Comparing The Mariners Lineups From 2018 To 2019

Grains of salt, I’ve taken a few: obviously it’s mid-January, and Jerry Dipoto is a wildman when it comes to wheeling and dealing. So, this could look VERY different when Pitchers & Catchers Report, as it could look VERY different come April when the regular season gets going in earnest. But, it’s getting to be gambling season, and my friends have commissioned me to start looking at this team for the purposes of futures bets; namely: over/under 74.5 wins.

My hunch is, we’re pretty close to looking at the everyday lineup. Sure, some high-salary oldies could be sent packing, but I’ll speculate on that with each guy. For what it’s worth, I’m not going to talk about every single dude who played at each position in 2018; I’m going to stick to the big names, the guys who played the lion’s share of games. Without further ado:

Catcher

2018 – Mike Zunino, 2019 – Omar Narvaez

This is one of those changes I’m most interested in seeing how it plays out in the early going, because these guys could hardly be more different. Zunino was excellent in all facets of defense at the position; Narvaez appears to be among the very worst. Zunino had a ton of power, not only launching balls among the farthest in the league, but also with the volume of balls leaving the park the last couple seasons. Narvaez appears to have very little power, and will be fortunate – with his increased workload – to hit double-digit dingers. On the flipside, Zunino’s batting average and on-base percentage were absolute trash, and the primary source of this entire fanbase’s angst. Narvaez, conversely, hits for a very nice average, with a tremendous on-base percentage, and doesn’t strike out NEARLY as often. So, you know, pick your poison, I guess. What means more to the overall success of the team?

My hunch is that it’ll be a wash. I can already tell you that we’re going to be inundated with countless articles and blog posts about how Zunino’s overall package is worth more than Narvaez’s, but I honestly don’t understand all the defensive metrics and I feel like much more weight is put on them than is actually the case. I will say this: if defense is ever going to mean more, it’s at the catcher spot, with all the different ways they control the game.

First Base

2018 – Ryon Healy/Dan Vogelbach, 2019 – Same

Putting Vogey in here seems like a bit of a stretch; he hardly played in the Bigs in 2018 and he might not play much at all in 2019 either. Nevertheless, it’s now or never for the kid, so this is his last and best shot with the Mariners.

As for Healy, I’m pretty confident we know what we’ve got in him: a placeholder for Evan White. He’s a high power guy (25 and 24 homers the last two years) whose average and on-base percentage took a big hit as he went from Oakland to Seattle between 2017 and 2018. He strikes out a ton (though he scaled that back just a tad last year), and brings solid first base defense (for what that’s worth). Considering where all the power went on this team between 2018 and 2019, Healy could be a difference-maker for this squad. If his power becomes drained, that’s a black hole this team can ill-afford. If he steps up and returns his average to the .270 range, we could be talking about a nice player on an underwhelming team.

I do think one or both of these guys could still be traded, but the value isn’t very high, so I wouldn’t bank on it.

Second Base

2018 – Robinson Cano/Dee Gordon, 2019 – Dee Gordon

Losing Cano obviously hurts in the short term (this is a post about the 2019 season, so I won’t get into the benefits of dumping his salary and remaining contract years). He only had 10 homers and 22 doubles last year, but remember he missed half the season. Prior to that, with the Mariners, Cano had been a force in all facets of the game. His power numbers were much better than we expected, his slash line was as expected, and his defense was silky smooth as always.

Gordon, on the other hand, was brought in here to convert to outfield in an experiment that was working just fine until the Cano suspension. Of course, at that time, we thanked our lucky stars we still had an All Star second baseman on the roster, so it was a no-brainer to move him back to the infield. But, his bat went in the tank thereafter, finishing the season with a slash line of .268/.288/.349. He stole 30 bases – which was exactly half of what he did in 2017 – and while his defense was pretty stellar, it was clear he wasn’t the leadoff hitter we were hoping for. The guy just won’t take a walk. He hardly even takes a single PITCH! Gordon is the kind of guy who needs to hit over .300 to be of any value to your team, because otherwise he doesn’t find enough ways to get on base and use that speed to his advantage; he’s never had any power to speak of, and really doesn’t leg out enough doubles to be of any use.

Gordon is a clear downgrade at the spot for 2019. I thought the Mariners would’ve traded him by now, but his value appears to be too low to get anything back. He might be someone to look at dealing at the deadline, assuming another team has a need at the position. Any way you slice it, this is a guy who was brought in to bat #1 in the lineup, who will spend more time batting #9.

Third Base

2018 – Kyle Seager, 2019 – Same

Seager has been a steady presence for the Mariners since his rookie call-up in 2011. Last year was an all-time low across the board. His defense was actually something to laud early in the 2018 season, but it eroded as did his confidence. He’s a guy who’s always tinkering with his stance and approach, but the bottom line is as the use of shifts has gone up, so have his numbers gone down.

I don’t really see a fix for this, outside of the MLB commissioner totally outlawing shifts, which almost certainly won’t happen this year. Either he figures out how to hit the other way (seems very unlikely), he devotes his entire game to lifting the ball and hitting dingers (he might as well, since his strikeout numbers were also at an all-time high in 2018), or he just gets lucky with BABIP (which also doesn’t seem likely, as you’d think the shift is designed to cut that way down). Bottom line: he better develop a change in his swing that induces MANY more fly balls, or he’s toast.

I do think he’ll be on the trading block at some point this season, but moving him won’t be easy, as his value is at its all-time lowest.

