:  what would I have done differently?

Well, for starters, do we REALLY need 8 relievers?  I think it was a smart idea to kick off the season, as the starters generally need some time to build their arms up and get their innings-counts up to snuff, but I feel like we’re there now.  Granted, Paxton and Miranda gave us some pretty shitty starts in that Oakland series, but it’s not like the bullpen has been notoriously over-worked or anything!  For the first three weeks of the season, they’ve split a pretty average workload among 8 people instead of 7 (more, really, when you count the guys coming and going from Tacoma).  There’s only been the one extra-innings game, in the third game of the season.  They had a huge homestand and one day off, with another off day scheduled today (and the next two Mondays to boot).  We could have EASILY made it through the next few days (or however long it will take for Segura to come off the DL) with just 7 relievers.  Then, when Segura is ready to return, we send Freeman down like planned, and keep going with a full bench and lots of different lineup options.

Facing a right-handed pitcher?  With Martin in the fold, you can go:  Segura, Haniger, Cano (L), Cruz, Seager (L), Vogelbach (L), Zunino, Dyson (L), Martin (L), with over half your lineup batting from the left side.  Facing a lefty?  You can go Segura, Haniger, Cano (L), Cruz, Seager (L), Motter, Valencia, Zunino, Heredia, with Heredia in center and Motter in left.  I dunno, I’m just spit-balling here, but with Martin you’ve got extra speed on your bench, another lefty hitter for late in games, and extra defense in case the unthinkable happens.  Instead, you waive him for nothing and hope no other team picks him up, and that he’s willing to play for you in Tacoma until it’s time to call him up again.  Seems like a longshot.

***

As for yesterday’s game, it was an 11-1 Mariners victory, to salvage at least not getting swept by the fucking A’s.  For what it’s worth, the Mariners are now 5-9 against the American League West, which obviously is far from ideal.  Also, the Mariners are tied for last in the division with the Angels at 8-12, good for third-worst in the entire league.

Motter hit a grand slam and Cruz hit a 3-run homer.  They combined for 9 of the 11 RBI.  Vogelbach had his first hit and RBI of the season, and played just fine at first base.  Seager had a minor hip issue that kept him from starting, but he was available to pinch hit if needed.  Considering he wasn’t, it’s nice that he has these back-to-back days off heading into the Detroit series.

On the pitching side of things, we finally got a good start out of Gallardo, going 6.1 innings, giving up 1 run on 4 hits, with 1 walk and 7 strikeouts.  Zych, Scrabble, and Scribner wiped out the later innings with no damage done.

So, the Mariners need to figure out how to win on the road.  Remember last year, when it was the opposite, and the Mariners had trouble winning at home in the early going?  They were 1-5 in their first home series last year, whereas they were 8-4 on the road and would go on into May 18-7 on the road before coming down to Earth.  How far down?  The 2016 Mariners finished 7 games over .500 at home, and only 3 games over .500 on the road.  That’s because most teams, by and large, are better at home than they are on the road.  So, you could sort of see a turnaround in the 2016 Mariners’ home record coming, even if it did take a while.  Which means the hot start on the road was VERY much to their benefit, and a big reason why they were able to stay in contention for so long.

This year, the Mariners are 6-3 at home, and now 2-9 on the road.  That’s pretty terrible, because while you would expect the Mariners to be good at home, it’s also not inconceivable that the Mariners might be this bad on the road.  In an ideal world, I think you want the Mariners to hover around .500 on the road, and be really good at home; in this world, it’s going to take A LOT of winning to get back to .500 on the road, and it’s going to take maintaining a lot of winning to stay really good at home.  None of this bodes well, and it’s starting to become clear to me that 2017 is going to be a lot like 2015, 2010, and 2008.  Recall those were all years where we were coming off of winning seasons, with heightened expectations, and collapsing under the weight of said expectations.  Same team, different GM/Manager combo.  God I hope I’m wrong.

Well, The Fucking Mariners Lost Again

It does seem like we got some semblance of the Good Kuma in this one, though it obviously didn’t end very well.  He was cruising along during the parts of the game I saw, before my social drinking brought me to a location that didn’t have the game on TV.  When I stopped watching, the Mariners had a 1-0 lead and things were looking promising.  Then, it all went to shit.

