Tempering Expectations For This Mariners Rebuild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mariners Tidbit 58: Jesus Montero Is Back … Hooray?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mariners Are Impossibly Thin, With No Depth

You want a reason for the Mariners to stand pat and not trade anybody in the next couple weeks?  This would be Reason #1.

The argument against trading people are many.  The veterans we have aren’t worth a whole helluva lot, which means we wouldn’t get anything back except for middling prospects (see:  Eric Thames, Trayvon Robinson, Casper Wells, etc.).  Right now, the Mariners are going good, and do you REALLY feel like messing with that just to bring back some tryout flunky who will probably be traded or waived within two years?

I’m as realistic as I can be right now; I know the Mariners aren’t playing for anything THIS season.  At best, I’m hoping they end up at or near .500; anything over that mark would be a huge bonus.  As such, I know that anybody we bring in via trade will be someone that likely WON’T help us and won’t make us any better, either this year or in the future.  They will be organizational filler.  I’m tired of organizational filler.  We’ve got an organization FILLED (!) with organizational filler!

Yes, the Mariners are going good right now, but things won’t always be this good.  There’s another lull right around the corner (probably).  How soon that lull arrives, or how debilitating that lull is to our chances of ultimately achieving that .500 goal, all depends on what happens at the Trade Deadline, and what happens with injuries going forward.  A good way to speed up that lull will be to trade away guys like Morales, Ibanez, Joe Saunders, or even Oliver Perez.  Tired of watching this new, exciting brand of Mariners baseball?  Yearning for the duds we’ve seen the past three seasons?  Then, start clamoring for the Mariners to make ill-advised moves.  I’ll be over here, ironically pounding the podium for the status quo (ironic because I’m usually with the rest of you, demanding trades at all costs for players who won’t be around next season anyway).

Concerned about the Mariners?  Then, be concerned about the status of our everyday lineup and our pitching rotation.  This team is thin.  The bench consists of guys like Henry Blanco, Jason Bay, Endy Chavez, and Brendan Ryan.  You don’t mind playing Blanco once or twice a week (at the most) because catchers need off days.  The rest you don’t mind seeing in the occasional spot-start, or as defensive replacements in later innings; but they’re not guys you want to see playing everyday.  We’ve been there, we’ve done that, it didn’t turn out well.

Also, are you looking to shake up the starting rotation?  Well, for starters (!!), no one is going to trade you a fucking thing for Aaron Harang, so just stop it.  STOP IT!  Felix is untouchable (of course) and Iwakuma isn’t going anywhere (we’ve still got him on a cost-effective basis for next year and most likely 2015 as well, on a team option at a reasonable price).  Erasmo Ramirez is someone you hope will be part of the future, so he’s out.  That just leaves Joe Saunders.

Tired of Joe Saunders?  Want to see the team trade him while his stock is high?  OK, I’ll bite.  You know that’s going to create a huge, Grand Canyon-sized hole in the middle of this rotation, right?  Anybody we get back will likely be some triple-A hitter of little value, or a pitching prospect who is not yet ready for the Majors.  That’s what teams in contention give you for guys like Joe Saunders.  They’re not going to give you some young stud you can throw immediately into the rotation; if they had that, they’d keep him and use him instead!  Without Joe Saunders in our rotation, that leaves some pretty sad options:  Blake Beavan (the leader in the clubhouse), Hector Noesi (who, as you can plainly see, is still terrible), James Paxton (who, despite some recent success, still probably isn’t ready for anything more than a September call-up and one or two starts), and that’s about it.  Danny Hultzen is injured and keeps suffering setbacks by the week; I’m putting my Smart Money on him being finished for the season.  Taijuan Walker JUST started pitching in Tacoma a couple weeks ago and is on a strict pitch count.  Even if we bring him up, he’s going to be shut down in about 45 innings or so (he has pitched 84 innings in AA and 21 innings in AAA; reports have him at around 150 innings for 2013 before being shut down).  What is that?  5-8 starts?  Whatever it is, his number of starts is going down by the week.  I’d eat my hat if he becomes Joe Saunders’ replacement.

Yeah, so Blake Beavan for Joe Saunders; that’s what you’re looking at.  Still gung-ho about ridding ourselves of this middle-of-the-road pitcher?  For my money, Saunders is a helluva lot better and more reliable than Beavan.  I’ve seen enough of Beavan to know I never want to see him again.

As for our bullpen, word on the street is Oliver Perez’s days are numbered.  He has the highest value, he’s not our closer anymore, and he’s likely gone after this season; why not, right?

Well, it’s true, Tom Wilhelmsen has seemed to regain his former position as the team’s closer, but does he really inspire a ton of confidence right now?  We’re all still waiting for his strikeout numbers to return; I have a feeling we’ll be waiting until the end of time.  Yoervis Medina has been a pleasant surprise in 35 games thus far.  Charlie Furbush has been used appropriately and has turned out some positive results.  But, after that, it gets pretty dicey.  The aforementioned Noesi is up here because it looks like the Mariners want to stretch Beavan back out to starting.  He’s a terrible pitcher, but he can eat up innings in a blowout, so there you go.  Lucas Luetge is back, but he still can’t get out right handed batters, so he’s usually only good for a third of an inning.  Capps has been sent down to Tacoma for getting torched too often.  Farquhar – after a promising start to his Major League career – has shown why he was so available in that Ichiro trade.  Bobby LaFromboise isn’t anyone I ever want to see again.  Stephen Pryor is working his way back from the 60-day DL and who knows if he will make it back before season’s end?  The other guys are in Tacoma for a reason.

This bullpen, in short, has Perez, Medina, an iffy Wilhelmsen, an iffy Furbush, and that’s it.  If you ask me, I’d like to see Perez stay here and help us win as many games as we can.  He, like everyone else trade-able on this roster, won’t garner much in return.

Getting back to our hitters – and our toothless bench – there isn’t much help on the horizon.  Mike Morse will probably be back pretty soon.  At which point, I guess he goes into a time-share with Ibanez?  Honestly, I don’t know what we do with Morse when he returns.  Ackley seems pretty entrenched in center, Michael Saunders is probably the team’s best defensive outfielder, and Ibanez has been hitting lefties just as good as he’s been hitting righties.  Does Morse’s return spell the end for Jason Bay?  His playing time has diminished to almost nothing since our current outfield incarnation has presented itself as viable.  Does Bay bring anything to the table, aside from being slightly better defensively?

Also, what does this team do if Guti returns?  Part of me hopes he NEVER returns, because what’s the point?  We would have to waive Endy Chavez.  Granted, Chavez isn’t good, but I like what he brings in a very part-time role.  He doesn’t walk, but he gets hits (singles, mostly) and plays solid defense.  As a defensive replacement for Ibanez, you have to like him on the team.  You know, if we waive him for Guti, some contender is going to snap him up and put him on their bench.  Then, a week later, Guti will get hurt again, and where are we?  Welcoming back Carlos Peguero, apparently.

The only guy currently on the 25-man roster I won’t actually miss is Jason Bay.  This team could conceivably also get rid of Brendan Ryan, because Nick Franklin is a serviceable back-up at short stop, and Ackley can always slot back over and play second base if needed.  Other than that, there’s nothing I want to see this team do in trades, nor is there anything I want to have happen as far as health is concerned.  Let us just ride this wave to its conclusion and make whatever moves we feel like making this offseason.

What To Expect From The Mariners In The Second Half Of 2013

At the end of June, the Mariners were 35-47.  They had just finished a homestand where they played 8 games in 10 days (with a 2-game Pittsburgh series sandwiched between two off days) and they went 3-5.  This was following a road trip where the Mariners lost another 4 of 7 games, which followed a home stand where they went 5-5.  Let’s face it, if this season’s ship was ever going to be righted, it was going to be in the month of June where they played 18 of 27 games at home and had a whopping three days off sprinkled in.  Instead, the Mariners finished June with an 11-16 record, and all hope was officially lost.

Then, the first two weeks of July happened.  I wouldn’t call June 30th the season’s low point (for that, you’d probably have to look at the end of Game 8 of that 8-Game Losing Streak back in May), but it was one of many low points that left this team at sort of a crossroads.  Would they play for the current season, in hopes of saving some high-level jobs?  Or, would they play for the future, in hopes of saving some high-level jobs?

As it turns out, there’s a way to do both, and it just might be working!

