The Mariners Need To Keep Winning These Close Games

As we dip our toes into August, things are starting to come into focus.  Whereas a month ago, you could argue each and every team in the A.L. had a chance at the Wild Card, now you can start to write some teams off.  The White Sox, the Tigers, the A’s, and I daresay even the Blue Jays and the Rangers, particularly with their trading of Yu Darvish to the Dodgers.  And, not far behind them, you’ve got teams like the Angels, Twins, and maybe even the Orioles, who just need another mediocre couple of weeks before you figure they throw in the towel and start playing their younger guys.

At that point, it’s almost easier to count the teams in the race.  The Astros, obviously.  With the Yankees winning the Sonny Gray sweepstakes, you have to like their chances.  The Red Sox will give them a run, of course.  In the Central, you’ve got the surging Royals and the steady Indians.  And, right there, tied with the Mariners, you’ve got the Rays at 54-53 with two full months to go.  We’re both of us 2.5 games behind the Royals for that second Wild Card spot; with the July 31st Trade Deadline come and gone, now it’s time to get to work.

As you know, I’m not very bullish on the Mariners’ chances.  Obviously, Paxton is one of the best pitchers in baseball right now, but after that it’s a wasteland.  Felix is on the decline (5.1 innings of 4-run ball last night; he was fortunate the offense and bullpen bailed him out — how many times could we have said THAT over the course of his career?), Erasmo Ramirez of all people is slated to take the hill tonight.  Then, we’ve got the poo-poo platter of Ariel Miranda and Yovani Gallardo who will REALLY have to start picking up the slack the rest of the way if this team wants a shot at the post-season.

I dunno, I just can’t see it.  It would be a miracle of miracles.  The writing is already on the wall:  we’re going to look back on this season and realize we were out of it the day Drew Smyly injured his throwing arm.  Could we have withstood the decline of Felix, the injury of Iwakuma, and the disaster that’s been Gallardo?  Yes, yes, and yes; but it all hinged on getting a big bounceback season out of Smyly, and that absolutely did not happen.  If Smyly could’ve been 80% of what Paxton has been, combined with a fine season from Miranda, a bulldog season out of Felix, and whatever you could get out of the fifth starter carousel, MAYBE you could talk me into being confident in this team as it’s currently constructed.  But, the day they let the deadline pass without going out and getting a top shelf starter is the day they gave up on the season.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what David Phelps brings to this bullpen.  But, what use does this team have for an Erasmo Ramirez when it’s already got 4-5 of them in the organization?  What use does this team have for a Marco Gonzales when, again, it’s already got 4-5 of them in the organization?  These are half measures.  It’s making it look like you’ve done something when you’ve really done nothing at all.  These guys could’ve been gotten in the offseason just as easily, but instead they were acquired now; why?  To give the illusion that the team is trying to Win Now, when in reality this team – at the Major League level – is no better than it was before, and it could be argued they’re actually worse.  The lynchpin, of course, is Gonzales.  He’s “Major League Ready” and figures to be called up anytime now; if he comes up and does what he’s never done before (pitches well at the highest level), then I’ll happily eat all the crow you can shovel onto my plate.  But, it strikes me that we’ve heard this tune before.

Andrew Moore was Major League Ready.  Sam Gaviglio was Major League Ready.  Christian Bergman was Major League Ready.  Chris Heston was Major League Ready.  Chase De Jong was Major League Ready.  Dillon Overton was Major League Ready.  Rob Whalen was Major League Ready.  Where are they right now?

Like I said, it’s going to take some kind of miracle.  A big part of that would involve the Mariners winning more close games than they lose.  Like, A LOT more.  Like, an unsustainable amount of close games!  So far, they’re 16-10 in 1-run games, and 5-5 in extra innings games.  That needs to improve, bigly.  Especially against the teams ahead of us in the standings.

Last night wasn’t a 1-run game, but the Mariners still found a way to notch a save and come from behind.  Down 4-0 after two innings, it looked bleak.  Thankfully, the Mariners were able to take advantage of a whopping 4 errors and 2 balks, as the Rangers look like one of the sloppiest teams I’ve ever seen.  By the time Cole Hamels finished his six innings, the game was tied, and for a while there it looked like this game was destined for extras.

Scrabble was able to get out of a Felix jam in the sixth inning.  All five of Phelps’ outs were via the strikeout.  And meanwhile, this side-arming lefty reliever for the Rangers, Alex Claudio, was wiggling his way off the hook for over 2 innings of work, on a remarkably low number of pitches.

Scott Servais did something interesting in the last few days with the lineup; he’s finally gotten comfortable with Ben Gamel as an everyday hitter, even against left-handed starters.  So much so, in fact, that we’ve seen Gamel lead off the last few days, with Jean Segura batting second.  They’re both having phenomenal offensive seasons from a batting average standpoint, so they’re really pretty interchangeable at the top of the order.  But, it’s a dynamic shift where the Mariners are L-R-L-R-L-R through the first six hitters in the order.  Against teams with good lefty bullpen arms, this presents a conundrum:  do you swap your relievers out after each at-bat, or do you trust your lefty arm to pitch against, say, Jean Segura or Nelson Cruz?

Well, as we found out last night, with Claudio on the mound, the Rangers opted to pitch around those guys, intentionally walking Cruz twice and Segura once.  That put the onus on our left-handed hitters to get the job done.

