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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mariners Looked Like Their Old Selves, Losing 2 of 3 To The Mets

I hated almost every minute of this weekend when it came to the Mariners. I’m not going to say I saw the losing series coming, but I also can’t say that I’m entirely surprised.

The 2-1 loss on Friday was easily the most frustrating game of the series. It’s frustrating that we struck out 13 times, it’s frustrating that we were 0 for 7 with RISP, it’s frustrating that we squandered another awesome start by Logan Gilbert, it’s frustrating that Andres Munoz blew yet another one late (how he ended up winning the Reliever of the Month Award for August is beyond me), it’s frustrating that he just STOPPED throwing off-speed pitches to Daniel Vogelbach (who was timing him up pretty well, and only needed a bleeder of a single to get the go-ahead run home), and it’s even frustating that we got saddled going up against their lone quality starter, in an otherwise miserable season for the Mets.

We won Saturday’s game 8-7, but it shouldn’t have been that difficult. We were up 3-0 early, before Castillo gave it all back. Then, we took a 7-3 lead, before the combination of Castillo and Speier gave most of it back again. 5 innings and 5 runs for our “Ace”. Saucedo ended up blowing the save in the bottom of the 8th, but luckily J.P. Crawford was there to homer in the top of the 9th to give us the margin of victory.

Sunday’s game was a real nothing-burger from the whole team. George Kirby had an even-worse start than Castillo, going only 3 innings, giving up 4 runs (3 earned). From there, the bullpen was just eating innings, with oldcomer-turned-newcomer Dominic Leone, Isaiah Campbell, and Trent Thornton going 5 and giving up 2. We hit back-to-back homers (Canzone and Ford) to score our only three runs in the 4th, but otherwise the offense was garbage against a lot of garbage pitching.

What, did we spend all weekend going to Broadway plays and partying until five in the morning? Cincinnati should offer much less in the way of distractions. Of course, they more than make up for it in having a better baseball team to go up against, including one of the most exciting players in the league in Elly De La Cruz. So, that’s fun.

The Luis Torrens Era Comes To An End With The Mariners

Before the Mariners headed to Texas yesterday to start their road trip tonight, they made a couple more roster moves. As expected, Julio Rodriguez came off of the IL, with Jarred Kelenic being sent back down to Tacoma. This means that in the short term, Jake Lamb gets a stay of execution. But, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a little disappointing with regards to Kelenic.

Kelenic started the year on the Major League roster and lasted through May 11th before being sent down. At that time, he was hitting .140/.219/.291. In this most recent stint, he appeared in nine games, and all of those numbers have managed to go down. That’s in spite of some promising developments at the AAA level, which is just demoralizing to me as a fan, so I can only imagine what it’s been like for him. Last year, after he was sent down, he returned and made an impact at the big league level. Part of me was hoping that would be the case again this year, but it’s clear there’s something broken with … whatever he’s doing at the plate. I mean, I’ve never seen a more uncomfortable-looking batting stance in my life. I feel like going back to the drawing board might be in order there.

He had 2 hits (1 of them a homer in that 6-run first inning Gerrit Cole game) in 27 at bats, with 0 walks and 11 strikeouts. I will say that the defense was still there, but you can’t really make a career out of just competent outfield defense. I think that nails it as far as 2022 being a total and complete Lost Year for him. I also think – barring a very dramatic development between now and next year – that we’re going to have to forever temper our expectations when it comes to Kelenic. In all likelihood, he’s never going to pan out, and if he does it’ll be with another franchise.

You know what gets me? He used to be so delightfully cocky. It was 90% of his charm! He was so dominant through the minors, and he really let his personality shine through in interviews. Now, all I can see is someone who appears to be internally struggling with confidence. And that’s a recipe for disaster in professional sports. I really hope he gets it figured out, but I’m not holding my breath at this point.

***

This was supposed to be a Luis Torrens post, and there I go talking about Kelenic!

