Tempering Expectations For This Mariners Rebuild

What interests me most about the game of baseball is the long game. In football, you’ve got rosters twice the size of a baseball team, yet we see it every year: teams going from worst to first. You can turn around a football team in one offseason! But, in baseball, it takes seemingly forever (and, for an organization like the Mariners, LITERALLY forever).

I did a big, long post about the first successful Mariners rebuild. I originally wrote that in 2013, when we all were hopeful that we were in the middle of the next successful Mariners rebuild. There were so many moves made between the nadir of this franchise (2008) and the next time you could legitimately say the Mariners were in contention for the post-season (2014, when we finished 87-75, just 1 game back of a Wild Card spot) that it truly boggles the mind.

That rebuild was ultimately a failure. It produced three winning seasons between 2014 and 2018, and zero playoff appearances. Following last year’s collapse, Jerry Dipoto made a bunch of moves to jettison veterans and infuse the farm system with prospects. Our veteran holdovers include names like Dee Gordon, Ryon Healy, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc, Roenis Elias, Dan Altavilla, and Dan Vogelbach; most (if not all) of those players will not be on this team the next time it reaches the post-season.

So, we’re stuck rooting for prospects. Rooting for potential. Rooting for the young guys to step up and prove themselves not just worthy of Major League roster spots, but ultimately good enough to get this team back to the playoffs one day (ideally one day very soon). Jerry Dipoto is staking his reputation and his job on these players. If it all falls apart like it did last time, he, Scott Servais, and a bunch of other very smart baseball men will be looking for employment elsewhere.

As I noted, we’ve been through this before. So, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

See, it can be fun and exciting knowing your team is out of it before the season even begins. First, there’s no expectations, so any on-field success you see is all gravy. Then, of course, there’s the factor of the unknown. New, young players you’ve never seen before are ALWAYS more interesting than old veterans who’ve been around for years. We pretty much know what guys like Seager, Healy, Felix, and Leake are; there’s nothing to learn about those guys. So, we pin all our hopes and dreams on the prospects. We want to see them in a Major League uniform right this minute, to pump them full of experience with the hopes that they’ll pan out immediately. This can lead to guys getting called up too early (a la Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Matt Tuiasosopo, etc.) or guys just being huge disappointments.

Let’s start with the 2008 season, the aforementioned nadir. That team lost 101 games and we were all miserable. Successful players like Felix, Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez, Jose Lopez, and even Yuniesky Betancourt were no match for the suck-asses that were Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro, Jeremy Reed, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, Erik Bedard, and so on. General Manager Bill Bavasi was fired, and The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild was on!

2009 proved to be a welcome surprise. Franklin Gutierrez was brought over in a trade, as was Jason Vargas (Doug Fister was one of the rare Bavasi draft picks that stuck in the org and actually panned out). Ichiro was still Ichiro! Russell Branyan and David Aardsma were quality pick-ups. Even the return of Ken Griffey Jr. for a victory lap proved valuable. That 85-win season led everyone (but the stat geeks, who knew those wins were on a shaky foundation) to believe we were way ahead of the curve on this rebuild. So much so that Jackie Z decided to make a big push to go for it in 2010.

We traded for Cliff Lee! We got rid of Carlos Silva and brought back a useful piece in Milton Bradley! Our young core of starters (Felix, Vargas, and Fister) were bolstered with key bullpen additions like Brandon League, Jamey Wright, and Sean White. So, what happened? The team fell apart (ultimately losing another 101 games; in hindsight, a second go-around with Old Griffey proved disasterous) and shipped off anyone of value for prospects. Lee was flipped for Justin Smoak (among others). Our high draft pick was used on a pitcher who got hurt so many times he never made the Bigs. And The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild 2.0 was on.

2011 was a key year for the rebuild, as the team REALLY went for it this time. Taking a stroll through that roster is long and arduous. Ichiro, Miguel Olivo, Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, and Adam Kennedy were the veteran everyday players; Felix, Vargas, Bedard, and Fister were still holding down the rotation (though Fister would be swapped for a bunch of nobodies at the deadline; yet another example of a trade that totally backfired for the Mariners); and League, Wright, and David Pauley (among others) were the steady influences in the bullpen. But, the young guys were the stars of the show. 2008 first rounder Dustin Ackley was called up midseason, as was Kyle Seager. Justin Smoak was handed the first base job. Guti started his slow descent into an injured adulthood. Then, there were guys like Michael Saunders, Greg Halman, Alex Liddi, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Chris Gimenez, Carlos Peguero, Adam Moore, Mike Wilson and more. On the pitching side of things, Michael Pineda was an All Star, but then there were guys like Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush (remember when he was a starting pitcher?), a younger Tom Wilhelmsen, Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes, Chance Ruffin, and Shawn Kelley.

Those were all the players we hung our hats on. How many of them actually panned out? You can count them on one hand. How many of them panned out for the Seattle Mariners? That number is even smaller.

2012 saw the influx of guys like Jesus Montero (swapped for Michael Pineda), Hector Noesi, Erasmo Ramirez, Lucas Luetge, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, and John Jaso. They were paired with the holdovers like Smoak, Seager, Ackley, Felix, Vargas, Ichiro (starting his decline) and Figgins (at the end of his miserable Mariners career).

Then, there’s 2013, with prospects like Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino (a year after being drafted), Brandon Maurer, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker. Veterans like Kendrys Morales, Endy Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse, Jason Bay, Jeremy Bonderman, and Hisashi Iwakuma saw extensive playing time, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. The old guys didn’t do enough (and most were gone in short order), and the young guys (predictably) never panned out for this team.

So, please, keep all these duds in mind as we go forward. You’re going to hear A LOT of new names you’re not familiar with in 2019 and 2020. The team is going to tout these players as The Future; don’t believe ’em. The vast majority of these players will be more in a long line of losers that help to keep the Seattle Mariners out of the post-season.

Some guys will be promising, only to fall flat on their asses the following year when expectations are raised and other teams learn how to handle them. Some guys will be promising only to suffer devastating injuries that hinders their development. Some of those injured guys will be brought back too soon, only to struggle and lose their confidence. Some guys will just flat-out stink from the get-go. One, maybe two guys, will be okay. But, they won’t be enough. They’ll just embolden this organization to spend a bunch of money when the time “feels right”. At that point, some flashy veterans will be brought in to supplement our future “rising stars” and we’ll go through the process of “contending (for a wild card spot)” all over again.

The Mariners are never going to be the Astros or Cubs or Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers. They’re closer to the Athletics and Rays than anything else, just a Major League farm club for better-run organizations. The tremendous amount of luck required to turn us into one of those truly good teams isn’t ingrained in the city of Seattle and its sports teams. The best we can hope for is competent mediocrity.

The best we’re going to get is just outside, looking in.

Mariners Tidbit 58: Jesus Montero Is Back … Hooray?

Driving down to Tacoma yesterday afternoon for my weekly summer bowling league, I found myself flipping through the three local sports radio shows as the story was breaking:  the Mariners called up Jesus Montero.  We would go on to find out that J.A. Happ apparently still has options, and since he won’t be starting between now and the All Star Break, we used his option to get him off of our 25-man roster for a couple weeks.  He’ll be eligible to return just as soon as we need him, which I would assume is somewhere around July 20th or 21st.

Surprisingly, with news of Montero’s return – and likely impending implementation over the weekend, as we face a run on lefty starters – the tenor of the discussion wasn’t, “Yawn, who cares?”  I was catching a whiff of unbridled enthusiasm!  For a player whose career Major League numbers with the Seattle Mariners look like this:

  • .251/.291/.378/.669, 19 homers, 73 RBI across 680 plate appearances

That’s right around 1 full season’s worth of plate appearances, spread out over three mediocre years.  Last year, he played in all of 6 games in the middle of endless controversy.  Since he was traded for Michael Pineda, Montero has proven to be the following:

  • A terrible defensive catcher
  • Terrible at taking a walk or working a count
  • Terrible at hitting right handed pitching
  • A slow, lazy tub of goo who only in this past offseason managed to get his fitness to where it needs to be
  • A steroids user
  • Not a fan of ice cream sandwiches
  • Terrible at hitting any type of breaking ball or offspeed pitch
  • Strikeout-prone
  • A symbol of all that has gone wrong in the Jack Zduriencik era

In short, Jesus Montero – the Seattle Mariner – has been a complete and utter disaster from the start.  Why would ANYONE think even for a moment that his being called up is going to matter one iota?

