The Mariners Finally Won A Series

We can’t sit here and say the Mariners finally flipped a switch and now all the hitting woes are solved. I will say, however, that we saw some signs of life. We saw better approaches at the plate. We saw guys start to lay off of those breaking pitches out of the zone; not ENTIRELY, of course, there were still plenty of strikeouts to be had by everyone. But, we saw competent Major League at bats throughout the lineup, which was encouraging.

How much of that derived from poor Reds pitching? That remains to be seen. But, I will say that the way we were inflating pitch counts from their starters is going to be the way we win ballgames going forward. It doesn’t make sense for this team to have a swing-first attitude. There’s not enough power, and frankly not enough bat-to-ball skills, for that to be our plan of action. No, we need the opposite approach. We need to be patient. We need to foul off pitches, take our walks, and take these starters out of games in five innings or less.

Thankfully, with how good our pitching can be, we can scrape by with this meager run support. Three more Quality Starts – running the streak to seven straight games – led the way to holding the Reds to 5 runs in three games.

George Kirby got off the schneid on Monday, going 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 5 hits, with 6 strikeouts. This was the game where the run support was decidedly NOT meager; 9 runs! Can you even fathom it?! Haniger had a double and a homer (3 RBI), Polanco had a 3-run bomb to go along with 3 runs scored; Luke Raley had two hits, including a triple. Everyone in the lineup had at least a hit or a walk. We scored early, we piled on late, it was almost the perfect game.

We got back to our old tricks on Tuesday, edging the Reds out 3-1. Logan Gilbert went 6.2 innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits and a walk, with 6 strikeouts. Haniger, J.P., and Julio had two hits each. Newcomer Jonatan Clase – who got the start in left in all three games this series – had his second consecutive game with a hit, this time an RBI double. And, we shot all of our high-leverage bullpen bullets to lock it down. Andres Munoz had to get 4 outs again (we’re really relying on him to do that a lot so far in the early going; Brash and Santos can’t return soon enough), spanning the game from Logan’s final inning to the 9th. Unfortunately, Stanek couldn’t quite get the save, as he had to be pulled after getting two outs. But, Saucedo finished the job, as we all believed he would (and certainly did NOT believe he was going to add gasoline to the fire of this impending blown save).

The Mariners wrapped up the sweep thanks to another Bryce Miller sterling outing. 6 innings, 1 run on 1 hit and 1 walk, with 7 strikeouts. The lone hit was a solo homer by the best player on the Reds, Elly De La Cruz, but thankfully we had some firepower of our own. Raleigh, Garver, and Rojas each homered to account for our first three runs. This was Garver’s first in a Mariners uniform, which was nice to finally see. Julio had a couple of doubles. And Clase even had a walk and a run scored!

I’m not trying to jinx him or anything, but it does finally feel like Julio is working his way out of the slump. He’s starting to go the other way at the plate, he’s finding more barrels to balls, and his defense has been absolutely superb this season. Other than that memorable ball over the fence he couldn’t quite bring back (even though he got a glove on it), he’s been a dynamo in center, and almost single-handedly won us that game on Tuesday, throwing De La Cruz out at third base before Jake Fraley could score at home, and running down a number of would-be doubles in the gaps.

This puts us at 9-10, with a series against the hapless Rockies down in Colorado this weekend. If ever there was a time to defy expectations and find a way to blow it, now would be it. A good team would take this winning streak to 6 games. I suspect that won’t even remotely be the case.

What The Hell Are All These Hitting Coaches Doing For The Mariners?

Every year the offense is the problem. Even when it’s not the problem, it’s still something we can’t help but bitch about. Because of the fences. Because the marine layer. Because Seattle. It’s always something we need to fix in the offseason, and it’s always something we FAIL to fix in the offseason because we’re fucking dumb stupid assholes. Dumb stupid CHEAP assholes who can’t help but fail at everything we fucking do because we’re the God damn Mariners and this is our fucking destiny.

It’s all so fucking predictable I could puke. Julio Rodriguez sucking ass to start a season? Predictable. Newcomers Polanco, Garver, and Urias playing extremely far below the backs of their baseball cards? Predictable. Supposed tried-and-true stars Crawford and Raleigh shitting the bed along with everyone else? Predictable. The offense as a whole being the worst in all of Major League Baseball? Fucking predictable! The rest of the A.L. West also starting off slowly, giving us a false sense of security – only for them to immediately go on a massive hot streak, leaving us in the dust? Hasn’t happened yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Check back in a week and see if the Rangers or Astros haven’t gone on a tear.

The Mariners just lost 2 of 3 to a hapless Cubs team. The Cubs look like a garbage team that’s going nowhere; so OF COURSE they owned our asses. Because we’re worse than garbage. We’re what garbage shits into our mouths, Human Centipede-style.

7 runs in 3 games. 3 for 23 with RISP. No power, very little in on-base percentage, and probably the worst batting average of any team ever. No ability to hit for contact, no ability to situationally move runners over, no ability to steal bases. Just a God damn fucking disgrace.

Oh, and our leader in homers, slugging, and OPS – Dominic Canzone – just sprained his AC Joint and will be on the IL for a few weeks. He’s been replaced by Jonatan Clase who’s destined to suck. But he’s hitting so well in Tacoma! Yeah so has every other worthless nobody we’ve called up from AAA pretty much every year in the history of baseball.

