Yesterday’s Game Was Almost The Epitome Of A Perfect Mariners Loss

Picture this: a delightfully pleasant-weather spring day in Seattle. After a morning tastefully celebrating D-Day, as I do every year, I scrambled to get as much work done as I could, elated that my workday would be wrapping up around noon.

At the strike of twelve, I was in my Mariners hat and on my way out of the building. The wait for the light rail to arrive was longer than the ride from Westlake to International District, but it beats the hell out of walking all the way there I guess. I was starving, so I bought a $4 hot dog in the alley next to CenturyLink Field and had just enough time to wolf it down before I met my friends next to the Left Field Entrance.

Section 332 …

We got seats in section 332 for the 12:40pm start time and JUST missed first pitch, as we were waiting in line to get our first beers of the day. When we finally sat down, the Astros already had runners on base with nobody out. This was the second time Scott Servais used an Opener in this series alone – apparently he doesn’t trust soft-tossing lefties against the top of the order, because he did the same thing in the Wade LeBlanc start (who went on to pitch 8 innings of 1-run ball) – and it was the second time it totally backfired. In the aforementioned LeBlanc start, Cory Gearrin went 1.0 innings, giving up 3 runs in a 4-2 loss. I’m not saying had LeBlanc gotten the actual start – and subsequently went 8 innings of 1-run ball in this hypothetical scenario – that we would’ve won 2-1 (because, lord knows we’re more than capable of blowing a save in the 9th), but going down 3-0 in the first inning was a hole too big to dig our way out of.

Welp!

Yesterday someone named Austin Adams, who I’ve never heard of before, was somehow WORSE! Yes, he gave up 3 runs in the first inning, putting us in a would-be insurmountable hole against the likes of Justin Verlander (or so we thought), but he didn’t even have the decency of going a full inning! He threw 30 pitches and got 2 outs; starter Tommy Milone had to come in with a runner on base and get the final out of the inning (he would go on to throw 5 more on top of it, giving up a Wade LeBlanc-esque 1 run).

Can we fucking stop with the Opener now, Scott Servais? Or, at least, can we put a reliever in there who knows his ass from a hole in the ground? I don’t even know if that phrase makes sense here, but I’M STANDING BY IT!

The Mariners got a run back in the bottom of the first thanks to some weird defense by the Astros (deciding to NOT catch a pop fly by Encarnacion was an interesting choice, I must say), and then things settled in a little more predictably for a while. The Astros’ lead ballooned up to 5-1 before things started getting interesting.

We chased Verlander in the bottom of the seventh and worked a nice 2-out rally against the bullpen, pulling the game to 5-4. The Astros got one back in the eighth, and the M’s did the same in the bottom half. Then, against their closer in the bottom of the ninth, the Mariners pulled it to 6-6 to force the game into extras.

The Astros took the lead in the top of the tenth, but Omar Narvaez jacked a solo bomb to re-tie the game in the bottom frame. Things stayed that way until the 14th inning, when a line drive got past Domingo Santana in right for a leadoff triple (he would score the game-winning run on a sac fly). Spoiler alert, but the M’s lost with the bases juiced full of walks, but I’m gonna stop here for a moment to talk about Santana.

Servais wasn’t all Opener Gaffes this week; he also made what I thought was a pretty savvy move. For most of the year, the outfield has been Santana in left, Mallex Smith in center, and Mitch Haniger in right. It made sense. Haniger is probably better suited as a right fielder, and his strong arm plays well there. Smith was supposed to be a defensive whiz and a natural in center. And, while Santana’s natural home is in right, the left field in Safeco isn’t unreasonable, and it would seem to mask his weaker throwing arm (at least compared to Haniger’s).

Well, that ended up backfiring miserably, as Santana has led all of baseball in errors and misplayed balls while in left field, and Mallex’s defense has completely fallen apart for some reason since he re-joined the Mariners. So, this week, Servais moved Smith to left, Haniger to center, and Santana to right. That would take some of the mental pressure off of Mallex, and hopefully do the same for Santana. While we might have less range with Haniger in center, overall you’d think it would be a net positive throughout the outfield.

