The 2019 Mariners Have Even Bigger Ewing Theory Potential Than The 2001 Mariners

All credit to Bill Simmons, let’s go back JUST a bit, to 2001.

To put it in context, we all remember that crazy-wonderful 1995 team that saved baseball in Seattle. In 1996, behind a number of questionable dealings, and one glaring Randy Johnson-sized hole in our rotation, we fell back to Earth a little bit. But, the original core put it all together for a quasi-memorable playoff run that ended in the ALDS. That team was absolutely LOADED, with one of the all-time best power offenses in MLB history (264 homers, 925 runs scored, tops in the league in slugging & OPS), to go along with a healthy Big Unit, a rock-solid complement of starters featuring Jamie Moyer & Jeff Fassero, and a zoo of a bullpen that eventually coalesced into something halfway passable (though it cost us an arm & a leg in deadline deals to make it happen).

If you want to talk about one of the most underrated Seattle sports What Could’ve Been’s, the 1997 Mariners are right at the top. I mean, how does a team with Griffey, Edgar, A-Rod, and Buhner (all at the absolute PEAK of their powers) lose to the Baltimore Orioles in 4 games in the ALDS with Randy Johnson losing TWICE? It’s absolutely unfathomable. You’re telling me that team couldn’t have taken out the Indians and the Marlins for a World Series title? Get real!

Anyway, halfway through the 1998 season, the M’s traded Randy (as opposed to extending him; he would go on to win 4 Cy Young Awards and a World Series title in Arizona) while we slogged through a losing season. Then, after another slog through 1999, Griffey demanded a trade. We somehow managed to parlay that into a 2000 Wild Card finish and an ALCS appearance. Following that, A-Rod walked to the Rangers with a then-record $252 million contract, and in 2001 we somehow managed to parlay it into a tie for the most wins in a season in MLB history.

I now refer you back to that Bill Simmons article, which was actually written in the early stages of that 2001 season. Sometimes, freaky shit like this happens! The Mariners dropped three of their most talented players of all time – in the primes of their respective careers – and somehow improved. What the shit is that?!?

Fast forward to 2019. The Mariners just rid themselves of – or are otherwise playing without – the following guys:

  • Robinson Cano
  • Nelson Cruz
  • Edwin Diaz
  • Kyle Seager
  • Jean Segura
  • James Paxton
  • Alex Colome

Those are just the BEST guys, or ostensibly the guys who are supposed to be the best. That doesn’t even factor other bullpen arms, Mike Zunino, various other Quad-A outfielders, and so on and so forth. But those 7 guys up there are pretty huge. And yet, the 2019 Mariners are now 10-2 and absolutely DESTROYING everyone in their path!

Now, as it relates to this team’s 2001 Ewing Theory status, at least that team was coming off of a playoff appearance. THIS team is coming off of zero playoff appearances in 18 years!

Of course, the question is: How long can this continue? As I’ve written about ad nauseam so far, it’s only a matter of time. But, then again, who knows?

What we do know is that this offense is raking through 11 games, having hit 5 more homers last night en route to another lopsided victory. +37 in run differential is now the best in all of baseball, and from what we heard all last year, that’s the most important indicator of a team’s success, right?

So, maybe instead I should be asking: How long can this offense keep it up?

I don’t have a good answer for you there, but I hope it’s forever. If they are indeed the Best Offense In Baseball, then I think we’ll have to shift expectations for where this team can end up. Either way, at this point I’m glad I didn’t bet on the over/under for season wins, because I’m pretty sure I would’ve taken UNDER 74.5, and I’d be looking like an idiot right now.

Mariners Fire Sale! Everything Must Go!

I’ve had sort of mixed emotions about the first two big deals on this list (that I linked to, if you want to read about my feelings).  I think they were definitely necessary moves the Mariners needed to make, to shake things up and boost our farm system, but ultimately I wonder if we got enough back in return.  A starting catcher (who’s also a defensive wizard) for a centerfielder who probably won’t be here for more than a year or two before we get tired of yet another slap-hitting singles artist FEELS like pennies on the dollar.  Then, giving up a potential Ace starting pitcher for a mixed bag of minor league talent – again, while bolstering our terrible minor league teams – FEELS like yet more pennies on the dollar.  Now, of course, both of those guys (all three, if you want to include Heredia) come with their own risks.  Paxton and his injury issues, and Zunino with his woeful hitting issues, could submarine their respective new teams.  Or, they could figure it out/catch a little luck, and be superstars we gave up on too soon.

Before we get to the next slate of deals, I’ll talk about the minor moves the M’s made.  For starters, it seems odd that we’d dump Herrmann when we were already looking to trade Zunino, and the fact that the Astros made a play on him is doubly concerning.  In the end, probably no big thing, and he’s probably not a guy you’d want to guarantee a 40-man roster spot at this point in his career, so whatever.

Not going to arbitration on either Erasmo or Nick Vincent is probably a net gain.  I’m on the record as not having a whole lot of belief in Erasmo.  I think, for what he brings, he shouldn’t cost you very much in salary, so if he gets that elsewhere, more power to him.  And, while I like Vincent as much as the next guy, he was due a significant raise, and given his age and his declining abilities in 2018, that’s money poorly spent for the direction this team is going in.  I’m okay without either of them going forward, as I particularly think Vincent’s best days are behind him, and he’s going to get WAY too much money from another team.

