Was The Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft Underwhelming?

I guess we’ll see! Obviously nobody has any idea what the future holds. We could look back on this day and wonder what the hell these incompetents were thinking, or we could look back on this day WITH wonder at the start of a great hockey dynasty. Or, you know, any outcome in between.

What I’m getting at the moment – just a couple days removed from the big NHL Expansion Draft, where the Kraken selected an unprotected player from every other NHL team, save Las Vegas – is that there isn’t this sense that Seattle is an immediate juggernaut like the Golden Knights were in their first season. Sure, the Kraken grabbed some good players, but for the most part they left plenty of quality guys on the table.

So, what was the plan? It appears the Kraken focused first and foremost on salary cap flexibility. That means not selecting a lot of huge stars and trying to build some sort of fantasy team on day one. That means not taking on a lot of bloated contracts from past-their-prime players, so there isn’t a lot of dead money hanging over us. I get the sense Vegas did that in their expansion draft, and acquired a lot more draft picks for the amateur draft in the process.

Indeed, the only trade I’m aware of is Tyler Pitlick, who we selected from Arizona, and traded to Calgary for a 4th round pick. But, even he only had a $1.75 million cap hit. That, nevertheless, leaves the Kraken with over $30 million in remaining cap space. This likely means the Kraken will have some higher profile moves up their sleeves in the coming weeks. And, it should start the franchise off on the right foot going forward when it comes to their salary cap and flexibility in tweaking the roster.

It was also noted that there weren’t nearly as many opportunities for steals in the expansion draft. When Vegas had theirs, they took advantage of teams and GMs who had no idea what they were doing. It seems those people have either been replaced in the interim, or have gotten a lot smarter, because they weren’t willing to be fleeced this time around. I think the NHL world at large was pretty appalled at how amazing the Golden Knights were from the get-go, and they did everything in their power to not let that happen again.

The Kraken also appear to be building on the strength of their defense, as most of their best players and biggest stars are either great two-way players, or are just better on defense. I don’t know if it’ll make for the most exciting, high-flying brand of hockey, but at least it’s a plan. At least it’s an identity. And, given the general vibe of sports fans in the Pacific Northwest, I’d say it’s fitting. We love us some defense around these parts! Even those great Supersonics teams of the 90’s under George Karl featured swarming and suffocating trap defenses. On top of that, the Kraken seem to be focused on bruisers. Tough guys. Setting a hard-ass tone on the ice. If we’re not going to be great, we should at least be able to whoop some ass and leave teams feeling it afterward. Northwest fans also love aggressively tough teams, so again, it fits the vibe.

And, even though I talk about the stars they got, the Kraken definitely avoided bringing in too many huge names, at least so far. Mark Giordano is the biggest name of the bunch, but he’s been in the league 15 years and will be 38 years old when the season gets underway. He’s our unquestioned leader and captain, but he’s also on the final year of his contract.

Two of the other bigger names we brought in are Jamie Oleksiak and Adam Larsson, who are both defensemen. These are guys you’ll want to learn about, as they figure to be prominent players this season.

Other guys, in no particular order, who should see a lot of time (assuming they don’t get traded) are Joonas Donskoi (forward), Calle Jarnkrok (forward), Jordan Eberle (right wing), Brandon Tanev (left wing), Vince Dunn (defense), Yanni Gourde (center), and Jared McCann (forward). I would also throw in players like Haydn Fleury (defense), Colin Blackwell (center), and Mason Appleton (forward) who could improve a great deal with opportunities to play and compete for spots.

Just about all of the guys the Kraken took are younger, less experienced players, with room to grow. The sky is the limit, really. I don’t know if there’s a ton of upside, necessarily – especially when it comes to the 2021/2022 season in particular – but I like this strategy over more established veterans who might have injury issues, or might not be as hungry because they’ve already earned the bulk of their career money. We might not be great now, but we’ve given ourselves plenty of opportunity to find some diamonds in the rough. Like this current Mariners rebuild, we can use this season to figure out where we’re good, and where we need to fill in the cracks. If things break right, we might not see the Kraken in the playoffs in year one, but they could be a force in the next 2-4 years.

Whether or not the Kraken follow in the footsteps of the Golden Knights has a lot to do with the goalie situation. We didn’t grab Carey Price from Montreal, who is an established stud (but also maybe more of an injury risk), but we stuck with our plan of going for inexperienced guys with undetermined upside. Chris Driedger was a backup in Florida, who looks like he’ll get a shot to start here. You never know how well these guys will play until they get in front of the net every day, but it sounds like he was effective in his limited duty as a backup, so I have high hopes. Even if he’s not as good as Price might’ve been in year one, if he’s 90% as effective or better, I think that’s a steal, given the salary savings.

Vitek Vanecek figures to be our backup goalie, who is more of a prototypical backup (in that he should be fine in spot duty), with Joey Daccord more of a developmental project. Since the Kraken have built around the strength of their defensemen, that should provide an additional boost to the goalies, and if one of them proves to be better than advertised, you never know! Worse teams have succeeded based on the strength of keeping scoring down to a minimum (I’m assuming; I’m really talking out of my ass on all of this here).