We’ve got a “Hitting Coach & Director of Hitting Strategy”, an “Assistant Hitting Coach”, and a “Bench Coach & Offensive Coordinator”. What the fuck kind of use are these guys to this team if they’re going to hit this way? It doesn’t seem fathomable that the offense could be this bad every fucking year, and not only do two of these guys manage to retain their jobs, but we thought it would be a good idea to add a third jag into the mix. As long as we’re employing useless gobs of douche, why not give me the position of Director Of Hitting Mockery, and let me make fun of these guys on a daily basis until they finally decide to grow a pair and put their bats to good use. Even if they’re just beating me senseless with them, at least then I wouldn’t have to watch the Mariners flail at every baseball that even remotely moves in a not-perfect straight line.

We’re 6-10. The best thing you can say about the last series is that we got three straight quality starts, with Bryce Miller tossing his second consecutive gem. Now, the Reds come to town; another garbage team that’s also going nowhere. I can’t wait to lose another 2 out of 3.

Another Series Played, Another Series Lost By The Mariners

The Mariners scored a season-high 6 runs on Wednesday to salvage one game of the 3-game series in Toronto. Five of those runs came in the 10th inning.

If a Mariners game leaving regulation tied at 1-1 sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it also happened in the Red Sox series, when we gave up 2 runs in the top half of the 10th, before exploding for 3 runs in the bottom half to walk it off.

The Mariners have played 13 games this season. They have a 5-8 record. Two of those wins came in our only two extra-innings games. I think you know where I’m going with this. From innings 1-9, the Mariners have scored a total of 34 runs, or 2.62 runs per regulation-length game. And they’ve scored 8 runs in the 10th inning of games. So, really, it’s just a matter of keeping the game tied as long as possible!

There’s nothing good or pleasant to say about this team, so I have to resort to that kind of bullshit to keep myself entertained. We lost on Monday thanks to another lousy fucking start from Luis Castillo. Another 5-inning, 4-run affair from the world’s most mediocre ace. That’s three games now, none of which have seen him get out of the 6th inning. He’s given up 4 runs in each of them, 2 homers, and 25 (!) hits. At times, he’s wildly unlucky, with guys poking filthy stuff off the plate for singles; at other times, he’s serving up ding-dongers right down the middle. It all adds up to him being unquestionably our worst starter so far; yeah, I said it!

We lost on Tuesday thanks to another abysmal outing by George Kirby. Looks like I was premature in labelling him the best starter on the team after his initial outing. Once again, he got crushed because he doesn’t know how to NOT throw strikes. Free-swingin’ teams are going to have a field day every time he takes the mound, because all he wants to do is throw first-pitch strikes, second-pitch strikes, and third-pitch strikes. Until he learns to start pitching backwards – because CLEARLY his reputation preceeds him – I just don’t see how he’s going to develop into a fully-rounded pitcher.

We also lost those games, of course, because the offense failed to bail out our struggling starters. To the bullpen’s credit, they only gave up 1 run across 7 innings of work. But, there’s no comeback and very little fight in this offense.

I mean, shit, we damn near squandered another gem from Logan Gilbert on Wednesday. He went 7.2 innings, held them to 1 run on 5 hits and a walk, while striking out 8. He couldn’t quite get through eight, even though he was at 89 pitches, but Andres Munoz got him out of the jam, and kept the game tied through the bottom of the 9th.

That’s when, finally, guys started hitting. Cal Raleigh had a 2-run bomb, Ty France had an RBI double, and Mitch Haniger had a 2-run single.

If I had to dig deep and find something vaguely interesting to talk about this offense, I think it has to be this: last year – and for probably the last decade-plus – we lamented the lack of production out of the bottom of the order. To the point where many fans have charged that these black holes are keeping us from making the playoffs. I know I’ve definitely banged that drum!

But, when you sit down and think about it logically, the fact of the matter is, the Mariners are only going as far as the top of the order takes them. If you’re sitting there worried about what hitters 7-9 are doing, you’re missing the point. This season – through 13 games, anyway – is really proving that point. Because it’s largely been the bottom of the order that’s been doing the most damage.

Dom Canzone might not be an All Star or anything, but he’s far and away leading this team in slugging with .567! He’s the team leader in homers with 3, he’s tied for the lead in extra-base hits with 4, he’s second in RBI with 6, he’s second in total bases, and tied for first in WAR. And he’s only tied for sixth in hits with 7! When he puts the bat to the ball, it goes far, and I just might have some words to eat after calling him the Spring Training Mirage.

Ty France has been hitting so much at the bottom of the order that he’s worked his way back up to the 3-hole! He’s got a .316 average and leads the team with 12 hits (even though he missed three games with paternity leave)! Dylan Moore, Josh Rojas, and even Luis Urias are all slugging over .400, which isn’t any kind of phenomenal bar to clear, but do you know how many of our top-of-the-order and middle-of-the-order hitters are slugging over .400? Mitch Haniger, end of list.

Cal Raleigh, J.P. Crawford, Mitch Garver, Julio Rodriguez, and especially Jorge Polanco have all SUUUUUUUCKED so far. Polanco has done so poorly he’s dropped to fifth in the lineup, and I don’t think we’re too far away from him getting a rest day, or dropping towards the bottom for a spell.

