2023 Mariners Bright Spots So Far

It can be easy to dump all over this season, for good reason. The Mariners were expected to compete for the A.L. West, or at the very least somehow make it back to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2000-2001. We’re very nearly two months into the year and the Mariners are 23-24. It’s embarrassing, it’s infuriating, and it’s starting to feel like we’re getting to the point of desperation. It’s starting to feel like this team needs to go on a massive tear just to get to where they should’ve been all along. Essentially, we’re required to bank on what happened last year – when the M’s won 14 in a row and 22 out of 25 – except the problem is, this team has thus far failed in what they’ve been so good at recently: winning in 1-run games. Sure, there have been blowouts so far that have contributed to a +27 run differential, but that just means we’re 3 games off of the pace of where we should be.

We’re 6 games out of first place. AND we have three other teams to leapfrog to get there. That’s not where you want to be, if the expectations coming into the season were to – again – compete for a division title.

On the flipside, it’s not like we’re the A’s. It’s not like we’re the White Sox. The Mariners are a team with a lot of talented players, and while there are a plethora of disappointments, there’s also a lot of bright spots that we didn’t necessarily see coming either.

My tendency is – when a team plays down to this level – to throw away the season and focus on next year. The problem with that is – unlike in years past – there’s still enough talent on this team, and it is still early enough (even though I hate that line of thinking as much as anyone), that we’re in our window right this second. I don’t WANT to focus on next year. Because, sure, while it’s interesting to imagine what this team might look like in 2024 and beyond, there are also a number of the same underperforming players who will be back as well. It’s not a matter of these bright spots continuing to make their mark; it’s a matter of everyone else playing up to the backs of their baseball cards. It’s about everyone being good at the same time and putting together a magical season. We’ve had the experience of 2022. We’ve made the playoffs, we won a series, and we played the eventual World Series champs the toughest of anyone they played in their entire post-season run last year. Now it’s time to take the next step.

But, instead of belaboring our woes, let’s look at the silver linings of 2023 through 47 games.

You have to start with Jarred Kelenic, obviously. Some people are on record – at least back in April – of saying they’d trade a slow team start for Kelenic turning into The Real Deal. I was definitely uncomfortable with that line of thinking, but I do think it’s a franchise-changer for Kelenic to not only be a solid platoon guy, but to be an All Star everyday player, against both righties and lefties. To have played himself not only into a starter role, but someone batting in the top third or top half of the lineup. It still might be too soon to take this to the bank – I mean, look at Julio’s 2022 vs. 2023 – but I also don’t think Kelenic is a flash in the pan. I think this is who he is, he’s unlocked something extra-special – something we all saw in him as a prospect since the Cano deal – and he projects going forward to be a vital piece of this team’s success. His average has dipped ever-so-slightly below .300, but the whole offensive package is exactly what you want. He’s the best player on this team this season, period. That’s extraordinary! It certainly wasn’t something I was anticipating coming in.

I’m not going to completely abandon the regulars from here on out, but let’s shift over to the pitching for awhile.

George Kirby has built on an already-phenomenal start to his career. He’s been the best pitcher on this team all season. 8 quality starts out of 9, and that one was his first start of the season, whch I’m more than happy to write off. He’s getting deep into games, he’s economical with his pitches, and he’s giving this team a chance to win every five days. The fact that we’re only 5-3 in his quality starts says more about this offense and how it’s let the team down.

Bryce Miller has obviously come from out of nowhere, to a degree. He was on everyone’s radar coming out of Spring Training, but in another universe, he wouldn’t have gotten the call-up until late May or June. He’s 4 for 4 in quality starts, and two of them came against the Astros and Braves. He’s also getting deep into games, he’s also economical with his pitches, and more importantly, he’s helping us all forget how much we were counting on Robbie Ray to be a central part of this rotation. We essentially replaced a former Cy Young Award winner with another Cy Young-calibre arm.

There are a number of nice bullpen pieces who have stepped up, even if the bullpen as a whole has been a little inconsistent (and not quite up to snuff compared to recent seasons). Justin Topa, Gabe Speier, Trevor Gott, and Juan Then all have quality stuff and solid numbers so far. They’ve helped us through some poor outings by Brash, Castillo, Festa, and Sewald, and injuries to Munoz and Murfee. It’s kind of mind-blowing how we’re able to keep reloading a stacked bullpen, while overcoming the expected high-variance year-to-year performances you get with a segment of the team that’s always so volatile.

While I don’t want to dismiss the inconsistencies of Logan Gilbert and Luis Castillo, they’ve also had some dynamic outings so far, and it’s not hard to see these guys continue to chug along and give you the quality outings you’ve come to expect so far in their careers. The starting rotation is, far and away, the strength of this team, and pretty much the only reason why we’ve even managed to hang around .500. The hitting will start to come around at some point, so having our 1-4 spots in the rotation being so good will give us a great chance to go on that significant winning streak we need to climb back into contention.

I’m happy to shout out J.P. Crawford in this particular blog post, because I think a lot of us were really down on him after his 2022 (especially the way it ended with a whimper). He’s always been kinda streaky, but all too often he goes in the tank for long stretches, leaving his overall numbers a little lackluster. But, especially as we started this year with so many hitters in the tank, it was nice to have some consistent production from our slap-hitting short stop. Indeed, he’s actually hitting a good number of extra-base hits for him – mostly doubles – but more importantly he’s still getting on base at a great clip. His on-base percentage leads the team among qualified players, and he has since elevated himself to leadoff hitter once again (thanks in large part to Julio’s struggles, but still). And just anecdotally, the only hitter I’m more comfortable with right now in a big spot than J.P. is Kelenic. J.P. is one of the great leaders on this team, and so far he’s been leading his ass off!

Finally, let’s round out this post with Jose Caballero. It’s WAY too early to lower the Mission Accomplished banner with him, but the M’s have been in a desperate search to shore up the second base position since the Cano deal, opting to go with veteran savvy on short-term deals the last two years. Adam Frazier was a dud, and so far Kolten Wong has made us long for the days of Adam Frazier (it’s not surprising to see him have a little bit of a bounce-back season with the Orioles so far). Once Caballero started seeing playing time (we got him as sort of an A-ball level Just A Guy in a deadline deal with the Diamondbacks in 2019 for Mike Leake), I think we all thought he’d only be keeping Dylan Moore’s bench spot warm for him until he healed up. But, with Wong sucking, Caballero has gotten more and more opportunities, and he’s certainly made the most of them! So far, Caballero has played in 8 fewer games and had 38 fewer at bats than Wong, but he has the same number of doubles, infinity more homers, is crushing him in all slash figures (OPS of .802 vs. .468), and already has a 2 WAR advantage (0.8 vs. -1.3)! All in his first-ever Major League season! I mean, what the fuck?! I don’t know if this is going to continue for Caballero, but it certainly looks like he’s getting more comfortable in all facets of the game. We’ll see if he sticks as a long-term solution to our second base woes. But, right now? Caballero is a godsend, and the Mariners can certainly use more of that.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong For The 2023 Mariners Hitters?!

I’m on record as saying the Mariners will be going back to the playoffs in 2023. Granted, they’re most likely not going to win the A.L. West – the Astros just have too great of a talent disparity over us – but on paper, and with the eye test, the Mariners seem like the best wild card team of the bunch. Barring a calamity of injuries, we should find ourselves back where we belong. I would also argue – again, barring injuries to our most key players – that we’re in a better position to make a deep playoff run, even if we don’t necessarily have the horses to win 100 games in the regular season.

