The Rockies Are Really Good At Baseball; The Mariners, Not So Much

I didn’t have a lot of high expectations for the Mariners in this series, so the fact that we won one of three feels pretty remarkable to me.

Friday night’s game started off well enough. Yusei Kikuchi got off to a strong start after last week’s fantastic performance against the A’s. He had a little bit of a hiccup in the third inning to give up two runs, but that came from a lot of flukey hits. He was otherwise rolling along until the sixth inning, when he ran into some serious trouble that he was unable to pitch his way out of. As that dribbler rolled just out of reach of the short stop – leading to two more runs scoring – I officially checked out of this game.

At that point, the Mariners were only down 4-1 – and, indeed, were only an Austin Nola 2-run home run the next inning from being down just one run – but with this bullpen, no narrow deficit is safe from turning into a full-blown blow-out. Remember last week when I praised a few of the better-performing bullpen guys? The stink of my jinx is in mid-season form, as those guys will be a theme in today’s write-up!

Starting with this very game. Through seven innings, we were down 5-3. Then, in walked (You Don’t Mess With The) Yohan Ramirez, who proceeded to give up three more runs in the eighth inning to put this game away. To his credit, he was able to finish the game out – throwing over 50 pitches in the process – but that performance took a nasty bite out of his otherwise sterling E.R.A.

Seager, Nola, and Mallex Smith each had two hits apiece in this one, otherwise the bats were pretty quiet (particularly with runners in scoring position, in which we were only 2/10).

Speaking of quiet bats, welcome to my breakdown! On Saturday, the Mariners could only muster a single, solitary hit in the 5-0 shutout. I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t watch a minute of this game (I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob), so I’m just going off of the box score here. Kendall Graveman was placed on the IL with his neck issue, and to my knowledge there’s really no indication that he’ll be returning to the team anytime soon. Nick Margevicius got the spot-start in his place, putting in 3.1 innings of shutout work before giving way to the rest of the bullpen. That would include the aforementioned (from last week) Joey Gerber, another recipient of the Steven Jinx; he gave up 3 runs in 1.1 innings. Taylor Guilbeau and Matt Magill, however, managed to avoid the jinx at least through the weekend; they pitched a combined 2.1 shutout innings in this one.

J.P. Crawford had the lone single in this one, but not until the sixth inning. Must’ve been a tough one to sweat out for fans, but as I predicted before the season, I don’t think this will be the last we’ve seen of this team’s offensive woes; there will be plenty of chances to watch this offense try to get out from under a no-hitter.

The Mariners put it all together on Sunday afternoon. If you’d asked me going into the weekend which one I’d prefer the M’s win, I would’ve gone with this one. Justus Sheffield took the hill and easily tossed the greatest performance in his Major League career: 6 innings, 0 runs, 4 hits, 0 walks, 7 strikeouts on just 91 pitches. The slider was snapping all day, the Rockies’ hitters were off-balance throughout, and while the fastball still wasn’t where I want it, there was enough movement and command of his pitches to make it all work. Keeping that offense off the scoreboard is impressive any way you slice it!

Dan Altavilla singlehandedly made this thing interesting in the eighth inning (as the commenter in my last post pointed out, both Dans on this team – Altavilla and Vogelbach – suck; we’re a long way away from the likes of Dan Wilson!), turning a 5-0 lead into a 5-3 nailbiter. But, Taylor Williams did his job, getting the 4-out save to salvage Sheffield’s first career victory.

Dylan Moore continued his improbable hot power streak with a 2-run homer in the first inning. And a number of Mariners cobbled together enough offense on a double-error, a sacrifice fly, and three singles, to play add-on to the tune of three runs in the seventh. As indicated above, we would need every bit of those runs to preserve this victory.

The Mariners sit at 6-11 and still somehow not in last place yet. Maybe that’ll change as we hit the road to take on the Texas Rangers today. Three more games before we get our first off-day, so that’s exciting! I’m sure the fellas will enjoy a bit of a rest in the Texas heat in the middle of August!

Getting back to Dylan Moore for a sec, it’s pretty outstanding how well he’s been playing! If you’d compared his chances to Tim Lopes after that first week, I think most people would’ve been a lot higher on Lopes (who has, predictably, cooled off considerably in the ensuing weeks). These types of players – who get projected as bench types, or fourth outfielders – rarely are able to pull themselves out of that stigma; it sucks them under like quicksand. The best they can hope for is a change in their swing to stick, a change that affords them more loft on their flyballs (ideally resulting in more extra-base hits). Moore, for now anyway, is showing signs of exactly that. That’s 4 doubles and 3 homers in 11 games, without a really significant increase in strikeouts. And these aren’t cheapies, either! He’s got opposite-field power for a (relatively) little guy! With his quality defense – and ability to employ that quality defense at a variety of positions on the field – that makes him an extremely valuable asset that this team can ill afford to leave out of their lineups.

Speaking of which, it’s interesting to see how the lineup has developed over the first two weeks. J.P. Crawford has taken over the leadoff spot. Dylan Moore seems tailor-made for the 2-hole. Kyles Lewis & Seager round out the heart of the lineup. Beyond that, it’s a free-for-all, but there’s a lot to like about the top of the order so far!