Those are your studs. Those are the guys (plus Haniger) you’re counting on to take you to the promised land. And you’re getting next-to-nothing from them.

So, yeah, that’s where we’re at. We have an off-day, then it’s home for the Cubbies. I guess the good news is the fact that no one is really running away with the A.L. West yet. Not that I’m standings-watching or anything.

The Mariners Lost Their Home Opener

We got a lot of information out of that first game. I don’t know if it was enough information to make an informed opinion about this Mariners team, but it was more information than we had from all the Spring Training games combined.

For starters, this is the first go-around for the rotation. Arms aren’t quite built up to mid-season form. There’s going to be a little ramping up period. So, I can’t say I’m totally shocked by Luis Castillo’s 5 innings/4 runs performance. To be honest, that’s almost exactly what I had him pegged for heading into yesterday.

The bottom of the bullpen isn’t anything special … yet. It’s gonna be a lot more fun to watch this team when Brash and Santos rejoin the squad.

Mitch Haniger has taken his hot hitting into the regular season. 2 for 3 with a walk and a homer. He’s always been a streaky guy, which is part of the reason why games that matter couldn’t arrive soon enough. Here’s hoping he can keep this going into April and beyond.

Polanco and Garver look like they can help. It was nice to see both of them get hits, including a double by Garver late.

Julio and Cal look like studs. We just need guys to get on base ahead of them.

Canzone came crashing down to Earth immediately in this one, with an 0 for 2 day at the plate, and a wildly misplayed ball in left field to let someone stretch a double into a triple. He was replaced by Dylan Moore, who promptly hit a 2-run bomb to center to pull the game to within a run in the 7th. I wonder if this is the Dylan Moore the team was expecting last year. Now that he’s fully healthy, maybe he’s ready to show what he can do.

Batting 8th, Ty France went 0 for 4. I didn’t get the sense that he was swinging at a lot of crap, but the results are the results. Today is another day.

J.P. seemed to get a little jobbed by the home plate umpire on balls & strikes, especially in his first at bat, when he should’ve earned a walk. Tough night at the plate, but he offered his usual excellence in the field.

Can’t say that for Luis Urias, who took over for Josh Rojas late, struck out, and misplayed a grounder so hard at third base that he not only didn’t tag the runner coming from second (who was standing practically an arm’s length away), but he took forever to throw it to first AND the throw was as soft and wobbly as any pass you would’ve seen from Peyton Manning in his final NFL season. What are we even doing with this guy?

Luke Raley ended our evening in the bottom of the 9th. He batted for Urias with two outs and Haniger standing at first, down 6-4. This wasn’t even remotely a competitive at bat, as he took a strike down the middle, then flailed wildly at the next two pitches (both in the zone). All were apparently cutters, 93-94 miles per hour. Not even a foul tip. Trading with the Rays seems like it’s always a fool’s errand. My guess is, we’re going to wish we had Caballero to handle third base for us, because I just don’t see a path for Raley to be successful here.

2024 Seattle Mariners Preview Extravaganza Part II: Run Scoring

In case you missed it, read Part I here about the 2024 Mariners run prevention.

As was discussed yesterday, the Mariners aren’t even close to contenders without a dominant pitching staff. That’s what this team is built on. We need the starters to keep things close and low scoring, we need the bullpen to go above and beyond, and we need the defense to just be passable. This gets us to the front porch of the playoffs. How we’re going to walk in the door? How far we’re going into the house? Well, that’s up to the hitters, now isn’t it?

It’s really a Chicken Or Egg situation then, isn’t it? What’s more important, the pitching or the hitting? We need great pitching, because the hitting is subpar. But, with no hitting whatsoever, it doesn’t matter how great our pitching is, because if you can’t score runs, you’re not winning games!

And, as we discussed yesterday, we can’t really rely on the Spring Training numbers, because they don’t matter. They don’t translate to the regular season. It’s not like they’re A.P. classes we can use for college credit; everyone reverts back to .000 starting today.

You know who were the four best OPS regulars this spring? Julio (naturally), Haniger (sounds right), Polanco (solid veteran), and Canzone (The Mirage). It’ll be interesting to see where these guys end up at season’s end – and who ends up as the top four OPS guys – because other than Julio, I don’t know if I believe in ANY of them.

The stars on this squad are Julio, J.P., and Cal. Center field, short stop, catcher. Those are our studs. We don’t have to worry about them producing; they’re going to be fine. We love them, and honestly, we don’t talk enough about how great they are!

Then, there’s a creamy middle of veterans: Haniger, Polanco, France, Garver. Right field, second base, first base, DH. This is the pile we’re relying on to stay healthy, as all have massive injury concerns, and it would be a miracle if they avoided the IL. They’re good, productive middle-of-the-order hitters when they’re healthy, except France comes with the additional caveat of having worked on a new swing all offseason. He seems to have made some headway in that department this spring; I’ll reject a lot of exhibition numbers, but 6 walks over 5 strikeouts definitely seems like a step in the right direction. On the downside, he tied for the lead in spring at bats with 44 and managed all of zero homers. The high batting average is nice – and if he reverts to a high average/high on-base guy with limited power, I’ll take it – but it is a little concerning to see so few extra-base hits.

If those seven hitters all pan out, I think we’ll be fine. But, when have things EVER panned out the way we want them to?