  • .332/.370/.529/.899, 15 homers, 68 RBI across 368 plate appearances

Those are his numbers this year while playing in Tacoma.  By all accounts, he’s maintained the weight loss, he’s quicker and more athletic; hell, he’s even managed to somehow hit FIVE triples!  He’s been mashing as a combo DH/1B this year, while at the same time nearly everyone on the Major League roster has struggled at hitting.  Nelson Cruz started off insanely hot, but has cooled off in the last month-plus.  Robinson Cano is going through his worst-ever season in the bigs.  Mark Trumbo appears to be yet another bust.  Weeks and Ruggiano are gone.  I guess what I’m trying to say is:  can you BLAME Mariners fans for thinking that Montero couldn’t POSSIBLY be worse than what we already have?

Yes.  Yes, I can.  Because, YOU FAT BLOATED IDIOT, how many times are we going to go through this?  The solution to all of our problems doesn’t lie in the roster of the Tacoma Fucking Rainiers!  Guys like Jesus Montero, and Carlos Peguero, and Alex Liddi, and Mike Wilson, and Wladimir Balentien, and James Jones, and Stefen Romero, and Abe Almonte, and Carlos Triunfel, and Matt Tuiasosopo, and Casper Wells, and Trayvon Robinson, and Eric Thames, and Adam Moore, and Matt Mangini will ALWAYS do well in Tacoma, because they’re as close as it comes to being bona fide Major League hitters without actually BEING Major League hitters.  They do well down there, they get called up with all this fanfare – invariably because they’re filling a roster spot vacated by a do-nothing turd – and they promptly do their best impression of a do-nothing turd!

And, unlike most of those other guys – when they made their first appearances with the big league ballclub – we KNOW what Jesus Montero can do in the Majors; we’ve seen it firsthand!  Doesn’t mean someone like Montero couldn’t make it as a bench player or a platoon guy on another team; shit, even Bryan LaHair was an All Star one year for the Cubs.  But, it’s beyond idiotic to believe Montero is going to be that valuable player HERE.  For the Seattle Mariners.  Playing half their games in Safeco Field.

I know it’s fun to dream.  I know it’s fun to look at Montero’s relatively skinny frame, point to how he was once a VERY highly rated prospect, and fantasize about how he may be one of the rare late bloomers who turns his career around without the all-important change of scenery.  But, let’s get fucking real, huh?  Could we just once not get suckered into a belief that Jesus Montero will be worth a damn?  Can we PLEASE just live in the now???

Brad Miller, Come On Down!

Hopefully, after the Mariners started losing a bunch of games, you stopped holding out hope for the 2013 version of the team in its early-April form.  If you haven’t jumped off of that sinking ship, I’m happy to say there’s a brand spankin’ new bandwagon over here.  We’re all holding on for dear life on this bucket ride to Hell!

I don’t need to tell you that Brendan Ryan sucks at hitting.  He’s as bad a hitter as he is good at fielding.  Since he’s the best at fielding, obviously means that he’s the worst at hitting.  Actually, that’s probably not that far from the truth.

Remember those grab-bags you’d get upon leaving the Puyallup Fair as a kid?  Full of cheap plastic toys, a bottle of bubbles, maybe a noise-maker or something.  Yeah, they were terrible.  Well, every year, right around this time, we find a Mariners team bereft of success at the Major League level, reaching into its grab-bag of prospects down in Tacoma to try to bolster – if nothing else – fan interest.  Smoak and Ackley and Seager and Liddi and Peguero and Robinson and Thames and Tuiasosopo and now guys like Franklin and Zunino and Triunfel and Miller.  More often than not, what we pluck from the grab-bag is a little piece of shit toy we’re either going to break or throw away in short order, because they’re dumb or we get bored with them.  Every year, we churn through prospects like we’re grating a block of cheese.  Why should 2013 be any different?

There are arguments for all sides.  You’re rushing guys, you need to stop doing that!  Well, what does it mean to “rush” someone?  Everyone develops at their own pace.  And so on and so forth.  At this point, I’m willing to treat MLB prospects like they’re just one giant Meat Market.  It’s a numbers game, bitch!  Ask a hundred prospects for their digits and you’re bound to get 9 or 10 to say yes!

So far, the Mariners have succeeded in finding one home-grown guy:  Seager.  He, seemingly, was rushed up to the Bigs.  Thus far, through 28 games, we think we have a second success story in Nick Franklin.  He, seemingly, was given ample time to develop in the minors.

That’s it.  Two guys, MAYBE.  I mean, seriously Mariners, what are you using as pick-up lines?  It’s a numbers game at the Meat Market and you are getting SLAUGHTERED!

Christ, do I think Brad Miller will be worth a damn?  Who the fuck knows?  He can’t be any worse than Brendan Ryan … except he can, and if his being in the Mariners’ organization is any indication, he probably will.

This team is in a total free-fall right now.  It’s painful to watch, but then again, it’s starting to get exciting again.  And, if Miller and Zunino can figure their shit out over the next year and a half, we could have one fantastic infield (plus Justin Smoak) by 2015!  Which says nothing of the outfield.  Or the rotation (outside of Felix).  Or the bullpen.

If you didn’t slit your wrists at the probability of one and a half more years of mediocre-to-bad baseball, then congratulations!  You’re as numb and dead inside as the rest of us.

Oh yes, Georgie, they float.  They all float down here.  And when you’re down here, you’ll float too …

Sweet dreams …

Seattle Mariners 2012 Postmortem, Part 1 (Hitters)

Apparently, there’s only been a handful of things to talk about since the season ended:  Mariners reaction to the Arena Deal, Mariners jacking up season ticket prices, Mariners not winning any post-season awards, Mariners signing some particularly non-interesting free agents, and the Mariners talking about possibly sometime this offseason signing some yes-interesting free agents.

The Mariners’ post-season has been pretty much like the Mariners’ regular season:  mostly shitty.

So, fuck it, let’s dive right in.  The Seattle Mariners finished 75-87, which was a whopping 8-game improvement over 2011, and a 14-game improvement over bottoming out in 2010.  Remember how shitty 2010 was?  The team you just watched all spring and summer finished exactly 14 games better.

I don’t think anyone wants to re-hash 2010 all over again, so let’s leave that off the table for now.  For a moment, let’s take a look at how we got the 8-game improvement over 2011.  What changed?

Well, for starters, Miguel Olivo had 184 fewer plate appearances.  That’s a good start!  He had a .620 OPS in ’12 vs. a .641 OPS in ’11, but what’s important to remember is:  THOSE ARE BOTH TERRIBLE OPS’s!  Less of a shitty thing doing shitty things is a good thing.  Always remember that kids.

Where did the rest of those plate appearances go?  Well, a lot of them (361 to be exact) went to John Jaso, who had an .850 OPS.  Now, granted, we had kind of a 3-headed hydra locking down two positions (DH & Catcher) with Jaso, Olivo, and Montero (who had a .685 OPS), but as you can clearly see, John Jaso really saved this team a lot of embarrassment.  We had no one resembling Jaso in 2011, at any position, and if you look at the numbers, you can see that he was good for at least 3 of those wins all by himself.  And he did it in an essentially part-time role; dude didn’t play a lick in April, and not much more in May before being thrust into the game regularly thanks to Olivo’s injury (and Olivo’s overall shittiness).

You know what else helped?  Giving Chone Figgins 119 fewer plate appearances.  An already part-time player went down to almost nothing in 2012.  We tried giving him the leadoff spot, he started for the entire month of April, and what did he do?  He rewarded us with a second consecutive season of sub-.190 batting.  I know veterans like to complain about their pisspoor numbers by stating they don’t get to play enough to turn things around; well, you know what?  Earn it.  DESERVE it and we’ll let you play.  Remember when you were just starting out in the Majors and you had to earn your time?  Do it now.  Don’t expect it.  Don’t ask for it to be handed to you because you’ve been around forever.  Force the manager to play you by playing well.  That’s all I’ve got to say.

Everyone seems to think Figgins will be let go this offseason.  I’m not buying it until I see it’s already happened.  Every time someone has predicted Figgins’ release, what’s happened?  He’s remained.  If they were going to let him go, wouldn’t they have done it by now?  Wouldn’t they have done it during another last-place finish in 2012?  When the fans could’ve used a morale boost in the waning summer months?  Or immediately after the season, when fans were already on edge about ticket prices and Arena Deals?  What are they WAITING for?  Do they REALLY think they’re going to get another team to eat his 2013 salary?  That ship has sailed!  You know how everything in life is a risk?  Well, it’s time to take a risk; it might be the safest risk you’ve ever taken.  Drop Figgins.  Yes, he will likely get another chance with another team, with the risk being:  he will dramatically improve and rub it in all of our faces.  Don’t worry, he won’t improve.  He’s the worst.  He’s LITERALLY the worst Major League Baseball player.  I know, hindsight being what it is, that it’s fairly embarrassing to have signed a guy to such a large contract only to have him be completely worthless.  But, you don’t have to worry about any such embarrassment with him going on to great success elsewhere.  He won’t.  Trust me.

