The Mariners Finally Won A Series

We can’t sit here and say the Mariners finally flipped a switch and now all the hitting woes are solved. I will say, however, that we saw some signs of life. We saw better approaches at the plate. We saw guys start to lay off of those breaking pitches out of the zone; not ENTIRELY, of course, there were still plenty of strikeouts to be had by everyone. But, we saw competent Major League at bats throughout the lineup, which was encouraging.

How much of that derived from poor Reds pitching? That remains to be seen. But, I will say that the way we were inflating pitch counts from their starters is going to be the way we win ballgames going forward. It doesn’t make sense for this team to have a swing-first attitude. There’s not enough power, and frankly not enough bat-to-ball skills, for that to be our plan of action. No, we need the opposite approach. We need to be patient. We need to foul off pitches, take our walks, and take these starters out of games in five innings or less.

Thankfully, with how good our pitching can be, we can scrape by with this meager run support. Three more Quality Starts – running the streak to seven straight games – led the way to holding the Reds to 5 runs in three games.

George Kirby got off the schneid on Monday, going 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 5 hits, with 6 strikeouts. This was the game where the run support was decidedly NOT meager; 9 runs! Can you even fathom it?! Haniger had a double and a homer (3 RBI), Polanco had a 3-run bomb to go along with 3 runs scored; Luke Raley had two hits, including a triple. Everyone in the lineup had at least a hit or a walk. We scored early, we piled on late, it was almost the perfect game.

We got back to our old tricks on Tuesday, edging the Reds out 3-1. Logan Gilbert went 6.2 innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits and a walk, with 6 strikeouts. Haniger, J.P., and Julio had two hits each. Newcomer Jonatan Clase – who got the start in left in all three games this series – had his second consecutive game with a hit, this time an RBI double. And, we shot all of our high-leverage bullpen bullets to lock it down. Andres Munoz had to get 4 outs again (we’re really relying on him to do that a lot so far in the early going; Brash and Santos can’t return soon enough), spanning the game from Logan’s final inning to the 9th. Unfortunately, Stanek couldn’t quite get the save, as he had to be pulled after getting two outs. But, Saucedo finished the job, as we all believed he would (and certainly did NOT believe he was going to add gasoline to the fire of this impending blown save).

The Mariners wrapped up the sweep thanks to another Bryce Miller sterling outing. 6 innings, 1 run on 1 hit and 1 walk, with 7 strikeouts. The lone hit was a solo homer by the best player on the Reds, Elly De La Cruz, but thankfully we had some firepower of our own. Raleigh, Garver, and Rojas each homered to account for our first three runs. This was Garver’s first in a Mariners uniform, which was nice to finally see. Julio had a couple of doubles. And Clase even had a walk and a run scored!

I’m not trying to jinx him or anything, but it does finally feel like Julio is working his way out of the slump. He’s starting to go the other way at the plate, he’s finding more barrels to balls, and his defense has been absolutely superb this season. Other than that memorable ball over the fence he couldn’t quite bring back (even though he got a glove on it), he’s been a dynamo in center, and almost single-handedly won us that game on Tuesday, throwing De La Cruz out at third base before Jake Fraley could score at home, and running down a number of would-be doubles in the gaps.

This puts us at 9-10, with a series against the hapless Rockies down in Colorado this weekend. If ever there was a time to defy expectations and find a way to blow it, now would be it. A good team would take this winning streak to 6 games. I suspect that won’t even remotely be the case.

What The Hell Are All These Hitting Coaches Doing For The Mariners?

Every year the offense is the problem. Even when it’s not the problem, it’s still something we can’t help but bitch about. Because of the fences. Because the marine layer. Because Seattle. It’s always something we need to fix in the offseason, and it’s always something we FAIL to fix in the offseason because we’re fucking dumb stupid assholes. Dumb stupid CHEAP assholes who can’t help but fail at everything we fucking do because we’re the God damn Mariners and this is our fucking destiny.

It’s all so fucking predictable I could puke. Julio Rodriguez sucking ass to start a season? Predictable. Newcomers Polanco, Garver, and Urias playing extremely far below the backs of their baseball cards? Predictable. Supposed tried-and-true stars Crawford and Raleigh shitting the bed along with everyone else? Predictable. The offense as a whole being the worst in all of Major League Baseball? Fucking predictable! The rest of the A.L. West also starting off slowly, giving us a false sense of security – only for them to immediately go on a massive hot streak, leaving us in the dust? Hasn’t happened yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Check back in a week and see if the Rangers or Astros haven’t gone on a tear.

The Mariners just lost 2 of 3 to a hapless Cubs team. The Cubs look like a garbage team that’s going nowhere; so OF COURSE they owned our asses. Because we’re worse than garbage. We’re what garbage shits into our mouths, Human Centipede-style.

7 runs in 3 games. 3 for 23 with RISP. No power, very little in on-base percentage, and probably the worst batting average of any team ever. No ability to hit for contact, no ability to situationally move runners over, no ability to steal bases. Just a God damn fucking disgrace.

