Mariners Lose A Pitcher’s Duel In Red Sox Opener

Quality starts have been rare for The King this season, but now we’ve got 2 pretty great starts out of his last three games, including one against probably the best team in the American League.

Felix followed up a dominant 8-inning, 1-run performance against the Rays with a 3-inning, 6-run performance against the Rays, making the good start look more like an anomaly than a sign of better things to come.  So, the fact that he was able to bounce right back against the Red Sox last night and go 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits, 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts, makes things all the more confusing.

If I’m being honest, this is more in line with what I’d hoped to see out of him.  Sure, there will be disaster starts, but I also expected to see a little vintage Felix sprinkled in, and the fact that we’re starting to see that again is a really good thing for this team.  He’s not as all-important to this team’s success like he was back in his prime, but now it’s different.  It’s more important for ME, as a fan, that he do well this year so he’s allowed to pitch in the post-season when we finally get there, because it would break my fucking heart to see the Mariners get in the playoffs and not see Felix on the mound.

Unfortunately, for those watching the game last night, David Price was just a little bit better, going 7 innings, giving up 1 run on 5 hits, 0 walks, with 7 strikeouts.  In the end, that’s all she wrote:  a 2-1 loss.

The Mariners were 0-2 with RISP, so it’s not like there were a ton of scoring opportunities.  I do find it interesting that Craig Kimbrel walked the first two batters in the 9th with Seager and Healy coming up, and we totally shit the bed from there.  I’m less annoyed by Healy – as he’s been remarkably solid this year once he returned from his April DL stint – though he did ground out into the game-ending double play; but I’m starting to get really pissed about what we’re getting out of Kyle Seager.  Yeah, okay, he traditionally starts slow, but this is getting ridiculous!  He’s hitting .226 and now we’re in mid-June!  HOW MUCH LONGER ARE WE GOING TO HAVE TO WAIT FOR SEAGER TO GET HIS ASS IN GEAR AT THE PLATE?

If this game is a sign of things to come, we’re in for a very fun, very exciting series against the Red Sox this weekend.

Key To The Mariners’ Chances Going Forward

The biggest key to the Mariners’ success to date in 2018 is the starting rotation staying healthy (for the most part) and vastly improving after the month of April (where just about everyone was either adequate or terrible, up to and including James Paxton).  I would argue that even the injury to Erasmo Ramirez was a blessing in disguise, as Wade LeBlanc has made a name for himself with this opportunity.  But, with Paxton, Gonzales, and Leake all overcoming rough starts to the season, turning into reliable and often dominant pieces to this puzzle (alongside LeBlanc’s baffling greatness from Day 1), the Mariners have been able to weather a lot of storms and build up a record that all but guarantees a playoff spot in October.

The biggest hit to the Mariners’ chances going forward is NOT the loss of Robbie Cano for all those games (plus the playoffs) but rather the depth of the Mariners’ bullpen (or lack thereof).

It’s truly remarkable what the Mariners are doing with this scotch taped-together bullpen.  Phelps went down in Spring Training; he was supposed to be an 8th inning type guy (who could also go multiple innings in a pinch).  Scrabble was so terrible at doing his one job (getting lefties out) that he was DFA’d.  Juan Nicasio hasn’t been nearly the dominant force we thought he’d be when we signed him to that big 2-year deal (and is currently on the DL).  Nick Vincent had a rough start to the season and is also currently on the DL (having just had a setback with his groin injury).  Dan Altavilla has had multiple DL stints this year and might be out for a very long time with his arm injury.  Casey Lawrence – while tearing it up in Tacoma as a starter right now – got off to a rough start and had to be sent down after 4 appearances.  Ryan Cook was hot when he returned from the DL, but has been hit around in 3 of his last 4 appearances.  Alex Colome has closer-type stuff, but he’s been far from perfect since coming over from the Rays (especially AGAINST those very Rays).

And yet, if you didn’t get into specifics and just asked me, “How’s Seattle’s bullpen doing this year?”  I’d likely tell you, “Pretty great!”

Edwin Diaz is taking the league by storm in his third year in the bigs.  James Pazos – in his second year on the Mariners – has been outstanding.  Chasen Bradford came out of nowhere to be a reliable back-of-the-bullpen guy to eat a lot of innings for us.  And even those guys who’ve had their struggles from time to time – Nicasio, Vincent, and Colome in particular – have also been successful in a lot of high leverage situations.

With a number of those guys on the DL (hopefully Nicasio & Vincent will be back soon), though, it’s hard not to be concerned about the future.  There are a lot of high leverage innings left this season!  With the way this team plays, with all the close games, it seems like there’s zero margin for error every single night!  Sure, a lot of the guys are young and healthy now, but will they succumb to over-use?

The good thing is, I don’t believe for a minute that the Mariners are finished making moves to improve the big league club.  We have a number of quality starters down in Tacoma, in the event we need long relief help or spot starts.  Nick Rumbelow is another guy who figured big in the Mariners’ bullpen plans before he got hurt; he’s coming back from injury and getting his feet wet in Tacoma as we speak.  Also, it usually doesn’t take a whole lot in trade to get a quality reliever back before the deadline, and with plenty of teams tanking this season, the supply should be pretty significant.