Even though Vogelbach and Evan White both have TERRIBLE offensive numbers to date, it really feels like night and day when you watch them work. White, at least, seems like he has some idea of what he’s doing; I would argue he’s been criminally unlucky on some of these balls being hit right at guys. Vogey, on the other hand, seems like his only objective when he steps to the plate is to get a walk. For a guy his size, and with his lack of speed, that’s just a travesty! As someone who has no value as a defender, he needs to be MASSIVELY more aggressive at the plate. On-base percentage is great for smaller guys who can steal bases, but it doesn’t really do a lot for us when Vogey can only go station-to-station. I would take a serious uptick in strikeouts if it meant he got his power numbers where they should be. This isn’t a matter of opposing pitchers pitching around him; he’s getting ahead in counts – which is great – but then when it’s 3-0 or 3-1, he’s taking big, fat, juicy meatballs when he SHOULD be depositing them into the outfield stands!

I’m worried about Vogey, is my point. The writing is on the wall, and it’s screaming out in giant letters: YOU’RE NOT LONG FOR THIS TEAM!

The Mariners Lost A Series (frowny face)

I feel like, when we look back on the 2020 Mariners season, we’re all going to remember what it felt like when they were 4-4 and it was the high point of the season. This is like the horrific 2019 Mariners starting 13-2 before finishing the season on a 55-92 streak!

We’re on an 0-3 streak right now, following an 11-1 dismantling. In spite of what is already an absurd -25 run differential after 11 games (tied for worst in all of baseball with the Diamondbacks, who have somehow done it in 10 games), that was a very winnable series against the A’s that we just biffed.

The first game, we obviously did win, 5-3. Taijuan Walker – much like Marco Gonzales the night previously – bounced back in a big way after his first start, going 7 shutout innings, allowing only 1 hit and 2 walks, while striking out 8. The bullpen tried their hardest to blow it (mostly the absolutely worthless Bryan Shaw who gave up 3 runs in his lone inning of work), but we were able to hang on.

The next day, would you look at that! Yusei Kikuchi ALSO had a bounce-back start! 6 shutout innings, giving up just 3 hits and a walk, while striking out 9; it might’ve been his best-ever start in a Mariners uniform. This time, we were clinging to a 2-0 lead, and the bullpen DID manage to blow it. Adding extra insult to injury, the offense had plenty of chances to win it in regulation – including a juicy bases loaded situation in the bottom of the ninth, with only one out – but going 1/7 with runners in scoring position doomed us. The new extra innings rule (where they start each team out with a runner on second base, because who wants to see more exciting extra innings baseball when we can get it over with as quickly as possible after wasting 3+ hours on boring regulation baseball?) bit us in the ass here, as Dan Altavilla (who still hasn’t quite figured it out after 10,000 years shuttling between the major and minor leagues) grooved a pitch that was hit for a double. That was a tough 3-2 loss to swallow.

In case you weren’t annoyed enough by this motherfucking bullpen, Kendall Graveman pitched pretty heroically in his start, getting into the fifth inning without allowing any runs while dealing with a neck injury. He got two outs while running into some trouble in that fifth, and with his pitch count nearing 100 – a lot to ask for a guy who has missed two years due to injury, who is also currently embroiled in a new injury – so we brought out a reliever to try to keep the A’s from scoring. We were clinging to a 1-0 lead at the time, so this was the ballgame. And, of course, whoever it was (because, seriously, I refuse to learn the names of individuals who won’t matter this time next year) promptly gave up a 3-run home run. I mean, you can lament the lack of offense in this one all you want (again, we were 1/7 with runners in scoring position), but those were the only runs the A’s scored all day, as we again lost by a 3-2 score.

Yesterday, I thought we had a solid shot at salvaging the split. Justus Sheffield was cruising through four shutout innings! Then, in the fifth, he loaded up the bases with only one out, got a CLUTCH strikeout to make things easier on himself, but couldn’t quite get the final out of the inning (instead, giving up a 2-run single to end his day). In walked … Bryan Shaw. I’m assuming the Soon-To-Be-DFA’d Bryan Shaw, because seriously, what the shit?! Why are we employing worthless veterans who have CLEARLY lost any and all ability to throw a baseball? Not only did he give up the two runners he inherited – a trend with these relievers that’s probably the most galling thing to have to sit through (I’d rather watch the starters try to pitch out of these jams!) – but he gave up FOUR MORE runs before finally getting his lone out of the ballgame.

Not to pile on, but in case you were counting with Bryan Shaw, that’s four appearances. In his first inning of work with the team, he somehow managed to get three outs without giving up any runs. Here are his subsequent three appearances:

  • 1 inning, 3 runs
  • 1 inning, 3 runs
  • 0.1 innings, 4 runs

In 3.1 innings of “relief”, he has a 27.00 ERA. You could literally set the ball on a tee and the tee would have a better ERA. This is insane; cut this man immediately!

Kyle Lewis had at least one hit in the first ten games of the season, before seeing that streak snapped last night. Kyle Seager has taken over the RBI lead on the team with 11 (as well as the doubles lead with 5). J.P. Crawford is still hitting the ball well and getting on base at a remarkable clip. Everyone else, I’d say, really cooled off against this A’s pitching.

On deck, we have a 3-game set against the Angels, who at 3-7 are fighting us for last place, so this should be interesting. And, by “interesting” I mean, “What else is on?”

The Mariners Won A Series!

No no no, not a World Series. Just a series. It’s fine, we’re keeping expectations REAL low around here.

I don’t like the Angels. I think they peaked with Angels in the Outfield and they’ve been going downhill ever since! I might still hate the A’s the most, and obviously the Astros came from out of nowhere seven years ago to join the American League and torment my very soul, but there’s something so distasteful about the Angels and I can’t put my finger on it.

