The 2021 Seattle Mariners State Of The Young Guys

I promised to get around to talking about the young guys, and here I am delivering on that promise!

As I noted previously, there’s reason for both optimism and pessimism surrounding the immediate future of the Seattle Mariners. If we glom onto the negative, you’ve got an unsustainable offensive model where the team sucks at hitting, except for very specific points in any given ballgame where the team comes together to score JUST enough to win by a run or two. Otherwise, we’re looking at severe blowout losses that throw our run differential out of whack. Furthermore, the people doing most of the hitting are veterans, while many of the young guys struggled mightily.

I’m going to try to look on the bright side with this post, but you know me. Some of that negativity is bound to creep in.

I’ll start with a point I made in Tuesday’s post: J.P. Crawford and Ty France are far from old fogeys. Just because they’ve been around the bigs for a few years doesn’t mean they’re past their primes or anything; Crawford will be 27 in January and France is 27 now. We control Crawford through 2024 and France through 2025; I don’t care about any years beyond those right now, if I’m being honest. The “Win Forever” concept is a nice idea in theory, but let’s just get to the initial “Win” part before we start talking in terms of multiple years or decades down the line.

I would argue there’s a lot to like about the way Jarred Kelenic finished his season. Sure, his rookie season was miserable for the vast majority of it – finishing with a -1.7 WAR in 93 games – but his September/October were leaps and bounds better than the rest of his year. It can be easy to discount a late-season surge like that, but this wasn’t a guy getting a cup of coffee at the end of a losing year. This was a guy who worked through his initial struggles – largely at the Major League level – and found a breakthrough after a lot of trial and error. It doesn’t mean he’s necessarily going to start 2022 on fire and be an All Star the rest of his career, but it doesn’t rule it out either. Regardless, I would expect a huge improvement in his overall numbers next year; I don’t think we have much to worry about when it comes to Kelenic. We know, if nothing else, he’s going to continue to put in the work to be one of the greats.

I also want to talk about Logan Gilbert up top, as another young stud who should be a mainstay for a good, long while. On the whole, he made 24 starts, had a 1.0 WAR and was up and down with his production at the Major League level. But, he also saved his best and most consistent work for the final month of the season; only one game out of the final six featured him giving up more than 2 runs (and that was 4 runs against the Angels, in 5.1 innings of work). He ended up being one of our better pitchers down the stretch, in a playoff chase, which is very encouraging for his career going forward. He’s got the kind of stuff that can be dominant at the Major League level, so I’m very much looking forward to what he has to offer next year and beyond.

In the next tier down, I’d like to talk about a few guys who showed some promise, but also might end up flaming out.

There’s a lot to like about what Abraham Toro did as a Mariner, and I’ll staunchly defend that trade with the Astros anytime and anyplace. Even if he never makes it as a consistent, reliable everyday player, the idea was sound. All you can ask from your GM is to make good decisions based on the information he has available at the time, and then hope for the best that the players he brings in pan out. Toro will be 25 in December and we control him through 2025; that’s easily worth a reliever rental in my book.

On top of which, Toro made an immediate impact as soon as we acquired him! His first month on the team was outstanding, culminating in a game-winning Grand Slam against Kendall Graveman on August 31st. He scratched the surface of being a .270 hitter in that time, but did falter pretty severely down the stretch. His slash line was overall better as a Mariner than it was as an Astro, but there was a little bit of a dip in his slugging. He finished the year – across both teams – with 11 homers in 95 games, which is okay, but not amazing. He might have more left to unleash upon the game of baseball, but it kinda looks like he’s dependant upon his batting average to provide offensive value, so if his BABIP slumps, he’s going to be a pretty miserable hitter (aren’t we all?).

In a vacuum, there are two openings across the infield – at second and third base – and one of those spots needs to be filled by a quality, proven veteran who’s a middle-of-the-order type hitter. I’m okay with Toro getting one of the other spots as we head into 2022, but he’s going to need to produce more than he did in 2021 if he wants to stick around long term.

I’d also like to throw Cal Raleigh into this bin, even though he had a worse year than anyone I’ve mentioned so far. It’s hard out there for most any rookie at the Major League level; the jump from the minors is extreme and will quickly weed out those who don’t belong. I would argue it’s the hardest of all for rookie catchers, who not only have to worry about their own hitting and defense, but they have to lead an entire team full of pitchers through every ballgame they’re in.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you Raleigh will be fine. He might be a total bust! The Mariners have been calling up catchers for years now, and I’ve spent all this time expecting one of them to pan out; none of them did. Mike Zunino was as sure a bet as you’ll see as a catcher and he still managed to strike out a bazillion times. Only this year did he pull it all together as an All Star who hit 33 homers – with the Rays – and that was with a whopping .216 batting average with 132 strikeouts in 109 games. I think we all were hoping Raleigh would be better than Zunino, but I have my doubts.

A lot will be learned next year. Like Kelenic, Raleigh is an extremely hard worker and a natural leader behind the plate. If he’s able to flush his .180/.223/.309 slash line, maybe he can make strides towards being a viable starter going forward.

I’ll say a little bit about Fraley, Torrens, and Bauers: I think they’re okay, but I don’t think any of them are starters. Torrens is a likely trade candidate – since he can catch and play first base – and Fraley feels like a reserve/fourth outfielder on a good team. Bauers has all the tools – and apparently puts on a great batting practice show with his bat – but he’s yet to really put it all together; it felt like a lot of his hits were lucky bloops and dribblers that narrowly evaded opposing gloves.

There aren’t a lot of promising young pitchers at the Major League level, but I’ll talk about a couple of relievers here. Yohan Ramirez took what seemed like a significant step forward in 2021 over his 2020 season. In 2020, he was mostly put into losing games and blowouts; in 2021, that largely continued, but he was also put into some high-leverage situations and came out okay! The team is trying to harness his stuff, as he’s got a great splitter to strike guys out, but he can be wild at times and get behind in the count. I’m curious to see if he can continue to get better.

Andres Munoz is a guy who can throw triple-digits; he got the shortest cup of coffee at the end of the year, playing in Game 162. But, he’ll be 23 in January, and we control him through 2025, so hopefully he can parlay that confidence boost into a great Spring Training.

There are, of course, young pitchers in the minors we’ve still got to look forward to; I’ll save my breath on them until we know what the 2022 roster looks like, as I expect to see multiple veteran starters brought in to round out the rotation (though our bullpen looks largely set with in-house guys).

You can’t talk about the young guys with promise without throwing 2020 Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis into the mix. He was injured for most of 2021 – the same knee he tore back as an A-ball player – and his long-term prospects appear to be dwindling. It’s not great that he tried to rehab the knee without surgery, only to have a late-season setback that cost him the rest of the year. It’s going to be super frustrating if he does need surgery, causing him to miss 2022 as well.

There’s no denying his talent when he’s healthy, but Kyle Lewis gets tossed onto the Maybe Pile when it comes to talking about future mainstays on the Mariners.