Either way, though, if you told me the Mariners would have to roll with a playoff bullpen consisting of Diaz, Colome, Nicasio, Vincent, Pazos, Bradford, Cook, and Elias, I’d be okay with that.  Two dominant closer types, two solid 8th inning guys behind them, two solid 6th/7th inning guys who can shut down rallies and go multiple innings if need be, along with a wildcard in Cook (who has 8th inning stuff, he just needs to work on his command a little bit) and a spot-starter/long-reliever in Elias … I just don’t know how you improve upon that a whole lot.  Obviously, a lot can happen between now and October.  Guys can get injured, guys can lose their stuff or their confidence, but for the most part that’s a reliable bullpen group.

What most concerns me is what happens if a lot of guys get injured, and we have to start replacing too many of these pieces.  As we’ve seen this year with the bullpen, last year with the rotation, and on and on and on, injuries can mount in a hurry.  We lose Diaz, we’re pretty much shit out of luck.  We lose too many of our 8th inning guys, same deal.  We already use Diaz too much as it is; I don’t want to see him in there for too many save opportunities where he has to get more than 3 outs.  At least not until we’re actually IN the playoffs.

The rotation and the solid hitting will carry us to where we want to go, but to do any significant damage once we get into the post-season, it’s going to rest precariously on the all-important bullpen arms.  I hope they’re up to the challenge.

Fuck You Angels! The Mariners Got The Sweep

When I was a kid, I gave much more of a shit about baseball rivalries than I do now.  I hated the Yankees, obviously.  I disliked the Rangers quite a bit (especially when they signed A-Rod).  In the early 2000’s, I REALLY hated the Athletics, because even though the Mariners won 90+ games from 2000-2003, the A’s were the reason why we only made the playoffs twice (in spite of a couple 93-win campaigns).  In recent years, I guess I hate the Astros, but I don’t even know if they qualify as a rivalry, from my fan’s perspective.  It’s more of a looming dread whenever I see HOU coming up on the little pocket calendar I have hanging up at my desk.  When the switch flipped and Houston became HOUSTON, it’s been utter annihilation (and even before they were good, they still won an annoying amount of times).  Besides, this is really the first year where the Mariners and Astros have been on the same level, record-wise.  They may indeed grow to become my most hated baseball enemy when the season’s over.

But, for now, I think I hate the Angels the most.  Granted, they’re clearly the better franchise.  They’ve actually WON a World Series, for instance.  They’ve been to the playoffs 10 times to our 4; they’ve consistently been more of a winning team in general (and haven’t had those bottom-out years like the Mariners have).  Nevertheless, with the Astros way up there, I’ve always seen the Angels as more of our peers.  Whenever you find the Mariners contending for a wild card spot, the Angels always seem to be right there with us.  Also, from 2010 onward, the Angels only have the 1 playoff appearance, so it’s not like they’ve been super awesome of late.  And, they’ve had a number of players I couldn’t help but despise, from Mike Trout to Jered Weaver to (retroactively) Chone Figgins to John Lackey to Troy Glaus to Tim Salmon to Chuck Finley.  The only Angels player I ever really liked was Vlad, because he was fucking amazing and I secretly never forgave the Mariners for not making a bigger push to sign him when he was a free agent after 2003.  Can you even imagine?  That would’ve been so much fun!

Anyway, the Mariners just swept the Angels yesterday in the 3-game series, and I couldn’t be happier.

I didn’t hold out a ton of hope in yesterday’s game, even when the Angels’ starter was pulled after 2 innings with an injury.  Marco Gonzales really wasn’t as sharp as he’d been of late, only lasting 5 innings, giving up 3 runs.  We knew ahead of time that Edwin Diaz wasn’t going to be available, after pitching 3 games in a row, and in 4 games in 5 days.  That slotted the bullpen all kinds of wonky, and accordingly the bullpen wasn’t as sharp as it had been of late either.  Newcomer Mike Morin – in just his 2nd appearance since being called up from Tacoma – gave up a run on a triple and a sac fly.  Chasen Bradford – who has been all kinds of good this year – gave up 2 solo homers in the 7th to put us behind by 2 runs.  And, there we were, late in the game, facing the prospects of losing for just the third time in the month of June.

That’s when the offense went back to work.  Gamel and Zunino had RBIs in the 2nd to stake the Mariners to a 2-0 lead.  Then, after an RBI by Trout (who somehow didn’t homer in this one, though he did have two hits and two intentional walks), Nelson Cruz hit a 2-run bomb (which is his 5th in the last 5 games) to put the M’s up 4-1.  In the 7th, after Bradford gagged up the homers, Segura hit a guy in on a double; followed by Healy solo homering in the 8th to re-tie the game; ultimately setting the stage for a bottom of the 9th showdown (thanks to a couple scoreless innings out of eventual winner Roenis Elias).