But, we must never forget that these are the Seattle Mariners. All we know is failure. All but five of our 40-some-odd seasons of existence have ended without a post-season berth. There’s never been a World Series appearance, meaning the five best seasons have also ended in defeat. And, anecdotally, it seems like whenever our expectations are at their highest, the M’s find a way to crumple under the pressure.

I’ve been teasing this post for a little while now, but it’s time to get into it. Yes, there’s more optimism for this group of players than I can remember in the last 20 years combined. But, there’s also legitimate arguments to be made for every single one of these players to underperform. I won’t touch on the entire 40-man roster, but we’ll hit on a good portion of guys.

Julio Rodriguez – He’s already been anointed as one of the next great superstars of the game of baseball – with a contract to match – so you’d think if there was anyone safe from the Mariners curse, it’d be Julio. But, freakier shit has happened. It’s only his second year in the bigs, and he’s already had to endure ups and downs. What’s to say he doesn’t get off to another slow start, and things start to snowball?

Cal Raleigh – This one seems a little more legitimate, to me at least. He had a great year last year, but it’s extremely reliant on his power numbers. He was also worked quite a bit – particularly down the stretch – and is coming off of a thumb injury that limited him severely. We know he’s not going to be a guy who hits for average, and he’s practically a liability on the basepaths with his lack of speed. So, if the power numbers take a dive, he could be Rob Johnson-esque!

Ty France – I would call France our most reliable hitter, by a pretty significant margin. The caveat there, of course, is when he’s healthy. While he’s tough as hell, the last two seasons have seen him swoon for long stretches whenever he’s forced to gut out minor injuries (“minor” of course; I’m sure they’d be painful as hell to normal people). He’s also among the league leaders in getting hit by pitches, and isn’t afraid to make physical contact when trying to make a play in the field. So, you have to wonder how his body is going to last, or if it’ll break down prematurely. He seems like the kind of player who will shine bright for a short period of time, but will fall off a cliff when it comes time to sign a bigtime free agent contract. If he suffers a major injury and has to spend a long chunk of time on the IL, that could be disastrous for us. What might be worse is if he suffers some minor injuries early and often, and opts to play through them with negative results.

Eugenio Suarez – You can easily see the variety of possibilities for Suarez in 2023. Just look at his previous two seasons. 30 points of batting average seemingly makes all the difference in the world between him being a sub-replacement player vs. a 4-win player on a playoff team. What can go wrong with Suarez? Simple BABIP luck.

Teoscar Hernandez & Kolten Wong – This one’s also easy: neither of these guys have played the majority of their games in T-Mobile Park. Hernandez isn’t strictly a power guy, but a significant portion of his value is his ability to hit for extra bases and knock runners in. If he succumbs to the marine layer, it’s going to be a long and brutal season (see: Jesse Winker). Since Wong isn’t really a power guy, you’d think he might be a safer fit, but we’ve seen plenty of slap hitters falter in Seattle (see: Adam Frazier, Chone Figgins, etc.). He’s also 32 years old and on the tail-end of his Major League career.

J.P. Crawford – His on-base ability is pretty well established at this point, and his defense is very solid. But, there’s never been much power to speak of, and we seem to be banking a lot of his future success on changes to his swing from this past offseason. He certainly needed to switch things up, after a prolonged slump in the second half of 2022; getting his bat through the zone quicker will be a must. But, what if it doesn’t take? What if he reverts to old habits? We might be regretting not going after a high-priced short stop replacement, if that’s the case.

Jarred Kelenic & A.J. Pollock – I’ve already talked about these guys enough. Kelenic has yet to do anything for an extended period of the regular season. And Pollock seems like he’s Just A Guy. It would be a HUGE upset victory if both of these guys pan out; we’re just hoping for a little competence out of one of them.

Dylan Moore & Sam Haggerty – The great utility duo. I think they’re both coming off of injuries, which isn’t super encouraging. Moore is also slated to have a pretty major role on this team, since we don’t actually have a DH. There’s little-to-no power to speak of, so if their batting averages struggle, they’re going to be a huge liability.

Tom Murphy – I can’t even remember the last time he was healthy for a full season. Maybe never? I also don’t know what we have in reserve, but it doesn’t seem pretty. The worst-case scenario is Cal Raleigh turning back into a pumpkin, Tom Murphy getting hurt, and having to slog through with Cooper Hummel.

Can The Mariners Overtake The Astros In 2023?

As we get closer to the start of Spring Training – which commences in a couple weeks – it’s looking less and less likely that the Mariners will make a big, impactful move to improve this year’s team. Although, to be fair, the Winker/Suarez deal came down in mid-March last year, so it’s not impossible for something huge to come down the pike. Nevertheless, we can only render judgments on things as we know them today.

And today, we have a team that added Teoscar Hernandez, Kolten Wong, Trevor Gott, and A.J. Pollock; they lost Mitch Haniger (Giants), Kyle Lewis (Diamondbacks), Jesse Winker (Brewers), Abraham Toro (Brewers), Adam Frazier (Orioles), Carlos Santana (Pirates), and Erik Swanson (Blue Jays), among others. Feels like a wash to me. We’re REALLY banking a lot of our hopes and dreams on Hernandez and Wong coming to Seattle and continuing their relatively high-quality play. I get why we made these moves – Haniger is an injury waiting to happen, Winker and Toro were busts here, Frazier and Santana might be over the hill – but I can see a world where Winker bounces back when fully healthy, and where Haniger manages to keep his body right and not succumb to some more atrocious injury luck.

The justification for not spending a lot in free agency, or taking a lot of money on in trades, is due to our extending Julio Rodriguez and Luis Castillo in the middle of last year. Somehow, those two get lumped into our Hot Stove tally sheet by the Mariners, mostly to play down the complaints that the M’s are fucking tightwads, but that’s neither here nor there. They are who they are.

I’m not as up in arms as a lot of fans are. For the most part, I think the Mariners are building the right way. I’m already on record as saying I hate these big-money deals for outside free agents (the Robinson Cano conundrum). And I understand the farm system took a hit in the rankings – thanks to guys graduating to the Majors, and other guys getting traded away in the Castillo deal – so there’s not a ton of value left to jettison. It’s smart to not completely gut our minors just to bring in one more guy, especially if we’re not necessarily One More Guy away from winning a World Series. What I take issue with is the fact that there were mid-tier free agents out there who we could’ve signed to mid-level free agent deals – knowing we needed at least one more outfielder, as well as someone to rotate at DH – and we opted for A.J. Pollock. I think that’s going to burn us; I hope I’m wrong.

At some point, we have to move forward with the team we’ve been given. Which brings us to the question at hand: can the Mariners overtake the Astros in 2023?

This question assumes, of course, that the Mariners and Astros are the two best teams in the A.L. West, and by “overtaking the Astros”, it means the Mariners will win the division. For the sake of argument, then, let’s just further assume there’s no huge surprise team among the Angels, Rangers, or Athletics (who I would expect to finish in that order at the bottom of the division, though there’s always the chance the Rangers make a leap).

I’ll start with this: I haven’t kept great tabs on the Astros’ wheelings and dealings this offseason. I’m just taking it for granted they’re going to be at least as good as they were in 2022. Meaning: they’re probably good enough to win over 100 games. Last year, the Astros won 106 games, and were 16 games better than the Mariners. So, that’s the gap I’m talking about. Can we make up 16 games on them?