Iwakuma gave up a solo homer in the fifth to tie it, a solo homer in the sixth to take the L, and a double that would eventually be sacrificed home to rub salt in the wounds.  Meanwhile, as alluded to just now, the Mariners’ offense couldn’t do much of anything.  Yet again, a mediocre left-handed starter absolutely gave us fits, as Sean Manaea spun 6 innings of brilliance against a really frustrating set of Mariners bats.

Danny Valencia sucks dog shit.  He has ONE JOB, and that’s to be a good hitter against left-handed pitching.  In spite of his career numbers being really fucking glowing against lefties, this year he’s actually somehow WORSE against them!  .111/.333/.111 is the line he has right now against lefties, which is un-fucking-acceptable.  His dumb ass is here to be a platoon partner at first base, only since Dan Vogelbach is destined to be a bust, we’re stuck with Valencia full time, and it’s a God damn nightmare.  I never thought I’d see the day I longed for Adam Lind to be back in my life.  Hell, Justin Fucking Smoak would be a better option at this point!

Also, middle of the order?  Yeah, I’m looking at the big swinging dicks of Cano, Cruz, and Seager:  we’re going to need a good game out of you more than once out of every seven days, okay?  WHERE’S THE BEEF, YOU TURKEYS???  You are our power hitters, and right now you’re hitting like a bunch of Nancy’s.  Mitch Haniger can’t fucking do everything!  GET YOUR FUCKING SHIT TOGETHER AND GET ON A HOT STREAK RIGHT FUCKING NOW!

Two games.  Two games lost to this God-foresaken A’s team.  Typical fucking Mariners bullshit.  Can’t wait to be swept this weekend.

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.

Mariners Posted Impressive Comeback Win To Sweep Rangers

This game had it all!  By which I mean it had a lot of things.  For instance, it had speed at the top of the lineup manufacturing a run in the bottom of the first.

It had Hisashi Iwakuma absolutely fall apart after a nondescript first inning, giving up 6 runs while recording just the 9 outs.  110 more innings to go before Iwakuma’s 2018 option vests and we’re going to have to pay him upwards of $15 million next year.

I don’t hate the guy by any means, but I do think that he’s A) overpaid, and B) overrated.  I know I harp on this a lot, but if I don’t explain myself, it just looks like I have an irrational hatred of Japanese people or something.  He’s OKAY.  But, he’s pretty far removed from his best season in 2013, and even that year looks like an anomaly compared to every other year he’s been in the Major Leagues.  I get the feeling that people expect him to be great every time out, when in reality he’s good maybe half the time, and bad the other half.  As I sarcastically noted on Twitter yesterday, he was long overdue for a bad game considering he’d already given us two pretty okay starts in the first week.

What’s even more galling is that he’d yet to throw more than 90 pitches in either of his first two starts, then he had the off-day on Thursday, then he was pushed back a start so we could split up Paxton and Miranda (which, I don’t know why we didn’t do that to start the season, but whatever), so he had two extra days to rest up and still couldn’t give us much of anything against a fairly mediocre Rangers team.  Unless you want to say his timing was thrown off with the extra days in between starts, but he strikes me as a guy who needs that sort of careful handling to make it through the season.

Anyway, if I can get off my soapbox for a moment, there we were, down 6-1 heading into the bottom of the third inning.  This game had the feel of I want to say almost every single Sunday game from last year:  just a humdrum defeat where no one really shows up to play.  And then, in the bottom of the third, the two leadoff guys got on and Haniger muscled out a 3-run homer to left-center to put the Mariners right back in the game!

At that point, Servais went with the quick hook of Iwakuma, since he clearly didn’t have anything resembling “it”, and for once the bullpen was up to the task.

Recent call-up Evan Marshall went 2.1 perfect innings to bridge us over to the late-inning relief guys.  He was a quality reliever for Arizona in 2014, then hit the skids the last two seasons before being released.  He doesn’t look like anything special when you watch him, but he throws a lot of quality strikes and is obviously capable of going multiple innings in a pinch.  I don’t know necessarily where he stands with the ballclub once Cishek is ready to return from his rehab assignment, but assuming everyone stays healthy, and no one really falls apart with their mechanics (I’m looking at you, Altavilla), I’d have to think Marshall is the odd man out.  But, assuming he still has options, it’s nice to know we can count on him should the need arise for a long man out of the ‘pen.