Maybe it’s because I should hate them MORE? Because they’re from the Los Angeles area (to be fair, Anaheim IS a city in its own right, and where they actually play all of their home games, which is why I refuse to call them the L.A. Angels), have a buttload of money to throw around, have the best player in the game, yet still find ways to be mediocre (and even then, in their mediocrity, still manage to make the lives of Mariners fans a living hell). I dunno! All I know is that I really don’t like them, I relish when they fail, and I take a personal interest in them failing to the Seattle Mariners.

This week, the Angels lost two of three to one of the very worst teams (on paper) in the Major Leagues, and while I COULD be happier … I’m still pretty gosh darn happy!

As expected, we didn’t get a lot out of the rookie starting pitchers.

  • Justus Sheffield: 3 innings, 4 runs
  • Justin Dunn: 3 innings, 3 runs, 2 earned

Sheffield looked so-so through two scoreless innings before things started to unravel. I didn’t LOVE the lack of life on his fastball (it seemed to sit in the low-90’s, I’d like to see that anywhere from 95-98 if possible). He didn’t seem to have the worst command I’ve ever seen, but it was clear he was battling. In that sense, I was proud he made it through the third only giving up two runs. All things considered, I might’ve been tempted to not send him out to start the fourth inning (which he did, not registering an out while giving up two more baserunners who would go on to score when the next batter knocked one out of the park against our reliever), but with the first four games all being heavily reliant on our bullpen, I can see why we tried to get a little more out of our starter. This game was, nevertheless, a tough one to watch, as the Mariners lost 10-2.

Apparently there was some sort of fourth inning hex put upon our pitching staff through the first turn of the rotation, because Justin Dunn was cruising through three innings before starting to come apart! Thankfully, the bats came alive in this one. The Angels led 4-1 before the Mariners started doing some damage with a 5-spot in the sixth (punctuated by Dylan Moore’s 3-run homer; WELCOME TO THE PARTY, PAL!). The Angels re-took the lead in the bottom half, 7-6, before the Mariners piled ’em back on with three more runs over the next two innings to win it 10-7.

The story of the rubber match was Marco Gonzales bringing his A-game. He went 6.1 innings, giving up 2 unearned runs on 3 hits, 1 walk, and 1 error by our second baseman. Jose Marmolejos jacked a 3-run homer in the first, and the Mariners didn’t score again until adding five insurance runs in the top of the ninth. Which we apparently needed desperately! A 3-2 lead (which is what we would’ve had) could’ve been disasterous, as Dan Altavilla gave up three runs in the ninth. Crisis was averted, though, and the good guys won 8-5.

Just about all the young guys you want to see succeed are doing just that through the first week of the season. Kyle Lewis continues to rake, leading the team in hits, batting average, homers, total bases, and RBI. J.P. Crawford has come on strong, leading the team in on-base percentage and is still hitting the ball hard. Tim Lopes and to a lesser extent Dylan Moore (in just two games, both against the Angels) have impressed as guys we penciled in as reserves. Shed Long looks more and more comfortable in the leadoff spot every time I see him. The best thing is that no one really seems to be overwhelmed. As the youngest team in baseball, you’d expect guys to be playing tentatively, but for the most part they seem like they have good plans when they’re at the plate.

Now that we’re one full turn through the rotation, I would expect the starters to start (!) pitching better. Marco getting into the seventh inning was absolutely necessary; here’s hoping at least the rest of the veterans can do the same. That will take a load off of this bullpen that’s had to work overtime keeping this pitching staff afloat.

The Mariners are 3-4, heading home for the first time. That’s about as good as any of us could have expected. Not for nothing, but that’s only 0.5 games behind the first place A’s and Astros! And would you look at that, the A’s are in town for four games! How about it?

Let’s just hope there’s still baseball to be played by Monday. I’m already hearing a number of games have been or are being canceled due to COVID-19. That … is not ideal.

The Nothing Continues: Here’s Something About The Mariners’ Bullpen (Part 3)

Last week, we got into the everyday players and the starting rotation for the 2020 Seattle Mariners. I’ve put it off long enough – this is the equivalent of having already eaten my dessert and main course, leaving just the garbage cole slaw sweating its way across my plate two hours later (as I’m not allowed to leave the dinner table until I’ve eaten my vegetables) – so I present to you some VERY unhelpful words on the bullpen.

I’ll split this in two sections and see how it goes. First, we’ll look at the guys who played for the Mariners last year, then we’ll look at the newcomers to the ballclub (again, this is based on the Depth Chart section of the official Mariners roster). The “fun” thing about this one is: they’re all effectively new to me, because I have no idea who any of these guys are!

(let’s get this over with)

Holdovers

  • Matt Magill
  • Erik Swanson
  • Brandon Brennan
  • Dan Altavilla
  • Taylor Guilbeau
  • Gerson Bautista
  • Austin Adams

Looks like Matt Magill came over from the Twins before the trade deadline as he was released and the M’s picked up his contract. He’s been a middling reliever pretty steadily with the Twins since 2018, but doesn’t really do anything particularly well. He’s a right-handed 30-year old, so I guess there’s still time to turn it around, but for now he screams journeyman.

Erik Swanson came over in the James Paxton deal. There was initially hope that he could be part of a 1-2 punch with Justus Sheffield in the starting rotation, but it looks pretty clear that the Mariners believe Swanson’s destiny is as a bullpen arm. He started in 8 of his 27 appearances with the M’s in 2019 – his first whiff of the Major Leagues – but that clearly looked to be too much for him, as he was sent down to AAA in mid-May. When he returned in August, it was exclusively as a reliever who’d go 1-2 innings per appearance. Sort of a disappointing result for someone who looked like a promising mid-rotation starter, but that’s what happens when you over-value Yankees prospects.

