I Know Who This Year’s Spring Training Mirage Is Going To Be For The Mariners

This is always fun. What’s a Spring Training Mirage, you ask? Well, try using your powers of deduction and it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out: it’s the guy who kicks ass in Spring Training, then once the Regular Season starts, he sucks.

That’s sort of the over-arching, simplified definition. There are different levels to the Spring Training Mirage though. Usually it involves someone who has yet to really make an impact at the Major League level, but we all want to believe they’re close. They’re right there on the fringe, and if only they can show their stuff in Spring Training – and have that carry over into a hot start to the regular season – they can parlay it into a viable and productive Major League career.

Past candidates have included guys like Cooper Hummel last year (who improbably made the big league roster out of spring, only to falter fast and hard). In 2022 and 2023, you had Jarred Kelenic (who actually continued his hot spring hitting into the regular season last year, before eventually succumbing to his baser tendencies at the plate). In 2021, it was Taylor Trammell with his .311 batting average and 9 extra base hits. In 2019, Braden Bishop slashed .379/.419/.724 (his career slash in the majors was .133/.188/.156). 2018 was particularly exciting, as we had Daniel Vogelbach AND Mike Zunino crushing the ball in spring (.407/.529/.926 for Vogey; .395/.458/.791 for Zunino), only for both to fall down around the Mendoza line that regular season.

There was Taylor Motter in 2017, Shawn O’Malley in 2016, Dustin Ackley in 2015 and 2014, Jesus Montero in 2013, Alex Liddi in 2012, and Matt Tuiasosopo in 2011. I could go on and on.

It doesn’t matter how much you want to believe, it doesn’t matter that they’re in the “best shape of their lives”, it doesn’t matter what swing changes they’ve instituted or how good the media members say they look. Spring Training Mirages aren’t real. They’re not going to come to Seattle and miraculously save your season, no matter how much you need them to. They’ll have every opportunity to win a spot, and they’ll squander that opportunity because Marine Layer or whatever.

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. 2024’s Mariners Spring Training Mirage is Dominic Canzone.

The cool thing about this award is you don’t even need the regular season to start to figure out who’s already won it! Canzone is a fringe Major Leaguer (having less than 60 games to his name, all in 2023), he plays a position the Mariners are a little weak at (and could most benefit from a new breakout star no one was expecting), and he’s – by all accounts – tearing the cover off the ball this spring (.281/.333/.656 with 3 homers, 3 doubles, and 9 RBI).

The big question everyone wants answered is: why does it have to be this way? Is there any avoiding an immediate regular season swoon?

I’m afraid not. See, these players generally have some semblance of talent. But, in spring, they feast on fastballs, and pitchers just trying to work on their craft while getting their pitch counts up. You’re not seeing a ton of nasty sliders and change ups, not like you will in the regular season.

So, what are the Mariners going to do? Well, they’re going to start Canzone out in left field primarily. They’re going to bat him 7th or 8th – in hopes that the soft landing will help – and they’re going to give him a good couple of weeks, while platooning him out whenever a lefty pitcher starts against us.

Fortunately for us, the inverse of the Spring Training Mirage tends to come into play as well. Those are the players who struggle during the spring, only for things to click once the games start meaning something. We have to hope that’s what’s going on with Luke Raley right now, because otherwise he looks like a friggin’ disaster! I fully expect left field to be a black hole for us the entire season, which is going to make things tough to watch.

The other black hole – third base – also features our runner up for the Spring Training Mirage, as Luis Urias has come on of late to look actually productive at the plate. Don’t count on that continuing once the calendar flips to March 28th.

What The Mariners Need To Fix Heading Into 2024

Whenever you hear someone from the team talk about what went wrong with the 2023 Mariners, and what they need to do to get back to the playoffs in 2024, they make it sound like it’s just a small tweak here and there. I got into the positives of the 2023 squad, and yeah, there’s a lot of good pieces here. But, I would also say it’s not an insignificant undertaking!

I counted 12 positives, and that’s including Teoscar, who is not a guarantee to be back. He’ll likely be extended a qualifying offer, which everyone believes he will turn down. At which point, either you find a way to sign him as a free agent, or you have to go out and fill that spot in right field. Regardless, 12 is less than half of the Major League roster. Even if you add a few of those bullpen pieces to the mix, you’re still hovering around 50% of the team that could definitely use an upgrade. That’s hardly a small tweak here and there!

If we’re talking about reasons why the Mariners fell short this year, you have to start with Ty France and Eugenio Suarez. Ty has been a regular whipping boy this season, for good reason. He has drastically fallen off a cliff these last two years, to the point where he was barely above replacement level in 2023.

In 2021, I would’ve said Ty France was one of our most important players. His batting average has slipped 41 points, his on-base percentage has slipped 31 points, and his slugging has fallen a whopping 79 points. Its been a disaster, on top of which, his strikeouts are climbing. He’s doing nothing well, and even his defense – by the numbers – has fallen off. He somehow managed to avoid the IL, and he had a career high in HBP; that’s what he has to hang his hat on. He has 2 arb years remaining, and I’m not even sure we should give him that much. It might be better for everyone involved for him to just move on, except I don’t know what’s out there to fill in at that spot. It’s not like we can trust in Evan White. Free Agency sounds like a wasteland. We’ll probably have to fill that spot via trade, and so help me if we bring in another one of these Quad-A guys to try to hit in T-Mobile Park.

The only hope is that his year two arb number doesn’t increase much, and that he follows through with the program at Driveline (and it somehow manages to stick). I know they worked wonders for J.P., but I can’t imagine Ty France has been going out and doing nothing the past two offseasons; Driveline is no guarantee of future success.