James Pazos came in to strikeout the last two guys in the 6th inning, before walking the leadoff batter in the 7th.  Tony Zych made his 2017 debut by inducing a fly-out before giving up a single.  Scrabble was able to shut down that threat, as well as get the first two outs of the 8th (not without walking a batter).  That’s when Dan Altavilla came in and loaded the bases on back-to-back walks.

I should point out that the Mariners had tied the game by this point.  Cole Hamels got through five innings with a 6-4 lead, and for the third consecutive start to open the season, he watched his bullpen gag away the victory.  In the bottom of the sixth, Seager doubled to lead off, and Valencia of all people doubled him home.  Then, in the bottom of the seventh, Guillermo Heredia hit quite the crowd-pleasing solo homer to left to tie it at 6.  I couldn’t be happier for the kid, who had this look of pure joy as he hit it, and again as he was greeted at the dugout with a big bear hug by Cano.  The fact that he’s contributing and playing well in the early going is really awesome, both for him and the team, as we wait for the middle of the order to really get cooking.

So, when Altavilla looked like he was going to tear all that apart in the next half-inning, it was pretty demoralizing.  And yet, he finally got some pitches to enter the strike zone, which ultimately led to Elvis Andrus striking out on something low and in to end the threat.  Sighs of relief all around.

It would be short lived, though, as Edwin Diaz came in for the ninth inning and gave up a lead-off, go-ahead homer to put the M’s down 7-6.  All of that for NOTHING!  And, on just a terrible sequence of pitches, as he started off Nomar Mazara with a 2-0 count before grooving a fastball middle-in that Mazara was able to cheat on because he was expecting fastball all the way.  You hate to pull the Closer In Non-Save Situations card, but that was a real doozy.  Diaz was able to get through the rest of the inning unscathed, but the damage appeared to be done.

Until the Rangers brought in closer Sam Dyson (who might find this is his only mention on my website, with the way he’s going of late).  Dyson had been a pretty great closer for the Rangers last year, saving 38 games.  He’s actually been a solid reliever since 2014, so it’s not like we’re talking about a flash in the pan here.  But, in his first 6 appearances this season (including yesterday), he’s had 3 blown saves and another outright loss, with an ERA of 27.00.  It’s my understanding that he won’t be closing games for Texas for a while, which is too bad, but I’ll gladly take it because it means the Mariners overcame a 7-6 deficit in the ninth inning yesterday.

Jarrod Dyson pinch hit for Chooch and reached on an infield single.  He then proceeded to steal second base before we even had to bunt (God, I love Dyson’s speed!).  Leonys Martin then bunted him over to third, and was safe at first thanks to perfect bunt placement and poor pitcher defense.  Mike Freeman then pinch hit for Heredia, to give us another lefty hitter.  Martin stole second on his own, which led the Rangers to walk Freeman to load the bases and set up a play at any base.  This brought up Mitch Haniger, who worked one of the most impressive walks you’re ever going to see in a situation like that.  Tie game, no outs, with the heart of the order coming up.  SURELY we wouldn’t bungle this opportunity, would we?

Well, for starters, don’t call me Shirley (this joke really doesn’t work in print, but I’ll be damned if that’s ever stopped me from using it), but also the middle of the order has been pretty fucking far from intimidating this year.  Cano, Cruz and Seager have a combined 2 homers in the first two weeks.  I know it’s not all about homers with these guys, but they’re the same hitters who knocked out 112 dingers just last year.  Cano has one more extra base hit (4) than he does times he’s grounded into a double play (3).  Same with Cruz (3 extra base hits, 2 double plays).  So, you know, it absolutely wasn’t a given that the Mariners would come through in that situation.

Indeed, with the infield pulled in, Cano hit a fielder’s choice to the second baseman to keep the bases loaded and the game tied.  With one out, the Rangers opted to play back for the double play, and boy did it look like Cruz would oblige!  He hit a sharp grounder to short that Andrus just couldn’t get a handle on, resulting in everyone being safe and ending the game 8-7 for the good guys.  But, damn, if he comes up with that ball, and is able to flip it to second, I think there’s a really solid chance they’re able to double up Cruz at first.  It would’ve been a bang-bang play at the very least, with CB Bucknor of all people bungling things up on that end of the field.