The M’s offered Elias arbitration, and I think that’s cool, but I would’ve been cool if we didn’t as well.  I don’t think he’s in the longterm plans, but you do need to fill out a 25-man roster.  As a reliever/swing starter, there’s some value there.  He was good in 2018, and it’s just as likely he’ll be terrible in 2019, in which case that helps us on our quest to get a higher draft pick.

Finally, Casey Lawrence asked for his release so he can go pitch overseas.  I wish him the best, but again, no great loss.  He was mostly AAA fodder with occasional underwhelming call-ups.

***

Okay, now to the big deals!  Let’s start with the appetizer.

There was all this talk about the above-referenced blockbuster deal with the Mets, but before we were finished obsessing over that one, Jerry Dipoto snuck in a sneaky-good deal with the White Sox.  Alex Colome was another guy with some value who was not in our longterm plans.  He’s still got closing ability, he did pretty okay in 2018, so that value was probably not going up considerably.  Better to strike now rather than at midseason, when he could suck (or get injured) in the first half and see his value drop to zero.

On top of that, we get a starting-calibre catcher in return!  Omar “Don’t Call Me Navarez” Narvaez is a bat-first, lefty-hitting catcher who can take a walk and hit for a decent average.  He lacks Zunino’s power, but he’s improved in that area over the last year.  Where he stinks, unfortunately, is every aspect of his defense, as he rates as one of the very worst in the league.  Pitch-framing, throwing out runners, blocking pitches in the dirt, you name it, he sucks at it.  So, that’s going to be a drastic change of pace.  He’s essentially the Anti-Zunino, so if you REALLY hated Zunino, you’re REALLY gonna love this guy.

We’ll see if he can pick it up defensively, but I feel like that’s something you either have or you don’t, and you don’t really develop it if you lack it in the first place.  I hope I’m wrong, but I feel like he’s NOT the Catcher of the Future, not unless we find more pitchers who are able to miss more bats (without diving balls between and betwixt his legs).

Regardless, if you can get a starting catcher with multiple years of team control for a reliever on the final year of his contract, that’s a deal you make 10 times out of 10.

So, that solves the Zunino-sized hole at our catcher spot.

***

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s dig into the main course:  the Mets deal.

Robinson Cano has 5 years and $120 million left on his deal.  He’s old, but he’s still pretty effective; if I had to guess I’d say he has at least 2-3 more years left playing at his current level of productivity.  There’s always the chance that he’ll start his decline sooner rather than later – particularly on defense – but he’s too naturally talented to be a total black hole at the plate.  That having been said, as his legs go, it’ll end up being either singles, homers, or strikeouts, so unless he beefs up his homer totals, I can’t see him hitting a significant number of doubles from here on out.  With Nelson Cruz seemingly out of the picture, it looked like Cano was a natural to start to transition to his eventual destination as this team’s primary DH.  But, the M’s obviously had other plans.

So, what changed in a year?  Obviously, the PED suspension.  I’m trying to get a handle on if it’s a concern of a second suspension (and a yearlong ban), or if it’s just his attitude/personality and how it might clash with the new/younger direction this team is looking to make.  He’s obviously a big character on this team, and commands a lot of respect wherever he goes, and maybe the Mariners just want the players to learn from a different voice.  I mean, Cano is an All Star, so you can obviously learn a ton from a guy who built himself up from nothing.  But, there are the usual concerns about his hussle and his passion for the game.  I dunno.  I don’t know if we’ll ever get the real dirt about why the Mariners wanted out from under this deal.  I would assume the concern lies in the fact that he probably NEEDS the PEDs to keep up with his usual All Star level, and without them, his decline will start earlier.

With the $24 million per year contract, we obviously were never going to trade him by himself.  Unfortunately, the only real carrot we could dangle to get him out of here was our all-world closer Edwin Diaz.

I’ve been on record from the very beginning as saying this team should deal Diaz, and if I had it my way, we would’ve traded JUST him to the highest bidder, and gotten a REAL prospect windfall in return.  Honestly, I don’t believe he has it in him to stay at that level for very long.  I think with the way he throws the ball, he’s destined to sustain a serious arm injury, maybe even as soon as 2019.  It wouldn’t shock me in the SLIGHTEST to see him tear something and be out for a year.  I think, regardless of whether he injures his arm or not, he’s destined to lose velo on his fastball sooner rather than later – certainly well before he’s set to hit free agency – and with that I think his value as a closer will plummet.  This is, without question, Edwin Diaz at the peak of his value, and we were never going to have a better opportunity to replenish our minor leagues.

If it were up to me, and the Mariners are just hellbent on ridding this culture of Robinson Cano, then I would’ve just cut him and paid him his remaining salary, while trading Diaz for the highest bounty possible.  But, obviously, it’s not my money, so that’s easy for me to say.

