The Mariners Giveth, The Mariners Taketh Away

It’s a common theme with Seattle Mariners fandom: the team does something unexpectedly exciting – like, say, a 6-game winning streak and winning 11 of 14 after being among the worst three teams in all of baseball for the entire season to date – to climb back into improbable playoff contention; what happens next WON’T shock you! They go to San Francisco and get swept in a 2-game series.

Both of these games started at 6:45pm and I know that’s actually earlier than a normal year – where most games start at 7:10pm – but, I mean, that’s late, right? They want us to stay up until all hours of the night to finish these games! I’m pretty sure I was asleep not long after these games started, so obviously I should be your go-to source on what happened.

Tuesday’s game sounds like it was a hard-luck 6-5 defeat. Ljay Newsome – who’s been quite good since being called up and thrust into the starting rotation – took a line drive off of his pitching hand and had to come out of the game. It sounds like he’s on track to make his next start, but he was limited to just four outs in this one, which meant we had to rely on Brady Lail to eat up some innings. He managed 2.2, but cost us 4 runs in the process, to gag away what was at one point a 5-1 lead.

Kyle Lewis, Ty France, Evan White, and Luis Torrens each had two hits apiece to lead the way, but it’s unfortunate that the offense couldn’t find a way to add any more runs after the third inning. The team was 2/10 with runners in scoring position, and that’s just not going to get the job done on most nights. After Lail was pulled from the game, the bullpen settled down, but still couldn’t help but give up a go-ahead solo homer in the seventh inning to seal the deal.

The less said about last night’s 10-1 defeat, the better. Nick Margevicius has been mostly good since he entered the rotation, but they eventually figured him out in this one. He went 4.2, giving up 7 runs. Some guy we just picked up went 1.1 and gave up the other three runs; after that, all we had left to wonder was if the M’s would score at all. Finally, a Seager sac fly in the eighth put us out of our misery, but it was too little, too late. The only bit of goodness in this one was Aaron Fletcher striking out the side in the seventh inning, only giving up one hit in the process. That’s something, anyway.

The Mariners get to enjoy one of their precious few off-days today before a 3-game set in Arizona over the weekend. It would be nice to use this series to re-set things for a fun finish. Of course, by the time we get to Sunday – and Seahawks football – will anyone give a shit anymore? Your guess is as good as mine!

The series sweep leaves the Mariners tied for 8th in draft order next year, in case you were wondering. With only 17 games to go in the season, this weekend – combined with the double-header against Oakland on Monday – should tell us quite a bit. If the Mariners can go 4-1 or better, then I believe there’s at least a legitimate chance we can make a push in the final two weeks. Even though the A’s are among the very best teams in all of baseball, I haven’t seen enough of them to be all that impressed. In the four games we’ve played against one another, the Mariners were IN three of those games (winning one and losing the others by one run each). Yeah, the A’s are good, but I don’t think we’re looking at automatic losses the rest of the way.

I dunno. I’ll be very interested in these next five games. Feels like a real inflection point in this season. Play well, and who knows? Play mediocre-to-poorly, and, well, I guess WE know, don’t we?

Alas, The Mariners Have No More Games Against The Inept Rangers Left To Play

The Mariners finished the 10-game season set against the Rangers with an 8-2 record, thanks to the 4-game sweep over Labor Day weekend. Ever since the disasterous Rangers/Astros/Dodgers road trip where we went 2-8, the Mariners have won 11 out of 14, and were quite close to winning two more in that stretch! That brings us up to a 19-22 record, good for third in the A.L. West and, not for nothing, but also DANGEROUSLY close to actual playoff contention!

No joke, we’re closer to second place in the division (2 games) than we are fourth place (2.5 games), and don’t forget that the top two teams in every division advance to the playoffs (plus two wild card teams per conference).

Now, of course, let’s not go crazy. The Rangers are BAD. But, what I think is pretty entertaining is the fact that the Mariners … might not be bad? I’m also highly amused that we’re in the midst of a 6-game winning streak and this is mostly AFTER the Mariners made all of their trade deadline deals. Sure, losing Taijuan Walker and Austin Nola doesn’t help, but everyone else seems to be addition by subtraction. Let’s look back fondly at the last four days, before reality comes crashing down again as we head to San Francisco to play the Giants over the next couple days.

After our series against the A’s was COVID-ed out, you’d be reasonable in thinking the M’s might be a little rusty or otherwise lacking in focus. But, Yusei Kikuchi brought his lunch pail in this one, going 6 innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits (0 walks) with 7 strikeouts. It was a highly-effective performance (against, again, a bad Rangers offense). Dylan Moore, back from the IL, has been on fire; he had 2 hits in this one. Evan White also had 2 hits (including a double) and 2 walks, knocking in 2. And J.P. Crawford mashed a 3-run home run to salt this one away late. The Mariners were up 6-1 going into the ninth inning, when the Rangers made it marginally interesting, but they still lost by three runs.