What else happened?  Carlos Peguero had about 100 fewer plate appearances.  And, of course, Jack Cust had 270 fewer plate appearances (hint:  he had 270 plate appearances in 2011).

But, enough with that.  My overall view:  the hitting was slightly better, the starting pitching held up reasonably well, and the bullpen was pretty lights out.  That’s how you improve by 8 games.  Now, the only question is:  how do we improve by another 20 and reach the playoffs?

***

Let’s look at some starters.  Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager both had full seasons.  They played some in 2011, but in 2012 they went wire-to-wire, holding down second and third base respectively.  How did they do?

Seager was a definite bright spot for this team.  He wasn’t amaze-balls or anything, but he was pleasant.  The line:  .259 BA, 35 doubles (led team), 20 homers (led team), 86 RBI (led team), .738 OPS.  Not bad, right?  Not bad for a guy’s first year in the majors.  He’s no Mike Trout, but then again who is (besides Mike Trout, obvs)?  If he can figure out a way to get that batting average to go up another 20 points or so, you’re talking about a VERY valuable piece to a team.  And remember all those clutch 2-out base hits with runners in scoring position?  Apparently, there were a lot.  And those were sure fun to watch.

Ackley, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment.  The line:  .226 BA, 22 doubles, 12 homers, 50 RBI, .622 OPS (Olivo-ian levels), and a whopping 124 strikeouts (2nd highest on team).  I mean, what can you say about Dustin Ackley’s 2012?  He had 292 more plate appearances than he did in 2011, yet he lost 144 points on his OPS.  That’s bad.  As a left-handed batter, he somehow managed to bat WORSE against righties!  He batted .215!  And, he was probably one of the few on the team who managed to bat BETTER in Safeco as opposed to on the road, so you can’t even use that as a valid excuse!

The only thing you can do with Ackley is write off 2012, hope he got some good experience out of the deal, and hope he improves dramatically in 2013.  He’s a #2 overall pick.  He can’t be this bad for this team to survive; he just can’t!  He needs to cut down on the strikeouts and bring up the walks in a big way.

Another certifiable black hole in our lineup was Justin Smoak.  Good fucking God.  The line:  .217 BA, 14 doubles, 19 homers, 51 RBI, .654 OPS.  I don’t know what to say.  We traded for him in 2010, gave him a cup of coffee in the second half, then let him start for the entire 2011 season.  Of course, he was injured for about half of that, but he had a strong close to his season, so we brought him back as a starter in 2012 (as if we had any choice, what with the purse strings being tightened each and every year since 2008).  We figured, “OK, when Smoak was healthy in 2011, he was good.  SURELY he’ll be good when he’s healthy in 2012!”

And, of course, he sucked.  He sucked so bad that the team had to send him down to Tacoma to work on some things.  The only reason he was brought back as early as he was is because Mike Carp couldn’t stay on the field without injuring himself.  So, Smoak was gone from July 24th thru August 13th.  He left with a .189 batting average.  He played regularly from August 14th thru the end of the month and finished August with a .190 batting average.  Lotta good that trip down south was.

He continued to tread water until September 15th, when he entered the day still batting .190.  From the 15th onward, Smoak went 25 for 63, good for a .397 batting average over 17 games, with 5 of his 14 doubles, 5 of his 19 homers, and 10 of his 51 RBI.  He raised his final batting average to a still-dreadful .217, but nevertheless, that’s a 27-point increase over the final 17 games.  When you play as much as Smoak did in 2012, that’s a fairly impressive hot streak.

What does it mean?  Obviously nothing.  If I could bank on having these types of torrid 17-game streaks multiple times throughout a season, then maybe I’d be a little more excited.  But, tacking just the one on at the end of a horrendous season is nothing to hang one’s hat on.  I mean, yeah, anything can happen.  But, is Smoak “figuring it out” at all likely?  Not really.

So, we’re 1 for 3 so far for 2012.  1 supposed building block for the future did well.  2 did not.  What about Jesus Montero?

Again, we’re talking about a guy who played in his first full Major League season.  I tend to give these guys a pass, especially if they managed to stay IN the Majors for the full season.  Montero was never sent down, but some thought he maybe should’ve been.

The line:  .260 BA, 20 doubles, 15 homers, 62 RBI, .685 OPS.  What I notice right away is that Montero didn’t have a whole lot of super highs or super lows.  Once his batting average kind of normalized around .260, it didn’t waver all that much.  He had a mid-season lull in July where he found himself in the .240s, then he kind of bounced back in August where he was briefly scraping the .270s, but for the most part he was right around .260 the whole time.  Again, for a first year player playing a full first year … not terrible.  You’d like to see some more walks, or if not that, at least a lot more power, but whatever, it was what it was, and what it was wasn’t the worst.

That isn’t to say he doesn’t have a lot to fix He has a lot to fix, though.  His Home/Road splits, for one, are an abomination.  His home OPS was .605; his road OPS was .768.  That’s CRAZY.  Obviously, you have to hope that bringing the fences in will help normalize some of that.  But, even still, that’s a huge psychological disadvantage he’s got swirling around in his head.

You like crazy splits?  How about this one:  vs. right handed pitchers, his OPS was .609; vs. lefties, his OPS was .830.  Against lefties, Montero is downright dominant!  The only problem is, he only bats about 1/3 of the time against lefties.  That means 2/3 of the time he’s pretty much worse than a replacement level player.

Nevertheless, I think you’d take the total package if he was a dominant force defensively.  Except, no, he’s not.  He was allowed to play in 56 games as a catcher vs. 78 as a DH.  As a defender, he was worse than replacement level.  He’s not projected to be a starting catcher in this league; he will either be a DH or a converted first baseman.  Either way, you’re talking about positions where you’d like some consistent thump in your bat.  A .685 OPS with a bunch of crazy splits just won’t cut it.  Yeah, when he’s facing lefties on the road (especially in Kansas City), he’s phenomenal!  But, we can’t afford to have Montero be a strict platoon guy.  We didn’t trade for him to play in 1/3 or 1/2 of the games.  We traded for him to play EVERY game, and to play well!  I’ll give him a pass for his first full season, but I hope I don’t have to wait too much longer for his bat to really explode.

Since we gave Seager a passing grade, I’ll give Montero a passing grade.  That gives us 2 out of 4 building blocks who played well.  With Brendan Ryan giving us the best defense in all of baseball (stupid Gold Gloves are STUPID), that rounds out the infield.  Brendan Ryan will give you nothing at the plate, but as long as he’s not counted upon to do anything but bat 9th, I think I’ll take it.

But, what of the outfield?

Well, for starters, we don’t have Ichiro to kick around anymore.  I liked the guy, but I’m glad we traded him and I’m glad he got to go to the playoffs and I’m glad he did really well for the Yankees, but I’m mostly glad the Yankees lost.  Ichiro finished his Mariners career with so many wonderful stats we can look back on fondly.  He will be a Hall of Famer, he will go in as a Mariner, and, you know, WHO KNOWS?  He managed 73 hits in 67 games with the Yankees in the regular season.  He now has 2,606 hits on his career.  And, for fuck’s sake, he’s fucking ICHIRO!  Who’s to say he can’t stick around with some team or another and get the 394 hits he so desperately desires?  I hope he does it!  Just not with the Mariners.  And I hope he gets that World Series Championship!  Just not with the Yankees.

The star of the outfield in 2012 was Michael Saunders.  If you asked me going into 2012, would Michael Saunders be worth a darn, I likely would’ve said, “Heck no!”  Funny thing about baseball, weird shit can happen (see:  Baltimore Orioles, Oakland A’s).  The line:  .247 BA, 31 doubles, 19 homers, 57 RBI, .738 OPS in 553 plate appearances.  OK, so it’s not the best line in the world.  But, when you look at his combined three seasons prior (.196 BA, 17 doubles, 12 homers, 45 RBI, .569 OPS in 635 plate appearances), you can see some real dramatic improvement!

