The Mariners Are Going All The Fucking Way Baby Yeah!

I’m absolutely stunned by this Mariners team right now.  Nothing about this makes any sense, but I DON’T CARE!

Ever since Jackie Z & Co. unofficially (but sort of officially) abandoned the Youth Movement – starting in 2014, with the signing of Robinson Cano – we’ve been on an Every Other Year sort of track with this team.  In 2014, we were pretty good; we won 87 games and were a game out of the second wild card.  In 2015, with expectations pretty high, we sucked.  In 2016, we were pretty good again; we won 86 games this time and were 3 games out of the second wild card.  In 2017, with expectations pretty high again, we sucked again.  So, it’s 2018 now, and by that logic it’s time to be pretty good again!  I think we’re all in agreement – and have been since before the season started – that the Mariners would probably be in contention for a wild card spot, even in spite of the fact that they did nothing over the off-season to improve their rotation.  After the obvious divisional favorites, I figured the M’s would be one of the 4 or 5 best remaining teams to compete for those 2 wild card spots, and I figured they’d fall just short in the end.

I’ll reiterate – as I do every time I even APPROACH getting my hopes up – that this could all still happen.  Everything could still fall apart and/or another team or two could get insanely hot, and we could still fall just short in the end.

But, I mean, come on.

The Mariners are now 38-22.  For those that don’t feel like doing the math, that’s 16 games over .500!  Are you literally shitting me out of your ass right now?  Someone posted on Twitter that this is one of the four best starts for the M’s after 60 games in franchise history (alongside all those great teams from 2001-2003, that the second wild card team was created for).  At what point do we go from cautiously optimistic that this team can hold the Angels at bay for that second wild card spot (they are currently 5 games behind us) and start talking about the limitless possibilities that this team can achieve?

We’re 2 games ahead of the Astros for the division lead, after beating their asses by the score of 7-1 last night.  James Paxton got 2 outs into the 8th inning, giving up just 1 run.  We jumped all over Dallas Keuchel (scoring 4 in the first and 2 more in the second), making this one of the worst starts of his career, as he went 6.2 innings, giving up 7 runs on 7 hits, a walk, and only 3 strikeouts.  Seager hit a 3-run oppo-shot off the lefty, Zunino crushed a 2-run bomb against the glass, and Segura capped things off with a solo job in the fifth.

Sure, it was a Paxton start, and you generally expect to win these games when he’s healthy (and especially when he’s rolling like he’s been since the beginning of May), but would anyone have been shocked if we lost yesterday?  Keuchel traditionally kills us, as does the Astros’ offense.  Since the Astros joined the A.L. West – heading into yesterday’s game – we were 41-58 against them dating back to the beginning of the 2013 season (and remember, the first two years, the Astros were objectively one of the worst teams in baseball).  At this point, I’m just conditioned to losing to this team.  And not only did we win, we CRUSHED them!  This wasn’t one of those 1-0 jobs where Paxton is just out of his mind and we get a lucky run late; this was the Mariners stomping on their throats from the get-go and never letting up!

So, can we dream a little bit?  Let’s have just a little bit of fun before it all falls apart on us.

If the season ended today, the Mariners would be in the playoffs for the first time since 2001.  As divisional winners, we wouldn’t have to worry about a 1-game playoff.  It would be the Yankees against the Astros in that game, which is huge, because those are two VERY big threats, one of which will have to go down without facing the Mariners.

What happens next?  Well, the team with the best record in the American League plays the Wild Card winner.  That team figures to be the Red Sox, another VERY big threat.  So, again, two VERY big threats will be playing one another, without facing the Mariners.

Who would the Mariners play in the ALDS?  None other than the Cleveland Indians.  Remember that terrible A.L. Central?  Yeah, the Indians are 31-28 right now and look exceedingly mediocre (the second-best team in that division, not for nothing, is the Detroit Tigers at 29-33).  The Mariners are finished playing the Indians for the regular season, but we went 5-2 against them.  We actually have winning records against all the teams in that division, so you figure the ALDS is looking mighty good for us.

Beyond that, it’s just a 7-game ALCS standing between us and our first-ever World Series appearance.  A lot would have to go right for us to get there, but it doesn’t sound as impossible as it did just yesterday at this time.  And, since no one in the National League really impresses the hell out of you, who’s to say this year couldn’t be THE year?

I know that’s all nonsense, and there’s still PLENTY of time for things to go sideways, but this is fun, isn’t it?  It hasn’t been THIS fun since 2001.  Where now my expectation is that the Mariners will win on any given night, vs. the other way around.  And, to their credit, they’re finding ways to get it done on a regular basis.