Which is more than you can say about guys like Evan White, Justus Sheffield, and Justin Dunn. I don’t know what the fuck is going to happen there. White sucked in 2020 as a rookie, then played in only 30 games before going down with a hip injury that required season-ending surgery. In those 30 games, he also sucked. His defense is, of course, elite, but at this point so is France’s. White’s bat just doesn’t play at this level, even a little bit. He’s got power, but misses balls too consistently. And he’s not even a cost-effective prospect since we signed him to that 6-year, $24 million deal before he even played a single Major League game! He made a combined $2.6 million for his last two worthless seasons, is set to earn $1.4 million in 2022, then that figure jumps to $3 million in 2023 and $7 million and $8 million in 2024 and 2025. What do you do with that? If France sniped his job at first base, do you try to trade White? What do you get for a guy with that kind of contract, who can’t hit? Do you try to move him to a different defensive position; make him a super-sub?

As for Sheffield and Dunn, I’ve lost all faith in them ever panning out. They just don’t have the stuff to be good or consistent at this level.

Thankfully, as I mentioned, there are lots of prospects in the minor leagues to pull from in the next year or two. The State of the Young Guys is pretty strong for the Mariners, with one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. Here’s to hoping we trade away the duds and manage to hang onto the superstars!

The Mariners Swept The Athletics To Make Things Just Interesting Enough

What a series! We probably need to see three more just like them if we want postseason baseball in Seattle, but damn!

Remember that one year recently when the M’s were just a single game out of the second wild card spot? Would it shock you to know that was back in 2014? For some reason, I thought it was in 2018 – when we won 89 games – but we were a whopping 8 games out that year. Nope, in 2014, we finished one game behind Oakland, thanks to a 4-game winning streak to close out the season. BUT, we were only in that position in the first place because immediately preceeding that 4-game winning streak, we were mired in a 5-game losing slump (two games in Houston, three games in Toronto, the latter notorious for a 1-0 defeat where Taijuan Walker went all 8 innings in the loss, giving up just 4 hits).

That’s more or less the story for a lot of these “contending” Mariners teams over the last 20 years. We dig ourselves such a hole that – even though we’re entertaining and somewhat good, and most importantly, close in the standings – there just isn’t enough at the end to overcome our lack of talent. That appears to be the case here in 2021 as well. With 9 games remaining, we are now just 2 games behind the Yankees for the second wild card spot (with Toronto sandwiched in between, a game back). That’s a tall order to overcome, even though our schedule plays out relatively favorably.

What’s different – we hope – is that these Mariners appear to be the start of something significant. So, even if we fail to make those two games up, there’s still reason for optimism for the near-future of the Seattle Mariners.

And we’re in THIS position because of the 4-game sweep in Oakland! That took us from two games behind them, to two games ahead of them, which you just love to fucking see because fuck the A’s. Even if we don’t make the playoffs, knowing we’re a MAJOR reason why they’re also not in the playoffs will give me all the warmth I need in my heart to carry me over into the 2022 season. FUCK. THE. ATHLETICS.

You don’t work a 4-game sweep in Oakland without some great pitching, and the Mariners had it going all week. Tyler Anderson was up first and got the series off on the right note. 7 innings, 1 run (4 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts). The only blip was Diego Castillo giving up a run in a third of an inning, but Paul Sewald got the remaining five outs to preserve the 4-2 victory.

Offensively, France and Seager got the M’s out to a 3-0 lead in the third, then Seager added an RBI single in the fifth (he had a HUGE series, going 3 for 4 with 3 RBI in this game).

Marco Gonzales kept the party going with a quality start of his own (6 innings, 2 runs), and Sadler, Sewald, and Steckenrider worked clean innings to close it out. We saw an early 1-0 deficit after one inning, but Jake Bauers manufactured a run in the second, and Dylan Moore and J.P. Crawford put up three more runs in the fourth to give us a bit of a cushion. Crawford hit a solo bomb in the ninth for a little added insurance in the 5-2 victory (also, Seager was 2 for 5).

Chris Flexen continued the pitching parade with 7 innings of 1-run ball (3 hits, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts). This time, Castillo worked a clean inning, and Steckenrider got his second save of the series (also sparing us the necessity to pitch Sewald a third straight day).

This 4-1 victory was brought to you by a Kyle Seager solo homer (he finished 3 for 5), a Tom Murphy RBI single, a Ty France solo bomb, and a Luis Torrens insurance sac fly in the seventh.

Finally, the sweep came under heavy scrutiny with Yusei Kikuchi going yesterday. Another 3-inning special where he gave up 3 runs. We got a run back on an Abraham Toro RBI double in the top of the fourth, but Yohan Ramirez gave up a solo bomb in the bottom half to make it 4-1 Oakland.

Ramirez was pulled after a third of an inning, but the much-maligned Anthony Misiewicz got the final two outs of the inning to keep the score right there. Cal Raleigh hit a 2-run bomb in the fifth to make it 4-3, and Mitch Haniger hit a solo bomb to tie it up in the sixth. Not to be outdone, Luis Torrens hit a pinch-hit 2-run home run later in the sixth to make the comeback official.

From there, it was lockdown bullpen time. Joe Smith pitched a perfect inning. Casey Sadler pitched two scoreless innings, Diego Castillo took care of the eighth, and Paul Sewald gave up a relatively harmless solo homer in the ninth before completing the save in the 6-5 victory.

The Mariners are 84-69 now, with three games down in L.A. against the Angels. Then, we return home for our final six games of the regular season (unfortunate, since we REALLY struggle to hit at home). It will probably require some remarkable type of 7-2 finish to secure the wild card spot; at the VERY worst 6-3, but I refuse to play the schedule/matchup game with the other teams in contention.

I’m just going to sit here and enjoy the last week and change of this very entertaining Mariners season. What happens after that will be whatever.

The Mariners Swept The Athletics; This Is Getting Very Interesting

Sure, it was a 2-game sweep, but that’s two games we picked up on the Athletics! We’re still three games out of the wild card spot, but now we’re only one game behind Oakland, one of the two teams that stands in our way going forward.

Monday’s game was another Mariners Special. Marco Gonzales got the start and had a very Marco Gonzales kind of performance. He gave up a run in the first and a solo homer in the fourth. The offense got off to its usual slow start, which means the Mariners were down 2-0 heading into the sixth. That’s when we FINALLY got to the A’s starter on a Mitch Haniger 2-run home run to tie it up.

Then Marco did the unforgiveable. With new life, with a low pitch count, he lazily tried to sneak a Get Me Over curveball to one of the best power hitters in the game, Matt Olson, who jacked it out to right for a 3-2 Oakland lead. What are you doing, man?! You’re the leader of this pitching staff! You’ve been the Opening Day starter for the last few years! And this is how you respond to your offense climbing back into the game? When you’re just an inning away from handing it over to the bullpen; a unit that’s been so dominant this year. It’s really infuriating. If this was earlier in the game, I could understand it. You’re trying to conserve your pitch count and whatnot. But, this is late-enough in the game where you know you’re probably only going to be given three more outs to get. You need to be EXTRA careful in this situation, especially against the Athletics’ best hitter!