Well, for one thing, since we only play them 13 times – down from the usual 19 – there are fewer opportunities to gain ground in head-to-head play. But, as we’ve seen pretty much since the Astros joined the American League, that actually means there are fewer opportunities for them to beat our brains in. In my mind, that can only be a good thing for the M’s.

There are two, MAYBE three major things that I’m pointing to as reasons for optimism. The big two being: Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez. As much as I loathe including them as part of our overall spending this offseason, I do think there’s a legitimate argument to be made in favor of the Mariners picking up some wins in 2023.

Recall we traded for Castillo on July 30th last year; this year, we get him for the full season! (I should point out that this post also has to assume that everyone I write about stays healthy all year, or at least the vast majority of the games, for all teams involved; of course, the M’s could overtake the Astros if their top five guys all go down with ACL tears). Castillo was a 1 WAR player for the Mariners over the final two months; he counted 3.1 WAR for the Reds. What difference will he make at the top of our rotation every 5-6 days (depending how deep of a rotation we opt to go with to start out) for a full six months? I think that’s pretty significant.

Also recall that Julio Rodriguez was effectively worthless in the month of April last year, as he was getting his footing at the Major League level. Now he’s an All Star who should play at a very high level from Day 1. Having that experience last year can only boost him that much more in year two (let’s hope there’s no Sophomore Slump!). You can also say something similar about Cal Raleigh; he was officially demoted to Tacoma for a short spell before injury thrust him back to Seattle, where he FINALLY turned it around. I’m a little more concerned about his effectiveness this year; he’s still pretty boom or bust at the plate. But, let’s just say he SHOULD be as good as he was in the second half last year, and if we get that for a full season, it’ll be a nice lift for this offense in the months of April and May.

Finally, as a little bonus, I’ll just quickly add that the training wheels are officially off of Logan Gilbert, and the experience he’s had through two seasons will hopefully propel him towards one of those upper rotation slots. If he’s not a second ace on this team, I would expect him to be at least an effective #2. His career trajectory to date has been remarkable, and there’s still room for him to get better. We’re just getting into George Kirby’s second season, where it’s expected the training wheels are very much still on (considering he pitched a lot more as a rookie than the team expected going into last year). But, his ceiling looks to be even higher than Gilbert’s, so as long as these guys don’t have any major setbacks, you’re talking about one of the best rotations in all of baseball, starting on Day 1.

Is that enough? The bullpen will have to continue being lights out. The offense will have to continue being timely with their hitting and cluster luck. If everything goes according to plan, and we don’t run into a bunch of guys having career-worst seasons, I think there’s an okay chance. Maybe a 66.67% chance the Astros win the division, with a 33.33% chance the Mariners prevail. That’s not amazing, but considering it’s usually a 99.99% chance the Astros dominate, I’ll take it.

Who Is A.J. Pollock?

Well, he’s a new Mariners outfielder, having just signed a 1-year, $7 million deal with incentives that can bring it to $10 million. I don’t know what those incentives are yet, but I’m guessing they’ll be relatively attainable if he just does what he’s supposed to do.

According to … statistics, he apparently crushes left-handed pitching. If we just go by last year, he was a monster against lefties, and he was pretty mediocre against righties. It should also be noted that almost exactly 1/4 of his plate appearances came against lefties, which pretty much checks out. There are lots more right handed pitchers in baseball than lefties. So, 1/4 of the time, he’s elite. 3/4 of the time he’s somewhere between 2022 Jesse Winker and Jarred Kelenic.

I think those comparisons are relevant to my overall feeling about this signing, because I remember everyone with fingers and an Internet connection telling me that Winker’s greatest attribute was his ability to mash right-handed pitching. Even if he struggled against lefties, you could platoon him and be fine. What happened? Well, for starters, the Season From Hell happened. But, he also weirdly hit much better against lefties and struggled (compared to his previous norms) against righties. I’m not saying it’s going to flip-flop with Pollock the way it did with Winker (that might actually make it a genius move, if true), but I’m just saying beware of making assumptions about guys who have had successful track records.

A.J. Pollock is 35 years old. Sure, he had a 3.1 WAR season in 2021, but last year it was 0.4 (largely due to those platoon splits). He hasn’t been an All Star since 2015 (his Major League debut was in 2012). Last year was also his first in the American League, after being a career National Leaguer; that matters, and everyone pretends it doesn’t. It’s also my understanding that he’s been injury prone of late, which is what happens to most guys in baseball in their mid-30s.

I will say this: the price isn’t outrageous (what IS outrageous is the fact that this is the highest-paid position player free agent we’ve signed in the Jerry Dipoto era; that feels insane to me, even if I’m not the biggest fan of overpaying for free agents based on past success that’s never likely to be replicated). You pay $7 million for a part-time outfielder with some upside still left in the tank. You pay for his leadership, you pay for his production to just remain level with what it’s been in the last couple years, and you cross your fingers that he stays healthy.

But, this move only SORT OF works if he does just that: plays to an expected level, or better. However, you’re still going into the season with the expectation that he’s going to have a platoon partner. How often does THAT work out? How often do both guys pull their weight?

You might like your chances if switch-hitting Sam Haggerty was his partner, except Swaggerty has even MORE stark platoon splits, and his are also in favor of going against lefties. You might settle for a Dylan Moore partnership, but we all know what Dylan Moore is at this point, so don’t make me pull the Dennis Green video again. Also, don’t even try to talk to me about Taylor Trammell or Cade Marlowe, because those are non-entities. Can a guy named Cade succeed at anything?

The expected move – at this point, barring future moves – is to pair him with Jarred Kelenic. And yeah, I get it. He’s awful against lefties. He’s significantly better against righties. But, that’s just compared to how bad he is against lefties. In reality, Kelenic is terrible against EVERYONE. Now, obviously, no one’s sitting here looking to give up on a 23 year old who was once projected to be a crown jewel in our organizational prospect rebuilding effort. But, we’ve seen a decent sample size out of him; over the last two years, it kind of adds up to one full season. Therein, you’re looking at: .168/.251/.338. You saw him look solid towards the end of his 2021 season, only to regress HARD at the start of 2022. He, again, improved towards the end of last year (ever-so-slightly), but fool me twice, you know?

This is a Mariners team coming off of their first playoff appearance in two decades. There are … expectations. We’ve seen a number of lateral moves towards our 2023 roster (Teoscar Hernandez for Mitch Haniger in right, Kolten Wong for Adam Frazier at second, some addition by subtraction in getting rid of Winker and Abraham Toro), but I don’t know if any of these are going to vastly move the needle when it comes to actual wins on the field. A.J. Pollock feels very in line with those other guys; you kind of expect him to play well, but it also wouldn’t shock you in the slightest for him to faceplant as soon as he puts on a Mariners uniform (that goes for Hernandez and Wong as well).

You don’t expect Pollock to only appear in a quarter of these games; he’s not going to be limited exclusively to facing lefties. As long as he’s healthy and productive, he should start against EVERY lefty, and enough righties to put him in a 50/50 timeshare. I think that’s the best-case scenario for him. If he’s thrust into a full-time starting role, I’m guessing we’ll see drastically diminishing returns. But, even at a 50/50-ish split, that’s putting A LOT of trust into Jarred Kelenic figuring it out in his third Major League season, when he’s looked absolutely lost at the plate for 99% of his time in the bigs thus far. For a team that’s expecting a return trip to the playoffs? A team that would ideally like to compete with the Astros for the division title? I don’t think that’s smart.

