The Mariners Open Up The Second Half With A Series Win Over The Angels

I was heartened to see the Mariners did the sensible thing and went with their three best starting pitchers to open up the second half stretch run. With the All Star Break giving the team a few days off, they easily could’ve rejiggered the rotation however they wanted, including making last Friday a de facto Opening Day 2.0 (or Opening Day 3.0 if you count when the state started allowing full capacity seating again) and brought out Marco Gonzales as the ostensible “ace” of the staff. Instead, he’s been bumped to the 4-hole in the rotation, missing the Angels entirely as he gets his turn in Colorado.

Scott Servais gets overlooked quite a bit when we talk about the success of the Seattle Mariners, both this season and over his tenure with the team. He also gets an inordinate amount of blame when shit goes wrong, particularly whenever the bullpen melts down late in various demoralizing losses. In essence, how the bullpen does seems to be the only indicator as to whether or not a manager is good … at least, if you read which way the tea leaves are blowing on Twitter.

Managers are more than bullpen decisions. Granted, they make those choices too; they have to use their best judgment to determine whether or not a guy “has it” on a particular night. But, a lot of even THOSE decisions are made for them by the stats department. Guys have certain strengths and weaknesses and if you’re in a position to win a ballgame, you put the pitchers in there who figure to fare best based on the myriad numbers that have been crunched.

It’s not Servais’ fault if a guy has an off-night though. It’s not his fault if his bullpen is terrible, just as it’s not his good grace if a bullpen is amazing. I would argue, compared to the managers we’ve seen over the last 10-15 years, Servais has shown the best judgment in not sticking with bad relievers for too long. Even when you glom onto the latest thorn in our side, Rafael Montero, you can see he lost his closer’s job almost immediately this year. He’s pretty much been converted to a long relief role in blowouts at this point, to see if the team can salvage some value or production out of him. His stuff still has potential, and he must be willing to work with the coaches in improving his game, otherwise if he was difficult I think he’d already be gone.

But, if you take a step back from obsessing over one guy, and look at the team globally, what Servais and his staff have been able to do with this group of guys is pretty remarkable. The Mariners are 50-44. They have no right to be this good, with a group of players this mediocre, and with a run differential of -51. You can write this off as a fluke, but this also isn’t the first time a Scott Servais-managed team has had a winning record with a negative run differential. This isn’t the first time he’s maximized the talent of his team and squeezed out as many wins as possible. He seems to be adept at getting a lot out of a little, which leaves me excited to see what he could do with a team loaded with talent.

That gets me back to his decision to go Flexen/Kikuchi/Gilbert over the weekend. He’s loyal to his guys, to a point, but he’s not going to force an issue just to make guys happy. He’s going to lead, by making the hard choices and potentially pissing off a guy like Marco Gonzales. Too many former Mariners managers would’ve stubbornly stuck with Marco, saying, “He’s my guy” and getting rightly roasted as a result. But, where are the accolades when Servais makes the smart decisions like this? Well, they come from me, on a blog hardly anyone reads.

I like Servais. I hope he stays here a good, long time. I hope he gets to see this rebuild to fruition. I hope we get to see what he’s capable of when the Mariners are ready to start winning 100 games per season.

***

As I mentioned, Chris Flexen got the start on Friday. He kept the good times rolling by going 7 innings, giving up 1 run. Thankfully, the M’s were able to rack up a 6-1 lead by the time he left the game, because the defense and bullpen just didn’t have it in this one. We nevertheless were able to hang on for a 6-5 victory, but it was a nailbiter at the end.

Kendall Graveman has been a concern for us of late, since he returned from the COVID-IL with a case of being an anti-vax idiot (allegedly). I wouldn’t put a lot of the blame on him in this one, since all three of his runs were unearned (thanks to two errors), but he’s also shown to be much more hittable of late. Even though, spread out over the entire season, Graveman has been our best reliever, it was heartening to see Servais pull him with one out remaining in the bottom of the ninth, to go with the hot hand of Paul Sewald, who was able to shut the door.

Jarred Kelenic got called back up to the Mariners in this one. How far we’ve fallen that he’s not the biggest story on this blog at the moment. But, he broke his 0-for-Forever streak with a hit on Friday, so good for him. He also found himself batting 7th in the lineup, which is probably where he should’ve been all along, so go ahead and count that as a knock on Servais (I would say, in general, his lineup construction has been fine, though there are baffling moments sprinkled in, as there are with all managers).