The Mariners Have Played Some Baseball Games Since I Last Wrote About Them

Sorry folks, I’ve been busy on another (secret) writing project that has absolutely nothing to do with Seattle sports.  And, while it’s been a refreshing change of pace (that I still don’t know what I’m going to do with yet), it’s taken a lot of my attention away from this blog.  But, you know, considering the malaise that is the Seattle Mariners, with the impending bummer of a season from the Seahawks (that many fans are still fighting against tooth and nail, as if the only problem last year was a poor kicking game and shaky offensive line – and as if those problems have been dramatically improved in the subsequent months since that team unceremoniously finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs for the first time since Tarvaris Jackson was running the show), it’s not like I’ve been all that inspired to bloviate on the local sporting landscape.

Since the last time I wrote about the Mariners, we kicked off a 7-game homestand with a weekend series against the A’s.  The A’s aren’t very good.  You could say the same thing about the Mariners (both teams have underwhelming pitching staffs and get by on their offense), but the A’s also haven’t had the misfortune of playing the Astros yet (more on that in a minute) and they still have a worse record than the M’s, so take that for what it is.  The Mariners had 2 great offensive days and took the first two games of the series; then dropped the Sunday finale as Sean Manaea out-duelled King Felix to the tune of a 2-1 heartbreaker.  No matter, the good guys still won the series, but that lack of offense would be a harbinger of things to come.

Following that set, the Mariners hosted the Astros for 4 games, and things got off to a dynamic start with James Paxton flashing his ace stuff through six innings.  He out-pitched Dallas Keuchel of all people (who seemingly always owns the M’s), who went the distance but surrendered 2 runs in a game that finished 2-1.  Paxton gave up a leadoff homer to George Springer to kick off the game (because of course), but cruised the rest of the way, and the usual bullpen suspects kept the Astros off the board through the final three innings.  It was an impressive game any way you slice it, and you might forgive Mariners fans for being a little excited (or a little cocky) heading into the other three games of the series.

But … did you guys see who was starting those other three games?  The Astros had Lance McCullers Jr., Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton all lined up.  The Mariners?  Ariel Miranda, Mike Leake (who, yeah, okay, he’s been pretty good so far in his Mariners career), and Marco Gonzales.  I’m sorry, but it’s no contest.  The Mariners won the one game they did because their ace showed up and the bullpen didn’t blow it, but they were SO CLOSE to getting swept, and quite frankly I’m shocked they weren’t.

As I tweeted before the series, the Mariners just aren’t in the Astros’ league.  They’re not in the Astros’ universe for Christ’s sake!  I don’t even think they’re playing the same sport!  We play them 15 more times this year, and barring about a million Astros injuries (particularly to their pitching staff), I wouldn’t even expect the Mariners to play at a .250 pace.  Winning 25% of the games we play against the Astros would be a miracle, and if you offered it to me right now, I’d gladly take it and avoid the actual drubbing we’ll inevitably have to sit through.  The only saving grace for me was that these games were played on Monday through Thursday, either too late for me to stay up and watch, or during the hours I was at work, so I didn’t have to watch or listen to a minute of that nonsense.

The Mariners have since hit the road for 10 games, starting with a weekend series in Texas.  Friday’s game was super fun.  King Felix looked like his old self through the first two times around the order.  But, with one out in the sixth, the Rangers started to knock him around until he was knocked out of the game entirely.  Scrabble came in and shit the bed, so Felix ended up giving up 2 runs.  Down 2-1 at this point, things looked a little bleak, but the bats finally came alive.  Mitch Haniger hit a bomb in the 8th to tie it, and the rest of the team nearly batted around in the 9th, scoring 4 runs on a number of clutch hits.  The bullpen was lights out after Scrabble left the game in disgrace, and we won 6-2.

That was followed by last night’s barnburner.  James Paxton was pretty terrible throughout, leaving after 4 innings, giving up 5 runs, with the M’s losing 5-3.  It was 6-4 in the top of the 7th when the Mariners’ bats came alive once again, putting up a 5-spot, including a 2-run double by Segura, and homers by Cano and Haniger.  With Juan Nicasio unavailable, and with Scrabble once again faltering in his 1/3 inning of work, Edwin Diaz – having just pitched the night before in a non-save situation – had to come in for the 4-out save.  He got out of the 8th unscathed, but the 9th was a real adventure.  A walk and a single had runners on the corners before the first out of the inning (on a strikeout).  From there, Diaz really lost command of his stuff, as both fastball and slider were running off the plate to the right.  A groundout scored the runner from third, and back-to-back walks loaded the bases with 2 outs and 0 mound visits remaining.  Fortunately, Diaz was able to muster just enough (either command or blind stinking luck) to generate a harmless fly ball to left to close it out for his league-leading 8th save of the year.  9-7 final.