Which brings us to the fringe guys: Canzone, Raley, Urias, Rojas, Moore. Left field, third base, utility. These are the guys who we always try to talk ourselves into. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if Canzone turned into a legitimate baseball player? Oh, wouldn’t it be great if Urias came in here and proved everybody wrong? Oh, wouldn’t it be so sweet if Raley was the Rays player they gave up on who actually turned out to be someone useful?

As you can tell, I don’t have a ton of any confidence in any of those guys, or anyone else residing in this area of the active roster. These are barely .200 hitters who strike out too much and might sack up for a homer once every 20 games or so. Canzone, I’ve talked about. He’s the guy getting the most pub, and probably the guy I want MOST to succeed, so he’s clearly going to crap out. Raley has had about as bad of a Spring Training as you can get (.159/.245/.227), joining France as the other player with 44 at bats and 0 homers. It’s funny how spring numbers never matter … except when you hit as poorly as Raley. Then, you have to wonder: if he can’t hit in the cozy confines of a slick Arizona atmosphere, how is he ever going to hit in the murky slog that is Seattle?

Third base just seems like a cesspool at this point. The black hole to end all black holes. Rojas is Moore without the unjustified confidence, and Urias seems like a total bust. I think, at best, we get nothing from that spot in the order, but are at least middle-of-the-road defensively. At worst, we also lead the league in errors; think Russ Davis without the 30 homer potential.

I really want to believe in this team. I really want to believe in the pundits and nerds who think this offense will be better than expected. But, I have almost 30 years of Mariners fandom in my back pocket. I know what this team does. I know what it’s capable of when you start to believe in them. Every season where I’ve come in confident, they’ve let me down. It’s only when my belief is at its lowest when they at least flirt with contention. But, you know the story. One playoff appearance in the last 20-something years, which was a sweep in the ALCS to the Houston Astros of all teams. We can’t have nice things, so why should 2024 be any different?

It’s the first day of the season. The time of unbridled optimism and rejuvenated hope. This is supposed to be when you Believe Big or whatnot! But, I just can’t get there. Not with all the holes this organization left for itself. Not with all the question marks we have to rely on if we want to be good.

The best I can give you is my attention. I’ll be honest, when I heard about all the nonsense with payroll, I was ready to quit on this team. I was ready to be a fairweather fan at best, and maybe just stop watching them altogether. While they didn’t do enough to suck me into believing this is a playoff team, they did do enough to at least keep me around for a while.

The projections say this is an 85-win team, which is good enough to hang around contention and maybe sneak into a wild card if things break right. I think 85-77 feels about right. I also think that won’t be NEARLY enough to make a wild card. We’ll probably end up a few games out, but ultimately another wasted year is upon us.

2024 Seattle Mariners Preview Extravaganza Part I: Run Prevention

It’s interesting how opinions can shift. Just two months ago, I was ranting and raving about the F-grade the Mariners deserved for this offseason (not necessarily the grade Jerry Dipoto & Co. earned, but the organization as a whole, starting first & foremost with ownership). Since then, it should be pointed out, three very important personnel moves were made. We traded for Jorge Polanco to shore up second base. We traded for Gregory Santos to shore up the back-end of our bullpen. Then, we signed Ryne Stanek after it became clear Santos (and Brash) wouldn’t be healthy enough to break camp with the Mariners out of Spring Training. You’re talking about some much-needed depth, and you’re also talking about – when healthy – a team that should at least hang around.

On top of those moves, the other thing that’s happened in the subsequent two months since I wrote that post is that the Mariners have had their entire Spring Training session. We have some more information than we did before. Even though we’re all loathe to talk positively about numbers, you can’t help but feel at least a little warm and fuzzy about hitters mashing the ball, and the stuff from your pitchers starting to come around.

I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve done a complete 180 on this team. But, between the additional moves, the exhibition performance, all the pundits and analytics being more bullish than bearish on this team, and the general optimism of spring and the new season directly before us, it’s hard not to have that … whatever the opposite is of cloud your thinking. Clear? Sunny up? They’ve gone and sunnied up my disposition – without my consent, I might add – and I’m not sure how to reconcile those feelings from two months ago.

You know what I hate? Being everyone’s “dark horse”. You know what else I hate? Being suckered into this fucking team, only for them to fall flat on their asses.

So, I’m trying to shut all that noise out and just focus on what my brain tells me. For starters, I have to give the usual caveat: all of this prognostication assumes we have an average amount of health (or better). Every team deals with injuries. Even the very best teams have to endure stretches where it feels like the baseball gods are whooping them with the ugly stick. The Rangers last year – World Series champions – had a spell in the second half where it looked like they might fall apart. But, they picked themselves up, steamrolled through the playoffs, and the rest was history. But, obviously, everyone remembers the 1996 Mariners, where Randy Johnson was lost for most of the year, and we also lost a good month from Ken Griffey Jr. Teams can’t endure the loss of their two best players for extended stretches and still hope to compete. If the 2024 Mariners lose Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez, no one is going to sit there and say, “Well, that’s just an average amount of baseball injuries.” It’s debilitating!

With that out of the way, let’s get going here. Since all I want to talk about is the hitting, we’re going to save that for Part II tomorrow. Right now, let’s get into the pitching and (a little bit on the) defense (at the end).