The quality pitching continued for the Mariners on Saturday, as Justus Sheffield went 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits & 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts. Dylan Moore had another hit in this one. Newcomer Ty France has had a solid start to his Mariners career, with two hits of his own (he has 4 hits and 4 RBI since coming over in the trade with San Diego). There were lots of clutch hits up and down the lineup, though, as the M’s were 5 for 12 with runners in scoring position. Also of note is that Yohan Ramirez notched his second save of his young Major League career, locking down a 5-3 victory.

Justin Dunn couldn’t let the Quality Start train fall off the tracks; on Sunday he managed 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks, with 4 strikeouts, after really struggling through the first two innings. This was a game where the offense did just enough in nailing a 4-3 win. Kyle Seager led the way with 2 hits (including a 2-run home run in the first), and Kyle Lewis had a solo bomb. Kendall Graveman made his second appearance of the weekend in this one, since returning from the IL. He’ll be a bullpen guy the rest of the way due to a neck injury that’s preventing him from getting deep into games. He also just might be a bullpen guy forever, because he seems perfectly suited for this role. He can touch 99 miles per hour with his fastball, he has tons of movement on his pitches, and he’s an unflappable veteran who should be good in these pressure-packed moments. Honestly, I’d love to see him as our 7th or 8th inning guy exclusively next year.

Finally, on Labor Day, Marco Gonzales continues to be master of his domain (I’m using that phrase correctly, right? He doesn’t jack off?). He’s also a really great baseball pitcher! 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits (0 walks) with 7 strikeouts. He is just a marvel to watch out there. I figured he could turn himself into a decent #3 or MAYBE a #2 if he really worked at his craft, but he is legitimately a borderline ace right now. At this point, I’m surprised when he’s NOT going at least 7 innings and giving up 2 runs or less. Certainly, in three of his last four starts, he’s gone 23 innings and given up just 4 runs. His ERA now sits at 3.02 and he’s worked his way up to a 5-2 record on the season. The only blemish in this 8-4 victory came in the ninth inning, when Aaron Fletcher was handed a soft landing of sorts with a 6-run lead. He got one out while giving up a run and leaving the bases loaded. Yohan Ramirez had to enter in this improbable save-situation and try not to give up the farm. He got a quick out on a sacrifice fly, walked the bases loaded again, but got the final batter to foul out to end it, picking up his third career save in the process. Big moment for the kid!

Look, I know it’s dumb to dream of the playoffs now, especially when the Astros still get to play the Rangers a whopping seven times, but I just think it’s remarkable that we’re in this position at all. The starting pitching – particularly from the younger guys, but really across the board – has been better than I ever could’ve imagined. The bullpen has been a struggle to watch, but I would argue our very worst offenders (save Aaron Fletcher, for now) are off the team and out of the organization entirely.

What has obviously impressed me the most has been the hitting. The everyday players. Kyle Lewis has cooled off considerably since his red-hot start, but he’s still finding ways to contribute and should be a leading Rookie of the Year candidate. Kyle Seager has been flat-out fun to watch! He’s the kind of guy you love to have leading a new crop of youngsters, as he goes about his business the way you hope EVERY player on your team would. J.P. Crawford is still streaky as all get-out, and hasn’t quite mastered the power element of his bat, but his ability to get on base hasn’t wavered all year; with his defensive ability up the middle, I’ll take it. Evan White is still digging himself out of a pretty deep hole to start his Major League career, but he’s been MUCH improved over the last 2-3 weeks. He doesn’t look lost at the plate, and his power is insane when he’s able to connect.

The real fun has come from the fringes. Austin Nola obviously turned himself into an All Star and was traded for a bounty. Dylan Moore appears to be right on his tail, hitting .293/.369/.565 with 7 doubles and 6 homers; that’s supposed to be your utility outfielder! He was this scrawny-looking Quad-A guy last year who was barely hitting over .200 across 113 games! Then, there was Sam Haggerty (before he just went on the IL), who came out of nowhere to hit like a maniac. And even Jose Marmolejos has been red-hot since being called back up from the minors! His defense isn’t any sort of sight to behold, but he’s more than making up for it with his power bat!

The point is, I expected the offense to struggle a lot more than they have this year. Of course, there’s still about three weeks left to go, so anything can happen.

Counterpoint: there’s still about three weeks left to go, so anything can happen! We have ten games against National League opponents (who don’t get to see us too often, and therefore aren’t used to beating up on us like the American League has). We have three games – at home – against the Astros (our rivals for one of those playoff spots), and six games against the A’s (who are leading the division at the moment, but are long overdue for a cool-off period).