Brandon Brennan was a Rule 5 guy the Mariners selected last year who managed to stay on the big league club all season. He was probably our best reliever last year through the first half of the season before going on the Injured List. His last two outings before going down were total disasters, which really hampered an otherwise pretty-good season. I don’t know if he has closer potential or not, but he’s at least somewhat interesting as is.

Dan Altavilla (pictured here looking like his head was photoshopped onto his body really awkwardly) feels like he’s been around forever. He’s got an arm like a rocket, but otherwise hasn’t been able to put together anything close to consistency (unless “consistently terrible” is what you’re looking for). With the stuff he’s got, combined with the fact that he’s only 27 years old, you can’t really write him off. But, we’ve been waiting around since 2016 when he made his Major League debut; ANY TIME NOW, ALTAVILLA!

Taylor Guilbeau sounds like a made-up name. Not in the way all names are made up, but like a clearly-fake alias a famous person gives a hotel manager when he’s out of town and wants to fuck some prostitutes. He apparently came over in the Roenis Elias trade with the Nationals last year, and got a lot of play in the last two months of 2019. He had two bad outings (resulting in blown saves) but was otherwise fine. Last year was the first time he’d gotten to either AAA or the bigs, so there’s still room to dream with this kid.

Gerson Bautista came over in the Cano/Diaz deal with the Mets, a right savaging of epic proportions. If memory serves, this kid throws hard, but my memory is for shit, so don’t take my word for it. He appeared in 8 games with the M’s last year and sucked, but he’s only 25 years old in May, so let’s hope that’s just a bad start to an otherwise stellar professional career.

Austin Adams came over in a separate deal with the Nationals last year. He’s in the running with Brennan for best reliever who finished the season with the M’s in 2019. It doesn’t seem like he’s got closer potential either though, so I dunno.

Newcomers

  • Yoshihisa Hirano
  • Carl Edwards Jr.
  • Yohan Ramirez

Yoshihisa Hirano is a buy-low candidate on a cheap 1-year deal. He had a great year in Arizona in 2018 as a rookie, but totally fell apart in 2019. After a long, successful career in Japan, he’ll be 36 years old this year and really just trying to maximize the last of his Major League value before presumably retiring or returning to Japan. I wouldn’t expect a lot; maybe we can flip him at the deadline this year if there’s a season and he plays well.

Carl Edwards Jr. was pretty awesome with the Cubs from 2016-2018, but had just a shitty 2019, which led to him signing with the Mariners this past offseason. He’ll only be 28 years old this year, so that makes him a far-more-interesting buy-low candidate than Hirano.

Yohan Ramirez was taken by the Mariners in this past offseason’s Rule 5 Draft from the Astros, so we know a couple things: he’s probably pretty good (though, obviously not good enough for them to protect him), and he knows how to cheat. I want both of those things for the Mariners!

How Many 2020 Mariners Can I Name Off The Top Of My Head, With Just A Minimal Amount Of Coffee Inside Me?

I listen to this podcast called Threedom, which features three of my favorite podcast comedians sitting around and bullshitting for an hour. And, last week I listened to the episode where Lauren was trying to list off as many different characters and whatnot as she could from the Star Wars franchise, having never (at the time) seen the movies. Essentially just going off of what pop culture has referenced that’s seeped into her subconscious. I thought that was a lot of fun, especially because I have my own blind spots; I’d be curious to see how many characters I could pull from something like the Harry Potter series, for instance. There’s Harry, of course. Hermione. The red-headed freak. Snape? Snope? Voldemort, for sure. From there, it’s all a jumble of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, so let’s move on.

I’m stealing this idea to see how many players from the 2020 Mariners I can name, without cheating. You’re bound to see a few guys from the minors in this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’ve said it before, but in 2019 I checked out on the Seattle Mariners. Part of that had to do with my work schedule – waking up at 4am, going to bed by 8pm, not wanting to be thoroughly irritated right before it’s time to sleep – but most of that had to do with the Mariners being just awful. I’ve put up with a lot of bad baseball in my 20-something years of following this team, but I refuse to lose sleep over them! Especially when the object isn’t to win games, but see the young guys develop.

Well, that carries over into 2020. In fact, the team might actually lose a lot MORE games than they did last year (and 94 losses is quite a lot on its own). So, suffice it to say, it’s going to be difficult to get any interest ramped up for this team.

So, without further ado, here is the (pitiful) list of pitchers that I know based on memory alone:

  • Marco Gonzales
  • Yusei Kikuchi
  • Justus Sheffield
  • Erik … Samsonite? Swanson!
  • Julio Rodriguez
  • Dan Altavilla
  • Brandon … Brennan?
  • Festa?
  • Taijuan Walker!

That’s really all I got. And honestly, I don’t even feel like a bad fan! I think Rodriguez and Festa are minor leaguers, but I was close (except Rodriguez is actually an outfielder, so I was WAY OFF). The only one I probably should’ve remembered was Sam Tuivailala, as he’s been around a little bit and was a pretty significant return in one of those damn trades we made with the Cardinals.

Here’s all the catchers I know:

  • Tom Murphy

And that’s it. Do the M’s even HAVE a backup catcher in the Major Leagues? We’ll find out this spring.