(Bucknor who, not for nothing, ejected Scott Servais earlier in the game for arguing about his idiocy at first base, as it seemed he defered to the Rangers’ first baseman on making a fair/foul call, but that’s neither here nor there).

I’ll tell you what, this was just what the doctor ordered for the Mariners.  Like I said yesterday, the series win was nice, but this really needed to be a sweep.  Now, the Mariners are finally out of the cellar in the A.L. West (5-8, a half game up on the Rangers, who had to have felt pretty good about themselves coming into this series).  A quick look of the standings sees the A’s at 5-7 and the Angels at 6-7.  The Astros, at 8-4, are the only team with a winning record, in other words.

Oh, is it too early to Standings Watch?  A thousand times no!

(although, maybe don’t look too hard at the Wild Card standings for a while.  At least until the Mariners are able to climb back to .500)

The Miami Marlins come in for three, before the M’s head out on a 10-game road trip (4 in Oakland, 3 in Detroit, and 3 in Cleveland).  Over/under on weather-related postponements is set at 2.5, and I’m inclined to bet the over.

James Paxton Is The Greatest Pitcher Alive

8 innings of 2-hit, 1-walk shutout ball to throw on the pile.  21 innings of 8-hit, 4-walk shutout ball to start the season.  9 more strikeouts to give him 22 on the season.

As Childish Gambino said, “Don’t be mad because I’m doing me better than you’re doing you.”

This was quite the enjoyable game.  Paxton was dealing, but really there was good pitching on both sides, outside of one half inning, where the Mariners scored all five of their runs in winning this thing 5-0.

One out into the bottom of the sixth, Mitch Haniger got it going with a single to left.  He’s got that batting average WAY up, check the slash line:  .292/.393/.542.  Cano got on via an error by the short stop, and Cruz walked to load ’em up.  That brought up Seager, whose power numbers are still lacking, but everything else is starting to climb up to respectability.  He mashed a single into right to score two runs, which knocked out the Rangers’ starter.  Taylor Motter stepped to the plate, flowing mane of hair rustling ever so gently under his batting helmet.  Earlier this week, he had that 3-double game against the Astros and followed it up the very next night with another double and a homer.  Well, he wasn’t able to get any extra-base hits off of Texas on Friday (just a run of the mill single, frowny-face), but I’ll be damned if he didn’t get right back on the horse with a 3-run homer to put the nail in the coffin!

Taylor Motter is hitting .333.  He’s getting on base at a near-.400 clip.  But, his slugging is – get this – .810!  I didn’t realize, when we acquired this utility infielder from the Rays, that we’d be getting the second coming of Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds, but when you’re talking about an .810 slugging percentage, those are the two guys who have ever done that over a full season!  Now listen, obviously I have no delusions of this guy slugging .810 for us all year, that would be clinically insane.  But, what this blog post presupposes is … maybe he will?

The rest of the Mariners didn’t do much of anything else last night, but I don’t care about that.  All I want is all of Haniger’s and Motter’s at bats run on a loop, forever and ever.

I will say that we got a good 9th inning out of Nick Vincent.  Credit where it’s due, he shut the Rangers down before they could even THINK of mounting a comeback.

On the flipside, the M’s went 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position.  I’m starting to keep a log of everyone’s totals in this category because this team is driving me fucking crazy, and I’ve got some hard data for you.  The Mariners as a team are hitting .157 on the year with RISP.  If you figure league average is somewhere around .250, obviously the Mariners have a ways to go just to get back up to average.  Given the track record of the players we know about, and given how special guys like Haniger and Motter have been in the early going, you’d expect our average with RISP will go up in a hurry, and good times will be right around the corner.

Well, we’ll see.  It’s interesting that the M’s are struggling with RISP even in their wins.  In the 4 wins, the Mariners are hitting 9 for 44 with RISP (.205), which means in the losses, you can really point to a lack of clutch hitting, as their average with RISP falls to .125, with the majority of our losses coming to the Astros, ergo the Astros are skewing our numbers in a big way.