That scenario just isn’t realistic.  I don’t see the harm in forcing him to exclusively DH (while maybe spot starting at second in an emergency), and riding out the remaining years of his contract.  Was he really so poisonous to this culture?  Would his presence alone have set us back so much?

Now, obviously, there’s the fringe benefit of making the Mariners worse by getting rid of him now.  Like I said, Cano can still play, and I bet he’ll be pretty solid for the Mets in 2019.  If our goal is to bottom out, then obviously you don’t want a guy in your lineup doing POSITIVE things like hitting for a high average, lots of extra-base hits, and lots of RBI.  So, that’s something.

In return, we take on some high-priced/low-performing contracts from the Mets.  Jay Bruce is set to earn $26 million over the next two years.  He’s a corner outfielder and I can’t imagine his defense is worth a damn.  Maybe he starts in left; maybe he platoons with Gamel (though, they both bat lefty, so that seems unlikely); maybe the M’s find a way to flip him to another team!  He was okay in 2017, but really had a bad 2018.  He does have some pop in his bat, and he’ll be 32 next year, so maybe we run him out as the DH?  Feels like the best way to preserve his legs and keep him away from anything related to defense.

Anthony Swarzak is on the hook for $8 million in 2019; he’s a veteran reliever who also had a good 2017, then bottomed out in 2018.

If we just talk about money, that’s $21 million for Bruce & Swarzak in 2019, and $13 for Bruce in 2020; that totals $34 million out of Cano’s remaining $120 million.  On top of that, the M’s chipped in an extra $20 million, meaning we ended up saving a total of $66 million going forward (not counting the remaining guys in the deal).  That’s not an insignificant number, especially when you hope that by the time 2021 rolls around, this team will be in a position to contend again.  That’s just the time when Cano should start to suck and Diaz should be recovering from a shoulder surgery!

As for the prospects, your guess is as good as mine.  Kelenic was the 6th overall selection in the 2018 draft.  He’s an 18-year old outfielder with all the tools; he just needs to develop them.  He would be the prize of this deal.  Again, if you can trade a reliever for a starting-calibre outfielder, you make that trade 10 times out of 10.  The question is:  do you trust this organization to develop him the right way?

Dunn is a 19th overall draft pick from 2016 and was the Mets’ highest pitching prospect.  He was in AA last year, so he appears to be on the right track.

Bautista is a reliever who can apparently throw 100 miles per hour.  Obviously, he has command problems, but we have a couple years to work out those kinks before hopefully he’ll stick in our Major League bullpen (or get flipped for still more prospects, if the ol’ rebuild hasn’t gone according to plan).

For what the Mariners were trying to do – acquire top-flight prospects while shedding some money and ridding the clubhouse of a possible cancer – this is probably as good as it gets.  If the outfielder pans out, it’s a terrific deal.  If he doesn’t, and the starter converts to relief, and the reliever flames out, then this could’ve busted SUPER HARD.

***

And, for dessert, I bring you the Jean Segura deal.

This one … REALLY makes me mad.  For starters, we traded for him prior to 2017 in what was at the time a CLEAR victory for the Mariners.  For Taijuan Walker (who doesn’t look like he’ll come close to being the ace we thought he could be), we got an All Star short stop and an All Star outfielder in the primes of their careers.  He started off strong in 2017, so we signed him MID-SEASON to a 5-year extension when we could’ve easily let him play it out through 2018 and seen what we had in him.

But, we liked him enough, so fine, 5-year extension.  He was officially part of our future.  And they didn’t realize until halfway through 2018 that he’s a headcase???  That he’s kind of soft and kind of a clubhouse cancer and we’re now bound and determined to do whatever it takes to be rid of him?

Look, I get the spirit of the rebuild, I really do!  But, this is an All Star player – particularly with the bat – on a very REASONABLE contract; he should be worth more than this!

Segura is due $14.25 million per year for the next 4 years.  In that time, he’ll almost certainly be worth that figure, if not be an outright bargain.  But, whatever, we save that money and we ostensibly get worse at the short stop position in 2019 (again, so we can tank and get that higher draft pick).  Then, there’s Juan Nicasio’s $9 million for 2019.  He, of course, sucked a fat one in 2018, but that could obviously flip entirely the very next year, because that’s how it is with relievers; randomness abounds!  Nevertheless, that’s a lot for an 8th inning reliever who may or may not be finished.  James Pazos has a nothing salary, which is most galling, because he’s both young and good!  Why couldn’t HE fetch a pretty penny on the open market?  Why the need to throw him into the mix?

Particularly when Carlos Santana is coming our way?!  He’s a first baseman (or a DH, depending on what else we do with that first base spot) who’s owed a combined $35 million over the next two years ($500,000 of that is a buyout for 2021, because you figure there’s no way in hell this team is going to pay a 35 year old first baseman another $17.5 million when they don’t have to).  Santana – like all these other useless veterans we’re getting back in these deals – was great in 2017 and stunk in 2018.  So, NOT GREAT, JERRY!

The prize in this deal, I guess, is J.P. Crawford, who will be a 24-year old glove-first/no-bat short stop in 2019.  If we can develop the bat into something halfway decent, then maybe that’s an upgrade in the end.  But, that’s obviously no guarantee.