Short Stop

2018 – Jean Segura, 2019 – J.P. Crawford/Tim Beckham

Here is your very biggest downgrade on the entire team, and it’s not even close. Jean Segura was a .300 hitter, with moderate home run power, very good doubles numbers, low strikeouts, and excellent on-base numbers. Combined with his defense, which was fine, and you’re talking about an All Star short stop.

Crawford is a young-ish, highly-touted prospect who is verging on Bust territory. Beckham is slightly less young-ish, highly-touted prospect who is already in that Bust territory. I don’t think either of these guys are remarkably better defensively than Segura (if they’re better at all, which remains to be seen), and their bats outright stink. This is going to be a black hole for the entire 2019 season, outside of probably a few (and far between) hot streaks.

Centerfield

2018 – Dee Gordon/Guillermo Heredia/Others, 2019 – Mallex Smith

I’ve already talked about Gordon. Heredia brought better defense, but otherwise very little to the table battingwise. He was a Quad-A player at best who got way too long of a look at Ben Gamel’s expense.

Mallex Smith broke out in 2018 and appears to be a fun-looking young player going forward. His defense is great, he hits for a high average, and unlike Dee, he CAN take a walk. He can take many of them! There’s no power there, but he stole 40 bases last year, and actually parlayed his speed into 27 doubles. With Gordon as the #9 hitter, and Smith as the #1 hitter, if we can ever get these guys on the bases at the same time, we should likely see some runs scored. Smith is a prototypical leadoff hitter and should be a huge upgrade at this spot in the lineup.

Right Field

2018 – Mitch Haniger, 2019 – Same

He’s got all the tools and is a cornerstone piece for this organization for many years to come (unless, of course, some needy franchise gives us a Godfather deal for an insane return of high-level prospects). The only question is, will he be the same now that he’s far and away the best player on the team? Last year, he had Cruz, Cano, and even Seager to hide behind. We could bat him second, taking advantage of those heavier hitters behind him, or we could move him down to 6th in the lineup to hide him a little bit. But, you figure with Cano and Cruz gone, he’s likely going to be slotted right in the sweet spot of #3 or #4. Will the added pressure get to him? He hasn’t been so great in those spots to this point in his career, albeit in very few ABs.

Left Field

2018 – Denard Span/Ben Gamel/Guillermo Heredia, 2019 – Jay Bruce/Domingo Santana

Heredia, I talked about. Gamel was an okay defender, with excellent batting numbers, though a complete dearth of power. Span was old, with waning defensive skills, but brought everything you could ever want to the plate with him. Just about every time was a professional at bat and a God damned delight! Shades of grandfather Seth Smith.

In Jay Bruce, you hope to see more of the same as with Span. He’ll be 32 years old this year, and his average took a big hit in 2018 (after being pretty respectable to that point in his career), but he comes with more power than anyone we had in 2018. He also gets on base quite a bit, so you could see him as this team’s #2 hitter.

In Domingo Santana, we actually have someone much more interesting. He’s coming off of a rough, injury-plagued 2018, but in 2017, he was absolutely fantastic. High average, good on-base numbers, and 30 homers to go with 29 doubles. If he returns to that player, opposite Mitch Haniger, with Mallex Smith in the middle helping cover extra ground, we could be talking about a dynamite outfield the likes of which we haven’t seen around here in a LONG time.

But, that’s a pretty big IF. The good thing, we have both of these guys, so you’d think ONE of them would pan out. At this point, we have no idea how the timeshare is going to work, as I would assume it’ll be based on merit. But, I have to imagine Santana will get a pretty significant look, as he figures to be part of this team’s future. If he stinks, and Bruce is washed up, then what might’ve been an improvement could very well be a downgrade compared to 2018. If nothing else, you’d think we’d at least see improved power numbers out of this spot. As for everything else, who knows?

Designated Hitter

2018 – Nelson Cruz, 2019 – Edwin Encarnacion

This feels like a pretty significant downgrade on first look, but that could be my absolute love of Nellie clouding my judgment. In reality, while he still hit a whopping 37 homers in 2018, his average took a big hit, ending up at .256. Which, incidentally, is in line with where Encarnacion has been for much of his career. Encarnacion has 30+ homers in his last seven years, so assuming Cruz’s average doesn’t snap back into the .270-.290 range, this could be pretty close to even compared to where the Mariners were in 2018.

Of course, Encarnacion is probably the MOST likely of these guys to be moved before the season starts, at which point you’re looking at a lot more Jay Bruce, a lot more Vogelbach, or a lot more some guy off the scrap heap (in which case, it’s a big minus).

Conclusion

In 2018, based on run differential, the Mariners should’ve been a 77-win team. Obviously, a crazy-unsustainable amount of good luck in the pitching department (specifically the bullpen department) led to the 2018 Mariners actually winning 89 games. Considering most of those bullpen guys are gone, to be replaced by clear downgrades across the board (saying nothing of the starting rotation), you’d have to think at the very least the Mariners will play closer to their run differential expectations.

Which takes us to the hitters. I don’t think the Mariners were particularly lucky OR unlucky in 2018 when it comes to hitting. I think what you saw was what you got. Assuming that proves the same again (and we don’t see a bunch of flukey walk-off homers, or insane cluster-luck), will this group of position players bring the win total up or down compared to 2018?

I have catcher, first base, third base, right field as a wash. I also see DH as a wash, assuming Encarnacion lasts the entire season in a Mariners uniform.

I see very significant downgrades at second base and short stop, from a hitting perspective (defense is likely a wash) which will ensure that this team doesn’t win 80 games.

I see upgrades at center and left fields, though left is the biggest wild card. It could be a HUGE upgrade, or a wash, with a chance of even being a detriment. Center is almost assured to be an improvement, as we’ll be getting improved defense and improved on-base numbers (with all else being the same).