To kick off July, the Mariners won 2/3 in Texas and another 2/3 in Cincinnati.  In case you hadn’t heard, those are two very good baseball teams.  Riding that wave of euphoria, the Mariners came home and promptly lost 3/4 to the Red Sox.  Here’s where it gets wonky, though:  in that 4-game series, the Mariners scored 30 runs … IN SAFECO!  And, not for nothing, but I don’t think the new brought-in fences had much to do with it.  These were legitimate offensive numbers, and they were a long time coming.  Buoyed by this resurgent offense, the Mariners went out and swept the Angels in the three games leading up to the All Star Break, outscoring them 18-6.  In that homestand, the Mariners averaged nearly seven runs a game.

Let me say that again:  in that HOMEstand, the MARINERS averaged NEARLY seven RUNS a game.

So, where does that leave us now?  Two weeks later, after the Mariners struggled so profusely, with an 8-5 record in that span, suddenly there’s something resembling Buzz about these Mariners.  You could knock me over with a feather.

First, let’s go ahead and analyze this buzz.  I would argue that there wouldn’t be NEARLY the buzz if this team didn’t sweep the Angels.  If they were to have lost that last game on Sunday (which they very nearly did), this would be an entirely different discussion.  But, they did sweep the Angels, and it was their FIRST sweep of the season.  That’s significant.  Along with the fact that the first sweep immediately preceeded the All Star Break, we’ve had three full days to sit and digest what we’ve seen.  Obviously, what we’ve seen most recently takes precedence, as it’s freshest in our memories, so here we are.  Buzzed.

At this point, there’s a lot to like about this team, rather than just a lot to be hopeful about.  In season’s past, we would all hold out hope for guys like Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Eric Thames, Carlos Peguero, and of course bigger prospects like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Michael Saunders.  Ultimately, all of those guys would go on to brutally disappoint, rendering our hope as futile as it gets.

But, not the 2013 Mariners!  Right here, we’ve got something we can hold in our hand!  Hard, firm numbers, gently pulsating, exciting us to climax.  Guys like Brad Miller and Nick Franklin who are actually DOING something.  Not just sitting there with all the promise in the world, failing us at every turn.  Then, we’ve got guys like Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak absolutely tearing the cover off the ball … with their bats … because they hit the balls so hard the stitches come loose … I don’t get it either.  Anyway, we’ve got production, and not just from the usual gang of idiots!  It’s not ONLY Ibanez and Morales.  It’s the younger guys, FINALLY contributing.  And it feels like a million God damn dollars in here.

There’s nothing quite like the excitement you feel when your team finally turns the corner.  For the Seahawks, that happened in the middle of the 2011 season, when they improbably beat teams like Baltimore and the New York Giants.  Yeah, they finished that season 7-9, but you could see things coming together.  These Mariners, if they are indeed turning the corner, likely won’t finish much better, percentage-wise.  They currently sit 9 games under .500, which it seems like they’ve been hovering at this mark the whole damn season.  For the Mariners to reach .500, they would have to finish 38-29.  It’s not an impossible dream for this team, especially if they figured out how to bottle whatever it was they had the first two weeks of this month.  If the Mariners can get to .500, or very close to it, considering how they started this season, I would consider 2013 a success.  .500 would mean that the youngsters have continued to produce.  .500 would mean a winning record in the second half, which will hopefully mean continued winning in 2014.  .500 would mean that the Seattle Mariners have FINALLY turned the corner.

Of course, if they keep hovering around 9-12 games under .500 for the rest of the year, then you could probably make the argument that they turned the corner, only to run into another brick wall.  The last thing I want to see out of this team is the injury bug tearing through our core.  If they start dropping like flies and their numbers suffer accordingly, everyone will go into the offseason saying, “If it weren’t for their being injured, they would’ve had great seasons!”  Which, judging by how often we’ve used that line of logic the last half decade, is utter bullshit.

So, no injuries, get to .500, and have the young core be the primary reason for our second half success.  THAT’S what I expect from this team.  Continuing this winning streak by sweeping the Astros (series starting tomorrow) would be an excellent start.

Well, That Game Was Something Else

It would be a crime to not comment on the Mariners vs. the White Sox yesterday afternoon.  First, it was a pitcher’s duel through 13 innings that the Mariners seemingly had in control, even though they couldn’t do the one damn thing required to win the fucking game:  push home a run.  Led by Hisashi Iwakuma’s 8 shutout innings, and an offense that got on base EVERY INNING through the first 10, the Mariners failed to do what they’ve failed to do all year long:  hit with runners in scoring position.

Then, in the top of the 14th, it all came unravelled.  Across two relief pitchers, the Mariners gave up four hits and two walks, turning a 0-0 nail-biter into a 5-0 rout.  As most of the 20,000 and change headed for the exits, it was just a matter of the Sox getting three outs from a closer who has blown only one save all year and until the month of June had an ERA under 2.

With one out, the Mariners swatted four consecutive singles from the likes of Saunders, Shoppach, Ryan, and Chavez; with Chavez’s single knocking in a run to make it 5-1 with the bases loaded.  After a Jason Bay strikeout, Kyle Seager took to the plate and promptly homered to tie the game.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  We’re talking the first time anyone has ever hit a grand slam in extra innings to tie a ballgame.  We’re talking about the first time a team has ever scored five runs to tie it in extras after ending regulation in a 0-0 tie.  We’re talking about the kind of clutch at bat people talk about 20 years later!  Remember When may be the lowest form of conversation, but I’ll be damned if in a decade – when we’re all celebrating Kyle Seager as one of the all-time Mariners greats – I’m not saying, “Remember when Kyle Seager hit that grand slam in the 14th inning to tie a 5-1 ballgame?”

Of course, it would’ve been all the more memorable had Kendrys Morales figured out a way to seal the deal in the very next at bat.  But, I can’t place the blame in his lap.  I mean, just tying the game was miracle enough.

That isn’t to say I’m here celebrating a “moral victory.”  In the end, we still lost the game.  It’s not as shameful as if we’d simply lost 5-0 in the 14th inning like we should’ve.  But, one mindblowing grand slam doesn’t negate the fact that the team could’ve won this 1-0 in regulation had they simply gotten a fucking bunt down!

I know a lot of stat-heads hate the sacrifice bunt, but it’s a part of the game and I think an important part of the game.  Like, when it’s 0-0 in the bottom of the ninth, your rookie second baseman hits a leadoff double, and you’re a struggling former leadoff hitter who has been dropped to 7th in the lineup.  Right then?  I’d say the sacrifice bunt is the most important play in all of baseball.  And Michael Saunders fucking blew it.  Again.

That “again” probably isn’t fair.  I don’t know exactly how many sacrifice bunts Saunders has blown in his career, but I have a pretty good fucking idea of how many sacrifice bunts the Mariners overall have blown the past few years.  It’s a fucking LOT!  And, once again, it harkens back to the culture of losing with this ballclub.  If you can’t score a man from second base with no outs when all you need is a single run, then there’s a problem in the organization and it doesn’t just stop with the president and CEO.  It goes ALL the way down.

Sure enough, the Mariners would go on to lose this game in 16 innings, by a score of 7-5.  Hector Noesi was the last man in the bullpen – with Tom Wilhelmsen getting the day off due to recent overuse – and he was going to continue pitching until his arm fell off.  Of course, the White Sox were in a similar boat, but they had their closer in there pitching the final three frames.

People are blaming Wedge for this loss, due to his handling of the bullpen.  Charlie Furbush and Oliver Perez threw a combined four pitches in getting a combined two outs.  Both of those guys are capable of going multiple innings, and both of those guys are TONS better than Hector Noesi.  So, yeah, I can see why people are getting on Wedge’s case.  Did he think the game was going to go 16 innings?  Of course not, no one ever sees that coming.  You can’t necessarily manage a ballgame out of fear of going 15+ innings.  Yes, you have one eye on that possibility, but your focus has to be in the moment:  you’re at home, it’s a tie game, all you need is one run to win it.  THAT has to be your focus:  get your team to the bottom of the inning with the game still tied and see what your offense can do.

Now, had this offense struggled all game, being held to just a couple hits, then maybe you manage differently.  But, the Mariners – like I said – had baserunners in each of the first ten innings!  We knocked their starter out in the sixth!  The White Sox went through seven pitchers before getting to their closer!  Had the game gone one more inning, they were going to put Casper Wells on the mound!  You had to figure the odds were pretty good that the Mariners could score ONE fucking run!

But, again, these are the Mariners.  The odds are never good.  Yeah, blame Wedge if you want.  But, blame all those hitters who failed with runners in scoring position when the game was within reach.  Blame the general manager for creating this shitshow of a roster; a roster that requires the team to carry three over-the-hill starters along with a reliever in Noesi who has no business being in the Major Leagues (among many MANY other problems on this team).  Blame the ownership group that cares more about making a profit than winning ballgames.  And, blame a minor league system that has failed time and time again to turn promising prospects into valid Major Leaguers.