Also, shoutout to Alexander True, who used to play for the Seattle Thunderbirds back in the day. I have no idea if he’s any good or not, but he’s young and returning to where he had some minor league success, so I think that’s fun.

I obviously didn’t list off everyone the Kraken drafted, so there’s a good chance I missed someone who might be solid. But, I’m just trying to do SOME due diligence when it comes to learning about the NHL.

Which is more than I can say for the Seattle fucking Times. I bought the newspaper on Thursday, thinking I’d get some quality analysis on the players we got. There was one article on the front page that took a global view of everything; it had at least some stuff on the bigger names. But, on the actual Sports Page, there were two articles: one about the fans in attendance at the live draft event at Gasworks Park, and one about the local sports celebrities in attendance at the live draft event at Gasworks Park (none of which actually play the fucking game of hockey). In an insert, the Times had a list of the players, with no analysis whatsoever. What a fucking joke.

You have a responsibility, Seattle Times, to educate fans on this team and this game. Stop feeding us puff pieces and give us information we can chew on!

The Mariners Split Again With The Rockies

Two-game series in baseball are inherently unsatisfying. Splitting a two-game series, therefore, is unsatisfying to the tenth power (don’t ask me how the math works, I’m just the CEO here). The first game was outstanding! The second game left a bitter and confusing taste in my mouth. Without further ado.

Marco Gonzales has been a collosal disappointment in 2021, and until I hear definitively otherwise, I’m going to believe it’s because he’s secretly injured and trying to power through with mediocre stuff. Like, I’m going to need to see MRI reports, bone scans, blood test results, the works. He’s injured, is my firm belief and I’m sticking to it. See, his stuff is relatively close to what it’s been, but he’s clearly lost a bit off of his fastball. But, what’s really concerning is his command. Too many pitches are catching the heart of the plate, and as a result are either getting mashed or just missed getting mashed. I think it’s more the lack of command that his alleged injury is affecting. He’s trying to gut through the pain, which means he’s losing focus on where the pitches should be going. That’s my theory! Prove me wrong.

Anyway, Gonzo used smoke and mirrors to get through 5 innings, giving up 2 runs. His pitch count was in the 80’s, so under normal (healthy) circumstances, there would’ve been no question that the erstwhile Mariners ace would’ve gone out for one more frame. But, he was already starting to get hit around pretty good in his last couple innings, so it was beyond appropriate to pull him.

It also didn’t hurt that the M’s put up a 4-spot in the top of the sixth to give Marco a 4-2 lead. Cal Raleigh had his coming out party in this one, recording his first Major League hit (a bloop single to center), his first Major League RBI (a 2-run double in the aforementioned sixth inning), while walking once and scoring a run. Dylan Moore capped the scoring in the sixth with a 2-run homer. And Ty France hit a 2-run double in the seventh to add to the fun.

The only black spot on the bullpen’s ledger was a 2-run home run by C.J. Cron off of Paul Sewald in the eighth. Otherwise, Kendall Graveman had little trouble getting his 9th save of the season.

The game on Wednesday was yet another bullpen start that the Mariners lost. What is our record in Bullpen Day games? One of these days I’m going to go through the schedule and try to find out.

Literally everything was stupid and annoying about this one, starting with Keynan Middleton getting the “start”, going 1 inning, and giving up 5 runs on 5 hits and a walk. It’s especially galling because we’d called up Darren McCaughan from Tacoma to fill the bulk of the game’s innings. I hate the Opener in baseball. I think it’s fucking stupid and backfires more often than it is supposed to help. The idea seems based in logic – you get a hard-throwing “good” reliever in there to take out the first 3-4 batters (usually a team’s best hitters), then you give a mediocre starter a soft landing by having to face those batters fewer times over the course of his outing – but it rarely seems to work out as intended. Maybe because a reliever in a starting role gets in his head about it, maybe because the opposing team is more geared up to face the super hard stuff early in games. I don’t know! What I do know is that in this game, Middleton faced all 9 of Colorado’s batters. Meaning that when McCaughan entered the game, he had to start with the top of the lineup regardless.

What’s worst of all is that McCaughan was great! He threw five no-hit innings, giving up 1 run on 3 walks (technically, it was 2 walks and two sacrifices in the fourth inning, but he did give up 3 walks in total) and 0 strikeouts. No one is saying McCaughan is an immediate solution to our starting rotation woes, but as a spot starter, you could do worse. Indeed, the Mariners have done worse this year. A lot worse. In this very game no less!

Seager, Torrens, and Haniger all hit solo homers in this one, as we lost by a respectable 6-3 margin. Oddly enough, you could argue all three of these guys are on the trading block as we head into the July 31st trade deadline. I’m sure we’ll have more to say on the matter next week, but just keep an eye out for those guys.

All right, here we go! Are you ready for this? Four home games against the Athletics, followed by three home games against the Astros. The two teams ahead of us in the American League West standings, and the team (A’s) directly ahead of us in the Wild Card standings. It’s crazy that these games hit just as we’re sliding into the trade deadline, because these next seven games could really make or break our season. If we go 5-2 or better, I think you have to admit the Mariners are officially in contention for a playoff spot. If we go 3-4 or worse, I think it’s probably safe to say the Mariners are who we thought they were.