It looked like it was going to work, too!  Claudio got out of a jam in the seventh when Seager hit into an inning-ending fielder’s choice with runners on the corners.  He worked a very quick and efficient eighth inning to keep his pitch count low.  And, he ALMOST got through the ninth by using similar tactics as he did in the seventh.  Had he succeeded, the Rangers would’ve been in good shape heading into extras, while the Mariners would’ve used a couple of their best bullets in all likelihood just to get there.

The top of the ninth kicked off with a Chooch Ruiz single to right.  He was lifted for a pinch runner in Jarrod Dyson, who was cut down on a fielder’s choice when Gamel hit what looked to be a rally-killing double play.  However, the throw to first got past the bag and Gamel was able to reach second base with one out.  Segura drew the intentional walk, and both runners were balked over thanks to Claudio’s funky pre-pitch arm waggling.  Against lefty Cano, Claudio had been successful two innings prior, inducing a ground ball.  He busted him inside again, but Cano was able to stay on it and lined it over the right fielder’s head.  A perfect bounce to Shin Soo Choo allowed him to throw Cano out at second, but the damage was done.  The Mariners had a 6-4 lead and Edwin Diaz threw fire in the bottom half to close it out in regulation.

I’ll admit, it was an encouraging end to the month of July.  The Mariners went 14-12 to secure their second consecutive winning month.  Now it’s time to really turn it up a notch.

Mariners Win In Texas For First Time Since April 2016

Due to a scheduling quirk.  And some focused ineptitude.

After a couple of shitbird 10-4 losses, the Mariners went up against Yu Darvish in the series finale.  While he’s been Ace-like for most of his career, the Mariners have had curious bouts of competence against him, and yesterday was no exception.  5 runs in 5 innings to put the M’s in the driver’s seat.  Then, Nick Vincent shut things down after some shaky bullpen work in the seventh, bridging it to the ninth.  By then, it was no longer a save situation, but Edwin Diaz still locked down the 7-3 victory to make things not so bad.

Kyle Seager had 3 doubles, 2 runs, and 3 RBI; Ben Gamel continues to hit everything in sight; and Danny Valencia had a 2-run homer in the first to really put the Mariners on solid footing.

Christian Bergman had his final start before both Felix and Iwakuma come off the DL for this weekend’s Astros series.  He went 5.2 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits, 2 walks, and 1 strikeout.  The question now is:  has he done enough to stick around in this rotation?

With Felix and Kuma back, with Miranda and Paxton being too good to take out of the rotation (recent starts notwithstanding), there are now three pitchers for one spot:  Bergman, Gaviglio, and Gallardo.  Gaviglio and Gallardo will both have starts in this upcoming Tigers series and then a decision will have to be made.

I’m already on record as stating Gallardo needs to go.  Of course, he’ll catch on with some other team and absolutely destroy his opponents for the rest of the year, but that’s just the way that goes.  If he stays, he’ll continue to suck; we just have to hope he goes to the National League and we get an Out of Sight/Out of Mind situation.

As for the Bergman vs. Gaviglio question, I’ll try to render an opinion after tonight’s start.  Oh yes, it’s really that close, and might come down to how Gaviglio looks in a Do Or Die situation.  Stay tuned.

In Long Relievers – They’re Just Like Us News:  Rob Whalen got the boot in favor of Max Povse (in the process, Dillon Overton got DFA’d to make room on the 40-man).  Povse has a ton of upside and is making the jump from AA, so this could be a little more interesting than someone set to eat up a few innings before an immediate demotion (in all likelihood, if Povse does well, I could see him replacing Altavilla, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here).

Starting tonight, the Mariners enjoy a stretch of 16 of the next 19 at home heading into the All Star Break.  For the first time in forever, the Mariners actually get to play a home series immediately preceeding those three days off, so it’s nice that they don’t have to travel if they don’t want to.  The time is now:  the Mariners REALLY need to do well to get back in this Wild Card hunt, or fucking lose me forever.

Probably not.  I’m a sucker for this stupid team.

The 2017 Seattle Mariners Are The Unluckiest Team I’ve Ever Seen

I should point out the Mariners already lost before the game even started, with Paxton going on the DL and with uber-bust Mike Zunino getting sent to Tacoma (with Tuffy Gosewisch coming back to backup Carlos Ruiz).  Then, they lost to the Rangers in 13 innings, by a score of 3-1, after blowing SO MANY FUCKING SCORING OPPORTUNITIES.  And then they lost a third time when a couple more pitchers went down with injury, because this team hasn’t suffered enough.

Because this fanbase hasn’t suffered enough.

Apparently Paxton is only going to miss 2-3 starts, but I dunno.  Even if he comes back, I’m sure five more guys will go down.  When it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be.

Between all of those pre-game shenanigans and the thought of a Gallardo/Darvish matchup that evening, I’ll admit, the thought of putting much effort into watching the game didn’t appeal to me.  After the Mariners got burned by replay twice in the first inning, that sealed it.  I dipped in here and there, but went to bed after Gallardo finished his sixth inning.

For anyone looking for a silver lining, you could point to Gallardo having his best performance of the season.  6 innings, 1 run, 4 hits, 2 walks, and 3 strikeouts.  He has one more impressive line than that this year, but that was in an 11-1 blowout; this was a game that was tied 1-1 after four innings, so obviously a lot more pressure.  It would remain 1-1 into the 13th inning, so another silver lining could be the bullpen.  But, again, back-to-back injuries in the 11th puts a huge damper on that.