But, then again, I don’t have a lot of answers here. I’m a guy who doesn’t want to hand over the keys to 50% of the left field job to Jarred Kelenic, but I’m also a guy who doesn’t want to give up on him either. I guess I’d like him to be a guy who goes into this season as a backup outfielder, who slowly builds up his confidence at the plate over sporadic playing time, until he commands starting time through his achievements. Otherwise, this would be the third year in a row where he’s essentially handed a starting job in this lineup, without actually having to prove he’s capable in regular season, Major League baseball games. What has he done to EARN it, other than be good in the minors, and have one hot Spring Training?

I dunno. The Mariners aren’t done, and won’t be set until we get closer to April. I’m still half-expecting a big move between now and Spring Training. But, so far, I’m not exactly bursting with enthusiasm for the moves to date. I guess I’m just waiting to find out who’s set to disappoint us in the 2023 season. It’s not always the people you expect!

Gun to my head, though, I’m expecting A.J. Pollock to disappoint.

The Mariners Traded For Kolten Wong & Added A Reliever

I’m a little behind in my Hot Stove updates, but to be fair these things tend to come crashing down in waves, so this relative trickle of moves has come as a bit of a shock.

So far, we’ve brought in Teoscar Hernandez via trade, sent Kyle Lewis for some change of scenery in exchange for a utility player, and more or less declared that the top tier free agents are not going to be targets for us (which I’m more or less okay with). The Mariners have a history of being quick to act at this point in the offseason, so it’s a little surprising to see the relative inaction.

We brought in right-handed reliever Trevor Gott, who’s under team control through 2024. His numbers don’t inspire a ton of confidence, but the Mariners have worked magic with relievers in recent years, so I could see our coaching staff unlocking his full potential. I don’t want to get too high or too low about this guy until he starts showing up in regular season games, so for now I plan on forgetting all about him until next April.

We also, not for nothing, signed Casey Sadler to a minor league deal, which is exciting! He was hurt for the entirety of 2022, but he was one of our very-best relievers (in an already-elite bullpen) in 2021, so if he can get somewhere close to that, I’d be thrilled.

The big news of the last couple weeks was the trade for second baseman Kolten Wong. Like Teoscar Hernandez, Wong is signed through 2023. So, this time next year, we very well might have these two holes to re-fill yet again. But, in the short term, things look promising.

The good thing about trades like this is that they don’t really cost you a whole lot. Hernandez cost us a good reliever and a low-minors prospect. Wong cost us two Major Leaguers who we all grew tired of by season’s end: Jesse Winker and Abraham Toro.

If you’re the Brewers, I think you’re pretty happy with this deal. As I said, Wong’s only under contract for one more year. So is Jesse Winker, but Winker’s upside at the plate (especially in the friendlier confines of the National League Central) is an automatic upgrade if he can return to full health and approach the type of player he was as recently as 2021. Toro is the real prize for them though, because he’s under club control through 2026, he plays multiple positions in the infield and outfield, and he’s already accumulated a number of clutch hits in his Major League career. Consistency at the plate is what he’s lacked thus far. If they can either turn him into a hitter with fewer holes – or find a way to unlock his power potential – they’ll have a real gem on their hands. Both guys, most certainly, needed a change of scenery out of the arms race that is the A.L. West.

As with most of these types of deals, the likeliest outcome is that Winker is toast, Toro will never be anything more than a frustrating utility guy, and Wong will come to Seattle and disappoint.

I’m not as high on the return as other Mariners fans. It’s not that I think the deal isn’t fair, it’s just I’m not sure about the player. Wong is 32. His career-high in homers was 15 last year. His career batting average is only .261, and I feel like both of those numbers are going to take a severe hit in Seattle. I guess he finds a way to get on base fairly regularly, and his defense has traditionally been better than average. But, I hear injuries largely hampered his mobility last year, which seems like a clear sign of aging. Best case scenario has him as a moderately more effective player than Adam Frazier. But, there’s a good chance he’s just as bad or worse.

Where do these moves have us in relation to last year’s team? When you factor in the loss of Haniger (who signed a lovely deal with the San Francisco Giants, finally cashing in on his Major League Baseball skills), it kind of feels like a wash so far. Obviously, the moves aren’t done yet. It feels like there’s something major set to roll down the pike any time now, involving a number of highly-rated prospects for an impact Major Leaguer. But, for now, I don’t think I see this Mariners team as any better than last year’s. Last year was fun and all, but this is the time to make significant strides towards trying to win the division.

What I’d Like To See The Mariners Do This Offseason

It’s impossible to predict the fluctuation of outcomes from individual players year over year. A guy might’ve had a great 2022, then all of a sudden goes in the tank due to injuries, private personal matters, or just total randomness. Baseball can be INFURIATING in that respect.

That being said, there doesn’t appear to be quite as many holes to fill this offseason as usual. Coming off of back-to-back 90-win seasons – the latest being a playoff run into the ALDS – that’s a good problem to have. It’s also one we’re not used to experiencing, as Mariners fans. I almost don’t know what to do with myself!

The starting rotation, for instance, looks to be set, barring trades. My hunch on the order goes like this:

  • Luis Castillo (R)
  • Logan Gilbert (R)
  • Robbie Ray (L)
  • George Kirby (R)
  • Marco Gonzales (L)

Is it perfect? No. But, I think the top end is good-to-elite, and I think the two lefties are solid innings eaters. The depth beyond those five guys is a little suspect, as I don’t know if any of our upcoming minor league starters are ready to ascend (or will even be with the club, since they present as our biggest trade chips), but we at least should have Chris Flexen around as a long relief arm/injury replacement starter.

I would say the bullpen is largely set too, though of course there’s room to tinker. We’ve got the following arms under contract (among a host of others):

  • Andres Munoz
  • Paul Sewald
  • Erik Swanson
  • Matt Brash
  • Diego Castillo
  • Penn Murfee
  • Matt Festa

We probably need another left-handed reliever or two, but that’s what Spring Training is there for. We go out and find underappreciated rejects and turn them into monster relievers. I’m sure there are guys out on the scrap heap looking to turn their careers around in Seattle.

The major holes are where you’d expect: the everyday lineup.

Right off the bat, Mitch Haniger, Carlos Santana, and Adam Frazier are all free agents. That’s your starting right fielder, DH, and second baseman. Then, there’s the whole Jesse Winker fiasco, so you’re probably looking at a need to replace your left fielder.

Coming at it from the other direction, we look solid-to-great at center field (Julio), third base (Suarez), first base (France), catcher (Raleigh), and short stop or second base (Crawford).

Internal depth pieces include Kelenic, Toro, Lewis, Haggerty, Moore, Trammell, and Torrens. I don’t think we should be confident in any of those guys. I like Haggerty a lot, but I wonder if he’ll get exposed the more he plays. I like Kyle Lewis a lot, but he can’t stay healthy with his chronic knee issues that probably prevent him from playing everyday outside of DH (and, considering how bad he was at the plate this year, you have to wonder if he even has value with his bat anymore). Trammell, Toro, and Torrens all look to be Quad-A players not to be trusted with starting jobs. And Kelenic is the real wild card in all of this. Highly touted, highly regarded throughout his minor league career, but definitely stalled out at the Major League level. Is it possible for him to figure it out? Of course. But, will he do so in a Mariners uniform? That’s a huge question.