Outfield:

  • Mitch Haniger (injured list)
  • Kyle Lewis
  • Mallex Smith
  • Braden … Bishop?
  • Jarred Kelenic

Kelenic is obviously in the minors, but I nailed the rest! I mean, yeah, I also missed a couple, but I got the big names.

Infield:

  • Evan White
  • Kyle Seager
  • J.P. Crawford
  • Dee Gordon
  • Daniel Vogelbach
  • Shed Long

I almost forgot Shed Long! I knew he had a short name, and almost biffed it, but it fell out of my brain at the last second. Considering the rest of the 40-man roster is filled with potential backups and minor leaguers, I feel good about my effort here. Shame I forgot Austin Nola (who, I guess, can also play backup catcher?!), but what can you do?

That’s 21 guys. Honestly, better than I would’ve expected. Thankfully, with Pitchers & Catchers just reporting this week, I’ll have plenty of time to learn about everyone else.

Did I say “thankfully”? I meant Dreadfully.

Tempering Expectations For This Mariners Rebuild

What interests me most about the game of baseball is the long game. In football, you’ve got rosters twice the size of a baseball team, yet we see it every year: teams going from worst to first. You can turn around a football team in one offseason! But, in baseball, it takes seemingly forever (and, for an organization like the Mariners, LITERALLY forever).

I did a big, long post about the first successful Mariners rebuild. I originally wrote that in 2013, when we all were hopeful that we were in the middle of the next successful Mariners rebuild. There were so many moves made between the nadir of this franchise (2008) and the next time you could legitimately say the Mariners were in contention for the post-season (2014, when we finished 87-75, just 1 game back of a Wild Card spot) that it truly boggles the mind.

That rebuild was ultimately a failure. It produced three winning seasons between 2014 and 2018, and zero playoff appearances. Following last year’s collapse, Jerry Dipoto made a bunch of moves to jettison veterans and infuse the farm system with prospects. Our veteran holdovers include names like Dee Gordon, Ryon Healy, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc, Roenis Elias, Dan Altavilla, and Dan Vogelbach; most (if not all) of those players will not be on this team the next time it reaches the post-season.

So, we’re stuck rooting for prospects. Rooting for potential. Rooting for the young guys to step up and prove themselves not just worthy of Major League roster spots, but ultimately good enough to get this team back to the playoffs one day (ideally one day very soon). Jerry Dipoto is staking his reputation and his job on these players. If it all falls apart like it did last time, he, Scott Servais, and a bunch of other very smart baseball men will be looking for employment elsewhere.

As I noted, we’ve been through this before. So, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

See, it can be fun and exciting knowing your team is out of it before the season even begins. First, there’s no expectations, so any on-field success you see is all gravy. Then, of course, there’s the factor of the unknown. New, young players you’ve never seen before are ALWAYS more interesting than old veterans who’ve been around for years. We pretty much know what guys like Seager, Healy, Felix, and Leake are; there’s nothing to learn about those guys. So, we pin all our hopes and dreams on the prospects. We want to see them in a Major League uniform right this minute, to pump them full of experience with the hopes that they’ll pan out immediately. This can lead to guys getting called up too early (a la Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Matt Tuiasosopo, etc.) or guys just being huge disappointments.

Let’s start with the 2008 season, the aforementioned nadir. That team lost 101 games and we were all miserable. Successful players like Felix, Ichiro, Adrian Beltre, Raul Ibanez, Jose Lopez, and even Yuniesky Betancourt were no match for the suck-asses that were Richie Sexson, Jose Vidro, Jeremy Reed, Carlos Silva, Jarrod Washburn, Erik Bedard, and so on. General Manager Bill Bavasi was fired, and The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild was on!

2009 proved to be a welcome surprise. Franklin Gutierrez was brought over in a trade, as was Jason Vargas (Doug Fister was one of the rare Bavasi draft picks that stuck in the org and actually panned out). Ichiro was still Ichiro! Russell Branyan and David Aardsma were quality pick-ups. Even the return of Ken Griffey Jr. for a victory lap proved valuable. That 85-win season led everyone (but the stat geeks, who knew those wins were on a shaky foundation) to believe we were way ahead of the curve on this rebuild. So much so that Jackie Z decided to make a big push to go for it in 2010.

We traded for Cliff Lee! We got rid of Carlos Silva and brought back a useful piece in Milton Bradley! Our young core of starters (Felix, Vargas, and Fister) were bolstered with key bullpen additions like Brandon League, Jamey Wright, and Sean White. So, what happened? The team fell apart (ultimately losing another 101 games; in hindsight, a second go-around with Old Griffey proved disasterous) and shipped off anyone of value for prospects. Lee was flipped for Justin Smoak (among others). Our high draft pick was used on a pitcher who got hurt so many times he never made the Bigs. And The Great Jack Zduriencik Rebuild 2.0 was on.

2011 was a key year for the rebuild, as the team REALLY went for it this time. Taking a stroll through that roster is long and arduous. Ichiro, Miguel Olivo, Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, and Adam Kennedy were the veteran everyday players; Felix, Vargas, Bedard, and Fister were still holding down the rotation (though Fister would be swapped for a bunch of nobodies at the deadline; yet another example of a trade that totally backfired for the Mariners); and League, Wright, and David Pauley (among others) were the steady influences in the bullpen. But, the young guys were the stars of the show. 2008 first rounder Dustin Ackley was called up midseason, as was Kyle Seager. Justin Smoak was handed the first base job. Guti started his slow descent into an injured adulthood. Then, there were guys like Michael Saunders, Greg Halman, Alex Liddi, Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson, Chris Gimenez, Carlos Peguero, Adam Moore, Mike Wilson and more. On the pitching side of things, Michael Pineda was an All Star, but then there were guys like Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush (remember when he was a starting pitcher?), a younger Tom Wilhelmsen, Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes, Chance Ruffin, and Shawn Kelley.