Oh, and our leader in homers, slugging, and OPS – Dominic Canzone – just sprained his AC Joint and will be on the IL for a few weeks. He’s been replaced by Jonatan Clase who’s destined to suck. But he’s hitting so well in Tacoma! Yeah so has every other worthless nobody we’ve called up from AAA pretty much every year in the history of baseball.

We’ve got a “Hitting Coach & Director of Hitting Strategy”, an “Assistant Hitting Coach”, and a “Bench Coach & Offensive Coordinator”. What the fuck kind of use are these guys to this team if they’re going to hit this way? It doesn’t seem fathomable that the offense could be this bad every fucking year, and not only do two of these guys manage to retain their jobs, but we thought it would be a good idea to add a third jag into the mix. As long as we’re employing useless gobs of douche, why not give me the position of Director Of Hitting Mockery, and let me make fun of these guys on a daily basis until they finally decide to grow a pair and put their bats to good use. Even if they’re just beating me senseless with them, at least then I wouldn’t have to watch the Mariners flail at every baseball that even remotely moves in a not-perfect straight line.

We’re 6-10. The best thing you can say about the last series is that we got three straight quality starts, with Bryce Miller tossing his second consecutive gem. Now, the Reds come to town; another garbage team that’s also going nowhere. I can’t wait to lose another 2 out of 3.

Another Series Played, Another Series Lost By The Mariners

The Mariners scored a season-high 6 runs on Wednesday to salvage one game of the 3-game series in Toronto. Five of those runs came in the 10th inning.

If a Mariners game leaving regulation tied at 1-1 sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it also happened in the Red Sox series, when we gave up 2 runs in the top half of the 10th, before exploding for 3 runs in the bottom half to walk it off.

The Mariners have played 13 games this season. They have a 5-8 record. Two of those wins came in our only two extra-innings games. I think you know where I’m going with this. From innings 1-9, the Mariners have scored a total of 34 runs, or 2.62 runs per regulation-length game. And they’ve scored 8 runs in the 10th inning of games. So, really, it’s just a matter of keeping the game tied as long as possible!

There’s nothing good or pleasant to say about this team, so I have to resort to that kind of bullshit to keep myself entertained. We lost on Monday thanks to another lousy fucking start from Luis Castillo. Another 5-inning, 4-run affair from the world’s most mediocre ace. That’s three games now, none of which have seen him get out of the 6th inning. He’s given up 4 runs in each of them, 2 homers, and 25 (!) hits. At times, he’s wildly unlucky, with guys poking filthy stuff off the plate for singles; at other times, he’s serving up ding-dongers right down the middle. It all adds up to him being unquestionably our worst starter so far; yeah, I said it!

We lost on Tuesday thanks to another abysmal outing by George Kirby. Looks like I was premature in labelling him the best starter on the team after his initial outing. Once again, he got crushed because he doesn’t know how to NOT throw strikes. Free-swingin’ teams are going to have a field day every time he takes the mound, because all he wants to do is throw first-pitch strikes, second-pitch strikes, and third-pitch strikes. Until he learns to start pitching backwards – because CLEARLY his reputation preceeds him – I just don’t see how he’s going to develop into a fully-rounded pitcher.

We also lost those games, of course, because the offense failed to bail out our struggling starters. To the bullpen’s credit, they only gave up 1 run across 7 innings of work. But, there’s no comeback and very little fight in this offense.

I mean, shit, we damn near squandered another gem from Logan Gilbert on Wednesday. He went 7.2 innings, held them to 1 run on 5 hits and a walk, while striking out 8. He couldn’t quite get through eight, even though he was at 89 pitches, but Andres Munoz got him out of the jam, and kept the game tied through the bottom of the 9th.

That’s when, finally, guys started hitting. Cal Raleigh had a 2-run bomb, Ty France had an RBI double, and Mitch Haniger had a 2-run single.

If I had to dig deep and find something vaguely interesting to talk about this offense, I think it has to be this: last year – and for probably the last decade-plus – we lamented the lack of production out of the bottom of the order. To the point where many fans have charged that these black holes are keeping us from making the playoffs. I know I’ve definitely banged that drum!

But, when you sit down and think about it logically, the fact of the matter is, the Mariners are only going as far as the top of the order takes them. If you’re sitting there worried about what hitters 7-9 are doing, you’re missing the point. This season – through 13 games, anyway – is really proving that point. Because it’s largely been the bottom of the order that’s been doing the most damage.

Dom Canzone might not be an All Star or anything, but he’s far and away leading this team in slugging with .567! He’s the team leader in homers with 3, he’s tied for the lead in extra-base hits with 4, he’s second in RBI with 6, he’s second in total bases, and tied for first in WAR. And he’s only tied for sixth in hits with 7! When he puts the bat to the ball, it goes far, and I just might have some words to eat after calling him the Spring Training Mirage.