The legend has it, in the offseason between 2011 & 2012, Saunders trained with Josh Bard’s brother (whose first name, legend has it, remains a mystery to all).  They worked on his mechanics, shortened his swing, and lo and be-fucking-hold, a miracle happened!  Saunders managed to stay in the Majors for a full season, and remained productive throughout!

As a centerfielder, you’ll take that line just about every year.  You’d like to see improvement, considering he is so young and everything, but with the defense he provides, you’ll take it.

As a corner outfielder, there’s a little something left to be desired.

I think in an ideal world, if we don’t bring in a bigtime free agent like Josh Hamilton or Nick Swisher, then in 2013 you’d like to see Michael Saunders in left and Franklin Gutierrez in center.  Regardless of who you put in right, you’re looking at one of the better defensive outfields.

But, of course, who can count on that?  I’m talking about Guti, of course.  Who can count on him???  He has to be, by far, the most cursed athlete I’ve ever seen.  Which SUCKS DICK, because he’s one of the greatest defensive outfielders I think I’ve ever seen, Griffey included.  Every time we think Guti has turned a corner, BAM, he hits another brick wall that sidelines him.  He goes from IBS to a pec injury to a concussion from being hit with a baseball on a pick-off move to God knows what else!  Was there a groin or a knee or a shoulder or all three in there somewhere?  I’m pretty sure all that’s left for Guti is Bell’s Palsy, mange, and the fucking gout.  Something to look forward to in 2013.

Aside from Saunders, there was a huge revolving door in 2012.  Including Guti, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Eric Thames, Mike Carp, Peguero, and just a LITTLE bit of Alex Liddi.  I can’t say much about any of these cats.  Wells looks like a decent 4th outfielder, but the shine wears off quickly when you give him the everyday job.  Thames had some memorable moments, got doused with some shaving cream pies and such, but he’s no solution.  Robinson and Peguero have HUGE holes in their swings, which says nothing of their defensive liabilities (especially Peguero’s).  Carp should probably stay away from the outfield forever, because he’s terrible at it, and because he keeps getting hurt diving for balls he’ll never be able to reach on his own.

For the record, I like Carp, but this strikes me as a numbers game he’s not going to win.  If you can’t plug him in the outfield (which you really, really can’t), then you’ve got to make him a first baseman or a DH.  He was decent defensively at first, but let’s face it, this team has a lot invested in Justin Smoak.  Not only that, but first could also be a home for Montero in the future.  And finally, not for nothing, but I have to think first base is going to be a free agent or a trade priority this offseason we’re in right now.  I like Carp’s bat, but I have a sick feeling he’s going to make good on his promise with another team more willing to give him the everyday first baseman job.  In fact, 2012 could be the last we see of Carp in a Mariners uniform.

As a team, the Mariners were 27th in runs scored in the Major Leagues.  Dead last in the AL by a whopping 48 runs.  However, their 619 runs were 63 better than 2011!  And 106 better than 2010!  Oh, by the by, 619 runs for a season is fucking terrible, regardless of the era we’re in.

The Mariners were also dead last in the AL in batting average with .234.  For the record, Oakland was second-to-last with a .238 average, and they won the entire AL West; so at least there’s some semblance of hope.  Also for the record, .234 was dead last in all of baseball, even worse than Houston (Welcome Astros, 2013!).

And, of course, the Mariners were dead last in the AL in OPS.  By a HUGE margine (.665, next highest was Cleveland with .705).  And, no foolin’, that .665 OPS was also dead last in all of baseball.

Make no mistake, this offense in 2012 was horrible.

On the plus side:  Miguel Olivo’s option was NOT picked up!  He’s gone!  Gone for good!  That’s addition by subtraction if I’ve ever seen it.

On the down side:  there are no other prospects ready for a shot at the big time.  All Major League-ready prospects are up in the Major Leagues.  Unless we wheel and deal like crazy, you can pencil in the following gentlemen:

C – John Jaso (but probably only as a platoon)
1B – Justin Smoak
2B – Dustin Ackley
3B – Kyle Seager
SS – Brendan Ryan
LF – Michael Saunders
CF – Franklin Gutierrez (until he gets injured, then Saunders slides over)
RF – ??
DH – Jesus Montero (with a possibility to play some catcher, but look for this team to bring in a third guy for the catching rotation, hopefully someone who is awesome at defense to round things out a bit in the later innings)

Obviously, this team will have to bring in an outfielder.  More than likely, they’ll have to bring in a couple.  Aside from a backup catcher, I think this team goes hard after either a first or a third baseman.  Nick Swisher is a guy people like because he can play both of the corner outfield spots as well as first base.  That gives a team a lot of flexibility in the event a Guti goes down, or a Smoak sucks cock.  Josh Hamilton is another guy people like because he’s got awesome-a powah.  I’ll reserve my thoughts on these guys and others as the rumor mill gets hotter.  Or if I have nothing else to write about.

For now, what we have is what we have, and what we have isn’t worth a shit.  This offseason needs improvement, it needs it from the batters, and it needs it in spades.

Sometime soon, I’ll finish my Part 2 about the pitchers of 2012.  I swear.

Running Diary of My First Mariners No-Hitter (Replay)

Because I wasn’t around a TV when it was broadcast live.  Also, with apologies to Bill Simmons (or whoever invented this format of Internet writing).

11pm – Just pulled into Tacoma.  I left Seattle pretty much RIGHT after the game ended.  I’ve been up since 6am, I’m on a hella diet right now, so I’m bound to be a little punchy.  Efforts were futile to get my dad or brother up in time to DVR the replay, so here I am.  Efforts were also futile to watch the TV in our apartment’s gym because the cable was broken.

11:03 – Great.  Dan Patrick Show is on.  This is awful.

11:07 – Insta-Slim T-Shirt commercial is on.  Yeah, I like to get my Insta-Slim T’s in XXXL so I can wear ’em loose.

11:12 – Flipping around now.  Joe Mande is doing stand up on Comedy Central.  I know this is supposed to be funny, but for the life of me I wish Aziz Ansari’s special was on right now.

11:15 – So, I was watching some old episodes of Parks & Rec on my computer at home after leaving the gym earlier this evening.  After each episode, I’d go online to check the M’s score because, seriously, I’m not going to follow the M’s and the Dodgers all that closely when Millwood is pitching.  Anyway, in the middle of the 4th inning, I see there are no runs scored and no hits for the Dodgers.  I nod my head approvingly and watch another episode (or two, I can’t remember at this point).  I check back in the middle of the sixth and see we’re 9 outs away.  I say aloud to absolutely no one, “Really?  Are we REALLY doing this tonight?”  Then, I turn on my radio and slog through the final three innings of what turned out to be an exciting yet constant stream of pitching changes.

11:20 – Seriously, Joe Mande … hilarious?

11:27 – What is John Waters doing on Bill Maher?  He figuratively has nothing to say!

11:30 – Crap, it looks like Dan Patrick is going into overtime … M’s replay is supposed to start now!  And, for Christ’s sake, he’s interviewing E from Entourage … you are God damned killing me.

11:33 – And now they’re making me wait even longer because some fucking horse has a bum wheel … this sucks shit.  Cut Dan Patrick off and let’s do this bitch!

11:36 – Ahh, Garfunkel & Oates, bring me back to laughter while I wait!

11:39 – Can someone explain to me why they replay the Dan Patrick Show at 11pm at night?  Can someone also explain why they televise the Dan Patrick Show to begin with?  I don’t know who is actually at fault, but I blame those insipid morons Mike & Mike on ESPN.

11:42 – See, once I realized everyone at home was asleep, my second idea was to have them DVR the M’s replay tomorrow.  Because SURELY the M’s game would be replayed … such an historic event … checking TVGuide.com … oh, sorry.  Root Sports is too busy showing Paid Programming and fishing shows.  Fucking A …

11:48 – FINALLY!

11:49 – Good start for Kevin Millwood.  Strikeout to lead off the game.  Dee Gordon, I have a feeling you can eat my ass cheese …

11:51 – Millwood’s face looks fucking WEIRD with that goatee.

11:52 – That’s a catch for Mike Carp.  Even the laziest of fly balls look like a challenge for Carp.  Who puts this defense behind a pitcher and expects a no-no?

11:53 – Kawasaki gobbles up the grounder at short for the final out in the first.  Let’s get ready for a lot of futile bats tonight!  Only … three more hours to go!

11:54 – Twitter still going strong.  Local media absolutely giddy.