Eugenio is a slightly different story. His batting average and on-base percentages year over year are pretty close to one another; it was just his power that took a bit of a dive (31 homers in 2022, 22 homers in 2023). That’s a little trickier to explain. His line drive percentage actually went up this year – which might speak to the uptick in doubles – but his fly ball percentage dropped. His pull percentage spiked, while his balls to center and right fell. His hard hit rate and ground ball percentages were both static, and his strikeout rate actually went down a tick (even though his overall strikeouts went up, mostly due to his playing in every single game). Is that just bat angle? Is that the way pitchers were throwing to him? Were they busting him up and in, and that reduced his effectiveness in getting the ball to leave the park?

He also just turned 32 years old, so we can’t necessarily rule that out. Either way, I don’t see him going anywhere. Or, let me put it this way: I don’t see both him AND France leaving (maybe one or the other). But, you can’t try to replace both of those guys plus Teoscar; that’s just too much to try to accomplish in one offseason.

There wasn’t a bigger (and better) story than Jarred Kelenic for the early part of the season. This was truly a make-or-break season for the youngster, and he seemed to take the biggest step forward of anyone in a Mariners uniform. The first couple months were outstanding! It’s too bad they were overshadowed by the rest of the team struggling as much as they did.

His first 53 games – through the end of May – saw him hit .277/.333/.513, with 14 doubles, a triple, and 10 homers. His final 52 games – June through the end of the year – saw him hit .226/.320/.316, with 11 doubles, a triple, and 1 homer.

So, what was that all about? How much did the stint on the IL for kicking a water cooler have to play into it? Well, considering he was struggling mightily leading up to it – hence his physical display of frustration – you can’t blame it ALL on the layoff. Did pitchers adjust to whatever adjustments he had made in the offseason? Probably. Was he ill-equipped to then adjust again? Sure seems like it. What does this mean for his Major League career going forward?

Well, I think it’s safe to say he salvaged some of his value, which is a plus. But, can you really go into next season with him as your everyday left fielder? Or even your most-days platoon left fielder? For what it’s worth, I don’t know if his splits necessarily dictate that he HAS to be a platoon guy. He had a slightly higher batting average and slugging percentage against lefties, and was actually luckier with BABIP against righties than lefties. So, I think he’s fine to be an everyday outfielder. I still think there’s room for him to grow as he continues getting comfortable at the Major League level. But, he goes in the tank for far too long to be considered dependable, and he doesn’t strike me as an All Star type player. He might luck into a hot half-season and get handed a spot one year. Overall, though, I think he’s destined to do whatever it is he’s going to do in another uniform. I believe this will be the offseason we package him to another team, in hopes to bring in a veteran we can count on.

The rest of the problem children include Jose Caballero, Mike Ford, Kolten Wong, Dylan Moore, Dominic Canzone, A.J. Pollock, Josh Rojas, Sam Haggerty, Cade Marlowe, Taylor Trammell, Cooper Hummel (remember him?), Tommy La Stella, and Brian O’Keefe. I can’t possibly devote an entire paragraph or series of paragraphs to these guys, because we’d be here all day. Suffice it to say, they’re all fringe Major Leaguers (at best), and were eating up WAY too many spots in our lineup for this offense to be even remotely effective. Some of them had decent stretches (Ford had 16 homers on the year, Caballero was an on-base machine for a while, Rojas and Marlowe had brief hot streaks), but on the whole, these are not the types of players you want to pin your hopes on.

On the pitching side of things, you have to begin with Robbie Ray and the fact that he only made the one start this year. Now, do we know if he would’ve been good this year? Remember how poorly the end of his 2022 season went. But, that could’ve been a fluke. The bottom line is that a guy you were expecting to eat up a significant chunk of quality innings wasn’t around for you. It accelerated the development of Miller and Woo – which in the end might’ve been a bonus – but you could see those guys start to wear down towards the end of the year. Would they have been fresher if we could’ve held them back a little longer? We’ll never know, but it sure seems likely.

Marco Gonzales only made it 10 starts this year, and continued his gradual downturn ever since 2020. We’re still stuck with him for one more year, and I find it hard to believe we’ll be able to find a trade partner for him. On the one hand, he’ll be healthy by the start of 2024, and you can’t have too much starting pitching; on the other hand, he’s useless as a member of the bullpen, and if he keeps Woo or Miller from starting for too long, it’s going to be enraging.

The biggest tragedy of this year might’ve been the injury to Emerson Hancock. We only got about two and a half starts out of him, but he looked fairly promising in his limited action. And it happened right around the time Bryan Woo was returning from his brief IL stint, when we were supposed to head into the dog days of summer with a 6-man rotation, to hopefully keep everyone fresh. How important was THAT in derailing our season? Who’s to say? It’s one more What If to throw onto a season full of ’em.

And we’ve already gone into the bullpen of it all. There were gods and clods, and the clods were pretty damn mediocre. Trading Sewald, so far, looks like a disaster. But, that’s one of those things you can’t measure in two months’ time. You have to look at it over the next 2-3 years and see where everyone lands. I’ll say this: I don’t have any confidence in Canzone or Rojas. But, I also think we’re right around the corner from Sewald turning into a pumpkin. In which case, it was all for naught, and very well might’ve been the single biggest factor in sinking our season.

So, TL;DR, what do we need to fix? Well, we need to upgrade at either 1B or 3B. We need to fill RF with either Teoscar or Other. We need a bona fide fucking DH, because this horse shit we’ve been doing isn’t going to fly.

