The Tigers aren’t good, man. They’re just not. And yet, we came out of Detroit a week ago having lost 2 of 3, followed by losing the opener to this home series over the weekend to make it 3 of 4. It just looked dismal at that point, and you had to wonder if all the injuries and suspensions and shaky pitching had finally caught up to this team. Let’s face it, playoff teams win season series against inferior opponents like Detroit; whereas Mariners teams – that inevitably always fall short of the playoffs – find ways to lose these series to inferior opponents like Detroit.
I mean, this is a team that’s actively tanking 2018 to try to build a better ballclub in 2019 and beyond! The Mariners, conversely, have been building to this year for a while now, and are pretty actively trying to go for it all, farm system be damned! With two franchises going so clearly in opposite directions right now, it couldn’t be any more demoralizing to lose a bunch of games to this team.
Before we get to the Tigers, I should point out that the Mariners split their 2-game set against the Rangers. Honestly, with all the travel, the make-up game, and the weird scheduling times, I’m more impressed that the Mariners avoided a sweep at all. We came back to win that 9-8 thriller on Tuesday, only to shit the bed on Wednesday afternoon, but who can get mad about that? Sure, the Rangers are crap, but circumstances, man.
It was that Thursday loss to the Tigers, though, that really got to me. Marco Gonzales did his thing (and might’ve even gotten through that sixth inning had Kyle Seager not made a run-scoring error), and in spite of the run, we were still up 2-1 headed into the eighth inning. With Juan Nicasio being held back to work on his stuff, Nick Vincent came in off of quite a roll, only to blow it. Will anyone ever take command of the 8th this year?
I was at a comedy show on Friday, so I missed this one, but things looked pretty dire heading into the 7th, down 4-0. Thankfully, turnabout is fair play, and the M’s put on a 5-spot in the bottom of the 7th to take the lead, with Nicasio and Diaz able to hold the fort for the save.
Saturday was just a marvelous night all the way around. James Paxton got his second career complete game (the first being his no-hitter a few games back) as the Mariners won 7-2. He struck out 8 while giving up just a walk and 3 hits; I could’ve done without the 117 pitches – particularly with the game so well in hand – but we’ll see if that matters or not. I know Paxton is a big, strong animal and everything, but if he goes on the DL in a week, don’t say I didn’t tell you so. I mean, maybe it’s a nice morale boost or whatever, but we were beating them by 5 runs; seemed unnecessary to throw an extra 20 pitches on his arm just to get that 9th inning. It’s not like the bullpen was massively overworked or anything; you still had a guy warming up just in case someone got on base!
That brought us to Sunday, where Francisco Liriano damn near no-hit us. As it was, he went 8, giving up just 1 hit and 3 walks, before he gave way to the team’s closer, up by a comfortable 2-0 margin. The Mariners once again saw Wade LeBlanc pitch into the sixth inning, giving up both of those runs, and got clean bullpen work from newly called-up Ryan Cook, as well as Pazos, Altavilla, Nicasio, Diaz, and Vincent. With one out and Segura on second, Mitch Haniger stepped up in the 3-hole and belted a massive game-tying homer to ultimately send this game into extras. Then, in the 11th, Dee Gordon singled, swiped second, and was hit in by Segura to send the fans home happy.
I’ll say this: Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger have been absolutely carrying this team so far this year! With Cano gone, and with Cruz being a magnet for opposing pitchers to hit on damn near a daily basis (as well as with Seager not doing a whole helluva lot at the plate, with Healy being his streaky self, and with the rest of the outfield being more Small Ball than Long Ball), it’s been a godsend to see Segura and Haniger develop into not just The Future, but The Present. Could that Taijuan Walker trade have gone any better for the Mariners?
Now, here we are – with a Monday off-day – 27-19, in second place in the A.L. West (2 games behind the Astros and 1.5 games ahead of the Angels to lock into that second Wild Card spot. I’m still not convinced this is a playoff team and probably never will be until it actually happens, but this is as good as I’ve ever felt about a Mariners team this late into the season for a long, long time.
Getting back to winning that season series against the Tigers, we’ve also won the season series against the Indians, and are 2-1 against the Twins, Royals, White Sox, and Blue Jays. We’re 3-2 against the Rangers and 4-2 against the suddenly-surging A’s. The only teams we have losing records against are the Angels (1-2) and the impossible Astros (1-3).
Obviously, the hitting is the story of the season. Segura, Gordon, and Haniger are leading the way. Cano was having a fantastic season until he got popped and broke his hand. Zunino, Cruz, and Seager could be better, but are still providing the power this lineup needs. Healy overcame a disaster of a start to be a dynamic force towards the bottom of the lineup. Heredia has not shied away one little bit with his increased playing time. All we need is for Gamel and our bench guys to pick it up just a tad and the offense should be able to weather the storm (for the most part) of losing Cano for 80 games.
I’ve been a little intrigued by the pitching of late, though. Obviously, Felix and Leake have been pretty big disappointments, even based on my lowered expectations, but they’ve kind of been keeping us in games for the most part. He never looks great, but Felix has only looked BAD a couple times; other than that, he has a bad inning here and there, but is usually able to limit the damage and hold it down until the offense can pick him up. And, while I think most people expected Leake to be better heading into the season, he’s only a little bit worse than what I predicted, based on his overall experience in the MLB (and not just his last 2 amazing months of 2017).
On the flipside of things, James Paxton has been on the roll of all rolls in the month of May. Wade LeBlanc continues to be on the run of his life (and absolutely should not be returned to the bullpen if/when Erasmo Ramirez gets healthy). And even Marco Gonzales continues to be the most economical of starters that we have. If he EVER figures out how to make it through the sixth inning without handing over the lead he’s been given – and God forbid starts working his magic into the seventh inning and beyond – I might actually be able to one day forgive this GM for trading away future superstar Tyler O’Neill. That’s not even getting into Christian Bergman’s 7-inning 0-run start and Ariel Miranda’s 5-inning 1-run start.
As for the bullpen, that’s always going to be volatile. Scrabble hasn’t been anything close to what we need from a lefty specialist. Nicasio has had moments of greatness, but too many slip-ups for comfort from an 8th inning guy. Vincent has been a little bit up and down (probably right on track, from my pre-season expectations). But, Diaz has been extra-special, Pazos has been very stout, Altavilla’s been a little better than expected, and if Ryan Cook can hold it together, he could be a pretty big addition to this group. Also, Chasen Bradford has been a nice innings eater and someone I didn’t even come close to expecting anything from.
All in all, I think the bullpen will have its bad moments (as they all do), but is overall better than I thought. And, while the starters are far from elite (aside from Paxton), I’m coming away very impressed with this unit. I’ll never be confident with these guys, but I think they’re managed very well. If that continues, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility for this to be a Wild Card team in 2018.