If the Mariners are worthy of making the playoffs, they’ll figure out how to overcome this two-game deficit. If they’re not, then it wasn’t meant to be. Either way, it won’t change my excitement level for 2021 one iota. Better days are ahead, my friends! I can feel it!

These Damn-Fool Mariners Almost Swept The Padres Too!

Everything about this series was impressive, even the defeat!

After a harrowing stretch where the Mariners went 1-8, we damn near went 6-0; a funny thing for a terrible team to do when I’m over here talking about draft positioning in 2021.

We kicked things off on Tuesday with a rather satisfying 8-3 victory. Marco Gonzales wasn’t the sharpest I’ve ever seen, but he battled through five innings, giving up three runs on nine hits. Thankfully, the bullpen was able to shut it down from there.

The offense jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Marco gave up his runs to make things tight in the third inning. From there, though, the M’s were able to play add-on in the sixth and seventh innings to put it away. Austin Nola had three hits (including a homer), Evan White added three hits, and J.P. Crawford had a double and a homer to turn things around after a little slump. This was a fairly impressive victory against a really hot Padres team.

Then, on Wednesday, the Mariners decided to participate in the rash of pro sports boycotts this week over the latest high-profile police shooting (kind of sad that’s a sentence that gets to be written, but there you go). I’m dubious that Wednesday will be a day that goes down in history – as some people are writing – but I’m supportive of what they did anyway. It’s better than doing nothing, than ignoring the issue and hoping it goes away. I don’t know how much good it’ll end up doing in the grand scheme of things, but if it gets people talking and gets people focused on something important, I’m for it. I do think it would’ve been interesting – as someone on Twitter pointed out – what the reaction would’ve been if there were paying fans in the stands when these boycotts/walkouts happened. It’s one thing to postpone a game in an empty stadium/arena that will just be made up at a later date; it’s another for the franchises to have to issue refunds and to be face-to-face with thousands of potentially-angry fans who might not care about social issues when they’re trying to experience a ballgame.

Anyway, this meant that on Thursday, we got to experience our first doubleheader of the 2020 season! The COVID rules dictate that all doubleheaders are 7-inning affairs, which I don’t know why, but it tickles me to my core. My friend brought up a good point: in fantasy baseball, if you throw a 7-inning complete game shutout, does that count towards your CG/SHO stats? I’m sure it does, which is such delightful fantasy chaos I can’t even stand it! Of course, there wasn’t any worry about the Mariners doing that, so let’s hop to it.

In the first game, Taijuan Walker was supposed to start, but, well, you know … so instead Ljay Newsome was given the opportunity, and I’d say he made the most of it! You might recall he made his Major League debut against the Dodgers and spun three innings of relative gold against a pretty potent lineup. I would argue the Padres have just-as-potent of a lineup, and what do you know? More relative gold! 4 innings, 1 run on 3 hits and 0 walks, with 4 strikeouts. Work ended up distracting me from most of his outing, but I like what I hear about him so far anyway! He only threw 60 pitches, which leads me to believe the organization is still trying to build up his arm strength, on top of showing an abundance of caution for a guy who might be a legitimate member of this pitching staff (in some capacity) for many years to come.

After three shutout innings by both sides, the Mariners put a 3-spot on the board in the fourth inning. Evan White apparently strained his shoulder while diving for a ball earlier in the game and had to be pulled after his at-bat in the second inning. Jose Marmolejos – who was recently called up for this road trip – took over at first base and in his first AB crushed a 2-run homer the opposite way. Shed Long followed shortly after that with an RBI single to give the M’s a nice little cushion … that was wiped away completely in the bottom of the sixth thanks to Matt Magill.

Undaunted, the Mariners came out in the top of the seventh – the final inning of the game, remember – with a 4-run explosion! It was honestly one of the more impressive offensive displays I’ve seen out of this team! Sam Haggerty is a kid I’m liking more and more every time I see him; he got it started with an infield RBI single. Kyle Lewis followed with another infield RBI single, then Kyle Seager did the same damn thing! Austin Nola’s sacrifice fly made it 7-3 and gave us all the feeling that the game was put to bed.

Then, in walked Taylor Williams. The Taylor Williams Experience isn’t quite as entertaining as the Fernando Rodney Experience, but he’s just as much of a terrifying rollercoaster every time he steps on the mound! This was one of the more impressive blow-ups I’ve ever seen.

The TWE started off with two relatively quick outs! That’s part of what’s so insane about all of this. With a 4-run lead, the Padres were down to their final out of the game, and then things totally unravelled. A hit batter. A walk. A wild pitch. Another walk to load the bases. A single to score two. A passed ball to advance the runners. Another wild pitch to score one. A single to tie the game.