The Mariners are so full of shit with this DH thing, by the way. It was supposedly a means to give regular guys off-days, but how often was it used for that purpose, really? Suarez played at third damn near every day. France rarely went off first. J.P. never sits. Instead, that spot went to Teoscar on occasion (which was really a means to improve our outfield defense), Cal once in a while (when Murphy was healthy and able to back him up), and people like Ford, Pollock, Haggerty, Rojas, and the like. Lots of bullshit bench guys getting DH starts and doing nothing with them! Just sign a great hitter and park him there! Enough with this experiment that you’re not even using as you say you will!

Also, we need a proper second baseman, a proper backup catcher (who can stay healthy all year), and an outfielder or three (depending on what happens with Teoscar and Kelenic). Oh, and replenish the bullpen with at least one heavy duty arm (so it’s not just Brash, Topa, and Munoz and that’s it).

So, yeah, there’s a lot to do, and only one offseason to do it.

Is Mike Ford A Thing?

Clearly, the Mariners are in need of a stable bat. Someone in the realm of a Carlos Santana from last year, at a minimum. Ideally, someone better, who’s signed through at least 2024. But, that could take up to a month or more to get done by the trade deadline. What about in the interim?

Well, the M’s need to find an internal option, don’t they? I’m specifically talking about DH here, because for better or for worse, they’re pretty much set everywhere else. No outfield openings, Caballero has sort of taken hold of the second base spot (with Dylan Moore’s return sprinkled in). But, it’s that DH spot that we’ve entirely ignored that needs the most pruning.

A.J. Pollock is a waste of space. Tommy La Stella is gone (good riddance). Cooper Hummel and Sam Haggerty were sent down to Tacoma to make adjustments. Dylan Moore is hitless in three games so far, and I’m not really banking on ANYTHING out of him in what has been a lost injury season so far. Kolten Wong is only here until Moore shows he can hit; after that, as soon as this team needs to make a roster change, Wong should be the first to go. And less really does seem to be more when it comes to DH’ing Tom Murphy.

But, Mike Ford, he’s kind of interesting to me.

Could he be a Carlos Santana type? He’s 30 years old, soon to be 31. He’s had numerous cups of coffee in the Majors since 2019, but no more than 50 games, and he’s never been as good as he was that first year with the Yankees (when he hit 12 bombs while batting .259). This is actually his third stint with the Mariners’ organization and in that time he’s always kinda been this Quad-A hitter. Someone who mashes in AAA, but has yet to figure it out in the bigs.

He started out in Tacoma this year and hit .302/.427/.605, with 13 homers and 11 doubles. Maybe more importantly, he had only 30 strikeouts against 34 walks. Now, either he’s the most Quad-A hitter who’s ever lived (playing in the PCL, that’s entirely possible), or maybe – JUST MAYBE – he’s figured things out. Maybe he’s got his swing right. Maybe he’s figured out his approach at the plate.

When Ford has been at his best professionally, he’s walked more than he’s struck out. He makes good swing decisions and doesn’t chase out of the zone. And, of course, he’s got a free and easy power swing from the left side of the plate, that’s perfect for platooning.

I want to point out that I was mulling this topic of blog-versation over before last night’s 2-homer explosion. Granted, before last night, he had yet to really do much of anything, and indeed he has 6 strikeouts against 1 walk, so if last night didn’t happen, I’d say the tone of this post would be much less optimistic. But, now we know what he’s capable of. He has a multi-homer game in him. Those also weren’t his only two homers; he now has 4 of them in his 8 appearances so far.

This turnaround – if we want to call it that – isn’t totally out of left field. He had it built into his contract that if the Mariners didn’t call him up by June, he could opt out of the deal and become a free agent. Clearly, the Mariners had a need for a hitter, and part of me wants to ask, “What the fuck took so long?!” These things happen all the time. This doesn’t mean that Mike Ford is the next Edgar Martinez or anything. But, sometimes these Quad-A guys pop for a year or two in the Majors. Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s development, maybe it’s just total randomness. But, it happens, and maybe this is Mike Ford’s year to excel.

This feels like a situation where Ford just takes over the DH role, platooning with Dylan Moore or A.J. Pollock whenever there’s a lefty on the mound. Not that Pollock has done a God damn thing against lefties (supposedly his strength; I fucking told you that shit wasn’t gonna fly in Seattle), but maybe once Pollock settles into that reserve role permanently, he’ll relax and hits will start falling (I get the feeling he’s pressing, still trying to be a starting presence on this team).

The sample is still too small to really believe in Ford; but what else are you gonna do for the next month and change? I don’t think – even if he plays well – that it’ll prevent us from looking for a bat by the trade deadline. But, it sure would be nice to have Ford as an option just in case things don’t work out, or for the inevitable Ty France IL stint because he’s been hit by one too many pitches.

I’m rooting for him. I always root for these Quad-A guys. They’re so close to their ultimate dream – success in the Major Leagues – and so often they fall flat on their faces. Fingers crossed – for all of our sakes – that Mike Ford is the exception.

Biggest Disappointments (So Far) Of The 2023 Mariners

Yesterday, I got into some of the bright spots. Today, it’s time to shine a light on the pits of despair.

As always, there’s a lot of blame to go around when a team is as mediocre as the Mariners. To put things in perspective, as of the moment of this writing, the M’s are 10-1 against Oakland, Colorado, and St. Louis (three of the worst, or at least most-underperforming, teams on our schedule to date). Against everyone else, we’re 14-23.

But, I don’t want this post to be 300 pages long. So, we’re not going to get into the bottom part of the order too much. Frankly, I never expected much out of La Stella or Pollock or even Wong; they all felt like poor fits to me, and I was never going to be surprised that they sucked. It also isn’t terribly shocking that Haggerty has been bad at the plate, or that Murphy got off to a slow start, or that Trammell & Hummel are more Quad-A guys than actual Major Leaguers. If you went into this season banking on one or more of these guys to be catalysts to our success, you were always bound to be disappointed.

