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 Red Sox Were The Straw That Broke The Mariners’ Back

It’s funny how two days can totally change the outlook of your entire season.

On Monday, the Mariners prevailed 5-4 over the Red Sox and pulled to within two games of the second wild card spot, with two more games to go against the very team they needed to overtake. Logan Gilbert gave us six hard-fought innings, holding the Red Sox to two runs. It was pretty impressive, given his struggles this year. You could argue two of his best games were against the Red Sox this week, and that Yankees start where he went 7 innings of 1-hit ball; that’s two formidable national opponents who he absolutely handled.

Diego Castillo got through the seventh, just in time for Mitch Haniger to hit a 3-run tie-breaking homer (all three runs unearned thanks to some timely terrible Red Sox defense). Paul Sewald gave up back-to-back solo homers to give the game its final score, but Drew Steckenrider got the save in the ninth. Kudos to Haniger for going 4 for 4, and J.P. Crawford going 3 for 4.

There was reason for hope on Tuesday night, though the final third of the game saw to it to crush our hearts. Tyler Anderson gutted his way through 4.1 innings, limiting the Red Sox to just one run. They were starting to get to him in the fourth and fifth innings, and with the Mariners’ offense struggling (we managed to take a short-lived 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth), I thought Scott Servais made the right move in getting Anderson out of there and going to his bullpen. Casey Sadler got us out of a jam in the fifth, but things went downhill quickly from there.

For some reason, Servais decided to go to Anthony Misiewicz in the sixth. The Red Sox had JUST seen a ho-hum lefty all day, and here they were getting a shot against another ho-hum lefty. Misiewicz got through the first two batters unscathed, but the wheels fell off and when the inning was over, the game was tied.

Servais then went to Joe Smith – the guy I would’ve thrown in there instead of Misiewicz – and he did what he was supposed to do: 1 inning of shutout ball. Unfortunately, Servais then opted to try to squeeze a second inning out of Joe Smith, which proved fatal. A leadoff triple in the top of the eighth sealed Smith’s fate. Drew Steckenrider was tasked with trying to prevent that runner from scoring; he managed one harmless groundout (sandwiched around two harmful walks) before a double cleared the bases. I had given up on the game by this point, so I couldn’t tell you what happened after that, other than the M’s lost 8-4.

The M’s would lose the finale on Wednesday 9-4. Once again, we got what we needed from our starter – 6 innings, 3 runs from Marco Gonzales – but pretty much the entire bullpen seems to be running out of gas, down to the last man. Sadler, Sewald, and Castillo got us to extra innings, but of course the offense kept shitting all over itself. A combination of Swanson, Sheffield, and Ramirez gave up 6 runs in the tenth inning to seal our fate. Why would we go to Sheffield with no outs, the bases loaded, and losing by a run? I can only assume the lack of Mariners offense has led to lesions on Servais’ brain, because he’s the LAST guy you’d go to in that situation, unless your intent was to blow the whole game to kingdom come.

That loss drops us to 78-68. We are an impossible 7.5 games behind the Astros in the A.L. West; we’re also a whopping 4 games out of the wild card, with three teams we’d have to leap over. All of this with 16 games left in the season. Sure, there are 9 winnable games against teams under .500 (three at the Royals this weekend, then six more against the Angels), and the other 7 games are against ONE of our wild card foes – the Oakland A’s – but that’s just too big of a mountain to climb in too short of time.

What a brutal last three weeks. If you want to know where the season went wrong, go back to that first Royals game on August 26th. Heading into that game, we were 11 games over .500, with 10 games against bottom-feeders in those very Royals, as well as the Diamondbacks. We managed to go 5-5 in those games; unforgivable. We somehow managed to go 3-3 against the Astros – which is great, for us – but then this Red Sox series slapped us right back down again. Every time we got on a little roll, we’d drop a brutal series in agonizing fashion. We had to win this Red Sox series, minimum, and we had to go at least 8-2 in those games against the bottom-feeders. Do that, and we’d be right there in the mix. We didn’t, and now the playoffs have slipped away.

There will be time for post-mortems after the season is officially over, but these next two and a half weeks feel like the walking dead. It’ll be interesting if we can end things on a high note, or if we really fall apart.