Baseball is tricky. You can’t sit there and say, “So and so is the most important guy on this team, and without him playing great, we have no chance.” It’s not football with the quarterback position. It’s not basketball with whoever your superstar is. Baseball is too much of a team sport. Yes, you need your stars to play well, but one guy can’t do it all. If that were the case, Mike Trout would be a champion countless times over.

You can’t even pin it all on a single pitcher, though I’ll contend until my dying breath that there’s nothing quite like an ace to dominate (particularly down the stretch of a pennant race). But, with the 2024 Mariners, we’re not even close to talking about them being contenders without this pitching staff, and especially this starting rotation. They’re the straw that stirs the drink. The most important aspect of this team, by far.

I don’t think you’re going to find a more talented one through five in Major League Baseball – nor one with a higher upside – than the one the Mariners are going to throw out there this seaason. Luis Castillo and George Kirby, right now, are among the best starters in all of baseball, and Logan Gilbert isn’t too far behind. And the pure, raw stuff of Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, and Emerson Hancock (who is slotting into Woo’s spot while he starts the season on the IL with a little bit of arm inflammation) makes them more than the ideal 4 & 5 starters. There’s the kind of potential that we just saw in the first couple of seasons with Kirby and Gilbert! Now, obviously, that’s no guarantee they’re going to turn into bona fide All Stars, but if the worst thing you can say is that the guys projected to be in the back of your rotation – with mid-to-high 90’s fastballs with tons of movement and some promising off-speed pitches – are going to get hit around every now and then, that’s a pretty great problem to have.

Do you know how many teams have absolute bums in the back-end of their rotation? Do you know how many teams are relying on soft-tossing journeymen a la Marco Gonzales to simply eat up innings? Meanwhile, the Mariners have nothing but power arms fisting their way through opposing lineups; it’s outstanding!

Obviously, the knock against the rotation is the lack of depth. But, what team doesn’t have that problem? With Hancock, I’ve already listed six guys who we like. The top three guys are better than most other teams have in their ace spots; and the bottom three guys are better than most every other team’s back-end. If those other teams suffer rotation injuries, I can only imagine the drop-off in quality!

The fact of the matter is, the Mariners are uniquely positioned to withstand the injury bug every now and then. Obviously, it would be ideal if we can get through the next couple months without losing any more starters – to give our bullpen an opportunity to heal up. But, with our home stadium, with our marine layer, and eventually when we get our bullpen figured out, I don’t have a big problem ceding a few outings to a Quad-A starter every now and then. Let him five & dive and hope your offense is up to the task to win a squeaker.

Now, that bullpen does come with some questions. I think we’re all in agreement that when our studs get healthy, a top four (in whatever order you choose) of Santos, Brash, Stanek, and Munoz, is as good as it gets. Again, in all of Major League Baseball. At that point, it almost doesn’t matter who else you put out there. Saucedo and Speier are reliable-enough. Trent Thornton could conceivably be due for a bounce-back, after having a full offseason in our throwing program. And, I’m sure there are plenty of under-the-rader arms in our organization who are poised to be the next Justin Topa or Paul Sewald. Until this unit lets me down, I have to believe we have what it takes to get the job done in the bullpen.

If this team is going to get back to the playoffs, it’s going to be on the arms to get the job done. For as good as they are, it would be helpful if the defense could pick things up behind them, but we’ll see.

By all accounts, we’re going to take a serious step back defensively. Which is kind of shocking, if I’m honest. I always remember Mitch Haniger being better than average. Has he really taken such a dive with age and injury? If he has, that’s a problem, because we’re clearly not as good in left field with the loss of Kelenic. I don’t even know if Luke Raley is competent out there! We might be on the hook for Super Utility Dylan Moore more than we’d like (that is, if he’s not covering for third base).

Speaking of which, is Luis Urias the worst defensive third baseman in baseball? We’ll find out! He sure as shit seems to be worse than Suarez. And I don’t know if Rojas or Moore are much better. Also, what are we going to get out of Polanco at second?

Seems like the potential for a lot of holes. That being said, I don’t care how old Haniger is, there’s no WAY he’s worse than Teoscar Hernandez. We still have Julio and J.P. And our catching figures to be among the best in baseball as well (or, at the very least, the most underrated).

I don’t know if we can count on this defense to carry us. But, as long as it isn’t a total hindrance, then the run prevention half of this team should be among the best in the American League. Certainly good enough to get us to the post-season.

Now, will the hitting do its part? Check back tomorrow (and the rest of this regular season) to find out!

Matt Brash Is Very Important To What The Mariners Are Trying To Do In 2024

It can be easy to take the bullpen for granted. That’s funny to say as a Mariners fan dating back to 1995, when so many of those teams in the mid-to-late 90’s were totally and completely derailed by a faulty bullpen. But lately? There’s some kind of secret sauce in the organization with the way we’re coaching these guys up. Every year, there’s a smattering of dominant back-end relievers, with another heaping spoonful of guys who come from out of nowhere to give us quality innings. This team has been the epitome of buying low and getting the most out of reclamation projects.

It rarely seems to work anywhere else on the team, but in the bullpen, it’s everything. And, as we know, an elite bullpen can paper over a lot of holes. See: Fun Differential.