Well, that miscue by Santana in the 14th inning – taking a terrible GODAWFUL route to the ball, letting it get over his head, then bounce around allowing the runner to get to third – proves once and for all that he’s just not an outfielder. He’s a fucking defensive disaster. At this point, I don’t know if the team has any other choice but to keep him there, hope he improves, and find a way to trade him for prospects or something (assuming his bat continues to play).

It’s doubly imperative to keep him there, as Haniger left the game yesterday halfway through with an injury; we’ll see how long that keeps him out.

Anyway, yesterday was ALMOST perfect. The Mariners lost, which is important for us getting that top draft pick next year (still hanging tough with that 5th spot, 5 games back of Baltimore/Kansas City), but the Mariners were also entertaining in that loss! Hell, I was getting as hyped up as anyone with Vogelbach in there making life miserable for Houston’s pitching (he finished 2 for 5 with a run, an RBI, and 2 walks).

The only downside to the whole thing is, of course, the ballpark cutting off beer sales after 7 innings! There was DOUBLE that amount of baseball left to be played! We all ended up leaving the game early – some of us to go get another beer at a nearby bar – because we were TOO sober!

All in all, though, a pleasant way to spend a Thursday in early June.

The Too-Late, Too-Sick, Too-Hungover 4-Games-In Seattle Mariners 2019 Season Preview Spectacular!

See, here’s the thing.

The Mariners started the regular season in Japan against the A’s for a 2-game set more than a week ago, right when I was starting my big yearly Reno trip for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. As such, I was too busy at work getting things ready for my absence to write a proper season preview.

Then, there was Reno. Last week’s Wednesday through Monday. Non-stop drinking and gambling and carrying on. I couldn’t exactly pull myself away to write thousands of words on the upcoming Mariners season!

Then, I was immediately confronted with a cold. On the brightside, it was my first cold since post-Reno week LAST year, but nevertheless I was so run down from the lack of sleep that something had to give. In theory, I could’ve written something, but it would’ve been through a foggy haze, and I don’t like to work that way.

I was limited to one work day this week as a result, where I was too busy getting caught up on everything that I’d missed, so Thursday was out. Then, I had the Mariners’ home opener that night! Finally, yesterday could’ve been an option, but I was still recovering from the previous night, so here we are. A rare Saturday morning blog post. No rest for the wicked.

***

First, a quick recap. The Mariners are 3-1 as of this writing. They managed to sweep the A’s in Japan behind solid, if unspectacular, starts featuring Marco Gonzales (Opening Day Starter) and Yusei Kikuchi, as well as a whole lotta power hitting from the offense (newcomers Tim Beckham and Domingo Santana looking particularly good early).

Then, the M’s got off to a tremendous start against the Red Sox for a game and a half. The home opener featured more solid, if unspectacular, pitching from Gonzales, as the offense bashed its way to a 12-4 win. My friends and I got to heckle the World Series champions; their fans got to remind us of their World Series championships; it was all in good fun.

Last night appeared to be more of the same, as the good guys got off to a 6-1 lead through four innings, but we let it get chipped away throughout the rest of the game without playing any more add-on, culminating with a 3-run homer in the top of the ninth to blow it 7-6.

So, there we are, 3-1. First place in the A.L. West on a formality. It’s only a matter of time before we tumble our way down the standings.

***

So, the biggest news of the early going is that Kyle Seager injured his something or other and is out for two months. This is his first trip on the IL, so it’s pretty amazing someone has been as durable as he has for so long. Nevertheless, it throws our entire infield out of whack.