Marco got through the 6 innings, giving up just the 3 runs, so technically it was a Quality Start. And, yeah, the Mariners won, so how upset can I really be? But, that game really looked grim from there, and if we’re all being honest, that’s a game we lose 9 times out of 10 in a normal season.

This is not a normal season, though! The A’s had some lockdown bullpen work through the 7th and 8th innings, where the Mariners just had no chance against such filth. Thankfully, our own bullpen was able to hold serve with the D-Squad of Erik Swanson and Anthony Misiewicz. That got us to Oakland’s closer, Lou Trivino. He’s blown four saves all year, now two of them against Seattle.

Things immediately got off to a bad start for him, with Ty France hitting yet another game-tying solo homer, this time in the first at-bat of the inning. This was followed up by a Toro single and a Fraley double to put two runners in scoring position for the bottom of the lineup. Unfortunately, Kelenic and Raleigh failed to even make contact, as both struck out swinging. But, unlikeliest of heroes Jake Bauers came through with a solid single to left to put the Mariners up 5-3.

Thankfully, we did it in that spot, because I don’t want to know what this game would’ve looked like had it gone to extras. Paul Sewald was tasked with coming into the game, and you could tell right off the bat that he was fatigued and didn’t have his usual stuff. He managed to get all three hitters out that he faced, including one strikeout, to get the save. Impressive stuff!

Tuesday’s getaway day game was much more relaxing, though no less entertaining. Chris Flexen did what he does best: get deep into the game with a relatively low pitch count. He couldn’t quite get through the seventh, but he finished with 6.2 innings pitched, giving up just the one run on 6 hits and a walk, with 5 strikeouts. Drew Steckenrider came in to get the last out of the seventh … and all the remaining outs of the game! The rare 2.1-inning save!

We chased the A’s starter after three innings; he gave up an RBI single to Kelenic and a 2-RBI single to Torrens, to give the Mariners an early 3-1 lead. Then, for good measure, Kelenic and Dylan Moore both hit in an insurance run apiece in the eighth to give the game its 5-1 final.

VERY good road trip all around for the Mariners, at the best possible time. We swept the Rangers, lost two of three to the Astros, but then swept the A’s to make it 6-2 overall. That’s what REAL contending teams need to do to get over the hump!

Our reward is that we got out of Oakland early yesterday, we have all of today off, before starting a 4-game series against the lowly Royals. I’m not going to make any guarantees, because the Royals have been weirdly hot lately (winning 6 of 8 against the Astros and Cubs, at the time of this writing), but this is a team you SHOULD beat. Hopefully their magic is starting to run out by the time they get to Seattle.

The bummer of this upcoming stretch is that we play our six remaining games against the Astros in a little over a week; hopefully there will be some revenge factor on our side. That just means we MUST take advantage by beating the bad teams on the slate. Between now and September 12th, we have those six games against the Astros, but we also have 10 games against the Royals and Diamondbacks (the 9th-worst and 2nd-worst teams, by record, in the Major Leagues). Ideally, you want to be 10-6 in those games AT A MINIMUM. You should probably win 11 or 12 of those games, if you really want to make the playoffs.

This is something though, isn’t it? Meaningful baseball INTO September, who’da thunk it?!

A Bummer Of A Mariners Series In Houston Could’ve Been Worse

We didn’t get swept! That’s something, anyway. Of course, losing the two games the way we lost them was pretty demoralizing, and it took us 11 innings to get that lone win, but I’ll take what I can get.

The Mariners lost 12-3 on Friday, giving up all of those runs in the first five innings. Yusei Kikuchi had easily his worst game of the season, 2.2 innings, giving up 7 runs. It’s a shame for him that he didn’t get to appear in the All Star Game this year, because I don’t know if he’ll ever get a chance again. Through July 1st – just before he was named to the All Star team – he was 6-3 and had a 3.18 ERA. Since then, he’s had two Quality Starts out of eight. His last two appearances in particular have been pretty brutal. We’re in the stretch run here! We need to win every game we can possibly win! He failed to go five innings against the Blue Jays, then couldn’t even make it through three against the Astros (his overall record has fallen to 7-7). The Mariners have a HUGE decision to make on Kikuchi after this season, whether or not they pick up his remaining option years. Before the All Star Break, I would’ve said it’s a no-brainier to keep him around. But, if he continues to lay eggs the rest of this season, I don’t think it’s smart to sign on for more at that salary. If he can’t handle THIS pressure, what makes you think he’d handle the pressure of being on a team in an actual pennant race (which is our stated goal) in the next 2-3 years?

Kikuchi wasn’t the only bad thing about Friday’s game. Wyatt Mills (a guy presumably only up here to eat innings in these very types of situations) gave up 3 runs in 1.1 innings of work (he has an ERA over 10 in his 10 appearances). Erik Swanson continued his slide by giving up another 2 runs in his 1 inning of work (looking much more like the Erik Swanson we’ve been used to the last couple years). The only pitching bright spot on Friday was Yohan Ramirez’s two innings of shutout ball, striking out 4.

The offense didn’t stand a chance, obviously. Ty France had 3 hits (including a solo homer). Kyle Seager had a solo homer, and Abraham Toro had an RBI single.

If you thought 12-3 was bad, wait until you get a load of 15-1!

Logan Gilbert had to wear this one. 4.2 innings, 9 runs on 8 hits (including 2 homers) and a walk, with 5 strikeouts. Obviously, he’s in a very different point of his Major League career than Kikuchi, but he’s nevertheless been just as up-and-down in his rookie campaign. He just needs to work, to refine his breaking pitches, and to get used to the talent at this level. I think he’ll be fine, but it would be encouraging for him to take a step or two in his development over the next few weeks. We need him to be a foundational starter for this team in 2022 and beyond.

Thankfully, we were able to save the rest of the bullpen by calling up Robert Dugger and getting him to mop up the remaining 3.1 innings. He, nevertheless, gave up 6 more runs and was immediately DFA’d before Sunday’s game.

The only run for the Mariners came on a Haniger solo homer in the sixth.

For all of the pointlessness of the first two games, Sunday’s was quite a thriller!

Houston got two runs off of Tyler Anderson in the second inning, but that was it, as Anderson went 5.1 innings to at least give us a chance. The bullpen was pretty lights out from there. Joe Smith closed out the sixth. Anthony Misiewicz got four outs in a nice comeback for him. Steckenrider got five outs, and Paul Sewald had the greatest inning of relief I’ve seen all year! More on that in a moment.

The Astros starter, Framber Valdez, went 7 shutout innings, giving up only 3 hits and a walk, striking out 6. This one looked grim, especially with Kendall Graveman taking the hill in the 8th. BUT, we scratched a run off of the ex-Mariner to make the game 2-1 in the ninth inning. It’s only the second run he’s given up since we traded him over there at the deadline, but the first time he actually contributed to an Astros loss. That run meant a lot when Ty France hit the game-tying solo homer in the ninth to eventually send this game to extras.