How have we been taking the 2024 bullpen for granted? Well, simply put, we have a tremendous top three guys in our bullpen with Andres Munoz, Matt Brash, and Gregory Santos. That’s a 7-8-9 (in whatever order you choose) that can rival the very best in baseball, when they’re going good. Then, when you factor in this team’s penchant for finding diamonds in the rough, it’s just a matter of figuring out who they are in Spring Training, and rolling them out as if they belonged up here all along. Maybe it’s some holdovers from last year, like Speier or Saucedo; maybe it’s newcomers like Carlos Vargas or Jackson Kowar; maybe it’s some youngster from the minors I’ve never heard of! Whoever it is, this team will identify them, and we’ll be just fine.

That’s the assumption, anyway. You’ve still gotta go out and play the games. The guys still have to perform. But, it becomes exponentially more difficult if we have to do all of this without Matt Brash.

Pitchers in general are tough to rely on, healthwise. That seems to go double for hard-throwing pitchers, and quadruple for high-effort guys like Brash and Munoz, with funky arm angles and biting sliders. And when it comes to a baseball team, it’s hard to pin your hopes too much on any one single player. Even someone like Julio … he’s still just one of nine guys in a lineup; one of 26 guys on an active roster. Julio could homer in every single at bat and it’s still no guarantee you’re going to win enough games to be great. A lot of other things have to go right.

But, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Matt Brash is this team’s most important reliever. He might not be the guy in the ninth inning racking up the saves every time, but he’s the guy we tend to go to when we need our most important outs of the ballgame. He’s the guy taking on the very best opposing hitters, in the toughest situations (guys on base, less than two outs, likely needing a strikeout or a double play to get out of a jam), when the game is at its most perilous point.

Last year, he led the pitching staff in appearances with 78, and he led all relievers in innings pitched with 70.2. He also, not for nothing, led all relievers in strikeouts with 107, and holds with 24. I should point out, in fairness, that Justin Topa was right there at number two in a lot of these categories (75 appearances, 69.0 innings, 23 holds), but that also speaks to Brash’s importance, since Topa is no longer with the team.

Part of the reason why Brash was so over-utilized is due to Munoz spending some time on the IL, and Sewald getting dealt at the deadline. Brash and Topa were really our most consistent relievers throughout the entire season. Part of me expects a bit of a bounce-back from Munoz (though, I’m most certainly NOT taking him for granted), which would be a big boost, especially in the early part of the regular season.

The good news about this Matt Brash injury stuff is that the MRI came back okay. It’s not perfect; he has “elbow inflammation” and as such has been shut down in the early part of Spring Training. He’s apparently not surgical at this time, however that leads me to wonder if he’s just trying to gut through it, and eventually this year his arm is going to succumb. Either way, reports indicate Brash won’t be ready for the start of the regular season, as the team is going to be overly cautious (as they should be).

This is obviously a relief compared to what everyone was speculating about earlier this week. Tommy John was being thrown around with impunity. I’m not holding my breath though, because I feel like we’re one wrong move away from it being a reality. I hope I’m wrong! I hope he makes it back to the ballclub by mid-to-late April and can go full tilt the rest of the season. But, if he’s shut down, that’s going to be AWFUL for this team.

I don’t even want to think about it. There’s always some piece of devastating news that happens before the season even gets going. Figures it had to be Matt Brash. On the level of importance to this team’s success, I’d put the starting rotation and a few select position players (Julio, Cal, J.P.) ahead of him, but Brash is right there in the Top 10 for sure. Here’s to hoping we avoid a nightmare scenario!

The Mariners’ Non-Julio Outfielders Scare The Bejesus Out Of Me

When I talk about the Mariners having holes (multiple), part of what I’m talking about is this. Look no further than the non-Julio components of the Mariners’ outfield.

As I’ve talked about, a Julio playing at an MVP level would compensate for a lot of struggling on this team. But, the fact that we can have this conversation of someone with his level of talent going above and beyond – and STILL only end up right around 83-88 wins – is really the problem with our roster construction as it’s presented today. With the pitching we have, and complementary hitters like Cal Raleigh and J.P. Crawford giving us their best, you’d think it wouldn’t be so hard to fill out this roster and go chase a championship. But, here we are.

I know I’ve been lamenting third base, and the Mariners’ need to go out and get a Matt Chapman to help Band Aid over the lack of offensive production on this roster, but that’s not our only problem area, or questionable position group, or whathaveyou.

As things stand right now, we’re looking at Mitch Haniger being our regular Right Fielder; can’t really say “everyday” there because he’s going to require built-in off-days in order to stay healthy (in addition to the off-days already part of the schedule). And that’s only until he inevitably lands on the IL; another reason we strip him of the “everyday” moniker.

In Left Field, we have some split of Luke Raley and Dominic Canzone, though you really can’t say it’s a proper platoon, because both hit left-handed. If you want to round things out, you could probably add Dylan Moore to the mix, for more of a right-handed presence, but we’ll see where he ultimately ends up helping out most, especially considering the aforementioned quagmire that is third base.

Let’s say it’s some combination of the four: Haniger and Moore from the right side, Raley and Canzone from the left. Who’s happy with that?!

I’m already on record as having my reservations about what Haniger has left in the tank, even when healthy. I’m willing to let that go, for now (pending the start of the regular season, because if he struggles to open the year, you better believe I’ll be yapping again) and just assume Haniger will be fine. He’ll be some semblance of what he was before. What was that? I’m not talking his very peak of 2018; rather, someone who’s a little streakier, can carry an offense at times, but can also get lost at the plate. When Haniger is going good, this team should win a lot of games. When Haniger is going bad, we’ll need someone to step up and pick up the slack.