Ryon Healy is a good defensive first baseman; now he’s a terrible defensive third baseman. That essentially guaranteed a roster spot for out-of-options Dan Vogelbach, who is vying for playing time at first with Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce, all three of which are absolute disasters on defense. While Dee Gordon is holding his own with outstanding play at second base, I don’t seem to recall Tim Beckham as being any great shakes at short stop (I do, however, seem to recall teams trying to move him to less-featured defensive spots around the infield, due to limitations in his range).

That leaves us with catcher. Omar Narvaez is the offensive answer to the Mike Zunino question; but at the same time he’s been rated as among the worst defensive catchers, if not the VERY worst. In all facets. Until the other day, David Freitas was the only other catcher on the 40-man roster, until we just acquired Tom Murphy, who is more in the mold of a Zunino, except with worse power and defensive abilities.

So, for two months here, we might be talking about the worst infield in all of baseball. With Beckham, Bruce, and Healy accounting for 5 errors already, in just 4 games, that would seem to bear out (on top of 1 passed ball from Narvaez in his 3 games). But, even when Seager returns, it’s hard to call this team a juggernaut in the field.

That alone puts a lot of extra strain on the offense, which through four games has certainly been up to the task, beating up on the aces for both the A’s and Red Sox so far.

Tim Beckham is hitting .500 with 3 homers and 2 doubles through four games. Domingo Santana is hitting .389 with 3 homers and 2 doubles. Mitch Haniger and Ryon Healy are both hitting .294 with a combined 3 homers and 5 doubles. Mallex Smith has already hit a homer and a triple in two games. The team in total has 12 homers, 9 doubles and a triple in the early going, having scored a total of 32 runs.

Now, obviously, there’s a lot of season left to play. I predict that Haniger will have probably the best and most complete season of all the everyday players. Healy will be streaky and hit anywhere from 25-30 homers with a low batting average. Mallex Smith and Dee Gordon should be pretty productive at the top and bottom of the lineup. Encarnacion and Bruce will probably hit for low averages, a good amount of power, but otherwise unremarkable (we can only hope they succeed early and are traded for younger, better prospects for the long term). Narvaez will be awesome and frustrating in the exact opposite ways Zunino was awesome and frustrating. I feel like all those stories are going to follow their respective blueprints to a T.

The guys I’m more interested in are guys like Beckham, Santana, Seager, and Vogelbach (saying nothing of the guys in the minors, who I’ll talk a little about later). This is a VERY important year for each of those four guys.

Beckham was a #1 overall draft pick in 2008, so clearly he was once presumed to be a great prospect. Now, obviously, that hasn’t panned out, as he’s had a pretty rocky career to date. But, there have been glimpses. In 2017, between two teams, he hit 22 homers and accounted for a 3.3 WAR. I’d like to believe yet another change of scenery – maybe combined with a hot start like we’ve seen through 4 games – could be the spark his career needs. Lord knows I’ll be the last guy to believe in J.P. Crawford’s longterm prospects as an everyday, elite short stop. If Beckham were to somehow put it all together, wouldn’t THAT be just the kickstart this team needs in its rebuild?

It’s also an important year for our very own Kyle Seager, who had enjoyed a charmed life up until recent years and the advent of the defensive shift. 2018 was his career nadir, so starting 2019 on the Injured List is about as poor a start as you can get. He’s earning a huge sum of money and is guaranteed through at least 2021, so it would be nice to see him get back on the horse and at least resemble his career norms again. My concern is that this injury setback forces him to press upon his return, resulting in even worse numbers both offensively and in the field. Being the Kyle Seager of old would make him well worth his money, though, and would reinforce the positive direction of this rebuild.

Dan Vogelbach is out of options, and is essentially a man without a position. The key for him is to either start fucking hitting (he has 1 strikeout in his lone AB, in pinch hit duty last night), or see this team trade away either Encarnacion or Bruce before Seager comes back, thereby guaranteeing him a spot as this team’s DH/1B sub. It’s now or never when it comes to the Mariners, so I hope he’s figured it out late in his career. I can’t imagine he has one shred of value as trade bait, so bolstering that would be a plus.