The other roster move the Mariners made yesterday was to call up Curt Casali off of the IL. He’s the backup catcher we traded for with the Giants, in a very necessary move to help give Cal Raleigh some rest.

Raleigh has been playing in a crazy number of games this year for a catcher, appearing in 72% so far. It’s even more impressive when you figure the M’s had a whopping three catchers on their roster to start the season, before Tom Murphy had a season-ending injury. And that also factors in a short stint in Tacoma where Cal was sent down to work on his swing (he left Seattle with a slash line of .083/.214/.208 in late April; it’s up to .207/.276/.458 now). Ever since Murphy went out – and since Cal started raking the ball – Raleigh has been playing virtually every day. Not literally, of course. Usually if there’s a day game after a night game, he’ll get a blow, but even then he might still come in to pinch hit or take care of the 9th inning catching duties.

I’m guessing, since he’s a big, strong kid without a lot of miles on his legs, the Mariners feel they can get away with it in the short term, but you can’t run him into the ground. They saw that at the deadline, and hence the Curt Casali deal.

As I mentioned at the time, Casali isn’t anything special. It’s not like we nabbed some other team’s starting catcher and brought him over here to back up Cal. He’s a clear #2. But, he’s also a competent one, by all accounts. And, unfortunately, that’s just not Luis Torrens.

Torrens came over in that famed fleecing of the Padres, where we brought in Ty France, Andres Munoz, and Taylor Trammell for Austin Nola and a couple of scrub relievers. I mean, that one goes in the Mariners Hall of Fame for best trades ever, but here we see the first chink in the armor.

Torrens’ bat was always the draw when it came to his overall package. No one ever really expected him to be an “everyday” starting catcher. I remember there being questions about him eventually moving to another infield spot. That came to a head in 2021. He was sent down early in the year because of his hitting, and when he returned he started to seriously rake, but never really got behind the plate again. He was primarily a DH, with a sprinkling of first base opportunities (and some work behind the scenes, I believe, at second or third base).

With his offensive woes seemingly rectified, he returned in 2022 with a new lease on life. We figured, again, he’d play some DH, but also opted to work him back in at catcher when we had that 3-man rotation (and Cal was struggling). That proved to be quite necessary when Murphy got hurt. I don’t remember there ever being a time this year when Torrens was the main starter – it seemed pretty simultaneous that after Murphy went on the IL, Cal took over as the team’s starter thanks to his offensive resurgence (to say nothing of his skills handling the pitching staff and calling games).

The main problem with Torrens is the fact that his offense has totally cratered. And he’s out of options, so we can’t just send him to Tacoma to work on it.

It’s a bummer. I really liked Torrens’ bat. You don’t see a lot of guys with his kind of power, especially to the opposite field (especially in Seattle). He had some big hits with the Mariners since 2020, most recently in that epic 1-0 victory over the Yankees in the 13th inning as a pinch hitter.

But, it’s becoming clear that he’s a man on an island in some respects. He’s just not what you want, defensively, from a catcher. He’s not atrocious; he’s passable. But it seems like whenever he has to take on too many defensive responsibilities, his bat goes down the tubes. And he’s not good enough defensively to make up for those kinds of limitations on offense.

Thankfully, the National League has embraced the DH, so I think he’ll be back again. I had my doubts that Daniel Vogelbach would stick around very long after leaving Seattle, and yet we still see videos of him popping up on Twitter from time to time, doing something fucking rad. Torrens is a DH, and an emergency fill-in at a couple of spots defensively. If he’s free to just focus on hitting, I think he’ll be okay and stick around a little while. Of course, he’d have more value if he hit lefty, but that’s neither here nor there.

Also, I guess there’s a slim chance that no one claims him and he accepts a demotion to Tacoma. After all, we’re one more injury away from him being back with the Mariners in that scenario. But, after his struggles this season, a change of scenery might be in his best interests.