With one out, Segura on at first, Mitch Haniger took a mistake by the Angels pitcher and deposited it into the left field stands for his second walk-off home run of the season.  Not for nothing, but that’s his 16th homer of the season (tying his mark of 2017) and his 52nd RBI (surpassing what he did in 2017, in 29 fewer games).  Can you imagine what it’ll be like if he can stay healthy all year?  He truly is deserving of a slot on the All Star team.

The Mariners are still 0.5 games ahead of the Astros, but are now 7.5 games ahead of the Angels, which is just the best.

Now, we’ve got a 4-game series against the Red Sox.  I hope you like a lot of annoying Boston fans, because they’re coming out in force!  The good news is Chris Sale pitched yesterday, so we lucked into avoiding one of the best lefties in the game.  The bad news is the rest of their rotation is also really fucking good.  And, James Paxton is saddled with Friday’s “Fireworks Night” game, which I believe the Mariners have lost every fucking time they’ve done it.  Here’s to hoping for a little of that old Felix magic tonight as he squares off against David Price.  This series could get REAL dicey in a hurry.

Trout Keeps Hitting Homers & The Mariners Keep Winning Ballgames

Look, all I’m saying is MAYBE Ryan Cook isn’t the guy you want on the mound to face Mike Trout.  Also, MAYBE just walk Mike Trout’s fuckin’ ass every single time he steps up to the plate, because this shit is getting ridiculous.  He’s in Barry Bonds In His Prime Minus All The Steroids Allegedly territory, where at this point as long as it doesn’t mean the go-ahead run comes in, I’d walk Trout with the bases fucking loaded!

And even then … I mean, do you have another set of at-bats coming up?  Maybe walking in that go-ahead run is better than the alternative of him clearing the bases?

He’s fucking Superman, what can you say?  I hate him.  I wish he was on any other team outside of the A.L. West (in which point, I’d probably love him).  He’s like Griffey in his prime, minus all the personality.  The fact that he isn’t the biggest superstar on the planet is ridiculous, because I’d venture to say he’s better at baseball than any other guy is better than everyone else in any other sport (aside from LeBron, of course).

Or, I dunno.  Maybe he’s just this great against the Mariners, and he’s a little more mortal against the rest of the league.  31 homers is the most against any team he’s faced in his career; 81 RBI is the second most against any team behind the 86 he’s hit in against the Rangers; 9 triples (tied for the most; again with the Rangers); 93 runs are again the second most (Rangers, 103).  I guess Texas has a claim in this argument.  Also, Trout’s 117 career strikeouts against the Mariners are the most against any team, but I would argue the lion’s share of those came against Felix in his prime.

Anyway, that’s all preamble to say Trout had 2 more homers last night, after having hit 2 homers on Monday.  He’s already at 23 homers on the season, and 5 of them have come against the Mariners.  Also, his slash line in 5 games is .636/.680/1.545; so if it feels like Mike Trout has fucking obliterated the Seattle Mariners this season, take whatever you’re feeling and quadruple it.

I should point out that the Angels have lost both of those games, so if we’re going to beat the Angels every time Mike Trout hits 2 homers in a game, then sign me up!

On Monday, Wade LeBlanc gave up back-to-back solo homers in the first and didn’t look to be long for this world.  He managed to gut his way through 5 innings, keeping them to just those 2 runs, and allowing the Mariners to overtake them.  Nelson Cruz matched Trout homer for homer, hitting a game-tying 2-run bomb in the bottom of the first, then a go-ahead solo homer in the fourth.  Ryon Healy hit the game-winning 2-run home run in the fourth as well, and the Mariners were able to hold onto a 5-3 victory.  Ryan Cook gave up the second Trout homer in this one, spoiler alert.

Aside from that, the bullpen was rock solid on Monday, going 4 innings and giving up just the 1 run.  Bradford and Pazos both took care of business, and Edwin Diaz got his 24th save of the season, no problem.

On Tuesday, Mike Leake’s only blemish was a solo homer to Trout in the fifth.  He went 6 innings, giving up that 1 run on only 4 hits and 3 walks, with 4 strikeouts.  Both Haniger AND Healy hit 2 homers apiece to pace Trout in this one, which is pretty cool.  It’s been a while since the Mariners brought their big boy sticks to the ballpark.  Haniger hit a solo homer in the first to take the lead; then a 2-run homer in the bottom of the fifth to RE-take the lead.  Healy’s homers were both of the solo variety (in the sixth & eighth), and Segura tacked on an RBI double in the seventh.  Trout’s 2-run homer (again, off of Cook) made it a 1-run game temporarily, but we put them away late by the score of 6-3.

Again, aside from Cook, the bullpen was great.  Pazos got us out of the 7th, Colome took care of business in the 8th, and Diaz got his 25th save of the season … oddly enough by striking Trout out swinging.

This obviously puts the Mariners in a better position.  We were 1-2 against the Angels heading into this series; after today, we can be no worse than .500 against them.  We’re 0.5 games up on the Astros for the division, and a whopping 6.5 games up on the Angels for the second wild card.