Not for nothing, but if the Mariners go 4-3, the season automatically shuts down and the World Series is canceled. I don’t make the rules! I’m just your humble servant reporting the news.

In prior years, this is always when the Mariners have face-planted. But, 2021 feels different somehow. I dunno, it could be an interesting next seven days.

The Mariners Open Up The Second Half With A Series Win Over The Angels

I was heartened to see the Mariners did the sensible thing and went with their three best starting pitchers to open up the second half stretch run. With the All Star Break giving the team a few days off, they easily could’ve rejiggered the rotation however they wanted, including making last Friday a de facto Opening Day 2.0 (or Opening Day 3.0 if you count when the state started allowing full capacity seating again) and brought out Marco Gonzales as the ostensible “ace” of the staff. Instead, he’s been bumped to the 4-hole in the rotation, missing the Angels entirely as he gets his turn in Colorado.

Scott Servais gets overlooked quite a bit when we talk about the success of the Seattle Mariners, both this season and over his tenure with the team. He also gets an inordinate amount of blame when shit goes wrong, particularly whenever the bullpen melts down late in various demoralizing losses. In essence, how the bullpen does seems to be the only indicator as to whether or not a manager is good … at least, if you read which way the tea leaves are blowing on Twitter.

Managers are more than bullpen decisions. Granted, they make those choices too; they have to use their best judgment to determine whether or not a guy “has it” on a particular night. But, a lot of even THOSE decisions are made for them by the stats department. Guys have certain strengths and weaknesses and if you’re in a position to win a ballgame, you put the pitchers in there who figure to fare best based on the myriad numbers that have been crunched.

It’s not Servais’ fault if a guy has an off-night though. It’s not his fault if his bullpen is terrible, just as it’s not his good grace if a bullpen is amazing. I would argue, compared to the managers we’ve seen over the last 10-15 years, Servais has shown the best judgment in not sticking with bad relievers for too long. Even when you glom onto the latest thorn in our side, Rafael Montero, you can see he lost his closer’s job almost immediately this year. He’s pretty much been converted to a long relief role in blowouts at this point, to see if the team can salvage some value or production out of him. His stuff still has potential, and he must be willing to work with the coaches in improving his game, otherwise if he was difficult I think he’d already be gone.

But, if you take a step back from obsessing over one guy, and look at the team globally, what Servais and his staff have been able to do with this group of guys is pretty remarkable. The Mariners are 50-44. They have no right to be this good, with a group of players this mediocre, and with a run differential of -51. You can write this off as a fluke, but this also isn’t the first time a Scott Servais-managed team has had a winning record with a negative run differential. This isn’t the first time he’s maximized the talent of his team and squeezed out as many wins as possible. He seems to be adept at getting a lot out of a little, which leaves me excited to see what he could do with a team loaded with talent.

That gets me back to his decision to go Flexen/Kikuchi/Gilbert over the weekend. He’s loyal to his guys, to a point, but he’s not going to force an issue just to make guys happy. He’s going to lead, by making the hard choices and potentially pissing off a guy like Marco Gonzales. Too many former Mariners managers would’ve stubbornly stuck with Marco, saying, “He’s my guy” and getting rightly roasted as a result. But, where are the accolades when Servais makes the smart decisions like this? Well, they come from me, on a blog hardly anyone reads.

I like Servais. I hope he stays here a good, long time. I hope he gets to see this rebuild to fruition. I hope we get to see what he’s capable of when the Mariners are ready to start winning 100 games per season.

***

As I mentioned, Chris Flexen got the start on Friday. He kept the good times rolling by going 7 innings, giving up 1 run. Thankfully, the M’s were able to rack up a 6-1 lead by the time he left the game, because the defense and bullpen just didn’t have it in this one. We nevertheless were able to hang on for a 6-5 victory, but it was a nailbiter at the end.

Kendall Graveman has been a concern for us of late, since he returned from the COVID-IL with a case of being an anti-vax idiot (allegedly). I wouldn’t put a lot of the blame on him in this one, since all three of his runs were unearned (thanks to two errors), but he’s also shown to be much more hittable of late. Even though, spread out over the entire season, Graveman has been our best reliever, it was heartening to see Servais pull him with one out remaining in the bottom of the ninth, to go with the hot hand of Paul Sewald, who was able to shut the door.

Jarred Kelenic got called back up to the Mariners in this one. How far we’ve fallen that he’s not the biggest story on this blog at the moment. But, he broke his 0-for-Forever streak with a hit on Friday, so good for him. He also found himself batting 7th in the lineup, which is probably where he should’ve been all along, so go ahead and count that as a knock on Servais (I would say, in general, his lineup construction has been fine, though there are baffling moments sprinkled in, as there are with all managers).

The offensive heroes on Friday were the guys we’ve come to expect to lead the way: Haniger, France, and Seager. They combined to go 7 for 12 with 5 RBI, 5 runs scored, including homers by Seager and Haniger, and a double by Haniger to boot. Dylan Moore also had a couple hits to chip in.