3-DAYS LATER UPDATE: The slim chance comes to fruition! But, the M’s DFA’d Ken Giles over the weekend for some reason. That’s going to be annoying if he jumps to a contender and dominates in the playoffs.

I Don’t Know If The Mariners Are High On Ty France, But I Am!

Ty France seems to be one of those players without a position. That seems to be a trend with a lot of quote/unquote third basemen who come up through the minors at that spot, especially when they’re more known for their bats than their gloves. Do natural third basemen even exist? Or are they just plus-sized second basemen or slow-footed short stops? You be the judge!

Ty France, apparently, is coming at it from another angle, as a slightly-more-athletic first baseman type. Like, imagine if Daniel Vogelbach was 2/3 of his actual size, but, you know, could still actually hit a baseball.

These types of supposedly-deficient defenders always intrigue me, because if his 2020 season was any indication, the bat is there! He slashed .305/.368/.468 in 43 games across two teams (coming over in the Austin Nola deal with the Padres), with not really much of a dropoff at all during the transition. Ideally, you probably want a little more than the 14 extra base hits in that span, but a high batting average and competent on-base percentage makes up for a lot of ills in the power game for me. I’d rather someone come from this type of floor, because you can tweak a swing to create more loft if need be; but that kind of eye for balls and strikes is much harder to teach by the time you get to the Major League level. Knowing when to swing and what to swing at is an art, and most baseball players fail miserably at it.

He’s also only 26 years old, with up to five seasons of team control (including arbitration years), and while he’s not proficient at any one position, he’s capable of filling in at just about any spot on the infield (and by that I mean first, second, or third base).

It’s hard to talk about Ty France without talking about Dylan Moore, because both of them look to factor heavily on this team in the early going of the 2021 season. Presumably, that puts Moore in left field (next to Kyle Lewis in center, and Mitch Haniger in right) and that puts France at second base (between Evan White at first and J.P. Crawford at short, with Kyle Seager at his trusty third base spot). While we know Moore can play anywhere, it’s unknown at this time if we can hide France in one of the corner outfield spots in a pinch, but given our history of left fielders, it wouldn’t shock me to see the team give it a go (it just depends on how much of a liability France is up the middle).

As I alluded to, France’s “natural” position is third base. One would hope, if Seager ends up leaving after this season, that France could slide in there and we won’t miss a beat. But, if France isn’t any good at third, you’d have to wonder about his ability to play second, where I would assume – even between a couple of Gold Glovers in White & Crawford – defensive range is more of an issue.

Worst case scenario has the Mariners playing France primarily as the team’s Designated Hitter. You would think, given our history with Edgar Martinez (and our complete inability to properly replace Gar since his retirement), that the Mariners – more than most – can appreciate what an elite DH can bring to the table. But, like most teams, we’re trying to live in the 21st Century, where the DH is more of a rotational job, to give guys days off from playing in the field every day. Which means that, in their mind, you probably don’t want to be saddled with France at DH more than 3-4 times per week, which means he will need to be at least an adequate fielder 2-3 times per week. If he’s completely inept, that’s a problem, as it drastically reduces your lineup versatility.

That’s why guys like France – more often than not – aren’t foundational pieces, but instead guys who bounce around in deals like the one we made last year. He has value – so long as he’s hitting – but rarely gets the opportunity to stick in any one place thanks to his mediocre glove.

I’m, nevertheless, quite high on him for the reasons I’ve stated. The Mariners also have one of the best infield coaches in the Major Leagues, so I would hope that he can mold France into something passable in the field. Because, if we can work that out, that’s a HUGE hole we don’t need to fill later.