Jean Machi has looked like the real fucking deal in his 3 appearances this week since being called up for I can’t even remember who.  Casey Fien, I guess.  But, he had to come out thanks to nerve damage in his pitching hand, causing him to be unable to grip the baseball (which, as far as pitching injuries go, seems like the worst one you can get; I mean, what does a pitcher do without hands?).  Evan Marshall was called in to replace Machi, and somehow blew out his hamstring after 2 pitches, recording no outs.  Recall he was last seen in that 19-9 disaster against Detroit, where he gave up 7 runs in 2 innings, so it’s safe to say Marshall was less tied into Mariners success this season.

Regardless, though, this shit is really starting to add up.

Last night’s game may have gone 13 innings, but it was lost in the bottom of the 10th.  Jean Segura led off with a double, and all Gamel had to do was get a fucking bunt down in fair territory.  He instead somehow managed to strike out looking, which likely would have put me in such a boiling rage (had I watched it live) that I may have died from a coronary, so probably better that I went to bed.  Cano ended up getting intentionally walked (which gave him 3 walks on the night, to go with 2 hits, including a solo homer back in the 4th), which brought us to Nelson Cruz, who flew out to center that – by all accounts – would have been deep enough to score Segura from third had Gamel done his fucking job.  Seager would ground out to end the threat, and from there it was all just a waiting game until the Rangers mashed a 2-run homer off of Emilio Pagan in the 13th to take the hard luck loss, because he was the last available reliever in the ‘pen.

Speaking of Gamel, he came up short on a fly ball down the right field line back in the first inning that – after review declared it to be fair – led to the Rangers scoring their only run in regulation.  So, in MANY ways, Gamel is the fucking goat of this game.  Thanks for nothing, dick.

And with Chase De Jong starting tonight, followed by TBD From Tacoma starting tomorrow, this weekend should prove to be as demoralizing as advertised.  Thankfully, I’ll be nowhere near a television tonight, so I won’t have to be subjected to this nonsense.

2017 Mariners Misery Tracker

  • Drew Smyly – 60 day DL
  • Steve Cishek – starts season on DL from offseason hip surgery
  • Tony Zych – starts season on DL, since returned
  • Jean Segura – On DL for 2 weeks in April
  • Mitch Haniger – On DL for approx 1 month
  • Felix Hernandez – On DL for approx 1 month
  • James Paxton – On DL for at least 10 days
  • Evan Scribner – On DL for who knows how long
  • Evan Marshall – Blew out hamstring, will miss considerable time
  • Jean Machi – nerve damage in pitching hand

And we’re only one month and one week into the season.

Mariners Pound Marlins To Take The Series, Look Ahead To A’s

I was at work for most of this game, and for reasons too boring to go into, I was unable to listen to the online radio stream of the game, so I had to do the next-best thing:  follow along on Twitter.

Boy that first inning sure sounded like a mindfuck, huh?  After a very fine start last Friday to kick off this good run of baseball the Mariners have been on, it looked like King Felix just didn’t have it.  Four straight singles to lead off the game, then a sac fly-turned-double play on the arm of Jarrod Dyson, then another single and a hit by pitch before he was able to get out of it only down 2-0.

If ever there appeared to be a day where the offense would have to pick up its Ace, this was it.  And pick him up they did!

The top of the lineup absolutely did its job, as Dyson through Seager went a combined 10 for 18 with 8 RBI, 7 runs scored, on 7 walks, 3 doubles, and only 3 strikeouts.  They also went a combined 5 for 9 with runners in scoring position.  Just an awesome, awesome day from the guys you expect to regularly have awesome, awesome days.  That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve recognition for a job well done!

Felix was able to settle down somewhat, but it looked like a battle all day.  He got into the seventh inning, going 6.1, with 12 hits, 1 walk, 4 runs, and 5 strikeouts.  Zych was able to get out of a little mini-jam in the seventh, by inducing a double play.  Vincent continued on his comeback trail by going a scoreless eighth.  And then something wonderful and annoying happened.

Evan Marshall came in to close out a 6-run lead in the ninth inning, and leading off – perhaps for the final time ever in Safeco Field – was Ichiro Suzuki.  I had made it home by this point, and had the television on for just an amazing sight:  Ichiro, drilling a homer into the right field stands to the astonishment and glee of Mariners fans (almost) everywhere.  I’ll admit, I let out a loud, “YEAH!” when I saw where that ball was about to land.

There aren’t many opposing players I’d openly cheer for over the Seattle Mariners, but Ichiro is definitely one of them.  Now, if the game were tied in this situation, I’d probably be a lot less thrilled, but as it was, Ichiro merely reduced the lead to 5 runs.  NBD, right?

Marshall walked the next guy, which is simply unforgivable in that situation, but he got the next two hitters to fly out.  It almost looked like he’d save face, but he gave up a single to the next guy and that was that.  Scrabble came in and one pitch later the game was over.

I know I called out the top half of the lineup for their good work, but individual kudos need to go to Seager for his 2-hit, 2-walk, 4-RBI day; as well as Haniger, for his 3-hit, 1-walk, 3-run, 4-RBI day.  Haniger now leads the team in average, homers, doubles, RBI, runs scored, OBP, and is second to Motter in slugging.  His RBI and runs scored numbers are 4th in all of baseball, and he’s up there in a bunch of other categories too.  That ROY award is practically all sealed up less than a month into the season!