So, what does this mean for the over/under of 74.5? Well, there’s room for improvement at third base and left field. I find it unlikely that Seager will be able to do enough to return to his former glory, which means we’re putting A LOT of hope on that young left fielder panning out and turning into a star (to replace one of the THREE stars we sent away).

There’s also a good chance Haniger regresses some, that the older guys are finished, that the catcher defense reduces the effectiveness of our pitchers, and that the overall power numbers from this offense goes totally and completely in the tank. At which point, will there be enough walks, singles, and doubles to score enough runs to win any games? With THIS pitching staff?

While I have yet to really focus on the pitchers yet, let’s say winning over 74.5 games doesn’t look great.

So Long, Ben Gamel

Ben Gamel and minor leaguer Noah Zavalos to Milwaukee
Domingo Santana to Seattle

Ben Gamel will be 27 years old next year. His first Arb year isn’t until 2020. Domingo Santana is about 2.5 months younger than Gamel, but his first Arb year is 2019. Both of them are corner outfielders. Gamel is better defensively, but you’d hardly consider him a whiz. Santana has more power, but you’d hardly consider him a superstar.

I get the feeling the Mariners never really liked Gamel, dating back to his 2017 second-half swoon. Even though he was clearly one of the 3 best outfielders on this team in 2018, they continuously dicked around with Gamel’s playing time, ultimately sending him to Tacoma for ZERO reason, only to watch Guillermo Heredia flounder at the plate (he too has been traded this offseason, which goes to show you what this team thought of its Quad-A outfielders). By the time Gamel returned, he was one of the hottest hitters on this team, but it was too late, and ultimately not enough to bring this team back into contention. Now he goes to the Brewers, where if they can figure out how to squeeze some pop into his bat, might have a legitimate All Star on their hands.

Gamel has 13 total homers in his MLB career, spanning a little over 2 seasons. That’s obviously not good enough for your average corner outfielder, in spite of the fact that he’s got a somewhat-respectable career slash line of .269/.331/.392. You like the average and you’re happy with the on-base percentage, but that slugging number is abysmal. You could talk yourself into Gamel if he was good enough to be an everyday centerfielder, but he’s just not. That doesn’t make him a bad player; he has enough tools to stick in the Major Leagues for a good, long while, but he might never be a starter. Not unless he unlocks a swing change that boosts that slugging number at least a hundred points. Milwaukee might be just the team to do it, from what I’ve read on the matter.

For the Mariners, Santana represents potential. He finally cracked the Majors for good in 2016, and had a breakout 2017: 525 ABs, 30 homers, 29 doubles, 85 RBI, and a whopping 178 strikeouts. His slash that year was .278/.371/.505, representing a 3 WAR, which is indeed All Star-level production. He was apparently injured a bunch in 2018, hampering his value a great deal, but if he bounces back, he could be a real masher for the Mariners.

I like this trade because of all the cries of outrage from the Brewers’ fanbase. We potentially get 3 years at a reasonable value for a guy who could be a stud by the time our theoretical rebuild comes to fruition. Also, if he blows up right away, we could trade him for a supreme cache of prospects prior to the trade deadline, if we’re so inclined. The sky is the limit with this deal!

More importantly, the potential for Santana GREATLY overshadows the potential for Gamel. There was no way Gamel was going to turn into a stud while in a Mariners uniform; he needed a change of scenery more than anything. Santana already HAS the power, he just has to stay healthy and somewhat improve his plate discipline.

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.

The Mariners Keep Losing Series After Series

It’s been a week since I checked in on the Mariners, because it’s obviously no fun talking about this team blowing its latest and best playoff opportunity.

Since that 12-inning thriller against the A’s to at least avoid a sweep in that series, the M’s have gone 2-4, losing to both the Dodgers and Astros at home.  From a series perspective – dating back to early July – the Mariners have won exactly 2 of their last 13 series (with 2-game tie vs. the Giants mixed in).  It’s been absolutely brutal, and no amount of road sweeps against an injury-depleted Astros team (that for some mysterious reason hasn’t been all that good at home this year anyway) will make up for the fact that the Mariners SUUUUUUCK right now, and probably forever.

That Dodgers series, for instance, was a fucking joke.  The Dodgers won 2 of 3 games, yet the point differential in that series saw the Mariners at -20, thanks to two miserable fucking blowouts (11-1 and 12-1).  The only saving grace was a 10th inning walk-off balk after our two best relievers blew a 3-run lead in the final two innings with 3 solo homers.  If that isn’t a harbinger of things to come, I don’t know what is.

The Astros series was only marginally better – in that we didn’t get fucking blown out in any of the games – but the result was still the same:  losing 2 of 3.  Felix gave us something close to a quality start in his first game back after his lone bullpen appearance in relief of the injured Paxton.  He went 6 innings, giving up 4 runs, and Cano bashed a 3-run dinger late to break up the tie.

We were saddled with the dreaded bullpen game the next day, with both teams dealing with injured starters (Mike Leake was actually too sick to pitch, because even in the dead of summer, guys still get colds).  Nick Vincent got the Opener role, going 2 scoreless innings before giving way to a minor league spot start in Ross Detwiler.  Det went 6 innings, giving up 3 runs, and it’s truly unfathomable that we would go on to lose this game just giving up those 3 runs.  Somehow, some way, this offense could only muster up 2 runs and that was that.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

PLAYOFF.  TEAMS.  DON’T.  LOSE.  THESE.  TYPES.  OF.  GAMES.  HAND CLAP EMOJI!