If we’re looking to break the playoff drought in 2021 – at least a year ahead of schedule – then we’re going to need more consistency out of our everyday lineup. While the pitching is shaky, as we saw last year, our coaches were able to mitigate things by keeping close tabs on the starters in their individual starts (not leaving them out there to get out of jams too often in the third/fourth times through the lineup). Obviously, the bullpen needs to drastically improve, but given the natural volatility of even high-level relievers, sheer randomness could always come into play to help us out this season. But, we need the hitters to hit, and not go into super-long funks.

That means, of course, that our stars – Lewis, Haniger, and Seager – need to perform to their potential/abilities, and that means some of these diamonds in the rough that we’ve stumbled upon – Moore, our catchers, Crawford, White, and France – need to be more consistent, and help pick up the slack when others are struggling. I have no doubt that France’s bat can be a big pick-me-up for this team. But, he just needs to not be a total wasteland out in the field.

I believe he can do it! And I hope that Austin Nola deal continues to pay huge dividends for many years to come!

The Mariners Traded Taijuan Walker For Someone OR Something

Well, that was quick! But, since we’re already halfway through a 60-game season, it’s all relative, I guess.

Taijuan Walker might be the best free agent bargain in all of Major League Baseball in 2020. I’m sure there are better overall bargains – Kyle Lewis being chief among them – but young guys who were drafted recently and are still under team-friendly rookie deals are a different breed. Taijuan Walker, as a semi-proven veteran, coming off of injury issues, signed with the Mariners for 1 year and $2 million; in MLB terms, THAT is a bargain for a good starting pitcher!

Walker has made five starts for the M’s this year. If we discount the first one (because every Mariners starter struggled in that first week), Walker has had three quality starts in his last four appearances, including two games where he went 7 and 6 innings respectively, while giving up 0 runs. I mean, based on the eyeball test, Walker looks like he’s more than recovered from his injury issues the prior two seasons. I didn’t see much of him after we traded him to the Diamondbacks, but I thought he looked better than he ever has in a Mariners uniform. Maybe not QUITE as much zip on the ol’ fastball, but still above-average. Moreover, he had pretty good command of all his pitches, and was able to use his brain more than his raw athleticism out there. He was a pitcher, not just a thrower.

It’s kind of disappointing to see him go, because he’s such a likable guy. It’s even more disappointing because this is the SECOND time the Mariners have traded him away! But, it makes sense in the grand scheme of things. He’s on a one year deal. He’s likely going to get a HUGE raise in 2021, if he can finish this season healthy and with solid numbers. Of course, there’s nothing preventing the Mariners from signing him a third time, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. In house – had he finished 2020 in Seattle – you’d think we’d have an inside track on extending him. Plus, if we’d extended him relatively soon – before the end of the regluar season – there’s a chance we could’ve gotten him at something of a discount. After being shunned for a second time in his career, though, you have to wonder if he wants to risk returning (only to be traded a THIRD time).

There’s risk in hanging onto him too, though. If his injury issues return, then we missed out on capitalizing on his value when it was at its highest for this season. You could make the argument that both times the Mariners traded him, it was at the peak of his value, so in that sense they’ve been exceedingly smart with Taijuan Walker. This is what good ballclubs do; they make good decisions on guys that will better the organization going forward.

He’s going to Toronto, which is a little amusing, because Dan Vogelbach – after he was DFA’d – was also traded to the Blue Jays, for “cash considerations”. I don’t know what that means in specific dollars and cents, but it’s probably not a ton of money. By all accounts on Twitter this morning, Walker is being traded for a Player To Be Named Later, or Cash Considerations. Ostensibly, the PTBNL is someone who is currently not on the Blue Jays’ 60-man roster, which means it’s a very low-level prospect (more of a lottery ticket than someone we should get too excited about; as a guy who buys a lot of losing lottery tickets, trust me when I say we almost certainly won’t be talking about anyone who’s worth a damn) and that person will be named sometime after the season ends. Or, I guess the Mariners can take what’s behind Door Number Two, which is money (I would assume more money than we got for Vogey, but at the same time this is just a one-month rental, for a team that’s currently in third place in the A.L. East).

