What A Shitty Year For Seattle Sports!

As we celebrate this Veterans Day as only we can – by sleeping in, going out to breakfast, reading the newspaper, and enjoying a most-unexpected day off of work – let us reflect on the year that was in Seattle sports. It’s been a bloody nightmare!

The absolute best thing you can say about 2021 in Seattle is that the Mariners managed to win 90 games and look poised for greater things in the immediate years to come. But, that’s still a team that failed to make the playoffs, and was clearly playing unsustainably above their talent level.

Wanna take a walk down memory lane? I don’t think you do! But, I’m going to take you anyway, so submit to my emotional kidnapping and try to think happy thoughts.

The 2021 sports year kicked off – more or less – on January 9th, as the 2020 division-winning Seahawks hosted the hated Los Angeles Rams. That was another team you could’ve argued played above its talent level, but as a 12-win team playing at home – against a team intentionally going with its backup quarterback, because its starter (Jared Goff) was so mediocre – I think most of us expected the Seahawks to advance to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Instead, that backup quarterback got injured early, and the mediocre Goff led the Rams to a 30-20 victory.

2021 also welcomed into the world a Washington Huskies basketball team. Heading into the calendar year, the Dawgs were already a paltry 1-7. The Huskies would go on to finish the year 5-21; no hyperbole: probably the worst Husky basketball team I’ve ever seen. And that’s kinda saying something.

Let’s see, following the Super Bowl, we had that whole kerfuffle with Russell Wilson possibly trying to talk his way out of town with his media campaign to voice his frustrations with A) losing, and B) getting sacked so much. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, but not before a zillion words were spilled onto Internet pages about the Seahawks, Wilson, and the list of teams he’d be willing to be traded to. Boy, did those weeks suck!

Then, we get to the Mariners. I can’t deny that was a fun team to watch, but in the early going it was a little rough. James Paxton got injured in his first start, more arms went down in those first few weeks, we were clinging to an ill-advised 6-man rotation even though we literally didn’t have six viable starters to throw out there (often going with miserable Bullpen Days, which severely taxed the biggest strength on this team, and only once translated to an actual win on the field). Sure, the Mariners won 90 games, but this team was below .500 for much of the first half of the year.

Another kerfuffle popped up at the trade deadline, with the Kendall Graveman deal that was actually a win for the Mariners’ organization, but was portrayed as the biggest catastrophe ever to befall Seattle sports (approx). As the season went on, the Mariners pulled together and impressed the hell out of most everyone, but by the last month or so there were too many games to make up in too short of time. The bottom line was: these Mariners weren’t very good against the teams they needed to beat to legitimately compete in the playoffs; the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox. Time will tell if the 2021 Mariners were a mirage, and we see a huge unintentional step-back in 2022.

If you’re into the Seattle Storm, it appears they largely underachieved, and lost in the first round of the WNBA playoffs. I’ll also add that 2021 was yet ANOTHER year without the Supersonics in Seattle, always adding at least a little bit to our collective sports misery.

Then, football season arrived, and BOY has that been a shitshow!

So much has been written about the under-achieving Washington Huskies. They were expected to contend with Oregon for the Pac-12 North title, which also means they were expected to contend with Oregon for the Pac-12 Conference title (because the South will rise again sucks). We promptly lost to Montana in the first game of the season, dashing those hopes. Then, we got fucking destroyed in Michigan. Yadda yadda yadda, and here we are, with the offensive coordinator FINALLY fired, the head coach suspended for at least the one game (though, looking more and more like he’ll be fired sooner or later), sitting with a 4-5 record and a high likelihood that we fail to qualify for a bowl game. Unbelievable.

The Seahawks have proven to be just as aggravating. We started off with a 2-5 record before blowing out a bad Jags team at home two weeks ago. Our iron man of a quarterback landed on the IR and missed games for the first time in his career. We continued to employ Geno Smith, who led us to a 1-2 record in Wilson’s absence. The offense – which was supposed to be more efficient and improved – has gone in the tank for large stretches of games/this season. And the defense started off as miserable as it was at the beginning of last year, before a turnaround happened (mostly thanks to the schedule easing up). We have no first round draft pick next year – going to the Jets in the Jamal Adams deal – so we can’t even root for the Seahawks to tank! It’s my worst nightmare, manifested. We’ll see if they can turn things around, but I’m not holding my breath.

I was kind of hoping the inaugural season of the Seattle Kraken might be a nice little wintertime distraction, but so far they’re 4-8-1 and look to be pretty punchless both offensively and defensively.

I don’t care enough about soccer to give a shit about what the Sounders are doing.

My last hope was the Washington Husky basketball team, potentially-rejuvenated with a vast influx of transfers. But, they just lost their season-opener to a team they were favored over by 20 points. Feels likely to be more of the same as last season’s team.

Maybe some Hot Stove action in baseball could improve my outlook on life in the weeks ahead, but I know in my gut the Mariners will find a way to make all the wrong moves to continue being among the worst-run organizations in all of professional sports. When you’re hanging all of your hopes on the Mariners … I mean, can it get any worse than that?

2021 has been a sports disaster for Seattle. I’d say it’s time to adopt another city’s teams and move on with my life, but I’m a sickeningly loyal man. This is the laundry I’ve attached myself to. This is the laundry I’ll die with.

Yusei Kikuchi’s Mariners Tenure Has Concluded

In Understandable Yet Bummer News, the Mariners declined the option to keep Yusei Kikuchi for another 4 years and $66 million (which was an option built into the original contract). Kikuchi had the right to initiate a player option of 1 year and $13 million, but he declined that as well (effectively saving the Mariners $13 million) so he could become a full-blown free agent.

It’s sad, but you can see why everyone did what they did.

The Mariners couldn’t possibly keep Kikuchi at that salary and duration given what he’s shown on the field through three seasons. He has a 4.97 ERA over 70 starts (with a FIP of 4.93 to show his mediocrity was no fluke). Even by the low standards of the Quality Start (at least 6 innings, with 3 or fewer runs given up), he was sub-par:

  • 2019 – 12 Quality Starts in 32 games
  • 2020 – 3 Quality Starts in 9 games
  • 2021 – 14 Quality Starts in 29 games

You can make the argument that he’s improved every year – 5.46 ERA in 2019, 5.17 ERA in 2020, 4.41 ERA and an All Star Game in 2021 – but within his most recent season he faltered severely down the stretch. Considering he was part of a 90-win Mariners team trying to make the playoffs, it was a bad sign that he lost his starting job down the stretch and didn’t appear in a game after September 23rd. His year took a drastic downturn immediately after he was named to the All Star team, with an egregious cratering in his final month with the team.

There’s just no sugar-coating it. He was a prized free agent we signed from Japan as a 28 year old rookie, and he hasn’t lived up to our hopes or expectations. I don’t think it’s totally his fault, though! That’s a lot of pressure to put on anyone. He became, overnight, one of our highest-paid players, joining an organization desperate to turn its fortunes around. He was to be the leader of this starting rotation, while at the same time moving across the world and dealing with the culture shock therein. And, I believe he also lost his father in that first year, making the transition even more brutal emotionally. So, when people say a lot of Kikuchi’s issues were mental – that he had the stuff, but just couldn’t put it all together – you can kind of see why the mental part would be difficult to overcome.