And, that’s it.  A new short stop and a savings of another $31 million.  On the plus side, all these massive contracts expire after 2019 or 2020, so RIGHT ON TRACK FOR 2021 YOU GUYS!

As always, it’s hard to judge anything until you see the rest of the offseason moves.  But, you figure the biggest deals have been made (unless the team goes full boar and unloads Haniger for another bevy of prospects), and now it’s time for the rest of the roster moves to fill in around these guys.  But, on a surface level, it’s hard to get too excited, when so many variables are in play.

Looking At Some Numbers And Stuff About The 2018 Mariners

The Mariners’ season ended with a whimper over the weekend.  The M’s took 3 of 4 against the Rangers to finish 89-73.  That’s good for 14 games behind the Astros for the division and 8 games behind the Athletics for the second wild card (also, 1 game behind the Rays for the first runner up position to that second wild card, but that’s neither here nor there).

The Mariners were -34 in run differential, which comes out to a pythagorean win total of only 77.  They were 45-36 at home and 44-37 on the road.  They were 36-21 in 1-run games and a whopping 14-1 in extras!

Somehow, the Mariners had a winning record against every single team in the division:

  • 10-9 vs. Houston
  • 10-9 vs. Oakland
  • 11-8 vs. Anaheim
  • 10-9 vs. Texas

The Mariners were 23-9 against the AL Central, 19-15 against the AL East.  But, as I talked about before, the Mariners were a dreadful 6-14 against the National League (which, again, if you flip that, then we’re tied with the A’s for that second wild card spot).

Here’s the month-by-month:

  • March/April:  16-11
  • May:  18-11
  • June:  19-9
  • July:  10-13
  • August:  12-16
  • September:  14-13

And just to rub some salt in the wounds:

  • Pre July 4th:  55-31
  • July 4th onward:  34-42

I like to point to July 3rd as the high-water mark, but it was really just the beginning of the end.  The REAL high-water mark was at the conclusion of our game on June 5th, where we beat the Astros in Houston and took a 2-game lead in the A.L. West.  We, of course, lost to the eventual champs the very next day and after another week of hovering around first place, we ended up dipping below for the duration of the season.

*Sigh* those were wonderful, delightful times back in early June.  I was so young and naive in those days!

Let’s move on to some individual accolades.

  • Jean Segura is your 2018 Mariners batting champion, with a .304 average
  • Robinson Cano is your 2018 Mariners OBP leader with .374
  • Mitch Haniger is your non-suspended 2018 Mariners OBP leader with .366
  • Nelson Cruz is your slugging champ with .509
  • And Haniger is your OPS champ with .859 (narrowly besting Cruz’s .850)

Here are all the guys who had 10+ homers:

  1. Cruz – 37
  2. Haniger – 26
  3. Ryon Healy – 24
  4. Kyle Seager – 22
  5. Mike Zunino – 20
  6. Segura – 10
  7. Cano – 10

With all of that, the Mariners were just 11th in the AL in homers.

Some other individual numbers:

  • Cruz beat Haniger in RBI, 97-93
  • Haniger beat Seager in doubles, 38-36
  • Dee Gordon beat Denard Span in triples, 8-6
  • Segura edged Haniger in total hits, 178-170
  • Segura also edged Haniger in runs scored, 91-90
  • Gordon topped Segura in steals 30-20

My MVP has to go to Mitch Haniger, who was amazing this year.  He finished with a 6.1 WAR, which was easily the best on the team, and looks to be just scratching the surface of a great MLB career.

On to the pitchers:

  • Your ERA champ among qualified starters was Wade LeBlanc with 3.72
  • James Paxton led the team in strikeouts with 208
  • Mike Leake led the Mariners in innings pitched with 185.2
  • Marco Gonzales led the team in wins with 13
  • Leake led the team in quality starts with 18

Here’s your pitching section just devoted to the miracle that was Edwin Diaz:

  • (Obviously) led the Mariners in saves with 57
  • 57 is tied for 2nd all time in a season in MLB history
  • He fell 5 short of the all-time leader, Francisco Rodriguez
  • He led the team in pitching WAR with 3.2
  • Paxton was second with 2.9
  • He led the team in K/9 with 15.22
  • Only Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances had higher K/9 in the A.L.
  • Even though he’s just a reliever, and pitched fewer than half the innings of the starters, Diaz’s 124 strikeouts was still good for 5th on the team (one behind King Felix, who pitched 82 more innings)
  • The next-closest reliever in strikeouts was Nick Vincent with 56
  • He led the team in WHIP with 0.79
  • He led the team in ERA with 1.96
  • He led all pitchers in games played with 73 (Vincent was second with 62)

Without making it a whole thing, here are some props to some non-Diaz relievers who had great seasons.  Alex Colome, Roenis Elias, and James Pazos all logged in some serious innings for the Mariners and all had sub-3 ERAs.  I know that stat doesn’t mean much anymore, but I mean, those guys were dealing more often than not.

Nevertheless, Edwin Diaz is my Mariners Cy Young Award winner and it’s not even close.