The Mariners Extended Dipoto & Servais As They Try To Contend Down The Stretch

After just totally biffing it against the Royals, the Mariners played three winnable games against the Astros, winning two of them in shutout fashion.

The only loss was in the series opener on Monday, where we bafflingly blew it in the 8th by turning a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 loss. Chris Flexen didn’t have his greatest stuff, but still pitched into the sixth inning, giving up just 2 runs. Casey Sadler locked it down through the 7th, giving us just enough time to take that all-too-brief lead in the bottom of the sixth.

The Astros scored their first two runs in the 1st inning, making the Flexen performance even more impressive. Jose Marmolejos – back with the Mariners after going on the warpath with the Rainiers for much of the season – hit a solo homer in his first at bat to make it 2-1. That’s where it remained until Dylan Moore – pinch hitting for Marmolejos – jacked a 2-run homer to make everyone happy.

But, then Joe Smith was tasked with handling the 8th inning. I don’t totally get it. Was Drew Steckenrider simply unavailable? Did Scott Servais lose his mind? Either way, shaky defense and even shakier pitching meant Smith gave up three singles and two runs, before he was pulled for Yohan Ramirez to get the final two outs of the inning. The Mariners were toast from there.

Tuesday saw Yusei Kikuchi take the mound, desperately needing a quality start to help save his Mariners career. And, to his credit, he went out and dominated: 7 shutout innings, giving up 4 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 4. His fastball was lively, he threw it often, and he got ahead of hitters; when he’s able to do that, good things tend to result.

The game was, nevertheless, scoreless as we headed into the bottom of the eighth. Paul Sewald got the job done in the top half against the top of the lineup, setting the stage for Kendall Graveman, who was making his first appearance in Seattle since the infamous deadline deal.

Graveman still has electric stuff, but the Mariners put a tough challenge on him. J.P. Crawford led off the inning with a walk, Seager singled after a Haniger strikeout, and Ty France was hit on the forearm to load the bases. The table was set … for Abraham Toro of all people, the very centerpiece the Mariners got back in return in the Graveman deal.

Toro got in a 1-2 hole early, whiffing hard on Graveman’s sinkers. But, he finally started making contact – fouling off three pitches while working the count even – before unloading on a sinker in the inner-middle of the plate for a grand slam. It was glorious! I’m not going to say the Mariners won the trade in that single at-bat – lord knows this bullpen has been plenty fallible in Graveman’s absence – but I’ve been a fan of Toro since we got him, and that further cements in my mind the value he brings to this team, both this season and in the years to come.

It was Graveman’s first loss of the season – and it dented his ERA pretty good – but he’s still been wildly effective for the Astros since going over there. Just, you know, not against the Mariners. Against us, he’s gone 1.1 innings and given up 5 runs. Shit, maybe he WAS the world’s greatest teammate! He’s so good, he’s STILL helping us win ballgames!

If the 4-0 shutout was impressive, Wednesday’s 1-0 shutout was truly remarkable. Logan Gilbert – another starter who’s struggled over the last month – went 5 shutout innings, giving up 4 hits & 0 walks, while striking out 4. Again, lots of fastballs and he did a good job of staying ahead of hitters.

This game saw the return of Justus Sheffield, now a reliever since his return from the IL. I don’t know if that’s a permanent move, or if that’s even a role he’s well-suited for, but he got through his one inning unscathed to get the win. Because we scored our lone run in the bottom of the sixth, thanks to a Crawford single, walks by Haniger and France, and a sac fly to center off the bat of – you guessed it – Abraham Toro. It wasn’t a deep fly ball by any means, but with Crawford’s speed – and the sun wreaking havoc on the outfielder – it was long enough.

Then, it was shutdown time. Sadler did his job in the 7th. Steckenrider returned to get two outs in the 8th (before putting two runners on), which necessitated Paul Sewald going in there for the 4-out save. Which he managed heroicly, striking out three guys in the process (while only getting into a little trouble in the 9th before slamming the door shut).

It’s a bummer we didn’t manage to take all three games – because at this point in the season, we could’ve really used the boost – but winning this series was very impressive the way we did it. The Astros have the best offense in baseball, and we absolutely shut them down!