He’s a lefty who throws in the mid-90s and occasionally touches the high-90s, with a plus-splitter to get guys out. But, he also nibbles too much. Tries to get too perfect. And doesn’t really have that bulldog mentality when runners get on base. So, if he gives up a bloop single or takes a hard-luck walk because the umpire is blind, his problems get compounded by subsequent hitters doing the real damage. This would be especially maddening in the rare occasions when the Mariners’ hitters would give him a comfortable lead, and he’d gag it all away.

Nevertheless, there were a lot of people who expected Kikuchi to accept the player option for $13 million. It would stand to reason; it’s unlikely anyone else is going to give him that kind of scratch on a 1-year deal. You might also think that he’d want to make good – or prove the Mariners wrong – by showing he’s worth the money he was originally signed to.

But, as was noted at the end of the 2021 season – and probably expressed to him through whatever channels – the Mariners were clearly ready to move on. Which means his spot in the rotation was by no means guaranteed. My expectation would’ve been the M’s allowing him to compete, but probably having him settle into a long-relief role, to make occasional spot starts (or to get promoted if injuries cropped up). And, it sounds like Kikuchi wants a legitimate opportunity to earn a starting job.

The cool thing about this is: it saves us that $13 million I mentioned earlier. For a team that currently sits 26th out of 30 MLB teams in payroll for the 2022 season, that is outstanding! None of the teams below us – with hypothetically more money to spend – won anywhere near 90 games, so we’re in a really good spot all around.

There’s no downside here, because there are plenty of starting options available who can give us what Kikuchi gave us – or hopefully better – at a much cheaper price. We’ve yet to see where all of this money is going to be spent, but it’s nice to have it available. This was a bit of good news following the conclusion of the World Series (also HAHA Astros, you bloody cheaters!). Now it’s time to go to work.

Seattle Mariners Trade & Free Agent Targets For 2022

I’m gonna tell you right now, that title is misleading! Because I have zero idea who is actually available in trade or free agency across the Major League Baseball landscape. Besides, I don’t like getting into the weeds of playing fantasy baseball like that; let the more thorough and dedicated Mariners blogs try to tackle that speculative nonsense.

I’m here to talk about the holes on the Mariners, where they need to fill with outside guys vs. where they can afford to fill with prospects.

The easiest start is to look at the guys we have who we want to keep around. They are, in no particular order:

  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Ty France (1B/DH/2B)
  • Abraham Toro (2B/3B)
  • Mitch Haniger (RF)
  • Jarred Kelenic (CF/LF)
  • Kyle Lewis (CF/LF)
  • Cal Raleigh (C)

Even though I’ve listed three outfielders there, and you have to figure Julio Rodriguez is going to earn a call-up at some point in 2022, I think the M’s will nevertheless seek out a veteran outfielder to throw into the mix. Meaning that I don’t see Fraley being quite so prominent a figure in that group; maybe as a reserve, but I could see him getting dealt just as easily. If we go for a high-priced free agent outfielder, we can let Haniger walk at the end of the 2022 season, or try to trade him mid-year, if things aren’t going so well in the standings. That would then open the door for J-Rod in the second half of the season and beyond. Kyle Lewis is obviously the wild card here; will he return from his knee injury? Will he ever be able to play a full season? You have to anticipate he’ll be in the mix for a good number of DH days in a best-case scenario, but I don’t think you can count on him being a full-time player until you see him prove it on the field.

The other obvious addition is either a second or third baseman. The loss of Kyle Seager is significant here, but we were always looking to improve on that spot in the lineup anyway. I expect Toro to take whatever position is left over; I’m hoping there are lots of good free agent options available. Even if we have to pull in a short stop, we should be able to slide Crawford over to second base without too much of a headache.

We also need another catcher. Tom Murphy isn’t really worth keeping around; his bat is fundamentally broken. The new guy should be a relatively good catcher who can play on a regular basis, as we still don’t know if Raleigh is our #1 just yet.

Go ahead and pencil in White and Torrens for bench spots with Fraley at the moment, though I don’t know how long that’ll last. Will Dylan Moore be back? Doubtful, but we’ll see.

Let’s look at the pitching:

  • Chris Flexen (SP)
  • Marco Gonzales (SP)
  • Logan Gilbert (SP)
  • Paul Sewald (RP)
  • Drew Steckenrider (RP)
  • Casey Sadler (RP)
  • Diego Castillo (RP)
  • Ken Giles (RP)

The Mariners need two starting pitchers, minimum. I would expect one to be a quality, top-of-the-rotation type of guy, and one maybe more of a middling veteran to eat up innings. We’ve also got three minor league prospects at the top of our farm system – Emerson Hancock, George Kirby, and Matt Brash – who are all ready to bust down the door in 2022. Brash very nearly made his debut last month, but ultimately wasn’t needed. I think it would be foolish to bank on one of those guys taking a job out of Spring Training, but I would also expect one or more of them to be called up before June to help out with injuries and whatnot. If 2022 isn’t the playoff campaign we all hope it is, then my guess is we’ll see all three of those guys get opportunities to make the rotation for 2023 and beyond.

As for the bullpen, your guess is as good as mine as to what that’ll end up being. Bullpen pieces get moved all the time. Guys get injured, guys get worse for no reason. Every time we think we have the bullpen figured out heading into a season, it seems to always blow up in our faces. But, from the looks of things, we have lots of guys in the minors who are in the mix. I would love to see a better left-handed bullpen option emerge, either from within or outside the organization.

I’m looking at two big bats (one outfield, one infield), a solid starting-calibre catcher, two starting pitchers, and a lefty reliever. Once Seager and Kikuchi are gone, we will have well below $40 million on our payroll, so there is PLENTY of room to spend. We also have assurances from ownership that the Mariners are in a position to increase spending, which you would hope would be a given, but with this organization you never can tell.

The Mariners should be one of the most exciting teams to watch in the Hot Stove portion of the offseason. Does that always translate to wins on the field? As the San Diego Padres just showed us: not always. There’s reason for optimism in 2022, but I’m incapable of giving 100% blind faith over to this organization that they’ll do the right thing and make the right moves. I’ve been burned too many times; we all have.

Nevertheless, as I’ve mentioned before, I do feel an excitement level for next season that I haven’t experienced in decades! Good or bad, the 2022 Mariners will be interesting as hell.

Where Do The Seahawks Go From Here?

And, quite frankly, where do I go with my fandom from here?

I don’t expect the Seahawks to go into Pittsburgh and win this Sunday night. I come on here before every game and give my thoughts on what I think will happen; it’s usually a Friday ritual before the game two days later. Two things have happened this week that lead me to believe the streak might be coming to a close at some point: Russell Wilson mashed up a finger on his throwing hand, and the Kraken started playing games that count in the standings.

As long as I have Kraken games to watch, I’m going to try to write about them. Hockey is new and fun and interesting and I’d like to keep up on it in the early going, to see what soaks in. I haven’t fully embraced a new sport since the tail-end of 1995 with the Mariners and Major League Baseball. I was 14 at the time; my brain was much more malleable. I spent all of 1996 devouring that team – and the game as a whole – to try to learn all the little nuances. I read the newspaper most every day, I poured over the box scores; I was obsessed. As a result, even though that 1996 team severely underwhelmed (mostly thanks to a Randy Johnson injury that knocked him out for most of the year), that was probably my favorite Mariners team. A scrappy bunch of underdogs that couldn’t quite recapture the magic of their 1995 predecessors, but still had lots of fun players to root for (many of whom would go on to make the playoffs again in 1997).

I’m 40 now; I don’t expect I’ll be quite so rabid about the Kraken. But, right now, I’m much more interested in them than I am with a go-nowhere Seahawks team missing its best player in what’s looking more and more like a Season From Hell.