Bummer for Detwiler was he got released the next day, because things are tight in the bullpen right now and we always have to be on the lookout for a mediocre start.  Like, for instance, Marco Gonzales, getting the nod in the rubber match!  He’s been on just a fucking trainwreck of a streak, so the team held him back a few days to rest his arm a bit.  It … did not help.  He went 3 innings, gave up 8 runs on 11 hits, and pretty much single-handedly lost us this game, as we would mount a futile comeback before losing by the score of 10-7.

Yeah, Root Sports, you COULD say the silver lining from this series was that the bats looked better.  Then again, I dunno, we only scored the 2 runs against a bullpen day.  And, it feels like no small coincidence that this surge of runs came about because the red hot Ben Gamel was called back up and started all three days, so MAYBE HE NEVER SHOULD’VE BEEN SENT TO TACOMA IN THE FIRST FUCKING PLACE, PARTICULARLY WHEN YOU’VE BEEN IN THE TANK SO LONG OFFENSIVELY, YOU FUCKING DOLTS!

Look, it’s as over as over can be.  The Astros weathered the storm and they’re steadily getting their regulars back from the DL.  The A’s aren’t going anywhere; this clearly is not a hot streak, but just a better approximation of what they are:  a really fucking good team.  We’re 4.5 games out of the wild card and 5.5 games out of the division; once again it’s Close But No Cigar for the Seattle Mariners

I hate this team so fucking much.

The Mariners Are Now Tied For The Second Wild Card Spot

Sigh.

That’s right, after being 11 games up back in June, we’re now tied with the A’s for the second wild card spot.  The A’s have won a million games in a row and the Mariners have lost every single day since I can remember.  Everything sucks and now Toronto and their shitty fans invade our stadium for the next four days.

That series with the Astros started off promising enough.  James Paxton out-duelled Gerrit Cole to take the first game 2-0.  It was all down hill from there, though.  We got a very Mike Leake-y start the next day (6 innings, 3 runs) and the offense couldn’t do shit.  The bullpen gave up a 2-run ding dong late, and we lost 5-2.  That left us with an opportunity to still win the series, with folk legend Wade LeBlanc on the mound.  Bad time for him to have his worst start of the season, though, as he was knocked out after 4.1 innings, having given up 7 runs in the process.  He left meatballs out over the plate all day and was getting crushed accordingly.  The offense had few opportunities to make a comeback, and couldn’t take advantage of any of them as we lost 8-3.

So, that’s that, then.  The A’s are here to stay, and the Mariners are pretty much done.

This is just the worst feeling, you guys.  We’re talking about a team with the longest playoff drought in all of the major North American professional sports.  A team that – FINALLY – 17 years later, got off to just a torrid start.  Heading into the 4th of July holiday, the Mariners were 55-31.  They were locked into that 2nd wild card spot with no enemies in sight.  We were talking about maybe even challenging the Astros for the division!  Sure, it was a pipe dream, but those were simpler times!  We could afford to daydream, because THIS was the year!  We were finally going to break the curse!

We’re also talking about a team, mind you, with a very narrow window for contention.  The farm system is garbage.  Some of our very best players are getting up there in age (and some of them are over the hill already).  There’s a nice core of guys in Haniger, Segura, Diaz, Gonzales, and Gordon, but by and large this team is made up of guys no one else wanted.  We’re not laden with young, superstar talent like the Astros or Yankees or Red Sox or Athletics.  The Mariners are a fragile ecosystem that needs everything to go right just to eke out a victory; but if even one little thing goes wrong, it all implodes and we lose by a ton!

This wasn’t a team built for the long haul; it’s a team built for 2018 and that’s it.  We’re 18 games over .500 with a -9 run differential; it’s not a sustainable model and it never has been!  This is a once in a generation type of team that’s been coasting on the very best luck the league has seen in years.  You could make carbon copies of every single player on the roster and try running it all back again in 2019 and you know what you’ll get?  A Mariners team desperately trying to stay around .500.  We were always going to be screwed in 2019 and beyond; at some point, it’s going to crumble, and with no help on the horizon in the form of a development system, the Mariners will crater and be among the very worst teams in all of baseball.  That time is coming, and it’s coming very soon.

Which is what made 2018 so important.  If we don’t break this playoff drought this year, it might not happen for another decade or more.  That’s why this sucks as much as it does.  Because it now feels inevitable that the A’s are going to keep on winning, and the Mariners are going to play .500 ball the rest of the way.

Sure, the hitting has been abysmal, and even with the return of Cano, how much better can we reasonably expect it to get?  Jean Segura is starting to slow down from his unsustainably hot pace.  Same with Dee Gordon.  Ben Gamel had been one of the team’s hottest hitters of late, and they just sent him to Tacoma for no fucking reason, just so we could keep the black hole that is Guillermo Heredia on the roster.  Nelson Cruz still has plenty of pop in his bat, but his average is dipping down into the .260s (showing his age, and the need for this team to probably move on from him after this season is over, if for no other reason than to move Cano to DH next year).  Haniger’s been slipping, Healy is an 0’fer on most nights, we’re mired in Seager’s very worst year as a Major Leaguer, and Mike Zunino STILL can’t manage to bust through the Mendoza Line!

That’s not even factoring in how we have absolutely no business having any faith in any starting pitcher not named James Paxton or Marco Gonzales.  LeBlanc has been ridiculously good, but that can’t last.  Leake is who he is, and Felix looks like he’s just about done.  And you think Erasmo Ramirez is going to save this rotation?  Please!  Also, I love Edwin Diaz as much as the next one, but a string of blown saves is coming, mark my words.  No closer is this good for this long without at least a little hiccup along the way.  We won’t be able to blame using him in tie games for his struggles, is all I’m saying.