But, don’t just blame Wedge.  That’s hacky and lazy and irresponsible.  You can’t say that the manager isn’t all that important, then turn around and say it’s all his fault.  No, the manager ISN’T that important, but just because you don’t like him is no excuse to blame him for a loss like this.  Wedge is doing the best that he possibly can with the “talent” that’s been laid out before him.  Is he the guy who will lead this team to a World Series title?  I doubt it; but that’s only because I think the organization is poised for a total housecleaning and he’ll be swept into the gutter with Jackie Z and the rest of these losers.

The Last Five Years In Seattle Sports

2008 was the lowest point in Seattle sports.  It was our Absolute Zero.  Rock Bottom.  The total nadir of sports humanity!

It was the primary inspiration for the title of this website.  Take an already-crappy sports city, with practically no history of real success whatsoever, then rain down a million boulders while giving fans only a tiny umbrella to protect themselves.

We did NOT deserve this …

Well, we just finished the 2012 sports year with the 2012/2013 Husky basketball season coming to its conclusion.  As such, I have taken it upon myself to take a look back.  Five years ago, it was 2008; we were just getting started with the worst year ever.  How have things changed with our primary Seattle sports teams?

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners came off of a surprising 2007 campaign that saw them appearing to turn a corner.  Beltre, Ibanez, and Ichiro led the offense.  We hoped that a possible resurrection of Richie Sexson would bring about a further boost.  Two young guns up the middle – Lopez & Betancourt – were proof positive that what we were doing in our farm system wasn’t a complete joke.  Felix was coming into his own.  Losing Weaver & Horacio Ramirez was addition by subtraction.  You figured, with another quality starter, and another bat or two, and we’d be in business!

Well, we know what happened with 2008.  The Erik Bedard trade was a total and complete disaster (though, it went a long way towards the Orioles making their surprising playoff run in 2012).  The Mariners opted to let Jose Guillen walk and replaced him with the corpse of Brad Wilkerson.  Richie Sexson became a local pariah.  And, oh yeah, the other big pitching piece – Carlos Silva – was signed to the single-worst contract in recorded history.  You tack on little things – like J.J. Putz going from the greatest reliever in baseball in 2007, to an injured pile of crap in 2008 – and it all boils down to this team losing 101 games.  The first team with a payroll over $100 million to lose over 100 games.  Everyone was fired; it was brutal.

Enter Jackie Z, who could seemingly do no wrong at first.  He replaced Sexson with Russell Branyan – big upgrade.  He traded Putz for Franklin Gutierrez, who had an amazing season both in the field and at the plate.  We also ended up with Jason Vargas in that Putz deal, who came in and earned his way into the starting rotation.  He brought in Ken Griffey Jr., who wasn’t a total disaster as a DH.  In short, there was an immediate turnaround thanks to God knows what.  Good vibrations?  Luck?  I dunno.  But, this team improved 24 games over 2008 and contended well into the summer.  Everyone thought we’d struck gold!

Then, like some kind of sick fucking plague, every move Jackie Z made to help bolster the 2010 team turned to shit.  Chone Figgins was signed to a 4-year deal and immediately was the worst player in baseball.  Branyan was allowed to walk in favor of Casey Kotchman; Kotchman was terrible and Branyan was brought back in a panic-deal mid-season, because we had the most punch-less lineup in all of baseball history.  Silva was traded for Milton Bradley – which was a move of pure GENIUS until it turned out trading one cancer for another still leaves you on your deathbed.  Griffey was brought back, because HEY!, he hit 19 home runs the year before and it’s not like players suddenly lose all of their ability to swing a bat all at once or anything.

Mind you, just about everything Jackie Z did in anticipation of the 2010 season was believed to be the right thing.  Except for Griffey, but really, if we didn’t make the playoffs that season, it wasn’t going to be exclusively the fault of our elderly DH.  And, to a lesser extent, the Brandon League for Brandon Morrow trade was a bit questionable.  I mean, who trades a bona fide Major League starting prospect for an 8th inning reliever type? Nevertheless, this was a bold move looking to shore up our bullpen.

The cherry on top was the Cliff Lee trade.  We gave a bunch of Bavasi draft rejects to the Phillies for Cliff Lee in his final season.  At best, he’d be the starting pitcher to put us over the top.  At worst, we’d be a losing team and trade him at the deadline to the highest bidder for the best crop of prospects.

Like everything else that happened in 2010, even THIS ended up backfiring.  Cliff Lee came with a built-in contingency plan!  And he was traded for Justin Smoak – a disappointment to date – Blake Beavan – a less-than-adequate starting pitcher – and what has turned into a season’s worth of Michael Morse, a season’s worth of John Jaso, and a season’s worth of Josh Lueke.  There’s still time to turn around our fortunes, but unless Smoak figures out a miracle cure to his sucking ways, this has bust written all over it.

So, what happens when every single offseason (and in-season) move you make backfires?  You lose another 101 games, your franchise icon retires mid-season, your manager gets fired, and your GM is lucky to still have a job.

2010 was a wake-up call, both for fans and for the organization.  The last two times the Mariners had winning records – 2007 and 2009 – they immediately went out the very next offseason and tried to Win Now.  All the moves they made in hopes to Win Now were total disasters, so they had to come up with a new plan.  Either you keep riding this rollercoaster, firing your manager and/or GM every two seasons, or you start over from scratch.

Even though Jackie Z managed to bungle every Major League move known to man, he had still built up the minor leagues a fair amount.  With another high draft pick in his pocket, he put his head down and went to work.

The 2011 season was essentially given over to the kids.  Our major offseason moves included bringing in Miguel Olivo, Jack Cust, Adam Kennedy, Brendan Ryan, and handing over the starting rotation to guys like Michael Pineda, Doug Fister, and Blake Beavan.  In addition, Ackley, Seager, and Carp all got their feet wet; Peguero was given an inordinate amount of playing time for what he was actually bringing to the table.  Others, like Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Saunders, and Halman all got varying amounts of playing time.  2011 was Try-Out central in Seattle.  Throw a bunch of spaghetti noodles into a pot of boiling water, take them out and see which ones would stick to the wall.

2012 took it a step further.  The big free agent pick-ups consisted of Millwood, Iwakuma, and a backup shortstop in Kawasaki.  We traded away Pineda – our best pitching prospect – to bring in Jesus Montero, because we absolutely could not live with the same old offense we’d had the past two seasons.

What did 2011 and 2012 accomplish?  Moderate gains in the win/loss column (+6 wins in 2011, +8 wins in 2012), moderate gains in our offensive production, and a whole lot of salary coming off the books.  The Silva/Bradley money, the Ichiro money, the Olivo money, another season’s worth of the Figgins money.

Now, it’s 2013.  The Mariners brought in some big bats via trade – Morse & Morales for Jaso & Vargas respectively – and some veteran bats via free agency – Ibanez and Bay.  They re-signed Iwakuma (when they realized he’s actually a quality starter), brought in Joe Saunders (who will probably be terrible), and have given the back-end of the rotation over to youth (Maurer and Beavan).  The crown jewel of the 2012/2013 offseason was re-signing Felix through 2019.  That’s huge.  The Mariners may never make the post-season while he’s with us, but God damn it, if they do WATCH OUT.

There is reason for optimism five years after bottoming out in 2008, but we’re still in a Show Me stage.  I’ll believe it when I see it, and all that.  2013 is critical, because if they don’t show some significant improvement, I think a lot of people will be out on their asses again and we’ll be looking at ANOTHER rebuild.

Husky Football

The Huskies ended their 2007 season with a 4-9 record.  Their 2007 schedule was deemed by many to be the toughest schedule in the nation.  Tyrone Willingham was coming off of his third consecutive losing season (going 2-9 in 2005 and 5-7 in 2006), and many believed he should have been fired then and there.  I was one of those simple-minded folks who said we should give him ONE more chance.  Jake Locker had a full season under his belt, why not give Willingham an opportunity to turn things around with the guy he brought in as his quarterback?

Well, we kicked off 2008 by being trounced in Oregon (who would go on to finish 10-3).  Then, we lost by a single point at home to BYU (thanks to the infamous penalty flag thrown on Locker as he ran in for the would-be game-tying touchdown and tossed the ball over his shoulder … thank you Pac-10 referees for being so damn competent) on a missed extra point at the end of the game.  Then, we lost at home to Oklahoma (who would go on to lose to Florida in the BCS National Championship Game).