I know Geno Smith looked semi-competent in the fourth quarter of that Rams game last week, but again I would contend the Rams were playing him differently than Wilson, to try to bleed clock and force us to be perfect on multiple drives. I also know it’s easy to try to talk yourself into this not being the Same Ol’ Geno Smith of old. Of New York Jets fame. The huge, embarrassing bust who could never get out of his own way. The walking back-breaking interception waiting to happen. It’s fun to think this older, wiser Geno Smith might have stepped up his game significantly in the years he’s been backing up Russell Wilson.

I think that’s nuts. I think that’s a great way to get your hopes up, only to find them dashed on the floor as the Steelers’ defense gets in his face early and often. He’ll revert to his old habits in short order, I guarantee it. Lots of unnecessary checkdowns. Lots of errant passes. Lots of turnovers and 3 & Outs, with brief glimpses of competency.

It’s also easy to talk yourself into the Seahawks’ defense stepping up and carrying this team for a few weeks. What have they done so far that would lead you to believe they’re capable of that? Sure, the Steelers on offense have looked moderately inept with a WELL past-his-prime Roethlisberger looking like he should have retired three years ago. But, he’s not dead yet, and I don’t know if he’s had the luxury of going up against a secondary this mediocre.

Of course, Tre Flowers was just waived this week – picked up by the Bengals, for some reason – so maybe there’s a little Addition By Subtraction going on? Let’s hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.

I kind of expect this game to be ugly and low scoring, but I also think it’ll end up being a blowout, where they beat us by multiple scores. Maybe something like 20-3?

And if this is indeed what we have to look forward to as Seahawks fans, then I can’t see myself giving nearly as much of a shit. My coverage of the Washington Huskies has been flushed down the toilet; I didn’t even watch one minute of the loss to Oregon State! There’s no way I’m driving myself batty with a Seahawks team that’s going to embarrass us on a weekly basis.

I have better things to do with my time. Like watch Kraken games.

The 2021 Seattle Mariners State Of The Young Guys

I promised to get around to talking about the young guys, and here I am delivering on that promise!

As I noted previously, there’s reason for both optimism and pessimism surrounding the immediate future of the Seattle Mariners. If we glom onto the negative, you’ve got an unsustainable offensive model where the team sucks at hitting, except for very specific points in any given ballgame where the team comes together to score JUST enough to win by a run or two. Otherwise, we’re looking at severe blowout losses that throw our run differential out of whack. Furthermore, the people doing most of the hitting are veterans, while many of the young guys struggled mightily.

I’m going to try to look on the bright side with this post, but you know me. Some of that negativity is bound to creep in.

I’ll start with a point I made in Tuesday’s post: J.P. Crawford and Ty France are far from old fogeys. Just because they’ve been around the bigs for a few years doesn’t mean they’re past their primes or anything; Crawford will be 27 in January and France is 27 now. We control Crawford through 2024 and France through 2025; I don’t care about any years beyond those right now, if I’m being honest. The “Win Forever” concept is a nice idea in theory, but let’s just get to the initial “Win” part before we start talking in terms of multiple years or decades down the line.

I would argue there’s a lot to like about the way Jarred Kelenic finished his season. Sure, his rookie season was miserable for the vast majority of it – finishing with a -1.7 WAR in 93 games – but his September/October were leaps and bounds better than the rest of his year. It can be easy to discount a late-season surge like that, but this wasn’t a guy getting a cup of coffee at the end of a losing year. This was a guy who worked through his initial struggles – largely at the Major League level – and found a breakthrough after a lot of trial and error. It doesn’t mean he’s necessarily going to start 2022 on fire and be an All Star the rest of his career, but it doesn’t rule it out either. Regardless, I would expect a huge improvement in his overall numbers next year; I don’t think we have much to worry about when it comes to Kelenic. We know, if nothing else, he’s going to continue to put in the work to be one of the greats.

I also want to talk about Logan Gilbert up top, as another young stud who should be a mainstay for a good, long while. On the whole, he made 24 starts, had a 1.0 WAR and was up and down with his production at the Major League level. But, he also saved his best and most consistent work for the final month of the season; only one game out of the final six featured him giving up more than 2 runs (and that was 4 runs against the Angels, in 5.1 innings of work). He ended up being one of our better pitchers down the stretch, in a playoff chase, which is very encouraging for his career going forward. He’s got the kind of stuff that can be dominant at the Major League level, so I’m very much looking forward to what he has to offer next year and beyond.

In the next tier down, I’d like to talk about a few guys who showed some promise, but also might end up flaming out.

There’s a lot to like about what Abraham Toro did as a Mariner, and I’ll staunchly defend that trade with the Astros anytime and anyplace. Even if he never makes it as a consistent, reliable everyday player, the idea was sound. All you can ask from your GM is to make good decisions based on the information he has available at the time, and then hope for the best that the players he brings in pan out. Toro will be 25 in December and we control him through 2025; that’s easily worth a reliever rental in my book.

On top of which, Toro made an immediate impact as soon as we acquired him! His first month on the team was outstanding, culminating in a game-winning Grand Slam against Kendall Graveman on August 31st. He scratched the surface of being a .270 hitter in that time, but did falter pretty severely down the stretch. His slash line was overall better as a Mariner than it was as an Astro, but there was a little bit of a dip in his slugging. He finished the year – across both teams – with 11 homers in 95 games, which is okay, but not amazing. He might have more left to unleash upon the game of baseball, but it kinda looks like he’s dependant upon his batting average to provide offensive value, so if his BABIP slumps, he’s going to be a pretty miserable hitter (aren’t we all?).

In a vacuum, there are two openings across the infield – at second and third base – and one of those spots needs to be filled by a quality, proven veteran who’s a middle-of-the-order type hitter. I’m okay with Toro getting one of the other spots as we head into 2022, but he’s going to need to produce more than he did in 2021 if he wants to stick around long term.

I’d also like to throw Cal Raleigh into this bin, even though he had a worse year than anyone I’ve mentioned so far. It’s hard out there for most any rookie at the Major League level; the jump from the minors is extreme and will quickly weed out those who don’t belong. I would argue it’s the hardest of all for rookie catchers, who not only have to worry about their own hitting and defense, but they have to lead an entire team full of pitchers through every ballgame they’re in.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you Raleigh will be fine. He might be a total bust! The Mariners have been calling up catchers for years now, and I’ve spent all this time expecting one of them to pan out; none of them did. Mike Zunino was as sure a bet as you’ll see as a catcher and he still managed to strike out a bazillion times. Only this year did he pull it all together as an All Star who hit 33 homers – with the Rays – and that was with a whopping .216 batting average with 132 strikeouts in 109 games. I think we all were hoping Raleigh would be better than Zunino, but I have my doubts.

A lot will be learned next year. Like Kelenic, Raleigh is an extremely hard worker and a natural leader behind the plate. If he’s able to flush his .180/.223/.309 slash line, maybe he can make strides towards being a viable starter going forward.

I’ll say a little bit about Fraley, Torrens, and Bauers: I think they’re okay, but I don’t think any of them are starters. Torrens is a likely trade candidate – since he can catch and play first base – and Fraley feels like a reserve/fourth outfielder on a good team. Bauers has all the tools – and apparently puts on a great batting practice show with his bat – but he’s yet to really put it all together; it felt like a lot of his hits were lucky bloops and dribblers that narrowly evaded opposing gloves.