It’s all darkness and evil thoughts.  Thank God football season is starting back up again.

The Mariners Wrapped Up The July 31st Trade Deadline By Getting Cameron Maybin

Yesterday, I talked about the trio of relievers we brought in.  Then, in the afternoon, one more deal trickled through the cracks.  We went back to the Miami Marlins well, this time for centerfielder Cameron Maybin.

Again, it’s not a huge deal (we gave up minor league infielder Bryson Brigman and some International Slot Money), but it’s something.

With Cano out, and Dee Gordon sliding back to second base, we’ve had what I’m told is a pretty big black hole out in center.  Guillermo Heredia has gotten the lion’s share of starts and we’ve seen his offensive production slip pretty dramatically since starting off the season pretty strong.  Most people had him pegged as – at best – a team’s 4th outfielder, and they don’t appear to be wrong.  The league has seen enough of Heredia, and they KNOW how to get him out.

What’s surprising to me is that his defense is also not great?  That really doesn’t pass my smell test, but I don’t get to watch all the games, so maybe I’m missing something.  Also, “Smell Test” isn’t really a sabermetrically-sound way to determine who’s good and who’s not.  The nerds will tell you Heredia isn’t helping matters even with his glove, and considering he was probably the best defensive centerfielder we’ve had all year, you can only imagine how much our outfield defense has declined when Haniger, Gamel, and Span have been out in center (saying nothing of Gordon, who I also thought was fine, but was indeed learning a brand new position at the Major League level).

So, how much of an upgrade is Maybin?

Well, he’s a veteran hitting .251 this year, as a mostly-everyday outfielder.  I think that’s about what you can expect of him going forward (anything more than that is gravy).  He’s 25 points or so better than Heredia (who’s trending ever downward the more he plays, so that number could increase as the season goes on), so right away we should expect a bit of an offensive boost.  He’s in no way a power threat, so he’s more Denard Span than Mitch Haniger in that regard, and I GUESS you could say he’s a speed threat on the bases, but he’s only got 8 steals against 5 caught stealing this year, so that’s pretty far from elite.  The best thing going for Maybin is that he walks pretty regularly, so he should be MUCH more of an on-base machine than Heredia.  That, if nothing else, makes this a nice little upgrade to the offense.

Again, though, the big upgrade is coming in two weeks when Cano returns.  There’s no way around it, Cano HAS to play everyday upon his return.  If that means sitting Ryon Healy’s home-runs-every-10-days production, then so be it; the other 9 days he sucks, so that’s not a guy you HAVE to keep in your lineup.

I’ll say this about Maybin:  he makes our lineup look a lot better:

  1. Gordon (2B)
  2. Segura (SS)
  3. Cano (1B)
  4. Cruz (DH)
  5. Seager (3B)
  6. Haniger (RF)
  7. Span (LF)
  8. Zunino (C)
  9. Maybin (CF)

There’s a lot you can do with a lineup like that.  You can flip-flop Maybin and Gordon, for starters (as Gordon isn’t really tearing it up like he was earlier in the season).  You can bump Segura up to the top and move Haniger to the 2-hole if need be (or Maybin in the 2-hole, or Span for that matter).  There’s a lot of flexibility, is what I’m saying.  As Maybin is a righty, you can always start Ben Gamel in his place in a pinch (if, again, you want to sacrifice some defense).  I’m told Maybin is certainly an improvement in the field, but I’m also told he’s not some remarkable phenom or anything.  As he is with his bat, he’s a marginal improvement over Heredia with his glove.  Considering the cost (a low minor leaguer), it’s not too shabby for a guy who will be a free agent at the end of the year.

There is, of course, the potential for more deals in August (a la Mike Leake last year).  These would be players who pass through waivers unclaimed (most likely due to onerous contract situations).  Everyone talks about the money saved by Cano’s suspension as a catalyst for getting more of these types of deals done (maybe for another starter?), but we’ve made a bunch of deals already!  There can’t be all that much money left!

If we see a deal that takes on significant salary, I’d be willing to bet the team is going into the red, which is admirable.  Let’s hope it pays off.

Fuck You Angels! The Mariners Got The Sweep

When I was a kid, I gave much more of a shit about baseball rivalries than I do now.  I hated the Yankees, obviously.  I disliked the Rangers quite a bit (especially when they signed A-Rod).  In the early 2000’s, I REALLY hated the Athletics, because even though the Mariners won 90+ games from 2000-2003, the A’s were the reason why we only made the playoffs twice (in spite of a couple 93-win campaigns).  In recent years, I guess I hate the Astros, but I don’t even know if they qualify as a rivalry, from my fan’s perspective.  It’s more of a looming dread whenever I see HOU coming up on the little pocket calendar I have hanging up at my desk.  When the switch flipped and Houston became HOUSTON, it’s been utter annihilation (and even before they were good, they still won an annoying amount of times).  Besides, this is really the first year where the Mariners and Astros have been on the same level, record-wise.  They may indeed grow to become my most hated baseball enemy when the season’s over.

