Mariners Beat Orioles To Take The Series

Well, a disaster of a homestand comes to an end.  On the Glass Is Half Full side of things, you can give the team props for beating the Orioles in the 3-game series.  But, the fact of the matter is, the Mariners went 2-5.  There’s no sugarcoating that.  They were swept by the Angels in a 4-game series and that’s the overwhelming takeaway from this homestand.

But, you know, it’s not like the Angels are really all that great.  They’re 1.5 games ahead of the Mariners right now, but I don’t get the sense that they’ll be running away with anything.  We play them 6 more times this year, in September, and hopefully by that point we’ll have some more help in the rotation.

As for yesterday’s game, what a wild affair!

I was at work, so I had to listen to most of it on the radio.  It started off pretty rough as the Mariners gave up yet ANOTHER leadoff homer in the first.  But, Marco Gonzales was able to settle down, as is the case sometimes with these 5th starter types.  The M’s were able to tie the game up on a Heredia double, then took the lead the very next inning on Yonder Alonso’s first homer as a Mariner (a 2-run job to take a 3-1 lead).

Then, the fifth inning rolled around, and like clockwork, Marco Gonzales turned back into a pumpkin.  Strike Out-Single-Single-Wild Pitch-Triple-Single-Single and that was it.  A 3-1 lead turned into a 4-3 deficit and Tony Zych was required to come in and clean up the mess.

Thankfully, he limited the damage to just that with a couple of fielder’s choices, then got through the sixth inning scoreless as well.  In the meantime, the Mariners’ offense went right back to work.  They re-took the lead in the bottom of the fifth, with four singles and a HBP to score three runs.  Then, Leonys Martin led off the sixth with a solo shot to make the game 7-4.

Emilio Pagan had the always-impressive scoreless inning on 3 pitches.  Nick Vincent locked down the eighth.  And Edwin Diaz was given a nice, cushiony 3-run lead to start the ninth.

Walk-walk-walk.  Bases loaded, nobody out.  Good grief.  Clearly Diaz didn’t have it, and most certainly should’ve been pulled right there, but, I mean, who do you bring in?  If David Phelps was still around, maybe we could’ve saved Emilio Pagan or Tony Zych for this situation.  But, other than Diaz, we had the two lefties, and I’m not sure Pazos is a guy I would trust with the bases loaded and nobody out with a 3-run lead.  Nevertheless, in the moment, I absolutely would’ve pulled Diaz right then and there.

He forced a liner to right field that Leonys Martin made a FABULOUS play on.  It still scored the runner from third, but it looked like that was going to be the key to saving Diaz’s bacon.  He even looked like he was settling down after that out!  Diaz got the next batter to strike out looking, and there we were, in pretty good shape.

But, that shit was FLEETING!  Diaz had his fastball running way too far inside, and it ultimately hit the next two batters to score another run and re-load the bases (even though on one of them, it looked like the hit batter swung at strike three on a check swing).

At that point, the team had no choice.  It helped that left-handed hitting Chris Davis was up next.  Scrabble pumped two 94 mph fastballs low and inside, then froze him with a third fastball right down the middle of the plate (when he was likely anticipating some sort of bendy pitch).

That was it!  It was exciting and enraging and relieving all at once.  By the time the top of the ninth rolled around I’d made it home, so I got to watch it on TV, and I was pretty sure I was going to have to label myself the Bad Luck Guy for busting up the sure thing.

Anyway, here we are.  The final two weeks of August.  The Mariners have today and the subsequent three Thursdays off, so it’s tough and it’s not.  Yeah, they’re on this huge East Coast swing, but that shouldn’t stop them from emptying out their bullpen whenever they need to salvage a close game.

Obviously, if I had my druthers, I’d have the M’s go 12-0 on this trip.  But, if I’m being more realistic, I’d like to see them win these first two series against the Rays and Braves, to go 4-2; then somehow split the next two series against the Yankees and Orioles to go 3-3.  If 7-5 can be achieved, I think we should all be fucking ecstatic.