There’s a day game today before the Mariners go to Chicago to play the White Sox.  Then, it’s off to Cleveland to close out our season series with the Indians (in the first month of the season no less!).

Just to kind of put a bow on things, I’ll say this:  The Mariners are 11-8 and in third place in the A.L. West.  The Astros have reclaimed their rightful spot atop the division, with the Angels (falling just a little since their torrid start) a half game back.  Again, barring significant injury woes, this is where I’d expect these teams to finish the season.

The Mariners AREN’T terrible, so don’t get me wrong on that.  This team, with this amazing offense, should beat up on a lot of mediocre teams around the game of baseball.  They should also compete with some of the better teams, or the teams at their Wild Card-ish level.  But, against the truly ELITE teams?  The Astros?  The Red Sox?  Maybe the Angels?  I would expect the Mariners to continue to struggle.

Best (realistic) case scenario for the Mariners is that they get dominated by the Astros and Red Sox (and any other team that really distances themselves from the middle of the pack), while they play around .500 ball against the Angels.  Worst case scenario involves the Mariners getting bombarded by the Astros AND Angels, because that’s a combined 38 games in their schedule.  If they can play the Angels tough half the time, though, they should be in line to steal that second Wild Card spot (again, assuming the worst doesn’t happen again like last year).  But, they’ll have no shot if they’ve got two huge whales in their own division making them the Little Brother getting blasted with noogies all the live long day.

Mariners Lose To Astros Yet Again As Shit Gets Depressingly Real

With two games to go on the season series, the Mariners are 5-12 against the Astros.  I don’t want to put all the blame on them for the Mariners not making the playoffs this season, but if stupid fucking Major League Baseball had given us Arizona or Colorado instead of the fucking Astros when they realigned their divisions, we might be in the catbird’s seat right now.

Indeed, if you REALLY want to be depressed, you should check out the Mariners’ record against the Astros since they entered the A.L. West back in 2013.  Remember, at that time, the Astros were the very worst team in baseball.  In spite of that, the M’s were only 10-9 against them that first year.  In total, the Mariners are 40-53 in these five seasons, soon to be 40-55.  In that same span, here’s the Mariners’ records against the other A.L. West teams:

  • Anaheim – 44-48
  • Oakland – 56-36
  • Texas – 46-46

I mean, that’s unbelievable, right?  It’s not like the M’s have been all that great in the last five years, but there’s two winning seasons in there, with a chance for a third this year.  The M’s have been okay, but the Astros have had our number every step of the way!

Yesterday was no exception.  James Paxton returned, which was the good news; but he stunk and couldn’t get out of the second inning, which is the bad news.  Yovani Gallardo tried to keep us in the game, but failed as usual, and the Mariners lost 5-2.  Honestly, it felt lucky that the M’s could even manage those two runs.  So much for that hot offense spilling over into this series.

The Twins also lost, which is good I guess, so the Mariners are still 3.5 games back.  They’re going to need to lose a lot more if the Mariners are going to get swept in yet another Astros series.  Don’t forget, yesterday’s game was the only one this series where the Astros didn’t feature a Cy Young-calibre starter, as we’re set to face Keuchel and Verlander today and tomorrow.  Again, I would recommend you find something else to do with your weekend than watch our offense flail for 18 innings.

God fucking dammit I hate baseball.

The Mariners (Minus Seager & Erasmo) Took Labor Day Off

Ho hum, Dallas Keuchel dominated the M’s and the Astros won 6-2.  This isn’t news.  This isn’t shocking, to say the least.  This is Astros > Mariners, end of story.

Frankly, the most shocking thing about this game was the fact that the Mariners held a 1-0 lead into the fifth inning before the Astros finally took control.  That’s when Erasmo Ramirez gave up a couple solo homers to relinquish the lead.  Then, the second most shocking thing happened:  the Mariners tied the game at 2-2 in the sixth on a Kyle Seager homer, his second RBI of the day.

Had we played our cards right, and the bullpen not totally collapsed, maybe we could’ve squeezed in a third run and stolen a victory!

Instead, Scrabble brought zero to the table, and what’s worse, Nick Vincent gave up his first two runs in Safeco Field this season, a feat that probably should’ve gotten more recognition around these parts.  Those four combined runs buried the Mariners, and it was a sprint to the finish.