Finally, let’s take a look at how some of these Mariners greats stacked up against the rest of the American League:

  • Segura was 7th in batting average, and one of 8 in the A.L. to hit over .300
  • Haniger was 9th in WAR
  • Segura was 15th in WAR (with 4.3)
  • Haniger was 10th in OPS
  • Cruz was 14th in OPS
  • Cruz was 8th in homers
  • Diaz (again, obviously) led the league in saves (2nd place had 43)

So, that’s that.  Another playoffs-less season in the books.  Do it all again in 2019?  Sure, why not?  What the hell else do I have going on in my life?  Might as well continue to root for a mediocre baseball team some more.

Did The Mariners Save Their Season With Yesterday’s 12-Inning Victory?

I dunno, maybe more like delayed the inevitable, but you have to admit that a 2.5-game deficit is much more tenable than a 4.5-game deficit.

Yesterday’s was my favorite type of baseball game.  Just a clean, scoreless bout through 11 innings until the Mariners busted through with a 2-spot in the 12th.  LOVE me some pitcher’s duels!  With the Seattle offense still mired in a ridiculous slump, they needed every bit of Mike Leake’s 8 innings of shutout ball (2 hits, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts); it’s just too bad I had to work and couldn’t see any of it.

I did catch the entirety of the extra innings portion of the game in my car ride home, which was fun, if a little odd.  The Seattle to Tacoma slog down I-5 usually takes anywhere from 60-90 minutes depending on the severity of traffic (there’s always a backup in Fife, for instance, but if that backup extends all the way up into Renton and beyond, good fucking luck), so to make it all the way home (in time to catch the 12th inning on TV) was a bit of a miracle.

I mean, these are the A’s!  They’ve been winning games in remarkable fashion for a while now.  How Khris Davis or Jed Lowrie didn’t walk it off is beyond my mortal comprehension.

Following Leake’s stunning performance – which saw his ERA drop under 4 for the first time since early April – Colome got 4 outs (including Davis to lead off the 10th before being pulled for a lefty), Zach Duke did diddly squat, Nick Vincent got 4 outs, and James Pazos got a critical strikeout of – YOU GUESSED IT – Khris Davis!

If all of that wasn’t amazing enough, the fact that we witnessed a Mike Zunino walk, followed by a Dee Gordon 2-run home run, takes this game right into fantasyland (although, the Gordon homer was certainly a wall scraper in every sense of the phrase).  From there, it was Edwin Diaz with a single and 3 strikeouts to get his 47th save, one shy of the Mariners’ single season record (with 40 games left to play).

That wrapped up a 20-games-in-20-days stretch of baseball for the Mariners that saw them go 9-11, which obviously isn’t going to cut it.  And while there won’t be a stretch of games that daunting the rest of the way (the most they face in a row is 10 games in 10 days to close out the regular season), the opposition doesn’t get a whole helluva lot easier.

Up next, we’ve got a weekend series against the very good Dodgers, followed by three more at home against the Astros.  Then, it’s back on the road against the division-leading Diamondbacks.  Looking ahead, we play Oakland 7 more times, the Yankees 3 times, the Angels 4 times, the Astros 3 more times in September, and the Rangers 7 more times (which, yeah, they have a terrible record, but they also ravaged the M’s just a week ago).

If you’re looking for soft landings the rest of the way, we have 4 games against the bottom-feeding Padres and 3 games at home against the hapless Orioles.  That’s 7 out of 40 of what you could call push-overs.  Against everyone else?  The Mariners are going to have to continue to scratch and claw.  I can’t say that I have a lot of hope, but maybe they’ll surprise me.

The Mariners Messed With Some Of Texas

The last time I wrote about the Mariners, they just lost a demoralizing “home” series against the Blue Jays and were setting out on a 10-games-in-10-days road trip through the teeth of the American League West, starting with 7 down in the state of Texas.  So, let’s get into it.

Well, it feels like a million years ago, but last Monday we got a much-needed 12th inning win to open up the series against the Rangers.  Wade LeBlanc pitched exceedingly well, but was pulled with one out in the 7th after giving up just 2 hits all day on 82 pitches.  Newcomers Adam Warren and Zach Duke continued their Sucking For The Seattle Mariners campaign, giving up the tying runs, but the rest of the bullpen was good enough to keep it scoreless the rest of the way.  In the 12th, the M’s manufactured the go-ahead run, and Edwin Diaz came in to lock down his 42nd save.

Well, it feels like we’ve talked about it a million times, but last Tuesday was Felix’s last turn in the Mariners’ rotation for a while.  He got off to a great start, keeping it scoreless through two innings, then he (and the defense, thanks Kyle Seager) just fell apart.  Since our bullpen was so wiped out from the previous evening’s game, Felix had to wear it, giving up 11 runs (7 earned) in 6 innings.  I wish I could’ve seen the game where we had a clean defensive effort, because even though Felix was giving up hard contact, it was right at guys (Seager) who should’ve made those plays.  I know you can’t assume double plays (which is why he gave up as many earned runs as he did), but if we did assume some of those double plays, I think Felix would’ve looked a lot more competitive.  But, it is what it is, and you don’t yank a legend from the rotation based on one start alone.  He was essentially going start-by-start, and might’ve indeed been on borrowed time based on his prior outings.  You know how I feel about it; it makes me sad and I never would’ve pulled him from the rotation no matter how he pitched, but I’m in the obvious minority and it has no basis in reality or rooting for this team to succeed.  In almost every situation, I’m a fan of the team first and the player second; in this case I’m a Felix Hernandez fan first, and a Mariners fan, like, 10th.