Dylan Moore is Dylan Moore. VERY occasional power, low-to-terrible batting average, so-so on-base percentage, pretty good on the basepaths (though he’s in his 30’s now, so we’ll see what that means for his stolen bases), and competent defense. The more you’re needing to play Dylan Moore, the worse your chances of winning (because that means other guys aren’t producing, and so you’re forced to start someone who’s supposed to be a utility guy).

In a lot of ways, this season hinges on one of either Raley or Canzone being above replacement-level. Otherwise, expect left field to be yet another black hole.

If we got Luke Raley to replicate his 2023 season – even if it’s just the same 118-game span – I think I would take that in a heartbeat. I don’t expect him to play the full year, just because I don’t think he’ll be good enough, and will likely spend some time benched to work on some things, so getting around the same amount of games, with that production (19 homers, 23 doubles) would be a boon for the middle of our lineup. If we get that out of him, with Haniger being great sometimes, with Ty France hopefully improved, with Polanco and Garver doing their things, that’s a lineup that can do some damage! A lot of “ifs” there, though.

Canzone would need to take a considerable step up in his development. I would say his production in 2023 – admittedly in just 59 games – was sub-replacement-level. He had glimpses of power, but his batting average and on-base numbers took a nosedive. And he never gives you enough defense to be worth the crater he is at the plate.

But, the team obviously likes him enough to ship off Kelenic, and to only bring in a guy in Raley who’s probably a platoon partner for someone (be it in the outfield, or as a timeshare with Ty France if he continues to flatline). Canzone apparently had some nagging lower body injuries last year that hampered him. We’ll see. With experience, with good health, with a vote of confidence, maybe he starts to make good on his potential.

I can’t say I’m holding my breath, though. I think this non-Julio outfield has a chance to be an unwatchable disaster. And, with all the other question marks on this team, we most likely won’t go down as one of the worst Mariners offenses of all time, but it’ll be painful to have to suffer through. Just, brace yourselves now. I know with this being Spring Training, we all want to look on the bright side and hope for the best. But it’s okay to splash our faces with a cold dose of reality.

I’m So Ready For Julio Rodriguez To Dominate For The Mariners

Julio Rodriguez appears to be a consensus fifth in the American League MVP race according to Vegas (behind top guy Aaron Judge, then Juan Soto, Corey Seager, and Yordan Alvarez). It’s gotta be exciting for these guys, because Shohei Ohtani is in the National League now, so somebody else can finally win for a change!

Fangraphs has Julio seventh in all of baseball for projected WAR with 5.6. ZIPS has him third in all of baseball at 5.7 WAR. Pretty much wherever you go, there’s Julio, projected right there among the very best players in baseball.

This is interesting to me, because while Julio was clearly the best player on the Mariners last year, I wouldn’t say he had a GREAT season. He was definitely hotter than the sun in July and especially August, but other than that he had long stretches where he struggled, especially in the first half, but also down the stretch in September.

Now, clearly, a struggling Julio is A LOT different than a struggling Ty France, or a struggling Taylor Trammell (which is pretty much his entire career). Even when he’s having a tough time, he’s still awesome. He’s still a presence. He’s still a guy other teams have to fear. And, of course, he’s going to give you great defense regardless. He’s still going to play hard and make some moves when he does get on base. He’s going to find ways to contribute.

But, his slash line in 2023 was down across the board compared to his 2022 rookie season, which is why his WAR fell from 6.0 to 5.3. Again, still great! He finished 4th in MVP voting last year, but no one voted him higher than 3rd.

It takes quite a special season to win the MVP award. The Mariners have had exactly two MVPs in their history: Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997, and Ichiro in 2001. Griffey that year was the leader of the most fearsome offense baseball had seen since the ’27 Yankees. And Ichiro entered the Major Leagues like a house on fire, leading the team to a 116-win season. THIS is what I would like to see from Julio. And 2024 is no better time to make that happen.

There’s a lot of hype that the Mariners have improved their offense this year. I’m still in a “I’ll believe it when I see it” mode of thinking. Regardless, I would say no one is expecting these Mariners to blow the doors off of the 2023 variety. It’s all “cautious optimism” and probably a marginal step up.

If you want to see significant improvement from this team, it has to be twofold. First, the depth has to be stronger. The bottom of the order MUST be better. I’m not saying we have to be lights out 1 through 9 in the order, but we can’t have the bottom 4-5 batters completely stinking up the joint like they did for most of last year. If we can see some competence, if we can have more professional at-bats, if we can even just make better and more productive outs, I think it’ll make a world of difference.

But, even that hinges on the second part: we need our stars to be super.

We need J.P. to continue to dominate at the top of the order. We need Cal to continue being a power machine. We need our veterans – Garver, Haniger, Polanco – to step up when they’re healthy. Ideally, we need this Driveline experience to hit the jackpot with Ty France. And, more than anything, we need Julio to play at an MVP level. Not just good with some elite stretches, but consistently great throughout the year.

Even if it’s just the veterans playing AS good as they were last year, and some semblance of improvement from the bottom of the order, I think we could really make some hay with an MVP Julio.