***

Looking ahead, here are the pitching matchups for the A’s series:

  • Thurs:  Cesar Valdez vs. James Paxton
  • Fri:  Sean Manaea vs. Hisashi Iwakuma
  • Sat:  Jharel Cotton vs. Ariel Miranda
  • Sun:  Andrew Triggs vs. Yovani Gallardo

To say that I’ve never heard of any of these A’s pitchers would be an understatement!  Valdez looks like a journeyman minor leaguer who hasn’t appeared in a Major League uniform since 2010 with the Diamondbacks.  I’d say that game is safely the biggest mismatch of the weekend, with Paxton going for the Mariners.  The rest of those guys all had their Major League debuts in 2016, with Manaea being the youngest and the one with the most starting experience in the Bigs.  No doubt these guys must have some talent, but they’re definitely not bona fide regulars.

In three starts so far, Manaea has one okay start and two pretty bad ones.  Cotton pitched a gem against the Royals (7 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits, 3 walks, 6 K’s), but sandwiched around that one were two very crappy starts.  Triggs has looked the most impressive in the early going, giving up 0 earned runs (3 unearned) across 17.2 innings (3 starts), including just out-duelling Yu Darvish in his last outing.

The A’s bullpen has a 4.08 ERA, with 3 saves in 5 opportunities.  Doesn’t look like anything special, but we’ll see when we get out there.

As far as the bats go, Khris Davis has come to play this year, with 6 homers and leading the team in most offensive categories.  As for the rest of the regulars:  nothing too special.

On paper, this is a series the Mariners should win at the very least, and is probably a series they should sweep.  But, this is the Mariners, and those are the A’s, and it’s a divisional matchup and it’s on the road and I’m just sayin’ … don’t be shocked if things don’t exactly go our way.  I won’t be anyway.  I’ll be pretty pissed, but I won’t be shocked.

All The Good The Mariners Did To Start The Month Has Been Negated

Welp, in case you were wondering, the Mariners still can’t beat the Rangers!

This whole season pretty much started going down the tubes in the first week of June, on a road trip that took us through Arlington.  A 3-game sweep by the Rangers got us going on a dark and miserable path where we’d go 5-15, erasing what was once a 10-games-over-.500 record, and setting us up for a finish where we’d just go through the motions.  The month of July didn’t really do us many favors, but a 10-game homestand to kick off August got everyone back in the (keep) fighting spirit!

At one point, we were even – you guessed it – 10 games over .500!  The Mariners started off the month of August 14-5, were but a game back of the second wild card, and had a healthy lead over teams like the Astros, Tigers, and Royals.

Ever since, the Mariners have won 2 of their last 9 games, have fallen to 3 games back of the second wild card, and must leapfrog the aforementioned Astros, Tigers, and Royals to get there.  The only thing even remotely keeping us in the race right now is the A.L. East owns both wild card spots, and they’ve been duking it out against one another for the last couple weeks.

The Mariners, on the other hand, are predictably faltering at the end of a stretch of 20 games in 20 days, and 33 games in 34 days.  They’re also, let’s be honest, not the greatest team.  They’re ESPECIALLY not great against good teams like the Rangers.  Or teams with good pitching like the White Sox.  And, if Iwakuma didn’t shit the bed every time he faced another starter from his homeland (Tanaka last week, Darvish last night), we might be in slightly better shape!

There are many culprits for why the Mariners have been as inconsistent as they’ve been.  Injuries have hurt (literally!) (zing!), the bullpen has been unreliable for long stretches, the rotation has been unreliable for even longer stretches, and the starting nine are wearing down from overuse due to poor roster construction, a weak bench, and the needlessly archaic rules of Major League Baseball.  Ultimately, what it all boils down to is that when this team pitches well, it tends to win; when it pitches poorly, there’s usually not much even a reliable offense (like Seattle’s has been for most of the year) can do to turn it around.  They’ve maintained well enough with substandard pitching thanks to some late-game heroics, but ultimately there’s not enough magic in that old silk hat they found to carry this team to the North Pole the playoffs.

I feel the same way, Karen ...

I feel the same way, Karen …

So, what’s it going to take to get this team back on track?  Well, there are 31 games left to go.  To get to 90 wins, the Mariners would need to go 22-9.  To get to 22 wins, the Mariners would have to win every single series the rest of the way, including the last two games of this series against the Rangers (which seems like a pretty tall order, considering they have Cole Hamels and we don’t).  That means the Mariners would have to win 2 of every 3-game series, and 3 of every 4-game series the rest of the way (there are two 4-game series the rest of the way; both at home, one against the Rangers, the other against the A’s).

And, mind you, that just gets the Mariners to 90 wins.  There’s no guarantee that even 90 wins is enough to get into that wild card game.  Remember, there are 5 teams ahead of us vying for those two spots, and all 5 of them have easier roads to 90 wins and beyond.

Betcha didn’t realize that the Mariners’ season ended and we all blinked and missed it!  That’s what a 2-7 stretch of baseball will do to you when you’re already a fringe playoff team and there’s only a month left to go in the season.  Not that our caring any more would have mattered, but go ahead and remember all of those assholes back in April and May who kept telling us “it’s still early” when we lost yet another heartbreaker.  Them shits adds up.

This Is Why You Can’t Blow 3-Run Save Situations, Mariners

You want to know why I was so irate about the Mariners losing to the Brewers on Sunday?  I mean, shit, look on the bright side, the M’s still won the series!

Yeah, except, you had to know the Mariners weren’t going to win every single series from here on out, right?  At some point, the Mariners were going to run into just a dud of an offensive night, against an aging-yet-at-times-effective veteran pitcher, and follow that up by being manhandled by that team’s ace.