Ty France has been hitting so much at the bottom of the order that he’s worked his way back up to the 3-hole! He’s got a .316 average and leads the team with 12 hits (even though he missed three games with paternity leave)! Dylan Moore, Josh Rojas, and even Luis Urias are all slugging over .400, which isn’t any kind of phenomenal bar to clear, but do you know how many of our top-of-the-order and middle-of-the-order hitters are slugging over .400? Mitch Haniger, end of list.

Cal Raleigh, J.P. Crawford, Mitch Garver, Julio Rodriguez, and especially Jorge Polanco have all SUUUUUUUCKED so far. Polanco has done so poorly he’s dropped to fifth in the lineup, and I don’t think we’re too far away from him getting a rest day, or dropping towards the bottom for a spell.

Those are your studs. Those are the guys (plus Haniger) you’re counting on to take you to the promised land. And you’re getting next-to-nothing from them.

So, yeah, that’s where we’re at. We have an off-day, then it’s home for the Cubbies. I guess the good news is the fact that no one is really running away with the A.L. West yet. Not that I’m standings-watching or anything.

The Mariners’ Everything Looks As Bad As Expected

I don’t know what we’re doing here. We can’t string together back-to-back quality starts to save our lives, our defense is a God damn trainwreck, we’re still sucking at the plate as per usual. It’s all bad. Everything about the Mariners is bad. We’re somehow 4-6, but it feels like we should be 0-10.

The first game in Milwaukee showed some promise. But, just as much – if not more – left us with a lot of doubts. After an incredible first start to the season, Logan Gilbert gave up three bombs (4 runs total) in 5.2 innings. What’s worse is that the offense FINALLY came alive in the top of the sixth – to tie the game at 3-3 – only for Logan to give up a homer in the bottom half. We somehow managed to bridge the game down just one run in the bottom of the 8th, when Ryne Stanek – our second-best reliever – gave up three hits to give the Brewers a little extra cushion.

All that being said, credit where it’s due, the offense rallied again – this time in the top of the 9th – to score twice and force the blown save to tie the game at 5-5. Unfortunately, with Julio standing at second, Mitch Haniger couldn’t get him home. We were stuck going with our first-best reliever – Andres Munoz – who promptly walked four guys around just the one strikeout, to walk-off-walk the game to its conclusion.

On Saturday, we got probably the best start of young Bryce Miller’s career: 7 shutout innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts, on only 78 pitches. To much fan consternation, Scott Servais didn’t let him go out for the 8th, but honestly I get it. It’s his second year in the pros, he was heading into the heart of the order for the third time, why ruin a perfectly fine boost of confidence?

The second-guessers were nearly proven right, though, as the bullpen immediately turned a 4-0 lead into a 4-3 nailbiter. We did manage to add an insurance run before Munoz took another crack at pitching in a Major League Baseball game, which he passed with flying colors. Because obviously a guy in a save situation is going to try harder than a guy in a tie game.

Still looking for our first series win of the season, the Mariners had a third consecutive game where a pitcher on our staff got absolutely abused. In this case, Emerson Hancock got obliterated, from the moment he stepped on the mound. We squeezed 3.1 innings out of him, but he gave up 8 runs on 11 hits, with 1 walk, and 6 strikeouts. Caught a lot of the plate, was WAY too fastball-heavy early in the game, and his breaking pitches stunk (hence the over-reliance on the heater). Tayler Saucedo ate up 2.2 innings of shutout ball, but otherwise this was the SECOND time Josh Rojas has had to come in to pitch in a blowout, for those keeping track at home. 10 games, two Josh Rojas pitching appearances. That’s how our season is going.

It’s just so fucking demoralizing to follow this team. Every time you want to believe, they slap you with a big, fat dose of reality: the Same Ol’ Mariners are always gonna Same Ol’ Mariners. The hitting is always going to stink. Crappy defense is a new wrinkle, but at the same time not totally unprecedented. Recall back to the “glory days” of Jackie Z, when he kept bringing in the Mark Trumbos and Jesus Monteros of the world. Sacrifice a little defense in the hopes that the offense will more than make up for it. Except, SURPRISE, in Seattle that offense doesn’t play, and now you get crap defense to boot!

What I’m struggling with the most has to be the pitching. And you can’t even blame bullpen injuries for this. We’re two turns through the rotation; every starter has had one good game and one crap game, except for Luis Castillo – ostensibly our ace – who has TWO crap games (more on him in a few days, after I write about his latest fucking debacle). That kind of inconsistency isn’t going to cut it. Not with the way the hitting is going to forever struggle, and not with the way the defense is going to give teams extra outs.

We’re 23rd in ERA. We have 3 Quality Starts in 10 games. We’re middle of the road in WHIP. We’re tied for the 4th-most home runs given up (7 of the 10 games played in Seattle!), and we have the 8th-highest opponent batting average. And these are just the run of the mill dummy stats; I’m sure analytics aren’t looking at the Mariners too kindly either.