The M’s botched their chance in the 10th, as Torrens – the ghost runner – got taken out at third base on a running error with the ball being hit to the short stop. Cal Raleigh’s double managed to get Fraley to third, but would’ve scored Torrens had he done his job. J.P. Crawford struck out to end the threat, in spite of some questionable umpiring that went his way.

Sewald came in to pitch the 10th and immediately gave up a single to Altuve to put runners on the corners. We intentionally walked Michael Brantley to load ’em up and get a play at any base. Sewald struck out Correa looking (on yet another terrible call by the home plate ump) for the first out, then overpowered the next guy at the top of the zone to get another strikeout. That brought up Yuli Gurriel, a notorious Mariners killer. He wasn’t biting on the slider, but fouled off two high fastballs to make the count even. Sewald threw a perfect slider on the low-and-outside corner for what should’ve been strike three, but the umpire AGAIN blew the call. The count was full, with Gurriel fouling off the next two fastballs, before swinging through the last one – the 8th pitch of the at-bat – to end the inning. What a performance!

In the top of the 11th, Haniger walked before Ty France hit a single the opposite way to take a 3-2 lead. Kyle Seager promptly extended the lead to 6-2 with a 3-run home run, his 29th of the season (his career high is 30). It turns out, we needed all of these runs, because now we were getting back into the dregs of our bullpen.

Keynan Middleton started the bottom of the 11th, getting a first-pitch groundout to Seager. He then gave up a first-pitch single to the next guy to make it 6-3. The bases ended up loaded after the next two guys singled and walked respectively (the walk, of course, being helped greatly by a CLEAR strike being called Ball 4). Servais had to pull Middleton, who clearly didn’t have it. The only other alternative was Yohan Ramirez, who struck out Altuve on a nasty slider at the bottom of the zone. Michael Brantley – the leading hitter in the American League heading into the game – lined out to center to end it.

This was the first save of the season for Ramirez – the Rule 5 guy we took from the Astros prior to the 2020 season – and it’s nice to see him starting to develop into someone we might be able to trust in higher leverage situations. His problem has always been his control; he has a live fastball and a nasty slider. If he can rein it in a little bit, that’s another diamond in the rough reliever who could be good for us for a good, long time (or, at the very least, a nice little trade chip in the offseason).

Now, we’re off to Oakland for a quick 2-game series. We’re three games behind them in the standings, so it would be nice to get the series win here.

The Mariners Somehow Did Not Sweep The Rangers

I was so thoroughly annoyed by Tuesday’s extra-innings loss to the Rangers, I couldn’t even enjoy the subsequent two wins. We should’ve HAD THAT GAME!

For starters, the amount of struggling we did in this series is insane. The Rangers are hands down one of the worst teams in baseball. They might be, pound for pound, the worst team of the 30 at the moment. And yet, every game in this series was decided by 2 runs or less. Every step of the way was a gargantuan fucking challenge.

The last thing I want to do is rehash the 5-4 defeat, but it has to be done because it’s the perfect incapsulation of how much the M’s played down to the talent level of their opponent. The Rangers jumped out to a 1-0 lead off of Logan Gilbert thanks to a solo homer in the second. He settled down pretty good – finishing 6 innings, giving up just 2 runs on 5 hits, while striking out 5 and walking 0 – but ended up with a no decision. Haniger and Seager hit back-to-back solo bombs in the fourth; the Rangers hit an RBI double in the fifth to give the game its score at that point.

It was tied heading into the ninth, when Paul Sewald got jumped for a solo bomb to potentially cost us the game. We were facing the Rangers’ closer in the bottom half down a run, and already I was super pissed off.

But, then a little of that late-game Mariners magic returned! Bauers and Kelenic walked, and Raleigh singled to load the bases (after a couple of laughably bad attempts to bunt the runners over) for Jake Fraley … who also walked to tie the game at 3-3. With no outs. And the top of the order coming up.

HOW DO YOU LOSE?! The closer is wild as fuck, he’s decidedly being left in there to take his lumps even though he clearly doesn’t have it, and we had J.P. Crawford, Mitch Haniger, and Kyle Seager up. ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS HIT A LAZY FLY BALL TO THE OUTFIELD! Or work a walk, or take one off the shoulder, or get a fucking ball to roll through the pulled-in infield.

Just flabbergasting. J.P. Crawford – who has been so good in these situations, and especially when he just needs to make contact – struck out swinging. By this point, the Rangers’ closer seemed to gather his control, as he pretty easily struck out Haniger swinging as well. Then came Seager, who gave us the lazy fly ball we needed, two outs too late.

Erik Swanson came in for the 10th, and was catching too much of the heart of the plate; the Rangers scored both the ghost runner AND an actual runner to take a 5-3 lead. The Mariners immediately singled in the ghost runner in their first AB of the bottom half of the inning, but Toro grounded into a double play to pretty much end the threat.

I gave up on the series from there. I also, not for nothing, am washing my hands of this Toronto series this weekend for other reasons, but even if I were totally free, I think I’d find something else to do with my time.

So, I missed the thrilling 2-1 come-from-behind, walk-off win on Wednesday. But, read that again. Why in the hell are we only scoring two runs against this pitching staff? Why are we down a run to them in the first place? Why do we need a heroic bottom-of-the-ninth walk-off situation to win it? Kudos to our pitching staff, I guess. But anti-kudos to the hitters, who have REALLY been shit in the month of August.

Tyler Anderson went 5.1 innings, giving up 1 run. I like how we’re controlling him, and pulling him before any late damage can be done. I also like how he’s giving us ALMOST-quality starts every time out; this is what we weren’t getting from all those bullpen days. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn are ready to return.

The bullpen was lights out from there. Joe Smith continued his scoreless streak since the trade from Houston. Casey Sadler continued his phenomenal run since returning from the IL. Diego Castillo looked sharp in his 8th inning. And Drew Steckenrider continued being one of the most improbably-effective relievers on this team! He ended up earning his fourth win of the season for his troubles.

The Rangers jumped out to an early 1-0 lead before Kelenic, in the sixth, walked in a run. That was it until the ninth, when Kelenic led off with a double. One out later, Fraley hit an infield single to move him to third, for Luis Torrens who also singled him home (though it sounds like it might’ve been a double under normal circumstances).

Even though yesterday’s Day Game was another close affair, it was actually a breath of fresh air, with the M’s prevailing 3-1. That’s because Marco Gonzales turned in easily his best game of the season, getting the complete game, giving up 2 hits, walking 1, and striking out 9. THIS is the #1 starter we’ve been waiting for all year! Now, if he can just do it against an actual Major League Baseball team, we’ll be all set.

Again, we had to come back from an early 1-0 deficit. Kelenic hit a sac fly, and Crawford and Fraley both hit solo bombs.

It’s nice to see Kelenic’s average get up to .150. That, obviously, is a terrible number for a hitter to have, but it’s 50 points higher than it was not too long ago. Unless he bats 1.000 the rest of the way, he’s not going to end this season with a good-looking average. But, as long as he finishes the last couple months strong, I think that’s something he can really build upon heading into next year.