The offensive heroes on Friday were the guys we’ve come to expect to lead the way: Haniger, France, and Seager. They combined to go 7 for 12 with 5 RBI, 5 runs scored, including homers by Seager and Haniger, and a double by Haniger to boot. Dylan Moore also had a couple hits to chip in.

Saturday was worrying, because it was the second sub-par outing in a row for Yusei Kikuchi. Ever since he made the All Star squad, he’s fallen apart. It was easy to explain-away the game against the Yankees (who tend to mash lefties), but giving up 7 runs in 5 innings to the Angels makes this the start of a trend. A trend, quite frankly, I don’t like! Let’s hope he turns it back around sooner rather than later.

The other two runs were given up by, you guessed it, Rafael Montero in his one inning of work. Again, what can you do with this guy besides release him at this point? I feel like he has until Hector Santiago’s suspension is up, then he’s most likely gone. He’s pitched in 39 games this season. He’s performed well on occasion, but he’s given up at least one run in 19 of those games. That’s an INSANELY high percentage of games where he’s failed (I would argue it’s a failure whenever a reliever gives up even one run; blanket statement, and probably unfair, I know). 11 of those games he’s given up 2 or more runs, which is astronomically bad. And he’s not trending in the good direction; he’s given up 2-3 runs in 6 of his last 7 appearances (since he had those remarkable back-to-back 10th inning shutdown performances against the Rays). Rafael Montero, we hardly knew ye.

The Mariners lost 9-4 on Saturday, though, so it’s hard to be too mad at Montero. Maybe he slips through the cracks; we’ll see. There are certainly enough blowout opportunities to sneak him to the finish line with this team.

Haniger had a homer and 4 RBI in this one. Kelenic had his second hit since being called back up. Dylan Moore had two more hits. As did Ty France. J.P. Crawford had three hits!

The rubber match was thrilling for a number of reasons. Logan Gilbert pitched into the sixth inning again (5.2 innings, 2 runs on 4 hits & 2 walks, with 9 strikeouts), and the bullpen did its job until the very end. Things got a little hairy in the ninth, after an Ohtani homer off of Sewald, but the M’s were up by a lot and things weren’t really in doubt. A 7-4 win and yet another series for the good guys.

Kelenic has a 3-game hit streak, everyone! France is red hot (had 3 hits – including a homer – with 2 runs and 3 RBI), Luis Torrens had another dinger. And Mitch Haniger scored 3 runs to be highly involved.

The Mariners keep plugging away. This is really a fun team! I can’t say I’m loving EVERY minute of the experience, but the good days outnumber the bad ones, and I think that’s all you can really ask from this team.

Chris Flexen Is One Of The More Pleasant Mariners Surprises

So much positivity and good vibes going on lately, I might have to change the name to Seattle Sports Heaven!

Chris Flexen was one of those out-of-left-field signings before this season that I don’t think anyone really had any faith in. You’re talking about a guy who flamed out so hard with the Mets organization that he spent 2020 in Korea, where to his credit he did manage to turn his game around, but you have to take that with a grain of salt. Lots of people leave the Major Leagues for greener pastures over in Asia and see dramatic improvements; that’s not a knock, they just don’t have the level of talent that MLB has. I think some fans may have pointed to the specific types of improvements Flexen made as an indication that it could translate back over here. But, again, I don’t know why anyone would have thought he’d be as good as he’s been so far with the Mariners.

He’s made 16 starts, with 8 of them of the quality variety. I would argue he’s done his job in all but four of those starts, which were pretty bad (including one where he failed to make it out of the second inning), but otherwise he’s eating innings and consistently giving the Mariners at least a chance to win. His 8-3 record reflects this nicely. He’s crazy-economical with his pitch counts to boot, which should bode well for his durability.

I wouldn’t normally be raving about a Chris Flexen type. From a pure “stuff” standpoint, he’s more in the #3 or #4 starter range. But, obviously the Mariners’ rotation has had its struggles this season – both with injury and effectiveness – so it’s nice to have this rock in there who we can depend on for this type of consistency. When you factor in his salary, he’s a tremendous bargain who will be around for at least the next 2-3 seasons if he continues to produce in this fashion.

Flexen is earning less than $2 million this year. He’s locked in at just under $3 million for next year. There’s a team option for 2023 worth $4 million, that increases to $8 million if he hits 150 innings in 2022, or a combined 300 innings from 2021-2022. Considering he’s already at 92.1 innings at the All Star Break, I would say the $8 million is likely to be met. There’s another Arbitration year in 2024 on top of that, so team control isn’t an issue with Flexen. He’ll be here for a while as long as he stays healthy and pitches the way he’s been pitching.