C.C. Sabathia didn’t look anything remotely like the C.C. Sabathia of old last night, but he was able to change speeds and work the edges of the plate and just generally be a pain in the ass all night.  He was able to spread 3 hits and 1 walk across 7 innings while only giving up 1 run in a 5-1 defeat.  Indeed, this was his best performance in over 2 months, which makes it all the more galling, but that’s the whole point:  the offense isn’t going to dominate EVERY SINGLE GAME.  Sometimes, you’re just going to have an off night.  You just have to hope it doesn’t become a trend, but nothing about this season would suggest that’s happening.

What’s worse, and what makes Sunday’s abortion so unforgivable, is that today we have to go up against Masahiro Tanaka, who – in 4 career appearances – has manhandled the Mariners.  There’s no reason to expect that to change, which means we’re going to need Iwakuma to be at the very top of his game and hope for the best.

In reality, it means we’ve already lost this series.

This series loss could’ve been mitigated if the bullpen and the outfield defense didn’t completely fall apart on Sunday, but that’s baseball, I guess.

Losing this series isn’t the end of the world, of course.  But, for starters, it’s a bad sign that we can’t seem to play our best baseball against teams in contention.  If THAT continues, then you better get ready for Texas to eat our lunch in the next couple weeks.

Here’s where it really comes to bite us in the ass.  We hit the road this weekend for a 4-game series against the White Sox, where we have to see both of their studs in Sale and Quintana.  Then, guess what, in Texas next week, we have to face Darvish and Hamels, two MORE guys we have a whale of a time trying to hit!  If the Mariners don’t take advantage of these winnable games (like the one on Sunday!), then they have to work that much harder to try to get those games against the really good pitchers.

I mean, how many more miracle finishes could the Mariners possibly have left?

Cy Young Alert: Felix Hernandez Is In The Hunt

I hope I didn’t just jinx the everloving out of him with this post.

Last night, Felix Hernandez really rammed one down the throats of the New York Yankees.  7 innings, 2 runs, 8 strikeouts, 0 walks.  After an offensive explosion sealed the deal, King Felix ran his record to 8-1, with the majority of four months left to play.

This is arguably the best Mariners team Felix has ever played on.  It might not shake out that way when all is said and done, but right now I’d put 2014 over the other two times the Mariners have finished over .500 while Felix has worn the uniform.  This bodes well for his Cy Young chances, though as we know from 2010, a good team doesn’t necessarily guarantee post-season awards.

Right now, with 2.57, Felix has the 6th-best ERA in the American League.  I know most people don’t like using ERA as a measurement for individual pitching performance, but let’s face it:  most of the baseball writers still do.  He’s got a couple of Oakland starters ahead of him, Mark Buehrle somehow, and a couple Japanese phenoms in Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka at the top.  For all intents and purposes, at the 1/3 mark of the season, you can probably just lop off all the other American League pitchers at this point (unless and until someone from below makes a surge, and/or one of these top six suffers a fall from grace – count on both happening).

Felix is always going to be in consideration because he’s a huge name, he is always near the top in innings pitched and strikeouts, and he’s usually the only beacon of hope for an otherwise moribund franchise.  However, with the Mariners seemingly in contention this year, he’s got another ace up his sleeve:  wins.

Don’t tell me wins don’t matter, because I’ll point out dozens of old fogeys out there who still use them as a metric.  Old fogeys who matter.  Old fogeys who get to determine award winners like the Cy Young.  Likewise, if Felix is on a TEAM that’s winning, then you’d like to think that’s a team getting more national coverage than they would otherwise.  If the Mariners can somehow stay in the AL West race into September, it could bode really well for Felix’s chances.  Of course, he’ll still have to perform.

It’s still early, so I won’t take up too much of your time.  Also, I don’t want to make this a big deal, but I’d like to check in with the Felix Hernandez Cy Young hopes every several weeks or so.  Right now, we can consider Felix “in the hunt”.  It’s exciting to see where he’ll be in another six weeks or so.

Hisashi Iwakuma Is Outstanding, Fernando Rodney Is Not

Updated, with comments about the latest episode of 24:  CRAZY TERRORIST MOM WATCHES CRAZY TERRORIST DAUGHTER HAVE SEX WITH RELUCTANT TERRORIST HUSBAND FOR, LIKE, TWO MINUTES BEFORE IT’S ALL OVER.  Boy, does 24 have zero respect for a man’s ability to delay orgasm in the throes of passion or what?  There’s nothing more entertaining than watching a sex scene start, followed by a commercial break, followed by the completion of said sex scene DURING the commercial break … unless it’s Jack Bauer having sex, in which case they’d need to call the show 48 (with a whole season’s worth of episodes being the most hardcore pornography you’ve ever seen in your life) …

Lost in all of this is that the Mariners’ offense has nearly blown the last TWO Iwakuma starts.  Both last night, and last week against Kansas City, Rodney was given 1-0 leads to close out in the ninth inning.  Yes, it’s a lead, and you expect your highly-priced free agent closer to keep those leads intact – that is his fucking JOB after all – but come on.  Iwakuma goes 8 shutout innings in both games, giving up a combined 8 hits, 0 walks, while striking out 12 … and the Mariners can only muster 1 run per game?

Is this how it’s going to be?  Is Iwakuma going to be the Hard Luck In Run Support Guy?

I don’t usually make it a point to sit down and watch – uninterrupted – a full Mariners game unless there’s about 12 beers in my immediate future, so last night was kind of a rarity.  But, when I’m confronted with a pitching matchup like Iwakuma vs. David Price, I can’t say no!