It’s frustrating to see so much of the outfield in flux, because that looked like our area of greatest strength. It was supposed to be Julio, Lewis, and Kelenic for the next 5-10 years. Now, it looks like we’ve hit on 1 out of 3.

I’d love for Mitch Haniger to stick around, but clearly he too can’t stay healthy. The smarter play feels like we should let him move on to another team. Which is a tough pill to swallow, because he’s exactly the kind of guy you want. Works hard, plays quality outfield defense, hits for good average and power when he’s healthy, great teammate. But, if he’s spending more time in the training room than out on the field, that’s not a guy you can count on.

I’m already at the point where I think Winker needs to go, but his value has taken such a sharp hit this year, I don’t know what you’d get in return. The smart play might be to get rid of him anyway, because his attitude and alleged lack of work ethic might be a bigger detriment than whatever good we might squeeze out of positive regression, but I can see why the organization might want to avoid having to replace BOTH corner outfield spots. There’s also the chance that, you know, his severe surgical injuries might have hampered him just a bit. So, maybe he’s on the short list for a bit of positive regression.

Even though the Mariners are in the best spot they’ve been in since 2001, it’s not like this is an EASY fix. Two outfielders, one middle-infielder, and one big bat to DH and maybe help out in the field on occasion.

I think the middle infielder is the key. I think we have to sign one of the big bats that hit the market in free agency to either play short stop (and move Crawford over to second) or second base. From there, I think you take a shot in free agency at a quality outfielder, but more likely will have to make a trade for that guy. Then, as for the other outfielder, I think you maybe find someone to platoon, with the other platoon partner being an internal candidate (either Kelenic, Haggerty, or Moore, whoever produces best in Spring Training). As for the DH, find some vet akin to Carlos Santana (only maybe slightly younger and more spry) who can fill in at first base in a pinch, to give France regular days off to DH in his place.

The Mariners should have a decent amount of money to play around with, so I’m hoping there’s at least one big splash. The trade candidates can be guys with 1-2 years left. Maybe we can flip Winker for someone else’s problem, in a greener pastures sort of situation.

The big story this offseason is where will Aaron Judge go. He’s going to get half a billion dollars, easy. Is that someone I’d want in a Mariners uniform? I dunno, how well did it go the last time we signed away a former Yankees superstar?

Here’s the deal: I would be thrilled if the Mariners signed Judge to play right field. As we all would. In the short term, pairing him with Julio and the other guys on our roster is only going to make them the most formidable pairing in baseball. But, there’s a reason why his numbers have been so insane with the Yankees, and that’s because he plays half his game in Yankee Stadium. Hitting homers there is as easy as breathing. If he moves to Seattle, expect a DRAMATIC downturn in his number of homers. He hit 60+ this year? You might bank on him hitting 40+ with the Mariners. I’d say the 30-40 range is more likely. And that’s assuming he stays healthy.

Of course, long term, I think that contract will be a disaster. What worries me is if it’s a disaster from the start. Think Albert Pujols when he joined the Angels. He went downhill almost immediately, and they had to endure a decade of his creaky knees.

I’d rather put that money into a short stop who’s a better long-term fit, and then trade for a value bat in the outfield. That’s easier said than done, obviously. But, I will say that now that we’ve had this success, and we’ve got a lot of our core locked up, Seattle is a more attractive place to come and play. Obviously, it’s not perfect. There’s a lot of travel involved. The home park isn’t easy, especially in the colder months. But, locating the right guys who fit our dynamic and what we’re trying to do offensively will be critical to getting over the hump.

As Napster guy said to Facebook guy in The Social Network, “The wild card isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Winning the division and getting a top two seed.”

2022 Seattle Mariners: In Memoriam

It’s fun to look back at my prediction post to see what I thought about the Mariners heading into the season. Long story short: I was right about some guys, VERY wrong about some guys, and I had this team pegged as an 84-win squad who would go on to miss the playoffs once again.

It’s funny how this season ebbed and flowed. We started out 11-6, which kind of gets lost in the shuffle in the narrative to this season, because the next stretch was so terrible. As late as June 19th, we were infamously 10 games under .500 at 29-39 (meaning in that span of almost two months, we went 18-33). Then, amazingly, we finished the year 61-33 (winning at a .649 clip), including a 14-game winning streak to close out the first half. This was a year removed from another 90-win Mariners team who had a pretty shabby record in May/June before turning it on the rest of the way. The main difference is that we had three wild card teams to go along with three divisional winners making the playoffs in each league. So, this time around, 90 wins was just enough.

There are so many fun storylines that came along this year, with the top being Julio Rodriguez. He’s a superstar! He’s the superstar we’ve been waiting for since Ken Griffey Jr. left. He hits for average (.284), he hits for power (28 homers, 25 doubles, 3 triples), he steals bases (25 against 7 caught stealing), he plays tremendous defense in center field, and he’s by all accounts a fantastic leader and teammate. He’s everything you could want in a 6-WAR player, and oh by the way, he also had an absolutely atrocious month of April before figuring out how to play at this level. Meaning he did all he did in 5 months, which is absolutely incredible. He’s your American League Rookie of the Year, and unlike the last Mariners ROY (Kyle Lewis), he figures to play at a high level for many years to come (hence the humongous mega-deal he signed during the season).

You know who else was a really cool story? Cal Raleigh! He struggled in 2021, and was off to another rough start in 2022, to the point where he was briefly sent back down to Tacoma to work on some things. He ultimately was forced to return due to catcher injuries, but this time he made the most of it. He doesn’t hit for much average, but he was among the best catchers in the game with his power (27 homers, 20 doubles, and one improbable triple) and he obviously has a great defensive game (both in handling pitchers as well as throwing runners out and pitch-framing). As far as Pleasant Surprises go, he’s way up there for me and a lot of Mariners fans.

Another guy I wasn’t expecting a ton from was Eugenio Suarez. I wondered – as did many people – if his best days weren’t behind him. Instead, he was probably the best version of what he can be: a 4-WAR player who hit 31 homers, 24 doubles, and 2 triples. He also played very good defense at third base, and is amazingly an upgrade over what we had with Kyle Seager over the last few years. His batting average isn’t stupendous, but his on-base percentage is very good.

One more pleasant surprise before we get to the guys we expected to be good, and that’s Sam Haggerty. It’s a rough go that he wasn’t able to make it to the playoffs – suffering a major injury in the final week of the regular season – but as a bench guy, he finished with 2.2 WAR. It got to the point that he forced his way into an almost-everyday role on this team (bouncing around from various outfield AND infield spots) through sheer grit and talent. I don’t know what his role is long-term, but he’s one of those guys every playoff team needs: someone who hits for average, plays amazing defense, and will steal you a money bag in a pinch.

We got Ty France and J.P. Crawford through almost a full season intact, and they produced about as well as you’d expect, with 3.0 and 2.8 WAR respectively. I think you’d still look to improve at one of the middle infield spots this offseason (potentially moving J.P. over to second), but you have to like what both of these guys give you, as far as leadership and production go. Ultimately, you wonder how both of them will handle the rigors of a full season (as nagging injuries seem to creep in and sap their effectiveness as the season wears on), but for now I have no complaints.

Finally, pour one out for Mitch Haniger and Carlos Santana. Both were on the final years of their respective deals (Santana was a trade acquisition who didn’t hit a lot, but when he did, they seemed to be in the biggest of moments). Santana is probably washed as an everyday bat, while Haniger proved once again that he can’t stay healthy for a full (or multiple) season(s). I would say Haniger was great while he was in there, but even with his 1.4 WAR across 57 games, he still went in the tank for long stretches (and didn’t really give us much in the playoffs).