But, you know, that’s Mariners baseball. It’s a shit sandwich, all the fucking time, forever.

The Mariners’ Defense Looks As Bad As Expected

The bad defense didn’t show up all over the box score. In fact, there wasn’t a single unearned run in the entire 2-1 series loss to the Guardians. But, so far this season, there’s been a neverending barrage of plays guys are failing to make for their pitchers. It’s no small part of the reason why Castillo and Kirby had such bad days in the two losses. Even if they’re not necessarily considered errors, they’re still plays that should’ve been made. Giving teams extra outs – even middle-of-the-road teams like the Guardians – will get you beat every time.

This series started off so promising, with a 5-4 victory on Monday. Emerson Hancock made his 2024 debut, going 5.1 innings and holding them to only 3 runs. And, other than Munoz giving up a solo homer to the heart of the order in the 8th, the bullpen locked this one down pretty good.

It was especially encouraging because we saw the continued hot start to Ty France’s season (with 2 more hits and a walk), as well as a massive 3-run bomb by Dominic Canzone to center field. I’m entirely doubting Canzone’s ability to do this on a regular basis, but no one would be happier to be wrong if he decides to pan out!

Tuesday saw another underwhelming performance from Luis Castillo (again, aided by poor defense). 5.2 innings, 10 hits, 4 runs, 1 walk, and 7 K’s. He got off to a blazing start through the first three innings, then trailed off, suffering from One Big Inning (3 runs in the 4th) and another little inning (1 run in the 5th).

Of course, there’s not a lot you can do when the bats sleep through the first two-thirds of the game. We didn’t score until the 7th inning, thanks to a 1 for 13 performance with RISP.

The less said about Wednesday’s 8-0 shutout, the better. 4 measly singles and a double were all that could be mustered by the Mariners’ offense. Kirby had an all-around poor day, giving up all 8 runs in 3.2 innings (not all of that is attributable to poor defense, since he gave up 10 hits and only struck out 2).

For those keeping track at home, the Mariners’ offense has struck out 74 times in 7 games, tied for the second-most in baseball (and the Dodgers, who are first with 82, have played in 2 more games, and are also 7-2 and in first place in the N.L. West, so they get a pass).

We are 27th in batting average (.196), 28th in on-base percentage (.261), and 29th in slugging (.289). All in all, that adds up to 30th in OPS (.550).

Is it scheme/philosophy? Is it talent on the roster? Is it this pesky Seattle weather? You know, just once I’d like for this team to start out the season on the road, so we’re not always having to go from the warmth of Arizona, to the dank freeze of the Pacific Northwest.

I will say that part of the problem is the fact that only Ty France and Josh Rojas are actually hitting well. Julio, J.P., and Polanco are all out to lunch. Everyone else is about where I’d expect them to be a week into the season. Honestly, it feels like a miracle that the Mariners are as good as 3-4, considering it would’ve been conceivable for them to lose every single one of these games. We’ll see what week 2 holds.

The Seattle Sports 5-Year Trends

If you scroll down the right side of my home page (if you are viewing this on a laptop or PC; otherwise it’s at the very bottom of the home page on a mobile device), you’ll see a list of all the Seattle-based teams I follow, and their most recent five seasons’ worth of records. I started doing that a LONG time ago, intending to refer to that information every so often, to take a global view of the Seattle sports landscape. Which teams are on the rise? Which teams are sinking like a stone? And which teams are helplessly treading water?

It’s funny, when I devised of this concept – and then absolutely failed to follow through, until today – I thought five years in sports terms was an adequate amount of time to figure out where a team is going. But, in reality, it’s both an eternity, and no time at all. Sports teams can turn around their fortunes so fast, you might get whiplash with all the wildly disparate outcomes. One year, you might be on top of the world, then you might be among the worst teams in the game, then you’re able to snap right back into being relevant again, coming from out of nowhere.

I would put the Husky football team in this category. Through 2019, you could argue this was a team on the rise. Then, we had the COVID season, followed by a total bottoming out in 2021, with a housecleaning to follow. From there, they snapped right back into being one of the best teams in college football in 2022, only to make it to the National Championship Game in 2023. We have since been confronted with a different sort of housecleaning, unfortunately, and now this looks like a team that’s going to fall. How could it not? We reached a height we haven’t seen since the early 90’s, and we didn’t replace all that we lost with comparable talent; it’s only natural to see a drop-off.

You can also look at the Kraken and even though we don’t have five seasons’ worth of data, we have almost three. They started off bad, then they made the playoffs in year two, only to hover around .500 in year three. Young players haven’t developed into the superstars we hoped for, and everyone on the roster feels like role players. There’s probably going to be a new head coach to come, and we’ll see where we go from here.