Yeah, the bullpen gagged this one away, but I find it hard to get mad at anyone when they’re going up against the Astros.  Those guys just have our number!  Anytime the Mariners hold them under 10 runs I think it’s a miracle from the heavens.

Two more days of this shit, then an off-day, then the Mariners can get back to winning some baseball games again.  Just try to ride out the next two days in a bunker of some sort; avoiding contact with the outside world.  It’s really the only way.

Mike Leake’s Mariners Debut Goes Swimmingly

I’ll admit I had my doubts.  After the trade was made, going into the game yesterday, during and after the first inning, doubts were swirling!  While Mike Leake isn’t like every other Quad-A, flyballer Jerry Dipoto has brought into this organization, he was still a different kind of Meh.

Then, single-single-RBI double happened to lead off the game, and HERE WE GO AGAIN!  You could’ve cooked an egg on my forehead.  I mean, holy hell, what does this team have to do to get some competent fucking pitching in here?

Thank God he settled down.  After staking the A’s to a 2-0 lead in the first, he shut them out over the next six innings – OH YOU HEARD THAT RIGHT – he went seven innings, giving up just the two runs in getting his first Mariners victory!

I don’t know if it was his brilliance, or the A’s just being the A’s, but he only walked 1 and struck out 7, while inducing them into 2 double plays.  Honestly, it was refreshing more than anything.

As for the Mariners’ offense, I wouldn’t say they’re cured, but they got a rare win while scoring fewer than 4 runs, so that’s something.  A Mike Zunino opposite-field homer got the scoring started, followed by a Mitch Haniger RBI single (back in the 2-hole, plating Jean Segura), followed by a Kyle Seager sac fly to score Haniger, all scored in the third inning.

With Leake out of the game, Scrabble and Vincent shared the eighth, and Diaz had no trouble getting his 31st save of the season.

We’re officially into September, and with it the call-ups.  Jarrod Dyson returned from the DL and got a start last night.  Reliever Shae Simmons – who spent the better part of the last two months in the minors as he worked his way back from injury – was called up for the first time since we got him from the Braves.  Familiar faces Dan Altavilla and Andrew Moore are returning, both headed to the bullpen, where they’ll find Marco Gonzales – who was officially taken out of the rotation with the trade for Leake.  Also newcomer Ryan Garton – who we got from the Rays for nothing – will get a shot to help out in the ‘pen.  Finally, recently acquired catcher Mike Marjama will be the team’s third catcher for the month, because that’s apparently a thing that teams do.

To make room on the 40-man roster, subtractions had to be made.  David Phelps was put back on the DL, to no one’s surprise.  Christian Bergman was outrighted to the Rainiers, which I guess ends his season with us.  And, in the most shocking news, Sam Gaviglio was waived – and immediately claimed by the Royals.  That’s slightly disappointing, if only because he’s clearly better than both Marco Gonzales and Andrew Moore, though I guess those guys are younger with more club control.  It’s been real, Sam Gaviglio!  You were the Charlie Brown of this rotation, under-appreciated and the constant butt of our jokes, but always there and always … I dunno, existing I guess.

I don’t know if all these moves will put the Mariners back into contention (now 3.5 games back of the second Wild Card), but I do know this:  it won’t matter one iota.  Because the Astros did what everyone else was too chickenshit to accomplish:  they traded for Justin Verlander.  So, you know, go ahead and pencil in the Astros and Dodgers into the World Series now, because it’ll be a doozy!

Also, not for nothing, but the M’s better sweep the A’s this weekend, because have you seen the starters the Astros are going to throw at us Monday thru Wednesday?  How about Dallas Keuchel, Justin Verlander (in his Astros debut), and Lance McCullers?  I’m going to do myself a huge favor and not watch any of those fucking games.

The Mariners Continue To Mariners Their Season

Well, I had my first mid-Mariners game nap of the season, so I guess we’re in full swing now!

What a fucking snooze this team is.  Jesus Christ.  I really appreciate the hitters showing up to play!  It’s nice to know everyone is taking this season so seriously, considering it’s very likely our last reasonable shot at making the playoffs for a while.  Or, to put it another way:  the Mariners aren’t likely to get any BETTER as their veterans age; not that it matters with the way everyone’s playing right now.

Hisashi Iwakuma, to his credit, kicked off his 2017 with a Quality Start:  6 innings, 2 solo homers, 3 walks, 4 hits, 2 strikeouts.  In 83 pitches, so as to not tire out his arm for the next start.  And the bullpen did their jobs!  A scoreless two innings for three more pitchers, as we make good use of this obscenely large bullpen.  Still haven’t been able to work the closer into a game though!  Might be nice to do that pretty soon here.