And believe you me, if there was any hype to this game outside of the Seattle area, this game lived up to that hypothetical hype and then some!

David Price is a stud and has been a stud for quite some time.  Hisashi Iwakuma has been a stud for considerably less time, but make no mistake, he’s a stud nonetheless.  You wouldn’t think it to look at him.  He’s not overpowering.  He doesn’t even have the crazy movement of a Yu Darvish.  But, he’s got the bottom of that strike zone on lockdown, he’s got just enough movement to induce a Darvish-esque amount of whiffs, and he’s always in command.  His pitches GO where he wants them to go and DO what he wants them to do.

Remember when Iwakuma was the slowest pitcher in the Major Leagues?  Or, at least it kinda felt that way and Dave Sims wouldn’t shut up about it?  So, even though he was effective, his games were still sort of unbearable because they took forever or just felt like they took forever because you had to listen to Sims’ whining for 3+ hours?  Well, now his games are Must See TV.  Except better, because honestly who could stand the last four or five seasons of Friends anyway?

I’ve read in a few places people referring to Iwakuma as an Ace.  It will never stop sounding odd to me.  When I think of an Ace, I think of someone like Felix Hernandez.  Someone who’s renown and lauded throughout the land.  Someone who is the constant source of hacky baseball articles asking, “When is Terrible Team X going to trade So & So?”  But, not only is Iwakuma NOT renown and lauded throughout the land, he’s not even renown OR lauded in his own (American) backyard!

You wanna talk about an underrated master of his craft, I’ll tell you what; Hisashi Iwakuma is easily a Top 10 pitcher in the bigs and is TOTALLY worthy of his being in every Cy Young conversation.  The Seattle Mariners have two amazing Ace pitchers on their staff, pretty much for the price of one.  Now, what we have to ask ourselves is:  can we afford to extend him long-term?

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On the flipside, we have Fernando Rodney.  BOY do people not like this guy right now!

There are two sources of Mariners fans’ ire last night/this morning:  Fernando Rodney (for being a piece of shit) and Lloyd McClendon (for letting the piece of shit blow the save in the 9th, instead of letting Iwakuma attempt the complete game).  Iwakuma had only thrown 97 pitches through eight masterful innings, so unless you’re afraid of the 100-pitch bogeyman coming to steal all of our souls the instant Iwakuma threw his third pitch of the ninth inning, it’s reasonable (under normal circumstances) to expect a starting, Ace pitcher to be capable of throwing 110-120 pitches without turning into a pumpkin.

But, of course, these aren’t normal circumstances.  I know you see the calendar and you see it’s the middle of May – we’re in our seventh week of the regular season at this point.  But, Iwakuma was just wrapping up his third start of the year.  This is, like, the second week of Iwakuma’s season (and how many guys do you see throwing complete games in the first or second weeks of their seasons?).

Also, Fernando Rodney has a specific job on this team:  he’s the closer.  As defined by the parlance of our times, The Closer is The Guy who gets The Saves.  Meaning:  he comes into the ninth innings of games where your team is ahead by 1 to 3 runs, tasked with the charge of getting the final out(s) of the ballgame.  My recommendation to you:  don’t think about it too hard.  Don’t let the lack of logic dictate your emotional response.  Don’t wonder why you wouldn’t put your best reliever in the highest leverage situation, regardless of whether it counts as a “save” or not.  Hell, don’t acknowledge the fact that the “save” is inherently a non-essential statistic.  If you’re smart enough to know that saves are bullshit, and defined bullpen roles are useless and counter-intuitive, then you’re smart enough to know that THIS is the sport you’ve decided to spend your lives obsessing over:  the game isn’t going to radically change its most basic principles just because one subsect of its fanbase finds something totally and completely ridiculous.

Or, to put it in other words:  if you don’t like it, then you can GIT OUT!

America is baseball and baseball is America.  They rarely change or make concessions for their intellectual elite (of which, I should point out, I do NOT consider myself a member; I’m more “Intellectual Above Average” on my best day, but I’ll gladly welcome anyone who wants to lavish praise upon me).  Fernando Rodney is our closer, and he’s going to come into Save Situations whether we like it or not.

My problem with Fernando Rodney is:  he tries to get too cute.  He falls in love with that change up like he’s fucking Pedro Martinez or something.  I used to be irritated with David Aardsma because all he did was pump the strike zone with fastballs; his secondary pitches were pretty much useless and so he just hardly ever threw them.  David Aardsma, though, was one of the most effective closers the Seattle Mariners have ever had (currently 4th on the all time franchise list with 69 saves, which would be depressing as fuck-all if it wasn’t hilarious … 69 …).  Why was he effective?  Because he went with what worked.  His fastball was as straight and flat as it gets, but he threw hard and he induced more weak contact than strong contact.

Fernando Rodney has a good fastball.  It beats the hell out of Aardsma’s, because it also has natural movement.  So, WHAT THE FUCK is he doing dicking around with David DeJesus to lead off the ninth inning last night?  Just pump his ass full of fastballs and let him get himself out!  Don’t hand-deliver him a change up in the middle of the zone and let him jack it out of there for the game-tying blown save!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Fernando Rodney is dumb.  He’s a big, dumb animal disguised as a pitcher.  He has two pitches – fastball & change up – that he throws in the area of the plate and lets their natural movement dictate whether they’ll induce outs or not.  Don’t ask him to hit spots!  Don’t ask him to intelligently work a hitter by changing his eye level or forcing him to over-think what’s coming next.  If it happens, it’s dumb, blind luck, because once the ball leaves his hand, Fernando Rodney has no control whatsoever as to what that ball is going to do or where it’s going to end up.