Those were all the players we hung our hats on. How many of them actually panned out? You can count them on one hand. How many of them panned out for the Seattle Mariners? That number is even smaller.

2012 saw the influx of guys like Jesus Montero (swapped for Michael Pineda), Hector Noesi, Erasmo Ramirez, Lucas Luetge, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, and John Jaso. They were paired with the holdovers like Smoak, Seager, Ackley, Felix, Vargas, Ichiro (starting his decline) and Figgins (at the end of his miserable Mariners career).

Then, there’s 2013, with prospects like Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino (a year after being drafted), Brandon Maurer, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker. Veterans like Kendrys Morales, Endy Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse, Jason Bay, Jeremy Bonderman, and Hisashi Iwakuma saw extensive playing time, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. The old guys didn’t do enough (and most were gone in short order), and the young guys (predictably) never panned out for this team.

So, please, keep all these duds in mind as we go forward. You’re going to hear A LOT of new names you’re not familiar with in 2019 and 2020. The team is going to tout these players as The Future; don’t believe ’em. The vast majority of these players will be more in a long line of losers that help to keep the Seattle Mariners out of the post-season.

Some guys will be promising, only to fall flat on their asses the following year when expectations are raised and other teams learn how to handle them. Some guys will be promising only to suffer devastating injuries that hinders their development. Some of those injured guys will be brought back too soon, only to struggle and lose their confidence. Some guys will just flat-out stink from the get-go. One, maybe two guys, will be okay. But, they won’t be enough. They’ll just embolden this organization to spend a bunch of money when the time “feels right”. At that point, some flashy veterans will be brought in to supplement our future “rising stars” and we’ll go through the process of “contending (for a wild card spot)” all over again.

The Mariners are never going to be the Astros or Cubs or Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers. They’re closer to the Athletics and Rays than anything else, just a Major League farm club for better-run organizations. The tremendous amount of luck required to turn us into one of those truly good teams isn’t ingrained in the city of Seattle and its sports teams. The best we can hope for is competent mediocrity.

The best we’re going to get is just outside, looking in.

Key To The Mariners’ Chances Going Forward

The biggest key to the Mariners’ success to date in 2018 is the starting rotation staying healthy (for the most part) and vastly improving after the month of April (where just about everyone was either adequate or terrible, up to and including James Paxton).  I would argue that even the injury to Erasmo Ramirez was a blessing in disguise, as Wade LeBlanc has made a name for himself with this opportunity.  But, with Paxton, Gonzales, and Leake all overcoming rough starts to the season, turning into reliable and often dominant pieces to this puzzle (alongside LeBlanc’s baffling greatness from Day 1), the Mariners have been able to weather a lot of storms and build up a record that all but guarantees a playoff spot in October.

The biggest hit to the Mariners’ chances going forward is NOT the loss of Robbie Cano for all those games (plus the playoffs) but rather the depth of the Mariners’ bullpen (or lack thereof).

It’s truly remarkable what the Mariners are doing with this scotch taped-together bullpen.  Phelps went down in Spring Training; he was supposed to be an 8th inning type guy (who could also go multiple innings in a pinch).  Scrabble was so terrible at doing his one job (getting lefties out) that he was DFA’d.  Juan Nicasio hasn’t been nearly the dominant force we thought he’d be when we signed him to that big 2-year deal (and is currently on the DL).  Nick Vincent had a rough start to the season and is also currently on the DL (having just had a setback with his groin injury).  Dan Altavilla has had multiple DL stints this year and might be out for a very long time with his arm injury.  Casey Lawrence – while tearing it up in Tacoma as a starter right now – got off to a rough start and had to be sent down after 4 appearances.  Ryan Cook was hot when he returned from the DL, but has been hit around in 3 of his last 4 appearances.  Alex Colome has closer-type stuff, but he’s been far from perfect since coming over from the Rays (especially AGAINST those very Rays).

And yet, if you didn’t get into specifics and just asked me, “How’s Seattle’s bullpen doing this year?”  I’d likely tell you, “Pretty great!”

Edwin Diaz is taking the league by storm in his third year in the bigs.  James Pazos – in his second year on the Mariners – has been outstanding.  Chasen Bradford came out of nowhere to be a reliable back-of-the-bullpen guy to eat a lot of innings for us.  And even those guys who’ve had their struggles from time to time – Nicasio, Vincent, and Colome in particular – have also been successful in a lot of high leverage situations.

With a number of those guys on the DL (hopefully Nicasio & Vincent will be back soon), though, it’s hard not to be concerned about the future.  There are a lot of high leverage innings left this season!  With the way this team plays, with all the close games, it seems like there’s zero margin for error every single night!  Sure, a lot of the guys are young and healthy now, but will they succumb to over-use?

The good thing is, I don’t believe for a minute that the Mariners are finished making moves to improve the big league club.  We have a number of quality starters down in Tacoma, in the event we need long relief help or spot starts.  Nick Rumbelow is another guy who figured big in the Mariners’ bullpen plans before he got hurt; he’s coming back from injury and getting his feet wet in Tacoma as we speak.  Also, it usually doesn’t take a whole lot in trade to get a quality reliever back before the deadline, and with plenty of teams tanking this season, the supply should be pretty significant.