The point is, nothing about this is exciting. The Mariners are already saving $1 million by not having to pay Walker the rest of this season, and the salaries on this current roster aren’t all that high to begin with. In that sense, unless that potential lottery pick pans out, all we’ve really done is made the 2020 Mariners much worse. Which, in and of itself, might actually be the best aspect of this deal!

Let’s face it, the Mariners had one of the better starting rotations going before this trade! Based on advanced metrics, after that first week, I think I heard somewhere that we were in the Top Five! Thankfully, the bullpen was keeping our high draft hopes afloat with their relentless stinking, but you can’t count on that level of ineptitude forever. Trading away viable veteran assets from what’s working on this team is the only way to ensure we maintain our Top Five draft pick status!

So, you know, keep an eye out for the Kyle Seager market. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Mariners Cut Dan Vogelbach

The Mariners are bound to make a lot of low-level roster moves this season, as they cycle through young players to get a look at as many prospects as possible (at least, when it comes to prospects whose service time they don’t mind churning through before it’s absolutely necessary; sorry Jarred Kelenic, you gotta wait). As such, I’m not going to write about every little move the team makes.

For instance, last night we saw the 2020 debuts for a couple of Quad-A outfielders who will probably never amount to much of anything at the Major League level; am I going to talk about them? No, I am not. I can barely muster the energy to talk about how Mallex Smith was demoted off of the Major League roster the other day. He’s been PRETTY terrible since we traded away Mike Zunino to bring him here, and while I don’t miss Zunino’s millions of strikeouts and anemic batting average, it still feels like we should’ve gotten a better player in return for a former #3 overall draft pick whose defense at least played well at this level. But, anyway, Mallex Smith is here now and he apparently still has minor league options; nevertheless, I don’t expect he’ll be part of the Mariners’ organization in 2021, so here’s hoping he figures his swing out to the point where we can maybe trade him away for scraps.

Dan Vogelbach is the real story here, and I know what you’re thinking. Here’s a guy with a slash line of .094/.250/.226; why are we writing a Mariners Obituary for someone who was never really much of anyone?

I dunno, I guess I think it’s noteworthy when the Mariners – who we can all agree has been a poorly-run organization for almost the entirety of its existence – DFA a guy who was an All Star just a year ago. First of all, it’s crazy that Vogey was an All Star to begin with; the guy’s career numbers are pretty pisspoor: .196/.326/.397. As a guy marketed as a big, burly, hit-first dude when he first came here, his only real skill that you could count on was his ability to take walks. I always got the feeling that the only reason he EVER swung the bat was due to peer pressure from coaches and players around him. Guys with no speed – who only generate walks and singles – have no value in this league, unless you play a premium defensive position AND you’re the absolute very best at that position (the paradox there is that you generally need to have a lot of speed to be good at defense). Vogey’s best defensive position was Designated Hitter; he’s like the rambunctious little boy who is best able to “help” his mom by staying out of her hair for a while. If he was ever going to stick at this level, he needed to be a guy who – when he did swing – hit lots and lots of dingers.

And, for one season, he did that. In 2019, he hit 30 homers in 144 games. By then, he was no longer blocked by Nelson Cruz at DH, and the team mostly stopped trying to shoehorn him into playing first base, so he was free to just mash. Both fortunately and unfortunately, he did the bulk of that mashing in the first half of the season. He hit 20 of those homers from April through June (which is the period that they look at to determine All Star Game rosters), but both his power and overall batting numbers took a steep decline from that point onward. As I’ve complained about repeatedly, he’d find ways to get ahead in the count, then he’d take a nice, juicy meatball right down the middle rather than depositing it into outer space. From there, he’d either work that walk I mentioned earlier, or he’d feebly swing and usually strike out.