In spite of that effort, the M’s had a chance to at least win the series, with the reliable Marco Gonzales on the mound, but it wasn’t meant to be.  He just didn’t have it – giving up 7 runs in 5 innings – and while the Mariners were able to put up 7 runs of our own, that wasn’t enough to power through these new bullpen arms.  Zach Duke gave up 4 runs on 4 hits in the 7th inning while only getting 2 outs, and there’s your ballgame.  What a fucking disaster of an addition.

So, yeah, heading into a 4-game series with the Astros, it was looking pretty grim.  On top of it, the Astros apparently shuffled their rotation so we had to run the gauntlet.

Game 1 – Paxton vs. Verlander.  The M’s knocked Verlander out after 2 innings (giving up 6 runs in the process), and we were able to hold on for an 8-6 win (Diaz got his 43rd save).

Game 2 – Leake vs. Cole.  Cole pitched into the 8th inning, but we were able to touch him up to the tune of 4 runs.  Leake went 6, giving up 2, and the bullpen held on for a comfortable 5-2 victory (Diaz got his 44th save).

Game 3 – LeBlanc vs. Morton.  Again, the M’s were able to get to their starter a little bit, as Morton went 6, giving up 3; and again, the Mariners’ starter held his own (LeBlanc went 5, giving up 2).  Both bullpens were clean in this one, and we won a nailbiter, this time 3-2 (Diaz got his 45th save).

Game 4 – Ramirez vs. Keuchel.  Erasmo Ramirez took Felix’s spot in the rotation, coming back from the DL.  Ramirez didn’t look great in the minors, but the M’s didn’t need great, they just needed reliable.  He gave us all more than we ever could’ve expected, going 5 shutout innings before giving way to the bullpen.  Alex Colome had pitched the three days prior, so he was out.  That left everyone else in play, which equates to Diaz (for a 4th game in a row) and a bunch of twits.  We were able to get 2 runs off of Keuchel, in his 7 innings of work, but we couldn’t hold that 2-0 lead for long.  Pazos and Vincent were the turds in this one, giving up 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th.  Shockingly, Warren and Duke were real heroes, putting up zeroes in multiple innings of work for each of them (by multiple innings, I mean 4 outs apiece).  The Mariners were able to spoil a save opportunity in the 9th, with a homer by Ryon Healy to tie it; and we took a 1-run lead in the 10th on a double by Haniger (with Dee Gordon running on the pitch from first base).  That was all we needed, as Diaz got his 46th save on the year (so close to an emaculate inning).

So yeah, that’s an interesting week of baseball to say the least!

The good news is, obviously, we picked up 4 games on the Astros when we absolutely needed them.  The bad news is we’re still 4 games back in the division.  We go to Oakland for a 3-game set (1.5 games out of the second wild card), almost certainly without the services of Edwin Diaz at least for Monday’s game.

It feels unfathomable – even with all of Houston’s injuries – that the Mariners should win ANY games down there, let alone sweep all four.  They’re going to need that impossible magic to continue if we hope to chip away against the A’s.

The Mariners Have Lots Of New Relievers

I talked a little bit yesterday about Sam Tuivailala, the righty from the Cardinals who struggles against lefties.  Well, yesterday afternoon, the Mariners brought in a couple more guys.

We got veteran righty Adam Warren from the Yankees for some international slot money.  He looks like he’s pretty solid (and definitely great against right-handed bats).  And, we got lefty Zach Duke from the Twins for Chase De Jong and some other guy Ryan Costello.

While Tuivailala is a cost-control guy we’ve got for a few years, both Warren and Duke are veterans on the final years of their deals.  If they’re bad, then whatever, we took a shot.  If they’re good, I can’t imagine it would cost a whole helluva lot to retain them for 2019.

I’m still waiting to get a good idea of how the bullpen is going to look when the dust settles.  I wonder if Roenis Elias goes back to Tacoma for a spell.  Maybe a struggling guy or two goes on the DL to get right.  Maybe a struggling guy or two gets DFA’d for being a suck-ass (looking at you, Nicasio).

So, does this push us over the top?  Ehh, I dunno.  Still feels like the return of Cano is the big help on the horizon, but it couldn’t hurt to add to your bullpen, as it’s generally the most important group on the team (particularly down the stretch).  I guess we’ll see.  The Mariners didn’t give up a whole lot (unless Seth Elledge turns into a stud in a year or two) to get these three guys, and they have the potential to be significantly better over these final two months.

But, don’t get me wrong, these aren’t HUGE huge deals.  Edwin Diaz is still your closer, Alex Colome is still your 8th inning guy.  These are arms to help us through the 6th and 7th innings, ideally with lots of mixing-and-matching going on.  Figure some of these games are going to drag out quite a bit with the increased in-inning pitching changes.