The offense had marginally more success than it did in Game 1; at least last night we scored AH run.  Sure, it was an infield single that scored a guy from third base, but I’m certain it’s only a matter of time before the Mariners hit the ball OUT of the infield for an RBI!

Cano continues to put good wood on the ball, showing just how much he loves playing in Houston.  He had a double, as did Mike Haniger for his first hit as a Mariner (scored our only run too).  Jarrod Dyson had a hustle-double in the 9th inning against their closer to make things interesting for a spell, but aside from Danny Valencia’s two hits, no one else did much of anything.

Today, I’m gonna break my shit list off in Nelson Cruz’s behind, because what kind of a start to the season is this?!  Three strikeouts in two games?  0 for 7, including 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position???  You’re supposed to be our motherfucking cleanup hitter, so why don’t you start cleaning up some of this shit?!  I mean, fuck me, we had a runner on third with less than two outs and you STRIKE OUT?  Then, the very next inning, we get a runner to second and you ground out to the short stop?  You’re BETTER than this, so start fucking playing like it!

Is it concerning to anyone that 4 of our 10 hits are of the infield variety?  Forget controlling the zone for a minute, how about let’s work on making solid contact with the baseball?  Lifting that shit up into the air and whatnot.

Also, with 19 strikeouts in two games, and 0 stolen bases, this isn’t the version of Mariners baseball that I was promised.  I want my money back, please.

We get to do this all over again tonight.  Let’s see if Leonys Martin can keep his streak of going 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts alive.  At what point do we drop him to the 9-hole, and then at what point do we take his ass out of the lineup altogether?

Because, the thing is, it’s one thing to be a good offense against the crap pitchers of the league, but if this offense is to be REALLY special, it’s got to get it done against the really good pitchers too.  What’s worse is, I don’t even know if Dallas Keuchel or Lance McCullers are even THAT good!  I mean, they’re pretty good, but not THIS overpowering, are they?

The Mariners Somehow Made Opening Day Feel Like The Dog Days Of August

What a God damned wretched experience last night was.  I saw my first-ever NCAA bracket contest championships wither and die along with Gonzaga’s dreams and the concept of good refereeing.  And, as an appetizer, I got to watch the Mariners stink up the joint for almost three hours.

For starters, what the hell happened to the Mariners opening up every season against the Oakland A’s?  While it rarely made for exciting baseball, you could at least count on a win for the good guys!  The last two years, we’ve opened up with games against Texas and Houston and have seen our Opening Day winning percentage suffer accordingly.

It seems particularly cruel to have the Mariners start in Houston of all places, where we traditionally play like warm, pureed garbage.  It’s like Major League Baseball wanted to deflate all of our hopes like so many New England Patriots footballs, before the season even truly started.

Dallas Keuchel looked like his usual, dominant self.  I’m always amazed when it’s pointed out that the Mariners actually HAVE had some success against that guy; I seem to only remember the times he’s absolutely murdered us.  The Mariners only had one opportunity to get to him, and a poor choice in our lineup’s construction saw to it we wouldn’t capitalize.

In the 4th inning, Cano, Cruz, and Valencia loaded the bases with two outs, on a single and a couple of walks.  I was okay with the lineup 1-6, with Valencia batting behind Seager in that 6-hole.  Where I have the problem is batting Leonys Martin 7th, ahead of Mike Zunino.  I understand the allure of having Zunino’s power so low in the lineup, combined with the desire to limit the pressure on him at the plate by having him near the bottom, but Leonys Martin is a hot fucking mess at the plate.  On top of that, he’s a lefty trying to do SOMETHING against the likes of Dallas Fucking Keuchel.  There’s something to be said for going lefty-righty-lefty in your lineup, but not with the 7-8-9 hitters!

We had the bases loaded with 2 outs and a left-handed hitter coming to the plate.  Martin, as is his wont, swung at the first pitch and grounded out to second base, because of course he did.  Now, imagine that same scenario with Zunino up there and the bases loaded!  Granted, he also went hitless yesterday, so maybe he too would’ve grounded out to end the inning.  But, I have a shitload more confidence in Zunino against Keuchel than I do Martin against Keuchel.  You should be stacking the lineup with as many right handed hitters in a row against a guy like Keuchel!  STOP FUCKING AROUND, SERVAIS!  This year is too fucking important for your shenanigans!