What’s more concerning has been our studs, who have been decidedly unstudly. We’re never going to go anywhere if these guys don’t pick it up.

With so many other storylines going on, Julio Rodriguez was kind of sliding under the radar for a while. But, he’s been pretty far from what we had come to expect from him. Somewhere in between the dregs of last April and the rest of the season, but a helluva lot closer to the poor end of that spectrum. I don’t think it was out of line for people to already have notions of MVPs dancing in their heads, so an OPS under .700 this far into May is fairly discouraging. I don’t think anyone believes this is who he’s going to be the rest of the year, but he can snap out of this funk anytime now, as far as I’m concerned.

Teoscar gets a lot of the flak, and sort of gets lumped in with the other shitty newcomers, but I don’t think he’s unsalvageable. I also don’t think he’s necessarily been anything other than what we should have expected. Maybe he’s a little light in the extra-base hits, maybe he’s striking out a bit more than normal. But, he was always a guy who struck out a lot. He was always Boom Or Bust. I think where the disconnect lays – and I’m as guilty of it as anyone – is projecting him to be some sort of Home Run King or something upon arriving here. We saw a guy with a lot of talent, a guy entering a contract year, and a guy with enough power to overcome the challenges of playing half his games in Marine Layer, U.S.A. But, I think this is just who he is. He’s not going to become the next Nelson Cruz in a Mariners uniform. He’s going to muddle his way through this season, and take the biggest deal he can get with another team next year. I do expect he’ll pick it up a little bit at some point, but I also don’t think he’s going to be a huge guy for us.

I think I’m officially starting to sour on the Ty France experience. I certainly, 100% don’t want to see him reach a second contract with the Mariners. We’re talking about a guy who, sure, when he’s healthy, he’s probably my favorite type of hitter on this team. But, part of that quality that makes him so rootable also tends to get him hurt. He crowds the plate and takes an inordinate number of pitches off his body. Last year, he went on the IL while playing in the field, and when he returned he was pretty much worthless for the rest of the season. It turned out – obviously – that he was playing in a considerable amount of pain. And, at least for him, he can’t seem to perform when he’s trying to fight through nagging injuries. Already this year, we’ve seen him go in the tank; is he already dealing with injuries and we’re not even two full months in yet? I just wish Evan White wasn’t also so injury prone (with MUCH more devastating conditions), because I was really hoping to see what he could do before his contract starts getting expensive. Either way, Ty’s home run power seems to be dwindling, and he’s not even really putting up an impressive batting average. I think it’s a long, slow decline from here on out.

Eugenio Suarez is quite off of his power pace from last year, and while I don’t think this is bound to continue forever – he tends to hit them in bunches – it’s yet another major reason why the M’s have had so much trouble scoring runs this year. Last year at this time, he had 9 homers and 9 doubles; this year it’s 5 and 5. Just boil it down to that. Everything else being pretty much equal, you have to imagine the additional RBI of just equalling what he did last year (adding 4 more doubles and 4 more homers to his current total) might be worth a small handful of games by themselves, considering what our record is in 1-run games.

It’s easy to shit on Marco Gonzales – I do it all the time! If you put him in perspective, I’ll admit you could do a lot worse for a #5 starter. But, we’re 9 starts in and I would argue he didn’t give us a chance to win 3 of them based on his performance. He’s reached 6 innings (and no further) 4 times, in spite of extremely reasonable pitch counts in all of his starts. That shows me a guy who can, at times, be effective, but even then he can’t be trusted. We’re trying to squeeze as much as we can out of this dried sponge, and then getting him the hell off the mound.

I would say Matt Brash isn’t exactly the force of nature we were promised by pretty much everyone this offseason. The stuff is still there, but he’s disturbingly hittable for a guy we’ve been trying to shoehorn into high leverage spots. It makes me wonder if he’s ever going to figure it out. I was still holding out some hope that he’d one day return to a starting role, but if he can’t even master a single inning, how would we be able to trust him with 6+?

Finally, let’s dump on Chris Flexen. On the one hand, maybe we should be praising him; for, if he hadn’t stunk so hard in his limited duty as a 6th starter – following Ray’s injury – we wouldn’t have gotten to see Bryce Miller this early. But, his entire package – even as a reliever – has been appalling. He’s in a contract year, he had been pretty reliable as a back-of-the-rotation starter until this season, and there was every reason to believe we might trade him at the deadline for a prospect, or as part of a package to bring in a hitter to help us for the stretch run. Instead, his value is pretty much nothing, and we’d be trading him just to get him off our roster. I would say that maybe there’s hope he can rebuild his reputation in the bullpen, but we don’t have very many opportunities to make use of a long reliever with the rotation arms we have now. And he’s not a leverage reliever in the slightest; you can pretty much only use him in blowouts. Sure, he’s had five consecutive scoreless outings (8 total innings) since his ERA hit its zenith of 8.86, but it’s taken him a little over 3 weeks just to accrue those outings. He’s a last resort, and he’s going to have to be near-perfect from now until the end of July to have any value at all.

The Mariners Blew It Against The Cubs

It’s hard for me to tell if this is a Same Old Mariners situation, or if this is the final death rattle of those Same Old Mariners, where natural instincts kick in – and the M’s play like those Same Old Mariners for a very short while – before mercifully passing and morphing into a new and exciting team for a generation to come.