Even though there’s a lot to like about getting this series win, it’s a missed opportunity. You have to sweep a team as bad as the Rangers, especially at home, especially when it’s the bottom of the ninth, with the bases loaded, and no one is out.

It still makes my blood boil.

I mean, you do realize you’re in a wild card chase, right? I know you all were exasperated with the front office after the trade of Graveman, but that doesn’t mean you just give up!

You know how the Mariners can win me back? Sweep the Blue Jays this weekend. Take them out behind the woodshed and leapfrog them in one fell swoop. The Mariners are 2 games behind the Blue Jays (who are, themselves, 2.5 games out of the last wild card spot). This is our opportunity to eliminate them as a threat and set our sights to ending this playoff drought.

I guess, if I had to settle for a mere series win, that would be okay too, though it would obviously still leave us a game behind them. But, losing this series is NOT an option.

The Yankees Are Not A Good Matchup For The Mariners

It’s funny, you could easily make that same argument about every Yankees team ever, except for 1995.

The Mariners lost 3 of 4 to the Yankees over the long weekend in The Bronx, going exactly as well as I’d expected:

If we win one of these games, it’ll be a miracle.

– Some super genius

Although, credit to both teams: they did find some creative ways to get to the end result in these four games.

The last time we played the Yankees, it was about a month ago back in Seattle. We were riding high, having gone 5-0-1 in our previous six series, only to be swatted away pretty handily by the Yankees in 2 of 3 games, with Logan Gilbert’s career day preventing the sweep.

This time around, it’s post-Trade Deadline, it’s at the end of a 10-game road trip, and the Mariners are really starting to feel the pressure now of this wild card chase. At one point in recent weeks, the Mariners were ahead of the Yankees and Blue Jays for the second wild card spot. Now we’re 2.5-3 games behind them, needing to turn this ship around in a hurry.

This series could’ve gone so differently. It’s hard to see us go 1-3 – when all games are decided by 2 runs or less – and not immediately think about what might’ve been had Kendall Graveman still been here. He’s made four appearances for the Astros so far, and still hasn’t given up a run.

Anyway, Mitch Haniger and Kyle Seager spotted the Mariners to a 2-1 lead that was immediately ripped away in the bottom half of the fourth last Thursday. The score remained tied until the top of the seventh, when Jared Kelenic hit a solo home run just over the wall in right. That’s when we brought in the big guns: Paul Sewald, to face the heart of the Yankees’ order. He got the first two hitters out before Judge and Stanton singles started making trouble. That culminated in a wall-scraper of a home run by Joey Gallo. We tried to mount a comeback against Aroldis Chapman in the ninth, but it wasn’t to be (even though he found himself on the IL after the game, clearly suffering from some sort of injury or arm fatigue). Team RISP: 2/9.

Chock up Friday to another game blown by the bullpen. Again, the offense didn’t give us much leeway, but we DID hold a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth. Marco Gonzales was a wizard out there, throwing 6.2 innings of scoreless ball. Joe Smith got the final out of the seventh, leading us to bring in Diego Castillo. He promptly walked two guys and hit a third to load the bases, for Judge to hit a sac fly to tie it. It could’ve been so much worse, but Stanton hit into a double play to end the threat. The game eventually went into extras. Both teams scored one in the tenth; only the Yankees scored in the eleventh. That’s how you get to a 3-2 ballgame. Team RISP: 2/8.

The Mariners had a 4-1 lead after two innings on Saturday; I think you can see what’s coming next. Chris Flexen pitched five outstanding innings in this one, just giving up an Aaron Judge homer in the first. However, he was allowed to start the sixth inning and promptly gave up a 2-run bomb to Rougned Odor without getting another out. Anthony Misiewicz and shoddy defense finished the job that very inning, giving up the go-ahead runs to the Yankees. The 5-4 score remained as is through the rest of the game. Team RISP: 1/7.

We were able to salvage a 2-0 victory on Sunday thanks to five scoreless innings by Kikuchi (the team seemingly learning its lessen from the Flexen debacle the night prior, not having him pitch into the sixth). Sewald was a man possessed, striking out 4 of 5 batters faced. And Drew Steckenrider got the 2-inning save! We didn’t score until the eighth, when a Seager double and Raleigh single brought home the game’s only runs. Team RISP: 2/8.

It’s hard to see the Yankees as anything but our kryptonite, given the way they’ve handled us this season. Especially this series, they shut us down in the two ways we were most effective: our bullpen, and our clutch hitting. In case you weren’t following along, the Mariners’ hitters were a whopping 7 for 32 with runners in scoring position, WELL below our season averages. On top of that, as you saw, the bullpen was responsible for all three losses.

Now, I don’t know if Graveman would’ve been able to stop the bleeding in EVERY game, or if he even would’ve been effective against this lineup, but it sure felt like we were destined to lose this series from the jump. Regardless, it’s not anyone’s fault in that bullpen for the way the offense went in the tank.

As was discussed up top, the Mariners have dug themselves quite a wild card hole. All hope isn’t lost, but the team better get hot in a hurry. Starting tomorrow, as the lowly Rangers come to town. Probably need to sweep that 3-game set. Then, we have our top three pitchers going against the Blue Jays (who won’t have the throngs of Canadians coming into our country – due to borders being closed – but I’m sure it’ll still be a solidly road team-favored crowd). That’s as good of an opportunity as we’ll get to face off against another of our wild card rivals. Picking up a game would be in order here, though sweeping this series would also be ideal. I’d love to see the Mariners get to 5-1 in this homestand in some way, shape, or form (ideally sweeping away the Blue Jays, if I had to pick one).

Then, we turn right back around to hit the road in Texas, with three against the Rangers and three against the Astros, before a quick 2-game jaunt down in Oakland. All of those will be vitally important.

Indeed, all the games the rest of the way are vitally important. We have 49 games left to go. We’re 59-54. Just to get to 90 wins, we’d have to go 31-18; that seems like the bare minimum to get one of the wild card spots, though I’d feel a lot safer if we got to 95 wins. That’s an absurd finish of 36-13. Possible, but not very probable.

Here’s why it COULD be possible, though. We have 6 games against the Rangers. We have 6 games against the Diamondbacks. We have 7 games against the Royals. We have 6 games against the Angels, who are injured beyond belief. That’s 25 games right there against teams we absolutely should beat. Then, there’s the three against the Blue Jays and Red Sox, and 9 more against the A’s; all wild card contenders. That brings our total games against teams we either should beat, or could beat, to 40. The remaining 9 games are against the Astros, who are always tough to beat, but it’s not like it’s impossible. We’re 4-6 in the season series so far. If we can go 5-4 against the Astros, that means we have to go 26-14 against everyone else to get to 90 wins (do-able), or 31-9 to get to 95 wins (extremely difficult, but again, not totally unheard of).

There’s always a team that gets hot around this time every year. Why couldn’t it be the Mariners this time around?

The Mariners Continued Beating Up On The Rays

It would’ve been crazy to sweep the Rays a second time this season, but I’m just happy the Mariners got the series win. Keep on punchin’.