If it looks like I’m in Panicky Mariners Fan midseason form, that’s because this game had the feel of every midseason Mariners game you’ve ever seen in the last 10+ years.  Three hits, four walks, seven runners left on base, hitless with runners in scoring position; Felix struggling against the Astros, Felix leaving the game with a groin injury while trying to cover first base on a grounder to Valencia …

Speaking of which, I’m at the point now where I’m ready to let those go as infield hits, rather than have the King run to first base, because it seems like damn near EVERY FUCKING TIME he walks away from that play limping!

The only other scoring opportunity the Mariners saw was in the 8th inning, down 3-0, against reliever Luke Gregerson.  After two quick outs, Dyson and Segura got on base and advanced on a wild pitch.  With runners on 2nd & 3rd, Cano stepped up to the plate and worked the count in his favor.  He was one pitch away from working a walk to load the bases for Cruz, but he saw a pitch he liked and he roped it on a line to right field, right at the right fielder for the final out of the inning.  The Astros would bring in a fireballer to close it out and make almost all of the 9th inning batters look like idiots, and that was the end of it.

I’ll hop right into the random observations.

I thought Felix looked okay.  The first homer he gave up, to the first batter of the game, was a mistake plain and simple, right in the middle of the plate.  The other homer was hit on a good pitch, up and in, off the plate.  He didn’t walk anyone, and he struck out six guys, including Altuve twice!  Obviously, the groin issue is a concern, and will probably be something he has to deal with all season – until it finally forces him onto the DL – as I’m sure he’ll re-aggravate it every time he has to cover first base, so that sucks.  Short of that, I thought he had a couple more good innings left in him easy.

I think the Mariners, and the broadcast team in particular, are putting WAY too much pressure on Mitch Haniger.  Yeah, his Spring Training was fantastic, but he’s still someone who has yet to have any Major League success whatsoever.  Why don’t we let him get some at bats under his belt before we start calling him The Prize Of Our Offseason Acquisitions, or whatever the hell it was Dave Sims was trying to say last night.  Jesus Christ, if he isn’t the guy who mows down Spring Training only to turn back into a pumpkin come the regular season, I don’t know who is!

Good on Jean Segura for getting a couple hits!  He’s your real prize of the offseason, you mope!

It would be ideal for Jarrod Dyson to start getting hits off of lefties, so we can just leave him at the top of our lineup, push Martin down to 9th, and Haniger down to 7th or 8th, but I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen.

Nick Vincent struggled.  Get ready to say that a lot this year.

James Pazos looked good!  I hope he’s able to stick around for a while; I like what I saw.

I don’t know if I’m as excited about Casey Fien.  He looked all right, I guess, but boy is he coming off of a down year.  Also, not sure if I saw much of an out-pitch out of him, but then again, with how aggressive the Astros are, he only had to throw 8 pitches.

Three more games in this Houston series.  I feel like best case scenario is a 2-2 split.  I also feel like we might come out on the short end of that stick.

Don’t Look Now, But The Mariners Are In First Place

I know, we’re not supposed to look at the standings at the beginning of May, BUT THAT’S WHY I SAID DON’T LOOK NOW, YOU FOOLS!

Feels different, though, doesn’t it?  You know what’s stood out to me so far?  The Mariners are not only hanging in there in games they have no business competing in, but they’re actually WINNING these games!  There was that game last week, against Houston ace Dallas Keuchel, or if you’ll permit me, their Jaws vs. our bucket o’ chum that was Nathan Karns; and what happened?  The Mariners got to Keuchel for 5 runs in 6 innings en route to an 11-1 victory.  Last night, same deal:  Oakland Ace Sonny Gray – someone who has just put the screws to us time and time again – against Hisashi Iwakuma, who has been markedly mediocre against the Athletics in his career.

So, what happened?  Oh, you know, the Mariners only scored 7 runs in 7 innings against Gray, en route to an 8-2 victory.

These are the types of games in the past you didn’t even have to watch.  Why bother?  You know the Mariners are going to be in a huge deficit by the fourth inning, at which point it’s just sitting there miserable, listening to Dave Sims and Mike Blowers go through the motions for a million hours.

But now?  I won’t say it’s appointment television, because while it’s too early to be obsessing over the standings, it’s also too early to watch every single inning; I mean, who has that kind of concentration?  But, I will say that MAYBE don’t give up on these games before they’ve even been played.

Last night’s game was pretty cool.  2 hits, including a homer for Cano; 2 hits, including a 2-run homer for Martin; 2 hits, including a 3-run homer for Seager; 2 hits and a fabulous start to a double play for Marte; 2 hits and a run scored for Clevenger; and to top it all off, 7 innings of 1-run ball for Iwakuma.  AND, as an added bonus, Mayckol Guaipe and newcomer Steve Johnson each pitched an inning of relief (Johnson making his Major League debut, in the lowest possible leverage situation, up 7 runs).