THEN, we lost our quarterback, our best player, and really our only GOOD player, in the Stanford game.  After that, with the likes of Ronnie Fouch at the helm, we proceeded to lose all the rest of our games (including a pathetic heartbreaker of an Apple Cup, 16-13 in overtime).

0-12.  Doesn’t get any worse than that.  Can only go up from there, right?

Willingham:  gone.  Sarkisian:  in.

The 2009 Huskies improved by 5 games.  There was a signature win at home over the then-#3 USC Trojans, 16-13 on a last-minute field goal.  There was a signature near-win the first game of the season at home against LSU.  Jake Locker took huge strides in his development as a passer.  Everything looked great for the future.

The 2010 Huskies weren’t all that much more improved than the 2009 team, but they managed to win six regular season games (winning out after starting 3-6, thanks to a soft schedule to finish things) and earned a bowl game against Nebraska.  Of course, they got killed by Nebraska, IN Husky Stadium, earlier that season.  But, in the rematch, this Husky team was totally reborn and they took it to the Cornhuskers, stifling them 19-7.

That led to somewhat higher expectations for 2011, but how high could we possibly make them?  Let’s face it, we’d lost our best player and were breaking in a new quarterback.  Our defense was still on the fritz, and we were still in a very tough conference with Oregon, Stanford, and USC.  Not to mention we had to go to Nebraska, where we most certainly got our shit kicked in.

2011 was a disappointment because there was no Signature Win.  In 2009 and 2010, we had victories over USC and Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.  In 2011, we barely squeaked by Eastern Washington in the first game.  We were absolutely terrorized by the aforementioned heavy hitters (losing the games to USC, Oregon, Stanford, and Nebraska by a combined 190-93).  In spite of losing ALL the games were were technically “supposed” to lose, we were still in line for a 1-game improvement over 2010.  That officially died when A. we went into Oregon State and lost (they ended the season with 3 wins) and B. we faced RGIII and the Baylor Bears and gave up 67 points on 777 yards of offense in losing by 11.

Back-to-back 7-6 seasons left a bitter taste in our mouths.  After storming the field against the Cornhuskers, we bent over and grabbed our ankles against the Bears.  2012 would SURELY be different, though.  We had a full season with Keith Price, he had surpassed our wildest expectations by throwing for over 3,000 yards with 33 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions.  How could 2012 NOT be a huge improvement?  On top of all that, we didn’t wait that extra season to see if Nick Holt could turn things around on defense.  We went out, brought in some heavy hitters at recruiting and defensive coaching, and nabbed some top prospects in the process.

Well, there was improvement.  The 2012 Huskies DID manage some signature wins against the likes of Stanford and Oregon State (both in the top 10 at the time we beat them), but they also fell completely flat against the likes of #3 LSU, #2 Oregon, and #11 USC.  In spite of yet another 3-game losing streak in the middle of the season, these Huskies were looking at possibly winning 8 or 9 games when all was said and done!

They were 7-4 (riding a 4-game winning streak) going into the Apple Cup in Pullman.  They had an 18-point lead going into the final quarter … so of COURSE they ended up blowing the game in overtime.  This ultimately led to the Huskies facing Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl and ending up – once again – 7-6.

In short, the Huskies went from 0-12 in 2008, to 5-7 in 2009, to 7-6 in 2010, 2011, and 2012.  No 7-6 record is created equal, obviously, but at the end of the day people don’t remember how you got there.  They just see where you were and shake their heads.

Keith Price showed all the promise in the world in 2011.  But, he lost all his major weapons (Kearse and Aguilar at receiver, Chris Polk at running back) and couldn’t recover in 2012.  In the Baylor bowl game, Price accounted for 7 touchdowns on offense and looked like the best quarterback on the field – even better than the Heisman Trophy winner and ultimate #2 overall draft pick.  However, in the Apple Cup and again in the Boise State bowl game, Price ended both with interceptions.  He was going into the 2013 season fighting for his job, but from all accounts he’s got it locked up after Spring Ball.  Nevertheless, I have to imagine he’s on a short leash.  We can’t suffer the kind of downgrade in production again.

At this point in Sark’s tenure, he’s got all his own guys now.  2013 is the year we’re expected to win and win consistently.  The non-conference schedule is relatively easy, and the conference schedule isn’t too bad either.  We’ve got veterans in all the right places, we’ve got some serious talent on defense for the first time since he got here, and Price has had a chance to gel with his offensive weapons.  2013 isn’t a Rose Bowl or Bust, but it’s close.  The Huskies have to at least be in the conversation.

I’m not gonna lie to you, beating the Ducks for the first time in eons would go a long way towards cementing Sark’s status as a legend ’round these parts.

Husky Basketball

The 2007/2008 Huskies were a definite low-point in the Romar era.  They finished the regular season 16-16, losing in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, and received the #1 seed in the College Basketball Invitational.  You know, that post-season tournament for the teams not even good enough for the N.I.T.

We lost.  To Valparaiso.

In 2008/2009, we brought in Isaiah Thomas and he was a firecracker right from the start.  We enjoyed Brockman’s senior season, and we rode that wave to a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament and a Round of 32 loss to 5-seed Purdue by two points.  More or less, it was a successful season, but once again it ended prematurely.

In 2009/2010, we had another senior leader taking to the forefront.  This time, it was Q-Pon, who averaged 19 and 7 per game in leading us to a Pac-10 Tournament victory, an 11-seed in the tournament, and upset wins over #6 Marquette (where he hit the clutch game winner) and #3 New Mexico.

Once again, though, the Romar-era Huskies couldn’t get past the Sweet 16.  This time, we lost to West Virginia, thanks to them totally having the length advantage on us.

In 2010/2011, we had our version of a Big 3 with Thomas, MBA, and Holiday.  The last two were seniors and Thomas was playing in what would be his final season.  We rode this squad to another Pac-10 Tournament victory (you all remember COLD BLOODED don’t you?).  This resulted in a 7-seed – our third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance – and a victory over 10-seed Georgia before losing in the Round of 32 to 2-seeded North Carolina (by only 3 points, but still).

The 2011/2012 season saw the emergence of Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross.  Both were young, extremely talented, and irritatingly inconsistent.  Ross would disappear for minutes at a time.  Wroten had no jump shot whatsoever, so he had to fight for every single basket in the paint.  This team ended up winning the Pac-12 outright, but since the Pac-12 sucked dick that season, and since the Huskies lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, AND since they had no quality wins over ranked non-conference opponents, the Huskies were denied a fourth consecutive NCAA invite.  Instead, they locked down the #1-overall N.I.T. seeding and ran with it to the Final Four in New York City.  It ended with a loss to Minnesota, who would end up losing to eventual-champion Stanford the very next game.

The less said about the 2012/2013 season, the better.  Wroten and Ross both bolted for the NBA, and absolutely no one came in to replace them.  That’s what happens when you’re a good-not-great recruiter in a good-not-great university for basketball:  sometimes you DON’T bring in a player of quality and you suffer as a result.

Gaddy, Wilcox, Suggs, and N’Diaye were left to pick up the pieces.  This team was pretty solid on defense, but ultimately inept on offense, and now at least three of those guys are gone (with Wilcox having a difficult decision to make regarding his final year of eligibility).  The 2012/2013 Huskies didn’t beat a single ranked team, only beat three teams who ended up going to the NCAAs (Saint Louis, California, and Colorado), and wound up being a 6-seed in the N.I.T., where the subsequently got their shit kicked in at BYU.

What’s in store for 2013/2014?  Well, a solid incoming class with one McDonalds All American at point guard in Nigel Williams-Goss.  If Wilcox comes back, that gives us a veteran scoring presence (for the record, he’s a fool if he leaves; his past season was absolutely dreadful and injury-plagued).  If we can get anything from our young forwards, you could look at a team that surprises a lot of people.  Or, you could be looking at a third-straight N.I.T. bid.  If it’s the latter, I’m not so sure I’d be confident about my job security if I was Romar.

Seattle Supersonics

I won’t go into excruciating detail on this end.  We all know what the last five years have been like for the Sonics.  They went 20-62 in their final season in Seattle (after drafting Kevin Durant and bringing in one of the finest GMs in the game from the San Antonio organization).  They were given away by the city of Seattle, they struggled again the following season, and then they went to the playoffs four straight seasons (losing most recently in the Finals to the beloved Miami Heat).

Now, we’ve got an ownership group and an arena deal in place, and we’re fighting like crazy to steal the Kings from Sacramento.  If all goes according to plan, we will have pro basketball back in Seattle for the 2013/2014 season.  If it doesn’t, then this part of next year’s “Five Years” post is going to be REAL fucking depressing.