11:55 – Nathan Eovaldi.  That will be the first and last time I ever write that name on this website.  For you trivia buffs, he’s the starter who went against the third M’s no-no.

11:56 – Boy have people been killing Ichiro lately.  And by “people” I mean talk radio people.  It’s funny how they like to tear down our biggest superstars because they don’t go on the radio every other week giving them interviews.  Same deal with Shaun Alexander and Ken Griffey Jr.  You’ll notice they LOVED Hasselbeck until his last day, even though he wore down just like every other athlete eventually does.  Apparently, if you don’t constantly kiss ass, and you start to struggle at the end of a Hall of Fame career, you get the bum’s rush out the door.

12:04 – Can’t help but think about how much I would prefer to be listening to this game with Dave Niehaus on the call …

12:07 – Dan Wilson in the booth!  I thought the M’s reserved all their most exciting games for when Bone sat in.

12:08 – Fly out to Ichiro.  Can’t tell if Millwood looks good or if the Dodgers look bad.  At the very least, Millwood doesn’t look bad.

12:08 – Really Abreu?  Bunting?  Did you forget what size your jersey is?  Gotta be pushing 3 bills at this point …

12:09 – And a weak grounder to 3rd for Abreu.  I can’t believe he’s still playing.  And is still effective?  Damn.  .817 OPS.  Doesn’t that lead the M’s right now?  I’m too tired to go check.

12:10 – Memo to Mariners executives:  I have yet to meet a single M’s fan who likes the teal jerseys.  Just something to think about.

12:11 – Fly out to deep center.  6 up and 6 down.

12:12 – Root Sports broadcasts have the worst commercials.  Banner Bank and Emerald Queen Casino concerts back-to-back is my Holocaust.

12:17 – M’s went down easily in the 2nd.  This Dodgers pitcher looks NASTY

12:19 – Edgar throwing the first pitch … why wasn’t I at this game?

12:20 – First out in the third hit right at Carp.  That’s the way I like it; the less Carp has to move the better.

12:21 – Jesus, it’s like these Dodgers hitters have somewhere else to be!  Strikeout on a ridiculously out-of-the-zone pitch.

12:22 – Tony Gwynn Jr. looks nothing like his father.  Doesn’t hit much like him either.  Nice catch by Montero in foul territory.

12:25 – Holy Hell does Mike Carp have a lot of weird tattoos on his right arm.

12:33 – Totally called the A-Rod answer on the Trivia Question for who hit the most doubles in a single season by the Mariners.  Edgar was the obvious choice.  Olerud was a moron’s choice.  Ibanez was the only one throwing me for a moment.  But, yeah, A-Rod’s 1996 season was ridiculous.

12:35 – I’m now that kind of tired where you can’t bring yourself to blink lest you risk passing out … six more innings to go.

12:39 – Holy shit, Dee Gordon bunts down to Seager and he bare-hand throws to first.  Amazing.  Every no-no has at least one or two defensive plays that make you say, “Wow.”

12:41 – Strikeout swinging!  How does Millwood do it?

12:44 – Pop-out to Seager.  12 up & 12 down.

12:45 – 5-Hour Energy is full of SHIT!  Try drinking that when you’re pulling an all-nighter driving back to San Francisco from Coachella in the middle of the night and see if you don’t die in a fiery car crash!

12:48 – If I could, I would fast forward through all of these useless Mariners at-bats.  They’re about as entertaining as watching old people fuck.

12:51 – Saunders broken-bat single up the middle!  God damn is this guy on a tear!  Couldn’t happen to a more-deserving guy, in my book.  Saunders has taken a LOT of lumps in his Major League career to date.

12:55 – Jaso might be 0 for 2, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t look like one of the more competent hitters on this team.  Love watching him at the plate.

12:59 – Very audible “FUCK!” out of Millwood after walking the leadoff hitter in the fifth.  Now comes Abreu.

12:59 – First pitch:  3-6-3 double play hit right at Smoak.

1:01 – Ooo, Hairston was on that fastball down the middle.  Fouled it straight back.  That one could have been trouble.  As it stands, he took a meatball down the pipe for strike three.  15 up and 15 down (thanks to the DP).

1:03 – All those D-Bags in the beer garden not paying attention to what would be a no-hitter.  How does it feel?  If I were there, I would’ve appreciated the SHIT out of this game!

1:06 – Why would you EVER start out going back before coming in on an Ichiro line drive hit right at you in Center Field?  Isn’t that something you just assume is in front of you, no questions asked?  Tsk tsk, Tony Gwynn Jr.

1:07 – Nice little squeaker of a base hit through the hole between third & short for Ackley.  Runners on first & second.

1:08 – Seager hot shot up the middle, but they played him perfectly.  Scoring threat over.  It’s still hard for me not to put quotes around “threat”, but the M’s offense not being totally worthless anymore is still somewhat of a new phenomenon.

1:10 – Class Action lawyers are the scum of all scum.  Join us in this lawsuit where millions of dollars will change hands!  And, here are a few pennies for your trouble …

1:12 – Shallow fly to center.  Millwood still going strong.

1:13 – Swing and a miss!  Not for nothing, but I’m still trying to figure out where Millwood injured himself.  He’s down to his final batter here …

1:14 – He adjusted his cup just now … or does he feel a pull?  OK, that sounded dirtier than I intended.

1:15 – Wow, that curve was SICK!  Strike three for Gwynn.  I see a hint of a limp as he’s walking off the field.  Maybe that curve did it.

1:16 – This weird cowboy guy hawking 5-Hour Energy is creepy to say the least.  He deserves to die and I hope he burns in hell, to say the most.

1:21 – 8 innings of 2-hit ball for Danny Hultzen tonight.  I love those Building To The Future updates … always makes me happy.

1:22 – Doesn’t seem like we’ve done much of anything in these 5+ innings on offense, but their pitcher is already nearing 100 pitches.  Go figure.

1:25 – End of 6th.  FINALLY, things are going to get interesting.  The next three innings should take approximately 57 hours to finish.

1:26 – If no company can pay to be on Angie’s List, then how does she make money for these crappy commercials?  It can’t all be online ad revenue, it just fucking can’t Angie, you whore!

1:27 – Kevin Millwood walks off the field after standing out on the mound for a second.  Spoiler Alert:  minor groin injury.  On the radio, they were convinced it was a blister on his throwing hand.

1:29 – In comes Furbush.  Pitcher #2 … and more commercials.  Great.

1:33 – No more bunting for Dee Gordon.  First pitch by Furbush is a flyout to Center.

1:34 – What’s with this team and crappy beards?  Say it ain’t so, Furbush!

1:35 – Chopper to Furbush, terrible throw to first base.  Should’ve had him out.  E-1 sends the runner to second base with one out.

1:37 – Strikeout!  Furbush!  In spite of his error, he looks like he could go the rest of this game without giving up a hit.  But, Wedge wants to play Mr. Manager, so in comes Stephen Pryor.  Two outs.

1:38 – Well … manager.  We just say manager.

1:43 – Strikeout!  Heater!  Wild Thing!  You Make My Heart Sing!

1:44 – My first time watching Stephen Pryor pitch and I spend half the at-bat looking up Arrested Development clips … priorities!

1:45 – New pitcher for the Dodgers.  I will not name him because I don’t want to add another useless tag to this post.

1:46 – Strained Right Groin.  Word just came down.

1:47 – Strikeout for Carp.  One out in the seventh.  Will anyone EVER score?

1:48 – Kawasaki kinda looks like Ichiro’s kid brother who is only on the team because Ichiro’s mom made him drag him along.  Also, strike three Kawasaki.

1:50 – With two strikes on him, Ichiro shatters his bat, dribbles the ball to second, and beats the throw.  Two outs, so what?!

1:51 – I could get lost in Ackley’s eyes.  OK, now I’m getting punchy …

1:52 – I could get lost in Ackley’s crappy beard, but that’s neither here nor there.

1:53 – It’s hard to steal off of a left-handed pitcher, but there went Ichiro!  Great success!

1:54 – Big walk by Ackley.  Didn’t look like he was going to be able to do much of anything with this guy.

1:57 – Seager!  Just over the glove of the short stop!  1-0!  See, this is why Ichiro bats first and not third.  Infield single, stolen base, scores on Seager’s RBI.  All you fuckheads who wanted Ichiro batting 9th in the lineup can eat a bag of dicks.  Although, to be fair, had he been batting 9th in this game, maybe we still score anyway.  Who’s to say?

1:58 – Another pitching change.  Ye gods.