There aren’t a lot of promising young pitchers at the Major League level, but I’ll talk about a couple of relievers here. Yohan Ramirez took what seemed like a significant step forward in 2021 over his 2020 season. In 2020, he was mostly put into losing games and blowouts; in 2021, that largely continued, but he was also put into some high-leverage situations and came out okay! The team is trying to harness his stuff, as he’s got a great splitter to strike guys out, but he can be wild at times and get behind in the count. I’m curious to see if he can continue to get better.

Andres Munoz is a guy who can throw triple-digits; he got the shortest cup of coffee at the end of the year, playing in Game 162. But, he’ll be 23 in January, and we control him through 2025, so hopefully he can parlay that confidence boost into a great Spring Training.

There are, of course, young pitchers in the minors we’ve still got to look forward to; I’ll save my breath on them until we know what the 2022 roster looks like, as I expect to see multiple veteran starters brought in to round out the rotation (though our bullpen looks largely set with in-house guys).

You can’t talk about the young guys with promise without throwing 2020 Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis into the mix. He was injured for most of 2021 – the same knee he tore back as an A-ball player – and his long-term prospects appear to be dwindling. It’s not great that he tried to rehab the knee without surgery, only to have a late-season setback that cost him the rest of the year. It’s going to be super frustrating if he does need surgery, causing him to miss 2022 as well.

There’s no denying his talent when he’s healthy, but Kyle Lewis gets tossed onto the Maybe Pile when it comes to talking about future mainstays on the Mariners.

Which is more than you can say about guys like Evan White, Justus Sheffield, and Justin Dunn. I don’t know what the fuck is going to happen there. White sucked in 2020 as a rookie, then played in only 30 games before going down with a hip injury that required season-ending surgery. In those 30 games, he also sucked. His defense is, of course, elite, but at this point so is France’s. White’s bat just doesn’t play at this level, even a little bit. He’s got power, but misses balls too consistently. And he’s not even a cost-effective prospect since we signed him to that 6-year, $24 million deal before he even played a single Major League game! He made a combined $2.6 million for his last two worthless seasons, is set to earn $1.4 million in 2022, then that figure jumps to $3 million in 2023 and $7 million and $8 million in 2024 and 2025. What do you do with that? If France sniped his job at first base, do you try to trade White? What do you get for a guy with that kind of contract, who can’t hit? Do you try to move him to a different defensive position; make him a super-sub?

As for Sheffield and Dunn, I’ve lost all faith in them ever panning out. They just don’t have the stuff to be good or consistent at this level.

Thankfully, as I mentioned, there are lots of prospects in the minor leagues to pull from in the next year or two. The State of the Young Guys is pretty strong for the Mariners, with one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. Here’s to hoping we trade away the duds and manage to hang onto the superstars!

The 2021 Seattle Mariners State Of The Union

We just wrapped up a wildly entertaining and overachieving season by the Seattle Mariners. They won 90 games for the first time since 2003 and fell just two games short of the playoffs. We’re in the thick of a full-on rebuild, but it’s the fun part of the rebuild: where things turn from being a perennial loser to hopefully a perennial winner. If things go according to plan, the 2022 Mariners should make the postseason for the first time since 2001 – breaking the longest drought in all of the major North American sports – and the 2023 Mariners should start contending for American League pennants and World Series championships.

There’s also a Glass Half Empty outlook to this whole thing. Because this is Seattle, and these are the Mariners, so of course we have every reason to believe it’ll all go to shit like everything else in our sports universe.

Let’s start with the hitting: the Mariners were dead-last in the American League with a .226 batting average. We were second-to-last with a .303 on-base percentage and .385 slugging percentage. That’s all good for a second-to-last OPS of .688; we were one of only two teams (the Texas Rangers, at the exceedingly UNFUN portion of a rebuild, where they’re legitimately one of the worst squads in all of baseball) with an OPS under .700. And, as far as pitching goes, we were very much middle-of-the-road across the board.

We were 90-72, but ninth in the American League with a -51 run differential. Our Pythagorean win/loss record indicates we should’ve been 76-86 (per Baseball Reference). So, how do you make sense of a season like this? Well, the M’s were 11-28 in blowouts (games decided by 5 or more runs), but we were 33-19 in 1-run games.

It boils down to the starters being good enough to keep us in most ballgames, our manager pulling the right strings regarding when to take them out of harm’s way, and a bullpen that, in part, was one of the best units in the league. And, our hitters being among the most clutch I’ve ever seen. They didn’t hit much, but when they did, they made those opportunities count! Often late in games, to either come from behind, or break a tie to win it in thrilling fashion.

So, where do we attribute the Mariners’ success and ultimate failure?

Well, for the highlights, look no further than J.P. Crawford, Ty France, Mitch Haniger, and Kyle Seager, on the hitting side of things. They had an inordinate amount of impact on just how well the Mariners performed this season. It’s not even close; the drop-off after those four guys is insane. You don’t LOVE to see something like that, because Seager is gone next year, and Haniger only has one year of Arbitration left before he might walk in free agency.

What you want to see is the young guys stepping up and assuming huge roles; I’ll discuss these guys in a separate post, but suffice it to say, they weren’t quite up to the task just yet.

But, Crawford and France are still pretty young, with lots of team control remaining. They’re not nothing!

If you think about the Mariners in 2-3 year chunks, then we’ve got at least those two guys in the fold and producing at a high level. We can always extend Haniger after next year, or if we don’t, that means we likely have someone else of a high calibre who can fill his shoes (Julio Rodriguez, for instance).

In the meantime, as I’ll get into another time, it’s far from doom-and-gloom with the young guys. Plus, it’s not like we’re going to rest on our laurels with the guys in the farm system. We’ll bring in veterans in free agency and trades to fill out the lineup, and make up for the loss of Seager.

As for the starting pitching side of things, who doesn’t love what Chris Flexen did as a bargain-basement signing? He led the starters in innings pitched, WAR, ERA, and wins, and he did it with sustainable stuff that should continue to play as a solid #2 or #3 starter. Marco Gonzales continued to do Marco Gonzales things. And, Logan Gilbert had a strong first season, seeming to improve as the year went on (more on him later).

The downside is, that’s pretty much it. James Paxton got injured on day one. Yusei Kikuchi likely pitched his way off the team (losing a 4-year, $66 million option in the process), though he could always exercise a 1-year player option for $13 million (but, that seems unlikely, as you’d think someone else would fork over more guaranteed dollars and try to fix his issues). Justus Sheffield was one of the biggest disappointments on the team and his future is very much in doubt. Justin Dunn lost half his season to injury, but wasn’t all that effective in the half he was healthy. Tyler Anderson was a competent back-of-the-rotation starter we acquired at the trade deadline, but he’ll be a free agent this offseason and will be looking for a significant raise.

I would argue the Mariners need at least two starters, and it’s debatable as to whether or not the young guys in our farm system are ready yet. If we’re trying to make the playoffs in 2022, entrusting two more rotation spots to rookies seems like a bad idea. But, we have to do better than Sheffield and Dunn, so they better figure something out.

The bullpen was the biggest pleasant surprise on the team. Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, and Casey Sadler were all lights out! Diego Castillo was fine, though it’s hard to want to trust him in the highest-leverage situations. Kendall Graveman was excellent when he was here, and he netted us a nice little return in Abraham Toro; plus we could always sign him again this offseason if we wanted!