As we’ve seen, both locally and across MLB, filling out your rotation with quality pitchers is one of the most difficult things you can do. We always talk about the need for bona fide ace pitchers, but you also need guys like Flexen. He’s only 27 years old, so it feels silly to call him a “crafty veteran”, but he’s a pitcher. He’s not getting by on overwhelming stuff. He’s pitching to spots, pitching to contact, and generating just enough whiffs to prevent E.R.A. bloat. As long as they avoid injury, guys like Flexen can stick in the game for a long time. He strikes me as more of a journeyman type, but sometimes these guys stay so consistently good that teams HAVE to pay them lots of money to stick around for multiple years. We’re getting him in his prime, at sub-prime prices.

I don’t like being one of those fans who’s obsessed with the team’s bottom line, because MLB teams are owned by billionaires. They have the money to spend. If they don’t spend it, they’re just being stingy. But, I have to be a fan who lives in the real world, and I know the Mariners can be stingy. They’ll splurge when they have to, but they’re never going to consistently reside at the top of the market. At best, you might see the M’s in the top ten in payroll, but I don’t know if you’ll ever see us in the top five, or even the top seven or eight. Everything kind of has to go right for the Mariners to want to go all in.

So, we need the young crop of prospects to hit it big. And we need bargains like Flexen to out-perform their contracts. This helps make the Mariners good, and thereby helps the front office feel better about opening their wallets.

The Mariners are 48-43. That’s certainly better than I figured they’d be at his point, when I considered this team before the season. Chris Flexen is a great reason why. He has a 1.5 WAR. Justus Sheffield – one of the greatest Mariners disappointments so far in 2021 – has a negative 1.5 WAR. Flexen is the anti-Sheffield! He zeroes out all that Sheffield has done to try to sabotage this season. I think that’s pretty impressive!

I’m also amused that he’s another ex-Mets player who crushes it in Seattle. Can we make it a point to bring in every ex-Met and turn them into superstars?

I’m Thrilled To Write About The Mariners’ Logan Gilbert

This kid looks like the real deal. That’s exciting for a number of reasons.

That’s exciting because starting pitching hasn’t been a strong suit of this 2021 Mariners team, due to injuries and ineffectiveness. Oh sure, Yusei Kikuchi is an All Star, and Chris Flexen has pitched like ones at times. But, in a stubborn six-man rotation set-up, Gilbert only brings the competency up to 50%.

That’s also exciting because Gilbert is considered one of our young core. As you’ll see this week, I’m only planning on writing about this group: the young players who are outperforming expectations. These are Major Leaguers who are still on their original deals and very well could be part of the next great Mariners team. Logan Gilbert fits that bill, plus he’s an actual draft pick (14th overall in 2018) who developed in our system and rose through the ranks. The Mariners made a big show of drafting pitching in the upper rounds in recent years, and Gilbert is the first sign of making good on that promise.

That’s ALSO also exciting because Gilbert is just one of many. Hopefully. Please, for the love of all that is holy, let this be factually accurate. The idea, of course, is to REALLY fill out the active Major League roster with this line of young talent (while picking your spots here and there to help advance this team into the stratosphere), and you can already see it starting to come to fruition (with, ideally, the big guns coming up in the very near future).

Finally, it’s exciting because Gilbert looks really fucking good!

In 10 career starts, he’s already accumulated a 0.8 WAR. 48.2 IP, 53 strikeouts, and a 0.97 WHIP. What’s most encouraging is most of his bad stuff happened in his first three games, where he managed only 10.2 IP, giving up 9 runs, with a WHIP of 1.47. Since then, he’s gone 38 innings (one promising start was cut short due to a rain delay), giving up 11 runs, tossing three Quality Starts, and twice pitching into the seventh inning (including his most recent dominant outing against the Yankees, where he gave up just 1 hit and 0 walks and runs over 7 innings). That WHIP over his last seven starts has been 0.84, which is just outstanding!

This is dominant Ace-type stuff we’re talking about. He’s got a live fastball, but he’s not living and dying with it. He controls the strike zone, isn’t afraid to pitch inside, and has a great head on his shoulders. His level of preparation is off the charts. And while I know injuries can strike at any time, for no reason whatsoever, his is a form that doesn’t strike me as one we have to be overly worried about. I don’t get a sense that he’s putting a lot of extra strain on his elbow or shoulder. I hope I didn’t just jinx the hell out of him, but you also can’t live as a baseball fan worried about every single player who comes along.

The only question at this point is what we’re going to call his corner of the stadium when they bring back the K-cards and T-shirts every time he starts. Logan’s Lair? Logan’s Landing? Gilbert’s Glen? Gilbert’s Garage? I dunno, the Mariners will figure it out, I’m sure.