I know I made a lot of noise about how difficult June was looking, but with Tampa shitting the bed, and now the Angels losing a lot of important players to injury, the nagging doubter in my brain wants to poo-poo what the Mariners are doing.  But, this shit is seriously impressive any way you slice it.  If we’re all going to boil this season down to how the Mariners play against the Red Sox and Yankees, then feel free to be my guest.  I mean, odds are we’ll have to play one of those teams in the wild card game, and the other of those teams in the ALDS (if we get that far), so we better figure out a way to either beat them or avoid them.  All I’m trying to say is that this is pretty fun, and let’s keep the ball rolling!

You Could Also Say The Seahawks Are Holding Out On Extending Earl Thomas

But, that’s dumb.  Obviously, the title is, “Earl Thomas Is Holding Out.”

He stayed away from the voluntary OTA’s, but that’s a non-story because tons of other guys stayed away from their respective OTA’s as well, including Frank Clark, Byron Maxwell, and so on and so forth.  Then, on Sunday, Earl declared he’d be holding out of the non-voluntary portion of the OTA’s, with the intention of continuing to hold out through Training Camp and possibly beyond.

This isn’t really a surprise.  Earl Thomas is in the final year of his contract.  He’s 29 years old, and he’s looking at one more big payday before he finishes up his career on a string of smaller deals.  His leverage starts and ends at being one of the best safeties in the league for the better part of 8 seasons, so he feels he deserves the respect that comes with being paid at the top end of the safety market.

But, this will be his third contract.  Successful players on their third contracts tend to fail to live up to those contracts, due to age-related declines and an increased injury rate, among other things (most notably: a lack of drive that comes with having made your millions and achieving everything you’ve wanted to achieve in your NFL career).  Earl Thomas is a Hall of Famer.  He’s won a championship.  He’s made more money than he’ll ever need; he can take care of his family for generations.  Everything after this point is icing on the cake.

We’ve already seen cracks in the Earl Thomas facade.  He missed 5 regular season games and the entirety of the 2016 playoffs; he also missed a couple games in 2017 due to injury.  It would be absolutely idiotic to expect him to return to being a guy who’s out on the field for every play of every game for the next 4-5 years.  Can he still play at an extremely high level when he is healthy?  Sure, no problem.  But, at this point, I think you’re hoping and praying with every play he makes that he doesn’t get dinged up in some fashion.

The ideal situation for 2018 – assuming you couldn’t get a peach of a deal in return for his services – was that he’d come in, play every game, lead you back to the playoffs, and then you’d thank him for his services and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.  Now, I think you obviously have to adjust your expectations.  I hope he ONLY holds out for Training Camp, but returns for all the regular season games.  Or, failing that, I hope he ONLY holds out for 2 games like Kam Chancellor did.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be shocked if he held out the max number of games you can hold out while still having 2018 count as a contract year (he can hold out for up to 10 regular season games and still have his contract expire at the end of the year).  I would be shocked if he just retired from the NFL, but I do think it’s on the table, as he seems to be a little erratic.

For me, I don’t have a problem with guys holding out – especially proven elites – as long as they make it back for the regular season.  I don’t think it’s the smartest thing to do – because how many times do we see guys hold out, then get hurt almost immediately after returning to action? – but I can understand the desire to avoid a lot of additional risk ahead of a contract year.  Can you hold out, then get hurt upon returning?  Of course, but you can also get hurt in a non-contact drill on the first day of OTA’s as well, so there’s risk every time you step on the field, practice or otherwise.  It’s when you affect the games that matter when I start to get pissed off.  I’ll forgive a lot, but I still haven’t totally forgiven Kam Chancellor for his 2-game holdout, as I still believe that cost us a shot at a BYE in the playoffs (and, ultimately a shot at going to a third straight Super Bowl).  The difference here is, I don’t think the expectations are as high as they were in 2015.  Will Earl Thomas mean the difference between a playoff spot or not?  Maybe, but I don’t think his impact will be as dramatic as it would’ve been in years past.

Honestly, I’m more interested in how the other safeties respond.  How will Delano Hill look?  Will Bradley McDougald step into more of a leadership role?  Will Tedric Thompson – who everyone seemingly has written off – bounce back and contend for a starting job?  Will the team opt to move Shaquem Griffin to safety and is that potentially a spot where he could thrive?

I’m also interested in seeing if this ramps up the trade talk for Earl again.  Can we improve upon getting a 3rd round pick in return?  Will another team be beset with injuries to their safety room and make a panic move to bring Earl in (much like the Seahawks last year with their offensive and defensive lines)?  I’d be more than okay with the Seahawks letting this holdout play out, and if we like what we have behind Earl, waiting for another team to come calling.  Maybe we can get that 2nd round draft pick that we lost in the Duane Brown deal.  Also, maybe the money we save from this holdout can be carried over into 2019, allowing us to be bigger players in free agency next year.