Next time you see him in a game, don’t watch Rodney, watch the catcher.  Watch where the catcher sets up his body, watch where he puts his glove before the pitch is thrown, and watch where that glove ends up once the ball is caught.  RARE is the pitch where the catcher doesn’t have to reach wildly across his body to collect the baseball thrown by Fernando Rodney.

I say all this, and yet I know in my brain that Fernando Rodney hasn’t been THAT bad.  Or, at least, the results haven’t been that bad.  He’s even had a small number of 1-2-3 innings that have been a shock to us all.  Nevertheless, this is how it’s going to be for the next season-plus.  Closers are going to blow saves from time to time.  It happens.  It’s frustrating – all the moreso when it happens after a Felix or Iwakuma start – but it happens.  They’re not perfect.  And, if they are, it’s always an anomaly.  Fernando Rodney already HAD his anomaly season, in 2012; that’s not going to happen again.  You’re not going to see the guy with the sub-1 ERA and the 2 blown saves all season.  If we’re lucky, we’ll get the Fernando Rodney from 2013 with the sub-4 ERA and the 8 blown saves.

8 blown saves isn’t the worst thing in the world.  That’s, like, a little over one per month.  It becomes a problem if, over the next week or two, he comes out and blows another 3 or 4 saves (or, as it’s known around here, The Brandon League Special).  A quick check of the calendar shows that we don’t have any games in Cleveland, Chicago, or Baltimore anytime soon, so I think we’ll be okay.

Taijuan Walker’s Shoulder Is A Problem

The entirety of this season is built up around the hope for younger players to break out and make a big positive impact.  In the early going, it’s been very up and down for this team, but we’ve won more than we’ve lost and reinforcements are on the way.

The hitting was always going to be iffy at best (see the last two nights as proof of that; 7 runs one day, 0 runs the next), but the real concern was always the rotation after Felix Hernandez.

We started with Felix, followed by three very inexperienced throwers, and a guy off the scrap heap.  One of those inexperienced throwers got injured and we had to reach down into our AAA reserve for a week’s worth of starts.  All along, though, help was on the horizon:  Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker were returning from supposedly minor injuries.  If we could just tread water until May, ostensibly when we get those guys back, we might REALLY be in business.  The first month would be long enough to get a good handle on the rest of our rotation and see who’s worthy of sticking with the big ballclub.

It was perfect.  A little TOO perfect.  And now we see the folly of our ways.  Don’t ever rest your hopes on the arm of a pitcher recovering from mystery shoulder pain.  Not ever!

Maybe it’s nothing, but I’ll bet you every last dollar to my name that it’s something.  Taijuan Walker was supposed to make another rehab start last night, this time in Tacoma.  If he did well, and Blake Beavan did poorly for the Mariners, we MAYBE could have seen Taijuan Walker on the Mariners by the weekend.  Now?  Who the fuck knows?!

Listen people, you heard it here first:  forget about Taijuan Walker.  He’s finished as far as 2014 is concerned.  There are two ways this goes:  surgery, or he continues to rehab and ultimately returns by the end of the summer, when the season is too far gone to recover.  And, dollars to donuts, even if he does rehab all summer, he’s still gonna need surgery anyway!

This is Danny Hultzen all over again.  Once they go under the knife on their throwing shoulders, it’s over.  Curtains!  You can just forget about these guys ever reaching their full potential.  If they make it to the Bigs, they’ll be “nice stories”.  You’ll root for them because they’re coming back from something so severe, fighting impossible odds to return to their former glory.  They’re impossible odds because it’s so physically difficult to return from these things!  Even the steroids guys had trouble coming back from shoulder surgery!

No, best to forget about Walker.  Gotta focus on what we have.  I’m a little more optimistic now that Iwakuma will indeed return, so that’s probably some good news we’re desperate to hear.  With Iwakuma, we’ve got him and Felix and Elias and Ramirez and Chris Young.  It’s obviously FAR from ideal, but then again it beats whatever the hell we’ll have to do the next couple of weeks, now that we know Blake Beavan pitched all four innings yesterday with shoulder tightness/dead arm.  If HE can’t go on Sunday (and he’s by no means any sort of prized pig), then I don’t know what the fuck we’re going to do.  Bullpen day?  Pick up ANOTHER guy off of the scrap heap?  I’m not gonna lie to you, the Tacoma rotation is full of nothing but fuck-ups.  To be honest with you, I’d rather just kill our bullpen and take Sunday’s game as a loss than bring up anyone else from the Rainiers.

Here’s some advice:  try to forget everything I just said.  Just focus on today.  Today, it’s Felix vs. Yu Darvish in an epic battle to try to not fall below .500.  Nothing else matters … until Thursday, and the rest of the week, and the rest of the month, and the rest of the year.

The King’s Court Experience

If I was ever going to get a player’s jersey, it was going to be a player who was still here.  Since I didn’t have the kind of scratch to go plopping down on these kinds of luxuries back when the Mariners were great, I missed my chance to get an Edgar, Bone, Randy, or Griffey jersey.  Ichiro’s always a solid choice, and while I’ll always respect the guy, he’s just not for me.

No, it was pretty much always going to be Felix.  It was going to be a Mariners road grey.  And it was SUPPOSED to be last year, but instead it was last night.  Well, yesterday afternoon, before the game.  It’s one of those $99 jobs, so not like a REAL real jersey, but I still say it looks marvelous.  And it went great with my King’s Court yellow t-shirt.