The Mariners Closed Out The First Half With A Series Win Over The Angels

Friday’s 7-3 victory set a nice tone for the weekend. Marco Gonzales got the start and had a very 2021 Marco performance, giving up a run in each of the first three innings (including probably the most mammoth home run in any game ever, off the bat of Shohei Ohtani), before looking like the Marco of old the rest of the way. He ultimately was pulled after 5.2 innings, giving up those three runs on 7 hits, while striking out 3. One out from a Quality Start, yet I don’t know if anyone would describe it as such. He has a problem, almost certainly physical, that he’s dealing with this year, and I don’t hold a lot of hope for him to turn this season around.

The Mariners bats were quiet throughout, except for an opposite-field 2-run double (that was inches away from being a 3-run homer) by Shed Long in the fourth inning. We were losing 3-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning before a Ty France single tied it up. It remained 3-3 into the bottom of the eighth when Mitch Haniger hit the go-ahead grand slam to give the game its final score. Helluva run by the bullpen in this one, with four guys combining to go the last 3.1 innings, giving up just 2 hits in that stretch.

Chris Flexen was the obvious hero in Saturday’s 2-0 victory, going 7 shutout innings, giving up just 3 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 6. Luis Torrens had two hits – including an RBI triple – and the other guys did just enough to eke this one out. I can’t say enough good things about Flexen this year, as he’s really been the co-Ace of this staff with Yusei Kikuchi. I won’t go so far as to suggest Flexen also deserved to be an All Star, but I will say he’s easily the biggest free agent bargain on this team, for what he’s been producing.

On Sunday, we were saddled with yet another bullpen day, thanks to Justus Sheffield’s injury. And, we were rewarded with yet another Justus Sheffield-like performance. The soon-to-be suspended Hector Santiago got the start and lucked his way into 3 innings, giving up just 1 run. But, the bullpen behind him couldn’t do the impossible once again. These games are going to happen, especially with the struggles of the Mariners’ rotation outside of Flexen, Kikuchi, and Gilbert.

Sunday’s game was noteworthy because Cal Raleigh got called up from Tacoma. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, but I thought there were some promising signs. In his very first at bat, he saw 8 pitches, fouling off 5 of them (he also saw 7 pitches in his final AB of the day). I know that’s really grasping at straws for positivity, but it’s always nice to see guys not look totally lost in their initial call-ups. I also need to cool my jets when it comes to having high expectations for these guys right out of the box. Young players struggle early in their careers MUCH more than not. An 0 for 4 is normal, not a disappointment.

This leaves the Mariners at 48-43 over the first half. There are only 71 games remaining, with the M’s right in the thick of the Wild Card hunt. We’re 3.5 games behind the Oakland A’s for the second wild card spot. We’re also 7 games behind the Houston Astros for the A.L. West. With those two teams ahead of us – and both pretty clearly superior – I would still say it’s a considerable long shot for the Mariners to make the post-season. But, you never know.

In an odd turn of events, immediately following this week’s All Star Break, we resume playing the Angels, this time on the road. It already looks like we’ll be seeing two of the same Angels starters we just saw over the weekend; I’ll be curious to see what the Mariners decide to do. Ideally, we should take this opportunity to reshuffle the rotation, maybe come right back with Flexen, Kikuchi, Gilbert. But, I don’t think they’ll disrespect Marco like that (unless he does have nagging injury issues going on, and they decide to give him extra rest over the next week), and I also don’t think they want to over-work Gilbert’s arm this early into his career.

What the Mariners really need to do is make a trade for a quality starter or two, but that’s neither here nor there.

The Mariners Keep Winning Series, Defeating The Rangers

Last Friday’s game was touted as (something to the effect of) the grand Re-Opening Day, because this was the first home game we’ve had since June 30th, when the governor took all restrictions off the state. For the purposes of the Seattle Mariners, that means no more social distancing. That means full capacity. That means no more masks or bullshit (unless you’re one of the idiot unvaccinated, in which case pinky-swear that you WILL wear a mask, and definitely don’t just pretend you’re vaccinated to get out of wearing one).

Even though this was Re-Opening Day 2021 or some damn thing (though, I’ll be honest, I must have missed the memo, because I didn’t realize they were making this such a huge promotional campaign until I was already inside the stadium), and the Mariners have been winning a lot of games recently, AND (most importantly of all, apparently) there would be a post-game fireworks show, I don’t think we even cracked 30,000 fans on Friday. Maybe Washingtonians had other plans this weekend.