I also wonder if the Seahawks might be more willing to deal Earl for less.  I hope not, but what if that desperation isn’t there from the rest of the league (especially if it’s a team that’s worried about Earl being on the last year of his deal, and unwilling to want to extend him)?  Might the Seahawks ship him away for a 4th rounder or worse?  Just to cut the tumor out and move on?  I’d rather we hang onto Earl and keep him as a potential shot in the arm in the middle of the season, or whenever he decides to start getting paid again.

Anyway, that’s where we are.  The Seahawks hold all of the cards (in the battle of Earl vs. The Team) and none of the cards (in the battle of the Seahawks vs. The NFL Trade Market).  Regardless of which side you sit on, the fans are the real losers in this scenario, as we not only face the prospect of a watered-down Seahawks defense for part or all of the 2018 season, but we also have to read and hear about this nonstop from now until whenever he returns to the team.  Buckle up, it’s going to be a nauseating ride!

The Mariners Won 3 of 4 Against The Rays

And 6 of 7 in the season series!

The game on Thursday saw the Rays creep back into it late before the Mariners slammed the door.  How would the rest of the weekend look?

Pretty much as expected, all things considered.  Marco Gonzales took the hill on Friday and continued this streak of greatness he’s been on.  He advanced his career high in innings pitched – this time going 7.1 innings of 2-run ball – before giving way to the bullpen.  We put up 4 runs thanks to some solid small ball.  Daniel Vogelbach returned – and had an RBI single – as the Mariners had to put Nicasio and Altavilla on the DL (Nicasio with a minor knee issue; Altavilla with what looks to be a serious arm thing that might keep him out for an extended period of time).  Jean Segura had another hit to bring his average to .340, second in the American League at the time.  And, Mitch Haniger drove in the other two runs as he continued his push to be an All Star.  Alex Colome got one out in the 8th, but ended up allowing the Rays to once again pull within 1 run, necessitating Edwin Diaz needing to get a 4-out save.  He did his job to get his 22nd save on the season.

Saturday was a rematch of the previous week’s duel of Felix vs. Snell; this time, it was a collosal bummer.  Felix struggled through 3 innings, giving up 6 runs; and while Roenis Elias was able to limit the damage in his 4 innings of work, giving up just 1 run, the offense couldn’t quite chip away at the deficit (going 0 or 11 with RISP).  So, we lost by a score of 7-3.  Newcomer Mike Morin joined the relief corps; he hasn’t had a good season at the Major League level since 2014, but he ended up striking out 2 in his scoreless inning of work, so we’ll see how he does in Nicasio’s absence.  He obviously won’t be thrust into an 8th inning role, but that’s neither here nor there.

The Mariners bounced right back on Sunday.  James Paxton struggled a bit (for him), but still went 7 innings, giving up 3 runs and striking out 10.  Pazos let a runner get on in his 0.1 innings of work, who would eventually come around to score with Alex Colome on the mound (he would let all three victories get to within 1 run, just to make things interesting against his old club).  Nevertheless, Edwin Diaz got his 23rd save of the season, thanks to some suspect baserunning from the Rays, making the final, baffling out at home plate.  Cruz, Zunino, and Seager all homered to account for the 5 runs the M’s scored.

We now sit atop the A.L. West with the Houston Astros (1 game better in the loss column, 1 game worse in the win column), 4.5 games up on the Angels, who come to town for a 3-game series starting tonight.  They just saw their prized offseason acquisition – Shohei Ohtani – go on the DL (with a chance he might need Tommy John surgery and not return until the 2020 season), so things are going pretty poorly down in Anaheim.  With the Mariners flying high – and Felix not set to start until the Boston series – now is the perfect time to pounce on our greatest rivals for that 2nd wild card spot (while hopefully keeping the Astros at bay for the division).  It’s sad that we have to start dreading every Felix start, but that’s apparently the world in which we live.

We’re officially entering the teeth of the schedule:  3 vs. the Angels, 3 vs. the Yankees, and 7 vs. the Red Sox (4 at home before an East Coast road trip next week).  After some cupcakes, we’ll face the Angels 6 more times before the All Star Break, so it’s time for the Mariners to play their very best!

Mike Leake Is Killing It For The Mariners

The Mariners have been on such a tremendous run of pitching, they actually needed to shoehorn Alex Colome into this game regardless of the score.  Pretty much the only way he wasn’t going to see action was if the Mariners had a comfortable-enough lead, and the starter was cruising along at a low-enough pitch count to go the complete game.

Mike Leake damn near made it.

I want to say he was in the low 90’s as far as pitches go when he came out to start the bottom of the 9th inning – the Mariners holding a comfortable-enough 5-1 lead – so the margin for error was pretty thin.  But, he’d had a number of single-digit innings with the ol’ pitch count, so as long as he didn’t allow a base runner – or run into a couple of super-long at-bats – it looked like he was going to get the chance to finish it.  Unfortunately, Anticlimax Alert:  Leake gave up a leadoff double and was promptly yanked.  That’s where things got interesting.