That’s kind of what I’m banking on here, if I have any hope whatsoever of the Mariners making it back to the playoffs. I’m expecting the starters to be great. I’m expecting them to figure it out in the bullpen. But, I’m also expecting the offense to be a dud yet again, costing us winnable games and seeing us ultimately falling short of a wild card berth.

However, if we get MVP Julio? Then, I’ll be willing to suspend my disbelief. I’ll be willing to go all in on this team with its cheapskate ownership group. I’ll be willing to hope that we can somehow put it all together for a magical playoff run.

Now is the time! He had his Rookie of the Year campaign. He had his Sophomore Slump. Now, it’s time for the MVP trophy. Now, it’s time to take that next step into the stratosphere. Be the envy of everyone, and the face of baseball, as you were destined to be!

What Is The Mariners’ Lineup Looking Like For 2024?

For the record, it’s impossible to try to predict how ANYONE in baseball is going to perform from year to year. There’s injuries, there’s regression, there’s age, there’s personal life matters that creep in; those are all elements that can negatively affect players. On the flipside, maybe they go to Driveline and work on their swing. Maybe they learn a new pitch. Maybe they get in “the best shape of their lives”.

Who expected J.P. Crawford or Jarred Kelenic to take their respective steps forward last year? Who expected Suarez to come to Seattle and be a hit? On the flipside, who expected Winker to come here and be a total bust? Who saw the Ty France nosedive coming? Who expected to get absolutely nothing out of Kolten Wong, A.J. Pollock, Adam Frazier, and the like? Oh wait, maybe don’t bring up those last three guys.

So, I’m willing to admit that I’m probably going to be dead wrong about a lot of these guys, one way or the other. But, for fun, let’s take a look at who we’re likely to see as our 13 position players, and how they fit in a potential lineup.

The “everyday” guys seem to be something like this:

  • Left Field – Luke Raley
  • Center Field – Julio Rodriguez
  • Right Field – Mitch Haniger
  • Third Base – Luis Urias
  • Short Stop – J.P. Crawford
  • Second Base – Josh Rojas
  • First Base – Ty France
  • Catcher – Cal Raleigh
  • Designated Hitter – Mitch Garver

The bench guys – who figure to see a good amount of platoon time – include:

  • UTIL – Dylan Moore
  • OF – Dominic Canzone
  • Catcher – Seby Zavala

The final guy is someone between Sam Haggerty, Taylor Trammell, Cade Marlowe, Zach DeLoach, or Jonatan Clase (I’m assuming one of them will have a torrid Spring Training and force his way onto the team for a couple weeks, until it’s clear his spring was an aberration).

I’ll tell you right now, that lineup is ROUGH to look at. Here’s an order, for reference:

  1. J.P. Crawford (SS)
  2. Julio Rodriguez (CF)
  3. Cal Raleigh (C)
  4. Mitch Garver (DH)
  5. Luke Raley (LF)
  6. Mitch Haniger (RF)
  7. Ty France (1B)
  8. Josh Rojas (2B)
  9. Luis Urias (3B)

As a tried and true Mariners fan, I can only allow myself to feel good about the top three guys. Everyone else has a wild range of outcomes going from Absolute Worst to Better Than Expected.

Garver should be fine, but would it shock anyone to see a middling slugger come to Seattle and hit for Warning Track Power? Raley has less of a Major League track record, so he gets a little less confidence from me. Haniger, obviously, is going to get hurt within the first two months of the season, missing more time than he’ll play for. France is working out at Driveline, so there’s hope that he follows in J.P. Crawford’s footsteps, but I’ll believe it when I see it; I’m heading into 2024 expecting nothing from France. Rojas is Just A Guy, and will almost certainly lose playing time to Dylan Moore, among others. Urias is also Just A Guy, and will almost certainly lose playing time to Dylan Moore, among others.

How many Dylan Moores do we have on the team, anyway?

I would say there’s better than a 50/50 chance that the bottom third of the lineup is as bad as it’s ever been, with probably better than a 35% chance that 5 out of our 9 hitters – on the whole – are underperforming and actively costing us ballgames.

And that’s, again, AFTER the bulk of our moves in trades and free agency. That’s ostensibly supposed to be an “improvement” over 2023. Odds are, the Mariners will be a significantly WORSE hitting and scoring team in 2024.

We pretty much decided to punt second and third base. We swapped Kelenic for Raley, which is kind of a wash. We swapped Teoscar Hernandez for Haniger, which feels like a downgrade when you consider the time Haniger is going to miss (with the very real possibility that Haniger is just cooked as a professional ballplayer). The only actual upgrade is at DH, but it’s hard to give them credit for that when they effectively punted DH last year. Getting something – when we were so consistently getting nothing – is pretty easy to do when you actually find a warm body to put there.

And don’t even try to start with me on suggesting improvement out of guys like J.P., Julio, or Cal. They are what they are, until I see otherwise. But, I am by no means banking on them being anything more than what I’ve seen. Same goes for Canzone, or any of the other Quad-A guys we’ve got on the 40-man roster that we’re forced to keep on the 26-man roster because they’re out of options. Again, I’ll believe it when I see it, and I don’t expect to see much of anything.

So, yeah, pretty bleak! Hope we find some improvement in our bullpen! Hope our starters are able to carry this team on their backs the whole year! How many 1-0 losses do we have to look forward to?