That having been said, could I see 8-4 happen?  Only if they sweep the hapless Braves, which I feel should very much be on the table.  Go 2-1 against the Rays & Orioles, 3-0 against the Braves, and just try to fucking go 1-2 against the Yankees, and I believe you’ll see the Mariners back in that second Wild Card spot by the time they get back to Seattle.

Only for them to, you know, completely and totally disappoint us once again.  Because, that’s what they do.  They get our hopes up, and they dash them to bits.

On the flipside, I could also see the Mariners going 4-8 on this trip and completely falling out of the race.  Go 1-2 against both the Rays and Orioles, 0-3 against the Yankees, and still probably go 2-1 against the Braves.

The point is, these two weeks should very well make or break the season.  I remember being in a similar situation last year, where the Mariners were JUST trying to get to September for reinforcements to join the Big League club, and over the last 11 games of August (starting with that final home game against the Brewers, where Tom Wilhelmsen gave up 4 runs in the ninth to blow a 3-run lead), the M’s went 2-9.  They went into that series finale against the Brewers 10 games over .500, and they went into September 1st just 3 games over .500.

Last year’s Mariners also missed the Wild Card by 3 games.

So, yeah, a 2-week period at the end of August absolutely CAN make or break your season.  Will that be the case again this season?  We’ll find out, starting tomorrow afternoon.  Erasmo Ramirez on the hill against the team that just traded him.  I expect the additional adrenaline he’ll experience by facing his old team to have absolutely no impact whatsoever.

Then again, when he was on the Rays, he tended to really stick it to the Mariners, so who knows?

The Official 2017 Seattle Mariners Preview, Part II: The Pitchers

You can read Part I HERE.

There are two ways this thing can go down in 2017:  either the Mariners break the curse and make it back into the post-season, or they don’t and the pitching is entirely to blame.

Now, there are also two ways that previous sentence can go down in 2017:  either I’m right, or the Mariners will find another way to screw both me and the entire fanbase by having good-enough pitching and yet still not making the playoffs somehow, but that’s neither here nor there.

It’s already starting, if I’m being honest, with all this Drew Smyly stuff (UPDATE:  out 6-8 weeks).  Why is it, in sports, that it always seems like teams suffer the most injuries at the spots they can least afford to suffer injuries?  It’s like the man with one leg who sprains his good ankle.  I mean, seriously, what the fuck?

It’s unfair to pin your hopes on one guy, but I have a feeling Smyly was going to be a key cog in our rotation.  Obviously, our chances start with what we get from Felix.  He needs to bounce back in a major way and be that Ace we’ve seen from him before.  Then, you figure the next guy up – the guy who has the biggest opportunity to really explode (in a good way) and possibly climb into that Ace realm – is James Paxton.  The variance on that guy ranges from Top End Starter all the way to Injured Waste of Space, with a lot of options in between.  Then, I always figured Smyly had the next-highest variance of possibilities on the team.  He was an erstwhile top prospect who has had success in this league, and it wasn’t hard to picture it all coming together for him.  If you could work out a Big Three of sorts in our rotation with Felix, Paxton, and Smyly, with those guys carrying the major load, you’d take what you could get out of Kuma and Gallardo and probably walk away with something resembling 90+ wins (depending on how the bullpen shakes out).

Kuma and Gallardo, by the by, have the least amount of variance on the team.  You know what you’re going to get with those guys, and as long as it’s something approaching .500 ball, you’ll take it and you’ll fucking like it.

But, now this Smyly thing happened, and we’ve already got to dip into our starting pitching reserves.  The only question now is, how long until disaster strikes again, and will Smyly be back in time to pick up the slack?

As for the bullpen, buckle up buckaroos!