Seattle Seahawks

I’m saving the best for last because I can.  Because, honestly, it’s all a little too much and I can hardly believe it myself.  There is cautious optimism for the Mariners and their young core to turn things around.  There’s more confident optimism that the Husky football team will turn some heads this fall.  There’s hope that the Husky basketball team can somehow gel with their new incoming players and make an improbable Tourney run.  There’s delusions that the NBA will be back in Seattle this time next year.

But, that’s nothing.  There is outright SWAGGER for the Seattle Seahawks.  How did we get HERE?

In 2008, we went 4-12.  We had dicked around with Mike Holmgren, we signed on his replacement – Jim Mora Jr. – to be his defensive backs coach, and all the major veterans took a huge dump.  This was coming off of a 2007 season where the Seahawks once again won the division.  But, Shaun Alexander was released at the end, losing out to another injury.  So, Tim Ruskell opted to reload via free agency.  Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett were brought in to liven up the running game, but no dice.  Hasselbeck missed a bunch of games, Walter Jones tried surgery but wasn’t the same and was forced to retire at season’s end … it was just a mess.

In 2009, there was something of a fresh start expected with Mora.  T.J. Houshmandzadeh was brought in on a huge free agent deal, Aaron Curry was signed as our can’t-lose first round draft pick … in short, we were one of the oldest and least-talented teams in the NFL.  When all was said and done, these Seahawks improved by only 1 game and both Mora and Ruskell were fired.

2010 was the REAL fresh start.  Pete Carroll and John Schneider tag-teamed this roster from head to toe.  They traded for Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, and Charlie Whitehurst (hey, they can’t all be winners).  They got rid of Housh (taking a healthy bath in the cap hit) and later Deion Branch.  They brought in a rejuvinated Mike Williams who led the team in receiving.  They drafted Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, and Kam Chancellor.  They made hundreds upon hundreds of free agent moves, giving tryouts to anyone and everyone who they thought might be an upgrade.  They got significantly younger, and thanks to a piss-poor division, ended up making the playoffs with a 7-9 record.

Understand, this wasn’t a legitimate playoff team.  Yes, after two years in the wilderness, they found their way back to civilization, but it was totally phony!  The fact that we beat the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at Qwest Field is a travesty of common decency (though, it did provide us with the greatest NFL play ever, Beastmode’s Touchdown Scamper).  Our “Cinderella” run ended the following week in Chicago, and you had to wonder how long it would be before the Seahawks made the playoffs again.

The 2011 Seahawks were hamstrung by the NFL Lockout.  They fired their offensive coordinator and hired Darrell Bevell from Minnesota.  Which meant, if they stood any chance of competing in ANY games that season, they’d have to bring some people in who knew Bevell’s system.  This meant Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback.  They let Hasselbeck go with a cordial goodbye and handed the keys to the team over to Tarvar (without so much as a second look at Whitehurst, who was as bad as we all remember him being and then some).

Tarvar proved tough, but ultimately inept when the game was on the line.  Those 2011 Seahawks also finished the regular season 7-9 and weren’t given the benefit of a lousy NFC West to “earn” a home playoff game.

With a full offseason going into 2012, the Seahawks needed to make a change.  They’d drafted well, bringing in guys like Richard Sherman and K.J. Wright.  But, they needed a signal-caller with some zazz!  So, they signed Matt Flynn to a three-year deal, and they went out and drafted Russell Wilson in the third round.

People say if Wilson was just 2-3 inches taller, he would’ve been a Top 10 pick.  But, he’s not, so now he’s ours.

Wilson earned his opportunity to have an Open Competition in Training Camp.  This led to him wowing us in the Pre-Season, which ultimately led to him winning the job and running with it.  The 2012 Seahawks took it easy with him for the first few weeks, but once they knew he could handle himself, they opened things up.  This resulted in the Seahawks being the best team in football over the second half of the season.  Still, their early-season slip-ups meant that the 49ers won the division, relegating us to the fifth seed in the NFC.

We went into Washington and somehow came away with a victory.  Then, we went into Atlanta, gave them a 20-point lead, and somehow led in the game with 30 seconds to go.  That was choked away, but the message was sent.  It wasn’t, “Wait Until Next Year,” the way most fanbases say it, more resigned to their current fate as losers, sorely, bitterly hoping that things will turn around for them in short order.

No, this is, “Just you WAIT until next year, chickenfuckers!”  Because the 2013 Seahawks are a runaway train that has Super Bowl or Bust written all over them!

In five years, the Seahawks have gone from one of the oldest and worst teams in the NFL to one of the youngest and best teams.  In five years, the Seahawks have gone from bottom-feeders to would-be kings.  We fans are cashing in our 401Ks in anticipation of buying Super Bowl tickets in 2014.  It’s never been so clear and so positive in the city of Seattle.  They can single-handedly reverse the fortunes of this desolate sports city.  All they need to do is win.

What’s more, they’re spreading around the positivity.  People are stoked on the Mariners WAY more than they should be thanks to the good will generated by the Seahawks.  Sports fans have something to look forward to and spirits are bright.  This is carrying over to the other sports in hopes that the good vibes will roll on.

We’ll see.  If the Seahawks win it all, the Mariners contend for a playoff spot, the Huskies make a run at the Rose Bowl, the basketball Huskies make a run at the NCAA Tournament, and the Sonics return to Seattle, we could be talking about the greatest 5-year turnaround any sports city has ever seen.  Fingers crossed.

2013 Seattle Mariners Regular Season Preview

See, this was the Spring Training preview.  Now, we’re talking about the Regular Season.  Big difference.

This is the first of a weekend-long bonanza of Mariners-related preview & prediciton posts.  In addition to this (which is really just a response to the above-linked Spring Training Preview, where I comment on how the team has turned out compared to my original predictions), I’m going to come at you with guns blazing.

In some order, I’m going to unleash the full force of my Inner-Homer and tell you why the 2013 Seattle Mariners are the best thing ever.  And I’m also going to unleash the full force of my Inner-Self-Loathing-Skeptic and tell you why this team is going to be a huge, embarrassing failure.  Should be some good times!

As for my predictions, I nailed the bats except for one.  Jason Bay is looking more and more like that 25th man over Casper Wells, which is entirely unexpected yet expected at the same time.  I mean, who could have believed that Bay – after two Figginsian years wandering the desert with a plastic inflatable bat – had enough punch to earn his way onto this team?  But, as I said before, this team has pretty much seen all it’s going to see out of Casper Wells.  He had 31 games over two months in 2011 and 93 games over a semi-full season last year.  We had multiple openings in the outfield these past two seasons; he had PLENTY of chances to earn his roster spot.  It goes to show the level of discomfort the Mariners felt that they had to sign Jason Bay to a minor league contract.  And, to his credit, Jason Bay held up over this past month of Spring Training.  So, there you go.

The only saving grace for Wells is if the team opts to put Guti on the DL to start the season (still an outside chance).  In my heart of hearts, I kind of hope this happens.  Let’s face it, it’s pretty easy to distrust these Spring numbers out of Bay.  I’d like to see what he can do over the course of the month of April – when the weather is at its coldest, and the games actually mean something to all parties involved – to see if he is ACTUALLY worth the roster spot, or if he’s an Arizona mirage that will turn out to be a cardboard cutout of an oasis.

Either that, or, you know, just put Wells on the DL.  Fake some kind of an injury.  Don’t tell me this hasn’t been done before!  You telling me Wells is going to blow the whistle on this happening?  What organization would trust him if he did?

Anyway, God, enough about that.  Regarding the pitching staff, I was kinda WAY off.

The obvious was Felix, Saunders, and Iwakuma in some order.  The last two spots I botched entirely, but I would say this was circumstantial more than it was a flaw in my logic.  Had Jon Garland not had that clause in his contract forcing the team’s hand a week prematurely, I have the strong belief that he would still be on this team today (over Maurer, most likely).  It was always going to come down to Beavan and Ramirez for a spot.  Neither really dominated the issue.  And when Ramirez came down with arm tightness, that sealed his deal right there.

To be honest, Beavan and Maurer are only marginally more interesting than Ramirez & Garland, but in the end, does it really matter?  Does anyone see Blake Beavan sticking around for the full season?  I sure don’t.  I’d be pleasantly surprised if Maurer doesn’t get sent down as well, but I have a feeling the team will have a much shorter leash with him than they did with Noesi last year.  The luxury of more options in Tacoma:  you gotta love it.