Either way, though, if you told me the Mariners would have to roll with a playoff bullpen consisting of Diaz, Colome, Nicasio, Vincent, Pazos, Bradford, Cook, and Elias, I’d be okay with that.  Two dominant closer types, two solid 8th inning guys behind them, two solid 6th/7th inning guys who can shut down rallies and go multiple innings if need be, along with a wildcard in Cook (who has 8th inning stuff, he just needs to work on his command a little bit) and a spot-starter/long-reliever in Elias … I just don’t know how you improve upon that a whole lot.  Obviously, a lot can happen between now and October.  Guys can get injured, guys can lose their stuff or their confidence, but for the most part that’s a reliable bullpen group.

What most concerns me is what happens if a lot of guys get injured, and we have to start replacing too many of these pieces.  As we’ve seen this year with the bullpen, last year with the rotation, and on and on and on, injuries can mount in a hurry.  We lose Diaz, we’re pretty much shit out of luck.  We lose too many of our 8th inning guys, same deal.  We already use Diaz too much as it is; I don’t want to see him in there for too many save opportunities where he has to get more than 3 outs.  At least not until we’re actually IN the playoffs.

The rotation and the solid hitting will carry us to where we want to go, but to do any significant damage once we get into the post-season, it’s going to rest precariously on the all-important bullpen arms.  I hope they’re up to the challenge.

The Mariners Won 3 of 4 Against The Rays

And 6 of 7 in the season series!

The game on Thursday saw the Rays creep back into it late before the Mariners slammed the door.  How would the rest of the weekend look?

Pretty much as expected, all things considered.  Marco Gonzales took the hill on Friday and continued this streak of greatness he’s been on.  He advanced his career high in innings pitched – this time going 7.1 innings of 2-run ball – before giving way to the bullpen.  We put up 4 runs thanks to some solid small ball.  Daniel Vogelbach returned – and had an RBI single – as the Mariners had to put Nicasio and Altavilla on the DL (Nicasio with a minor knee issue; Altavilla with what looks to be a serious arm thing that might keep him out for an extended period of time).  Jean Segura had another hit to bring his average to .340, second in the American League at the time.  And, Mitch Haniger drove in the other two runs as he continued his push to be an All Star.  Alex Colome got one out in the 8th, but ended up allowing the Rays to once again pull within 1 run, necessitating Edwin Diaz needing to get a 4-out save.  He did his job to get his 22nd save on the season.

Saturday was a rematch of the previous week’s duel of Felix vs. Snell; this time, it was a collosal bummer.  Felix struggled through 3 innings, giving up 6 runs; and while Roenis Elias was able to limit the damage in his 4 innings of work, giving up just 1 run, the offense couldn’t quite chip away at the deficit (going 0 or 11 with RISP).  So, we lost by a score of 7-3.  Newcomer Mike Morin joined the relief corps; he hasn’t had a good season at the Major League level since 2014, but he ended up striking out 2 in his scoreless inning of work, so we’ll see how he does in Nicasio’s absence.  He obviously won’t be thrust into an 8th inning role, but that’s neither here nor there.

The Mariners bounced right back on Sunday.  James Paxton struggled a bit (for him), but still went 7 innings, giving up 3 runs and striking out 10.  Pazos let a runner get on in his 0.1 innings of work, who would eventually come around to score with Alex Colome on the mound (he would let all three victories get to within 1 run, just to make things interesting against his old club).  Nevertheless, Edwin Diaz got his 23rd save of the season, thanks to some suspect baserunning from the Rays, making the final, baffling out at home plate.  Cruz, Zunino, and Seager all homered to account for the 5 runs the M’s scored.

We now sit atop the A.L. West with the Houston Astros (1 game better in the loss column, 1 game worse in the win column), 4.5 games up on the Angels, who come to town for a 3-game series starting tonight.  They just saw their prized offseason acquisition – Shohei Ohtani – go on the DL (with a chance he might need Tommy John surgery and not return until the 2020 season), so things are going pretty poorly down in Anaheim.  With the Mariners flying high – and Felix not set to start until the Boston series – now is the perfect time to pounce on our greatest rivals for that 2nd wild card spot (while hopefully keeping the Astros at bay for the division).  It’s sad that we have to start dreading every Felix start, but that’s apparently the world in which we live.

We’re officially entering the teeth of the schedule:  3 vs. the Angels, 3 vs. the Yankees, and 7 vs. the Red Sox (4 at home before an East Coast road trip next week).  After some cupcakes, we’ll face the Angels 6 more times before the All Star Break, so it’s time for the Mariners to play their very best!

The Mariners Lost Two In A Row To The Rangers? Sure, Why Not?

This is baseball, the good times weren’t going to last forever.  Still, the Rangers?

The pitching had been on this unbelievable, unsustainable roll, pretty much since the last time we played the Rangers two weeks ago.  Remember that 2-game series, coming off of that hard-luck road trip that had us make a layover in Minnesota on the way back?  We came back to win the first game 9-8, then fell apart the next day, losing 5-1.  Ever since that series – up through Monday – the most runs the Mariners gave up in the ensuing 11 games was 4.  That has since changed the last two days.