You won’t be surprised at who is sucking our collective wills to live the most in this category.  Valencia is 1 for 10, Martin is 0 for 11, and Zunino is a whopping 1 for 15!  It might shock you that Cruz is also up there, at 2 for 13, which is unacceptable for a cleanup hitter.  But, truth be told, no one is great.  Cano has had the most opportunities and he’s only hitting .250, so pretty much everyone can get a lot more clutch for this team, if it expects to go to the playoffs.

Winning a series is nice.  First series win of the season is under our belt, just 12 games into the season.  But, this feels like it needs to be a sweep, so go out there this afternoon and get the job done!

Mariners Get Much-Needed Win On Griffey Statue Day

With the way this season’s gone so far, the Mariners should’ve lost last night’s game 9 ways from Sunday, but instead somehow pulled out the 2-1 victory.

Felix looked good, though still not quite his old dominant self, in going 7.1 innings, giving up 1 run on 6 hits, striking out 3 with 0 walks.  The fact that he’s still on 0 walks through three starts is about as amazing as it gets.  Last night, he pitched to contact well and for the most part was rewarded by his defense, aside from that Zunino bungle in front of home plate.

The King was still in great shape in the 8th inning, at around 80 pitches heading in.  But, a line-out to the short stop and a single to the next batter ended his day.  Scrabble came in and got the next two lefties out to end the threat.  From there, it was more or less a relatively pain-free save situation for Diaz, who watched a 2-out single scamper over to third base on a steal and a wild pitch before being stranded.

The Mariners kicked off the scoring with Nelson Cruz’s first homer of the season, a solo shot in the 4th, to go up 1-0.  It was an impressive liner to right-center field, and you know Cruz is going well at the plate when he’s going the other way with power.

Obviously, the offense isn’t going right when you only get 2 runs, but 6 Mariners managed to get at least 1 hit.  They’re just not getting these in succession, as they went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position.

Part of it wasn’t necessarily their fault though, as in the bottom of the 7th, Dyson reached on an infield single, and stole second before Heredia could bunt him over.  Heredia finally DID bunt him over, but it got away from the pitcher, ending up with runners on the corners and nobody out.  That brought up Mitch Haniger, who worked the count in his favor and hit a shot off the top of the wall that the idiot umpiring crew called a home run.  It was later ruled NOT a home run, but for some reason they put Haniger back at first base and Heredia back at second.  You can say Heredia mis-read the ball all you want, but with their speed, there’s no way they wouldn’t have gotten to second and third on that hit.  That sufficiently changed the course of the inning, but with the meat of the order coming up, you still had to feel good about our chances of playing a little add-on, right?

WRONG.  Cano popped out and Cruz hit into a double play.  I guess that solo homer back in the 4th didn’t cure all of Cruz’s ills quite yet.

Danny Valencia is still stinking up the joint.  So is Mike Zunino.  Valencia just looks as lost at the plate as I’ve seen anyone.  Zunino has a giant hole in his swing causing him to miss anything up in the zone.  A guy with his power and his youth should not be missing on this many fastballs in the zone, saying nothing of the times he goes chasing those breaking balls that fall out of the zone.  I’ve been doing a little work on updating my Worst Trades, Draft Picks, and Free Agent Signings page, and right now in my notes I’ve written “Mike Zunino?”  Well, we’re going on 5 years since he was drafted, and I’m just about to take that question mark off of his name and cement him in as yet another first round Mariners draft bust.  God damn you Jack Zduriencik, you worthless pile of crap.

The Mariners Shut Out The Astros In Their Home Opener

I know I’m not the first person to think of this, but there were a couple of moments that stood out to me in yesterday’s Home Opener at Safeco Field.  The first was in the bottom of the fourth, when the heart of the order loaded the bases with nobody out, the game still scoreless.  Valencia and Martin proceeded to strike out, and Zunino flew out to end the inning with no runners scoring.  I was a little distracted at the time, because this woman in our section was being loud and generally annoying almost everyone else around her (to my perverse delight), but suddenly I heard the fans start to boo, and I perked up even further.  YES!  BOO!  That’s what you do when you see something you don’t like, you boo the shit out of it!  And Mariners, we don’t particularly like you right now, so we’re going to boo YOU!