On the flipside, you can look at the Husky basketball team and see a team that’s largely been around .500. Five straight years of stagnation, and counting. Part of that has to do with the coaching staff – which has been replaced this offseason – and part of that is the nature of college basketball nowadays. Unless you’re recruiting the best of the best high school players – who can step in and compete right away – you’re not able to develop younger guys like you used to. You just have to hope you’re poaching enough quality in the transfer portal to find the special mixture that will gel immediately.

The NFL is arguably the most volatile sport of the bunch, with teams going from worst to first all the time! And yet, the Seahawks appear to be on a steady decline. Or, at the very least, a decline followed by a flatline. They were 12-game winners (including playoffs) in 2019 and 2020. Then, we had Russell Wilson’s injury-plagued and inconsistent final year here, followed by two years of Geno Smith and some apathetic .500 ball. I can conceive of a future where this is a team on the rise again, but I think we’re going to have to endure another 9-ish win season in the interim.

The only team you could make an argument that’s a team “on the rise” is the Mariners. But, that entirely hinges on what happens in 2024. It’s a franchise with a clear plan, who underwent an obvious rebuild, and who managed to cobble together a pretty good-looking young core. 2019 was terrible. The COVID-shortened 2020 season was better than expected. The 2021 season was better still. In 2022, we finally broke the playoff drought. And, 2023 could conceivably be excused for missing the playoffs, because teams don’t always follow one straight trajectory from year to year. If we make it back to the playoffs in 2024, I think 2023 can be forgiven. At that point, some of the younger prospects still developing in the minors might be ready to take the next step. The Mariners still feel like they’re a few pieces away, and if we have to get them internally, so be it.

So, the last 5 years have been kind of a mixed bag. That’s Seattle sports for ya. Never too high, rarely too low, with lots of unexpected gut punches in between (that only become expected the longer you root for these teams).

The Mariners’ Offense Looks As Bad As Expected

The Mariners came out of that 4-game Red Sox series with a 2-2 split. It’s probably as good of an outcome as we could have expected, considering one of those wins came 1-0, and the other necessitated overcoming a 2-run deficit in the bottom of the 10th inning (after the game was tied 1-1 through regulation). By all rights, that should’ve been a 4-game sweep with the Mariners losing all four, but here we are.

We scored 10 runs in four games, so that’s not ideal. After that first game, the pitching started to come alive, but as you’ll see, there’s a difference between the high-end pitching, and everyone else.

George Kirby is the best pitcher on this team. He came out on Friday and dominated, throwing 6.2 scoreless innings, giving up 2 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 8. Speier got him out of the 7th inning with our lead intact, Stanek got two outs in the 8th, and Munoz got the 4-out save to preserve our first win of the season. J.P. Crawford hit a solo homer in the 6th for our only scoring of the day.

Saturday was another pitching-heavy day, with Logan Gilbert going 7 innings, giving up just the 1 run. He looked equally as phenomenal as Kirby, giving up 4 hits, 1 walk, while striking out 8. Lots of great movement on his pitches, with only one little mini-jam that he was able to work out of in the 5th.

The bullpen kept things square at 1-1 through nine innings. The M’s scored in their first and final frames in this one. Haniger hit an RBI single in the bottom of the first to kick off the scoring. Then, we did absolutely nothing until the 10th. We needed that 10th inning explosion, because Trent Thorton made his first 2024 appearance and looked A LOT like 2023 Trent Thornton, promptly giving up 2 runs (1 earned, 1 inherited) in 0.2 innings before being relieved. Thankfully, we kept the damage to 2 runs, and we mounted our first (and, to date, only) extended rally of the season, punctuated by Julio Rodriguez’s first-ever game-winning hit of any kind (in this case, a single to right to score Rojas from third).

The good vibes couldn’t extend to Sunday, as the Mariners had no juice whatsoever, losing 5-1. Bryce Miller gave up 4 runs in 5 innings, and the offense had nothing going.

In total, the Mariners struck out 45 times in their first four games. That’s third most in all of baseball, and one of the teams ahead of us – the Dodgers – have already played two more games. So, you know, not great. Everything we heard about this offseason revolved around cutting down on strikeouts.

As for the offensive implosion, we hired this “Offensive Coordinator”, which sounds like one of those moves a team makes that is – within a year – roundly mocked for being as stupid as we all expected it to be coming into the season. He was supposed to help our hitting coaches to – among other things – get this offense going EARLIER, so we’re not totally flailing at the plate in April and May. Well, today’s April 1st, so maybe his job didn’t quite get started for those pesky March games.

I dunno, does Boston have great pitching? They didn’t seem all that impressive to me. But, regardless, we’re second-to-last in batting average, dead last in OBP, second-to-last in slugging, and the only reason we’re not dead last in runs scored is because the three teams below us have only played three games.

I get it, it’s one series. It’s so damn early. There’s plenty of time for things to get going. But also, until these guys start performing, all they’re going to do is confirm our worst suspicions about this team. Which is only going to rile up the fanbase that much more.

I wouldn’t say I feel great about the Mariners right now. But, I also wouldn’t say my opinion has changed from this time last week. It’s a long season. Let’s just hope it’s not also a LONG season.