Before the game on Wednesday, it was announced that Jerry Dipoto was extended (and promoted to President of Baseball Operations). Essentially, he’s still the GM, and he still reports to the owner, John Stanton, but clearly this is a big endorsement of his rebuild. It was simultaneously announced that Scott Servais was also extended to continue managing the ballclub; the terms for their contracts were not disclosed, so it’s unknown how long they’re under contract for.

I don’t really know of anyone who thinks Servais is a bad manager. Quite the contrary, I think most of us are really impressed with how hard he gets his guys to play for him, even when they’re lacking in talent compared to some of the elite teams around baseball. We might get blown out here and there – that’s going to happen – but we tend to be IN most of these games at the very least, and as far as the last two seasons are concerned, winning much more of them than anyone would’ve predicted.

I like Servais. I don’t have a lot of regard for managers in baseball in general; I think, for the most part, these teams sort of manage themselves. They get too much of the blame when things go wrong, and probably an appropriate amount of the credit when things go right. But, you can really see how Servais has built the culture here. It’s different than it was under Lloyd McClendon, Don Wakamatsu, Eric Wedge, and on and on dating back to the glory days of Lou Piniella. Honestly, Servais might be the best manager in all of baseball right now, and I’ve been saying for a while: I’d LOVE to see what he does with a team that’s as talented as the Astros or Dodgers or Yankees.

And, for what it’s worth, I do think Servais makes a high percentage of the correct calls when it comes to sticking with a pitcher vs. pulling him for a fresh arm. I mean, that probably has a lot to do with the analytics department, but it’s a credit to Servais that he actually follows the numbers and not just his fucking gut (*cough* Lloyd McClendon *cough*).

As for Dipoto, he’s MUCH more divisive. Fans seem to either love him and lap up the Kool Aid like the thirsty sheep that they are; or fans seem to hate him and want to ride him out of town on a rail.

I’m in the middle. If I had my druthers, we would’ve backed up the Brinks truck to Theo Epstein’s house and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse YEARS ago. But, obviously, that’s never happening. We hired Dipoto after the 2015 season, and while his moves have been hit-or-miss, I think there’s a lot unexplained from his tenure. He inherited an aging roster that was still trying to break the playoff drought. How much did ownership hamper him when it comes to tearing it all down back then and rebuilding immediately? I would argue they meddled quite a bit, with guys like Felix, Cruz, Cano, and Seager playing at the tops of their games.

It wasn’t until after the 2018 season – when we won 89 games, but again fell well short of making the playoffs – that we FINALLY committed to a real, official rebuild. I would say, by and large, Dipoto’s moves before that point were largely disappointing and underwhelming. Again, how much was he hampered by ownership, who likely limited his spending? I would argue quite a bit, with Felix’s dying contract, Seager’s bloated deal, and Cano’s albatross hanging around our neck.

I contend that SINCE the end of the 2018 season, Dipoto has been largely on fire with his trades, his under-the-radar dart-throw free agent signings, and his draft picks. In that time, he turned around a farm system that was one of the worst – if not THE worst – in all of baseball, into one of the best this year (including one publication ranking us #1 overall). The trade of Cano & Edwin Diaz for Jarred Kelenic (and others) is the big draw. But, he also pulled off the Austin Nola deal (for Ty France and Luis Torrens) and the aforementioned Graveman deal for Toro.

It hasn’t worked out perfectly since then. The Mariners really bottomed out in 2019, for instance. But, we played much better in a COVID-shortened 2020 season. And, this year, we find ourselves firmly in contention for a wild card spot with a month left to play.

You can argue that many of the young position players are failing to make the leap from AAA to the Major Leagues, but if that’s Dipoto’s fault, then it’s also on all the scouts and pundits who continue to laud these players as among the most talented of all the prospects coming up in the last two years. They’re still young-enough in their careers to turn things around. Plus, there are more prospects where they came from if they do, indeed, fail at this level.

On top of which, the Mariners have cheaped out long enough. It sounds like after having this year to analyze the guys we’ve got, the purse strings are going to be loosened, allowing us to go out and make some splashy free agent deals. Between that, and the trades we can make by having one of the best farm systems in baseball, as long as we don’t fuck things up COMPLETELY, we should be watching the Seattle Mariners in the post-season sooner rather than later.

So, no, I’m not a Jerry Dipoto hater. But, I’m also not drinking the Kool Aid completely either. He still needs to finish the job. Lots of teams throughout baseball have been in the position we’re in now. VERY few actually manage to morph into World Series champions, let alone enjoy the kind of sustained success you see out of teams like the Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox.