The thing is, we have team control with all of those guys (save Graveman), and I haven’t even gotten to the younger guys who I’ll talk about later. Nor did I mention Ken Giles, who missed this year with injury, but is signed through the 2022 season and is slated to return and be a big part of this group! The bullpen went from being arguably this team’s biggest weakness heading into the 2021 season, to being arguably its biggest strength heading into 2022. That’s HUGE (with the usual caveat being: bullpens are notoriously volatile from year-to-year, so they could all shit the bed as well).

So, what’s the state of the union as we exit 2021 and head into 2022?

I know the marketing materials would tell us it’s all looking up, and I’m buying right into the rose-colored glasses this organization is trying to peddle, but I think they’re right! I like the looks of things for the Mariners in the coming years. I’m not going to sit here and guarantee a playoff spot in 2022; I could easily see this team taking a step backwards.

Odds are, the 2022 Mariners won’t be quite so lucky in 1-run games. Odds are, the 2022 Mariners won’t hit quite so well in the clutch. Odds are, the 2022 Mariners will continue to suffer injuries to key guys (anyone remember Kyle Lewis?).

The thing is, we could see all of that; we could even see the 2022 Mariners end up as a sub-.500 ballclub in the overall standings! That having been said, we could see all of that while the team itself continues to grow and get better. Maybe we start out slow, losing games we expected to win, but in the process we get to watch more young guys make their Major League debuts. We get to see other young guys continue to blossom into Major Leaguers and All Stars. Maybe 2022 is the final step-back before things all skyrocket in 2023 and beyond.

The point is, there will be more bumps in the road. Things never EVER go according to plan. But, that doesn’t mean the overall outlook isn’t high. Just don’t put too much pressure on the year right in front of us. It might take two years, and that’s okay.

But, if we’re not in the playoffs by 2023, there should be hell to pay. Because how do you fuck up an organization with a farm system this stacked? Well, if anyone can fuck it up, you know the Mariners can!

Kyle Seager Was The Best Mariners Third Baseman Of All Time

When we’re doing an All Mariners Team – which is pretty fun to think about, now that I bring it up – you can pen in Kyle Seager as the third baseman (with all due respect to Mike Blowers). For shits n’ giggles, let’s run it down real quick:

  • Ichiro (RF)
  • Ken Griffey Jr. (CF)
  • Jay Buhner (LF)
  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • Alex Rodriguez (SS)
  • Bret Boone (2B)
  • Alvin Davis (1B)
  • Dan Wilson (C)
  • Edgar Martinez (DH)

Not too far off from what I had back in 2012 (although, the more I think about it, the more I think Ichiro deserves the respect of having right field; plus, can you imagine Buhner’s arm throwing out guys from left?!). I’ll also say I was THIS CLOSE to putting Robinson Cano at second base, but I just couldn’t. Even though he signed that huge deal, he never really felt like a Mariner; he was always a New York guy.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there, because we’re talking about Kyle Seager today!

It was always assumed 2021 would be Kyle Seager’s last year here. Truth be told, he would’ve been traded a while back, but they built a poison pill into his contract that guaranteed his 2022 option would be paid in full upon completion of any trade. Given the way baseball inflation was going at the time of signing – prior to the 2015 season – and given the way Seager had played up until that point, an optimist might’ve assumed his 2022 option would be a bargain. But, that turned out to decidedly not be the case, and he became an albatross around Jerry Dipoto’s neck as we headed into the rebuild.

I’m somewhat conflicted about Kyle Seager. He was fun to root for from the very beginning, as a rookie in 2011. He got called up right around the same time as Dustin Ackley, and for half a year anyway, both of them looked like potential cornerstones to the franchise. Ackley quickly petered out from there, but Seager continued to improve. He wasn’t a natural third baseman, but that was where he ended up thanks to the Mariners’ hole at the spot, and Seager took advantage of the opportunity. Indeed, he got better every year through the 2016 season, before things took a turn for the worse.

In 2016 – the second year of his contract extension – he was a 6.9 WAR player who garnered a little bit of MVP attention. Two years removed from his only All Star appearance, and his only Gold Glove award, he slashed .278/.359/.499, with 30 homers, 36 doubles, and 99 RBI. It was the culmination of six straight years of improvement! Every year, I kept expecting a little more, and every year he kept delivering. Not only that, but his floor wasn’t bad either. Even with those 2016 numbers, I felt like he had potential for more.

Then, the dreaded infield shift became popularized and entrenched in the game of baseball. And, with Seager being such an extreme pull hitter, it decimated his offensive value. In 2017, he was a 2.5 WAR player; he would never see another WAR higher than that. In 2018, he really fell apart as a sub-1 WAR player; his slash line fell all the way to .221/.273/.400. Not only was he basically a replacement-level player, but he was never hurt and therefore in the lineup every single day! That changed in 2019, when he landed on the IL, but by then he started to figure out how to be productive as a pull hitter in a shifting world; he finished that season at 2.4 WAR that might’ve been higher had he been healthy all year.

Seager became something of a lightning rod of controversy in 2021, through no fault of his own really. The whole Kevin Mather thing put Seager’s final year under a microscope, as he called him overpaid, and essentially told the world what the organization feels about its best-ever third baseman: they didn’t want him. Seager, nevertheless, has always been the consummate professional, showing up everyday, mentoring young players, and being an all-around mainstay in the middle of an otherwise struggling lineup.

Seager in 2021 had arguably his best-ever power season, hitting a career-high 35 homers and 101 RBI. His slash line was pretty wretched – .212/.285/.438 – but he still salvaged a 2.0 WAR just by being so productive with his extra-base hits; he had 63 extra-base hits and 65 singles. Guys who hit for such a low average still have a place in this league if they can mash 35-plus homers a year – or 30-plus homers along with quality defense – so I would call Seager’s 2021 a success.

At the same time, I wouldn’t expect too many more successful seasons if he remained in a Mariners uniform. MAYBE one more year, but even then he could fall off the cliff in a hurry. I would expect Seager might be able to prolong his career elsewhere, in a more lefty-friendly environment. He’s always crushed it in the state of Texas, so that might be an option for him! But, I like the idea of Seager leaving Seattle on a high note.

For the most part, Kyle Seager was a great member of the Seattle Mariners. I’d rather he leave with us remembering him fondly, than us seeing him as an aging veteran who can barely hobble around the bases.

I would argue it’s also time to move on because I don’t think he wants to be here anymore. Rumors abound that he was the source behind a lot of angry quotes about the organization this year, especially after the Kendall Graveman deal. Granted, I think Dipoto has made it clear he didn’t want to keep Seager through the end of his contract, and probably did everything in his power to try to rid the team of him, so I don’t blame Seager one bit for feeling the way he does. The fact of the matter is, the Mariners never would’ve gotten anything in trade close to the value of what Seager still brought to a potential team. It made sense to keep him from that standpoint, but it also made sense to keep him because even though we were going Full Rebuild for the first time in forever, you still need veteran leadership to help guide players through the choppy waters as the talent level on the big league ballclub plummets. I would argue that kind of leadership was largely absent from the years of 2008-2013, and that could be a big reason why the Mariners never got off the ground in that time.

What I’m trying to say is that the Mariners got their money’s worth out of Kyle Seager, even if he never got to play in the post-season. I mean, shit, A LOT of Mariners failed to reach the playoffs, it’s not just a Seager problem. He just had the misfortune of succeeding in an inept, bumbling organization.

I don’t know what Seager’s legacy is other than the Greatest Mariners Third Baseman. He was never the flashy prospect of a King Felix. He was never at a Hall of Fame level of an Edgar Martinez. He was never a big worldwide household name like a Griffey or an Ichiro. He just quietly went about his business, day-in and day-out. In that sense, he should be my favorite type of player.