The M’s almost made a mockery of Tampa’s “opener” last night – loading the bases with 1 out on a single and a couple walks – but he was able to wiggle out of the jam.  Nevertheless, while their gambit may have theoretically paid off (the M’s used up their top 6 batters in that scoreless first inning, before the ostensible “starter” came in at the top of the 2nd), we were still able to get to him early and often.  We scored three runs in that very 2nd inning (the bottom of our lineup getting two of the hits to turn it over to Dee Gordon & Co.), punctuated by a Mitch Haniger 2-run single.  We got our fourth run off of a Denard Span solo homer (his second in as many days).  Span has a slash line of .290/.333/.516 in 9 games since coming over to Seattle against a slash line of .238/.364/.385 with Tampa earlier this year.  I once again commend Jerry Dipoto for buying low on a solid veteran who was bound to push his production back up towards his career norms.  Finally, the Mariners concluded their scoring with a solo homer by Haniger in the 5th.  Before that double in the ninth (that would eventually come around to score; spoiler alert), Mike Leake had only given up a solo homer in his first 8 innings of work.  Not too shabby.

With a runner on second base and no outs, Alex Colome got the first two batters in quick order.  Then, he had a hard-luck HBP (with the guy seriously ON TOP of the plate), a single up the middle, and a bases-loaded 3-run double to make the game 5-4.  Edwin Diaz started to warm up at this point – as presumably Colome would be given one more opportunity to try to get out of this thing alive – and as chance would have it, we wouldn’t need him.  Colome got the final guy to ground out to third (on a really excellent play by Seager, who has been playing better defense than his Gold Glove season of 2014 and is VERY deserving of his second such award) and crisis was officially averted (as the Mariners got to add a cheapo 1-run victory to their ledger).

But, let’s go back to Mike Leake for a moment.  I was pretty disgruntled with him early in the season.  He came over at the end of August, 2017, and had one of the more memorable Septembers I’ve ever seen from a trade acquisition, going 3-1 in 5 starts, with all 5 seeing him pitch at least into the 6th inning, while giving up 3 runs or less.  It was enough to lead a lot of fans to expect really great things out of him in 2018 (in spite of the fact that his career numbers are more or less just okay, but not in that elite realm we saw out of him for a month).

Leake proceeded to prove my skepticism right in the early going of 2018.  He had 2 quality starts out of 6 in April, with 2 really awful starts (lowlighted by a game where he couldn’t even get through 4 innings, while giving up 8 runs), and the only reason he had a winning record at all (with his 6.48 ERA) was due to some outstanding run support (40 runs in those 6 games, while averaging 8.75 runs in the 4 games the Mariners won when he started).

He’s been considerably better since the calendar flipped to May (and now June).  In 7 games, he’s thrown 5 quality starts, going at least 7 innings four times, and 8 innings twice.  He’s also dropped his ERA two full points, down to 4.46, while pitching into the 6th inning all 7 times, and being super economical with his pitch counts.  Quite frankly, this run he’s been on is BETTER than what we saw out of him last September, which I really didn’t think was likely or all that possible.

Leake – along with Gonzales and LeBlanc – has been one of the better surprises for me this season, as the Mariners now stand at 39-23, still a game up (two in the loss column) on the Astros.

Three more to go against the Rays.  Aside from Felix vs. Blake Snell Part 2, we should be favored in the others.  I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see another Mariners sweep (and a 7-0 season series against the Rays, which is insane).

No One On The Mariners Implodes Quite Like Juan Nicasio

You can’t win ’em all.  You certainly can’t win ’em all against the likes of the Astros.  I often talk about how we can’t have nice things, and sweeping the Astros is pretty much the nicest thing you can have (even if it’s just a 2-game series), so there was just no way.

And yet, there we were.  We scrimped and we saved and we scratched and we clawed against a guy who has owned our asses for years, Lance McCullers (including last night, he’s 6-2 with a sub-3 ERA in his career in 11 games), to get a 4-3 lead heading into the bottom of the 7th.  Wade LeBlanc didn’t really have it (again, against one of the best teams in the league) and was pulled after 4 innings.  But, the vast majority of the bullpen was able to keep the Astros from scoring.

Except for Juan Nicasio, who came in to start the 7th inning and got exactly 0 outs while giving up 4 hits and 4 runs (3 earned) in 4 at bats.

It was all right there.  This is what the team was built around.  Get a lead heading into the 7th inning.  Then, for the final 9 outs, we go Nicasio-Colome-Diaz, bingo bango bongo.  The problem is, it doesn’t work very well if even one of those guys doesn’t have it.

Now, on the bright side, those guys HAVE had it for most of the season.  Nicasio had 8 consecutive scoreless appearances leading into last night.  In 30 appearances on the season, Nicasio has put up a zero in 20 of them.  Not elite, but pretty good.  Not, I don’t think, what the Mariners thought they were getting when they signed him to a 2-year, $17 million contract before the season (that’s a lot of money for a guy to only be effective 2/3 of the time), but that’s how it goes sometimes.  The M’s paid Scrabble $11 million over 2 years just to get left handers out and he couldn’t even do THAT; sometimes shit goes tits up and you just have to eat it.