Either way, this all tracks for what we’ve come to expect from this organization. What was the one fear we all had? As soon as the expectations to win became REAL, the clock would strike midnight, the team would turn back into a pumpkin, and we’d be left holding the tattered rags of a once-beautiful dress, sitting in mud next to a dog and a couple of mice.

If you want to put a positive spin on it, then you’re probably expecting this team to perform up to snuff in late-May or early-June. And, if that’s the case, it’s easy to make the argument that this series would’ve been a Mariners sweep if we’d only played it then. But, it was played now, and instead of winning all three, we went 1-2.

To be fair, we probably didn’t have any business winning the first game. Luis Castillo was fine, but had one bad inning and left with the team losing 2-1 after six innings. Then again, we also had no business letting Drew Smyly dominate us through five innings (which easily would’ve been seven or eight, if his arm was stretched out enough).

I’ll tell you this much, the bottom of this lineup is REALLY starting to piss me off. The only reason A.J. Pollock was brought here in the first place is to be a right-handed platoon partner for Jarred Kelenic, who is supposed to mash left-handed pitching! He has exactly one good game under his belt so far, but otherwise Scott Servais can’t wait to get him out of any game he starts. In this one, as soon as Smyly left, all the usual left-handed bats were inserted into the lineup to try to kickstart some offense. Wong in for Haggerty (Wong hasn’t been any great shakes at all, but had a couple of singles in this one), Cal in for Tom Murphy (who has a whopping one hit on the season), and most importantly, Kelenic in for Pollock.

We have all these platoon opportunities, but they’re all shit. We have this deep bench of rotating DH candidates, but it’s almost exclusively WASTED on them, rather than giving other guys rest days from the field. What the hell are we doing here?! Why is Cooper Hummel a DH? What kind of a sick joke is that, perpetuated by the team who employed the greatest designated hitter of all time?!

If this was the only year we were trotting out baseball’s worst DH, I might let it go. But, we’ve been ABYSMAL at filling that spot ever since Edgar retired, and it’s a God damned embarrassment.

What’s decidedly NOT embarrassing is the way Kelenic is playing. He yanked a solo homer in the top of the 9th to tie it at 2-2, leading me to wonder if things were going to turn around here. Instead, Matt Brash came in to pitch the 10th (after we failed to score our own ghost runner), botched a pick-off move, and allowed the game-winning RBI single to blow another one.

Still waiting for that dominating relief pitcher we were all promised.

The game on Tuesday got off to a fabulous start, with the Mariners jumping out to a 7-0 lead and chasing their starter in the second inning. Unfortunately, this was Chris Flexen’s turn in the rotation, and it wasn’t exactly his best performance. He got chased in the bottom of the third (giving up 8 runs in 2.1 innings) and the rout was on from there. How a game that featured the M’s being up by 7 runs at one point, turned into a rout for the OTHER team, is something that only the Mariners could achieve. 14-9 defeat, I shit you not.

Diego Castillo looks officially broken, which is great. Perfect timing with Brash’s struggles and Munoz being on the IL. We got some mop-up relief from Jose Rodriguez (3 innings, 3 runs), who was just called up before this game and promptly sent back down afterward. Tough luck, but at least he gets a mention in my blog.

At least the offense came to play. On a normal day, 9 runs is plenty, so that’s not nothing. France, Suarez, Cal, and J.P. all had good games. But, Kelenic gets a special shout-out for hitting a homer in back-to-back games (more on him in a bit).

We salvaged one in the Wednesday finale, 5-2. Logan Gilbert was dominant (6.2 innings, 1 run, 4 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts, on 94 pitches), the bullpen did its job (Justin Topa looks like he’s maybe a breakout reclamation project we didn’t see coming), and the offense both jumped out to an early lead and played add-on late in the game.

Julio, France, and Suarez all did well, Teoscar hit his third homer of the year, and not to be out-done, Kelenic hit his third homer in three games. This one a whopping 482-foot shot to the upper deck in center field, which is the longest Mariners home run in the Statcast era, and the longest regular season home run at Wrigley Field in the Statcast era. Just a fucking BLAST!

That leaves Kelenic hitting .351/.415/.703. This is everything we ever imagined he’d be and then some! Of course, it’s a 2-week sample. But, I would argue he’s never had a 2-week sample at the Major League level like this. Hell, he might not have had a 2-week sample like this EVER. Also, this is at the beginning of the season, not at the very end when nothing matters. Up to this point, it’s been about his minor league success and his hot stretches in September (hoping they’d carry over into the next season). But, now he looks confident, his swing is on point, the power is shining through, and he looks like the best player on this team.

On a team that, mind you, has Julio Rodriguez.

Whether that holds for the rest of the season is anybody’s guess. But, this adjustment he’s made (or series of adjustments) looks legit. This looks like it’s set to stick. And if that’s the case, the rest of the league better watch out!

There’s a lot of talk on Twitter among fans saying they’ll take this Kelenic hot start over the Mariners having a hot start; I think that’s a pointless conversation.

What I’m more interested in is how long the Mariners stick to their plan to both platoon Kelenic, while keeping him in the bottom third of the lineup.

I don’t have a major issue keeping him where he is in the lineup; there’s still obvious run-producing opportunities down at the bottom, and his hotness will help turn the lineup over to Julio at the top again. But, my patience with Pollock and La Stella and Hummel and all these other scrubs is wearing thin. I’m about two weeks away from abandoning the platoon, and taking my chances with Kelenic against left-handed pitchers. Maybe he gets a day off every two weeks or something, if there’s a particularly nasty southpaw. But, otherwise, I’d rather have the young stud over the fucking washout nobodies.

Who knew we’d miss Carlos Santana so much?

God Damn These Mariners Have Been Annoying So Far!