Whatever the case may be, they missed a whale of a game on Friday! Mitch Haniger had one of the worst games I’ve seen from an individual Mariners player all season. He had two errors in the third inning, resulting in a 2-0 Rangers lead. He was also 0 for 4 on the day with a walk, including 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position (you know, when he could have directly helped his team by making up for his earlier blunders). I thought I was going to have to come on here and rip him to shreds more than I have, but this Mariners team is something else, and they picked him up like they’ve been picking up guys all year.

It was 3-0 in the fifth before Jake Fraley hit a solo bomb to get us on the board. While I was on a neverending quest to find a food line that wasn’t a mile long (seriously, the Mariners need to figure it the fuck out when it comes to these insane concessions lines; I shouldn’t have to miss two innings of gameplay just to get a fucking hot dog), we scratched another run on the board in the seventh thanks to an error. Then, in the bottom of the 8th, Luis Torrens hit a game-tying homer.

The really magical moment came in that same half-inning. Jake Fraley walked and stole second following the Torrens homer. After a Dylan Moore strikeout, J.P. Crawford walked up to the plate with two outs. As the crowd chanted J.P. over and over, he came through with a single that scored the speedy Fraley, giving the Mariners a 4-3 lead.

That turned out to be short-lived, as Kendall Graveman gave up an unearned run. Ty France – starting at third base – made just a MISERABLE throw to first on a ground ball, that skipped away, allowing the runner to reach second. A Rangers double plated him, tying it up and ultimately sending the game to extras. But, Anthony Misiewicz pitched around the 10th inning ghost runner to keep the game tied. That was all we needed. Shed Long bunted the runner to third. Torrens took his intentional walk. And Jake Fraley knocked in the run on a single through the drawn-in infield (why they were drawn in even though they had the double play set up, I’ll never know). Just like that, a 5-4 victory and a Mariners celebration in the outfield!

The good vibrations were short lived, as Saturday’s game got away from us. Marco Gonzales didn’t have it, giving up 7 runs in 3.1 innings. But, the combo of Rafael Montero (2.2 innings) and Yohan Ramirez (3 innings) kept the game scoreless the rest of the way. It wouldn’t be enough, though, as the offense could only muster 3 runs. Kyle Seager was 2 for 2 with two walks and a homer. That’s pretty much it.

But, the Mariners came right back on Sunday to win 4-1. Chris Flexen pitched six innings of 1-run ball, Luis Torrens hit a 3-run home run in the fourth, and Shed Long hit a solo homer in the fifth. This game was over in a flash, as the Mariners and Rangers accommodated everyone who would’ve rather been doing 4th of July things than sitting there watching a baseball game. It was awful sweet of them, really.

The Mariners have been doing a pretty good job of cleaning up against the rest of the American League (and the dregs of the A.L. West), but their 45-40 record is still a whopping 7 games behind the Astros (who seem to be doing the same thing as us when it comes to all the ass-kicking). Probably best not to scoreboard watch this early in the season, but how can you not?! We haven’t lost a series since June 12th!

Anyway, the Yankees are in town for three games starting tomorrow. They’ve been a disappointment, by Yankees-standards, but will most likely still be a formidable foe.

The Mariners Keep Winning Series, Defeating The Blue Jays

Are the Mariners actually decent? This question was posed to me yesterday after the M’s took the series against the Blue Jays, 2 games out of 3. Sure, I think the Mariners are decent. But, “decent” and “good” are two different things. I think the Mariners will hover around .500 all year, but I also think there will be some ugly losing stretches we’ll have to endure, that ultimately prevent us from making the playoffs. When I close my eyes, I don’t see a playoff team. If I squint really hard, it’s possible. But, you have to wonder how much help is on the horizon.

There are still younger guys who will be called up and could make a difference in the second half of the season. Kelenic is out there, Cal Raleigh is bursting at the seams. But, where is the pitching coming from? With all of these off-days of late, we’ve temporarily abandoned the 6-man rotation, but you have to believe it’s returning after the All Star Break. The M’s don’t HAVE six healthy viable starters, with Justin Dunn on the shelf and presumably requiring an extended break to calm down his arm. On top of that, Justus Sheffield has been hot garbage over the last month, so we’re REALLY in need of two starters if we want to continue on these winning ways. And that assumes our existing starters manage to stay healthy the rest of the way, which you know will not happen.

Just enjoy the fucking ride. It’s been fun the last couple weeks, as the Mariners have gone 12-4 to lift their record to 43-39. That seems like an abnormally fortunate stretch of baseball for a team whose run differential is still -42.