From the safety of the 200-level seats …

Seattle fans in general, and Mariners fans in particular, don’t get a whole lot of credit for being all that savvy or even interested in what’s going on down on the field (and, believe me, I’m harping on the fans more than anyone to get their shit together).  But, to see the home fans boo the hometown team on Opening Day was a real eye-opener.  Granted, this isn’t the first time we’ve booed the Mariners before, but usually it takes more sustained ineptitude before they draw that type of ire from us.  CERTAINLY, we would never boo our team on Opening Day!

And yet, here we were, on the heels of a 1-6 road trip to kick off the season, where the offense struggled to do much of anything in all but one of those games, giving it to this hapless bunch on Day 1.  We expect better from you, Mariners, and if you don’t start delivering, you’re damn well going to hear it from us!

I’ll admit, I’ve never been prouder of a group of fans.  Yesterday was a banner day.

The other moment that stood out was in the very next inning, the bottom of the fifth.  Still scoreless, this time the Mariners loaded the bases with one out.  Nelson Cruz walked to the plate.  I want to say it happened in the middle of the at-bat, after a couple/few pitches had been thrown:  spontaneous cheering.  CHEERING!  Cheering BEFORE something good had happened!  We were one inning removed from collective booing to show our displeasure, but instead of sitting on our hands, waiting for the guys to earn our praise (or waiting for the next opportunity to boo the shit out of them once again), we – as fans – decided to be proactive, and help our fellow baseball superstar.

I tell you, I’ve NEVER seen anything like that from a Mariners crowd.  The only time I’ve ever seen us start to cheer is when something good happens, or when the jumbotron tells us to.  The closest I’ve ever seen is with the King’s Court, and the chanting whenever Felix gets to two strikes on a batter, but I don’t remember if that started out spontaneously among the fans in that section, or if it was something the organization started and thrust upon us.

Either way, here we were, cheering on Nelson Cruz as he stood at the plate.  We were one with the baseball player right there, and we knew he needed a little boost from the fans to get things going on offense.  And by gar, it WORKED!  Cruz hit a 2-run single up the middle, and Seager followed with a sac fly to make it 3-0 after five innings.

And at that point, I’d REALLY never been prouder of a group of fans.  It’s like we’re turning a corner or something!

Yesterday was a ton of fun.  But, it didn’t start out that way.  I took off work at 11am and went to the Mariners Team Store in Downtown Seattle to buy a new hat.  Every year, I buy a new ballcap to add to my collection.  Last year, I got the St. Patrick’s Day hat, and it brought us no luck.  This year, I got the Seattle Turks throwback hat (some interesting reading on the early Seattle baseball scene HERE and HERE).

Clean …

As soon as I walked out with my new purchase, it started to rain.  It continued to rain as I approached Sluggers, around 11:30am, and it was still raining when we walked out of Sluggers moments later, due to the fact that it was packed beyond belief.  We settled on The Lodge Sports Grille, which turned out to be pretty damn good.  Lots of beer on tap, excellent spicy popcorn shrimp, and the best part:  they actually had room for the three of us to sit and watch the various TVs on the walls.

We approached Safeco Field as soon as the introductions were starting.  If you thought the fireworks were loud in the stadium, you should stand outside of the left field entrance; they were absolutely deafening!  The lines getting into the stadium were untenable, so we piled into Jimmy’s On First to grab a couple more beers and wait out the nonsense.  Once it looked like it wouldn’t take an hour to get inside the stadium, we walked on over.  By then, thankfully, the rain mostly stopped.

We missed the intros.  We watched the first pitches (four guys throwing to four other guys) from Jimmy’s, as well as the first inning or two.  James Paxton looked REAL dominant, in going 7 innings of shutout ball, striking out 8.  Altavilla and Scribner locked down the 8th & 9th innings as we all made 6-run lead jokes after the blown save the day before.

Offensively, we came to play.  Mitch Haniger had a couple hits and an RBI, Cruz went 3 for 4 with 2 RBI, Seager had 2 hits and an RBI, Cano had a hit & 2 walks, and the bottom three in the order each had a hit apiece.  So, yeah, maybe it WAS all about the home cookin’.

The one downer was the hamstring injury to Jean Segura.  Here’s to hoping that won’t keep him out too long, or be detrimental to his performance going forward.  Get well soon, but also get FULLY well!

Everybody Welcome Back The Same Ol’ Mariners!