The Mariners Lost Their Home Opener

We got a lot of information out of that first game. I don’t know if it was enough information to make an informed opinion about this Mariners team, but it was more information than we had from all the Spring Training games combined.

For starters, this is the first go-around for the rotation. Arms aren’t quite built up to mid-season form. There’s going to be a little ramping up period. So, I can’t say I’m totally shocked by Luis Castillo’s 5 innings/4 runs performance. To be honest, that’s almost exactly what I had him pegged for heading into yesterday.

The bottom of the bullpen isn’t anything special … yet. It’s gonna be a lot more fun to watch this team when Brash and Santos rejoin the squad.

Mitch Haniger has taken his hot hitting into the regular season. 2 for 3 with a walk and a homer. He’s always been a streaky guy, which is part of the reason why games that matter couldn’t arrive soon enough. Here’s hoping he can keep this going into April and beyond.

Polanco and Garver look like they can help. It was nice to see both of them get hits, including a double by Garver late.

Julio and Cal look like studs. We just need guys to get on base ahead of them.

Canzone came crashing down to Earth immediately in this one, with an 0 for 2 day at the plate, and a wildly misplayed ball in left field to let someone stretch a double into a triple. He was replaced by Dylan Moore, who promptly hit a 2-run bomb to center to pull the game to within a run in the 7th. I wonder if this is the Dylan Moore the team was expecting last year. Now that he’s fully healthy, maybe he’s ready to show what he can do.

Batting 8th, Ty France went 0 for 4. I didn’t get the sense that he was swinging at a lot of crap, but the results are the results. Today is another day.

J.P. seemed to get a little jobbed by the home plate umpire on balls & strikes, especially in his first at bat, when he should’ve earned a walk. Tough night at the plate, but he offered his usual excellence in the field.

Can’t say that for Luis Urias, who took over for Josh Rojas late, struck out, and misplayed a grounder so hard at third base that he not only didn’t tag the runner coming from second (who was standing practically an arm’s length away), but he took forever to throw it to first AND the throw was as soft and wobbly as any pass you would’ve seen from Peyton Manning in his final NFL season. What are we even doing with this guy?

Luke Raley ended our evening in the bottom of the 9th. He batted for Urias with two outs and Haniger standing at first, down 6-4. This wasn’t even remotely a competitive at bat, as he took a strike down the middle, then flailed wildly at the next two pitches (both in the zone). All were apparently cutters, 93-94 miles per hour. Not even a foul tip. Trading with the Rays seems like it’s always a fool’s errand. My guess is, we’re going to wish we had Caballero to handle third base for us, because I just don’t see a path for Raley to be successful here.

2024 Seattle Mariners Preview Extravaganza Part II: Run Scoring

In case you missed it, read Part I here about the 2024 Mariners run prevention.

As was discussed yesterday, the Mariners aren’t even close to contenders without a dominant pitching staff. That’s what this team is built on. We need the starters to keep things close and low scoring, we need the bullpen to go above and beyond, and we need the defense to just be passable. This gets us to the front porch of the playoffs. How we’re going to walk in the door? How far we’re going into the house? Well, that’s up to the hitters, now isn’t it?

It’s really a Chicken Or Egg situation then, isn’t it? What’s more important, the pitching or the hitting? We need great pitching, because the hitting is subpar. But, with no hitting whatsoever, it doesn’t matter how great our pitching is, because if you can’t score runs, you’re not winning games!

And, as we discussed yesterday, we can’t really rely on the Spring Training numbers, because they don’t matter. They don’t translate to the regular season. It’s not like they’re A.P. classes we can use for college credit; everyone reverts back to .000 starting today.

You know who were the four best OPS regulars this spring? Julio (naturally), Haniger (sounds right), Polanco (solid veteran), and Canzone (The Mirage). It’ll be interesting to see where these guys end up at season’s end – and who ends up as the top four OPS guys – because other than Julio, I don’t know if I believe in ANY of them.

The stars on this squad are Julio, J.P., and Cal. Center field, short stop, catcher. Those are our studs. We don’t have to worry about them producing; they’re going to be fine. We love them, and honestly, we don’t talk enough about how great they are!

Then, there’s a creamy middle of veterans: Haniger, Polanco, France, Garver. Right field, second base, first base, DH. This is the pile we’re relying on to stay healthy, as all have massive injury concerns, and it would be a miracle if they avoided the IL. They’re good, productive middle-of-the-order hitters when they’re healthy, except France comes with the additional caveat of having worked on a new swing all offseason. He seems to have made some headway in that department this spring; I’ll reject a lot of exhibition numbers, but 6 walks over 5 strikeouts definitely seems like a step in the right direction. On the downside, he tied for the lead in spring at bats with 44 and managed all of zero homers. The high batting average is nice – and if he reverts to a high average/high on-base guy with limited power, I’ll take it – but it is a little concerning to see so few extra-base hits.