But, my big take-away is one of lost potential. In another era, Seager would’ve continued to blossom beyond his 2016-level of production. But, he could never fully recover from the shift. When I think of Kyle Seager, that’s what I think of: rolling over on a ground ball to a second baseman playing in shallow right field.

Kyle Seager had good, solid power. 242 homers, 309 doubles, 807 RBI, 704 runs scored. From a career slash line perspective, it’s not the worst: .251/.321/.442. But, there’s a big difference between the first half of his career, and the second half:

  • 2011-2016: .266/.334/.446, with a 119 OPS+
  • 2017-2021: .231/.304/.436, with a 103 OPS+

That later era, that’s when he was age 29-33; those are supposed to be your PRIME years as a professional baseball player! That’s when you’ve got all the experience and smarts in the world, while still being pretty much at your peak physically. When you think of someone like Nelson Cruz, he was just hitting his stride at age 33! Different body types and all of that, but it’s just frustrating is all.

You could argue Kyle Seager is one of the unluckiest baseball players in the history of the game. The advent and apex of the shift happened right as his prime got started, and it’ll likely be legislated out of the game not long after he hangs ’em up (they’re already working rules into the minor leagues that forces the infield to keep two players on either side of second base, while disallowing them to stand in the outfield). I mean, he’s made well over $100 million in his career – including a $2 million buyout coming his way for 2022 – so it’s a real World’s Smallest Violin type of “unlucky”. But, you get the idea.

That having been said, my fondness level for Seager is well over 50% compared to my disappointment, so I’ll always remember him as one of the Mariners greats. Eventually, cooler heads will prevail and he’ll enter the team’s hall of fame; he’ll be back in the fold and rightly celebrated for all of his accomplishments, throwing out a first pitch here and there, and conversing during game telecasts as we watch this team through the years. Until then, I wish him the best in his future endeavors. I hope he makes it back to the playoffs on another team (unless it’s the Astros; in that case, he can go straight to Hell).

The Angels Knocked The Mariners Out Of The Playoffs

You can boil it down to that. The Mariners lost 2 of 3 at home this weekend to the Angels. The Mariners finished 2 games behind Boston and New York for the wild card spots. Had we swept the Angels, we would’ve been right there in a 3-team play-in situation.

It’s sad for me, more than any other emotion. Of course, I was out of town all weekend and didn’t really have access to the games outside of an occasional Twitter catch-up session, so I didn’t have to sit and watch these games. I would’ve been a wreck, I’m sure. It’s frustrating though because this isn’t even a good Angels team! They are SO injury-depleted on offense, and their whole pitching staff outside of Ohtani is a mess (and he wasn’t even slated to pitch this series once they shut his arm down). The Angels were every bit of a 77-win team, and we couldn’t beat them with our season on the line.

If I had to guess, I would’ve been a ball of anxiety and rage on Friday. That was the 2-1 loss where the offense was 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. The game started off well enough, with Jarred Kelenic hitting an RBI double in the second. But, Marco gave up a 2-RBI double in the top of the third to give the game its final score. We had ALL OF THOSE INNINGS left to go, and couldn’t do a damn thing in any of them! Marco got one more quality start to throw on the pile (6 innings, giving up 3 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 5), and the A-Squad Bullpen (plus Misiewicz) shut it down from there, but it sadly wasn’t enough, as the Angels were able to match us 0 for 0 the rest of the way.

That loss made Saturday’s game a must-win, literally. Either win, or the playoff hopes would’ve died that night. Things were looking good for a while, Haniger hit an RBI single in the third and a 2-run homer in the fifth to give the M’s a 3-1 lead. Flexen made it 5.1 innings, giving up just the 1 run, and once again it was A-Squad Bullpen Time (plus Misiewicz).

Only, it was Paul Sewald in the 8th who blew it! He gave up a 3-run homer to make it 4-3 Angels. Luckily, these cardiac Mariners were able to get a rally going in the bottom half of the inning, punctuated with a Haniger 2-RBI single (giving him 5 RBI on the game), and a Seager 1-RBI single to make it 6-4 Mariners. Steckenrider shut it down from there for his 14th save of the season. It was a nice effort from the heart of the order, as France, Haniger, and Seager had all 8 of our hits and 6 of our RBI in this one (as well as 4 of our 6 runs scored).

That set us up for a Sunday miracle that never materialized. We needed to win and either the Yankees to lose to the Rays or the Red Sox to lose to the Nationals to force a play-in. But, we lost and they didn’t, so that was that.

Tyler Anderson had quite a rollercoaster of a week. First, he fell on his face in that 14-1 defeat to the Angels the previous Saturday, then he heroically stepped up on Tuesday against the A’s to give us 4 innings of 1-run ball on very short rest. But, he lost it again in the season finale, against those pesky Angels who won’t seem to give him a break. He lasted all of 1.2 innings before getting pulled, having given up 4 runs (3 earned) on 5 hits and 2 walks.

It was a bullpen day from there, with Misiewicz and Swanson (of the D-Squad Bullpen) giving up three more runs in their combined 2 innings of work. The M’s made it interesting early, scoring 2 runs in the bottom of the second to make it 4-2. But, we were down 7-2 after five innings, with our rally in the sixth cut short to just a lone run. We couldn’t do anything but cry the last three innings of the 7-3 defeat.

Cry because, of course, Kyle Seager had his farewell under the most bittersweet of circumstances. I’m glad I missed that too, because I’m sure I would’ve been a puddle of tears. I’ll have more to say about Seager in the coming days. He was never my favorite Mariner (impossible with Felix around for almost his entire career), but he was always there and almost-always a reliable fixture. A pro’s pro, and he’s going to be a huge hole to fill on this team, with his veteran presence, as well as his defense at the hot corner, and his bat in the middle of the order.

I’m not one of those fans who takes solace in the journey, when the destination is more disappointment. But, maybe I’ve softened in my old age. This was a fun Mariners team to follow for 162 games. Well, MOST of those games. Over half, definitely!

Here’s the thing: I never expected this team to break the playoff drought. Indeed, I never expected them to win 90 games, which is utter lunacy when you think about it. But, even as we headed into this final week, it never seemed likely that we’d win enough – and get the help required – to force our way in.

When we lost that Red Sox series back in mid-September, that’s when the season was over in my mind. We were 78-68 and there were too many teams and games in the standings to overcome. Yet, we finished the year on a 12-4 run to end up 90-72; what a remarkable run!

But, of course, the level of competition was subpar: Royals, A’s, and Angels.

Here’s a list of our records against the playoff teams in both leagues:

  • Astros 8-11
  • White Sox 3-3
  • Rays 6-1
  • Yankees 2-5
  • Red Sox 3-4
  • Giants 2-1
  • Dodgers 1-3

That’s an overall record of 25-28, but heavily propped up by an unlikely dominance of the Tampa Bay Rays. Against the rest of baseball, we were 65-44; almost a .600 winning percentage. I would argue the Mariners were not on that playoff level; we were one tier below. I would also argue that if we found ourselves in a 1-game playoff with either the Yankees or Red Sox (but especially the Yanks), we almost certainly would’ve lost. Yet, it would’ve felt like a tremendous accomplishment just to be there, and I’m not interested in that.

I want the Mariners to be division winners. I want them to make it to the World Series. I want them to win it all and give us what we’ve been dying for all these decades.