The Mariners Swept The Orioles

As predicted (as soon as we got the hell out of Boston), the Mariners finished their East Coast road trip 5-5.  If you’d offered that to me going in, I gladly would’ve taken it.  Of course, I would’ve assumed that it would go differently; for our peace of mind, it couldn’t have gone any worse.

The Mariners went 4-0 against the terrible, awful, wretched, last-place-in-the-entirety-of-Major-League-Baseball Baltimore Orioles, and a combined 1-5 against the Red Sox and Yankees (you know, the teams we’re destined to face in this year’s playoffs).  So, that’s neat, I guess; and by “neat” I mean fucking whatever who cares?

We got another quality start out of Felix (6 innings, 3 runs) on Monday and the bullpen was able to close out a 5-3 win.  We had a tremendous start out of Paxton (7 innings, 2 runs, 10 strikeouts) on Tuesday in a come-from-behind 3-2 win.  We won a back-and-forth affair on Wednesday, where Colome blew a 5-4 lead by giving up a 3-run homer in the bottom of the 8th, only for Seager to jack a game-tying 2-run homer in the top of the 9th to send it to extras, where we won in the 11th on a sac fly by Span.  And finally, for good measure, we won again in extras on Thursday, scoring two runs in the 10th to win it 4-2.

The Mariners return home (and never have to go any further east than the state of Texas the rest of the regular season) with a record of 51-31, on pace for 100+ wins, but still 3.5 games behind the Astros for the A.L. West.  The Angels have sufficiently fallen apart with a bevy of injuries; somewhere, someone is playing the world’s smallest violin just for them.  The A’s have overtaken them as our primary threat for the second wild card; they’re just 7 games behind us (at a whopping – for them – 6 games over .500).

There’s 15 games between now and the All Star Break.  3 against the Royals this weekend, 6 against the Angels, and 6 against the Rockies.  The Royals should be push-overs; we’re hopefully playing the Angels at the right time (aka: at their most injury-depleted); and the Rockies are the great unknown (but a record of 9-16 in the month of June thus far has seen them spiralling).  We should be able to coast into the break in great shape, at which point we’ll likely spend most of the second half scoreboard-watching and hoping for the worst out of the Astros.

There’s No Shame In Being Tier 2, Mariners Fans

This isn’t to say the Mariners aren’t good.  They are!  They’re fine.  They’re still almost certainly going to make the playoffs this year, and if I had to do a power rankings of the American League, I’d still put them ahead of Cleveland, Anaheim, and most of the rest.  But, the Mariners just aren’t the Best of the Best.  They’re not in Tier 1.  And that’s okay.

Tier 1 includes Boston, Houston, and the Yankees (and that’s it).  Those are the three best teams in the A.L. and if you let me, I’d bet everything I own that it’ll be one of those three teams that makes it into the World Series.

The Mariners, on the other hand, are not quite on their level.  We’re probably at the top of Tier 2, but there’s still a drastic difference in quality between the two tiers, as we’ve seen over the course of the last two days.

On Tuesday, Marco Gonzales got rocked, and the Mariners’ offense was held in check as we lost 7-2.  We hung in there for a bit – we were competitive, as is our trademark this year – but a 4-run Yankees fifth inning put it away.

On Wednesday, King Felix looked like the King Felix of Old again, at least through the first four innings.  He had a little bit of a hiccup in the fifth, but still escaped with a 5-2 lead before handing it off to the bullpen.  The M’s were able to ding up a guy making just his second career Major League start (who nevertheless has remarkable stuff, if he ever figures out how to cool it on his pitch count), and things looked pretty good.  But, that Yankees lineup – with power hitters for days – was just too much for our meager bullpen to match up with.  Pazos gave up a run, Colome gave up the blown save with a game-tying 2-run homer, and Cook walked it off with yet another 2-run homer.  What at one point was a 5-0 Mariners lead turned into a 7-5 defeat, as of course we couldn’t do anything with their superhuman bullpen after the fifth inning.

This is 2 years in a row where the Yankees have just bashed the fucking shit out of us.  We went 2-5 against them last year, and all I can picture is Aaron Judge mashing towering moonshot after towering moonshot against our poor excuse for a pitching staff.  This year, we’ve got Giancarlo Stanton playing that role, having homered in both games so far (including the game-winner).

It helps to take a step back and try to remember why we were so excited heading into this road trip.  Well, we split a 4-game series with the Red Sox; that’s something, huh?  Yeah, except it took a crazy come-from-behind rally and an even crazier dominant LeBlanc start to do it.  Does that feel like something that could be replicated in a playoff series?  There was the 3-game sweep of the Angels, but of course they’re super injured and are essentially just Mike Trout and a lot of nobodies.  There was that 2-game split with Houston a couple weeks ago …

Other than that, the Mariners have beaten up on a lot of shitty teams this season.  Which, believe me, I’m not complaining.  You need to beat up on the shitty teams to climb to the top of Tier 2 and make the wild card!  That’s what’s separating us from the Angels, A’s, and the rest of the wild card contenders.  But, if we’re all in agreement that the Mariners are going to make the playoffs (barring a historic collapse), then your expectations have to shift a little bit.  Now, we have to start thinking about what the Mariners are going to do when they get there.