I’ll fully believe it when I see it. Don’t do what the Mariners always do: get swindled in trades for mediocre veterans who come here and shit the bed. DO do what good teams do: ship off shaky prospects for quality starters, and let’s go win us a fucking World Series title!

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 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.

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.

The First Place Mariners Played A Couple Of Doubleheaders In Baltimore

And won three of four! Ain’t that some shit?!

If you thought I had zero interest in the M’s going back to Minnesota later this year for any rainout make-up games, I REALLY had no interest in them going back to Baltimore! There were somehow two rainouts – on Monday, and again on Wednesday – that necessitated two 7-inning doubleheaders (on Tuesday and Thursday, naturally). The largest margin of victory was two runs, in case you saw that I just told you the Mariners won three of four and thought it might have been some dominating week of baseball. It was fine, but these teams are a lot closer to one another in talent level – at least, at the moment – than you like to see.

The first game saw a solid outing out of Justus Sheffield – 6 innings, 2 runs, on 3 hits, 2 walks, with 5 strikeouts – and he would’ve got the win if it weren’t for the third blown save of the young season by Rafael Montero. Look, this is probably just who he is. I don’t think he’s going to be 50% saves, 50% blown saves for the entire season (I mean, obviously, if he keeps blowing them, he won’t be our closer anymore), but I do think he’s shaky and will continue to be so.

France, Murphy, and Haniger helped the Mariners build an early 3-0 lead in the first couple innings. Sheffield gave up a 2-run homer in the fifth, but was able to get through six innings with the lead intact. Montero actually got two quick outs before giving up a double and a single to tie it in the bottom of the seventh. From there, he was able to wiggle out of it to send the game into extras.

Kyle Seager was once again the late-game hero, doubling in the 8th to score Haniger from second to take the lead. From there, Graveman was able to lock it down for his first save of the season.

The second game was wild! Nick Margevicius got the start and was hampered severely by a third inning that saw him give up four unearned runs after the M’s had taken a 4-0 lead in the top half of the inning. Having expended so many pitches to get out of it, he was allowed to start the fourth, but let the first two batters get on before being pulled. They would come around to score, leaving the M’s trailing 6-4.

Sam Haggerty, though, heroically mashed a 2-run homer in the top of the seventh to tie it up! It looked like we might have a double-header replete with extra-innings games! But, sadly (!), after Sadler got two outs, he sort of fell apart and ended up gagging away the game in the bottom half of the inning.

Haniger had three more hits in this one, and Jose Marmolejos – filling in for a banged up Evan White at first base – hit a 3-run home run to stake us to that early lead. Players filling in and helping the team all throughout the roster, it’s wonderful to see!

After the second rainout of the series, the Mariners had to play two on getaway day (that’s two full 7-inning games, followed by an almost-immediate flight from Baltimore to Seattle to play the Astros later tonight; sounds brutal). Marco Gonzales got his third start of the season and promptly gave up a 2-run homer in the first. Here we go. BUT, he settled down nicely, not giving up a hit after the first, the rest of the way, in his five total innings of work. We’re far from ace-level pitching, but it was great to see him settle down like that and get the win.

Mitch Haniger had a 2-run home run in the fifth to tie it up, and J.P. Crawford hit a 2-run double to take the lead in the sixth. Rafael Montero came in for the bottom of the sixth inning – not because he’s lost his closer’s job, but because they want him in there for the highest-leverage situations – to face the heart of the lineup. He got through it while just giving up one harmless hit. Graveman came in for the seventh to get his second save of the series.

I fully expected the Mariners to lose the second game of the doubleheader, but Justin Dunn showed up in a major way! He had much better command, though he did walk two. His stuff was electric, though. He struck out 6 in five innings of work, while only giving up 2 hits and 1 run. Will Vest got the hold and Keynan Middleton locked down his second save of the season in pretty impressive fashion.

It was a 2-1 win, with solo homers by Dylan Moore and Mitch Haniger. Haniger, by the way, is slashing like crazy: .321/.333/.623. You’d like to see more from the on-base percentage, but it’s obviously still insanely early.

