My 2-Part Mariners Preview: My Hope For 2018

And, so, here we are.  Opening Day is tomorrow.  Time to get back on the horse.

The Mariners have been disappointing fans far and wide since before I was born.  Most of the time, they’re just bad.  Sometimes, there’s hope that if things break right, they’ll be in contention in September.  Once in a blue moon, they’re good, but still fall short of the ultimate goal.

Always:  they let us down.  2018 will be no exception.

In this recent stretch of Mariners seasons – since we brought in Cano and Cruz to lock down the middle of our lineup – there’s been plenty of reasons for optimism.  Indeed, since the start of the 2014 season, the Mariners actually have a winning record!  327-321.  With the advent of the second wild card spot, the M’s have been RIGHT THERE pretty much every year.  We’re mired in one of those stretches where if things had just broken right, we might’ve actually made the playoffs for the first time since 2001.  But, there’s been untimely injuries, and regression from formerly great players, and bullpen issues at just the worst possible times.  Somehow, some way, the Mariners have found a way to lose just enough to keep alive the longest playoff drought in all of the major professional North American sports.  It’s absolutely mind-boggling, and it’s never going to end.

Last year was particularly bad with the injuries, as the Mariners ran through approximately 5,000 different pitchers, and the offense just wasn’t good enough to carry the load like we’d hoped going into the season.  The M’s made a number of moves last year to try to mitigate some of the injury losses to the rotation and such, bringing in guys like Marco Gonzales, Erasmo Ramirez, Mike Leake, and David Phelps, while also working in minor league guys like Andrew Moore, Chase De Jong, James Pazos, Max Povse, and relying on someone like Ariel Miranda when he was ill-equipped for the rigors of a full Major League season in a starting rotation.  A lot of those moves happened mid-season, and as such the front office is trying to spin it like they’re part of THIS offseason, as an excuse for why they haven’t done a whole lot via trades or free agency since the 2017 season ended.  No starters were added, which is arguably where the Mariners need the most help; a couple of relievers were brought in who look pretty good.  But, for the most part, we’re running it back with the same pitching staff as last year.  The same pitching staff that spent more time on the DL than off of it.  The same pitching staff that – even when healthy – wasn’t good enough to get this team back into the playoffs.

To combat that, the Mariners made some moves to bolster the offense a little bit, in unique ways.  Dee Gordon – Gold Glove second baseman – was brought in and has been converted to centerfield.  So far, through Spring Training, it sounds like he’s taking to it pretty well, but I have to believe there’ll be some growing pains.  Ryon Healy was brought in to start at the revolving door that’s been first base.  He seems like he’ll be no better and no worse than any of the other schlubs we’ve ran out at that position.  As there’s literally no talent whatsoever in the minor leagues, it’s not like the Mariners had a whole lot of ammunition with which to trade for guys; all of our value is already up in the Major Leagues.  Some of the most important moves were the moves the Mariners DIDN’T make.  They kept both Ben Gamel and Mitch Haniger, which I think we all were expecting at least one of those guys to get shipped off so the team could bring in pitching help.  Gamel is nursing an oblique strain, which tends to nag and drag on, causing players to struggle well after they’ve returned from the DL, so maybe that’s unfortunate.  Nevertheless, I think we all like those guys’ potential to grow into quality Major Leaguers, so I guess I’m more or less okay with those guys staying here.

All of this is a way to say that it’s been a LONG time since I’ve been as apathetic about this team’s post-season chances as I am right now.  Even when we were at our very worst, in 2008, I could hate this team with a passion (also, going into that season – coming off of a pretty successful 2007 – my hopes were high for a real playoff run; ditto 2010).  Most years, I can contort my brain into believing that our good players will stay good (and healthy), that our young guys will develop into stars, and that we’ll get just enough pitching to push this thing over the top (again, if everything breaks in our favor).  But, this year?  I got nothing.