Suffice it to say, I’ve been on vacation for Spring Break the last week. It was, uhh, not warm.

Frozen Lake Is Frozen

So, yeah, I haven’t had to slog through these 4-6 Mariners like the rest of you. I went to the game on Opening Night, the M’s won a thrilling 3-0 game over the Guardians that just zipped by, then I took the next day off of work, then I flew out to Minnesota with my family for lots of indoor activities at an otherwise lovely timeshare.

But, I’ve also been there with you, at least following along on Twitter. And it hasn’t been pleasant! Every time I turn around, the Mariners are blowing leads, getting hurt, giving up huge chunks of runs, throwing the ball all over the field (except where it’s supposed to go), and otherwise struggling to consistently hit offensively (with a few exceptions).

I can’t even can absolutely begin to tell you what’s the most disappointing aspect of these 2023 Mariners through 10 games, and (all apologies for the recency bias) I’m leaning towards the bullpen.

Yesterday’s game was potentially HUGE, and it’s infuriating to me that we blew it. Just, in general, the difference between being 5-5 and 4-6 is everything. 5-5 is so much more palatable, after a 2-5 start (with series losses at home to both the Guardians and the fucking Angels). While 4-6 obviously isn’t the end of the world, that game was the nail in the coffin for our season series against Cleveland. Had we won, we would’ve been 4-3 against them on the year (and, as such, had the tiebreaker over them come playoff time). Instead, they’re the ones who are 4-3 over us, and will take that advantage with them through the rest of the season. Cleveland figures to be direct competition with us, either as divisional champs, or as wild card fodder. Now we have to beat their record by a game if we want to stay ahead of them in the seeding.

What the fuck happened to Matt Brash?! What was all this shit about him having the best slider in Major League history? Seems a little premature and totally outlandish, if you ask me. We were fucking all set up with a 2-run lead in the bottom of the 9th and he fucking gagged it away. We really need him to come through, as the bullpen has been regularly taxed in this early going, and now that we’re down Andres Munoz (one of a disturbing number of injuries to high profile pitchers already, not even two weeks into the season), Brash figures to get the lion’s share of high-leverage situations not going to Paul Sewald.

Frankly, ONE injury is too many. But, we lost Robbie Ray after his first start of the season (after he looked so effective in Spring Training), forcing our hand in starting Chris Flexen, who is … fine. Munoz’s arm was not responding after outings, which is concerning to say the least, given the way he throws. Then, I heard Evan White has another major injury that’s going to cost him the first half of this season (if we’re lucky, it won’t be the whole year; either way, it’s another huge setback to his development).

And, oh by the way, Matt Festa has stunk (and was demoted to Tacoma this week), Brash has two blown saves already, Penn Murfee has two losses on the year (in spite of his 0.00 ERA), Diego Castillo has been predictably ineffective, and we had to call up someone named J.B. Bukauskas, who is someone I’ve never heard of in my life.

You can’t really absolve the starters though, because other than Luis Castillo (who has been OUTSTANDING through two starts, so it’s probably time to jinx him as he takes the hill later today), they’ve been pretty rough. Certainly not the strength of this team that we were all counting on heading into this season. Of course, it’s too early to panic, but not too early to at least be a little concerned.

I’ll be honest, the offense as a whole is pretty much what I expected. We’ve scored 43 runs in 10 games, that feels pretty close to what this team is. .234/.299/.374 as a team; you kinda expect the on-base numbers to improve, and the power numbers to drastically improve, but for now it is what it is. France, Julio, Cal, and Suarez are all top-notch. Kelenic has been showing some excellent progress (also helped by the lack of a shift).

But, on the flipside, we’re still waiting for Teoscar to get going. Kolten Wong has been a disaster. Indeed, all the newcomers – including Pollock, Hummel, and La Stella – have been atrocious so far. Combine that with getting nothing out of Murphy, Haggerty, or Moore (who’s still injured), and things could really be a lot better.

I think what’s most infuriating has been the defense. I don’t know if this is randomness or what, but there have been some serious breakdowns in the field, and that’s not helping matters in the slightest. Not with how the pitching has sucked, and how the hitting is just barely keeping its head above water.

I think what’s been most concerning has been our lack of success in the close games. We’re only 2-4 in games decided by 2 runs or less. That’s gotta change, and in a big way, if we want to contend for the division this year. The down-roster part of our bullpen needs to step it up in a big way. I’m including Brash in that, because until he proves over a lengthy period of time that he can hang, I can’t say I totally trust him in high-leverage situations.

I guess the good thing is, no one is running away with the A.L. West so far. We’re tied in record with Houston. The A’s are who we thought they were (2-7), and the Rangers and Angels are only 5-4 (hardly world beaters, as expected). It’s all still there for us, but we can’t go digging ourselves too big of a hole. We can’t come to depend on crazy-insane surges over the course of a season, like last year when we won 14 in a row and 22 out of 25. That doesn’t just happen every year.

But, also, we can’t freak out at every 4-6 stretch. Because this won’t be the only time this season where the Mariners play at a .400 level. It’s a long year. 152 more games to go.

Let’s go out tonight and get a W to start the new week off on a brighter note.

I Think We Have An Opening Day Roster For The Mariners!

Nothing is official, of course. There could always be a last-minute transaction, or a surprise injury or something. But, barring anything crazy, I think we have a 26-man roster.

The Starting Pitchers

  • Luis Castillo
  • Robbie Ray
  • Logan Gilbert
  • Marco Gonzales
  • George Kirby

This all checks out, right down to the order. Teams love the righty-lefty-righty back and forth, and this is about as perfect as it gets. I know we all love George Kirby and see him as having really explosive potential in his second year in the bigs, but the team is smart to protect his arm a little bit. Hold him back, let him ease into the season, maybe skip a start here and there. If all goes according to plan, Kirby will still get some play in the post-season, with hopefully a still-fresh arm.