In the bullpen, I didn’t see this team NOT keeping a long reliever, what with all the fringe #5 starters we have in this organization.  But, you know, them’s the breaks.  I still don’t think it’s all that wise to go without.  Let’s look at the facts:  none of the arms are built up to the point where they can go much past 100 pitches for this first month.  What happens if Iwakuma only manages to go 4 or 5 innings, followed by Saunders getting lit up?  That’s a lot of taxation of your bullpen, and you haven’t even gotten to your #4 or #5 starters!

For the entire month of April, the Seattle Mariners have one off-day (smack-dab in the middle on the 15th).  They play the likes of the A’s, the White Sox (in Chicago, where they always thrash us), the Rangers twice, the Angels, the Tigers, and they close out with the Orioles.  Six games, over two series, with the Houston Astros are the only reprieve we will see in this early going.  Aside from those scrubs, we’re looking at some hefty offenses.  The starting rotation (Felix aside) is easily our shakiest aspect of this team.  You do the math.  If our bottom four starters don’t carry their share of the mail, this bullpen could be wiped out.

Aside from that quibble, I’m more than a little happy that Carter Capps is taking up the spot vacated by having no long reliever.  He’s worth it, and he’s totally due.  That guy is going to kick more ass than a buddy movie featuring Frank Dux and Chuck Norris.  Kameron Loe is another guy who made the team against my predictions.  He’s filling in for the injured Josh Kinney (60-Day DL, probably played his last game as a Mariner) and will kick significantly less ass.

As far as numbers are concerned, I got 22 of 25 correct (though, initially I predicted Beavan as a bullpen arm; I’m still counting him as he DID make the team).  Went with the wrong aging veteran reclamation project (Garland over Bay) and went with the wrong young starter with minor league options (Ramirez over Maurer).  Oh so close.

The Whole Casper Wells/Jason Bay Hubbub Bores The Everloving Shit Out Of Me

We’re talking about a fifth outfielder.  You realize this, right?  Top three:  Michael Morse, Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Saunders.  Those are your starting outfielders.  Raul Ibanez is number four.  He was brought in here to come off the bench, pinch hit, occasionally start in left field and at first base.  Raul Ibanez isn’t going anywhere.  He’s locked in.

Which just leaves Casper Wells vs. Jason Bay.  Two right-handed bats, neither of which is impressing the shit out of me right now.  Whoever makes this team, if all goes according to plan, will play LESS than Raul Ibanez.  Please think about that the next time you get all worked up over this debate.

It’s all so stupid, I can’t fucking stand it anymore.  Everyone’s big fear is Seattle chooses to keep Jason Bay and trade Casper Wells for pretty much nothing or give him away for exactly nothing.  In turn, Jason Bay will continue to stink like he has the past three seasons, and Casper Wells will be someone else’s productive fringe starter/4th outfielder for many years to come.

You know what I think?  I don’t think it even fucking matters.  Yes, Jason Bay will be kept on this team.  Yes, Casper Wells with either be released or traded for a Single-A prospect who will likely turn out to be nothing (thus leaving our big “get” for Doug Fister as Charlie Furbush, a decent left handed bullpen guy who will never be a closer).  Yes, Jason Bay will stink in 2013 and likely won’t ever play again in the Major Leagues.  But, also YES, Casper Wells will continue to stink and won’t ever be a bona fide Major Leaguer!

Does Casper Wells have more value to a team than Jason Bay?  Of course he does.  No one wants to watch Jason Bay play in the field; he’s a God damn trainwreck.  Over time, going forward, Casper Wells will be the more valuable player.  But that’s not saying much, is it?  What’s better than stepping in a big pile of warm, steaming dogshit?  I’d say stepping in a less-big pile of warm, steaming dogshit.  That’s Casper Wells.  A less-big pile of warm, steaming dogshit.

If Casper Wells is never going to hit consistently, then what’s the point?  You can handle having a defensive short stop like Brendan Ryan because he’s the best in the game.  And because – theoretically – he’s your only black hole in the lineup.  You can’t handle a black hole in Casper Wells because he’s very FAR from the best defensive outfielder in the game.  And, in fact, he plays a position where you are expected to produce offensively.  If he’s no better at the plate than Brendan Ryan, then you can’t justify playing him regularly.  If he’s only going to be your fifth outfielder, then WHO THE FUCK CARES?

GOD, SHUT UP ALREADY ABOUT CASPER FUCKING WELLS!  It’s time to move on with our lives.  It’s time to focus on more important things.  Instead of bitching and moaning about every perceived slight against the sabermetric community being laid down by Eric Wedge and Jackie Z, how about we focus our efforts on – oh, I don’t know – a guy who is going to play more than once every two weeks?!

I’ll close with the numbers.  I know no one wants to talk about the numbers because they’re Spring Training numbers, but fuck it, that’s the way it goes.  These two guys have faced just about the same competition over the course of this Spring Training.  With their careers in the balance, this is what has transpired:

  • Bay – 15 games, 47 at bats, 15 hits, 6 extra-base hits, 6 walks, 16 strikeouts, for a .949 OPS
  • Wells – 15 games, 51 at bats, 10 hits, 6 extra-base hits, 3 walks, 19 strikeouts, for a .670 OPS

Jason Bay has five more hits, 3 more walks, and 3 fewer strikeouts.  What does it mean?  Absolutely nothing.  But, the team has to go by something to make its decision.  Yes, you can look at the last couple seasons and completely throw away these Spring numbers, but what does that get you?  Why even bring in Jason Bay at all if the only thing you’re going to look at is his prior numbers?  Is it completely impossible for a guy like Jason Bay to turn it around and be a productive member of the Major Leagues again, even if it’s only for one season?  Of course not.  It happens all the time.  For all the times we try to use numbers to make sense of the game of baseball, for all the times we think we have everything figured out, in the end nothing makes any sense.  Sometimes, shit just happens.  Crazy, impossible shit.  Outliers are out there, waiting to make a mockery of your stats and your groupthink.

Whether they’re worthless or not, the numbers tell me Jason Bay is winning this race with his play.  Casper Wells had just as good of a shot to win this fifth outfield job and he’s failing.  This was his chance and he’s blowing it.  That’s a fact.  Now, that’s just what the numbers say.  There’s also the Eye Test.  And for that, I have no fucking clue.  I’m going to have to leave that up to the Seattle Mariners.  They’ve been watching Jason Bay every day for a month.  They’ve been watching Casper Wells for a helluva lot longer.  If Jason Bay is winning after a month’s worth of meaningless games, then it has to be due to the Eye Test and nothing more.  If that’s the case, then your bitching is futile.  At the heart of the matter is the fact that these baseball guys making these baseball decisions are scouts first and numbers guys second.  That’s just the way it is.  Maybe in 50 years things will be different.  But, right now, this is what we’ve got.  If you don’t like it, go suck Billy Beane’s dick.  Go suck the dick of a soon-to-be 51 year old man who still goes by the name “Billy”.

Then, when this is all over and Jason Bay is the 25th man on this Seattle Mariners roster, write a post about how you believe this is a mistake.  But, please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t make me sit here and read dozens upon dozens of blog posts (on every single Mariners-related site, until the end of time) about how terrible this move is … especially when it hasn’t even fucking happened yet!  God dammit anyway!

When You SHOULD Look At Spring Training Numbers

There’s kind of a nifty, albeit fairly superfluous blog post by Larry Stone this week looking at various examples of Mariners having good and not-so-good Spring Training numbers.  I’m sure, if you wanted to take the time to really burrow down this rabbit hole, you could spend weeks sifting through the rubble of crushed dreams of erstwhile Mariners prospects who flamed out thanks to crappy springs and in spite of great springs.  So many of us have this preconceived notion that Eric Wedge is basing his Opening Day Roster on how certain players do in Spring Training, when really there is so much more to it.

For a lot of these guys, their fates have already been decided.  For the guys on the 40-man roster, there really isn’t a whole lot left to decide except for maybe a bench spot, a back-end-of-the-rotation spot, and a couple of bullpen spots.  For everyone else, Spring Training is merely a showcase.  Do well now, when the focus of Wedge and Jackie Z is at its most concentrated, and maybe someday later this season you’ll get a call up to the Bigs, when there’s a need.  And there’s ALWAYS a need.  No 25-man roster remains static throughout an entire 162-game season.  There are injuries, there are major slumps, there are trades at the deadline, there are deaths in the family … there are SO MANY REASONS why a roster will change and evolve!

Nevertheless, it’s patently obvious that players HAVE “played their way” onto the Big League club thanks to a torrid Spring Training.  Stats Geeks (and other fans, I suppose, who aren’t as in tune with the stats world) tend to loathe this phenomenon, especially when it comes to over-the-hill guys who have an amazing Spring, only to take a roster spot away from a high-level prospect with potential.  Or, you know, Jason Bay.  Should he have an amazing Spring, that is.