The Mariners JUST finished a season with 78 wins, 7 games out of the second wild card (with 4 teams in our way), and a whopping 23 games out of the AL West title.  As I just explained:  the Mariners have done next to nothing to improve upon a team that was already pretty bad.  Moreover, the Mariners have done next to nothing to get rid of injury-prone players (even going so far as to bring Hisashi Iwakuma back on a minor league deal to see if he has anything left in the tank), therefore I see no reason to expect this team won’t be just as injury-prone as they’ve been the last 2-3 years.  Paxton?  Felix?  Haniger?  Ticking time bombs.  And that’s not even counting all the players who already went down in Spring Training (money well spent on Lorena Martin, Director of High Performance; a barrel full of whiskey and a rabid donkey could’ve done a better job of keeping these stiffs healthy so far).  And, that doesn’t even get into the Mariners’ competition.  Remember the Astros?  The team that was 23 games better than us last year?  The World Series champs?  Yeah, they’re still there, they’re still amazing, and they’ve actually made a number of moves to – you know – IMPROVE THEIR BALLCLUB.  Remember the Angels, who were 2 games better?  Same deal.  Remember the Rangers, who were exactly the same in record?  They also suffered a number of injuries that held them back last year, and they’ve also done more than the Mariners have in improving their ballclub.  Even Oakland, who’s clearly rebuilding around young talent, has more reason for optimism than the Mariners, AND THEY PLAY IN OAKLAND HALF THE TIME!

So, yeah, I’ve written off this Seattle Mariners team and they’ve yet to even play a game.  Fuck you and your opinions on the matter.  Does it make me any less of a fan?  WHO CARES?  If you want to be a Mariners Super Fan, and live in a land of make-believe, be my fucking guest.  I plan on riding this team so fucking hard this season, they’re going to be ground into dust.

But, as I alluded to in the title of this post, I’m here to write about my hopes for the 2018 season.  Primary among them, of course, is this team proving me wrong.  Most of my life, I’ve held some kernel of belief that the Mariners could possibly do something amazing and blow away everyone’s expectations.  Most of my life, I’ve been wrong.  I’m ALWAYS wrong!  And, as a result, I’m always let down.  Well, I’ve never been so certain of a team not contending in my life; if there was any way to short the Mariners’ chances of making the playoffs, I would’ve bet the entire Taylor Family Farm!  As such, maybe I’m wrong again!  Maybe the Mariners will do something so crazy that I can’t even fathom how it would be possible!

Maybe all the best guys will stay healthy, and all the young guys will turn into stars and the Mariners will be 30 games over .500 in 1-run games.  Just an unsustainable run of unexpected greatness, and we’ll all come back here at the end of the season and I’ll take the roasting I so richly deserve for all my negativity!  Okay, even in this dreamland scenario, winning the AL West still seems like a bit of a stretch, but a miracle second wild card run would be just the thing that would knock me on my ass.  Thankfully, next-to-no one in the national media punditry is picking the Mariners to do anything but hover around .500.  I know I’m wrong all the time, but those guys – especially when they pick the Mariners to do well – are wrong ALL THE TIME.

More realistically, here are some hopes I hope:

I hope Felix stays healthy and has an okay year.  Maybe an ERA around 4.50, with a couple real standout games against the likes of the A’s or White Sox, and not too many blown saves by the bullpen.

I hope Paxton limits his DL stints to just one, and for only a month at the most.  Ideally, maybe knock that out in late May or June, so he has the whole second half of the season to really shine.  He has Cy Young-quality stuff, and I hope he gets as close as he’ll ever get to putting his name in that conversation.

I hope Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales really blossom into viable starters.  Leake’s already been around for a while, so he is what he is, but if he can just sort of hang around and be a #3-type starter, that would be ideal.  Gonzales is still young enough that I can fool myself into thinking he has another level to his talent.  Most likely, he’ll be a bum, but guys have put it all together before.  I hope he learns how to pitch effectively and shocks the world by being better than we ever expected.