Anyway, as the title suggests, the Seattle Mariners – at 8-5 – are in first motherfucking place! How wild is that?! The Angels are right there at 7-5, and the Astros – who come to town severely depleted (thanks to COVID issues) – are 6-6. Also, there are still 149 games to play this season, so it’s really anyone’s race!

What do we make of this start so far? I don’t think the Mariners are elite yet, but I do think they could potentially be among the better of the rest. They’re clearly beating up on teams that are either bad or middle-of-the-road. Being middle-of-the-road themselves is, honestly, probably an upgrade over initial expectations. If they continue to do this, they WILL compete for a Wild Card spot (mostly by default, because there are so many wild card spots, but still).

But, they could also just be really, extremely lucky in these first two weeks. 6 of their 8 wins are by 2 runs or less. The Mariners are 6-1 in games decided by 2 runs or less; that feels extremely unsustainable, especially with Montero seeing the highest-leverage situations. The Mariners are also 3-0 in extra innings games; again, it’s unsustainable. The M’s have a -8 run differential, which is more indicative of a team that would be under .500 in record.

There’s A LOT of noise in the first month of the season, so it’s obviously too early to start declaring trends. But, you know, 8-5 and in first place is fun! So, enjoy it you fucking nerd and quit trying to spot every dark cloud on the horizon!

The Mariners Toppled The Twins

Last Thursday’s 10-2 drubbing of the Mariners by the hot Twins bats feels like a decade ago. We shouldn’t forget about it, though, because that’s the second start in as many outings for Marco Gonzales where he looked decidedly un-ace-like. After giving up 3 walks and 3 homers on Opening Day, Marco gave up two of each to the Twins. His ERA now sits at over 10, and while it’s not time yet to completely panic, there’s a version of Marco out there in the Multiverse who REALLY breaks bad, and this is the start of it all.

I don’t think that’s the Marco of our universe, though. But, I’m not throwing that out with the bathwater, either. I pause because it’s the very start of the season, after an unusually-short 2020 season. His command/control is clearly off, and it just might take him a little bit to get it going again. I hope that’s it, and that he rights the ship in a hurry.

Based on that game, you’d be right to worry about … well, everything! But, then Yusei Kikuchi stepped onto the mound and spun 6 innings of 2-run ball to keep us in it! His only blemish was a 2-run homer by Nelson Cruz (on a pretty good pitch on the outside of the zone, hit the other way over a very high wall), and can you blame him for being mashed by one of the best in the game today? I’m always surprised when Nellie makes an out!

This was a nice little coming-out series for Taylor Trammell, who had his first Major League homer in this one. Haniger also had a solo blast that contributed to the Mariners’ temporary lead. Kyle Seager would also come up big in this series, hitting a go-ahead RBI in the eighth inning before Rafael Montero blew his second save of the season in the bottom of the eighth (why he was in there so early is anyone’s guess; I refuse to research this insignificant detail). Ultimately, Haniger hit the winning sacrifice fly in the tenth to help put this one away. Sadler, Graveman (who also got the win), and Middleton (who ended up with the save) all did their jobs with a scoreless inning of bullpen work each. Lots of help up and down the lineup in this one; it seems like this team – more than most – is going to need the whole “Team Effort” thing to be a big part of their victories this season, at least until the superstars separate themselves. All in all, a nice 4-3 victory for the M’s.

The rubber match on Sunday looked like as big of a lost cause as I’ve seen. I tuned in specifically to see Chris Flexen – because I missed his first start with the M’s – and it was an interesting one! He was in a nasty little jam in the first, but got out of it while giving up only the one run. It looked like he might cruise for a while after that, but the third inning happened with lots of unlucky balls finding grass they shouldn’t have (including a pretty harmful error to help things along). Flexen limited the damage to three more runs (two earned), only to pretty much fall apart in the fifth. In all, he went the five innings, giving up six runs (five earned), while throwing only 84 pitches.

The Mariners were down 6-0 at that point, and I officially switched over to watch The Masters, so I missed the four runs the Mariners scored in the top of the sixth. Including a homer by Seager, and a 3-run blast by Trammell! Once I saw what was happening on Twitter, I switched it back, and was rewarded by a pretty entertaining little comeback!