But, for now, I think I hate the Angels the most.  Granted, they’re clearly the better franchise.  They’ve actually WON a World Series, for instance.  They’ve been to the playoffs 10 times to our 4; they’ve consistently been more of a winning team in general (and haven’t had those bottom-out years like the Mariners have).  Nevertheless, with the Astros way up there, I’ve always seen the Angels as more of our peers.  Whenever you find the Mariners contending for a wild card spot, the Angels always seem to be right there with us.  Also, from 2010 onward, the Angels only have the 1 playoff appearance, so it’s not like they’ve been super awesome of late.  And, they’ve had a number of players I couldn’t help but despise, from Mike Trout to Jered Weaver to (retroactively) Chone Figgins to John Lackey to Troy Glaus to Tim Salmon to Chuck Finley.  The only Angels player I ever really liked was Vlad, because he was fucking amazing and I secretly never forgave the Mariners for not making a bigger push to sign him when he was a free agent after 2003.  Can you even imagine?  That would’ve been so much fun!

Anyway, the Mariners just swept the Angels yesterday in the 3-game series, and I couldn’t be happier.

I didn’t hold out a ton of hope in yesterday’s game, even when the Angels’ starter was pulled after 2 innings with an injury.  Marco Gonzales really wasn’t as sharp as he’d been of late, only lasting 5 innings, giving up 3 runs.  We knew ahead of time that Edwin Diaz wasn’t going to be available, after pitching 3 games in a row, and in 4 games in 5 days.  That slotted the bullpen all kinds of wonky, and accordingly the bullpen wasn’t as sharp as it had been of late either.  Newcomer Mike Morin – in just his 2nd appearance since being called up from Tacoma – gave up a run on a triple and a sac fly.  Chasen Bradford – who has been all kinds of good this year – gave up 2 solo homers in the 7th to put us behind by 2 runs.  And, there we were, late in the game, facing the prospects of losing for just the third time in the month of June.

That’s when the offense went back to work.  Gamel and Zunino had RBIs in the 2nd to stake the Mariners to a 2-0 lead.  Then, after an RBI by Trout (who somehow didn’t homer in this one, though he did have two hits and two intentional walks), Nelson Cruz hit a 2-run bomb (which is his 5th in the last 5 games) to put the M’s up 4-1.  In the 7th, after Bradford gagged up the homers, Segura hit a guy in on a double; followed by Healy solo homering in the 8th to re-tie the game; ultimately setting the stage for a bottom of the 9th showdown (thanks to a couple scoreless innings out of eventual winner Roenis Elias).

With one out, Segura on at first, Mitch Haniger took a mistake by the Angels pitcher and deposited it into the left field stands for his second walk-off home run of the season.  Not for nothing, but that’s his 16th homer of the season (tying his mark of 2017) and his 52nd RBI (surpassing what he did in 2017, in 29 fewer games).  Can you imagine what it’ll be like if he can stay healthy all year?  He truly is deserving of a slot on the All Star team.

The Mariners are still 0.5 games ahead of the Astros, but are now 7.5 games ahead of the Angels, which is just the best.

Now, we’ve got a 4-game series against the Red Sox.  I hope you like a lot of annoying Boston fans, because they’re coming out in force!  The good news is Chris Sale pitched yesterday, so we lucked into avoiding one of the best lefties in the game.  The bad news is the rest of their rotation is also really fucking good.  And, James Paxton is saddled with Friday’s “Fireworks Night” game, which I believe the Mariners have lost every fucking time they’ve done it.  Here’s to hoping for a little of that old Felix magic tonight as he squares off against David Price.  This series could get REAL dicey in a hurry.

The Mariners Got The Victory They Needed

There’s been so many tight games this season, but particularly over the last couple weeks, with the offense missing guys like Dee Gordon, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, and others for various amounts of time.  The margin for error has been ridiculously thin, and we’ve seen some repercussions of that in this Rangers series as the bullpen finally cracked a couple times.  This team desperately needed a breakout from the offense and to cruise to a comfortable victory.  Last night, in a 6-1 win, the Mariners got just that.

On May 3rd, Wade LeBlanc entered the starting rotation for the Seattle Mariners, taking the spot that was briefly held by an injured Erasmo Ramirez.  Up until that day, LeBlanc was a long reliever for this club – who has been on the roster since opening day, but only got in 5 games in the month of April due to all the off days and the fact that the Mariners were involved in so many close, winning games.  So, he obviously has had to be stretched out a little bit this month (he was also quite under the weather last night, which accounts for his only lasting 5 innings on 84 pitches).  But, regardless, LeBlanc has been OUTSTANDING in the month of May (really, all season, but that’s neither here nor there).  He’s 1-0 (though the team is 5-1 in his starts) with a 1.72 ERA.  31.1 innings pitched, 6 runs given up, 25 hits, only 6 walks, with 23 strikeouts in those 6 games.

I mean, if it weren’t for Paxton’s 1.67 ERA, his 2 complete games, his no hitter, his 51 strikeouts (against only 9 walks) and 21 hits in 43 innings of work across his 6 games (again, he’s got to be a lock for American League Pitcher of the Month), we’d be talking about the best starter on this team!

Small sample?  Go fuck yourself!  Wade LeBlanc is magic and I won’t hear anything else!

Pazos, Nicasio, and Chasen Bradford nailed down the final four innings without incident, meaning we were able to save guys like Diaz and Colome for the weekend.  Again, just excellent pitching all around yesterday.

On the hitting side of things, Dee Gordon returned with a vengeance, with a leadoff triple and a run scored off of a very shallow pop up to right field.  Nelson Cruz banged a 2-run homer and later had a 3rd RBI to keep his momentum going in the right direction.  Segura was on base 3 times and scored 3 times; Healy had an RBI single; and Heredia and Span each had 2 hits as the bottom of the lineup looks remarkably improved with those two guys getting regular AB’s.  In 4 games with the Mariners so far, Span has 5 hits (including a double) and 3 runs scored.  I like Gamel as much as the next guy – and I concede he was looking better at the plate right before this trade went down – but overall he’s been terrible for almost a full year now, and he appears to be much better suited to being a team’s 4th outfielder rather than a starter.  How about that?  Everyone went into this season thinking it was Heredia that was destined to be a 4th outfielder (and that might very well be his overarching role when it’s all said and done), but right now Heredia looks like a dynamic weapon and a viable starting outfielder in this league if he can keep it up at the plate.