2:01 – End of 7th.  Two more innings.  I can hardly keep my eyes open.  Can I power nap during these commercial breaks?

2:02 – Why do people on diabetes commercials look like some of the most fit people in the world?  Where are your 400 pound Walmart patrons and their bags upon empty bags of Cheez Doodles?

2:05 – Something tells me Mr. Manager shouldn’t have had Pryor go back out there for the 8th inning.  He’s still a little green, Mr. M.  That’s asking a little much at this point in his career.

2:06 – Back to back walks for Pryor.  Mr. Manager sees the folly of his ways.  Lucas Luetge enters, no outs.

2:11 – Sac bunt to first base.  Runners on 2nd & 3rd, one out.  And, Mr. Manager is back out of the dugout.  Here comes thwarted closer turned set-up man Brandon League, in the biggest appearance of his life.

2:16 – Shallow line drive to Figgins in left (having taken over for Carp this inning).  He catches it, heaves towards home (and falls down in the process), and the runner at third holds!  Wow!

2:19 – Strike three swinging on a nasty split!  Three outs to go!  What a gutty, gutty performance by League right there!  Is it possible to rebuild a guy’s trade value as a set-up man?  Looks like we’re going to find out.

2:23 – At this point in the live radio broadcast, I was debating whether I wanted to drive all the way down to Tacoma, or hope that a member of my family would save me with the DVR.  I told myself that I would HAVE to come down here if the Mariners actually did it.  You can’t risk not seeing history.  Highlights or .gifs on the Internet just won’t cut it!

2:27 – Twitter was all over the story of the near no-no down in Tacoma by Erasmo Ramirez.  They have yet to mention it on the TV broadcast.  Could have been quite a night had Ramirez held onto it.  Of note:  he might be the guy called back up if Millwood goes on the DL with this groin strain.

2:29 – Jaso, was that hit REALLY necessary?  I’m trying to get some sleep here!

2:30 – Atta boy, Figgins!  The one time I applaud your first-pitch swinging ground out pulled to the first baseman!

2:32 – Tom Wilhelmsen, our new closer.  Brendan Ryan, defensive replacement at short stop.

2:33 – Grounder to short!  Dee Gordon blazing up the line!  Bang-bang play!  Out at first!  Umps aren’t taking away any more no-hitters on questionable calls.  You gotta earn your hits.

2:34 – Even the Super-Mo camera can’t definitively show whether he was out or safe!

2:35 – Line out to short stop!  Brendan Ryan getting a workout!

2:36 – Ackley to Smoak!  No hitter!  Very odd celebration on the field!  I can’t stop using exclamation points!

2:37 – 10th combined no hitter in MLB history.  6 pitchers.  1 catcher, Jesus Montero, one of the youngest catchers all time to catch a no-no.

2:38 – Kevin Millwood – 6 IP, Charlie Furbush – .2 IP, Stephen Pryor – .1 IP, Lucas Luetge – .1 IP, Brandon League – .2 IP, Tom Wilhelmsen – 1 IP.

2:39 – No hits, 3 walks, 114 pitches.  Against the best team in baseball right now.  Incredible.  Seattle Mariners over the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0.

2:41 – 6 pitchers, 11 position players.  17 of our 25 guys.  17 of our 21 available players (not counting the other starting pitchers).  The only guys who didn’t get in this game were Miguel Olivo, Alex Liddi, Shawn Kelley, and Hisashi Iwakuma (obv.).

2:45 – OK, that’s it.  Time to proofread this bitch and go to sleep.

2012 Seattle Mariners 2-Month Review: April & May

And, you know, I guess March too.

I needed something to write about today.  Today just so happens to be a day on the calendar very close to the end of the month of May.  Ergo, a review of the first third of the season.

Officially, this is going to be kind of cheating because the stats I’m about to throw out will include yesterday’s game against the White Sox, but sue me, because I don’t feel like doing the math involved with eliminating yesterday’s contest.  Besides, I feel like yesterday is a pretty good sample of what the season has been so far for the Seattle Mariners.

I broke up my Season Preview into two parts:  Hitting & Pitching.  I’ll keep this as a single post, but first I’ll look at the hitting and try to refer back to my original work to see where things are going compared to my initial opinion of things.

And I’ll kick things off with Dustin Ackley.  He’s the one guy I was convinced we wouldn’t have to worry about on this team.  And, truth be told, I’m still not worried about him.  Though, let’s be honest, there’s certainly room for improvement.

His .254 batting average is third on the team.  In looking at the second part of that sentence – third on the team – you might think, “All right!  Not bad!”.  But, if you take your frame of reference outside of the Mariners’ Level of Hell we’ve been mired in for the past three seasons, then you’ll know that .254 is NOT an acceptable batting average.

Except for a lull in early April where he was as low as .231, Ackley has been right around his current average all season.  That’s not gonna work for me.  Ideally, he will find a way to improve by about 50 points between now and the end of the season.  Failing that, I would like to see him sit around .275 or so.  With the way he’s able to keep his OBP up, that should put a nice finishing boost on his overall OPS going into next season.  At that point, with a year & change under his belt in the Majors, I think we can expect that Ackley will have figured out all the adjustments he needs to figure out to be a .300 hitter for the bulk of his career.  Outlook:  bright.

Following Ackley, as he has in the batting order for so much of his baseball career since college, let’s look at the most pleasant surprise on this Mariners team:  Kyle Seager.

Seager leads the team in batting average with .283.  Now THAT is where you want to be at this point in your career!  And don’t let the fact that he looks like a male version of Punky Brewster fool you, this guy has a future in Major League Baseball!  He currently leads the team in OPS at .806, which is just … *sniff* … there are no words.  It’s so damn beautiful I could cry!  What?  No, I’m not crying right now!  There’s just something in my eye!

Also, Seager leads the team in RBI with 31.  That puts him in the Top 20 in the AL.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.

I was pretty high on Seager to start the season, putting him in my catagory of Guys We Have Reason To Hope Will Be Good.  That may have been jumping the gun a little bit, but for whatever reason I’ve always liked this guy.  He’s just a pure hitter, plain and simple.  He’ll never lead the league in power numbers, but he’ll be an important piece for this team for a long time.

Next on the list, I’ll discuss Jesus Montero.  This is his first full season in the Majors, so I don’t want to be too hard on the guy, but let’s just say he’s not There yet.  A .251 batting average, a most-unimpressive .294 OBP.  What’s keeping his OPS from being a total disgrace are his power numbers.  He’s second on the team in Homers with 7 and fifth on the team in doubles with 9.

Make no mistake, I’m not down on the guy at all!  He’s still learning how to be a regular catcher (not necessarily an “every-day” catcher because … Olivo), he’s still technically (I believe) a rookie, and there is still a LOT of promise in his bat.  The way he’s able to go the other way with power.  The way he’s occasionally able to rip mistakes down the left field line to keep pitchers honest.  I think he very well COULD be the next Edgar Martinez for this team.  But, Edgar wasn’t Edgar overnight.  I would still look for big things out of this guy in the coming seasons.  Let’s just get through this one healthy and with some semblance of momentum at the end.

Next, let’s take a look at the guy I’m (so far) most proud of on this team.  Justin Smoak.

This guy was getting KILLED in the press earlier this season, and for good reason.  As late as May 9th, Smoak was hitting .173 thanks to a 3 for 30 stretch to open up the month.  From there, over the next 21 games (of which he played in 19), Smoak has raised his average 65 points!  He’s had 6 homers in that stretch (compared to 3 in our first 33 games), 18 RBI (compared to 10 before), and he’s raised his OPS to a somewhat-respectable .688 (compared to a downright Figginsian .493 up until that point).

In short, Smoak has been on a tear.  And you know what I think?  I think this is just who he is gonna be.  He’s going to be a streaky player who is insanely hot for a month, and ice cold for a month.  What he’s got to take better control of is exactly HOW cold he gets.  He can’t be hitting .173 for very long and expect to retain his Major League status.  “Cold” for him needs to be around .225.  And “Hot” for him should start approaching .300 or .325.  It looks like he’s got his shit figured out so far, but I’ve been fooled by Smoak before.

One of the other more pleasant surprises this season (after Seager) has probably been Michael Saunders.  Granted, his .241 batting average isn’t lighting the world on fire.  But, he’s far from the total disaster he’s been the past three seasons in the Majors.  Hell, compare his numbers this year to last and you will see across-the-board improvement.