I’m excited to see what we’re able to get from this unit. The Mariners will go as far as their pitching takes them, so we’re going to need these guys to stay healthy and stay dominating. That’s going to be a tough proposition – considering how healthy they all were last year. Odds are against us that they stay healthy again. But, if they do? Watch out!

The Relief Pitchers

  • Andres Munoz
  • Paul Sewald
  • Matt Brash
  • Diego Castillo
  • Matt Festa
  • Trevor Gott
  • Penn Murfee
  • Chris Flexen

It’s hard to argue with the sheer arm talent of this group. I know, relievers are volatile. But, I find it really hard to believe that all or most of these guys will take steps back. Maybe one or two, but that’s fine because we also have a lot in reserve down in the minors. There’s no shortage of impact arms in this organization, who will all cycle through at one point or another.

I am interested in what Chris Flexen brings to the table. There was talk heading into Spring Training that the Mariners might go with a 6-man rotation. Maybe I misunderstood, and they were just talking about how we had 6 viable starters on our roster. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what his workload looks like. He didn’t play a ton after he lost his starting job last year. You would think in the early going, there will be more opportunities, as most starters aren’t in mid-season form yet. But, by the same token, you hope there aren’t more opportunities, because there’s a 50/50 chance that means we’re getting blown out. The less Flexen pitches, the more we’re using our high-leverage pitchers, which means the more we’re either winning or tied in a particular game.

The Starting Nine

  1. Kolten Wong (2B)
  2. Julio Rodriguez (CF)
  3. Teoscar Hernandez (RF)
  4. Ty France (1B)
  5. Eugenio Suarez (3B)
  6. Cal Raleigh (C)
  7. Tom Murphy (DH)
  8. Jarred Kelenic (LF)
  9. J.P. Crawford (SS)

For what it’s worth, that’s my official prediction for an Opening Day lineup. I feel relatively confident about the top six; I feel least confident about Tom Murphy. But, I’ll say this, he’s got tremendous power, he’s a veteran, and with the third catcher, this really doesn’t hurt us if someone goes down mid-game. In a game that figures to be low scoring, one big swing of the bat might make all the difference, and maybe that swing comes from Murph.

The Bench/Platoon Bats

  • A.J. Pollock (OF)
  • Sam Haggerty (UTIL)
  • Cooper Hummel (C/OF)
  • Tommy La Stella (INF/DH)

These guys have probably a month to figure out who belongs and who doesn’t, before Dylan Moore (hopefully) returns from the IL. I don’t think Pollock is going anywhere, he seems pretty entrenched as a platoon partner for Kelenic. I also don’t think Haggerty is going anywhere unless he is in an absolutely miserable slump; but odds are he won’t be playing much outside of late-inning pinch runner duty. La Stella seems like the favorite to be cut, but I also wonder how much he’s even going to play in the early going? He might get a DH start here and there, but I could also see this team playing Pollock at DH along with Murph (and the other starters we opt to give some rest).

If La Stella can get off to a hot start, though, maybe we hang onto him a bit in favor of sending Hummel down to Tacoma. Doubtful, but you never know.

Top to bottom, 1-26, this is a quality roster. With, encouragingly, lots in reserve to come up and help in a pinch. I can’t wait for tomorrow night!

What Could Possibly Go Wrong For The 2023 Mariners Hitters?!

I’m on record as saying the Mariners will be going back to the playoffs in 2023. Granted, they’re most likely not going to win the A.L. West – the Astros just have too great of a talent disparity over us – but on paper, and with the eye test, the Mariners seem like the best wild card team of the bunch. Barring a calamity of injuries, we should find ourselves back where we belong. I would also argue – again, barring injuries to our most key players – that we’re in a better position to make a deep playoff run, even if we don’t necessarily have the horses to win 100 games in the regular season.

But, we must never forget that these are the Seattle Mariners. All we know is failure. All but five of our 40-some-odd seasons of existence have ended without a post-season berth. There’s never been a World Series appearance, meaning the five best seasons have also ended in defeat. And, anecdotally, it seems like whenever our expectations are at their highest, the M’s find a way to crumple under the pressure.

I’ve been teasing this post for a little while now, but it’s time to get into it. Yes, there’s more optimism for this group of players than I can remember in the last 20 years combined. But, there’s also legitimate arguments to be made for every single one of these players to underperform. I won’t touch on the entire 40-man roster, but we’ll hit on a good portion of guys.

Julio Rodriguez – He’s already been anointed as one of the next great superstars of the game of baseball – with a contract to match – so you’d think if there was anyone safe from the Mariners curse, it’d be Julio. But, freakier shit has happened. It’s only his second year in the bigs, and he’s already had to endure ups and downs. What’s to say he doesn’t get off to another slow start, and things start to snowball?

Cal Raleigh – This one seems a little more legitimate, to me at least. He had a great year last year, but it’s extremely reliant on his power numbers. He was also worked quite a bit – particularly down the stretch – and is coming off of a thumb injury that limited him severely. We know he’s not going to be a guy who hits for average, and he’s practically a liability on the basepaths with his lack of speed. So, if the power numbers take a dive, he could be Rob Johnson-esque!