First and foremost, they’re going to have to play a Tier 1 team in that wild card game, which means on that one day, we’re going to have to be almost perfect.  It’s something we’re capable of, but it’s also something that you can’t count on.  If we do luck our way into the ALDS, then that pits us against yet another Tier 1 team (with the way they’re going, figure Houston will have the best overall record by that point).  Who’s excited about the Mariners facing the Astros in a 5-game series?  If that isn’t a 3-game sweep, I’ll eat my hat.  Meanwhile, the Indians get to bumble their way into a guaranteed ALDS spot simply by winning the worst division in baseball.  What a bunch of fucks!

Thankfully, after this week, we’ll be done with the Red Sox and have only 3 more against the Yankees (at home) and that’s it.  Just get us through this East Coast road trip without any fucking rainouts and I’ll take whatever record I can get.

The Mariners Split The Series With The Red Sox

All in all, I’d say that went pretty well.  We lost a close one in that good Felix game; we won one in exciting, high-scoring, come-from-behind fashion; we won a 1-0 nailbiter in that outstanding Wade LeBlanc game; and we got torched on get-away day.

That game on Friday was as exciting as it gets.  I think we all figured the best left-handed starter we’d see this weekend was going to be starting that night, but James Paxton didn’t have his usual stuff.  Also the defense – with its 3 errors that very easily could’ve been 4 or 5 – didn’t have its usual stuff either.  In an absolute disaster of a third inning, Paxton was only able to get one guy out before being pulled, having given up 6 runs (somehow 5 of which were earned).  Chasen Bradford limited the damage to just that, but the M’s found themselves – once with a 3-run lead – down 6-3.

That’s when recently recalled Rob Whalen entered the game to soak up some innings.  (oh shit, if we’d been playing Tampa, I could’ve said “soak up some Rays”!  But we’re all done playing the Rays this season!  I’ll have to save that gem for next year …).  Rob Whalen ended up going 4 scoreless innings to allow the M’s to chip away at that deficit.  Mitch Haniger hit one in in the fifth; Mike Zunino homered in the seventh.  That set the stage for the bottom of the eighth, down 6-5, runners on first and second with one out, and Denard Span pinch hitting for Guillermo Heredia.  He jerked a ball down the right field line for a 2-run double, as the Red Sox outfielder was playing WAY over in right-center for some reason.  With a 7-6 lead, Edwin Diaz came in to shut them down for his 26th save of the season.

If you thought THAT was unexpected, just wait until you get a load of Saturday’s game!  Wade LeBlanc vs. some knuckleballer, on the FOX game of the week!  I have to imagine they were a little underwhelmed with the matchup coming into it, but hot damn were they treated to a pitcher’s duel to end all pitcher’s duels!

To his credit, Steven Wright was pretty outstanding.  The knuckleballer went 7 innings, giving up just 1 run on 5 hits & 2 walks with 4 strikeouts.  As it turns out, though, Wade LeBlanc was remarkably better.  He went 7.2 innings of shutout ball, giving up just 2 hits while striking out 9!  My dad asked me what we could expect of LeBlanc before the game, and I said I’d be ecstatic if he gave up just a couple runs in 5 innings, but he really blew my projection out of the water!  It was as dominant a performance as I’ve seen this year, as he allowed a leadoff hit to start the game, and then nothing until – with two outs in the eighth – he allowed a single to end his night as he faced the minimum up to that point.  Honestly, that first hit he allowed was pretty bogus – as the ump didn’t have his strike zone quite figured out yet – and should’ve been a strikeout.  So, we were THAT CLOSE to perfection, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

The one run the Mariners scored was back in third on a single by Cruz, and somehow it held up.  Colome got out of the eighth unscathed, and Diaz worked the ninth for his 27th save of the season.  Easy peasy.

Sunday, I dunno, it got away from us.  Leake didn’t really have it, giving up a 5-spot in the third.  But, he managed to keep it to just that through six innings, so at least he saved the bullpen a little bit.  I think we were all under the impression – as the game went on – that the Mariners would mount a comeback eventually, but it was sort of the opposite.  The Red Sox played add-on, and the M’s really let a lot of opportunities get by them, going 3 for 12 with RISP.  There was, however, another 2.1 innings from Elias, who only gave up 1 run, so that trade is looking better and better.

Hard to be too upset by a 50/50 split, though.  If you offered that to me before the series started, I would’ve taken it in a heartbeat.  Now, the Mariners go on the road for a huge one:  the final east coast road trip of the (regular) season.  The downside to the weekend is that the Astros just completed a 10-0 road trip to take a 1.5 game lead in the division, which is just insane.  In case you thought the division was in the bag or something (unlikely, I know), it’s not.  We are a full 8 games up on the Angels though, so fuck them.

Thankfully, there’s an off-day today before the festivities start.  One last big test before we coast to the finish line.  Up first: the Yankees.  Our likely rivals in that 1-game Wild Card.  My stomach is all in knots just thinking about it.

Key To The Mariners’ Chances Going Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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