As far as pitching goes, there are plenty of kudos to go around. Logan Gilbert led the squad in WAR with 3.2. He built on his impressive rookie season with an even better one, throwing 185.2 innings in 32 starts. It looks like Gilbert is going to be a workhorse for many years to come.

On Gilbert’s heels came George Kirby, who had a similar rookie year this year to Gilbert’s last year: very restricted innings, yet still impressive output. What Kirby had this year – which Gilbert never got a chance to show last year – was a phenomenal playoff run. You would expect Kirby to have a similar increase in his innings next year, followed by the training wheels coming all the way off in 2024.

Luis Castillo was our big deadline acquisition, and he showed why the cost was worth it. To the point that he earned himself a long-term extension to stick around and be this team’s ace for the foreseeable future. He’s like a harder-throwing Felix with a similarly-impressive change up.

Robbie Ray was the leader of the pitchers throughout the year, but he had a number of rough patches to endure. His start was rocky as hell, until he started incorporating his 2-seam fastball. That led to improved results, but ultimately it seemed like he struggled against better teams. I don’t know what tweaks are in his future, but he’s going to need to rein in his command if he’s going to be worth the huge wad of money the Mariners are giving him over the next few years.

The rotation was wildly healthy this year, which is pretty insane. Marco Gonzales did Marco Gonzales things, finishing pretty well in line with his career norms, throwing 183 innings across 32 starts, and being about league average as you can get. Chris Flexen also did Chris Flexen things, and earned himself a nice little bump in pay in 2023 (to be this team’s long reliever, I guess, if he’s not traded at some point).

The bullpen – for the second year in a row – was this team’s heart and soul, and they needed every bit of the talent on offer. What’s interesting is that – aside from Sewald – we got it from a gaggle of new guys. Andres Munoz was the obvious breakout star, throwing 100+, with a 90+ slider. But, Erik Swanson dramatically improved his game, Penn Murfee was a nice surprise, Matt Festa was a competent arm, Diego Castillo got better once he was dropped from the highest-leverage spots, and Matt Brash was a revelation once the team demoted him from starter to reliever. If Brash sticks with relief, I think the sky is the limit with this kid, which is great news when you figure he’ll slot alongside Munoz and Sewald for the next few years at least.

It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for the 2022 Mariners, though.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Jesse Winker was this team’s biggest disappointment. He came over in that first big trade with the Reds (alongside Suarez), and everyone pegged Winker as the cornerstone of that deal. For good reason, because all Winker has done is produce at the plate in his Major League career. Especially in 2021, when he played at an All Star level.

Winker’s production fell dramatically this year. He suffered the Seattle curse. At home, his slash line was .203/.331/.294; on the road, it was dramatically higher: .232/.354/.382. 10 of his 14 homers came on the road. Ironically, the book on him was that he struggled against lefties but crushed righties; however that flipped for some bizarre reason in 2022. Across the board he was better against lefties, which is crazy to me!

The final nail in the coffin appears to be his work ethic, and his chemistry in the clubhouse as a result of that (lack of) work ethic. I’ll say this: I agree with Divish, I don’t think he looks very strong or athletic whatsoever. His defense isn’t just mediocre, it’s an outright liability. Sure, his eye at the plate is pretty strong, but you can’t build a career on crap defense and walks. That’s not going to work on a team that has a razor-thin margin for error when it comes to our offensive struggles at times. This is a team with a whole lotta alpha dogs who are in it to win it. I don’t know what Winker’s vibe is exactly – he struck me as an easygoing, comedy relief type of presence, but I don’t know if that’s totally accurate given the RBF we’ve come to witness so often – but clearly it doesn’t mesh with this team. Either he gets traded, or they try to make it work with an offseason meeting of the minds. My hunch is we cut and run, though I hope there’s at least a little value, since I think his bat would play in a friendlier offensive environment.

Adam Frazier was also a pretty significant offseason acquisition that was also a major disappointment. You bring in a guy like Frazier for his high batting average and on-base percentage. Competent defense at second and in the corner outfield is a bonus, but he’s supposed to be a regular baserunner for other guys to hit in. That’s what makes his 2022 season so befuddling, because his bat SHOULD play anywhere he goes. We’re not relying on him to be a dynamic power source like Winker, we just want him standing on first base for other guys to knock him around. He only turned 30 this year, so he should still be close enough to his prime to be effective. But, regardless, he started in a pretty deep hole and could never fully get out of it, in spite of occasional hot stretches. As I mentioned, there’s room for improvement up the middle, but that was always going to be the case. Frazier was on a 1-year deal, so we were going to have to look to fill this spot either way. Between left field and second base, we need to find at least ONE bigtime bat to help prop up this offense to get closer to league-average in scoring.

I’ll just rattle off really quickly: the other major disappointments were Luis Torrens, Abraham Toro, and Jarred Kelenic.

Kelenic had a fantastic finish to his 2021 season, which gave us all hope that he’d be here to stay in 2022. Instead, he sucked hard in the early going, spent MOST of the year down in Tacoma, had a nice little blip in the last couple weeks of the regular season, but ultimately wasn’t able to continue that through the playoffs. There’s still a lot he needs to do to be a more consistent Major League presence, and I just don’t know if he’s ever going to stick in Seattle.

Toro was a deadline acquisition in 2021 who has had a number of big hits in clutch moments, but by and large he’s been atrocious. He had to play for the Mariners quite a bit this year due to injuries and ineffectiveness around the roster, but he’s a huge wad of nothing. Time to move on.

Torrens, we thought, figured out his bat in 2021, and was supposed to be a steady middle-of-the-order type of guy, either as a backup catcher, or as this team’s DH. But, once again, he fell off the map and found himself DFA’d. He passed through without anyone claiming him, so we were able to get him to Tacoma until late in the regular season, when he returned to Seattle (with Raleigh’s injury issues) and saw an uptick in his offensive production again. I couldn’t tell you what his future holds, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the Mariners need improvement at backup catcher.

I don’t have a ton of complaints about the pitching. Again, it would be nice if Robbie Ray was better against good teams, since we clearly need him if we’re going to make it back to the playoffs. It was also disconcerting to see Sewald get beaten around so much late in the year. But, other than some minor quibbles, most of the guys who sucked (Steckenrider sure didn’t last long, did he?) were jettisoned in a timely fashion.

The overarching analysis for the 2022 Mariners is a rousing success. We made the playoffs for the first time since 2001! Even if it was last year’s playoff format, we would have made it to the Wild Card play-in game, and we would have prevailed to advance to the ALDS. So, I’m not taking anything away from the Mariners. Quite frankly, it’s insane there haven’t been more playoff teams for a while now. After a 162-game season, there needs to be proper representation! There are so many good teams in baseball who deserve a shot every year, why deprive markets of fun opportunities?

This is a team that outperformed expectations. It’s also a team that can easily keep things going, barring injuries. A couple of key additions should leave us contending for the A.L. West next year. And, as long as we don’t totally strip the farm system, there should be enough studs coming up through the pipeline – especially on the pitching side – to keep us playing at a high level for years to come.

The last time the Mariners were good, we had a nice 9-year run of success. Unfortunately, in that span, we only made it to the postseason 4 times, and never advanced beyond the ALCS. That needs to change here. Hopefully, we have the talent and the scouting to make the leap. It’s time for the Mariners – the only team to never play for a world championship – to make the World Series. Will that happen in 2023? A lot would have to go right, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Of course, the odds are super long. But, it’s just nice to have a fun baseball team to root for again. It’s been FAR too long!