He played in 58 games last year; this year he has been in 51.  So far, his average is almost 100 points higher.  He has 13 doubles compared to 5 last year; 4 homers compared to 2; 16 RBI compared to 8; and he has already walked more as well as stolen more bases.  Whatever he did to improve his swing in the offseason has CLEARLY worked.

That having been said, what Michael Saunders has been over the first two months isn’t what you would consider to be a “starting calibre” outfielder.  I don’t care how good his defense has been.  But, at least he has shown he’s a bona fide Major League reserve outfielder.  He currently has probably another month or so before Franklin Gutierrez comes back from the DL.  In that month, I would REALLY like to see him make a push to improve that batting average and slugging percentage.  He could make Wedge’s life a lot more difficult if he’s able to make the push from Major League Reserve to Major League Starter.

Finally, I’m just going to run through a few other guys.  Alex Liddi has been nice to see.  He’s done some impressive things.  And I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the guy.  Mike Carp has had a tough go thus far, what with landing on the DL.  He’s sub-Mendoza right now, so he’s going to have to pick that up.  As it is, he’s losing significant playing time to Liddi (who isn’t even a natural outfielder, but the Mariners are trying to shoe-horn him into being one).  Olivo, Figgins, and Ryan have all been fucking disasters and I can’t wait until they’re all out of my life.  And, of course, Ichiro has been Ichiro (except for the fact that his batting average is about 50 points below his career average).  He’s still a starting-calibre guy for us, but he’s clearly at the end of his career.  Maybe one or two more years TOPS.  Here’s to hoping those lame duck seasons are in another city.

***

On the pitching side of things, I don’t have nearly as much to say.  That’s mostly because we’re talking about a group as a whole where most of them won’t even be on the roster next year, if not the year after.  Guys I expect to be gone after 2012 (if not sometime mid-season):  Kevin Millwood, Jason Vargas, Brandon League, Hisashi Iwakuma, George Sherrill, Steve Delabar.

And, when you look at the starters, I would expect to see four new guys behind Felix next season.  I think Beavan is destined for a long relief role (in which he will continue to Beavan his way through until the team finally gives up on him and trades him for scraps).  I think Noesi will be flipped in a trade (either as a throw-in, like he was in the Pineda deal, or for more scraps).  And I think we’re looking at the rise of the kids for 2013 (with probably one veteran signing a la Kevin Millwood, just to cover our asses).

But, I guess this is commentary for another time.  Right now, let’s look at the starters.

Felix has been Felix.  Yeah, he’s had some struggles of late, but he’s still Felix and I still expect him to turn things around.  He’s had some duds against the White Sox, Angels, Indians, and Yankees, but those are all really good teams.  Anyway, it’s June now.  This is traditionally the time where Felix turns on the ol’ Wiggum charm.  Moving on.

Vargas has been Vargas, in that he has – for the most part – been very good the first couple months of the season.  We’ll see if he turns back into a pumpkin as he has the previous two seasons.  His contract with whoever he signs with this offseason kinda depends on it.

Millwood has gone from being the fucking Holocaust in his first 6 starts (posting a 5.88 ERA in the process) to actually being a guy you can be proud of having in your starting rotation the last 4 starts (lowering said ERA to 3.56).  Including a 2-hitter in Colorado!  This gives me real hope that we can actually GET something for him come July 31st.  Fingers crossed this Renaissance continues!

Beavan … ugh.  I have absolutely nothing to say about Beavan.  Turn into Doug Fister already so we can trade you!

And Noesi.  This guy, I hate.  One could argue I haven’t given him a chance to win me over, but I could counter with:  what reason has HE given ME?  I don’t want to look at his pitch location, I don’t want to talk about whether or not he has been “unlucky”.  I want results.  I care about wins and losses and how many runs this guy has given up.  Give me the bottom line or get the FUCK off my team!  He leads the team in homers given up, he hardly strikes anybody out, he has no real command of his pitches so he has no idea where they’re going to end up.  The guy is a joke.  The Mariners have been cursed with guys like Noesi since the mid-90s.  Guys with plus fastballs, guys with lots of movement on their pitches, but for whatever reason, guys who can’t hack it on game day.  I want Noesi gone.  I want him gone yesterday.

As for our bullpen, the main story is obviously Brandon League blowing his way out of the closer’s job.  True, he’s had a rough go, and a rough go at the most inopportune time for him (when he’s about to be a free agent).  Likewise, it’s the most inopportune time for the Mariners as well, because we were looking to trade this guy at the deadline.  There’s still time, but for the time being he’s going to be working his way back to respectability in a set-up role.

As for the others, there’s been a lot to like about Wilhelmsen.  I don’t think he’s our “Closer of the Future” or anything, but his K/9IP rate is off the charts!  Luetge still hasn’t given up a run in 18 appearances (spanning a meager 11.1 innings), so it’s safe to say this Rule 5 guy has been a nice story for this team as our sometimes lefty specialist.  Furbush, after a quick sojourn to Triple A, has bounced back as another lefty arm in the bullpen with flying colors.  Delabar was recently sent down to Tacoma for giving up too many homers (and not getting enough right handers out in spite of the fact that he throws with his right hand), so we might not be seeing him for a while.  Iwakuma has appeared in 5 games even though he’s been on the team since Opening Day.  That says a LOT about what the team thinks about his abilities.  Then again, maybe they’re just saving him up to give him a bigger load in the second half of the season.

***

The Seattle Mariners ended the month of May with a 23-30 record.  We were tied for last in the AL West with the Oakland A’s.  We were 9 games back of Texas.  We were the 7th worst team in all of baseball.

There have been surprises here and there.  For instance, we’re 5-5 against the Rangers and 5-1 against the Tigers!  Of course, we’re also 1-4 against the Indians and got swept in our only series against the Angels, 4-0.  We’ve had a perfect game pitched against us and we’ve had a 7-game losing streak.

However, all that having been said, this team just FEELS better.  Even though as of the end of May in 2011 we were 27-26 and only 1.5 games out of first.  We’re hitting better (perfect game notwithstanding), we’re scoring more runs.  Hell, we put up 21 on the Rangers just a few days ago!

Obviously, this Mariners team isn’t going to contend for shit.  But, it’s not TOTALLY impossible for the Mariners in 2013 to make some noise.  Gets me all hard just thinking about it.

League Blows Save, Fans Not Shouting Boo-Urns

I have a regular routine I like to perform when I go to Mariners games.  I usually buy all my food and drink before I go inside the stadium.  I pee before first-pitch, then I sit in my seat with a scorecard and a pen, meticulously documenting the game I’m there to see.  In the off-chance that something historic happens, I want to say that I was not only at that game, but I have the scorecard to prove it!

Last night, I went against my entire routine.  Let’s just say if there was EVER a game I felt safe in assuming nothing historic was going to happen, last night’s Blake Beavan start was it.

Also in breaking with my routine, I spent a SHITLOAD last night on beer and soft serve ice cream at the game.  The way I figure, I need SOMETHING to do with my hands while sitting there watching live baseball … might as well use those hands in the most self-destructive way possible!

The way things were going, last night was one of the easiest and most fun baseball experiences I’ve had in a good, long while.  The Mariners got a run in the first (though, they probably should’ve had more, since they had the bases loaded and everything).  The Mariners got another run in the third, and then they capped their scoring night in the fifth with a 2-run home run.  All four runs courtesy of the bat of Justin Smoak (though, to be fair, that first inning fielder’s choice very nearly could’ve been a double play).  It was 4-0, the Mariners chased Ervin Santana after 5 mediocre innings, and here we were, cruising towards an easy victory.

Then, just before the top of the 6th inning, I looked up and noticed that Blake Beavan hadn’t given up any runs.  I made a comment to my friend at this point, something to the effect of, “The classic Blake Beavan game is 6 innings and 3 runs.  Looks like the Angels are going to have a pretty good 6th inning.”

And so it came to pass.  Albert Pujols with the three-run, no-doubt-about-it blast to deep center field.  Then, it was 4-3.  Beavan still had a low pitch count, so he got to go out for the 7th, finishing his day in a Very Blake Beavany way.  3 runs scored.  If that guy has ever given up anything less, I haven’t seen it.

In spite of that brief bout of bombast, I still felt pretty comfortable that the Mariners were going to win that game.  Maybe it was the Coors Light talking, I don’t know!  All I know is Wilhelmsen did his job in the 8th, and Brandon League – after a rough stretch – seemingly had his shit back together (like last year, when he had a rough stretch and then figured his shit out).