This team might be forgotten to the sands of time, since it ultimately fell two games short. However, if this was just the start of something HUGE, we might look back at the 2021 Mariners as one of the great What If’s in franchise history. Either way, there seems to be tangible evidence of … something happening here. We could always Mariners it up and see everything fall apart, but I’ve been wrong before.

What’s certain is this: expectations will go through the roof in 2022. That starts with this offseason. It’s not unfair to immediately set our minds into Next Year Mode as fans. That means pleading with this organization to finally spend money on bona fide All Stars in trade and free agency to fill in around the talent already here.

2021 was a big success in many ways. We won 90 games, we played “playoff baseball” for the last two weeks of the season (for all intents and purposes), and we learned a lot about the young core of this organization. As the offseason begins, I’ll be writing about those guys a lot. The young core who stepped up and asserted themselves as cornerstones, as well as the young core who fell apart and should be dealt away posthaste.

This is going to be a FUN offseason! I can’t remember the last time a baseball season ended and I wasn’t simply relieved for it to be over so I could focus on other things. This is the first time I’ve ever wished the next season could start tomorrow!

The Mariners Are Doing Everything They Can To Stay In This Wild Card Race

This has been the most fun Mariners team I can remember since we last made the postseason. That’s not hyperbole. That’s not recency bias. As I’ve mentioned recently, there was a Mariners team that got to within a single game of the wild card within the last decade; this Mariners team could just as easily fall apart over the final three games and finish further behind that team (at least, in the standings). But, what they’ve done over the last couple of weeks – indeed, across the entire month of September, where they’re 18-8 – is truly remarkable.

Unlike most every other Mariners team you think about, this one is faced with adversity and is stepping up to the challenge. This isn’t the Same Old Mariners; this is a Brand New Mariners! There have been mediocre Mariners teams who’ve dug themselves a deep hole, then went on a hot streak to start to climb back out of it. But, as soon as the spotlight shone on those teams, they would wilt under the pressure; they were – for lack of a better phrase (because it is literally the perfect phrase, and applies to all of sports) – who we thought they were.

The 2021 Mariners are decidedly NOT who we thought they were! Don’t get me wrong, because they do have their problems. You don’t accrue a -48 run differential without problems. That’s not to say good teams don’t get blown out once in a while, but they generally don’t get blown out as regularly as the Mariners have been blown out this season. Granted, we’ve seen less and less of that as the year has gone on, which points to the brighter future we’ve all been clamoring for.

What’s been great about the Mariners is what we’ve seen since the start of the last road trip. When our backs were against the wall, this team came out fighting. The Mariners have lost two games in that span (winning 11). Yes, this team will lose in frustrating ways; yes, this team will get blown out on a fairly regular basis. But, this team always bounces back and rights the ship before things get swallowed up by Davy Jones’ Locker.

What’s also been great about the Mariners is their utter DOMINANCE of the Oakland A’s. Are you shitting me?! How fucking fun has THIS been?!

This week’s sweep makes it 12 wins in a row as we head into next year. 15-4 on the season. And, with yesterday’s win, we officially knocked them out of the playoffs.

The whole 3-game series this week was fun. Monday’s 13-4 victory started off pretty awful, with Chris Flexen giving up a wall-scraper of a 3-run homer in the first to put the M’s in a potentially-early grave. To our credit, though, Ty France hit an RBI single in the third, and Luis Torrens might’ve had the biggest hit in the game with a 2-RBI single later that same inning to tie it up. Flexen didn’t have that good stuff in this one, as he gave up another run in the fourth (he finished five innings, giving up those four runs, but it wasn’t the usual crisp, efficient game we’ve come to expect from him). But, the offense more than picked up the slack. I know the offense has been super clutch, but it’s about time they made things easy on this pitching staff with a good old fashioned blowout on the positive side.

We went with Sadler in the sixth – when the game was still within reach of a collapse – but then got to use the D-Squad to eat up the last three innings and save our studs. Crawford went 3/5 with 3 runs and an RBI. France went 4/4 with 3 runs and 4 RBI. Haniger hit two 3-run homers to put this game to bed! Torrens had 2 hits, Kelenic had 2 hits and 2 runs, Murphy had 2 runs, Dylan Moore chipped in with a hit, a walk, and a run. Nice day all around, but especially because it was a comeback victory (emphasis on the victory part). That game could’ve gone sideways in a hurry, but this team wouldn’t let it.

The next two wins were much more Mariners-like, both with a score of 4-2.

Tuesday’s game has entirely shifted my perspective of Tyler Anderson. I ripped him a little bit after that meltdown against the Angels, and was kinda ready to write him off. But, now I’m rethinking my stance on bringing him back! To set the stage, he could only manage 2 innings against the Angels on Saturday, but he threw only 54 pitches in that game. His next start was supposed to be Friday against the Angels, and I could squint and maybe see him bouncing back improbably against the same team that just thrashed him a week prior. But, it was always a shame he wasn’t set to get a start against the A’s, because I feel like that lineup is more his speed.

As it turns out – with Tuesday set to be his “throw day” (all starters have days where they throw in between starts, for reasons that elude me, but I’m sure there’s a good explanation out there on the Internet somewhere) – so the team and Anderson came to an agreement that he’d just make a spot-start in lieu of his off-field work. Matt Brash was also called up that day – because regardless, Kikuchi has been struggling too much of late to be trusted in such a high-leverage situation as a playoff chase – but it makes more sense to NOT start a AA prospect making his first-ever appearance in the Major Leagues, and hold him in reserve in case we need to eat up innings should disaster strike.

But, man, Tyler Anderson was fucking nails! He threw 46 pitches, but lasted 4 full innings, just giving up a solo homer in the 4th. In total, he only gave up 2 hits and 0 walks, while striking out 2. Just a HUGE game from a guy who really stepped up and put it all out there on the line. I know the point has been made elsewhere, but that’s a huge deal for someone who will be a free agent at the end of this season, looking for his first career big payday. At the same point, teams are going to see that and know he’s a team-first kind of guy, even with a team he just joined a couple months ago. That should be worth a few sheckles, I would think. I know I’m now more willing to bring him back on the right deal. I don’t know what that is, exactly, but it’s like porn, you know it when you see it.

From there, we had the entirety of the A-Squad Bullpen (plus Misiewicz, who did manage to get two outs before two hits got him pulled). Casey Sadler got 4 outs, Diego Castillo got 2, Paul Sewald got 4, and Drew Steckenrider got the save in the ninth.

Meanwhile, Jake Fraley hit a 2-run double in the bottom of the fourth – right after Anderson gave up the homer – to take the lead. Tom Murphy hit an RBI single to make it 3-1. And, after Castillo gave up a run to make it 3-2, Haniger hit a solo bomb in the bottom of the seventh to give us a bit of insurance. Also, not for nothing, but Crawford and Torrens both had multi-hit games again.

My friends and I couldn’t take it anymore, so we had to go to the game last night. We’re all busy this weekend, so really this was our last opportunity to see the Mariners in person (unless, God forbid, we actually make the ALDS). With a team this special, getting to witness them in person, in the thick of a wild card chase, you just have to be there and experience the electricity for yourself! There’s nothing like it. I don’t remember getting to go to a lot of games in 2001; I was a poor college kid at the time. I got to go to one game in 1997 where we clinched either the division or a playoff berth, and that was one of my favorite live sporting events in my entire life (the Kingdome rocked like I’d never heard it before).