The Mariners Were Swept In The ALDS

The Astros needed to record considerably more than 27 outs – 54 outs, to be precise; 18 full innings – to celebrate on our field. But, in the end, this series concluded in the most predictable way possible.

Just goes to show how critical that first game is. You hold on for game one, Saturday’s 1-0 thriller doesn’t matter quite as much.

You gotta give it up to the Mariners for fighting as hard as absolutely possible. It’s not easy to hold the Astros scoreless for three innings, let alone 17. George Kirby – who locked down the save in that crazy 10-9 Blue Jays victory – rightly got the start in game three. With the way Robbie Ray has been abused this post season – not to mention how much he’s been destroyed by the Astros all year – it would’ve been a fireable offense to start him in this series. Kirby was up for the challenge and then some, going 7 innings, giving up 6 hits, 0 walks, while striking out 5. It’s the kind of performance that gives you extreme hope for the future.

I’ll say this, between what Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby have done – especially in the playoffs – that’s as good as it gets! If you can make Robbie Ray – a former Cy Young Award winner – essentially your fourth starter (though I think he’ll slot between Gilbert and Kirby, just to change things up), that’s a rotation worth writing home about.

There were some great redemption stories for the bullpen. Andres Munoz had little trouble, striking out the side in his inning of work. Paul Sewald pitched two full clean innings, striking out 4 over 38 pitches. Erik Swanson was finally allowed to see the mound, throwing a clean inning of his own. Festa went two scoreless. Even Penn Murfee – the hard-luck loser, giving up the game-winning homer to Jeremy Pena – got out of a jam in the 17th to give us yet another opportunity to walk it off. And, finally, even Robbie Ray got us out of the 18th – getting our final two outs of the game – while keeping the game at a 1-0 deficit. I don’t think Ray is finished as a starter by any stretch – though I was as irate at him as anyone – but I think it’s time to lower our expectations going forward. He won’t be winning any more Cy Young Awards, but he can still be a fine back-end starter against lesser opponents.

Lots of amazing, elite pitching by the Mariners in this one. But, of course, the Astros did us one better. They had the luxury of throwing out a fourth elite starter (Luis Garcia) to pitch the final five innings (giving up only 2 hits in the process), and we never even came close to ending this thing in favor of the good guys.

That’s not totally true. While we could only muster 7 hits across 18 innings, Julio Rodriguez did hit a screaming double in the bottom of the eighth that was mere feet from clearing the wall. He also walked and stole second in the 13th inning, but Ty France couldn’t hit him home. Nor could Adam Frazier – the hero in that Toronto comeback – get a hit with a runner on second in the 17th.

That’s a hard pill to swallow. Made worse, of course, because it was the Astros. Fuck those frontrunning pieces of shit. I hope they suffer in the most agonizing way possible.

The Miracle Mariners Made It To The ALDS

I gotta tell ya, this weekend felt like a surreal dream! The Mariners shut out the Blue Jays on Friday afternoon, then my girlfriend and I found the perfect house that had been saving itself especially for us. On Saturday, the Mariners blew it early – giving up an 8-1 deficit to the Blue Jays – and as we discussed submitting an offer on the house with our Realtor, that’s when the comeback commenced. We pulled off the comeback as I was on the road listening on the radio, and later that night we got word that our offer was accepted. In one fell swoop, the Mariners swept the Blue Jays to make it to the American League Divisional Series, AND we got a house! What am I more happy about? I’m pleading the Fifth, but let’s say both events are life-changing and make me happier than I’ve ever been.

There is, of course, more to do. The Mariners have a supremely difficult 5-game series with the Astros to look forward to. And we have our home inspection tomorrow afternoon (ensuring I’m likely to miss the end of this M’s game as well). The rest of this month is sure to be a rollercoaster!

Friday was the game we HAD to have. We all knew it. We all knew it because we saw the writing on the wall with Robbie Ray. Spoiler alert: that writing would prove to be correct. Bottom line is: no one wanted to go into Game 2 needing a quality start from one of our most inconsistent starters over the bulk of this season. Note I didn’t say “one of our worst”. That might be Marco, but at least Marco is pretty consistent. You know what you’re going to get – more often than not – from Marco. With Ray, it could be 7 shutout innings, or he could fail to get out of the second; it’s a total crapshoot.

With that in mind, it was beyond a relief to see Luis Castillo come in and dominate from the jump. What’s interesting is that he didn’t necessarily kill them with unhittable stuff. He just killed them with stuff that led to relatively weak contact. He only finished with 5 strikeouts, but three of them came in the 7th inning (when it looked like he was emptying the tank). He finished the game having gone 7.1 innings, 6 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 5 K’s. It was a masterful performance!

But, he left with a runner on first (hitting George Springer on the wrist in his final AB). That brought Andres Munoz into the game to mop up; he got a fly-out and a ground-out against two of the best Blue Jays hitters (Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero Jr.) to keep them scoreless. Then, Munoz returned in the bottom of the 9th to make quick work of things, giving up a harmless double in the process.

The offense got things going early against one of the better starters in the league in Alek Manoah. He hit Julio to lead off the game, a France groundout moved Julio over to second, Suarez doubled to right to score our first run, and then Cal Raleigh immediately followed with a 2-run homer to make it 3-0 before the Blue Jays even got up to bat. That was it until the fifth inning, when Julio was hit a second time, advanced on a France single the other way, and scored on a Suarez fielder’s choice. 4-0, final score.

That was a relief! It was nice knowing that no matter what happened on Saturday, there’d still be a game on Sunday, where Logan Gilbert would square off against whoever the third-best starter is on the Jays. But, no need! This actually sets things up really well for the Astros series (we need all the help we can get), allowing us to potentially throw Gilbert twice if need be.

The offense REALLY struggled to get going on Saturday. We had a decent opportunity in the first again, but couldn’t push anyone home. France reached on an error and Cal walked, but Haniger struck out to end the threat.

Ironically enough – when it came to Robbie Ray – he looked kind of dialed in through the first three at-bats of the game. Two strikeouts and a weak grounder by Vlad gave us all a false sense of security that things would be fine. That proved not to be in the second inning, when he gave up a meatball 2-run home run to Teoscar Hernandez. He gave up an RBI single in the third, and by that point it looked like he was done. Scott Servais, nevertheless, trotted him back out for the fourth inning, and he gave up a leadoff home run to Hernandez (his second of the day) before getting pulled.

I was convinced that extra run might mean something, but after Brash got an inning of work under his belt, he gave way to Sewald in the fifth, who gave up 4 earned runs in 0.2 innings of work. Just a nightmare scenario. We managed to finally get a hit and break through with a run in the top of the fifth (thanks to a Kelenic sac fly RBI), but it was 8-1 by the time the bottom half concluded.

We finally chased Kevin Gausman in the sixth (I missed all of this). He gave up back-to-back-to-back singles to load the bases, before striking out Haniger and getting a weak pop-out from Adam Frazier (who, in his career, has notoriously beaten Gausman like a red-headed stepchild). Hindsight being what it is, you wonder why they didn’t leave Gausman in there to face Santana (he was only at 95 pitches). To be fair, Santana hit a rocket of a double in the fifth that missed being a 2-run home run by inches, so maybe that was fresh in the manager’s mind.