The thing is, there’s no joy in writing this. I’m not happy he’s gone, like I usually am for so many underperforming former Mariners. Vogey was an incredibly likable guy, all things considered. There’s a reason everyone keeps comparing him to Chris Farley; he just seems like such a fun teddy bear/party animal! HE NEVER STRAPPED HIS BATTING GLOVES IN; HE JUST LET THE FLAPS HANG OPEN! He always seemed like he was having a great time, and by all accounts he was a terrific teammate and clubhouse presence. You couldn’t help but root for the guy, because the potential for greatness was always there, but also because you just wanted to see Vogey do well and continue to be happy! Also, not for nothing, but as a bigger guy myself, I can’t help but want to see other big dudes succeed at such an insane level as the Major Leagues.

But, also, by some accounts he wasn’t necessarily the most dedicated to his health or his craft. It sounds like, at some point, he got so good at hitting that he sort of cruised by on what he did well, and never really worked to keep improving. And, it’s like the manager said, if your one thing is hitting, and you’re consistently NOT hitting, then at some point the team needs to make a move.

Someone, I think, on Twitter mentioned something about Vogey playing in Japan or Korea; I think that’s PERFECT for him! I think he would excel SPECTACULARLY overseas! Do you know how many slug-first former MLBers go over there and jack dozens of homers every year, to universal acclaim?! He would be a freaking SUPERSTAR over there! While it’s not outside the realm of possibility for him to get his career back on track here in the States, I think that really is the best option; he’d get to do what he loves, he’d probably be great at it, he’d have thousands (or maybe even millions if he’s good enough) of adoring fans, he’d make a good living, and he’d get to go back to being Vogey again (without all the pressure of trying to be a cornerstone to a rebuilding franchise).

Anyway, I’m rooting for him. Consider me a Vogey fan for life. And, of course, there’s always the outside chance that the team re-signs him to a minor league deal (assuming he clears waivers), but either way this still feels like the end in many respects.

Mariners Gonna Mariners Down In Texas

The Mariners had another GREAT opportunity to win a series against a mediocre opponent. But then, you know …

The first game of the series against the Rangers saw the first Mariners blowout victory of the season! A 10-2 drubbing! Prior to that, the most the M’s had won by was three runs (on the flipside, we’ve lost by 6, 5, 8, 10, 5, and 5 runs already in this truncated season; which would explain our -35 run differential, pretty decisively the worst in all of Major League Baseball). Kyle Seager hit a grand slam in this one, Kyle Lewis and Dylan Moore both also had homers; in fact, every Mariner had at least one hit.

It wouldn’t be a sign of better things to come for the offense.

Justin Dunn got his first Major League victory in this one, having gone 6 innings, giving up 7 hits, 3 walks, 2 runs, while striking out 2. Not super dominant, but easily the best performance of his very brief career. More of these types of games and fewer of his … usual types of games, would be important going forward.

The next day, Marco Gonzales didn’t really have it (5 innings, 4 runs), but while the bullpen managed to limit the damage to just that, the offense couldn’t get it going. The Rangers needed six pitchers to get through this one, but did so, 4-2. Two hits for Kyle Seager, and there’s your offensive highlight.

The final game, yesterday, was a total shitshow! The Mariners jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second inning and held that through five. Taijuan Walker had a very nice outing, all things considered, and was about to make it through the sixth inning just as unscathed. Dylan Moore got the start at first base because of his hot hitting of late (he was 0 for 3 with a walk and two strikeouts in this one) and couldn’t dig out a slightly errant throw from J.P. Crawford for the final out of the inning. An out that Evan White – had he been starting – almost certainly would have made. Crawford got the error, but more importantly an unearned run was allowed to score in the process. I wondered at the time if that run would bite us in the ass, but Walker managed to wiggle off the line in the next at bat.