Saturday was worrying, because it was the second sub-par outing in a row for Yusei Kikuchi. Ever since he made the All Star squad, he’s fallen apart. It was easy to explain-away the game against the Yankees (who tend to mash lefties), but giving up 7 runs in 5 innings to the Angels makes this the start of a trend. A trend, quite frankly, I don’t like! Let’s hope he turns it back around sooner rather than later.

The other two runs were given up by, you guessed it, Rafael Montero in his one inning of work. Again, what can you do with this guy besides release him at this point? I feel like he has until Hector Santiago’s suspension is up, then he’s most likely gone. He’s pitched in 39 games this season. He’s performed well on occasion, but he’s given up at least one run in 19 of those games. That’s an INSANELY high percentage of games where he’s failed (I would argue it’s a failure whenever a reliever gives up even one run; blanket statement, and probably unfair, I know). 11 of those games he’s given up 2 or more runs, which is astronomically bad. And he’s not trending in the good direction; he’s given up 2-3 runs in 6 of his last 7 appearances (since he had those remarkable back-to-back 10th inning shutdown performances against the Rays). Rafael Montero, we hardly knew ye.

The Mariners lost 9-4 on Saturday, though, so it’s hard to be too mad at Montero. Maybe he slips through the cracks; we’ll see. There are certainly enough blowout opportunities to sneak him to the finish line with this team.

Haniger had a homer and 4 RBI in this one. Kelenic had his second hit since being called back up. Dylan Moore had two more hits. As did Ty France. J.P. Crawford had three hits!

The rubber match was thrilling for a number of reasons. Logan Gilbert pitched into the sixth inning again (5.2 innings, 2 runs on 4 hits & 2 walks, with 9 strikeouts), and the bullpen did its job until the very end. Things got a little hairy in the ninth, after an Ohtani homer off of Sewald, but the M’s were up by a lot and things weren’t really in doubt. A 7-4 win and yet another series for the good guys.

Kelenic has a 3-game hit streak, everyone! France is red hot (had 3 hits – including a homer – with 2 runs and 3 RBI), Luis Torrens had another dinger. And Mitch Haniger scored 3 runs to be highly involved.

The Mariners keep plugging away. This is really a fun team! I can’t say I’m loving EVERY minute of the experience, but the good days outnumber the bad ones, and I think that’s all you can really ask from this team.

Is The Mariners’ Jake Fraley For Real?

The alternate title for this post was going to be, “Jake Fraley Is This Year’s Dylan Moore Of 2020”, but it’s not quite apples to apples. The sentiment is there: he’s a fringe player, thought to be nothing more than a bench bat/fourth outfielder, who has stepped his game up to the point where the Mariners MUST put him in the lineup everyday. Or face the consequences. Namely: my wrath.

Dylan Moore was just that prior to 2020. He was a nobody. Then, last year, he figured out how to generate more power from his bat; his slugging jumped from .389 in 2019 to .496 in 2020. Of course, last year was a pandemic year. On top of that, Moore was buried on the active roster by lesser players (mostly an injured Shed Long), so even though he was killing it, he only appeared in 38 of 60 games.

Not for nothing, but through the first half of 2021, Moore finds himself playing considerably worse than even his paltry 2019 season. The only aspect of Moore that’s better today is his defense, but you couldn’t be much worse defensively than Moore was in 2019 (especially in the first half of that season). I had much higher hopes for Moore heading into this year, based on his 2020. I thought he’d enacted some sort of Chris Taylor transformation, but apparently that’s not the case. In all likelihood, 2020 was a mirage.

That brings us to Jake Fraley. He was brought over after the 2018 season from the Rays in the Mike Zunino/Mallex Smith trade. Mallex Smith was a bust, and I don’t think anyone had any confidence in Fraley being anything more than a Quad-A type of player. His brief cups of coffee in 2019 and 2020 all but confirmed it. I figured, at best, he was a reserve outfielder who might be a defensive replacement late in games, or an emergency starter if enough guys got injured.

And yet, here we are in 2021, and Jake Fraley is tied with Ty France for second (among position players) on the Mariners in WAR (1.6) even though he’s only appeared in half the games of France. He’s among the best players on the team in on-base percentage (first among position players at .409), slugging (third among position players at .439), and OPS (first among position players at .848).

And, like Moore in 2020, Fraley has often found himself buried on the active roster behind inferior players. It’s really only since the end of May that Fraley has found himself in the lineup on a regular basis. And yet, he’s managed to produce!

A lot of the hype – especially early on – surrounded Fraley’s walk rate. It was off the charts! It continues to be his biggest asset, but he’s managed to add a little pop to his bat to balance things out. He’s also – like J.P. Crawford – finding himself in the middle of a lot of these Mariners rallies. He’ll find a way on base when we need someone, he’ll steal a bag for you, and he’ll come up with a clutch hit late in the game to win it. What more can you ask for from someone who consistently finds himself batting near the bottom of the lineup?