I hope Edwin Diaz is just amazing.  I love that kid, he’s fun to watch, and not for nothing – if this whole thing falls apart in a nasty way – he could be a huge trade chip.

I hope Dee Gordon hits well, because I want to see him running around the bases as much as humanly possible.  I also hope he takes to centerfield, because it would be fun to have another great defensive centerfielder.

I hope Mitch Haniger also limits his DL stints to just one, and for only a month at the most.  It’s too much to ask for guys like him or Paxton to stay totally healthy – because none of us can ever have nice things – but in the grand scheme of things, just a month on the DL isn’t the end of the world.  Not when you have 5 other months to get things going.  I hope when he is healthy, Haniger is the stud we all thought he was.

I hope Dan Vogelbach parlays this torrid Spring Training into taking over the starting job at first base for the foreseeable future.  I also hope that we squeeze one more great year out of Nelson Cruz and then let him walk when his contract expires – getting out hopefully a year too early rather than a year too late – so we can shift Vogelbach over to his more natural DH position (or have him split time between first & DH with Cano, when his legs inevitably prevent him from sticking at second base through the back-half of his contract).  I also hope we don’t see the start of the inevitable Cano decline, as including 2018, we’ve got 6 more years on this deal.

I hope Mike Zunino turns into an All Star.  Oddly enough, this IS within the realm of possibility, which is an absolute mindfuck.  We might one day sing Jackie Z’s praises for his foresight in selecting Zunino with the 3rd overall pick in 2012!

Finally, I hope that if all of this blows up in our faces in April and May, the team has the foresight to cut and run.  I hope they’re able to unload insane contracts, bring back quality minor leaguers, and re-load the farm system with studs who might one day lead this team back to the playoffs for the first time in forever.  There’s a lot of trade-able talent on this team.  So, if we’re just treading water – or worse – like I think most of us expect to be, then don’t dilly dally.  Burn this motherfucker down.  Put us out of our misery and give us a reason to REALLY have hope again.

Awards Season: Felix Hernandez Did Not Win The Cy Young Award

Kyle Seager winning the Gold Glove was a nice little surprise I think nobody expected.  Chris Young winning the Comeback Player of the Year was as sure of a slam dunk as can be.  Lloyd McClendon not even making the Top 3 for Manager of the Year is at least a little insulting, but it’s hard for me to say if he’s more or less deserving than the Baltimore, Kansas City, and Anaheim managers.  I’m too close to the situation; I’ve watched these Mariners bungle their way through life for too many years.  2014, and the job done by LMC, felt like a fucking miracle on par with walking on water.  Then again, I probably would’ve sent my vote to the Kansas City manager – even discounting what they did in the post-season – because if you want to talk Long Suffering Baseball Fans, followers of the Royals will chew your God damn ear off!

Yesterday, they announced the Cy Young awards.  In the NL, Clayton Kershaw won it unanimously.  In the AL, it was always going to be a 2-man race.  In one corner, you have Felix Hernandez.  The face of the Mariners’ franchise and one of the most talked-about names in baseball at every trade deadline until he signed that massive extension.  Winner of the 2010 Cy Young Award, having the single greatest season he’s ever had in what’s looking like a Hall of Fame career.  In the other corner, you have Corey Kluber.  A guy, plays for the Indians, who became a full time starter in 2013.  He had his breakout this year, coming in second overall in strikeouts, with a lot of other impressive numbers to boot.

Two worthy players (and Chris Sale, I guess, but no one took him seriously).  Two aces pitching for teams who fell just short of the Wild Card.

Felix had the ERA crown at 2.14.  Felix had the best WHIP in a generation with 0.92.  Felix was second in Innings Pitched (236, behind David Price) and fourth in strikeouts (248, behind Price, Kluber, and Max Scherzer).  Felix’s 6.8 WAR was second to Kluber’s 7.4.  Felix’s 2.56 FIP was behind Kluber’s 2.35.  Felix’s strikeout-to-walk ratio was a little better, Kluber’s strikeout-per-9 innings was a little better.