That last single was TWE’s 29th pitch of the inning, and here’s where things get interesting. Part of me expected – with a second game coming up in just minutes after the first – that Scott Servais would stick with TWE to at least close out the inning, lose or tie. If he gets the final out of the inning, then we’re going to extras regardless, and there are only so many bullpen guys to go around (on top of which, Yusei Kikuchi was to start the second game, and there’s no telling with him how many innings he’ll go in any given start). Instead, Servais made the curious choice to insert Dan Altavilla, Resident Buffed-Up Punching Bag. I’m a firm believer that neither Altavilla nor TWE will be part of the next Great Mariners Team if-and-when we ever see it come to fruition, but using both of these guys in such high-leverage situations – when they’ve proven time and again to be dangerous out there, if not outright inept – can only mean the team is (smartly) intentionally tanking as much as possible (without making it LOOK like they’re tanking) to get that higher draft pick that I keep harping on.

Call me crazy! I know it sounds like those Flat Earth people who say that Australia isn’t a real place that exists, but I’m just saying that it’s AWFULLY fishy that Altavilla – of ALL people – is brought in to try and preserve the tie. Of course, he promptly gave up a single, followed by a 3-run home run, to allow the Padres to walk it off. Seven innings scored in total, to give them the 10-7 victory. Incredible!

Game Two kicked off, I dunno, 30-60 minutes later? I was reading a short story when the Mariners put up a whopping SIX runs in the top of the first; out of sight/out of mind indeed! Who was in the middle of it all? Jose Marmolejos! With a GRAND SLAM! Are you kidding?! I don’t know if the team expected him to play at all on this road trip – I think he was mostly here just as insurance – and yet he enters in the middle of game one and manages to hit a homer in each game of a doubleheader! This is, apparently, why we have insurance; who knew?!

Staked to such a seemingly-insurmountable lead, Yusei Kikuchi went out there and was fine. Like Marco earlier in the week, he went 5 innings, giving up 3 runs (on 7 hits and 0 walks), with 6 strikeouts. He threw only 81 pitches, and never seemed to be in any huge jams, so it was curious to not try to squeeze one more inning out of him (especially when the bullpen had just done what it did earlier in the day), but again *Guy Tapping Head Meme* Scott Servais knows you can’t have your bullpen blow a save if you don’t go to your bullpen!

With a 6-3 lead at our disposal, we went with Aaron Fletcher in the bottom of the sixth. In just his third Major League appearance, he REALLY looked like he was going to oblige in blowing this game! A walk, a walk, a strikeout (SEVERELY aided by the umpire not knowing what a “strike zone” was), and a single loaded the bases before Servais had no choice but to pull him in favor of Joey Gerber (you know, to keep up appearances … *WINK*). Gerber has been mostly great in his first season in the Majors; if I were a manager who was trying to actually win games, I might’ve considered using him over Altavilla in Game One, for instance, as he’s been pretty reliable. Anyway, depending on where your interests lie, he either DID or DIDN’T disappoint, when he threw one pitch and managed to get a double play to get out of the inning without giving up any runs.

From there, the M’s added two more runs to their ledger, thanks to yet another clutch Sam Haggerty RBI (a double this time, giving him two hits in the game and three hits on the day), followed by another clutch Austin Nola RBI (a single this time, which was his lone hit of the game – though he had two walks – but his second hit on the day – in addition to his third walk earlier). Veteran reliever Yoshihisa Hirano closed this 8-3 victory out without too much trouble, giving the Mariners quite an impressive series win (that was, again, one out away from a series sweep).

And guess what! Now, we go to Anaheim to play the last place Angels for four games! Not only are the Angels last in the A.L. West – with a 10-22 record – but they’ve got the very worst record in all of Major League Baseball! Unbelievable, right?

At 13-20, the Mariners currently hold the seventh draft pick (based on winning percentage), which is kinda crazy. There are also five teams with a worse run differential than our -31. We could easily explain-away the sweep against the Rangers as them just being terrible. But, this Padres series was a little eye-opening. Truth be told, I know I’m all about that high draft pick, but THIS is actually what we wanted to see from the 2020 Mariners. Start off in a huge hole, but over time, everyone (especially the young guys) gets better until this team starts to look somewhat competent out there. THEN, you parlay that into further improvement in 2021, with maybe a hot finish putting us in or near playoff contention, just in time for this team to truly be great in 2022 and beyond.

It would, of course, be idiotic for us to get our hopes up for this 2020 team, with just a month left to play. But, you know, talk to me in four days when we sweep the Angels and are sitting at a quite-respectable 17-20. At that point, I might just be dumb enough to believe anything!