Anyway, a wild pitch by the reliever is the only reason why Santana didn’t go on to hit a grand slam. Regardless, it was a 3-run home run (4 runs scored total that inning) to bring the game to an 8-5 score in this now battle of the bullpens. Matt Festa went 1.1 innings of relief, with Penn Murfee relieving him in the bottom of the seventh, giving up an inherited runner in the process. So, it was 9-5 when all hell broke loose.

Top of the eighth: Suarez led off with a double, Raleigh singled to center to make it 9-6. Haniger and Frazier both singled to load the bases, where Santana and Dylan Moore (who had relieved Kelenic) both struck out. With two outs, J.P. Crawford swung at a first-pitch slider that flared into center. Both Bichette and Springer sprinted for the ball, but neither really had a chance for it (maybe if Bichette gave way, Springer could’ve dove for it, but the replay I saw made that appear to be an impossibility). Since there were two outs, everyone was running on the ball, and all three ended up scoring, as Crawford landed on second base. Springer had to exit the game after that, almost certainly with some sort of head injury upon running into his teammate. But, we had a brand new ballgame. 9-9.

Munoz took over in the eighth, struggling a bit, but ultimately kept it scoreless in a heroic effort. That’s two insanely important games in a row – against the teeth of the Blue Jays’ lineup – and he got zeroes on the board.

Raleigh doubled in the top of the ninth, sandwiched around a couple of outs. All hope was not lost, though, as Frazier doubled him home for the 10-9 lead. All that was left was the save.

To this point, we had used Ray (3 innings), Brash, Sewald (2 outs), Castillo (1 out), Festa (4 outs), Murfee (2 outs), and Munoz. There were only three other pitchers on the roster, and one of them was George Kirby. While I know he’s been relegated to a bullpen role – at least for this series, if not for the entire playoffs – I don’t think this is the spot we necessarily envisioned for his first-ever playoff appearance.

Yet, he got three outs, only giving up a harmless walk, and the celebration was on. Blue Jays fans were justifiably stunned, as were Mariners fans, if I’m being honest. The Rally Shoe is apparently a thing now (because some fan – or possible mental patient – put a shoe on his head that was caught by a TV camera during the viewing party at T-Mobile Park); I will not be participating in the Rally Shoe phenomenon, because I don’t want to put a dirty-ass shoe on my head.

Anyway, what a wonderful dream of a weekend! The ALDS starts for us tomorrow at just after 12:30pm. Game 1 Tuesday, Game 2 Thursday (both in Houston), then Game 3 and Game 4 are in Seattle Saturday and Sunday (with a potential Game 5 on Monday, with no off-day for travel).

As fun as this is, this is probably the end of the road for the Mariners. We might steal a game or two, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Astros sweep us. The talent disparity is pretty severe. Plus, they’ve had all this time off and can slot their starters accordingly. We’ll get one game out of Luis Castillo, but probably not two. Not with Game 2 being on Thursday (better chance if it landed on Wednesday); that would put him on 3-days rest for a potential Game 5, if we make it that far.

I expect us to go Gilbert, Castillo, Ray in the first three games. That would put Ray in T-Mobile Park, which is far more ideal than him pitching in Houston. That slots Gilbert to start on Sunday on 4 days’ rest. Or, we could save him for Monday on normal rest and throw Gonzales either Saturday or Sunday. As always, I think it’ll depend on how the first couple of games go. We might have to reshuffle everything depending on how big a hole we dig ourselves.

While I’ll say that I’m officially betting the Taylor Family Farm on the Astros winning this series, it wouldn’t be totally unthinkable for the Mariners to shock the world. It’s only a 5-game series. If our pitching is on point – and I mean REALLY on point – we could steal enough games to move on. I don’t think we’ll be winning any 10-9 type shootouts, though!

We’ll see! I never like playing the Just Happy To Be There card, because I don’t believe this team is just happy to be there. But, as a fan, making the playoffs was the goal. Reaching the ALDS feels like gravy. We’re playing with house money. We got beyond the meaningless drivel that is the Wild Card series, and now we’re into the traditional (quote/unquote) baseball playoffs. The one I grew up with, not necessarily the one my father or grandfather grew up with.

It’s nice to be there. It’s nice to be in the mix with the other divisional winners (the Astros, Yankees, and Guardians – who swept the Rays in part by winning a game in 15 innings 1-0). We have just as much pitching as anyone, therefore we have just as much of a chance to prevail as anyone.

Now that the pressure is off. Now that everyone believes the Astros will prevail (and probably win it all), let’s go out there and have fun and maybe spoil everyone’s bets!

The Mariners Got Back To 90 Wins

I didn’t see that coming!

What a nice little treat that was to see. It took winning 3 of 4 against the lowly Tigers to do it, but I’ll take it. The series was completely meaningless from a wild card perspective, because we ended up 2 games behind Toronto (so, even if we won all 4, it wouldn’t have mattered) and a whopping 4 games ahead of Tampa (so even if we lost all 4, it wouldn’t have mattered). As such, this series was treated as completely meaningless.

Monday was another glitchy start from George Kirby (4 innings, 4 runs), all but ensuring that – while he’ll still be on the playoff roster – he won’t be starting anytime soon. We’re all chocking it up to fatigue and moving on. This game was notable for Julio Rodriguez returning and getting right back into the swing of things with a 3-hit day (including a double, a run, and an RBI). It was also notable because it was our only loss on the season to the Tigers, so there’s that.

Tuesday was the big doubleheader. Game 1 featured the return of Chris Flexen to a starting role. He sadly could only go 4 innings, giving up 3 runs in the process, on 71 pitches. Some bullpen guys got a final tune-up, but this one ended up going extras. That brought in Luis Torrens, who pitched the 10th and limited the damage to just the ghost runner (sparing his ERA in the process). He ended up getting the victory when we won it in the bottom half! Casali and Haniger homered.

Game 2 featured the first and only Major League start for Justus Sheffield this year. Brutal campaign in Tacoma has all but eliminated him as anything of import to this organization. He managed to slug his way through 5 innings, giving up 5 runs on 99 pitches. Big fucking whoop. Penn Murfee ate up a couple of crucial innings and other guys got tune-ups, as we thankfully held on and won this in regulation. Toro had a big game, Cal Raleigh had a homer, it was cool.

Wednesday’s season closer featured a heroic Marco Gonzales start. He’s biting the bullet for the team in making that start, as he’ll be left off of the Wild Card roster (he can return for the ALDS if we make it). The plan was for him to pitch as long as he could, and he gave us 7 innings of 4-run (3 earned) ball. Fucking awesome. Couple more tune-ups closed it, as we walked it off in the bottom of the 9th.

As noted, we’re going to Toronto. Friday at 1pm, Saturday at 1pm, Sunday TBD. Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert.

We got a fighter’s chance. We need our starters to really keep us in the game from the jump, because the Blue Jays have an amazing lineup, and presumably an amazing everything else.

Of note, Sam Haggerty pulled a groin on a stolen base attempt. Also, Jesse Winker’s bum neck has cost him the rest of the year. We’re down to Jarred Kelenic in left, with maybe Dylan Moore (unless he plays second base) or Adam Frazier. I don’t know who’s going to start, but it’s not great to lose a couple of important pieces (say what you want about Winker, but he could walk with the best of ’em, and presumably he’s hitting better on the road than at home).

I’m excited! I’m nervous as hell. I can’t wait for this series to start. I’m praying like crazy that we win Game 1, because I’m VERY worried about Robbie Ray. Let’s go!