I don’t know how much you really glean from a game like that.  Regarding Iwakuma, I guess we caught him on one of his good nights.  This does feel like something of a statement game from our offense, especially when you read quotes about how Gray felt better than he has all season last night.  One concern – VERY minor, for the moment – is that it seems like the Mariners are scoring a large percentage of their runs via the homer.  Those tend to come and go in waves, so it would be nice to see the team find other ways to score when the chips are down.  But, again, I can’t complain too much when the team scores 8 runs.

Today, the King is on the mound against some no-name.  Coming into this series, anyone who knows anything about baseball probably predicted this to be a Mariners win, while they might have predicted losses in the first two games.  So, you know, get ready to be disappointed!

The Mariners Are Crushing It Right Now

I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but God damn is 7pm too late to be starting a weekday baseball game!  At least, for someone like me, who has to wake up at 5:30am every day.

Hi, my name is Steven, and I predicted the Mariners would lose yesterday.  I also predicted a losing homestand, and while that very well could still come to pass, for the time being I’m happy to be so wrong.  For what it’s worth, I see nothing but bad things coming in tonight’s game, what with McHugh generally owning us, and Iwakuma generally being a mixed bag, so thank me for the big win long after I’ve gone to bed from exhaustion.

Last night’s game was so much fun (hence why I stayed up until all hours of the night 10pm or so) because it was so unexpected.  I’ve never seen Dallas Keuchel NOT murder us in our sleep, which meant for the Mariners to be in it, we would’ve needed a Herculean shutout effort out of our starting pitcher, and hopefully some timely late-game hitting against their bullpen.  Since I have to figure the Astros are so well-regarded (in spite of their bottom-feeding record) in part because they probably have a solid bullpen, and since Karns didn’t look like the type of pitcher who could shut down a quality Houston offense, I made a point of remarking on Twitter that last night’s game felt – going in – like a loss 99 out of 100 times.

Well, apparently we live in the lone universe where the Mariners actually WIN that game.  And, truth be told, it was a Best Case Scenario game in every aspect.

Nathan Karns was mostly economical with his pitches, for the first time all year, and would’ve gotten through 7 innings while throwing less than 100 pitches if Robbie Cano had only remembered there was 1 out in the inning and not 2, and turned that sure-thing double play.  Even with that brain fart, Karns was able to rack up his 6th strikeout of the game with no damage done.  No runs, 2 hits, and 3 walks rounded out his line on the day, which makes it easily his best game of the season, and arguably the best game he’s had since September 2014 (when he also went 7 innings of shutout ball, with 2 hits, 2 walks, and 8 strikeouts).  I mean, I can’t say enough good things about Karns last night.  Four of his seven innings went 1-2-3 (and he would’ve had five such innings if not for Cano), and when he did get into a little trouble, he was able to squash it before they were able to rally for a big inning.

Karns’ success, especially early in the game, was critical, because the Mariners only had one baserunner through 3 innings.  We were finally able to scrap a run in on an RBI single in the 4th, before blowing the game wide open with a 4-run fifth.

Ketel Marte was phenomenal last night, and really showed the full strength of his game in all facets.  He went 3 for 5 with a double and 2 RBI, really driving the ball well up the middle.  He also scored three times, running well on the basepaths, and flashed a plus glove in the field.  Marte has been on a nice little hot spurt over the last six games, batting .400, with 3 doubles, 2 RBI, and scoring 7 times, to bring his season slash line to a whopping .265/.301/.309.  Granted, it’s not much, and it’s still REALLY early, but it beats the hell out of his line before this 6-game stretch:  .186/.250/.186.

If the Mariners are going to go anywhere this year, I won’t put it on any one person, but I will say this:  they need to drastically reduce the number of black holes in their lineup.  I think we’ve been more or less confident in our veterans (Cano, Cruz, Seager, Smith, Guti, Lind, Aoki, and Iannetta), but one spot you couldn’t help but be concerned about was short stop.  They were putting a lot of pressure on the kid, first by not really featuring any semblance of competition going into the season (and thus simply handing him the keys to the starting job from Day One), and then making him such a focal point of the offense by frequently featuring him at or near the top of the lineup.  Considering he’s a holdover from the Jackie Z regime, I mean, who could blame you if you had doubts about the kid?  And, as I’ve stated already, it’s still early in the season.  You could STILL have doubts and still be 100% valid in your opinions.