The Mariners ended up 18-11 in the month of May, which follows a 16-11 month of April.  We are 1 game behind the Astros in the A.L. West (tied in the loss column), and 4.5 games ahead of the Angels as we currently hold the 2nd Wild Card spot (3 full games behind the Yankees for the 1st Wild Card spot).

As I’ve noted before, the month of June looks a lot tougher.  The Rays are hanging around .500 (and we face them 7 times), and we also play the Astros, Angels, Red Sox, and Yankees this month.  In fact, we don’t play a team under .500 again until June 25th!  That’s 22 consecutive games against teams that are either IN the playoffs (if the season ended today) or fighting tooth and nail for the Wild Card spot (in other words, our direct opponents for possible post-season play).  On top of that, out of 28 games, only 12 are at home this month.  We make trips to Houston, Tampa (then back home), then we go out to New York, Boston, and Baltimore (before returning home again).  Make no mistake, everything about this month spells B-R-U-T-A-L.

The good news?  If we can avoid getaway-day rainouts that need to be made up at a later date, once we return from our East Coast road trip in Baltimore, We’ll never have to go any further east than the state of Texas the rest of the season.  The entire month of July, for instance, has us only going to Anaheim and Colorado!  In fact, all of our road trips after the month of June are against the A.L. West or the N.L. West.

Just got to get through this month.  If you offered it to me on a silver platter right now, I would absolutely accept a .500 record for the month of June.  If you gave me 14-14, SIGN ME UP!

The Mariners Traded For Alex Colome & Denard Span

Win now!  That’s the obvious message, implied in the trade made today as well as said directly by manager Scott Servais.

Incoming:  reliever Alex Colome and outfielder Denard Span
Outgoing:  starter Andrew Moore and starter Tommy Romero

Colome has been one of the best closers in all of baseball the last 2+ seasons.  The Mariners already have an elite closer in Edwin Diaz, so Colome figures to slot into that 8th inning role, bumping back Juan Nicasio and Nick Vincent.  Colome is also, obviously, closer insurance in case Diaz falls apart or needs a break because he’s gone too many days in a row.  He’s also got 2 more arb years left on him, so it’s not just a 2018 rental.

(not for nothing, but that also means we can flip Colome at any time, if this thing falls apart)

Span is an aging veteran outfielder who gets on base a lot and that’s about it.  Not a lot of power, not a lot of speed, not a lot of great defensive ability, but he walks a lot I guess.  I dunno, I’m not super jazzed about the addition.  He’s over-priced – so it’s a bit of a salary dump for the Rays – but they did give us a little over $4 million in return, which just so happens to be the cost of buying out his contract after this season.  He would otherwise be set to make $12 million in 2019, and there’s just no fucking way that’s going to happen.

Span is apparently going to take over for Ben Gamel, which feels somewhat appropriate given Gamel’s struggles since the All Star Break last year.  The hope being that Span gets hot and his batting average creeps up to his career average (.282).  He’s hitting .238 right now, so if he does approach his career average, that could be quite the boost to this team.  He’s 34 years old though, so maybe don’t count on it.

I love the deal.  I worry that Colome might be somewhat disgruntled taking a backseat to another closer, but he’s apparently saying all the right things, so I’ll reserve any judgment until I see him in action.  If he kicks ass, then this could be a HUGE boost to this bullpen.  You have to figure Nicasio isn’t going to suck forever, and with Vincent working his magic, and Pazos and Cook being potentially dependable fireballers, we could be looking at one of the top bullpens in the American League.

I also don’t mind the loss of Andrew Moore.  He’s another in a long line of soft-tossing starters we’ve cultivated in our farm system and I just don’t think he’s going to be anything special.  He certainly wasn’t going to help us this year, and he probably wasn’t much of a long-term viable rotation option.  He could prove me wrong, but right now I’m not broken up about it.  As for the other guy, he’s still in A-ball, so whatever.

Good: The Mariners Won The Season Series Against The Tigers

The Tigers aren’t good, man.  They’re just not.  And yet, we came out of Detroit a week ago having lost 2 of 3, followed by losing the opener to this home series over the weekend to make it 3 of 4.  It just looked dismal at that point, and you had to wonder if all the injuries and suspensions and shaky pitching had finally caught up to this team.  Let’s face it, playoff teams win season series against inferior opponents like Detroit; whereas Mariners teams – that inevitably always fall short of the playoffs – find ways to lose these series to inferior opponents like Detroit.

I mean, this is a team that’s actively tanking 2018 to try to build a better ballclub in 2019 and beyond!  The Mariners, conversely, have been building to this year for a while now, and are pretty actively trying to go for it all, farm system be damned!  With two franchises going so clearly in opposite directions right now, it couldn’t be any more demoralizing to lose a bunch of games to this team.

Before we get to the Tigers, I should point out that the Mariners split their 2-game set against the Rangers.  Honestly, with all the travel, the make-up game, and the weird scheduling times, I’m more impressed that the Mariners avoided a sweep at all.  We came back to win that 9-8 thriller on Tuesday, only to shit the bed on Wednesday afternoon, but who can get mad about that?  Sure, the Rangers are crap, but circumstances, man.