Nope.  Brandon League ate a huge bag of dicks.  A single, a walk, a sac-bunt that was picked up by League and thrown wide of third base for the game-tying error, and an Intentional Walk.  At this point, the best we could hope for (with no outs, bases loaded) was some kind of miracle that left the game tied for us in the bottom of the 9th.

Nope.  2-run pinch-hit single.  The Mariners go down in order in the 9th, ballgame.

For the record, I was one of the thousands booing the shit out of League.  He’s not just costing us ballgames, but he’s actively making our team worse for the future by reducing his trade value to absolute zero.  Fuck you, Brandon League, get your shit together!  Do you WANT to go to a contender or don’t you?

Also, I say if a pitcher commits an error, he should suffer in the ERA department.  Stop giving pitchers unearned runs when THEY were the reason those runs were unearned!

Finally, I really had high hopes for last night once I was graced with the lineup.  There was NOTHING to dislike!  Yeah, Ackley was given a day off to rest (on his own bobblehead day, no less), but still, the lineup could not have been more intriguing (and less Olivo-filled):

  1. Michael Saunders (CF)
  2. Alex Liddi (3B)
  3. Ichiro (RF)
  4. Kyle Seager (2B)
  5. Justin Smoak (1B)
  6. John Jaso (DH)
  7. Jesus Montero (C)
  8. Mike Carp (LF)
  9. Munenori Kawasaki (SS)

No Olivo, no Brendan Ryan, Saunders batting leadoff, Liddi continuing to get regular playing time … I was ALL OVER this lineup!  And we would’ve won the ballgame too, if it weren’t for Brandon League and those meddling Angels …

It’s Probably Time To Find A New Short Stop

UZR.  Defensive Runs Saved.  Ehh.

Yeah, I guess Brendan Ryan is a good defensive short stop.  He makes supposedly difficult plays look routine, he makes routine plays look like he’s doing them in his sleep, WHATEVER.  I don’t care.  First of all, he’s not the greatest short stop ever, okay?  Hell, he’s not even the best short stop the Mariners have had on their roster!  When was the last time you saw him dive all the way to his right, then hop up and throw a runner out at first?  He doesn’t make AMAZING plays.  He’s not Little O, okay?

There are better short stops out there than Brendan Ryan.  Better players who also – news flash – have the ability to hit above .140!  I know, it’s a shock to us all, but there are guys out there.  There are guys out there in Triple-A, Double-A, fuck, probably even in Single-A RIGHT NOW who could do what Brendan Ryan does with the glove while also batting better than .140.

There are also guys on this team right now.  Guys like Kyle Seager.  You’re telling me a guy who is a natural second baseman (so he has to range far to both sides of his body for balls), who has been getting the bulk of his playing time at third base (a position further away from the first base bag than short stop), he can’t play short stop for this team?  Really.

He might not bring the flash and sizzle that Brendan Ryan has with his glove, but I’m willing to bet that Seager would be more than capable out there.  He’s not going to switch to short stop and immediately turn into Russ Davis for Christ’s sake!  Put him out there!  Give Liddi some time to blossom and let’s do this thing!

I’m getting REALLY sick and tired of seeing batting averages below the Mendoza Line.  This shit has to end someway, somehow.  Getting rid of Brendan Ryan is a start.

Why It Sucks To Root For The Mariners This Year

Look, I’m well aware of where the Mariners are at right now.  Anybody who’s anybody had the Mariners at about a 0% chance of making the playoffs this season.  But, for crying out LOUD!  We’re already 6.5 games out of first place in the AL West and it’s not even May 3rd yet!

Again, I get it, the Mariners were never going to do anything this year anyway.  But, would it KILL the Texas Rangers to not be this good?  Would it KILL the Seattle Mariners to win some of these close games?  You know, like in 2009 when we had that ridiculous 35-20 record in 1-run games?  Right now, we’re 3-5 in 1-run games, but it feels something like 0-8.

It sucks not just because we’re bad, but because we’re SO bad you might as well forget about the rest of the season entirely.  The last place team in the AL Central is only 6 games out of first.  The last place team in the East is only 5 games back and they’re the Boston fucking Red Sox.  We’re already 6.5 games back and we’re only in 3rd place!

I’m a rational human being who’s also a Mariners fan, but could you at least fool me for a couple months?  Could you AT LEAST suck me into believing that you might, in some freakish way, contend for SOMETHING that’s not a high draft pick?  I don’t ask for a whole lot; lord knows as a Mariners fan, I could NEVER ask for a whole lot and expect anything in return.  But, Jesus Christ!  We’ve played all of 26 games and it feels like the season’s already over!

Essentially, what we’ve got to look forward to, what we’re supposed to root for ISN’T contention for a post-season spot, but rather a whole bunch of moral victories.

We want to see the Mariners win more than 75 games, which would be a HELL of an improvement over the last two seasons.  We want to see young guys like Jesus Montero, Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Alex Liddi, Michael Saunders, and Mike Carp make an impact on the big league roster, so they can be counted on going forward to lead this team back to prominence (just, you know, not THIS season, because Texas).  We want to see even-younger guys like Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker make the jump while in Double-A so hopefully they too can help lead this team back to prominence.  And, to a lesser extent, we want to see Felix Hernandez continue to dominate every fifth day because we like Felix a lot.

It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s all we’ve got.  AND … it sucks.  The Texas Rangers will probably end up with the easiest path to the playoffs in the history of the playoffs.  Meanwhile, the Mariners are going to duke it out for whatever scraps lie in their wake.

I’ve already given up.  These Mariners, in conjunction with those Rangers, have officially sucked my will to live in 2012.  And the worst thing about it?  I’ve got a full summer of meaningless baseball to follow.  I’m beginning to think Junior Seau had the right idea …

Yeah, that was probably too soon.  A heartfelt “my bad” for that one.

Three Months, Eight Days, 23 Hours, and 10 Minutes until the first Seahawks preseason game.  Believe Big!

Mariners Sweep Tigers, All Is Right With The World For Now

They say about baseball, “Don’t look at the results,” and for the most part I’m inclined to believe ’em.  You can pitch a terrible baseball game, yet come out with a quality start based on luck and amazing defense.  Just as you can win a baseball series while starting guys like Olivo and Figgins more often than not.

But, when you go into another team’s stadium and sweep them in three games, I think you can let yourself be satisfied – if only for a minute – with the fact that your team won (regardless of how you got there or the logic behind some of the managerial moves).

Granted, the Mariners didn’t have to face Verlander or Smyly (who are both better than the three guys we DID face), and we dodged Fister thanks to his injury, but still.  That was a serious Major League lineup we were up against.  And in three games, we out-scored them 21-9.  Hold your opponents to a 3-runs-per-game average and you will win more series than you lose.  Of course, score 7 runs per game and you get the idea.

A lot to like about this series, starting first and foremost with our bullpen.  NINE shutout innings!  Hot damn!  In game one, the offense staked us to a nice lead, but Vargas did everything in his power to give it right back.  He went six, giving up four runs, and left with a 1-run lead.  The bullpen shut them down over three innings, striking out three while scattering two hits and two walks.

In game two, things weren’t nearly as dire.  Felix had a 9-1 lead when he left after 7 innings, but still.  Nice job not letting them back into the game those last two innings (especially considering that Cleveland botch-job from last week).

Game three was the most impressive, because we had Hector Noesi going.  He sucks.  That’s all there is to it.  He’s a long reliever at best in a starter’s role.  For now.  He went five, gave up four, striking out only two, walking one, and giving up five hits (including a 2-run homer in the sixth to seal his fate).  Luckily, we had guys like Furbush, Delabar, Luetge, Wilhelmsen and League there to completely dominate.  Four innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, and 3 strikeouts.

Of course, you can’t talk about this sweep without praising the hell out of our offense.  In game one, we jumped out to an early lead and played add-on in the later innings to make the save not-so-difficult.  Game two, same thing.  Early lead & add-on.  And this morning, we jumped all over them once again, then let the lead get away from us, but in the end we got a run in the top of the 7th thanks to a Figgins RBI double and that was enough.

Individual efforts were critical.  Ichiro had six hits this series, including a double.  Montero had five, with 3 RBI.  Alex Liddi of all people got the start in all three games and rewarded the team with two homers among his six hits.  Saunders came through in the clutch in the first couple games.  And Justin Smoak woke up today with a 3-run jack.

This was nice.  We needed this, as Mariners fans.  And, really, the team needed this.  They need to be able to do this from time to time this season to prove to us and to themselves that they’re a team on the rise.  Here’s to kicking Toronto’s shit in this weekend.