If those seven hitters all pan out, I think we’ll be fine. But, when have things EVER panned out the way we want them to?

Which brings us to the fringe guys: Canzone, Raley, Urias, Rojas, Moore. Left field, third base, utility. These are the guys who we always try to talk ourselves into. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if Canzone turned into a legitimate baseball player? Oh, wouldn’t it be great if Urias came in here and proved everybody wrong? Oh, wouldn’t it be so sweet if Raley was the Rays player they gave up on who actually turned out to be someone useful?

As you can tell, I don’t have a ton of any confidence in any of those guys, or anyone else residing in this area of the active roster. These are barely .200 hitters who strike out too much and might sack up for a homer once every 20 games or so. Canzone, I’ve talked about. He’s the guy getting the most pub, and probably the guy I want MOST to succeed, so he’s clearly going to crap out. Raley has had about as bad of a Spring Training as you can get (.159/.245/.227), joining France as the other player with 44 at bats and 0 homers. It’s funny how spring numbers never matter … except when you hit as poorly as Raley. Then, you have to wonder: if he can’t hit in the cozy confines of a slick Arizona atmosphere, how is he ever going to hit in the murky slog that is Seattle?

Third base just seems like a cesspool at this point. The black hole to end all black holes. Rojas is Moore without the unjustified confidence, and Urias seems like a total bust. I think, at best, we get nothing from that spot in the order, but are at least middle-of-the-road defensively. At worst, we also lead the league in errors; think Russ Davis without the 30 homer potential.

I really want to believe in this team. I really want to believe in the pundits and nerds who think this offense will be better than expected. But, I have almost 30 years of Mariners fandom in my back pocket. I know what this team does. I know what it’s capable of when you start to believe in them. Every season where I’ve come in confident, they’ve let me down. It’s only when my belief is at its lowest when they at least flirt with contention. But, you know the story. One playoff appearance in the last 20-something years, which was a sweep in the ALCS to the Houston Astros of all teams. We can’t have nice things, so why should 2024 be any different?

It’s the first day of the season. The time of unbridled optimism and rejuvenated hope. This is supposed to be when you Believe Big or whatnot! But, I just can’t get there. Not with all the holes this organization left for itself. Not with all the question marks we have to rely on if we want to be good.

The best I can give you is my attention. I’ll be honest, when I heard about all the nonsense with payroll, I was ready to quit on this team. I was ready to be a fairweather fan at best, and maybe just stop watching them altogether. While they didn’t do enough to suck me into believing this is a playoff team, they did do enough to at least keep me around for a while.

The projections say this is an 85-win team, which is good enough to hang around contention and maybe sneak into a wild card if things break right. I think 85-77 feels about right. I also think that won’t be NEARLY enough to make a wild card. We’ll probably end up a few games out, but ultimately another wasted year is upon us.

2024 Seattle Mariners Preview Extravaganza Part I: Run Prevention

It’s interesting how opinions can shift. Just two months ago, I was ranting and raving about the F-grade the Mariners deserved for this offseason (not necessarily the grade Jerry Dipoto & Co. earned, but the organization as a whole, starting first & foremost with ownership). Since then, it should be pointed out, three very important personnel moves were made. We traded for Jorge Polanco to shore up second base. We traded for Gregory Santos to shore up the back-end of our bullpen. Then, we signed Ryne Stanek after it became clear Santos (and Brash) wouldn’t be healthy enough to break camp with the Mariners out of Spring Training. You’re talking about some much-needed depth, and you’re also talking about – when healthy – a team that should at least hang around.

On top of those moves, the other thing that’s happened in the subsequent two months since I wrote that post is that the Mariners have had their entire Spring Training session. We have some more information than we did before. Even though we’re all loathe to talk positively about numbers, you can’t help but feel at least a little warm and fuzzy about hitters mashing the ball, and the stuff from your pitchers starting to come around.

I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve done a complete 180 on this team. But, between the additional moves, the exhibition performance, all the pundits and analytics being more bullish than bearish on this team, and the general optimism of spring and the new season directly before us, it’s hard not to have that … whatever the opposite is of cloud your thinking. Clear? Sunny up? They’ve gone and sunnied up my disposition – without my consent, I might add – and I’m not sure how to reconcile those feelings from two months ago.

You know what I hate? Being everyone’s “dark horse”. You know what else I hate? Being suckered into this fucking team, only for them to fall flat on their asses.

So, I’m trying to shut all that noise out and just focus on what my brain tells me. For starters, I have to give the usual caveat: all of this prognostication assumes we have an average amount of health (or better). Every team deals with injuries. Even the very best teams have to endure stretches where it feels like the baseball gods are whooping them with the ugly stick. The Rangers last year – World Series champions – had a spell in the second half where it looked like they might fall apart. But, they picked themselves up, steamrolled through the playoffs, and the rest was history. But, obviously, everyone remembers the 1996 Mariners, where Randy Johnson was lost for most of the year, and we also lost a good month from Ken Griffey Jr. Teams can’t endure the loss of their two best players for extended stretches and still hope to compete. If the 2024 Mariners lose Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez, no one is going to sit there and say, “Well, that’s just an average amount of baseball injuries.” It’s debilitating!