It’s difficult to see Fraley’s long-term viability on the Mariners, with guys like Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez soon-to-be patrolling the outfield on a regular basis, and also Kyle Lewis, whenever he gets his injury issues squared away. Fraley could be an excellent bridge guy to our Outfield of the Future, or he could supplant someone like Lewis (if we find the right trade for him), or he could be a trade chip himself! I would want Fraley to build up considerably more value before the Mariners deal him, but thankfully there’s still plenty of time for that.

Ironically, Jake Fraley is exactly the type of player who would thrive in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. If he’s able to keep it up through the rest of this season, maybe we send him back for another Rays player, who perhaps will soon be too expensive for them to retain. Fraley has team control through 2025, so he’ll continue to be a bargain for a little while yet.

It’s always fun seeing these guys who you never expect to turn into anything, become quality everyday players. Fraley is especially fun because he’s so involved in all of the best aspects of what this 2021 Mariners team has become. Scrappy, fast, playing above their overall talent level, finding ways to get it done that are maybe a little less conventional than the Three True Outcomes. In another time, Fraley might’ve been one of my all-time favorite players. As it is, I’m going to enjoy the ride for as long as he takes me on it.

Chris Flexen Is One Of The More Pleasant Mariners Surprises

So much positivity and good vibes going on lately, I might have to change the name to Seattle Sports Heaven!

Chris Flexen was one of those out-of-left-field signings before this season that I don’t think anyone really had any faith in. You’re talking about a guy who flamed out so hard with the Mets organization that he spent 2020 in Korea, where to his credit he did manage to turn his game around, but you have to take that with a grain of salt. Lots of people leave the Major Leagues for greener pastures over in Asia and see dramatic improvements; that’s not a knock, they just don’t have the level of talent that MLB has. I think some fans may have pointed to the specific types of improvements Flexen made as an indication that it could translate back over here. But, again, I don’t know why anyone would have thought he’d be as good as he’s been so far with the Mariners.

He’s made 16 starts, with 8 of them of the quality variety. I would argue he’s done his job in all but four of those starts, which were pretty bad (including one where he failed to make it out of the second inning), but otherwise he’s eating innings and consistently giving the Mariners at least a chance to win. His 8-3 record reflects this nicely. He’s crazy-economical with his pitch counts to boot, which should bode well for his durability.

I wouldn’t normally be raving about a Chris Flexen type. From a pure “stuff” standpoint, he’s more in the #3 or #4 starter range. But, obviously the Mariners’ rotation has had its struggles this season – both with injury and effectiveness – so it’s nice to have this rock in there who we can depend on for this type of consistency. When you factor in his salary, he’s a tremendous bargain who will be around for at least the next 2-3 seasons if he continues to produce in this fashion.

Flexen is earning less than $2 million this year. He’s locked in at just under $3 million for next year. There’s a team option for 2023 worth $4 million, that increases to $8 million if he hits 150 innings in 2022, or a combined 300 innings from 2021-2022. Considering he’s already at 92.1 innings at the All Star Break, I would say the $8 million is likely to be met. There’s another Arbitration year in 2024 on top of that, so team control isn’t an issue with Flexen. He’ll be here for a while as long as he stays healthy and pitches the way he’s been pitching.

As we’ve seen, both locally and across MLB, filling out your rotation with quality pitchers is one of the most difficult things you can do. We always talk about the need for bona fide ace pitchers, but you also need guys like Flexen. He’s only 27 years old, so it feels silly to call him a “crafty veteran”, but he’s a pitcher. He’s not getting by on overwhelming stuff. He’s pitching to spots, pitching to contact, and generating just enough whiffs to prevent E.R.A. bloat. As long as they avoid injury, guys like Flexen can stick in the game for a long time. He strikes me as more of a journeyman type, but sometimes these guys stay so consistently good that teams HAVE to pay them lots of money to stick around for multiple years. We’re getting him in his prime, at sub-prime prices.

I don’t like being one of those fans who’s obsessed with the team’s bottom line, because MLB teams are owned by billionaires. They have the money to spend. If they don’t spend it, they’re just being stingy. But, I have to be a fan who lives in the real world, and I know the Mariners can be stingy. They’ll splurge when they have to, but they’re never going to consistently reside at the top of the market. At best, you might see the M’s in the top ten in payroll, but I don’t know if you’ll ever see us in the top five, or even the top seven or eight. Everything kind of has to go right for the Mariners to want to go all in.

So, we need the young crop of prospects to hit it big. And we need bargains like Flexen to out-perform their contracts. This helps make the Mariners good, and thereby helps the front office feel better about opening their wallets.

The Mariners are 48-43. That’s certainly better than I figured they’d be at his point, when I considered this team before the season. Chris Flexen is a great reason why. He has a 1.5 WAR. Justus Sheffield – one of the greatest Mariners disappointments so far in 2021 – has a negative 1.5 WAR. Flexen is the anti-Sheffield! He zeroes out all that Sheffield has done to try to sabotage this season. I think that’s pretty impressive!

I’m also amused that he’s another ex-Mets player who crushes it in Seattle. Can we make it a point to bring in every ex-Met and turn them into superstars?