I understand the argument against focusing on Spring Training numbers.  You’re playing, oftentimes, against low-level competition.  It’s a small sample size.  It’s in the warm Arizona (or Florida) sun, where the ball just jumps off the bat.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in some of these numbers, when guys are batting .450 and seemingly everything their bat touches goes for extra bases.  But, you have to let that shit go!  You have to understand what’s waiting for these players right around the corner:  April in Seattle, where home runs go to die.

It’s wonderful that Justin Smoak’s new approach at the plate is paying early dividends.  But, how much can you honestly make of his performance when A) Eric Wedge has gone out and declared he will once again be our opening day first baseman, and B) these games are meaningless?  Smoak is playing for nothing!  Say what you will about Pete Carroll and his philosophies, but I buy-in 100% to the Always Compete mantra.  Mariners leaders like Wedge and Jackie Z like to talk a good game about competing, and about how the kids aren’t going to have anything handed to them, but essentially:  THEY ARE HAVING EVERYTHING HANDED TO THEM!  Smoak and Ackley were God-awful last season, yet they are inked into the starting, everyday lineup.  Montero had a mediocre, underwhelming rookie season, and his defense is suspect-at-best, yet he’s going to be our starting, almost-everyday catcher.

I’m not necessarily saying that they all need to be benched in favor of whoever else the Mariners have in camp this year, but they should at least have to fight for their jobs!  And if someone legitimately beats them out, so be it.

Spring Training would be a lot more interesting if players ACTUALLY had to compete for their jobs.  Maybe, instead of starting out their first couple weeks by throwing an inning or two, they have to arrive in Spring Training with their arms fully loaded and ready to go (FUCK IT!  WE’LL DO IT LIVE!).

But, obviously, that’s not the way it is and it never will be.  Still, that doesn’t mean Spring Training is entirely meaningless.  There are those aforementioned roster battles:  bench, back-end-of-the-rotation, bullpen.  We’ve got veterans fighting for their baseball lives against young guys fighting just to break into the Majors full time.  I know a lot of Mariners fans just want the team to go with Hultzen, Wells, Capps and Pryor, but, you know what I think?  I think:  let the best man win.

This is it, Casper Wells.  Show us what you’ve got.  Casper Wells vs. Jason Bay is the most hotly-debated position battle in this entire camp.  By all accounts, Wells is the better player:  way better on defense, has a lot more upside on offense.  Bay is an old man with no future with this organization.  But, guess what?  That doesn’t mean dick right now.  The pressure is turned up all the way on Casper Wells.  How will he respond?

Those are the Spring Training numbers I’m interested in.  If Casper Wells TRULY deserves to be on this Mariners team, then he needs to go out there and tear the cover off the ball this month.  I don’t give a shit about sample sizes or level of competition or any of that right now.  They both face the same challenge:  they’ll likely get a similar number of at bats and opportunities in the outfield.  They’re both playing against the same level of competition, in the same climate.  So, what’s it going to be?  Is Casper Wells going to go out and seize the day?  Or, is he going to go out, bat .200, and be traded for a single-A prospect?

You want to see how guys respond to this type of pressure.  It’ll ultimately inform us as to how they might perform when there is REAL pressure on the line.  Like, playoffs-type pressure.

P.S.  Wells is currently batting .125 (2 for 16), though both are for extra bases, and 5 strikeouts.  Bay is currently batting .250 (1 for 4) with a home run, 2 walks, and 0 strikeouts.  But, again, it’s early.  They have a whole month to go.

Seattle Mariners Spring Training Preview

You can see yesterday’s Offseason Review here.  One-stop shopping for all the Seattle Mariners offseason moves of note (see what I did there with that “of note” … can’t pull the wool over the eyes of THIS guy).

So, to bring it back, this is the team the Seattle Mariners ended with in 2012 (the players in BOLD are no longer on the team going into 2013):

C – Jesus Montero
1B – Justin Smoak
2B – Dustin Ackley
SS – Brendan Ryan
3B – Kyle Seager
LF – Casper Wells
CF – Michael Saunders
RF – Eric Thames
DH – John Jaso

C – Miguel Olivo
OF – Trayvon Robinson
INF – Munenori Kawasaki
Util – Chone Figgins

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Jason Vargas
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Kevin Millwood
  5. Blake Beavan

Closer – Tom Wilhelmsen
LRP – Oliver Perez
RRP – Josh Kinney
RRP – Stephen Pryor
LRP – Charlie Furbush
LRP – Lucas Luetge
Long Relief – Erasmo Ramirez

Obviously, the 2012 Mariners’ roster was ever-changing, so these aren’t concrete examples.  But, overall, in the 2nd half of last year, more often than not these are the players who played and those were the positions they played.  Give or take a Guti and Carp (when they were healthy) and a Shawn Kelley in the bullpen.

So, from the looks of things, we’re replacing at least seven guys on this roster (including our ENTIRE bench and 40% of our starting rotation).  But, obviously, those aren’t the only moves to be made.  You gotta figure aside from Pitching Staff Ace, everyone’s job is on the line.  Based on the offseason moves made to date, here’s what I’m seeing as our roster to start the 2013 season (changes from 2012 made in BOLD):

C – Jesus Montero
1B – Justin Smoak
2B – Dustin Ackley
SS – Brendan Ryan
3B – Kyle Seager
LF – Michael Saunders
CF – Franklin Gutierrez
RF – Michael Morse
DH – Kendrys Morales

C – Kelly Shoppach
OF – Raul Ibanez
INF – Robert Andino
OF – Casper Wells

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Joe Saunders
  3. Hisashi Iwakuma
  4. Jon Garland
  5. Erasmo Ramirez

Closer – Tom Wilhelmsen
LRP – Oliver Perez
RRP – Josh Kinney
RRP – Stephen Pryor
LRP – Charlie Furbush
LRP – Lucas Luetge
Long Relief – Blake Beavan

Obviously, I hold no sway in this deal.  Although, truth be told, if I had it my way and things break the way I hope they’ll break, this would be the starting 25 you’d see on Opening Day.

So, let’s go through it, position by position.

The first five players listed above, from Catcher – Montero down through our entire infield, is all the same.  Yes, it will be important for the moves the Mariners made to pan out if we’re hoping to shock the world and contend for a playoff spot in September; but if this team is ever going to pan out long-term, it’s going to be up to these five guys:  Montero, Smoak, Ackley, Seager, and Ryan.  Montero and Smoak are supposed to be our middle-of-the-order thumpers to drive in runs.  Thus far, they’ve been underwhelming.  Now, we’ll see if those “protection” theories hold any water (the thinking being:  if you have good, established hitters in your lineup, they will “protect” younger, inexperienced guys like Smoak and Montero, thereby allowing them to see better pitches because opposing pitchers are too worried about the veterans like Morse and Morales).  2013 is Make or Break for Jackie Z and it’s Make or Break for Montero and Smoak.  If they fail, Jackie Z is likely toast, Smoak is likely to be dealt for peanuts, and Montero will be relegated to a backup catcher role as Mike Zunino takes hold of the position for the next decade-plus.  If they succeed, then Jackie Z will likely be given an extension, Smoak will hold the fort at first base, and Montero will hold the fort at DH while Zunino takes over as full-time catcher anyway because he’s so great.

The bottom line:  we need Smoak and Montero to be good.  We need Seager to build upon his promising 2012.  We need Ackley to show why being picked #2 overall was a smart decision.  And we need Brendan Ryan to hit SOMETHING, because if he can be halfway competent, his defense makes him a superstar.

We need:  no more black holes!

Let’s move on to the outfield.  Michael Saunders played the full season in 2012 and made huge strides.  He primarily played in center because Guti once AGAIN couldn’t stay healthy.  Like Seager, it will be important for Saunders to build upon his promising 2012.  This organization has enough to worry about.  Let’s have Saunders not be one of those things.

Getting Guti back, healthy, and in center full time is akin to signing a bigtime free agent.  If we can just, for Christ’s sake!, get Guti back to where he was in 2009 before this nightmare run of maladies befell our beloved center fielder, then it’ll be an addition on par with the other big bats we brought in.

Morse, while a liability on defense, should be a steadying presence in the lineup.  Personally, I think these baseball intellectuals are giving WAY too much credence to defensive metrics they readily admit are flawed.  I don’t for one second believe Casper Wells is as good, much less better than Michael Morse as an overall baseball player.  His defense might be superior, but is it SO superior that it overwhelms the fact that Morse is a legitimate Major League hitter while Wells sucks dick except for a few brilliant spurts of prowess?  I say no.  Morse makes this team better than Wells and he makes this team better than all of the other jackasses we had in the corner outfield spots in 2012.