The Mariners got one more back in the seventh, and it was a 6-5 game until the ninth, when Kyle Seager stepped to the plate with two on, jacking his second homer of the game. The bullpen was truly remarkable in this one. Will Vest went two scoreless, Drew Steckenrider pitched a scoreless eighth to earn his first victory, and Rafael Montero bounced back with his second save of the season, with an easy 9-pitch affair.

It was reasonable to think – before this past weekend – that Trammell might be on a fast track to Tacoma for a long-ish stint in AAA, but hopefully he’s starting to turn a corner. Hopefully success begets success. He’s still sitting with a sub-.200 batting average, so obviously there’s work to be done. But, now pitchers know they’re going to have to be reasonably careful with him. At the very least, I’d love to see what he looks like when Kyle Lewis reclaims his spot in the middle of the order. If nothing else, our outfield coverage should be insane!

Also, props to Kyle Seager for his output so far this season. This is the guy I was hoping to see, as it may be his final year with the team that drafted him.

Wins like these are important to teams like this. That attitude of never saying die or whatever is a pretty big deal when it comes to Scott Servais-managed Mariners squads, which is why I’m really rooting for him to make it through this rebuild unscathed. I do think Servais is one of the good ones; if managers do anything other than decide when to take out pitchers and be scapegoats for underperforming teams, I think they can help breed a culture, and I like the culture he’s breeding here. Given what the Mariners have had to endure in all the years since Lou Piniella was here, it’s HARD to turn around a culture like the one that had set in!

That’s all I got. Four more in Baltimore starting today. They’re pretty bad, the Mariners should be somewhat better, so you’d hope another series win is in the cards, as we get to the real meat of the April schedule coming up.

2021 Mariners Preview Extravaganza: We Have A Rest Of The Team

Yesterday, I wrote about the starting rotation. Today – the day of the Mariners’ first game of the season – I’ll be writing about everything else.

If you’ve been following along all offseason, I’ve already written about most of these guys. But, now we have an official roster, so let’s run through it.

We’re pretty set with the infield:

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Dylan Moore (2B)
  • Evan White (1B)
  • Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)

All healthy, present, and accounted for! All of them, of course, come with question marks. Does Seager have anything left in the late-career resurgence tank? Can Crawford build on his Gold Glove campaign to be a more consistent (and somewhat more powerful) hitter? Was 2020 a mirage for Moore? Will White EVER hit, period? And, is the catcher position as strong as I expect it to be? How many of these guys – if any – will be longterm solutions at their respective positions? I gotta believe that the Next Great Mariners Team has at least a few of these guys playing roles; they can’t ALL still be in the minors or other organizations!

One guy we don’t have to worry about is:

This guy can hit! No notes! Also, since I believe in him so strongly, watch him struggle mightily. This is the way.

The outfield is my favorite part of this team, now and especially in the future. With Kyle Lewis starting on the 10-Day IL, it’s a little underwhelming at the moment, but obviously the M’s have to play it super safe with our 2020 Rookie of the Year.

  • Mitch Haniger (RF)
  • Jake Fraley (CF)
  • Taylor Trammell (LF)
  • Sam Haggerty (INF/OF)
  • Jose Marmolejos (INF/OF)

The story of camp has been Trammell making the Opening Day roster. Not just as an injury replacement to the injured Lewis, but as a legitimate starting left fielder for this team. He’s another one of those great guys we traded for from the Padres last year when we sent them Austin Nola – making us three for three of guys coming over in return making the team in 2021, with France and Torrens – whose prospect stock has fluctuated wildly over the course of his minor league career. But, he appears to be putting it all together now at just the right time: ahead of Kelenic and Rodriguez. This glut of highly-touted outfielders will only make things that much easier for the M’s as they fill out the rest of the roster to try to build a championship ballclub. Of everyone on this 26-man roster, Trammell is the one I’m most excited about.

And Haniger is the one I’m most curious about. He’s had a long road back to full health; at one point in his career he was one of the top 25-or-so players in the American League. It wouldn’t shock me to see him right back in that area; it also wouldn’t shock me to see him totally shit the bed. He no longer seems to be the future of the franchise, but he’s currently the present, and will have every opportunity to rebuild his value in the game of baseball.

Fraley and the rest are just guys. Placeholders until our young superstars return from injury and/or get called up from the minors.