J.P. Crawford Is The Most Fun Mariners Player In 2021

It’s critical to temper expectations. In probably 90-95% of players, you’re going to be glad you didn’t let your emotions get the better of you, because unless you’re the elite of the elite, you’re going to disappoint if expectations run unchecked.

A lot gets heaped on J.P. Crawford because he’s one of the first major pieces of this great Mariners rebuild. Some people wrote him off almost immediately, which is kind of going too far the other direction, but I understand the impulse. But, as the most Major League-ready prospect we acquired prior to the 2019 season, we’ve had the longest look at Crawford, with decidedly mixed results.

He was called up in May of 2019 and played pretty regularly through the rest of that season, minus a couple of stints. He was streaky, but overall pretty bad. COVID shortened the 2020 season to 60 games, but in that smaller sample you did see improvement in a lot of areas. He won a Gold Glove as a short stop, for starters. He jacked up his batting average about 30 points, though he sacrificed some of the pop he showed in 2019. But, through it all, you could see him blossom. His confidence grew. He was a big part of a team that contended for a wild card spot to the bitter end. It was fair to wonder what his numbers would’ve looked like over a full 162-game season, but it was promising to see that he didn’t go the other way.

His month of April this year was pretty shabby, and I think a lot of Mariners fans were ready to write off 2020 as a fluke, or at best the peak of his abilities. But, since May, he’s really turned on the afterburners. He’s already put up a 2.8 WAR production and we’re just 91 games into the season. Notice that’s 50% more games than was played in 2020 (when his WAR was 1.6), and he’s another leap and bound better than he was then.

.279/.341/.391. 92 hits, 22 doubles, and anecdotally he seems to be in just about every single big Mariners rally this season. And it doesn’t appear to be abnormally driven by good luck with batted balls. He’s seeing pitches better, he’s hitting them harder, resulting in more line drives. Everything about what he’s doing looks sustainable!

Lots of experts and fans have talked about the number of free agent short stops that could hit the market after this season. I think everyone considered it a foregone conclusion that the Mariners would be significant buyers in this market. But, if Crawford continues to pull his weight in this fashion, that frees us up to go after a different position of need. Maybe get one of the premium third basemen on the market. Maybe a second baseman. Maybe go after a top shelf starting pitcher or a couple elite relievers. He’s still arbitration eligible for the next three seasons, so his price will go up, but it won’t be in that realm of a top tier free agent short stop. He’s still going to be a bargain through 2024 if he continues to play this way. And, in that time, if the Mariners opted to extend him, I don’t think he’d command top tier money on the open market, so we could retain him for 2025 and beyond at a reasonable figure.

All great! I couldn’t be happier with J.P. Crawford! I mean, I guess I could, but again, we’re tempering expectations around here. And in these times, that means Crawford is exceeding expectations, which is always A-OK in my book.

I’m Thrilled To Write About The Mariners’ Logan Gilbert

This kid looks like the real deal. That’s exciting for a number of reasons.

That’s exciting because starting pitching hasn’t been a strong suit of this 2021 Mariners team, due to injuries and ineffectiveness. Oh sure, Yusei Kikuchi is an All Star, and Chris Flexen has pitched like ones at times. But, in a stubborn six-man rotation set-up, Gilbert only brings the competency up to 50%.

That’s also exciting because Gilbert is considered one of our young core. As you’ll see this week, I’m only planning on writing about this group: the young players who are outperforming expectations. These are Major Leaguers who are still on their original deals and very well could be part of the next great Mariners team. Logan Gilbert fits that bill, plus he’s an actual draft pick (14th overall in 2018) who developed in our system and rose through the ranks. The Mariners made a big show of drafting pitching in the upper rounds in recent years, and Gilbert is the first sign of making good on that promise.

That’s ALSO also exciting because Gilbert is just one of many. Hopefully. Please, for the love of all that is holy, let this be factually accurate. The idea, of course, is to REALLY fill out the active Major League roster with this line of young talent (while picking your spots here and there to help advance this team into the stratosphere), and you can already see it starting to come to fruition (with, ideally, the big guns coming up in the very near future).

Finally, it’s exciting because Gilbert looks really fucking good!

In 10 career starts, he’s already accumulated a 0.8 WAR. 48.2 IP, 53 strikeouts, and a 0.97 WHIP. What’s most encouraging is most of his bad stuff happened in his first three games, where he managed only 10.2 IP, giving up 9 runs, with a WHIP of 1.47. Since then, he’s gone 38 innings (one promising start was cut short due to a rain delay), giving up 11 runs, tossing three Quality Starts, and twice pitching into the seventh inning (including his most recent dominant outing against the Yankees, where he gave up just 1 hit and 0 walks and runs over 7 innings). That WHIP over his last seven starts has been 0.84, which is just outstanding!

This is dominant Ace-type stuff we’re talking about. He’s got a live fastball, but he’s not living and dying with it. He controls the strike zone, isn’t afraid to pitch inside, and has a great head on his shoulders. His level of preparation is off the charts. And while I know injuries can strike at any time, for no reason whatsoever, his is a form that doesn’t strike me as one we have to be overly worried about. I don’t get a sense that he’s putting a lot of extra strain on his elbow or shoulder. I hope I didn’t just jinx the hell out of him, but you also can’t live as a baseball fan worried about every single player who comes along.