I talked earlier in the week about how the Blue Jays’ record wasn’t indicative of their talent level, that they’re much better than you might think. Tuesday’s 9-3 drubbing proved that point quite nicely. Chris Flexen was okay (5 innings, 3 runs), but the bullpen totally shit the bed, with Rafael Montero and Will Vest giving up 3-run home runs in back-to-back innings. Ty France’s 3-run home run – to grace Flexen with the well-earned no decision – was the only offense to speak of.

Wednesday’s 9-7 Mariners victory was one of the more entertaining games of the season, marred by a brutal YouTube telecast (more Sarah Langs, less of … everyone else, please). I, of course, had zero faith in the M’s in this one, especially after what I witnessed the previous evening. Justus Sheffield didn’t disappoint, in that respect, giving up 4 runs in 4 innings. Frankly, he was lucky he didn’t get blown up more than he did!

The M’s jumped out to a 4-1 lead that was chipped away to a 4-4 tie after four innings. Highlights from that stretch included a Trammell RBI double and a Seager 2-run home run. Haniger hit a 2-run bomb in the fifth to make it 6-4, which dropped to 6-5 by the bottom half of the inning. That score held until the 8th when the Blue Jays hit a solo bomb to tie it. We made it to extras where, in the tenth, Dylan Moore hit a 3-run home run to put the game away (a harmless Blue Jays unearned run scored in the bottom half, but nothing after that).

6 innings and only 2 earned runs out of the bullpen in that one! On top of which, Crawford, Seager, and Moore all had multi-hit games (13 hits total for the Mariners). The only downside to this one was the money I definitely didn’t lose by betting against the Mariners, I don’t even know what you guys are talking about!

There was a lot to like about the rubber match, with another dominant Yusei Kikuchi performance right at the top. 7 innings, 1 run (5 hits, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts). Dude, we HAVE to pick up his option years. I mean, yeah, wait until the end of the season or whatever, but get this done. He has clearly turned a corner in his career, and if this is the type of pitcher we can expect going forward, he’ll be a bargain!

Homers by Fraley and Long, multi-hit games by Fraley, Haniger, and Seager. Just a great game all around for the Mariners.

That made it a 4-2 road trip, and now here we are: a 9-game homestand to close out the first half, starting with three against the Rangers this weekend. Don’t look now, but there’s buzz around this team. Maybe ill-placed buzz, but buzz nonetheless.

The Mariners Wrapped Up A Wildly Successful Homestand With A Split Against The Rockies

The title really says it all, but let’s get into the most recent 2-game series anyway, because it was 50% fun.

This is one of those weird and infuriating weeks where there’s an off-day, two games, and then another off-day. Meanwhile, teams have to suffer upwards of 20 games in 20 days (or sometimes more games in as many days, if there are rainouts to be made up) at various points in seasons because MLB scheduling is wonky and senseless. And you wonder why Cal Ripken’s streak is never even going to be close to threatened for the rest of humanity’s time on Earth.

Tuesday’s game was the fun one. The Mariners victory. A 2-1 affair that featured great pitching on both sides, including 6.2 innings out of Flexen (who gave up 1 run on 4 hits and 2 walks, with 6 strikeouts). J.P. Crawford scored the game’s opening run in the bottom of the fifth inning, and the game was tied until one out in the eighth, when Shed Long hit a go-ahead solo homer to dead center field. That made it back-to-back games with Long hitting in a game-winning home run.

Today’s game was decidely less encouraging. The Mariners went 7-2 on this homestand (including today’s 5-2 defeat); can you guess who started both losses? Yes, that would be Justus Sheffield, naturally. He gave up a 2-run bomb in the second, a solo bomb in the fourth, and failed to make it beyond one out in the fifth inning before being pulled. 87 mostly-worthless pitches, with three walks and the two aforementioned homers out of the four total hits he gave up. That’s three consecutive miserable losses for Sheffield, after mostly trading off good and bad games through early June. Also, these three most recent defeats were against the Tigers, Twins, and Rockies (the 5th, 6th, and 8th-worst teams in all of Major League baseball by record), so it’s not like he’s unlucky with scheduling. These are winnable games that he’s not competitive in.

Of course, the hitters in today’s game didn’t do the M’s any favors. We didn’t get our first hit until the sixth, when Taylor Trammell mashed a solo homer. A meaningless run scratched across in the ninth, but two runners were left on base as the 27th out was made.