After the disaster that was the Rangers series, it was nice to have Chris Flexen going on Monday to calm things down. He went 6.2 innings, giving up 2 runs, which was plenty good since we amassed an 8-2 lead by that point. The score wouldn’t change from there.

France, Haniger, Crawford, and Fraley all had multi-hit games, including a double and a homer for France (who accounted for 3 RBI). Fraley had 2 RBI, and Seager and Kelenic had 1 RBI each. This was a thorough drubbing, with Joe Smith getting 4 scoreless outs to (so far) be a value-add to this team since the Graveman deal with the Astros. Speaking of which, Abraham Toro had a walk and a run scored to continue being the steal of the trade deadline.

Yusei Kikuchi followed that up with a quality start of his own, going 6 innings, giving up 2 runs (1 earned), even though he didn’t really have his greatest stuff. He spread out 6 hits and 2 walks while limiting the damage just enough to keep us in it while we amassed all of 4 runs to take the game 4-2. There was some nice lockdown bullpen work with Sadler, Sewald, and Castillo going Hold, Hold, Save over the final three innings.

I’m interested in seeing what Sewald’s role will be the rest of the way. Castillo really does give off a Fernando Rodney Experience vibe, which is usually effective, but mostly heart attack-inducing. Since Sewald very clearly appears to be the best reliever on this team, it would be nice if we continued to use him in the highest leverage situations, whether that means going the 7th, 8th, or 9th innings. I hope Castillo is okay with sometimes getting saddled with a non-save situation every now and then, because I feel like this is what needs to happen for the Mariners to maximize their bullpen’s potential. With the promise of so many more close games, it’s going to be necessary to blow as few of them as possible.

Toro and Kelenic each had homers in this one, with Toro scoring 2 runs on the day, and Cal Raleigh hitting in two runners on a sac fly and a fielder’s choice.

Unfortunately, we didn’t quite have enough to get the sweep, losing yesterday afternoon by a score of 4-3. Logan Gilbert had just the one bad inning, giving up 3 runs total over five. 4 hits isn’t bad; 4 walks is far from ideal. We might’ve been able to take this to extras, but Steckenrider gave up a solo bomb in the sixth to Mike Zunino, and our late rally fell JUST short. Crawford and Haniger combined for 5 of our 7 hits, and 2 of our 3 runs; Toro also had another hit and walk.

In 8 games since the trade, Toro has safely reached in every one. He’s hit 12/28 (.429), with 3 doubles, 3 homers, 5 RBI, and 8 runs scored. I mean, it’s silly how good he’s been in such a short time! He’s already almost equalled the WAR he had in 35 games with Houston this year!

Next up: 4 games in New York against the Yankees before we return home. The Yankees notoriously mash against left-handed pitching. So, great news! Three of our four projected starters are lefties! If we win one of these games, it’ll be a miracle.

The Mariners Traded For Diego Castillo

We learned about this one in the early evening hours yesterday, and the first tweet I saw about it – from a non-reporter – was something to the effect of, “Ho-hum, this guy’s just whatever, he’s no Kendall Graveman.” I mean, that’s very possible; he could come here and totally shit the bed, just like countless other relievers have done throughout the years, but I feel like that’s still residual reaction from the vitriol incited by the Graveman trade more than it is an accurate reflection of that person’s feelings on this deal in a vacuum.

Diego Castillo looks like he has amazing stuff! A fastball that hits triple digits, and a slider that sits in the low-90’s? Does that remind you of someone we recently traded away in the Robinson Cano deal, who was seen as the real prize of that acquisition? As we’ve seen from Edwin Diaz since putting on a Mets uniform, that combination isn’t a guarantee of a sub-1.00 ERA forever. But, I would argue that Kendall Graveman’s stuff isn’t going to remain in that otherworldly realm forever either. He’s bound to return to normal and start blowing some saves. At which point, he’ll be no better or worse than Diego Castillo.

Yes, Castillo blows some saves every now and again. That’s going to happen to just about anyone who isn’t having an unsustainably lucky/flukey season. But he’s also – assuming he stays healthy, which is a big assumption; given how hard he throws, his arm could blow at any time – going to be good-to-great most of the time. On top of which, he’s just entering his Arbitration years, meaning we can keep him for the next three seasons after this one.

He cost us J.T. Chargois – a guy we picked up off the scrap heap before this season – and Austin Shenton, a third base prospect (who, it sounds like, doesn’t have the defensive acumen to stick at third base). Think “Ty France Type” as his ultimate ceiling. So, you know, that’s tough – it sounds like he’s got the hitting part down – but this is also the first I’ve ever heard of him, so he couldn’t have been THAT elite of a prospect.

I know, I know, “what I don’t know could fill a book.” Speaking of which … it also comes in Kindle.

The Rays apparently love Chargois’ stuff, but I think they mostly like his cheapness (he’s not arbitration-eligible until 2023, so they could easily flip him this time next year if they’re so inclined). And, I’m sure they’ll get the most out of that Shenton guy, but I still like this deal for the Mariners.

Taken as a whole, it’s a Graveman for Castillo swap (a guy who’s a free agent at the end of this season, vs. a guy who will be here for three years BEYOND this season); a Rafael Montero for Joe Smith swap (two duds, but at least we’re able to recoup something for the Montero debacle); and a Shenton for Abraham Toro swap (a guy who just this year made it to the AA level, vs. a guy who is a Major League-ready prospect right now and could take a leap forward at any time); plus two prospects for Tyler Anderson (guys likely to never have much of an impact on this game, vs. a viable starting pitcher we can use starting this weekend in our push to make the playoffs).

I don’t know about you, but to me that looks like Jerry Dipoto sticking to his plan: going for it in 2021, while at the same time not sacrificing our major pieces of this rebuild.

Look, I think we learned A LOT about this team over this most recent homestand. It wasn’t a total success – we didn’t hit that 5-2 mark that I’d talked about – but it wasn’t a total failure either. It was a 4-3 homestand. If I’m being honest, kind of what I expected, in some way, shape, or form. We learned that the Mariners are indeed in contention for one of the 2021 Wild Card spots (3-1 against the A’s, one of the favorites to be in that play-in game), but we also learned that the Mariners probably aren’t in contention for the A.L. West (a lucky 1-2 against the Astros), and probably aren’t one of the elites.

Have you seen the deals they’re swinging in New York and Los Angeles? The Yankees and Dodgers are going ALL-IN on 2021 like nothing I can remember! These are mega, MEGA blockbuster trades, made by teams who are there. They’re not rebuilding, they’re BUILT. And they’re throwing any and all available minor league prospects away to get the superstars they need. And, you know what? They probably still have great farm systems plugging away behind those guys they just jettisoned! That’s what happens. That’s what success looks like.