There’s actually a lot to like about this unit, all things considered, but a lot of things would have to break right to expect these guys to be totally lockdown.  Edwin Diaz, for as talented as he is, is still going to be something of a rollercoaster.  Looking beyond just the Opening Day roster, Steve Cishek figures to have a major role in the back-end of the bullpen when he gets fully healthy and ready to fire, and we’ve all seen the kinds of meltdowns he’s capable of.  I look forward to Evan Scribner being a calming, dominant presence – based on his September last year and his Spring Training this year – but we don’t really know!  We’ve yet to see him when the games REALLY start to matter (while the Mariners were still “in contention” last September, it was going to take a minor miracle for them to claw all the way back into post-season play).  We better hope Scribner has what it takes, because Nick Vincent has looked like warm, hittable garbage this spring, and his stuff wasn’t all that good to begin with.  I have a feeling Vincent won’t be on the team by season’s end.  That Scrabble guy was our major bullpen free agent signing, to be our primary lefty reliever, and he’s certainly had his ups and downs.  You don’t sign a guy like him for 2 years and $11 million just to be a fucking LOOGY, so he better figure the fuck out how to limit the damage from right-handed hitters, because so far this spring they’re responsible for ALL of the runs he’s given up.

On the plus side, some of the younger guys look better than expected.  Dan Altavilla has all but won himself a spot on the team.  Tony Zych is also working his way back from injury, and should play a big role in this bullpen when he’s ready.  James Pazos is another lefty the team is looking at long and hard, though he’s suffering many of the same complications as Scrabble, with right-handed hitters bashing the shit out of him.  With someone like Pazos, though, I don’t think you mind as much letting him be a LOOGY for a while, to get his feet wet and build his confidence (especially if this team goes with 8-man bullpens for various stretches of the season).  Beyond that, you’ve got any number of non-roster guys who are doing great, but I’m having a hard time figuring out who’s slated to be in a minor league rotation vs. who’s fodder for our bullpen should the need arise.

Bottom line with these guys, I think the bullpen is good enough to get us there.  I would be legitimately surprised (and yet, as a longtime Mariners fan, not surprised whatsoever) if the bullpen totally fell apart like it did in 2015.

What is a concern is not just the rotation underperforming, but their underperformance having a drastically negative impact on our bullpen.  A dominant bullpen can carry the load for a short period of time, if the rotation goes into a slump (which always happens, at one point or another, on every team).  But, if the bullpen is expected to carry this pitching staff over a super-long stretch of games, it’s ultimately going to get over-worked and severely lose its effectiveness.  So, yeah, the bullpen COULD struggle when all is said and done, but you have to look at the whole picture and decide:  are these guys just duds, or did the rotation totally screw them over?

I keep going back and forth with my predictions for this team.  I know when I was in Reno, I thought the bet of over 85.5 wins was pretty solid.  But, I didn’t think it was solid enough to actually put my own money on it, so do with that what you will.  My feeling on the Mariners seems to change with my mood.  When I’m happy, I can see this team winning over 90 games and going pretty far.  When I’m unhappy, work is getting to me, and I’m obsessing over the 5,000th consecutive overcast day in fucking SEATTLE GOD DAMN WASHINGTON FUCK ME WHY DON’T I MOVE TO SAN DIEGO AND GET AWAY FROM ALL THIS BULLSHIT … my outlook on the Mariners’ prospects tends to swirl down the toilet along with my disposition.

I WANT to believe!  But, I’ve been burned time and time and time and time again.  Sometimes I think it’s safer just to predict another 80-something win season where the Mariners fall oh so short of the Wild Card.  I also think it’s safer because I worry if I predict a World Series championship, I’m jinxing the team, because I’m clinically insane.  Besides, if I go with everyone else and just say the Mariners will win 85 games, I can be pleasantly surprised if I’m wrong and they win more.

Well, I’m not going to do that this year.  THIS time, I’m actually going to go out on a ledge and risk looking QUITE the fool!  95 wins!  I say this not with excitement for what’s about to happen, or with the blind enthusiasm of a mental patient, but with terse resentment and overwhelming expectations.

You fucking owe this to us, Mariners!  I’m tired of pussy-footing around and blindly hoping for a “fun summer” or whatever.  I don’t just want you to keep things interesting until football season rolls around.  Fuck football season!  It’s not like the Seahawks are elite anymore anyway!  We’re all deluding ourselves in believing this team’s championship window is still open; they’ve been on a downward spiral since they beat Denver 43-8.  The Seahawks are old news; it’s the Mariners’ time now!

And we’ve put up with too much of your bullshit to let this thing go on one more season.  You better be great, you better take care of business in this division, and you better deliver the fucking goods come playoff time!  Because I’m sick and tired of carrying a torch for this team!  I want lots of wins and lots of success!