Starting Friday, we embark on our final road trip before the All Star Break. Three against the White Sox, and three against the Blue Jays. Then, it’s a lengthy 9-game homestand to close out the first half. The Mariners are 39-37, miles and miles behind the Astros and A’s for the A.L. West, BUUUUUUT only 5 games out of the Wild Card hunt. I know, I know, it’s silly to get my hopes up with this much time left in the season. But, it’s still cool that the Mariners are doing as well as they are, given the talent level on this team.

The Mariners Won The Season Series Against The Twins

Well, it wasn’t perfect, but the Mariners did just win 2 of 3 against the Twins at T-Mobile Park. That gave us a 4-2 season series win over one of the more disappointing clubs in the American League.

On Monday, we saw Marco Gonzales’ climb out of the IL depths with a mediocre 5-inning, 3-run performance. He thankfully ended up with a no decision, and the bullpen was awesome from there, as the Mariners scratched a run across in the 8th inning (if by “scratched” I mean Jake Bauers hit a solo bomb to center) to pull ahead 4-3. Eight Mariners had at least one hit, with Jake Fraley going 2 for 2 with 2 walks, an RBI, and a run scored.

Tuesday’s game saw the Mariners score a season-high 10 runs in a 10-0 victory. Chris Flexen went 8 shutout innings, giving up 4 hits and striking out 8. Crawford, France, Bauers, Torrens, and Long all had multi-hit games, with Crawford, France, and Torrens all hitting homers. This one was pretty fun. The M’s were up 5-0 after two innings, and ended up scoring at least one run in four additional innings after that to really put the game away.

The sweep, unfortunately, was just out of reach, as Justus Sheffield continued his shit-slide, giving up 7 runs in 5 innings. 10 hits, 2 walks, 2 homers. He’s not good. His fastball is slow and straight. His slider isn’t nearly the weapon it was last year. He keeps catching too much of the plate and is easily crushable. There’s nothing dynamic or special about his game, and I feel like it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a throw-in on a trade for another fringey, Quad-A type prospect who will also do nothing for us. As seems to be the case with most MLB trades, this is yet another one where both organizations managed to lose. Thankfully, there are lots of other more exciting pitching prospects in the pipeline; we shouldn’t have to devote too many more seasons to seeing if Sheffield is going to pan out or not (spoiler alert: he’s not going to pan out).

On the plus side, we’ve found my new favorite Mariner to dump on! I can’t wait to mock Sheffield mercilessly for as long as he remains an albatross in our starting rotation!

The Rays come to town starting tonight, so I hope you enjoyed the last couple wins we just saw, because that feeling figures to be on hiatus for the foreseeable future.

Sigh, The Mariners Beat The Tigers Once This Season

The Tigers objectively stink. I think that’s what’s so infuriating about all of this. To be fair, the Mariners objectively stink as well, but at least we’re still hovering around .500 because we stink in marginally different ways. Our bullpen usually isn’t a trainwreck, for instance. And, when our guys do hit, they tend to knock other guys in for runs.

The Mariners have a winning record against the A.L. West. We’ve played .500 ball or better against the likes of the Red Sox, Giants, and Indians. On the flipside, the Tigers STINK! They’re winning at a .412 clip against all teams not based out of Seattle; the Mariners meanwhile are winning at a .526 clip against all non-Detroit teams! This is unfathomable!

It is unfathomable that the Mariners went 1-5 against the Tigers this season. And yet, here we are.

On Tuesday, Marco Gonzales made his second start back from the IL, going 4 innings and giving up 4 runs (3 of them in the first inning). The M’s couldn’t do much of anything against the Tigers’ starter and we lost the game 5-3, ensuring that we would lose the season series right off the bat.

Wednesday’s game was a real barn-burner! I ended up watching most of it, as it was easily in the top three of most exciting M’s games of the season. Chris Flexen gave up 3 runs in 6 innings and that held as the game went into extras. Of course, the game only made it that far because Jake Fraley made an insane over-the-outfield-wall catch to rob a game-winning home run. Fraley also went 2/5 at the plate with a run and an RBI. J.P. Crawford added a couple hits, an RBI and a run to continue his hot stretch of hitting. All in all, eight Mariners contributed on offense with at least one hit. But, the star was newcomer Dillon Thomas, who made his first Major League appearance after 10+ years in the minors. He got the start in right field and also had a fantastic defensive catch to rob the Tigers of extra bases early in the game. He came through in the 11th inning with a 2-run single to help put this game away. This ended up being a 9-6 Mariners victory and it was so much fun it ALMOST made up for the other five losses to the Tigers this season.