Morales is another legitimate Major League hitter that we can slide right into the #3 or #4 spot in the lineup.  With Morales and Morse as a one-two punch, we’re really giving other teams something to think about for the first time in YEARS.  More importantly, it pushes guys like Seager, Smoak, and Montero into less-stressful spots in the lineup, where they can worry about their own games, and not trying to carry this team on their backs.

As for the bench, I think we’re better across the board.  Shoppach has to be a step up from Olivo.  Ibanez essentially takes over as the veteran presence Chone Figgins occupied last year, only Ibanez should hopefully not be a complete waste of space.  Andino is an upgrade over Kawasaki.  The only question mark is the final outfield spot.  I’m predicting Casper Wells takes it over Jason Bay, because I just have zero confidence in that guy having anything left in the tank.  With Wells, you’re looking at a clear upgrade over Robinson, Thames, Carp, Peguero, and whoever else was our reserve outfielder in 2012.  Being the team’s 4th outfielder seems to be the role Casper Wells was born to play.  He can cover all the outfield positions and he’s not such a huge drop-off in offensive production when you play him sparingly (and against left-handed pitchers).

Here’s what our starting lineup could look like for much of the 2013 season:

  1. (L) – Dustin Ackley (2B)
  2. (L) – Kyle Seager (3B)
  3. (S) – Kendrys Morales (DH)
  4. (R) – Michael Morse (RF)
  5. (R) – Jesus Montero (C)
  6. (S) – Justin Smoak (1B)
  7. (R) – Franklin Gutierrez (CF)
  8. (L) – Michael Saunders (LF)
  9. (R) – Brendan Ryan (SS)

Doesn’t look too bad, right?  Again, this is all guess-work, but in an ideal world, if the Mariners are playing a 1-game playoff to get into the post-season, this is the lineup I’d like to see.  Against a tough right-handed pitcher, you can slide Saunders into center, and start Ibanez in left.  Late in games, you can put Wells in for Morse (or pinch-run him for Montero, Morales or Morse).  And on getaway games, you’re not losing a ton when you start Andino for Ryan, Shoppach for Montero, Ibanez for whoever, and Wells for whoever else.  You can give Seager and Ackley days off from playing the field by throwing them at DH once in a while.  Morales can always slide over to first base in a pinch, I’m assuming.  Lots of flexibility on this team.

More importantly, lots of production on this team, if things go the way we hope.  If Ackley improves and Seager at the very least doesn’t get any worse, you’re talking about a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup.  Morales and Morse are there to hit dingers, Montero and Smoak are down in the lineup where there’s less pressure on them.  And, at the end of our lineup, you’re not talking about 1/3 of our batters being a bottomless pit of despair!  While before we were trying to shoe-horn guys like Saunders and Guti into the upper third of the lineup, now we have the luxury to play them near the bottom, improving our production dramatically over guys like Thames, Trayvon Robinson, an everyday Casper Wells, and so on.  Saunders and Guti have the potential to be productive EVERY day, not every 10 days.  That’s big in my book.

I don’t want to alarm any of you.  If you’re on any heart medication or have a pacemaker, you may want to stop reading right now.  Don’t look now, but this offense MIGHT just be a league-average offense!  I KNOW, RIGHT?

If you want to know why so many people are picking the Mariners to be one of the “surprise” teams of 2013 a la Oakland and Baltimore of 2012, look no further.  Of course, by these very people declaring us a “surprise” team, they’ve effectively ruined the surprise and doomed us to a fate worse than Bill Simmons picking the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl.  I want you to keep that in mind as you don’t watch this team still playing in October.

One major reason to take a huge step back from all those post-season expectations is this team’s starting rotation.  At the top, we’re fine.  If Felix can give us his usual Cy Young-calibre pitching, we’ve got a huge leg-up over most other teams.  And, if Joe Saunders can continue to be Joe Saunders (and not Worse Joe Saunders), then we’ve effectively made up for the loss of Vargas and won’t miss much of a beat.

After those two, it gets a little … iffy.  Is Iwakuma the real deal, like he was in the second half of 2012?  Or, is he going to require another half-season to get his stuff up to snuff?  If we landed the real deal with Iwakuma, then I’ll tell you we’ve really got something here.  Felix, Saunders, and Iwakuma aren’t really on par with the best 1-2-3’s in the Major Leagues, but for the regular season they could be just enough to get the job done.  If those guys can give us 60 wins in their 90+ starts, then we’ve only got to manage somewhere around 30 wins across the other starters’ 60+ starts to be a legitimate candidate for post-season contention.

Well, when you put it that way …

The last two starters could be brutal, though.  I’m only pencilling Jon Garland into the rotation based on his prior performances; but that guy hasn’t pitched in a year and a half!  Erasmo Ramirez is only in my hypothetical rotation based on a handful of starts in June and again in September.  Ramirez had 4 starts in June where the M’s went 2-2 (his record being 0-2), his ERA was 4.58, and he averaged less than 5 innings per start.  Of course, a main reason for that average was his last start where he left injured in the 3rd inning and promptly went on the DL.  He only had 1 quality start out of those four, but MAN was it a quality start!  8 innings, 10 strikeouts, 1 earned run on 3 hits and a walk in a 1-0 loss to the A’s.  Upon his return from the DL, in a September call-up, Ramirez made 4 more starts.  The M’s were 1-3 in these games (his record being 1-1) and his ERA was only 2.96 in this stretch, as he averaged nearly 7 innings per start.

So, in reality, I’m basing Ramirez’s status in our 2013 rotation on five starts in 2012.  Not really the smartest way to go about predicting a roster, but then again, it’s not like I’m the only one.  Many smarter people than myself are also pencilling Ramirez into our rotation.

Which, when you think about it, could be the best thing for this team.  When you see these “surprise” teams jump out of the woodwork, what’s a general theme?  They USUALLY have one or two very young rotation guys who have breakout years.  What’s more likely?  A guy like Smoak or Ackley figures it out and takes the world by storm?  Or a pitcher like Ramirez (or Hultzen, or someone else) mowing people down out of nowhere?  You see it all the time with pitchers; why can’t Ramirez be that catalyst for us at the back-end of our rotation?

At which point, you’ve got an elite Felix Hernandez, a steady Joe Saunders, a solid Hisashi Iwakuma, and a breakout Erasmo Ramirez.  With Jon Garland as an innings eater who will give you a number of quality starts a la Kevin Millwood.  I’m not gonna lie to you, my heart just fluttered a little.

The more I think about it, if we can JUST squeeze the best out of this starting rotation, and if our hitters can do JUST enough to keep us in ballgames, this very well COULD be our year!  Because I don’t think you’re going to find many better bullpens – from top to bottom – than the one we have in Seattle this year.  It’s a shame we have to waste it on a team that will likely be treading water around .500, because in a couple years (when this team will theoretically be ready to make the big jump towards regular contention) this bullpen won’t be the same (and will likely price itself out of our range).

But, Wilhelmsen is a stud of the highest order.  Yet, if he fails, Carter Capps is waiting in the wings.  And if he fails, Stephen Pryor is another flame-thrower.  And if he fails, Oliver Perez can burn the strike zone from the left side.  And if HE fails … it goes on and on.  Furbush had an amazing 2012 out of the bullpen.  Kinney was solid, if unspectacular.  Luetge was a Rule 5 draft pick who stuck with the team as a left-handed specialist.  Beavan has always been an innings eater who will easily devour innings in a long relief role.

For the record, the likelihood of all those guys failing is pretty slim.  But, in my opinion, NONE of those guys will fail, and we will have the best lockdown bullpen in the American League.

How many 1-run games can the Mariners win?  Ultimately, that will tell the story as to whether or not this team makes the playoffs.  I know winning 1-run games isn’t really a sustainable model for building a championship contender, but every so often there are outliers.  The A’s last year were 11-5 in extra-innings games.  They were 25-18 in 1-run games.  The Orioles last year were a mind-boggling 16-2 in extra-innings games!  And they were 29-9 in 1-run games!

Meanwhile, the Mariners last year were 5-10 in extra-innings games and 25-28 in 1-run games.  Gotta figure out a way to turn those figures around.  Clutch hitting, quality starts, unbelievable bullpen pitching.  That’s the key.  With just enough late-game defense thrown in to keep everyone honest.

I’ll have an official Season Preview closer to our April 1st season debut in Oakland (where else?), once everything has been set in stone and we know just exactly what we can expect on Opening Night.  In the meantime, dare I say it?  There’s ACTUALLY some reasons for optimism in 2013?