And baseball gods, if you’re listening, you can eat all the world’s dicks, because you fucking owe us too!  The Mariners have been baseball’s whipping boys since forever.  Even when we were good, we were morbidly unlucky!  It’s about time the Mariners defied all expectations, guys out-performed projections, and the team stayed mostly-healthy.  This Smyly shit will not stand!  I want GOOD luck from here on out!

I think I’m losing my mind, you guys, so I’m going to wrap this up.  Just a couple things to keep an eye on before I go.

The current odds for the Mariners to win the World Series is 30 to 1.  I think the odds were lower when I was in Reno (maybe 20 or 25 to 1).  I was thinking, with the way I like to throw money around when I’m down there, of putting $1,000 on this, just to see if I could see a miracle in my lifetime.  I didn’t, of course, but that’ll be something to look back on should something wonderful happen in 2017.

Also, the odds for Nelson Cruz to hit the most home runs in the Major Leagues was a whopping 20 to 1.  Last year, Cruz was second with 43, behind Mark Trumbo’s 47.  The year before that, Cruz was second with 44, behind Chris Davis’ 47.  The year before that, Cruz was first with 40.  Again, we’re talking among the entire Major Leagues!  He’s been 2nd, 2nd, and 1st in the last three years.  This spring, he looks just as good as ever, if not even better somehow.  Would THAT have been a good bet to throw $1,000 on?  I think it’s infinitely more likely to happen than the Mariners winning the World Series, so you could say I’ve been kicking myself for the last two weeks for not throwing money down on Cruz.  We’ll just see, I guess.

There was also a bet to see who could get more combined hits, home runs, and RBIs between Kyle Seager and his brother.  I think the younger Seager is a lock on that one; easiest money I ever left on the table.

Mariners Make More Moves, MmmKay?

I feel like there’s something going on every two minutes, so I better get this up quick.

  • Mariners trade Mark Trumbo & C.J. Riefenhauser to Baltimore for Steve Clevenger
  • Mariners signed Nori Aoki to a 1-year deal
  • Mariners signed Justin De Fratus to 1-year deal
  • Mariners claimed Andy Wilkins off waivers from Baltimore
  • Mariners designated Edgar Olmos for assignment

A lot of little deals add up to a whole lotta HUH?

Obviously, Trumbo isn’t a Jerry Dipoto Kinda Guy, that much is clear, considering this is the second time in his GM career that he’s traded Trumbo away.  He strikes out a lot, hits for a low average, plays pretty shabby defense, and all in the name of a few dingers every now and then.  To be honest, I’m not sad to see him go.  To be PERFECTLY honest, I’m not sad to see a lot of the Jackie Z disappointments go.  One would think you’d be able to get more for a guy like Trumbo – especially from a team like Baltimore, who plays in a bandbox – but he’s set to make about $9 million next year, and apparently this was nothing but a cost-cutting move.

The fact that we also had to give up C.J. Riefenhauser, all for the honor of bringing back a backup catcher in Steve Clevenger, seems to be an extra slap in the face to all concerned (except for Clevenger, I guess, who has to feel like ten million bucks right about now).  But, let’s face it, Riefenhauser is semi-expendable, considering we’ve got about a thousand lefty relievers right now.  And Trumbo was never going to be the difference between us winning and losing.  Shedding his salary, and being allowed to make other moves for potentially better players, ultimately brings this deal up to the “Not So Bad” level.

I don’t think anyone is expecting much out of Clevenger.  He’s out of options, which means he’s all but assured to be this team’s backup catcher this year.  That forces Mike Zunino down to Tacoma for continued seasoning (unless the team decides to keep three catchers and/or convert one of them to first base, which I won’t rule out).  There’s also the outside chance that the team ends up flipping Clevenger for another player, like they just did with Riefenhauser (really disappointed I’m not going to get to write out “Riefenhauser” on the reg in 2016); or an interesting, VERY outside chance that the team trades Zunino (but, I honestly can’t see them giving up on a player this young, this good defensively, and with this much promise to turn his career around at the plate).  On the plus side, Clevenger is a lefty, which means he’ll likely start against the most difficult right-handed pitchers (but, obviously not ALL of them, as Chris Iannetta is still slated to be our starter).  And, overall, this seriously improves our overall organizational catcher depth.  Iannetta and Clevenger in the Bigs, Zunino and Sucre (probably) in Tacoma, and everyone else in the lower minors slotted accordingly.  If and when there’s an injury to a Major League catcher, it’s nice to know we’ll have Zunino at the ready to come up and play immediately (especially since he knows a lot of the pitchers really well).