Sure, the Mariners have a Top 5 or Top 10 farm system now, but I would argue that’s mostly top-heavy, with guys who are either in the Major Leagues right now (Kelenic, Raleigh, Gilbert), or guys who are a year or two away (J-Rod, Kirby, maybe Hancock). Now, I think it’s definitely deeper than it’s been in the last 15-20 years, but it’s not a well-oiled machine like the Yankees and Dodgers have been producing for decades. Until we get THERE, the topic of going All-In really means something. It means totally depleting what we’ve built in the minors. So, we better be good and fucking sure that we’re ready to contend NOT JUST FOR A WILD CARD SPOT, but the whole fuckin’ thing. I’m not interested in mortgaging our future just to break the playoff drought for a single-elimination play-in game. I want to be regarded as among the greats, the Astros and Dodgers and the like. I want a fucking World Series championship in my lifetime; is that too much to ask?!

So, I’m fine with these cursory deals. These players on the edge of the roster. Little upgrades here and there, while still taking shots on guys like Toro to be bigger pieces of the puzzle. While it hurts losing Graveman from a morale standpoint, you can’t say we threw him away for nothing. Castillo mitigates that loss considerably (I hope). Toro gives us a boost at second base for now (again, I hope). And we brought in a starter who couldn’t be any worse than the Bullpen Days and sub-replacement level guys we’ve been starting (almost definitely).

But, this whole “contention” business was always going to hinge on the players we have on the active roster right now, continuing to play out of their fucking minds. To be the clutchest motherfuckers on the planet. To mostly get hits with runners in scoring position, and to be the winningest team in one-run games in the Major Leagues. There’s no crazy amount of deals that was going to turn this Mariners team into that Astros team. This is it. You need the J.P. Crawfords and Dylan Moores and Cal Raleighs and Mitch Hanigers and Ty Frances and Luis Torrenses to lead the way. You need this starting rotation – held together by duct tape and fishing line – to keep us in most every ballgame. And you need this bullpen to be lockdown 9 times out of 10. Hell, maybe even 10 times out of 10, since we’re in the home stretch.

Two months to go! We are 55-48 heading into the dog days of summer. We’re 2.5 games behind the Athletics for the second wild card spot. We’re a mere 1 game ahead of the Yankees, and would you look at that! We go to their ballpark to play them on this upcoming road trip we’re on. Considering the way they manhandled us at T-Mobile Park, on top of their additions of Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo (a notorious Mariners-killer with Texas), I expect we won’t be too happy with what happens at Yankee Stadium.

But, you know, once an optimist, always an optimist.

The Mariners Probably Should’ve Been Swept By The Astros

There’s an obvious narrative going around that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. It goes as follows: the Mariners were one of the hottest teams in the league – having won four in a row over their immediate divisional rivals ahead of them in the standings – then they traded their apparent Heart & Soul of the team, Kendall Graveman, and all of a sudden are now in the tank, having lost two straight. It’s further punctuated by the fact that their last victory was an amazing come-from-behind affair where the M’s were down 7-0 before coming all the way back in dramatic fashion to win 11-8 (where, again, Graveman got the win and played a role in getting us to the point where we took the lead).

But, you know what I see when I look at this series against the Astros? I see three games the Mariners should’ve lost, and we were lucky to get the win we got.

Coming back from a 7-run deficit is as flukey as it gets. That was followed immediately by a game where we gave up a 3-spot in the top of the first and eventually found ourselves down 8-2 before coming back to lose 8-6. And then, of course, the finale saw us lose 11-4 in a game we were never even competitive in.

I mean, you can argue the wind was taken out of the team’s sails by the disappointment of seeing Graveman go to the opposing team’s clubhouse, but I think that notion is thwarted because on the very same day as the trade, you still saw this team scratch and claw to get 4 runs in the final 4 innings to make it interesting.

No, what this series featured was a clinic in disappointing Mariners starting pitching.

Monday was a disaster from the jump, as Darren McCaughan was making his Major League starting debut (recall he had pitched in the week prior, coming in after Keynan Middleton shit the bed as the Opener). McCaughan followed up his five no-hit innings by giving up 6 runs in the first in this one, ultimately managing to last 4 innings, giving up 7 runs, before being almost immediately sent back down to the minors. In case you were wondering why the Mariners traded for mediocre starter Tyler Anderson, this is why. This and all the previous Bullpen Days, where the Mariners amassed a whopping 1-8 record.

The Mariners started mounting their comeback in the bottom of the fourth, immediately after the Astros scored their 7th run, with a Cal Raleigh 3-run double. The Astros got one back in the top of the fifth to make it 8-3, but Kyle Seager hit a 3-run homer in the bottom half to cut it to 8-6. Then, Shed Long hit an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth to make it a 1-run game, and you know what the Mariners do in 1-run games!

Well, usually it’s “win them”, but this time they turned it into a 3-run victory thanks to a grand slam by Dylan Moore in the bottom of the 8th inning.

To set the stage, Middleton pitched in this one as well, giving up that 8th Astros run. But, the bullpen was nails from there. Erik Swanson pitched two scoreless innings. Kendall Graveman came in for the 8th – Mariners down a run – and kept the score where it was. He doesn’t often come in when the M’s are trailing, but there was blood in the water and Scott Servais was pulling out all the stops.

Anyway, France singled to lead off the bottom of the 8th, but then two quick outs followed. Things looked grim. Jarred Kelenic – who really hasn’t been a whole lot better since being called back up – managed to work a walk. Tom Murphy – the third catcher used in this one – pinch hit for Shed Long and also walked, to load the bases. That brought up Moore, who jacked a high fastball (“fastball” in quotes, because this guy didn’t have much velo) to the upper deck in left field, knowing he had it all the way.

Fireworks continued from there, as the Astros reliever pretty clearly went headhunting for the very next batter, in this case J.P. Crawford. The pitcher would be ejected, after some choice curse words and yelling from Servais. Crawford would immediately be picked off at first, before the next reliever – now a Mariner, Joe Smith – even threw a pitch.

Paul Sewald – presumably our closer going forward – got the final three outs of the game to send everyone home happy.

That, my friends, was the environment everyone was walking into the next day, when the Graveman trade was announced. And, like clockwork, Chris Flexen showed up with a rare clunker: 4 innings, 7 runs. Nope, this wasn’t a rerun of the night before, he was literally as bad as a guy who got demoted to AAA the very same day. Hector Santiago returned from his suspension to throw 2 innings of 1-run ball, and the rest of the bullpen was scoreless from there (including Joe Smith throwing a clean inning), but 8 runs is clearly too much. You can’t expect an 11-run outburst every fucking day.

Nevertheless, Seager had a 2-run homer in the first, Kelenic had a 2-run single in the sixth, and newcomer Abraham Toro hit a 2-run homer in the ninth. You’d love to be undefeated in games where you score 6 runs, but unfortunately that’s baseball for you.

Yusei Kikuchi wasn’t QUITE as bad yesterday, but he only went 5 innings, giving up 4 runs (3 earned). On top of that, the bullpen was atrocious, as it will be from time to time, giving up 7 runs the rest of the way.

There was another Seager homer, another Toro homer, and a Kelenic bases loaded walk to give us our 4 runs. But, obviously, not enough.