With that out of the way, let’s get going here. Since all I want to talk about is the hitting, we’re going to save that for Part II tomorrow. Right now, let’s get into the pitching and (a little bit on the) defense (at the end).

Baseball is tricky. You can’t sit there and say, “So and so is the most important guy on this team, and without him playing great, we have no chance.” It’s not football with the quarterback position. It’s not basketball with whoever your superstar is. Baseball is too much of a team sport. Yes, you need your stars to play well, but one guy can’t do it all. If that were the case, Mike Trout would be a champion countless times over.

You can’t even pin it all on a single pitcher, though I’ll contend until my dying breath that there’s nothing quite like an ace to dominate (particularly down the stretch of a pennant race). But, with the 2024 Mariners, we’re not even close to talking about them being contenders without this pitching staff, and especially this starting rotation. They’re the straw that stirs the drink. The most important aspect of this team, by far.

I don’t think you’re going to find a more talented one through five in Major League Baseball – nor one with a higher upside – than the one the Mariners are going to throw out there this seaason. Luis Castillo and George Kirby, right now, are among the best starters in all of baseball, and Logan Gilbert isn’t too far behind. And the pure, raw stuff of Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, and Emerson Hancock (who is slotting into Woo’s spot while he starts the season on the IL with a little bit of arm inflammation) makes them more than the ideal 4 & 5 starters. There’s the kind of potential that we just saw in the first couple of seasons with Kirby and Gilbert! Now, obviously, that’s no guarantee they’re going to turn into bona fide All Stars, but if the worst thing you can say is that the guys projected to be in the back of your rotation – with mid-to-high 90’s fastballs with tons of movement and some promising off-speed pitches – are going to get hit around every now and then, that’s a pretty great problem to have.

Do you know how many teams have absolute bums in the back-end of their rotation? Do you know how many teams are relying on soft-tossing journeymen a la Marco Gonzales to simply eat up innings? Meanwhile, the Mariners have nothing but power arms fisting their way through opposing lineups; it’s outstanding!

Obviously, the knock against the rotation is the lack of depth. But, what team doesn’t have that problem? With Hancock, I’ve already listed six guys who we like. The top three guys are better than most other teams have in their ace spots; and the bottom three guys are better than most every other team’s back-end. If those other teams suffer rotation injuries, I can only imagine the drop-off in quality!

The fact of the matter is, the Mariners are uniquely positioned to withstand the injury bug every now and then. Obviously, it would be ideal if we can get through the next couple months without losing any more starters – to give our bullpen an opportunity to heal up. But, with our home stadium, with our marine layer, and eventually when we get our bullpen figured out, I don’t have a big problem ceding a few outings to a Quad-A starter every now and then. Let him five & dive and hope your offense is up to the task to win a squeaker.

Now, that bullpen does come with some questions. I think we’re all in agreement that when our studs get healthy, a top four (in whatever order you choose) of Santos, Brash, Stanek, and Munoz, is as good as it gets. Again, in all of Major League Baseball. At that point, it almost doesn’t matter who else you put out there. Saucedo and Speier are reliable-enough. Trent Thornton could conceivably be due for a bounce-back, after having a full offseason in our throwing program. And, I’m sure there are plenty of under-the-rader arms in our organization who are poised to be the next Justin Topa or Paul Sewald. Until this unit lets me down, I have to believe we have what it takes to get the job done in the bullpen.

If this team is going to get back to the playoffs, it’s going to be on the arms to get the job done. For as good as they are, it would be helpful if the defense could pick things up behind them, but we’ll see.

By all accounts, we’re going to take a serious step back defensively. Which is kind of shocking, if I’m honest. I always remember Mitch Haniger being better than average. Has he really taken such a dive with age and injury? If he has, that’s a problem, because we’re clearly not as good in left field with the loss of Kelenic. I don’t even know if Luke Raley is competent out there! We might be on the hook for Super Utility Dylan Moore more than we’d like (that is, if he’s not covering for third base).

Speaking of which, is Luis Urias the worst defensive third baseman in baseball? We’ll find out! He sure as shit seems to be worse than Suarez. And I don’t know if Rojas or Moore are much better. Also, what are we going to get out of Polanco at second?

Seems like the potential for a lot of holes. That being said, I don’t care how old Haniger is, there’s no WAY he’s worse than Teoscar Hernandez. We still have Julio and J.P. And our catching figures to be among the best in baseball as well (or, at the very least, the most underrated).

I don’t know if we can count on this defense to carry us. But, as long as it isn’t a total hindrance, then the run prevention half of this team should be among the best in the American League. Certainly good enough to get us to the post-season.

Now, will the hitting do its part? Check back tomorrow (and the rest of this regular season) to find out!