The only question at this point is what we’re going to call his corner of the stadium when they bring back the K-cards and T-shirts every time he starts. Logan’s Lair? Logan’s Landing? Gilbert’s Glen? Gilbert’s Garage? I dunno, the Mariners will figure it out, I’m sure.

The Mariners Closed Out The First Half With A Series Win Over The Angels

Friday’s 7-3 victory set a nice tone for the weekend. Marco Gonzales got the start and had a very 2021 Marco performance, giving up a run in each of the first three innings (including probably the most mammoth home run in any game ever, off the bat of Shohei Ohtani), before looking like the Marco of old the rest of the way. He ultimately was pulled after 5.2 innings, giving up those three runs on 7 hits, while striking out 3. One out from a Quality Start, yet I don’t know if anyone would describe it as such. He has a problem, almost certainly physical, that he’s dealing with this year, and I don’t hold a lot of hope for him to turn this season around.

The Mariners bats were quiet throughout, except for an opposite-field 2-run double (that was inches away from being a 3-run homer) by Shed Long in the fourth inning. We were losing 3-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning before a Ty France single tied it up. It remained 3-3 into the bottom of the eighth when Mitch Haniger hit the go-ahead grand slam to give the game its final score. Helluva run by the bullpen in this one, with four guys combining to go the last 3.1 innings, giving up just 2 hits in that stretch.

Chris Flexen was the obvious hero in Saturday’s 2-0 victory, going 7 shutout innings, giving up just 3 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 6. Luis Torrens had two hits – including an RBI triple – and the other guys did just enough to eke this one out. I can’t say enough good things about Flexen this year, as he’s really been the co-Ace of this staff with Yusei Kikuchi. I won’t go so far as to suggest Flexen also deserved to be an All Star, but I will say he’s easily the biggest free agent bargain on this team, for what he’s been producing.

On Sunday, we were saddled with yet another bullpen day, thanks to Justus Sheffield’s injury. And, we were rewarded with yet another Justus Sheffield-like performance. The soon-to-be suspended Hector Santiago got the start and lucked his way into 3 innings, giving up just 1 run. But, the bullpen behind him couldn’t do the impossible once again. These games are going to happen, especially with the struggles of the Mariners’ rotation outside of Flexen, Kikuchi, and Gilbert.

Sunday’s game was noteworthy because Cal Raleigh got called up from Tacoma. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, but I thought there were some promising signs. In his very first at bat, he saw 8 pitches, fouling off 5 of them (he also saw 7 pitches in his final AB of the day). I know that’s really grasping at straws for positivity, but it’s always nice to see guys not look totally lost in their initial call-ups. I also need to cool my jets when it comes to having high expectations for these guys right out of the box. Young players struggle early in their careers MUCH more than not. An 0 for 4 is normal, not a disappointment.

This leaves the Mariners at 48-43 over the first half. There are only 71 games remaining, with the M’s right in the thick of the Wild Card hunt. We’re 3.5 games behind the Oakland A’s for the second wild card spot. We’re also 7 games behind the Houston Astros for the A.L. West. With those two teams ahead of us – and both pretty clearly superior – I would still say it’s a considerable long shot for the Mariners to make the post-season. But, you never know.

In an odd turn of events, immediately following this week’s All Star Break, we resume playing the Angels, this time on the road. It already looks like we’ll be seeing two of the same Angels starters we just saw over the weekend; I’ll be curious to see what the Mariners decide to do. Ideally, we should take this opportunity to reshuffle the rotation, maybe come right back with Flexen, Kikuchi, Gilbert. But, I don’t think they’ll disrespect Marco like that (unless he does have nagging injury issues going on, and they decide to give him extra rest over the next week), and I also don’t think they want to over-work Gilbert’s arm this early into his career.

What the Mariners really need to do is make a trade for a quality starter or two, but that’s neither here nor there.

The Mariners Stop Winning Series, Losing To The Yankees

The Yankees are a right-handed laden lineup who also happen to crush left-handed pitching, so this was always going to be a poor matchup for the Mariners. Just kidding, it’s actually Clay Bennett’s fault (anytime I can join in on Clay Bennett bashing, you’re damn right I’m going to jump on the bandwagon!).

Justus Sheffield continued on his Suck Hard World Tour Tuesday night with yet another miserable outing. He made it 1.2 innings, giving up 6 runs in the process, en route to an eventual 12-1 thrashing. It’s no surprise he landed on the IL with a “strained forearm and/or oblique”. I mean, I guess there’s probably something legit there, because I’m pretty sure we still have options for him to go down to Tacoma (to be fair, I don’t totally understand all the ins and outs of baseball options), but it still seems shady when he recently said he wasn’t hurt. I dunno.

I don’t have a lot to report about this game, as Sheffield starts aren’t exactly Must See TV. I wish I had gambled against the Mariners in this one. I also wish the Mariners had literally any other starting pitching options to put in his place, but it seems like whoever we go with will be sub-replacement level. And I don’t trust for one second that Justin Dunn will be healthy enough to return and finish the season.