In the end, it was determined by the Baseball Writers.  Out of 30 voters, Kluber received 17 first place votes to Felix’s 13.  Overall, Kluber had 169 points to Felix’s 159.  It was that close.  Both were deserving to win it all, but one guy did, and it wasn’t our guy.  That makes me a little sad.

What irritates the shit out of me is the rationale some of these voters used.  Read this.  Or don’t.  I’ll summarize.  Here are some of the reasons why people voted for Kluber over Felix:

  • The Seattle Mariners had a good defense, while the Cleveland Indians had a bad defense.
  • Felix Hernandez had one bad game in Toronto on September 23rd.
  • Felix Hernandez plays in a more pitcher-friendly home ballpark.
  • Kluber beat Felix in their lone head-to-head matchup.
  • Kluber had a better month of September.
  • Kluber had more 10-strikeout games.
  • Kluber had better sabermetrics.

The last point I’d be willing to concede.  I’m not going to dig around and learn all the intricacies of every sabermetric statistic to try to make an argument one way or the other.  If you tell me Kluber had the better sabermetrics, and if that’s something that matters to you as a voter, then fine, I give.

But, come on.  You’re punishing Felix because of Safeco Field, and because our general manager put a competent defensive unit around him?  At that point, what more could he possibly do?  How much better than Kluber would he reasonably have to be to be considered the best pitcher in the AL?  How can he expect to compete for one of these awards again if he’s being dinged for things outside of his control?

Nevermind the fact that his home and road numbers are actually quite similar, and the fact that he gave up four more homers in Safeco than he did on the road.  Oh, and also NEVERMIND the fact that Felix had 12 unearned runs compared to Kluber’s 8, which would lead me to understand that maybe Felix didn’t have this huge defensive advantage after all.  Yeah, no, yeah, those are valid reasons.

Oh, but that month of September though!  Hang on:

  • Felix:  6 games, 1.66 ERA, 25 hits in 38 innings, 11 walks, 43 strikeouts
  • Kluber:  6 games, 2.09 ERA, 39 hits in 43 innings, 7 walks, 56 strikeouts

I dunno, not seeing this huge difference.  And pardon me if I don’t give credence to their head-to-head matchup, which saw Felix take the loss while going 7 innings and giving up 2 runs, while Kluber went the full 9, shutting out our inept offense.  If you’re going to use that as criteria in voting for Kluber, then we have to bring team offense into the equation.  Cleveland as a team scored 35 more runs than the Mariners and had a .706 OPS vs. our .676.  But, again, that’s really an argument I don’t want to make, because this is SUPPOSED to be about the pitchers.

The one thing that really burns my ass more than anything else is this whole What Have You Done For Me Lately mentality.  Really?  We’re going to boil a guy’s season down to his final meaningful start?

Corey Kluber went 8 shutout innings on September 26th to win his final start of the year 1-0.  Felix Hernandez went 4.2 innings on September 23rd down in Toronto, costing us a win and ultimately a shot at the Wild Card.  He gave up 8 runs in that game, though a scoring change after the fact determined only 4 of those runs were earned (and thereby giving him the ERA title after he pitched 5.1 innings of meaningless shutout baseball on the final day of the season).

I can see being a little cynical about that whole scoring change issue.  Seems a little self-serving on the Mariners’ part to ask for a review of the play days later, but Major League Baseball didn’t HAVE to give us the scoring change.

Regardless, one guy won his last start and one guy didn’t.  Except, here’s the thing:  at the end of the day on September 26th, the Indians were 3 full games back in the Wild Card race, with two days to go.  They had two teams to leapfrog in order to get into the playoffs even going IN to that game, so what makes Kluber’s performance on that day any more important than Felix’s performance on the 28th, after we’d found out Oakland won earlier in the afternoon?  Kluber’s big final start meant NOTHING, and yet he’s being lauded for pitching well in a meaningless game.