The point is, Nicasio has flashed dominance this season, but he’s pretty fucking far from what he was even a season ago, when he had a sub-3 ERA and a 2.0 WAR (in 2018 he’s a plus-5 ERA and a -0.5 WAR).  Yeah, 2/3 of the time he’s putting up zeroes, but he’s got 3 blown saves and 3 losses so far and we’re not even halfway through the season.  Maybe he’s being over-used, but he’s also getting paid like a guy who’s supposed to appear in 70+ games.

And yeah, when he blows up, it’s pretty spectacular.  This is already the second time he’s given up 4 runs in less than an inning of work.  He has two other games where he’s given up 2 runs in an inning.  He’s had five games where he’s given up 3 or more hits in an inning or less.  I guess the good thing you can say is that he doesn’t walk guys (only 2 on the season in 28.2 innings of work) and he settled down on his homer problem (4 on the season, but only 1 after mid-April).  Nevertheless, he’s lobbing in some meatballs that are getting hit on the reg, and if he doesn’t find a way to miss more bats, it’s going to be difficult to trust him going forward.

The Mariners Are Going All The Fucking Way Baby Yeah!

I’m absolutely stunned by this Mariners team right now.  Nothing about this makes any sense, but I DON’T CARE!

Ever since Jackie Z & Co. unofficially (but sort of officially) abandoned the Youth Movement – starting in 2014, with the signing of Robinson Cano – we’ve been on an Every Other Year sort of track with this team.  In 2014, we were pretty good; we won 87 games and were a game out of the second wild card.  In 2015, with expectations pretty high, we sucked.  In 2016, we were pretty good again; we won 86 games this time and were 3 games out of the second wild card.  In 2017, with expectations pretty high again, we sucked again.  So, it’s 2018 now, and by that logic it’s time to be pretty good again!  I think we’re all in agreement – and have been since before the season started – that the Mariners would probably be in contention for a wild card spot, even in spite of the fact that they did nothing over the off-season to improve their rotation.  After the obvious divisional favorites, I figured the M’s would be one of the 4 or 5 best remaining teams to compete for those 2 wild card spots, and I figured they’d fall just short in the end.

I’ll reiterate – as I do every time I even APPROACH getting my hopes up – that this could all still happen.  Everything could still fall apart and/or another team or two could get insanely hot, and we could still fall just short in the end.

But, I mean, come on.

The Mariners are now 38-22.  For those that don’t feel like doing the math, that’s 16 games over .500!  Are you literally shitting me out of your ass right now?  Someone posted on Twitter that this is one of the four best starts for the M’s after 60 games in franchise history (alongside all those great teams from 2001-2003, that the second wild card team was created for).  At what point do we go from cautiously optimistic that this team can hold the Angels at bay for that second wild card spot (they are currently 5 games behind us) and start talking about the limitless possibilities that this team can achieve?

We’re 2 games ahead of the Astros for the division lead, after beating their asses by the score of 7-1 last night.  James Paxton got 2 outs into the 8th inning, giving up just 1 run.  We jumped all over Dallas Keuchel (scoring 4 in the first and 2 more in the second), making this one of the worst starts of his career, as he went 6.2 innings, giving up 7 runs on 7 hits, a walk, and only 3 strikeouts.  Seager hit a 3-run oppo-shot off the lefty, Zunino crushed a 2-run bomb against the glass, and Segura capped things off with a solo job in the fifth.

Sure, it was a Paxton start, and you generally expect to win these games when he’s healthy (and especially when he’s rolling like he’s been since the beginning of May), but would anyone have been shocked if we lost yesterday?  Keuchel traditionally kills us, as does the Astros’ offense.  Since the Astros joined the A.L. West – heading into yesterday’s game – we were 41-58 against them dating back to the beginning of the 2013 season (and remember, the first two years, the Astros were objectively one of the worst teams in baseball).  At this point, I’m just conditioned to losing to this team.  And not only did we win, we CRUSHED them!  This wasn’t one of those 1-0 jobs where Paxton is just out of his mind and we get a lucky run late; this was the Mariners stomping on their throats from the get-go and never letting up!

So, can we dream a little bit?  Let’s have just a little bit of fun before it all falls apart on us.

If the season ended today, the Mariners would be in the playoffs for the first time since 2001.  As divisional winners, we wouldn’t have to worry about a 1-game playoff.  It would be the Yankees against the Astros in that game, which is huge, because those are two VERY big threats, one of which will have to go down without facing the Mariners.

What happens next?  Well, the team with the best record in the American League plays the Wild Card winner.  That team figures to be the Red Sox, another VERY big threat.  So, again, two VERY big threats will be playing one another, without facing the Mariners.

Who would the Mariners play in the ALDS?  None other than the Cleveland Indians.  Remember that terrible A.L. Central?  Yeah, the Indians are 31-28 right now and look exceedingly mediocre (the second-best team in that division, not for nothing, is the Detroit Tigers at 29-33).  The Mariners are finished playing the Indians for the regular season, but we went 5-2 against them.  We actually have winning records against all the teams in that division, so you figure the ALDS is looking mighty good for us.