This wasn’t that, but it was still pretty fun. Hard to generate a huge crowd for a cold Wednesday night in late September, but I read we had about 5,000 more people there than expected (17K up from 12K?). The product on the field didn’t disappoint, anyway!

Logan Gilbert was rolling, lasting 5.2 innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits and 2 walks, with 4 strikeouts. Joe Smith got him out of the minor jam in the sixth (when Logan gave up that run on a solo homer to right), just in time for the M’s to get a go-ahead 2-run double from Jarred Kelenic. Castillo gave it right back with a solo homer to tie it, but we manufactured a run in the bottom of the seventh to re-take the lead, with Abraham Toro hitting an insurance homer in the eighth to salt it away. Sewald once again took care of business in the eighth, and Steckenrider got the save in the ninth.

It’s one thing to deal the final blow to the A’s playoff hopes, but really the Mariners EXCLUSIVELY prevented them from earning a wild card spot, with the way we’ve handled them all year. They thought they were big shots early in the season – and talked shit about us accordingly – but we took it personally (to quote Michael Jordan) and opted to rip out their hearts. Considering all the times they’ve done that very same thing to us over the years, I’ve never felt more gratified. I need a cigarette right now!

89-70. Three games left, against the Angels this weekend. We are a half game behind the Red Sox (unfortunately in the loss column, so we still need a little more help). We’re also a half game ahead of the Blue Jays, and 1.5 games behind the Yankees for the first wild card spot. All three of those teams have four games remaining.

But, as usual, it’s all about the Mariners first and foremost. We MUST sweep the Angels to have a shot. In essence – as has been pointed out by Scott Servais and elsewhere – we’re already watching playoff baseball in Seattle, because these have ALL been must-win games. And, to their credit, the Mariners are performing their very best when they absolutely have to.

My Football Teams Disgust Me, So I’m Writing About The Mariners Today

Well, it wasn’t the ideal scenario for the Mariners over the weekend, but it’s hard to be perfect all the time, even when you really NEED to be perfect. After looking totally inept on Saturday, I was thoroughly impressed with how we bounced back on Sunday, especially with Shohei Ohtani on the mound, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Before we dive in, it’s nice to take a bigger picture look at what just happened. The Mariners were left for dead after the Red Sox series. Really, that entire homestand was a disaster, when you factor losing 2/3 to the Diamondbacks into the equation. But, we hit the road against three teams and won 8 out of 10! Outstanding!

After the 4-game sweep down in Oakland, I can understand being a little disappointed in only taking 2/3 to the Angels this weekend. But, even though they’re injury-depleted, and their pitching has been suspect, there’s still some talent in that dugout that can do some damage. Getting off on the right foot was imperative, and to their credit, the Mariners succeeded on Friday.

Logan Gilbert got the start and cruised through the first five innings. With his pitch count in pretty good shape, and with the bullpen severely overworked from the series with the A’s, it would’ve been nice to see him squeeze out a sixth inning, but that was not to be. After getting the leadoff man out, he gave up a single and then walked his final batter in an at-bat that is somehow still going on. Joe Smith came in to clean up the mess, but gave up an RBI single and sac fly beforehand.

That turned a 4-2 lead into a tie ballgame. We manufactured a couple of runs in the top of the seventh though – giving one back in the bottom half – and that was the ballgame. A nice and tidy 6-5 victory, with Steckenrider and Sewald getting the last 2.1 innings for the hold and save.

Ty France loomed large in this one, going 2 for 4 with 3 RBI. Mitch Haniger went 1 for 3 with 2 RBI, and Luis Torrens went 2 for 4 with an RBI. Ohtani loomed large in all three games, but we contained him in this one. By which I mean he went 0 for 1 with 4 walks (2 of them intentional).

Saturday’s game was a 14-1 laugher. But, you know, I wasn’t laughing. Tyler Anderson had all of Seattle’s praise after his game down in Oakland, but this is also what he’s capable of! 2 innings, 9 runs on 9 hits, 1 walk, and 0 strikeouts. He’s not an ace! He’s an okay, middle-of-the-road starter with mediocre stuff. To expect this guy to be worth upwards of $15 million a year is insane; guys like him are a dime a dozen! That’s why we were able to trade for him for practically nothing. It’s games like these that lead me to say I don’t think the Mariners need to break the bank to extend him longterm. Especially when he’s been an N.L. pitcher his entire career; the more the A.L. gets a look at him, the more he’ll be exposed as the mediocre starter that he is. The Mariners need to go out and get a bona fide ace! Spend money on THAT guy, whoever he is!

I’m so not interested in talking about this game, other than to point out that Justus Sheffield was asked to help mop up some innings; he went 1 inning and gave up 3 more runs in the process. He walked 5 guys and needed 34 pitches just to do that. What the hell are we supposed to do with him?! Does he have options? Can we start him in Tacoma next year? He’s clearly a junkballer, and not even a move to the bullpen has seen any uptick in his MPH. At this point, maybe we can just cut our losses and hope some other team sees something in him. I wouldn’t expect a significant return, but maybe we can tack him onto some REAL prospects in deal.

Oh, and before I forget, Ohtani went 2 for 3 with 2 triples, 2 walks, 3 runs, and 3 RBI. But, then again, just about everyone for the Angels had a good game in this one.

That left me feeling pretty grim about our chances on Sunday, especially with Ohtani on the mound. He certainly failed to disappoint, which in turn greatly disappointed me! He went 7 innings, giving up 5 hits and striking out 10. But, one of those hits was a Jarred Kelenic solo homer in the 7th! Why is that important? Because Marco Gonzales bowed up in this one, also going 7 innings and giving up just the 1 run (a solo homer in the 2nd). He was almost as impressive, since he held the Angels to 3 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 5 (including holding Ohtani to a 1 for 3 day).

We busted out with a significant rally in the eighth inning – with Ohtani finally out of the game – by scoring 5 runs. Haniger hit a go-ahead RBI single, and Jake Fraley hit a bases loaded/bases-clearing double to make it 5-1. Paul Sewald locked down the bottom half of the eighth, and Diego Castillo finished off the ninth.

So, here’s where we stand: one week left to go! Six games, all at home. Three vs. the Athletics, an off-day on Thursday, and three more vs. the Angels.

We’re 5 games behind the Astros for the division; write that one off, if you haven’t already (you really should’ve written that off about a month ago, if not at the beginning of the season).

The Yankees currently inhabit the top wild card spot, thanks to them sweeping the Red Sox. The Red Sox currently inhabit the second wild card spot, one game behind the Yanks. The Blue Jays are one game behind the Red Sox, the Mariners are two games behind the Red Sox, and the Athletics are three games behind the Red Sox.

That’s what we’re looking at. I’m still not going to go through all of the remaining schedules of the other teams in contention; all you need to know is that the Mariners need to keep winning. The Mariners, indeed, probably need to win out to have a reasonable shot at overtaking the teams they need to overtake.

As far as our rotation, it shakes out pretty favorably: Flexen, Kikuchi/TBD, and Gilbert against the A’s; Anderson, Gonzales, and Flexen against the Angels. There’s a lot of chatter about minor leaguer Matt Brash getting called up to take Kikuchi’s start; he’s been tearing it up this year, so that could be exciting! I can’t imagine he’ll have the longest leash, so I would still expect Kikuchi to make an appearance in that one. I’ll be interested to see how he responds to the demotion.

Here we are, 86-70. It’s crazy that we just need to go 4-2 the rest of the way to get to 90 wins. It’s even crazier that we have a legitimate chance at all to make the postseason! What a time to be alive!