I dunno, what was all that stuff about winning a bunch of games and breaking the streak of non-playoff seasons?  Yeah, you know what?  Forget I said anything, I don’t know what I was thinking.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I was THINKING that this was a team that was pretty darn close to making the post-season last year, a team that made some pretty obvious upgrades to the offense, a team that gave itself a lot of bullpen options to choose from, and a team that – if nothing else – put together a veteran, savvy starting rotation to keep us in most games.  With that offense, and some solid bullpen play, this certainly looked like a team that could do some damage!

But, yeah, Mariners.  IT’S THE SAME OL’ MARINERS, EVERYONE!

Who are the Same Ol’ Mariners?  You know, they’re the key guys who get injured at the worst times.  They’re the superstars who suddenly become terrible.  They snatch defeats from the jaws of victory.  They provide fans with just enough hope to fool themselves into falling for this team yet again, and then they pull that rug out from under us and laugh at the idiots who fell flat on their asses.  Jerry Dipoto can do his damnedest to turn over the roster and make all the trades he wants, but regardless, what he’s going to get in return for all of his hard work are the Same Ol’ Mariners, here to bungle at baseball and waste all of our time for yet another summer.  By October, the Same Ol’ Mariners end up where they always end up:  in their homes, watching playoff baseball on TV, patting their backs for jobs well done.

Technically, Felix had a quality start last night – going 6 innings, giving up 3 runs – but I don’t know if anyone would describe that performance as “quality”.  He did have that 14-pitch at-bat to Mike Trout, as well as keeping him off the bases all three times he faced him.  And, you know, not for nothing, but any time your starter only gives up 3 runs in 6 innings, you should probably win that game (especially if you have an offense as well-regarded as Seattle’s).  But, you know, the Same Ol’ Mariners are who the Same Ol’ Mariners are.

In this case, their best set-up reliever (Evan Scribner) gives up a 2-run homer to Mike Trout in a 3-3 game, ultimately resulting in a 5-4 loss.

I wouldn’t blame the mediocre pitching entirely.  With the Same Ol’ Mariners, it’s always a TEAM effort!  The night started off pretty promising, with Mitch Haniger hitting a 2-run homer in the first inning to set the tone.  2-0 was eventually chipped away, one run at a time, by the Angels working over our Ace.  The worst part was our inept offense made THEIR starter, Ricky Nolasco, look like an Ace, as he settled down to go 6 innings, still giving up just the two runs.  We owned that guy in the past, but not even the luxury of facing probably the worst starting pitcher we’ll see on this road trip was enough for our offense to get going.

There were opportunities, of course!  In the fifth, Valencia got to third with one out, only to find Mike Zunino would rather go fishing than make smart decisions on which baseballs to swing at.  He did make up for it a little bit, knocking in a 2-out RBI single in the 7th inning (to, at the very least, get Felix off the hook for the loss).  In our best and last shot of the night, down 5-3, Segura and Cano both singled to put runners at the corners.  Nelson Cruz could’ve busted out of his slump in a major way, but instead only hit a sac fly.  With two outs, Kyle Seager could’ve busted out of his slump in a major way, but instead struck out and that was that.

Two series into the regular season, two series defeats.  Would you expect anything less from the Same Ol’ Mariners?  I know I wouldn’t!  This afternoon, Kuma comes in to try to salvage something out of this waking nightmare.  I wouldn’t count on it.

What Are You Supposed To Do With A Mariners Offense Playing Like This?

At some point this week, I decided I’d take it upon myself to post a recap of all the Mariners games, even on *shudder* the weekends.  Someone needs to slap some sense into me, preferably with a couple of perky C’s.

I don’t know what to tell you.  5 hits in a 5-1 defeat to the thoroughly unimpressive Angels.  1 for 7 with runners in scoring position, another 7 left on base.  I mean, what is this?  Is this Spring Training fatigue?  The fact that these guys have been away from home for so long, and now the MLB schedule-makers have tacked on an extra 7 days to this living nightmare?  Will a simple matter of some home cooking turn this thing around?

God, I hope it doesn’t take that long.  Going 1-6 in your first week isn’t an insurmountable mountain to climb, but it sure as shit makes life unnecessarily difficult.