Today’s game was an 8-3 drubbing that’s better off forgotten to the sands of time. Justus Sheffield struggled, again, giving up 5 runs (3 earned) in 4 innings. He’s been among the biggest healthy disappointments on the Mariners this season; maybe THE biggest. He’s yet to make it beyond the 6th inning in a game, and only has three quality starts. I don’t think there’s a starter in the organization whose games I look forward to less, and that’s including Nick Margevicius when he was healthy. Hell, the Bullpen Days are more entertaining!

I don’t know what to say, other than I guess we’re lucky to be finished with the Tigers this season? Honestly, that record should be reversed – we should’ve gone 5-1 against them – but whatever. It’s one of those things. Like when the Astros were among the very worst teams in all of baseball, and as soon as they joined the A.L. West, they were unstoppable killing machines against the Mariners. It’s a helpless feeling as a fan, let me tell you.

The Mariners Bounced Back The Opposite Way, Lost A Series To The Athletics

The 6-5 victory on Monday sealed off five wins in a row, and a stretch of 7 wins in 8 games: relatively impressive after the 6 losses in a row that preceeded it. Granted, the bullpen gagged away our 4-2 lead late in the game, blowing a would-be victory for Logan Gilbert – who was impressive over 6 innings, giving up just 2 runs on 5 hits and a walk, with 5 strikeouts, on 80 pitches – but we were able to prevail in extras thanks to some clutch hitting and a rabid sacrifice fly by Tom Murphy.

My friends and I went to the game on Tuesday thinking we had this game pegged. Marco Gonzales was making his return from the IL and wasn’t projected to go very far, since he hadn’t made any tune-up starts in the minor leagues. This one had all the feel of a game that might get out of hand early, with the bullpen carrying the mail like it usually does to keep things interesting to the end.

Instead, Marco was great! He threw 50 pitches, made it through 4 innings, and gave up only 1 run on 2 hits. It was, indeed, the bullpen that was shot, giving up the other 11 runs that turned this game into a rout, particularly with a 6-run seventh inning. We left the game not long after that debacle.

Wednesday’s rubber match was a total nightmare. I watched for almost three innings, but the A’s put up a 5-spot in the third and I knew it was over from there. I don’t know a ton about the Athletics and their players, but I know Sean Manaea fucking owns our asses. One run would’ve been too much, as this ended in a 6-0 complete game shutout for the man. Chris Flexen was able to gamely make it through 6 innings, just giving up those 5 runs, so it was nice of him to spare the bullpen a little bit (as Justin Dunn is going to miss his next start, which means we’re in for yet another bullpen day coming up).

It’s actually kind of crazy how many Mariners are hitting the IL this year. I have little frame of reference how they compare to the rest of MLB, or how they compare to normal seasons in the recent past, but it feels like a lot. It feels somewhat abnormal. Some of these would have happened in any ol’ season – I’m looking at Ty France getting hit by a pitch, and Kyle Lewis’ bum knee – but there has to be a non-zero number of injuries that we can attribute to COVID-19 and the cockadoodie 2020 season with only 60 games and no minor leagues. Guys whose bodies … for lack of a better phrase are out of baseball shape. So they’re getting these strains that they might not otherwise.

Of course, this could also just be a byproduct of the game today. Today’s player probably needs more regular off-days than they’re getting. Teams are unwilling or unable to roster full benches – because they’re using every extra spot on their bullpens – and obviously that’s for good reason, given how many of these injuries are happening to pitchers. When you’re a team like the Mariners – trying to run a 6-man rotation out there, partially in hopes of reducing some of the wear-and-tear, even though we no longer employ more than 6 viable starting pitchers at the Major League level – this rash of injuries becomes more pronounced. When fans are forced to watch many multiple bullpen days because the organization fucked around in the offseason putting all their chips in on James Paxton, there’s an injury trickle-down effect when that very bullpen that’s been carrying this team gets overworked. All in the name of this theory that a 6-man rotation is supposed to cut down on injuries.

IT’S NOT WORKING, MARINERS! All it’s doing is costing you games and the livelihood of your relievers that you’re running through a fucking meat-grinder.

In theory, in an ideal world where the Mariners have an unlimited source of quality starting pitchers, a 6-man rotation might be a good idea. But, in reality, almost no team has 6 good-to-great starters. They BARELY have 5, with the depth being of the sub-replacement level variety. There’s a reason why teams in the playoffs scale back to three starters, maybe four at the most. Obviously, you can’t do that over the course of a full 162-game season, but it’s pretty apparent you also can’t stretch it out to 6 without throwing away some games.

Those games start to add up when you’re hovering around .500 and ostensibly in contention for a postseason berth.