As soon as the Mariners invented the King’s Court, I was more than intrigued.  As a Husky fan who goes to a lot of football games, does the whole tailgate experience every week, and stands throughout the entire game yelling his head off … adding even a FRACTION of that passion to a Mariners game can only be a positive thing.

You know what annoys me most about going to baseball games?  It’s not the hydros, or the hat game, or EVEN the dancing groundscrew (although, truth be told, they are easily in the Top 2).  It’s other fans who spend all this money – on tickets, on food, on beer, on souvenirs – and then they just sit there and ignore the game.  They talk with their family and friends – and I mean, they bullshit CONSTANTLY – they get up in the middle of innings, they participate in the fucking wave (or, God forbid you’re in one of those sections that tries to START the fucking wave).  In short, people are the fucking worst part about going to any baseball game.

But, NOT when you’re in the King’s Court!  Those are fans!  Those are people who WANT to be there, who WANT to watch what’s going on on the field.  It’s refreshing, and I don’t think I want to experience a Mariners game any other way.

I got to the stadium at around 5pm for the 6:10 first pitch.  It had taken me about 30 minutes to drive three miles through downtown because construction is blocking all my freeway on-ramps (and, because I’m kind of an idiot who will know better next time).  I found an awesome parking spot on the edge where Pioneer Square meets SoDo, I bought my Felix jersey, and I approached the Box Office.  I bought one King’s Court ticket ($38), I bought a bagel dog, and I went into the stadium.

At this point, King’s Court is taking up two sections, numbers 149 & 150.  If you have a ticket to one of these sections, you walk to your sections and you’ll see a couple people and a shit-ton of t-shirts.  One guy marks your ticket, one lady gives you your shirt and K card.  After walking around pre-game, I grabbed a water and found my seat, scorecard in hand.

I thought it might be difficult to keep score in King’s Court, but, well, I guess there ARE things that could be further from the truth, but I didn’t have any trouble.

I was in row 38, so I was WAY in the back of King’s Court.  Essentially, that means I was not getting any camera time, because I was blocked by hundreds of my closest fanatics.  But, for those sitting closer, they got to pander to the dedicated camera man who films King’s Court whenever Felix gets a strikeout.

At the beginning of the game (or just before first pitch) a guy in a chef’s outfit brings out a silver platter with a turkey leg inside and gives it to a guy with a KFC bucket/crown on his head.  I mean, I guess I get it, but where’s the turkey leg for the fucking rest of us???  After getting some shots for the cameraman, your only obligation as a member of King’s Court is to stand when Felix gets two strikes on a batter and repeatedly chant “K” over and over again until either Felix gets the strikeout (and you cheer) or he doesn’t (and you groan, exaggeratedly).  There is probably something they could have chosen for hundreds of white guys all wearing the same ceremonial garb to chant than “K” … “K” … “K” … “K” … but I guess we’re stuck with it for now.

One word of warning:  when King’s Court is all standing and holding up their K cards, you most likely won’t be able to see a damn thing.  You REALLY find yourself struggling to find even the smallest opening where you can catch a brief glimpse of the batter.  Maybe it’s better for those towards the front of the court, but I say if you’re not on the edge or in the front row, you’re going to have some difficulty seeing the action for strike three.  A small price, I say, to be sitting with real fans who actually make noise at appropriate times.

In my book, ALL the fans in the stadium would be cheering whenever one of our pitchers got to a 2-strike count!  But, that’s never going to happen until this team starts winning some serious baseball games.

Like they did last night.  Woo doggies!  Yu Darvish REALLY SUCKS against the Mariners.  It’s mind-blowing!  By all rights, he is the perfect pitcher to throw against this team!  And yet, every time he faces us he throws a total egg in the first inning.  Then, because it’s the Mariners, he gets things under control and manages to eat up a bunch of innings.

Still, yesterday the M’s knocked him around for 7 earned runs in 6.1 innings.  Easily one of our better games in Safeco this season.

Of course, this game was all about Felix, but one thing first:  remember those All-Star Break conversations Wedge and Jackie Z were having?  If they didn’t talk extensively about John Jaso getting more playing time, they should both be fired on the spot.  If this guy isn’t our starting catcher going forward, and continuing through next season, then I fucking want heads to roll!

Anyway, Felix, what can you say?  Almost every time he had someone with two strikes, he delivered with the strikeout.  Josh Hamilton looked particularly inept and was getting the business from King’s Court when he came onto the field.  He seemed to be a good sport about it, mime-ing a golden sombrero after his third K.  Nelson Cruz – easily my least-favorite Ranger of the last decade – also flailed at nasty shit in the dirt for his three strikeouts.

I never really thought Felix could no-hit this Rangers team, but I’ll tell you this, I never would have believed Yorvit Torrealba would’ve been the first to get a hit, in the third inning.  This team has too many good hitters to be stopped, but Felix was masterful in giving up only three singles and zero walks.  The first single was sopped up with a double play.  The second single was stranded in the fifth inning in between strikeouts.  The third single got as far as third base thanks to a fielder’s choice and a wild pitch, but he too was stranded.  That was the closest any Ranger came to scoring last night.  And even then, the shutout wasn’t in any doubt.

12 strikeouts, only 3 batters reached base.  Only 29 batters faced.  And, apparently he only threw 107 pitches in the game!

My favorite part was the cherry on top when I got home.  This was on ESPN’s front page:

Yu Sucks!