The guy I’m most interested in – regardless of the guys in the minors – is Domingo Santana, the power-hitting left fielder. The Mariners are in desperate need of superstars throughout their lineup, as arguably only Mitch Haniger fits that bill. The only other guy currently on the 25-man roster who has that potential is Santana. Thankfully, he (as with Beckham) has shown this potential as recently as 2017, putting up a 3.0 WAR season with 30 homers and 29 doubles. If that guy comes back, or gets even better, then we’re really talking. He’s still got two more Arb years on top of what he’s making now, so if this team is going to be contending for a World Series by 2021, I believe he’s going to have to be a huge part of it in the middle of our order.

So, you know, watch out for him straining an oblique or something. That’s our Mariners luck, right?

***

The pitching side of things is pretty mediocre.

The rotation is what it is; there’s no one who even RESEMBLES an ace. Marco Gonzales is ostensibly our best starter and prospect on the 25-man roster, but he’s nothing more than a #3 in my eyes. Kikuchi probably has a higher ceiling as a true #2, but the team is going to handle him with kid gloves – giving him a 1-inning start every fourth or fifth time out, to keep him fresh – so he also comes with the most variance. He could be great, or he could wear down in the second half and take a lot longer to get better. Thankfully, this team has no intention of contending this year, so we can be patient.

Mike Leake is another #3-type pitcher. He’ll be great sometimes and he’ll be downright awful sometimes. And, the rest of the time he’ll just be sort of adequate. He’s making a lot of money and word has it we’re looking to trade him, so obviously we’re not talking about part of our future. In that sense, I’ve already lost interest, except for what he can net us in trade.

Wade LeBlanc is a #4 or a #5 on a good team. On a great team, he’s probably a long reliever, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be useful. I think he’s more than capable of running back what he did in 2018, but again, he’s not really part of the longterm future, so whatever.

Felix has been demoted to this team’s #5, and I’m on record as doubting very much that he’ll still be on this roster by May. June at the latest. It’s best not to think about it; but the team has AAA prospects that we’re looking to give experience in the Majors, so as soon as they’re ready – barring injuries elsewhere in the rotation – I think Felix is the odd man out.

It’s really not a great rotation. Paired with an elite bullpen, with the offense as supercharged as it appears to be, I’d be more inclined to suspend disbelief on a playoff run. But, this feels like a rotation that’s going to give up anywhere from 3-5 runs per game, backed up by a bullpen that’s going to give up 1-3 more runs per game. And, when the offense goes cold – as it inevitably will, from time to time this season – the Mariners are going to be SUPER BAD, and will run off some hysterical losing streaks.

I don’t even know where to start with this bullpen.

Hunter Strickland – ostensibly our closer – just blew his first save of the year (2/3 in save opportunities in the early going) and may or may not have an injured arm/shoulder that could put him on the IL. We’ll know more later today. He’s far from the dominant pitcher we had in Edwin Diaz, so right off the bat we’re worse than last year; if he goes down with injury, the M’s are essentially without a closer. This could get VERY ugly.

Roenis Elias and Cory Gearrin have gotten a bunch of innings so far and have looked okay. As for the rest, I have no fucking idea. There are a lot of names I’m not familiar with, so I really don’t have a lot to add. Talk to me later in the year, when there’s more of a book on these guys.

My hunch is that none of these guys will be on the next Mariners playoff team, and therefore will add nothing to this team’s season but heartbreak.

***

All in all, I actually think the first four games are a microcosm of the season to come. I think for the Mariners to win games, we’re going to have to score a ton of runs. I think there will still be a good share of close games to dance our way around, and while we won’t lose all of them, I could see quite a few of our losses looking like the one we had last night: go up big early, have that lead slowly chipped away as our offense hibernates, only to blow it in the end. Ultimately, though, what will torpedo this season is something we haven’t seen a lot of: an offense that goes completely down the shitter. Not even the very best offenses are able to keep up this type of production for 162 games, and I fully expect this group of guys to come WAY down to Earth sooner rather than later.