It was that Thursday loss to the Tigers, though, that really got to me.  Marco Gonzales did his thing (and might’ve even gotten through that sixth inning had Kyle Seager not made a run-scoring error), and in spite of the run, we were still up 2-1 headed into the eighth inning.  With Juan Nicasio being held back to work on his stuff, Nick Vincent came in off of quite a roll, only to blow it.  Will anyone ever take command of the 8th this year?

I was at a comedy show on Friday, so I missed this one, but things looked pretty dire heading into the 7th, down 4-0.  Thankfully, turnabout is fair play, and the M’s put on a 5-spot in the bottom of the 7th to take the lead, with Nicasio and Diaz able to hold the fort for the save.

Saturday was just a marvelous night all the way around.  James Paxton got his second career complete game (the first being his no-hitter a few games back) as the Mariners won 7-2.  He struck out 8 while giving up just a walk and 3 hits; I could’ve done without the 117 pitches – particularly with the game so well in hand – but we’ll see if that matters or not.  I know Paxton is a big, strong animal and everything, but if he goes on the DL in a week, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.  I mean, maybe it’s a nice morale boost or whatever, but we were beating them by 5 runs; seemed unnecessary to throw an extra 20 pitches on his arm just to get that 9th inning.  It’s not like the bullpen was massively overworked or anything; you still had a guy warming up just in case someone got on base!

That brought us to Sunday, where Francisco Liriano damn near no-hit us.  As it was, he went 8, giving up just 1 hit and 3 walks, before he gave way to the team’s closer, up by a comfortable 2-0 margin.  The Mariners once again saw Wade LeBlanc pitch into the sixth inning, giving up both of those runs, and got clean bullpen work from newly called-up Ryan Cook, as well as Pazos, Altavilla, Nicasio, Diaz, and Vincent.  With one out and Segura on second, Mitch Haniger stepped up in the 3-hole and belted a massive game-tying homer to ultimately send this game into extras.  Then, in the 11th, Dee Gordon singled, swiped second, and was hit in by Segura to send the fans home happy.

I’ll say this:  Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger have been absolutely carrying this team so far this year!  With Cano gone, and with Cruz being a magnet for opposing pitchers to hit on damn near a daily basis (as well as with Seager not doing a whole helluva lot at the plate, with Healy being his streaky self, and with the rest of the outfield being more Small Ball than Long Ball), it’s been a godsend to see Segura and Haniger develop into not just The Future, but The Present.  Could that Taijuan Walker trade have gone any better for the Mariners?

Now, here we are – with a Monday off-day – 27-19, in second place in the A.L. West (2 games behind the Astros and 1.5 games ahead of the Angels to lock into that second Wild Card spot.  I’m still not convinced this is a playoff team and probably never will be until it actually happens, but this is as good as I’ve ever felt about a Mariners team this late into the season for a long, long time.

Getting back to winning that season series against the Tigers, we’ve also won the season series against the Indians, and are 2-1 against the Twins, Royals, White Sox, and Blue Jays.  We’re 3-2 against the Rangers and 4-2 against the suddenly-surging A’s.  The only teams we have losing records against are the Angels (1-2) and the impossible Astros (1-3).

Obviously, the hitting is the story of the season.  Segura, Gordon, and Haniger are leading the way.  Cano was having a fantastic season until he got popped and broke his hand.  Zunino, Cruz, and Seager could be better, but are still providing the power this lineup needs.  Healy overcame a disaster of a start to be a dynamic force towards the bottom of the lineup.  Heredia has not shied away one little bit with his increased playing time.  All we need is for Gamel and our bench guys to pick it up just a tad and the offense should be able to weather the storm (for the most part) of losing Cano for 80 games.

I’ve been a little intrigued by the pitching of late, though.  Obviously, Felix and Leake have been pretty big disappointments, even based on my lowered expectations, but they’ve kind of been keeping us in games for the most part.  He never looks great, but Felix has only looked BAD a couple times; other than that, he has a bad inning here and there, but is usually able to limit the damage and hold it down until the offense can pick him up.  And, while I think most people expected Leake to be better heading into the season, he’s only a little bit worse than what I predicted, based on his overall experience in the MLB (and not just his last 2 amazing months of 2017).

On the flipside of things, James Paxton has been on the roll of all rolls in the month of May.  Wade LeBlanc continues to be on the run of his life (and absolutely should not be returned to the bullpen if/when Erasmo Ramirez gets healthy).  And even Marco Gonzales continues to be the most economical of starters that we have.  If he EVER figures out how to make it through the sixth inning without handing over the lead he’s been given – and God forbid starts working his magic into the seventh inning and beyond – I might actually be able to one day forgive this GM for trading away future superstar Tyler O’Neill.  That’s not even getting into Christian Bergman’s 7-inning 0-run start and Ariel Miranda’s 5-inning 1-run start.

As for the bullpen, that’s always going to be volatile.  Scrabble hasn’t been anything close to what we need from a lefty specialist.  Nicasio has had moments of greatness, but too many slip-ups for comfort from an 8th inning guy.  Vincent has been a little bit up and down (probably right on track, from my pre-season expectations).  But, Diaz has been extra-special, Pazos has been very stout, Altavilla’s been a little better than expected, and if Ryan Cook can hold it together, he could be a pretty big addition to this group.  Also, Chasen Bradford has been a nice innings eater and someone I didn’t even come close to expecting anything from.

All in all, I think the bullpen will have its bad moments (as they all do), but is overall better than I thought.  And, while the starters are far from elite (aside from Paxton), I’m coming away very impressed with this unit.  I’ll never be confident with these guys, but I think they’re managed very well.  If that continues, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility for this to be a Wild Card team in 2018.