That’s honestly more than I thought I’d write about the acquisition of a backup catcher, but there you go.

The more interesting move of the last 24 hours is actually the reported signing of outfielder Nori Aoki.  You might remember him from playing in Kansas City in 2014 on their World Series team.  He’ll be 34 years old next year (downside), but he’s only on a 1-year deal.  His 2015 was cut short due to a concussion, but he’s apparently been cleared to play and all appears to be well on that end.  Most importantly, he solves our Right Field problem, plays solid defense, hits for a solid average, and gets on base like a fiend.  I, for one, love a guy who walks more than he strikes out; I don’t know about you.  He’s a top-of-the-order table-setter type of guy that this team has been SORELY lacking since Ichiro exited his prime.  I don’t know if he’ll bat first or second in the order, but either way, this is the best news I’ve heard all offseason.

The outfield now looks like it’s going to be a left field platoon of Seth Smith & Guti, with Leonys Martin in center, and a right field semi-platoon with Aoki and Nelson Cruz (likely with Aoki playing the majority of the games, health permitting).  Our defense is bolstered, our hitting/on-base percentage is improved … this is honestly working out just as Dipoto promised.

Normally when you see this much turnover out of a new GM, I get the feeling that he’s just trying to mark his territory, seeking change for the sake of change, while at the same time trying to make the previous GM look as silly as possible.  But, I dunno, Dipoto feels different.  He’s got a plan – which every GM has when they start a new job – and he’s actually working toward making that plan a reality.  The only move he’s made so far that somewhat challenges his vision is Leonys Martin – who is NOT a good on-base guy – but he’s still got the defensive skills and athleticism you look for out of a center fielder.  When you partner the move to bring him in with the signing of Aoki (while also making a concerted effort to reassure fans that Martin will be a bottom-of-the-order hitter) I think that smooths things out, as this team is in dire-need of more table-setters (and, quite honestly, we don’t know if Ketel Marte is one of those guys yet).

Of course, what these moves have accomplished is, while they’ve filled our most glaring outfield hole, they opened up one at first base.  With LoMo no mo’ (kill me, kill me now), and with Trumbo gone, that just leaves Jesus Montero as our only first baseman on the 40-man.  Unless you count this Andy Wilkins guy, who has all of 17 games of Major League experience.  What we’re really looking at is:  this team isn’t done.  Not by a long shot.  BUT, things are in a little clearer focus.

Outfield is set.  Catcher is probably set.  Infield is mostly set; just need a first baseman.  The bullpen probably has more tweaking to go (we also signed this Justin De Fratus guy, who was a reliever for the Phillies the last few years, had a good 2014, had a crappy 2015, you know the score).  Need to add another starter (likely Iwakuma) and we’re good to go.  Or not, you never seem to know with new GMs.

What we do know is that there’s probably not another HUGE deal on the horizon.  With so much money tied up in Felix, Cano, Cruz, and Seager, don’t expect one of the top free agents (like a Chris Davis, for instance, who does play first base) to sign here.  The last big money deal will likely go to Iwakuma, and that’s still probably going to be a 2-3 year, modestly-priced deal.  Nothing like what you’re seeing with guys like David Price and the like (set to make $31 million per season, which sounds like suicide to me, but it’s not my money).

*** UPDATE ***

Looks like the Mariners gave away Patrick Kivlehan, a promising first base prospect from Tacoma, to finish the trade to the Rangers that brought in Leonys Martin.  This displeases me greatly, as I thought he’d be a guy who might pop for us.  Hope it doesn’t come back to bite us in the ass.