Low batting averages, lots of strikeouts, and prolonged power slumps surrounding intermittent periods of offensive brilliance. Just because this year is starting out with one of those intermittent periods of offensive brilliance doesn’t mean that’s going to be the norm. Far from it. We could start stinking up the joint as early as tonight and it wouldn’t shock me!

I think the over/under on wins for the Mariners heading into the season was 74.5. I think we’ll hit the over, but I think it’ll be by the skin of our teeth. 75-87 is my prediction. The guys we desperately need to be great won’t be great. The high-level prospects will be mediocre. One or two hopeful minor league studs will suffer devastating injuries. And, this whole cycle of middle-of-the-road bad baseball will continue on into infinity as I die hopeless and alone, having never seen the Mariners play in a World Series.

The Mariners Did Some Other Stuff Too

The big signing of the free agency period so far has been Yusei Kikuchi, but that’s not all they’ve done of late!

(yes it is, that’s all anyone really cares about)

Another name you’ll be hearing about is Tim Beckham, who’s a short stop out of Baltimore. He was signed to a 1-year, $1.75 million deal. You might remember the M’s making a deal with the Phillies for J.P. Crawford, who is ostensibly our “Short Stop Of The Future” (until the 2019 season is over, when a new one will be annointed). Crawford is a glove-first guy whose glove is maybe a little spotty, but what’s worse is that his bat stinks. Assuming that holds true, Tim Beckham is veteran insurance. At 29 years of age (later this month), he’s a career .252/.304/.424 hitter with moderate pop, sub-average speed, probably an adequate glove, who strikes out way more than he should. Ideally, Beckham will be a utility infielder, but since I don’t have any hopes for Crawford whatsoever, I’d bank on Beckham getting significant playing time. He should also be a huge upgrade over Andrew Romine, so at least that’s something.

Cory Gearrin is a right-handed reliever who got a 1-year, $1.4 million deal to be in the mix for a set-up role. He’s 33 years old in April, and true to form, he had a quality 2017 and a bummer of a 2018. His K/9 is nothing that’ll blow you away, so really he’s like pretty much every other reliever in the world.

And then there’s the re-signing of Dustin Ackley to a minor league deal. I guess he’s more or less a first baseman now, which is (I think) what he was in his final year in college, and so all that promise of him being a #2 overall pick is officially dead. He hasn’t hit in the Bigs since 2016, having spent the past two years in AAA for Anaheim, and by all accounts did okay for them. To be fair, he does play in the corner outfield spots, as well as second base in a pinch. I don’t know if there’s any room in our outfield as it’s currently constructed for Ackley to break in, but I could certainly see him promoted if Ryon Healy goes down, or if he simply tears it up for Tacoma and the M’s are looking for a spark. It’s nothing that moves the needle for me, though, because he’s a bust and that’s never going to change. Tacoma needs guys too, is what I’m told.

In former-Mariners news, Nelson Cruz signed a 1-year deal with the Twins for a little over $14 million. That’s fun! Plus, you know, he’s not in the division, so the most we have to see him is 6 or 7 times (of course, he could very well be dealt at the deadline, at which point that number could sadly change). I still think he’s got a lot to offer a team looking for added pop to their lineup, so I think this is a very good move for them. If the team as a whole sucks, then they should be able to recoup some of that in trade value.

Finally, Roenis Elias was extended (and thus avoids arbitration) on a deal worth a shade under $1 million. He’ll be important to this ballclub, as we’ll need a quality long reliever who can spot start on occasion. Of course, he’s yet another soft-tossing lefty to go with Kikuchi, Gonzales, and LeBlanc (as well as Sheffield, who isn’t quite as soft-tossing, but yet another lefty who figures to see some starts in 2019). Right now, our right-handed starters are Felix and Leake, which does nothing to disspell our soft-tossing reputation.