Wednesday’s game was another rocky road, with Yusei Kikuchi (another lefty) getting bashed for 5 runs in his first two innings of work. He was able to settle down and put up three scoreless innings after that, but the damage was done. Not really the outing the only Mariners All Star wanted to put out into the world before the break. The bullpen, however, continued to shut things down from there, just long enough for the Mariners to make a 5-1 start into a 5-4 close loss. But, the back-end of that Yankees bullpen is almost always totally savage, and they had no problem getting through the final two innings.

Yesterday’s game was absolutely remarkable! We 1-hit the Yankees in a 4-0 victory. Logan Gilbert gave up the only hit – a double – but went 7 innings, walking 0 and striking out 8. It was the most dominant outing by a Mariners starter since Felix’s perfect game. Seager, Moore, and Haniger homered in all the runs.

With the Angels in town for three games this weekend, that concludes the first half of the baseball season. Next week, I’ll post about some Mariners highlights; don’t think I’m not looking forward to writing at length about how great Logan Gilbert has been lately!

The Mariners Keep Winning Series, Defeating The Rangers

Last Friday’s game was touted as (something to the effect of) the grand Re-Opening Day, because this was the first home game we’ve had since June 30th, when the governor took all restrictions off the state. For the purposes of the Seattle Mariners, that means no more social distancing. That means full capacity. That means no more masks or bullshit (unless you’re one of the idiot unvaccinated, in which case pinky-swear that you WILL wear a mask, and definitely don’t just pretend you’re vaccinated to get out of wearing one).

Even though this was Re-Opening Day 2021 or some damn thing (though, I’ll be honest, I must have missed the memo, because I didn’t realize they were making this such a huge promotional campaign until I was already inside the stadium), and the Mariners have been winning a lot of games recently, AND (most importantly of all, apparently) there would be a post-game fireworks show, I don’t think we even cracked 30,000 fans on Friday. Maybe Washingtonians had other plans this weekend.

Whatever the case may be, they missed a whale of a game on Friday! Mitch Haniger had one of the worst games I’ve seen from an individual Mariners player all season. He had two errors in the third inning, resulting in a 2-0 Rangers lead. He was also 0 for 4 on the day with a walk, including 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position (you know, when he could have directly helped his team by making up for his earlier blunders). I thought I was going to have to come on here and rip him to shreds more than I have, but this Mariners team is something else, and they picked him up like they’ve been picking up guys all year.

It was 3-0 in the fifth before Jake Fraley hit a solo bomb to get us on the board. While I was on a neverending quest to find a food line that wasn’t a mile long (seriously, the Mariners need to figure it the fuck out when it comes to these insane concessions lines; I shouldn’t have to miss two innings of gameplay just to get a fucking hot dog), we scratched another run on the board in the seventh thanks to an error. Then, in the bottom of the 8th, Luis Torrens hit a game-tying homer.

The really magical moment came in that same half-inning. Jake Fraley walked and stole second following the Torrens homer. After a Dylan Moore strikeout, J.P. Crawford walked up to the plate with two outs. As the crowd chanted J.P. over and over, he came through with a single that scored the speedy Fraley, giving the Mariners a 4-3 lead.

That turned out to be short-lived, as Kendall Graveman gave up an unearned run. Ty France – starting at third base – made just a MISERABLE throw to first on a ground ball, that skipped away, allowing the runner to reach second. A Rangers double plated him, tying it up and ultimately sending the game to extras. But, Anthony Misiewicz pitched around the 10th inning ghost runner to keep the game tied. That was all we needed. Shed Long bunted the runner to third. Torrens took his intentional walk. And Jake Fraley knocked in the run on a single through the drawn-in infield (why they were drawn in even though they had the double play set up, I’ll never know). Just like that, a 5-4 victory and a Mariners celebration in the outfield!

The good vibrations were short lived, as Saturday’s game got away from us. Marco Gonzales didn’t have it, giving up 7 runs in 3.1 innings. But, the combo of Rafael Montero (2.2 innings) and Yohan Ramirez (3 innings) kept the game scoreless the rest of the way. It wouldn’t be enough, though, as the offense could only muster 3 runs. Kyle Seager was 2 for 2 with two walks and a homer. That’s pretty much it.

But, the Mariners came right back on Sunday to win 4-1. Chris Flexen pitched six innings of 1-run ball, Luis Torrens hit a 3-run home run in the fourth, and Shed Long hit a solo homer in the fifth. This game was over in a flash, as the Mariners and Rangers accommodated everyone who would’ve rather been doing 4th of July things than sitting there watching a baseball game. It was awful sweet of them, really.

The Mariners have been doing a pretty good job of cleaning up against the rest of the American League (and the dregs of the A.L. West), but their 45-40 record is still a whopping 7 games behind the Astros (who seem to be doing the same thing as us when it comes to all the ass-kicking). Probably best not to scoreboard watch this early in the season, but how can you not?! We haven’t lost a series since June 12th!

Anyway, the Yankees are in town for three games starting tomorrow. They’ve been a disappointment, by Yankees-standards, but will most likely still be a formidable foe.