Was it a shame that Felix laid a stinker in Toronto?  Of course.  You can certainly make the argument that, to date, that game was the biggest of Felix’s career.  Albeit, a career that has still yet to see him grace the post-season.  Nevertheless, that was an important game, and his meltdown cost us on that day.

But, the Cy Young isn’t supposed to be about what you did last.  It’s supposed to be about your entire body of work.  And, quite frankly, I’ll never be able to forget what Felix was able to do in those 16 starts from May 18th through August 11th when he went at least 7 innings in every game while giving up 2 runs or less.  IN EVERY GAME!  Are you kidding me?  He set the Major League record!  That’s not just dominance, that’s SUSTAINED dominance, over damn near half a season!  And, it’s not like he’s just hanging his hat on those 16 starts, most of his other 18 starts were pretty fucking good too.  But, not that one in Toronto, I guess.  Fuck me.

Why are we glossing over a remarkable achievement like those 16 consecutive starts?  Why isn’t THAT the fucking headline on this Cy Young race?  Clayton Kershaw, the unanimous NL Cy Young award winner couldn’t even achieve what Felix was able to achieve!  And we’re glossing over it for what?  A lone start in September?  Bitch, please.

I’m not going to go around saying this is the biggest travesty in the history of meaningless sports awards, but it’s still pretty fucking irritating.  It’s also a reason why I choose to no longer talk about politics with anyone, even with people who agree with mine.  It’s not what you vote for, it’s HOW you vote.  And the OVERWHELMING majority of ignorant cunts in this country base their votes on the most pointless, trivial, stupid-ass bullshit you can possibly think of.  The Baseball Writers Association of America, sadly, is a predictable cross section of those very same ignorant cunts of the American voting public.

Michael Pineda Wins His Home Opener

I don’t really have a whole lot to say about the game last night.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a good one; these are the kinds of games the Mariners will need to win if they’re going to avoid 100 losses.

Pineda looked damn good.  He was hitting the upper 90s on his fastball in the 8th inning, no worries there.  He flashed some nastiness with his curve and change up.  In short, he’s looking more and more like the stud we hope he’ll be.

Olivo, on the other hand, looks exactly like the guy we thought he was.  Jesus.  He couldn’t find a wild pitch to his rear right to save his life in the 8th inning.  THEN, when he tried to throw out a runner trying to steal second, he threw it into fucking right-center field!  The guy single-handedly tried to blow the game for us!  Not to mention all the guys he’s leaving on base in his at-bats!  Christ, give that guy a fully loaded set of bases and just watch him do nothing with ’em!

This guy is batting smack dab in the middle of our order.  Right now, I’d rather have Langerhans in there batting cleanup.  Hell, he’s got three home runs to lead the team!  I’m pretty sure at least two of those are off lefties!

Anyway, good win.  Good win against a tough pitcher.  I’m pretty much of the belief that there’s no starting pitcher out there who’s untouchable.  There are a precious few who are tough; the toughest of the bunch in the Majors is our man Felix.  So, really, there isn’t any reason why we can’t get 3 runs off of any and every starting pitcher in the AL.  We already have the advantage of not facing the best starter in the game! 

Yeah, Ricky Romero is good and all, and I’m glad we actually DID get 3 runs off of him, but he’s exactly the kind of pitcher who normally holds us to 0 runs over 8 innings.  That can’t happen.  EVERY pitcher can’t be Cy Young!

Now, I know today’s Toronto starter is supposed to be an up-and-coming stud, but I don’t care.  Mariners, go out there this afternoon and take care of fucking business.  And, for Christ’s sake Vargas, let’s make up for that opening night disaster, huh?