Some bright spots include Seager being hot, and Toro hitting his fourth homer in four games (two with the Astros, two with the Mariners). Toro being good and shoring up the second base spot would be a great fix for the team’s chemistry woes at the moment. Him eventually taking over the starting third base job in 2022 and beyond would make this Graveman trade one of the all-time greats. So, you know, maybe stop pissing all over yourselves to dump on it.

Today’s an off-day before tomorrow’s trade deadline, so I expect to see lots of moves happening soon. Some of the rumors are CRAZY, so it’ll be really interesting to see how far Mariners management goes in trying to Win Now.

Is This Happening? Mariners Took 3 of 4 From Athletics

Last week, when I talked about the Mariners being in contention if they go 5-2 against the Athletics and Astros, I know there’s a number of ways to get to 5-2, but what I specifically had in mind was a 3-1 series win against the A’s and a 2-1 series win against the Astros. Just keep winning series, regardless of whether the teams are great or terrible.

Well, it’s four days later and here we are with a 3-1 series win against the A’s. It could all come crumbling down against a hot Astros team, but for now I’m encouraged.

What this series showed me is that the Mariners are just as good as the Athletics. That’s not insignificant, because Fangraphs still gives the A’s a 41.3% chance of making the playoffs, while the Mariners sit at an abysmal 4.9% (below even the Angels, who are somehow at 9.1%). This is in spite of the fact that the Mariners currently sit 1.5 games behind the A’s (and 4 games ahead of the Angels).

Of course, “as good as” isn’t the same as better. Even though the Mariners won the series – and lead the season series 6 games to 4 – I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say we’re better than the A’s just yet. The Mariners have their issues, and still seem like they’re inordinately lucky, but I refuse to say it’s ALL luck. The Mariners have talent, and they’re extremely strong in a number of key areas (bullpen being the top of the list), and I don’t see that going away anytime soon.

This series got off to a rough start last Thursday, though, as Sean Manaea eats the Mariners for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 7 innings, 1 run (solo homer by Tom Murphy in the 7th), 13 strikeouts. Just outstanding. Over his two appearances against the M’s this year, he’s thrown 16 innings, given up 1 run on 7 hits and 5 walks, while striking out 21. If I never see him mash the living daylights out of the Mariners again, it’ll be too soon.

Chris Flexen was game for a bit, but ultimately gave up 2 runs in 5.1 innings of work. The bullpen did their best, but Rafael Montero once again sucked any joy out of this one, giving up 2 runs in 1 inning of work. That – FINALLY – earned him his walking papers; get a load of this run over his last 8 appearances: 11 innings, 17 runs, 25 hits, 4 walks, 11 strikeouts. That’s an epically atrocious stretch, but that was already on top of a vastly mediocre season. I mean, it’s never a good sign when a team trades for you to be its closer and you blow three saves in the first two weeks of the season. He’s been dubbed the unluckiest pitcher in baseball, but at some point you have to create your own luck, don’t you? By not being totally and completely inept? I have no doubt whatsoever that Rafael Montero will be picked up by another team and immediately reverse his fortunes. If not the rest of this year, then definitely in 2022 (and possibly beyond). At which point, I will be annoyed, but not surprised.

With that unpleasantness behind us, the Mariners started kicking asses and taking names.

Friday night saw the return of Yusei Kikuchi and his Quality Starts: 6 innings, 3 runs, 12 strikeouts. It was a shame he had to leave with a no decision, because he was dealing in this one. But, at the same time, it was frustrating to see him blow a 3-0 lead.

Cal Raleigh hit his first career Major League home run, 444 feet to right center, to put us up 2-0. Luis Torrens immediately followed with a solo homer (all in the 2nd inning), to keep his string of hotness going. With this Mariners team, giving us a tie game heading into the 7th is everything you could ask for. Both starters were out of the game by that point, and I’ll put our bullpen up against anyone’s. Indeed, the combo of Erik Swanson, Paul Sewald, and Kendall Graveman shut it down from there. While, the A’s gagged this away in hilarious fashion.

With two outs in the bottom of the 7th, Dylan Moore reached on an infield single. He stole second base pretty easily (against a left-handed pitcher, no less), before advancing all the way home on two separate wild pitches. That was it! 4-3 Mariners win!

Saturday’s game showed you how much the Mariners wanted this one. The whole weekend really had a playoff vibe, from the way the teams played, to the way the managers managed, to how into it the fans were in the stands. I had high hopes for Logan Gilbert – making his third start against the A’s in his young career – but he struggled wildly, unable to get out of the third inning after throwing 40-something pitches in that frame alone. Yet, when it was said and done, after three full innings, the Mariners were only down 3-2.

Mitch Haniger was a man possessed in this one, as he hit two home runs and was a few feet away from hitting a third (settling for a double off the wall). Indeed, he scored three of our first four runs and staked us to a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fifth.

That looked like it might’ve been enough, but Drew Steckenrider gave up a hard-luck solo homer around the right field foul pole to a backup catcher going the other way in the 7th inning to tie it back up. That’s one of those bad omens you’d see countless times by the Mariners that would totally derail everything. Indeed, my instincts as a Mariners fan kicked in and I was convinced we’d lose it late.

But, the bullpen kept the game tied into the bottom of the 9th, where Luis Torrens led off with a single against the Athletics’ closer. Kelenic walked to move the pinch runner to second. Then, after a Shed Long strikeout, Jake Bauers walked to load the bases. After a J.P. Crawford fielder’s choice – with the infield drawn in – got the runner out at home, that set up Haniger to be the hero once again.

Except: surprise! The hero was, I shit you not, another wild pitch! Kelenic was able to easily scamper home and give us the walk-off 5-4 victory. Two games in a row where the winning run was scored late on a wild pitch; what are the odds?!

I was busy on Sunday and missed the finale; it sounds like I missed a great one! Marco Gonzales was on the hill – better the A’s than having him face the Astros, I’ll tell you that much – and he was okay. 5.2 innings, 2 runs. You’re really not asking him for much more than that, given the season he’s had so far.

Thankfully, the hitters didn’t hang him out to dry, putting up 4 runs in the bottom of the third to take a 4-2 lead to the bullpens. Seager, Torrens, and Murphy were the offensive heroes in this one, giving the Mariners just enough. Casey Sadler returned from the IL over the weekend – he was the guy taking Montero’s spot on the roster – and was dominant on Saturday, before getting touched up for a solo homer on Sunday. That was it, though, as the bullpen once again was phenomenal.

Tough break on this Astros series though, needing Darren McCaughan to make the spot start later today. It’s kind of difficult to see us winning this one, which would require us to win the next two games in a row to win the series. Not impossible, of course, but you always hate to lose that first game of a series. It doesn’t always turn out so amazingly – like it did against the A’s.

Then, after an off-day on Thursday, the Mariners embark on a massive 10-game road trip to Texas, Tampa, and New York. I know the Rangers are awful – and we get to see them a lot in the next month – but the Rays and Yankees are elite, and should pose significant tests. Are the Mariners REALLY a playoff team? Well, how we fare against the Astros, Rays, and Yankees will go a long way in determining if we are or not.