Felix struggled in his latest start, on Tuesday, giving up 5 runs in 5 innings.  It might’ve been 2 runs in 5 innings, but he was brought out to start the 6th and promptly loaded the bases without getting an out.  With a little better play from the bullpen – or our catcher – we might’ve salvaged some of those runs.  Instead, Pazos allowed them all to score.  We were able to tie it up in the 8th, but Edwin Diaz fell apart in the 9th and that was that.  A 9-5 loss.  Not a problem.  Diaz is usually great, he’s been criminally over-worked, and these games happen from time to time.

Besides, we had James Paxton all lined up to go last night!  He’s essentially got the Pitcher of the Month award all locked up!  We got this!

Yeah, except we didn’t.  Paxton had a rough go of it in the 5th inning and apparently expended all the energy the manager was willing to allow him to expend.  We nevertheless handed a 2-run lead to the bullpen and asked them to get the final 12 outs.  They were unable to do this without gagging the game away.

Another passed ball by Zunino (the second in two games; perhaps he too is criminally over-worked) led to an unearned run allowed by Altavilla in the 6th.  The Mariners were able to get that run back in the bottom half, so all was well as we headed into the later innings.  Yet, in the 7th, Ryan Cook allowed two runners to get into scoring position, and Scrabble came in to fuck everything up like he always does (when is it going to be time to dump his ass?  Because I don’t think he’s ever going to figure it out).  He gave up a game-tying single, then walked the bases loaded before Juan Nicasio gave up the go-behind runs.  We got one back in the bottom of the 9th, but it wasn’t meant to be.  We lost this one 7-6.

There’s one game left in the month, and one game left in this Rangers series.  It would be nice to get the split.  It would also be nice if the offense just pounded the Rangers into submission.  And, it’ll be nicest of all to have Dee Gordon back at second base instead of the black hole we’ve had there in his absence.

The Mariners Are 9 Games Over .500 Somehow!

Alternate title:  A’s 1st Inning > M’s Rest Of The Game

So, yeah, Felix has a real problem getting out of the first inning unscathed.  It was already annoying when he was just giving up homers to the leadoff batter of the game; now it’s getting ridiculous!

Against the A’s – who benefited from my jinxing the King by saying he absolutely owns them in his career – Felix was given a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, and proceeded to give up 4 hits and a walk en route to allowing 4 runs.  That’s obviously very, very bad.  The rest of the game, however, he only gave up 1 hit and 0 walks en route to allowing 0 runs through the 6th inning before giving way to the bullpen.  He’s got it in him!  That shadow of greatness is still there, and it still spills over into games!  But, all too often he’s a mess with his command, and he gets killed for it.

With this new trend of the Rays having “Openers” start their games, pitching to the first 3-6 batters before the ostensible “starting” pitcher comes in for the next however many innings (allowing teams to go after the best hitters of opposing teams in the first inning, where they generally do a lot of damage), I see there have been calls for Felix to participate in something like this.  For starters, I highly doubt this would ever happen (though, I do think it COULD be good for him).  I think there’s something to the notion that a pitcher warms up in the bullpen before games, then sits down in the dugout for a spell (longer when on the road), and cools off before he has to come back out to start the game.  If Felix went straight from the bullpen, warming up, into the game at the start of the second inning, it might lead to better performances.  But, can we guarantee that’s the reason for his poor command (which I would think has more to do with mechanics than focus, though I guess you could say he needs to focus more on his mechanics, but whatever).

The main problem with this, as I see it, is if he still comes out (in the second inning or whatever) with poor command, it doesn’t matter a whole lot if he’s facing the top of the lineup or the bottom, he’s still likely to get shelled like he’s been this season.  Also, what happens if the Opener has a bad night and HE gets shelled?  Then you’ve not only wasted a quality reliever, but you’ve put your team and your starting pitcher in a hole!

Maybe it’s like the shift.  Maybe over time, the numbers would show that it’s a net gain over the course of a season.  All I know is that right now, these 2018 Mariners don’t have a whole helluva lot of quality relievers.  Edwin Diaz is your closer, so he’s out.  Do you trust Juan Nicasio or Nick Vincent to be your Opener?  Maybe if Ryan Cook continues to pan out, but he’s coming off a serious injury and the team is trying to work him back slowly.  Altavilla?  Pazos?  I dunno.  I like the idea, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it implemented on a trial basis, but I just don’t know if it would work for this team.

Felix just needs to get better out of the gate, that’s all I know.  I mean, shit man, he’s rocking an ERA of 5.58!  I know he’s not the quote/unquote Ace anymore, but you wouldn’t even tolerate that type of production out of your FIFTH starter!

Not for nothing, but it’s also a shame the offense couldn’t drag their asses over the 4-run mark.  I mean, for fuck’s sake, the A’s were rolling out a bullpen day!  And we can’t get more than 3 guys home?  Not that the lineup did you a ton of favors.  Romine at second, Freitas behind the plate … I’ll say this, we need one of Nelson Cruz’s patented crazy hot streaks in the worst way right now.  You know what I’m talking about; where he hits like 8 homers in 10 games or something.  That dude needs to eat his Wheaties like NOW!

The team gets a nice 10-game homestand starting tonight, as odds would have it, against some dregs of the American League.  Three with the Twins, four with the Rangers, and three more with the Rays.  Maybe for that Rays series, the Mariners should bat the bottom of their lineup first, and make sure they take a lot of pitches or foul a lot of pitches off to make sure their Openers are wasted before the top of our lineup comes out the next inning.  You think that would happen, if Openers become a thing?  Instead of batting at the top of the order, you put your best hitters at 4-5-6?  I’m utterly fascinated by this concept, can you tell?