The obvious wildcard on the Mariners is the bullpen:

  • Rafael Montero
  • Kendall Graveman
  • Nick Margevicius
  • Anthony Misiewicz
  • Keynan Middleton
  • Casey Sadler
  • Will Vest
  • Drew Steckenrider

Oof. Like I said, I have avoided learning too much about the bullpen; I’d rather watch them with my own eyes and draw my own conclusions. But, to get me started, I guess I’ll look up some info and regurgitate it here, for my own benefit if nothing else.

The Mariners traded for Rafael Montero from the Rangers in the offseason. He had 8 saves for a terrible Rangers team last year, and I guess figures to be our closer out of the gate? He doesn’t have a ton of Major League experience, but maybe he’s put it all together. We’ll see. He’s not a bad buy-low candidate, at least in the short term.

Graveman we all know. He was here last year, signed to be a starter after missing a lot of time with injuries. He ended up with a neck issue that somehow allows him to throw very hard in short bursts as a reliever, but hampers him too much to go too many innings in a row. I don’t understand this one iota (mostly, I don’t understand why he doesn’t just have some surgical procedure to fix it and return 100% healthy), but whatever. He’s generally pretty good for an inning most of the time, so that makes him a quality set-up candidate in my mind.

Margevicius was neck-and-neck with Justin Dunn for the sixth starter job. He will be one of the long men in the bullpen to eat up innings and keep us in ballgames when a starter falters. He’ll also be the first man to join the rotation if there’s an injury (and there will be an injury). He’s fine, I like him in this role a great deal. He’s also one of just two lefties in the ‘pen, so there should be no shortage of work for him this season.

Misiewicz is presumably our top lefty reliever. We drafted him in 2015 and he made his debut last year. He was pretty good, I think! I dunno, we’ll see I guess.

Keynan “Don’t Call Me Kenyan” Middleton was a free agent signing who played for the Angels’ organization the last four years. His 2020 looked pretty atrocious. The three years prior look better, just as long as you don’t go sniffing around his FIP too hard. He might be just a guy. A cheap guy, but a guy nevertheless. He’s still young enough to put it all together, but don’t hold your breath.

Sadler is a veteran we claimed from the Cubs last year, who has bounced around multiple organizations. He’s someone else with big Just A Guy energy.

Will Vest is a Rule 5 guy we poached from the Tigers this offseason. He will be making his Major League debut this year, which will be somewhat fun! Other than that, I dunno. He’s the Rule 5 guy, that’s the nugget I’m going to keep in my brain and promptly forget as soon as he makes it into an actual game.

Drew Steckenrider sounds like one of those names I always fuck up when it comes to those Lookout Landing Sporcle quizzes asking you to name all the Mariners’ pitchers from a particular season. He came over from the Marlins organization on a minor league deal and was apparently one of the last guys to make the team. He’s another one I’m not holding my breath about.

***

The world is our oyster here! The Mariners could be a Bottom Five team, but I really don’t think that will be the case. There’s a lot of young talent in the organization just waiting to break through. There’s a TON of athleticism. There’s promise bursting at the seams. This is a team that WANTS to be great, that has just enough leadership at just the right spots – including the coaching staff – to potentially make it happen. We could be looking at a team that hangs around and FINALLY becomes the one to break the playoff drought!

Or, you know, it could be another year with another mediocre record.

But, the hope is that the young guys will improve. That’s really all that matters. 2020 was a roaring success because we saw improvement from the guys we needed to see improvement from. 2021 needs to be more of the same. Winning and losing isn’t quite as irrelevant as it was last year, but that’s not the ultimate agenda quite yet. The experience of winning isn’t quite as important as the experience of just playing at this level, but there is a lot of value there. That’s why I won’t be as maniacal as in years past when it comes to getting a high draft pick for next season.

Do what you’re going to do, Mariners!

My prediction is that the M’s easily surpass the 72.5 win total that Vegas has them at. But, ultimately I don’t see us getting one of those Wild Card spots. Instead, we’ll probably be drafting in the teens next year.

I’m reserving all predictions beyond that. I’m not making ANY specific player predictions, because so much can happen. Injuries, regression, breakouts, it’s all on the table. My only hope is that I don’t exit this season feeling worse about the Mariners than I do right now. Right now, I’m full of optimism! So, let’s just work in service of that and try to make 2022 and beyond really special!