Ty France – I would call France our most reliable hitter, by a pretty significant margin. The caveat there, of course, is when he’s healthy. While he’s tough as hell, the last two seasons have seen him swoon for long stretches whenever he’s forced to gut out minor injuries (“minor” of course; I’m sure they’d be painful as hell to normal people). He’s also among the league leaders in getting hit by pitches, and isn’t afraid to make physical contact when trying to make a play in the field. So, you have to wonder how his body is going to last, or if it’ll break down prematurely. He seems like the kind of player who will shine bright for a short period of time, but will fall off a cliff when it comes time to sign a bigtime free agent contract. If he suffers a major injury and has to spend a long chunk of time on the IL, that could be disastrous for us. What might be worse is if he suffers some minor injuries early and often, and opts to play through them with negative results.

Eugenio Suarez – You can easily see the variety of possibilities for Suarez in 2023. Just look at his previous two seasons. 30 points of batting average seemingly makes all the difference in the world between him being a sub-replacement player vs. a 4-win player on a playoff team. What can go wrong with Suarez? Simple BABIP luck.

Teoscar Hernandez & Kolten Wong – This one’s also easy: neither of these guys have played the majority of their games in T-Mobile Park. Hernandez isn’t strictly a power guy, but a significant portion of his value is his ability to hit for extra bases and knock runners in. If he succumbs to the marine layer, it’s going to be a long and brutal season (see: Jesse Winker). Since Wong isn’t really a power guy, you’d think he might be a safer fit, but we’ve seen plenty of slap hitters falter in Seattle (see: Adam Frazier, Chone Figgins, etc.). He’s also 32 years old and on the tail-end of his Major League career.

J.P. Crawford – His on-base ability is pretty well established at this point, and his defense is very solid. But, there’s never been much power to speak of, and we seem to be banking a lot of his future success on changes to his swing from this past offseason. He certainly needed to switch things up, after a prolonged slump in the second half of 2022; getting his bat through the zone quicker will be a must. But, what if it doesn’t take? What if he reverts to old habits? We might be regretting not going after a high-priced short stop replacement, if that’s the case.

Jarred Kelenic & A.J. Pollock – I’ve already talked about these guys enough. Kelenic has yet to do anything for an extended period of the regular season. And Pollock seems like he’s Just A Guy. It would be a HUGE upset victory if both of these guys pan out; we’re just hoping for a little competence out of one of them.

Dylan Moore & Sam Haggerty – The great utility duo. I think they’re both coming off of injuries, which isn’t super encouraging. Moore is also slated to have a pretty major role on this team, since we don’t actually have a DH. There’s little-to-no power to speak of, so if their batting averages struggle, they’re going to be a huge liability.

Tom Murphy – I can’t even remember the last time he was healthy for a full season. Maybe never? I also don’t know what we have in reserve, but it doesn’t seem pretty. The worst-case scenario is Cal Raleigh turning back into a pumpkin, Tom Murphy getting hurt, and having to slog through with Cooper Hummel.

The Mariners Traded Away Kyle Lewis

It’s not so much about who they traded FOR, since I’ve never heard of Cooper Hummel, but that’s who we got from the Diamondbacks, in a one-for-one trade.

It sounds like the Mariners wanted to get this done last week prior to the non-tender deadline. It wasn’t the money – he was projected to get significantly less than a million dollars – so much as the guaranteed roster spot. But, I dunno, maybe it was the money. Maybe the Mariners knew they wanted to deal Lewis no matter what, and this saves a few pennies somehow.

Anyway, the 2020 A.L. Rookie of the Year is gone. He was a bright and shining star for the most part when he was out on the field, but ever since he was drafted, he’s had to endure many multiple injury issues with his knees. He’s missed countless hundreds of games as a result, and at this point probably isn’t suited to play in the outfield full time. Hell, he might not even be able to tolerate outfield part time. I guess we’ll see.

It’s a shame, because he’s so naturally gifted. He was a rockin’ centerfielder, he had power in his bat, and he could speedily run around the bases.

Last season was kind of the breaking point in his Mariners career, though. In the not-so-distant past, we had envisioned an outfield of Julio, Kelenic, and Lewis for the next decade. How cool would that’ve been?! But, like the trio of erstwhile Mariners starters (Paxton-Walker-Hultzen), it wasn’t meant to be. In 2022, once we got him upright, we figured maybe he could DH and occasionally play in the field. But, then he got concussed, and when he returned from the IL, the bat didn’t come with. He finished out the year in Tacoma and it was time to move on.

Cooper Hummel isn’t TOTALLY uninteresting, but I’m also not holding my breath. People seem to want to compare him to Austin Nola, because he’s both an outfielder and a catcher, but I don’t know about his defense behind the plate. I won’t rule him out as a potential backup, because I don’t think Tom Murphy or Luis Torrens have guaranteed themselves squat (indeed, Torrens was recently non-tendered, spoiler alert), but I think you need to see more consistency swinging the bat – and a little more pop – if you want Hummel to stick around.

He’s got a good eye at the plate and can draw a walk. That seems to be his skill. It’s not nothing! That’s a pretty good foundation to start with. But, he also strikes out more than you’d like to see, likely as a result of trying to chase dingers. Also, apparently he’s another switch hitter with zero pop whatsoever from the right side. In other words, he’s not a switch hitter, so much as a guy who flails around with the bat against lefties.

The good news is, Hummel has options. While I’m sure he’ll get a chance to compete for a bench spot right away, he can also be sent to Tacoma to work on some things.

If you told me in 2020 this would be what we’d get for Kyle Lewis, I would’ve been devastated. But, all we can do now is wish him all the best. He got the short end of the stick with injuries throughout his career. There’s a world where – maybe he’s not Julio – but he’s a regular All Star and a top 20 baseball player in his prime years. I wish I had a glimpse into the alternate universe where Kyle Lewis is a superstar. It would be a sight to behold.