I know I’m inviting all sorts of jinxes into the mix here, but if I can be a dreamer for a minute:  it would be SO DAMN HUGE for Ketel Marte to pan out!  Oh, can you imagine it???  Another homegrown talent in the everyday lineup?  Bringing the grand total to TWO players, with Seager?  But, to nevertheless have a cost-controlled force at an important defensive position, who can get on base, hit for a bit of power into the gaps, and abuse opponents with his speed?  I’m not saying he’s ever going to be an MVP.  He might not even make an All Star Game in his career or win a Gold Glove.  But, if he could just be an everyday starter at the top of our lineup, who teams have to worry about keeping off the basepaths, because once he’s there you know he’s going to do everything in his power to score on you that inning … it just gives me the feels like you would not believe.  A big, raging, veiny, throbbing case of the feels.  Right in my pants.

… Allow me to redirect this thing back to last night’s game, if I can.

Keuchel was able to get through six innings before his pitch count dictated that he needed to be relieved.  From that point onward, the Mariners used their finishing move to rip the spines out of the Astros.  Starting in the bottom of the 7th, where a single, an error, and a single loaded the bases for Robinson Cano, who to that point had the aforementioned gaffe in the top half of the inning by forgetting how many outs were made, as well as the baserunning mistake-turned-happy-accident as he was caught in a rundown in the 5th inning, allowing Marte to score from third base when the other team wasn’t paying attention (made all the happier by Cano successfully advancing to second base on the fielder’s choice to throw home in vain).  You could’ve easily argued that this was just one of those games where Cano’s head wasn’t totally in it.

As a fan, part of me wants to rant and rave on the topic.  I mean, dude makes $24 million per year.  He’s been in the Majors for over a decade, save your mental days off for your ACTUAL days off!  But, what are you gonna do?  It’s not a popular saying by any stretch, but that’s why people say he’s just Robbie being Robbie.  He’s so good, so naturally gifted, that he can often play the game on auto-pilot and get away with it.  It’s just that, when he gets caught, it’s out there in the open for all to see, so it’s magnified by a million percent.  And, obviously, his high salary isn’t going to win him any sympathy – not that I’m saying he deserves sympathy when something like that happens; he very rightly deserves to feel embarrassment, in hopes that it doesn’t happen again anytime soon – but with Robbie, you take the good with the bad.  Because the good SO FAR OUTWEIGHS the bad, it more than makes up for an error here, a baserunning mistake there, and the occasional brain fart as noted above.  Is it frustrating, as a fan?  Sure.  I mean, if he’s this good and this accomplished playing on auto-pilot, just how high is his ceiling REALLY?  But, as a guy who works 40 hours, 5 days a week, I can relate to a guy whose head isn’t in it every minute of every workday.  Some days are just better and more focused than others; that’s the way it goes.  I’m really good at my job too, and oftentimes I can run on autopilot for a while.  As a result, occasional mistakes are made.  But, hopefully the embarrassment and shame of failing will ultimately help me in the long run, just as I would hope it helps him.

Anyway, as I said, you could have argued that Cano just wasn’t all there last night.  But, in that bottom of the 7th inning, with the bases loaded and only 1 out, Cano worked an at-bat for the ages.  If the stakes were higher – if we were in a playoff game, or even if the game was merely closer than the 5-0 affair it was at the time – we’d all be talking about how it might go down as the finest at-bat ever registered.  He laid off of a low-and-inside fastball for Ball 1, then laid off of a low-and-outside changeup (one that had been called a strike on him earlier in the game by the ump) for Ball 2.  He fouled off a fastball, then took a borderline fastball inside to make the count 3-1.  He then proceeded to foul off four consecutive fastballs – all in the strikezone, both inside and outside – before, on the 9th pitch of the at-bat, drilling a fastball right at the bottom of the strikezone to right-center field for a grand slam.  Just, fucking brilliant.

The M’s ended up getting dinged by an error and a couple of walks in the top of the 8th, but we were able to hold them to the lone run, and played a little add-on against the Astros’ backup catcher in the bottom of the 8th, who came in to pitch and did a VERY un-Sucre-like job in the role.  11-1 victory, a fourth consecutive series win, and an opportunity for a sweep tonight (which, as I said at the top, is probably not going to happen, so take my words for what they’re worth).

All in all, a helluva game, and a helluva start to the season for the Mariners.  11-9, first place in the A.L. West by a half game, the bullpen has been great, the starters have gotten better as the season has gone along, and the hitting is starting to come around.  I don’t want to start counting my chickens or anything, but it’s starting to look like this season could be a lot of fun.