Beyond that, it’s just a 7-game ALCS standing between us and our first-ever World Series appearance.  A lot would have to go right for us to get there, but it doesn’t sound as impossible as it did just yesterday at this time.  And, since no one in the National League really impresses the hell out of you, who’s to say this year couldn’t be THE year?

I know that’s all nonsense, and there’s still PLENTY of time for things to go sideways, but this is fun, isn’t it?  It hasn’t been THIS fun since 2001.  Where now my expectation is that the Mariners will win on any given night, vs. the other way around.  And, to their credit, they’re finding ways to get it done on a regular basis.

The Mariners Swept The Rays, Are In First Place

This is the latest the Mariners have been in first place in the A.L. West since 2003?  Am I reading that right?

This is … utter insanity.  I keep waiting for these guys to fall apart and this team keeps proving me wrong!  We’ve seen good stretches of Mariners baseball before; in each of the last 4 years, for instance, we’ve flirted with the concept of contention.  Maybe the M’s have a great week or two, maybe they have an outstanding road trip or something and head home to face a division rival for a huge weekend series, and what happens next?  They fall apart.  And, it’s not necessarily always against the likes of the Astros!  This team has been on some runs and were set to face some sub-.500 competition and they would STILL find ways to lose to those teams, and derail all the progress they’d made scratching and clawing to get to that point!

Hell, when the Astros were the worst team in baseball – before all their prospects hit it big – we’d STILL lose to their fucking asses at least half the time!

What’s the difference this time?  The Mariners are still beating all the teams they’re supposed to beat.  They’re beating the Twins, and the Royals, and the Tigers, and the Blue Jays, and the White Sox, and the Athletics, and the Rangers, and the Indians.  Coming into this series, the Rays were one game over .500; they were a scrappy group of battlers who might’ve been JUST the thorn in our side to – as I mentioned – derail all of the progress we’ve made lately.  And yet, what happened?  We beat them in all three games by a combined 4 runs!

On Friday, we saw another Mike Leake gem:  7 innings, 2 runs, 6 hits, 0 walks, 8 strikeouts.  Colome got us to the 9th with a 1-run lead, but unfortunately Diaz had his 3rd blown save of the season to send it to extras.  We eventually won it in the bottom of the 13th (after 2 scoreless innings from Roenis Elias, who was called up to replace the DFA’d Scrabble; I’ll be happy to not have to talk about that guy ever again) on a Mitch Haniger solo homer to center.

On Saturday, we saw the continuing emergence of Marco Gonzales, who went 6.2 innings of 1-run ball, with 5 hits, 2 walks, and 6 strikeouts.  He continues to be so impressive; I love it!  Cruz, Seager, and Healy accounted for the 3 runs, and the bullpen was perfect (with Diaz getting his 20th save of the season).

On Sunday, we saw the return of Dominant King Felix:  8 innings of 1-run ball, with 5 hits, 1 walk, and 7 strikeouts.  I say dominant even though it wasn’t Felix at his peak; it wasn’t Perfect Game Felix or anything.  But, even when Felix was a Cy Young guy, he had games like this:  he’d dance around a couple jams here and there, but he’d go deep into the ballgame nevertheless, keeping the team in it.  Indeed, it was so much like a Classic King Felix game that the Mariners didn’t score any runs until the 8th inning!  It was 1-0 for the longest time, because the Rays’ Blake Snell absolutely murdered us through 6 innings, striking out 12 (including the first 7 of the game, to tie the A.L. record, and 8 of the first 9 through the lineup), walking 0, and giving up only 2 weak singles.  We were fortunate to foul off a bunch of pitches and otherwise get his pitch count high so they had to pull him early.  We finally scratched a couple runs across in the bottom of the 8th thanks to some elite small ball from the likes of Span and Gordon, and Diaz was able to make it hold up with his 21st save of the season.

As for the Felix show yesterday, I’ll say this:  I was thrilled for him.  He REALLY needed that.  Now, it’s the Rays, and their lineup looks like one of the more impotent ones in the American League (at least from what I’ve seen of it), but with the way Felix had been going, that didn’t matter.  He would’ve struggled against AAA hitting; so hopefully it’s something mechanical they were able to work out.  He gets a rematch against the Rays (and the same opponent in Snell) this week, so hopefully it goes the same as before.

We’re now 37-22; the Astros are 37-24.  The Yankees are still a ridiculous 37-17, but they don’t matter at the moment; they’re the Astros’ problem!  Because WE own the division right now!  And, not for nothing, but we’re 5.5 games over the Angels, which is a lot of breathing room (but I’ll always accept a little more).

Of course, we have a 2-game set in Houston starting tomorrow, so this very well could be a short-term division lead.  They have the best rotation in all of baseball; but we have Paxton and LeBlanc going, our two hottest pitchers!  If anyone is going to keep us in these games, it’s those guys!

Now that I’ve said that, watch us get blown out and swept.  But, today’s an off-day; WE CAN’T LOSE TODAY (knock on wood)!