I mean, it’s one thing to see Kyle Seager struggle in the early going; we’ve come to expect that at this point.  And we all knew the outfield would be a bit of a depressing mixed bag at the plate (currently hitting a collective 8 for 59 (.136) with 5 walks, 2 doubles, 1 homer, and 18 strikeouts).  But, I think what’s most alarming is the funk that Cano and Cruz have been in through 5 games.

Those are our rocks!  Our studs!  Our superstars!  6 hits in 39 at-bats (.154) with 2 doubles, 0 homers, 1 RBI, 5 walks, and a whopping 13 strikeouts.  I know 5 games is a small sample size and everything, but come on!

Really, you can go up and down the lineup and pull these lunatic numbers that make you wonder just what sort of fresh hell we’re in for this season, so I won’t bombard you with all the misery.  I will say that I have no problem with Segura so far; I like that Seager has at least taken the most walks on the team to feature the highest OBP (.364), even though he’s only batting .125; and I’m starting to come around to Mitch Haniger (who leads the team in extra-base hits with 2) mostly because he seems to also have a good command of the strike zone with a .333 OBP.

As far as last night’s game is concerned, we got our first look at Yovani Gallardo.  I came away not totally sick to my stomach!  Granted, he went 5 innings and gave up 3 runs (being pulled in the bottom of the 6th with no outs after giving up a solo homer and a hard-hit single) while only throwing 90 pitches, but there were issues outside of his control that severely altered the course of the game for him.

In the bottom of the first, Gallardo gave up a leadoff single, followed by an ever-so-unfortunate double to Kole Calhoun (opposite field, against the outfield shift, just BARELY touching the chalk of the left field foul line before bouncing into the stands).  If that ball lands foul, who knows where the inning takes him?  Even still, with no outs and runners on 2nd & 3rd, he only gave up a sac fly to Mike Trout before getting out of the inning.

Then, in the bottom of the third, disaster.  A couple of singles and a strikeout preceeded Trout coming to bat.  After spotting him a 3-0 count, the Mariners intentionally walked him to get to Albert Pujols with 1 out and the bases loaded.  Pujols obliged about as well as you could ask for with a weak grounder right at Kyle Seager.  It was a tailor-made double play ball to get out of the inning still down 1-0.  Instead, Seager totally biffed it, allowing a run to score with the bases still loaded.  I couldn’t tell you how many pitches that cost Gallardo in his pitch count, but he ended up striking out the very next batter before getting out of the bases loaded jam with a ground ball to third.

And you may say, “Well, his pitch count stalled at 90 anyway, so it’s not like he was THAT over-worked,” but I’ll say this:  pitches in high-pressure situations like that, with the bases loaded and less than 2 outs, count A LOT more than pitches with nobody on base.  Sure, it was mostly his doing that got the bases loaded in the first place, but in the end, he induced a ground ball that should’ve been a double play and instead was a fielder’s choice/error that got no one out.  That’s not on Gallardo.

All in all, I thought Gallardo looked okay.  I saw him touch 94mph on the gun, he was usually in the lower 90s with his fastball, and he was able to work both up and down in the zone to pretty solid effect.  I mean, he’s never going to be anything amazing, but he’s a veteran 5th starter, so a lot of his starts are going to look like this.  He’s going to spread around a bunch of hits, hopefully not walk too many, and usually keep you in enough ballgames to justify his roster spot.  Think of a Kevin Millwood or a Chris Young type moreso than a Wade Miley or a Joe Saunders type.  At least, that’s my hope.

Casey Fien looked pretty good in his first inning of relief, then gave up a 2-run homer in his second inning of relief.  But, he’s not really a guy you’re going to count on in the 8th inning of a game you’re winning; he’s a guy you’re going to see in games like this, where we’re losing but hoping he can keep it close enough for us to come back.  I think the jury is still out on him, but I also don’t see him going anywhere anytime soon, even with Tony Zych set to rejoin the Mariners at some point in the next week or two.

Finally, Dillon Overton got his first inning of relief in the soft landing we unfortunately couldn’t give to Chase De Jong.  Overton gave up a meaningless single and netted 2 strikeouts, but I couldn’t tell you how he looked because I turned off the TV after that 2-run homer Fien gave up.

Felix Day today.  Let’s hope he doesn’t have to cover first base.

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.