The Rangers scraped another run onto the board in the very next inning to make it 4-2; this one off of newcomer Joey Gerber (though, again, the next pitcher who inherited the baserunners allowed that man to score, because this bullpen is soft as freshly fallen snow and can’t be disturbed by complications on the field behind them). At this rate – one run per inning – the Rangers would tie the game up before the end of regulation!

Actually, it was much earlier than that.

In the eighth inning, Erik Swanson came in and the wheels came off. To his credit, he was throwing hard. Mike Blowers, on the broadcast, was absolutely creaming his jeans about some of the fastballs he was seeing out of this kid; he even touched 99mph on the radar gun! That, of course, got me excited, but it quickly faltered when it was clear Swanson couldn’t hit his spots. It’s frustrating to see a catcher set up in one spot (top of the zone) and see the pitcher throw the ball low and away. Or, worse, to see the catcher set up in the dirt, and watching Swanson groove a slider in the very middle of the plate.

Swanson, you’ll remember, is a former starting pitcher we got in the Justus Sheffield/James Paxton trade. At the time, we hoped maybe he could top out as a middle-of-the-rotation guy, but already he’s been demoted to a run-of-the-mill bullpen arm. And, with more appearances like this one, he won’t even have that for long. When it was all said and done, Swanson got 2 outs, gave up 3 hits, hit two batters, and gave up five runs while striking out just one (to be fair, it was an impressive-looking strikeout to kick off the inning). All the runs in that inning were charged to him, but of course Taylor Williams had every opportunity to get us out of it with the game still tied. Instead, a wild pitch and a 2-run single put the game away.

Austin Nola had a homer (as did Vogey) and another hit, and J.P. Crawford had two hits. But, the offense not ever adding on after that second inning was pretty criminal. So, you can say this was a total team effort, but the defense and bullpen really blew this one.

That puts the Mariners at 7-13 through 20 games; we’re a full third of the way through the season! 7-13 is also good for last place in the A.L. West (though, we’re somehow only 2.5 games out of a playoff spot, in this asterisk season).

Considering how bad we are, it’s probably a good thing the defense and bullpen are blowing so many games. I know there’s the argument that you don’t want to be a young team who’s used to losing, but the Astros lost more than anyone for a bunch of years in a row before being one of the most dominant teams in all of baseball (and cheaters, don’t forget the most dominant cheaters in all of baseball). 7-13 puts us as the third-worst team in all of baseball. That’s exciting! We could be in a prime drafting spot next year! The Red Sox are somehow worse, but I wouldn’t expect that to last; we could EASILY fall into the second spot! The Pirates, right now, are 3-13, but there’s still a lot of baseball left to be played.

The Mariners get their first off-day of the season today. Then, it’s off to Houston for a 3-game set over the weekend. I was kind of hoping, for morale’s sake, that the M’s would win that Rangers series, because our next seven games are against the Astros and Dodgers (a 2-game road series, followed immediately by a 2-game home series). I mean, I could see us going 0-7 in that stretch and it’s not even difficult to imagine!

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!

Look, Guys, The Mariners Are Who We Thought They Were

I’ll tell you this much, the Angels aren’t good either! They might make the playoffs, since just about everyone will be in the hunt by the end of this crazy season. But, from what I’ve seen so far, I’m not impressed.

Justin Dunn didn’t have a good outing in the opener to this series, and I’m starting to wonder why he’s so highly regarded as a prospect. His fastball isn’t all that fast, he doesn’t appear to have command of any of his pitches, and while he’s got a lot of movement to them, not knowing where they’re going to end up is KIND OF a problem. With so-so stuff, you’d think the team is rushing along someone who could at least throw strikes on a regular basis, but that doesn’t appear to be in his repertoire. I’m not flushing him down the toilet just yet, but I think it’s time to SEVERELY downgrade my expectations on this kid. It’s fine, there are better prospects (hopefully) coming down the pike.

Anyway, he gave up a 3-spot in the first inning of this start. The fact that he managed to go three additional innings of shutout ball is irrelevant to me, as I don’t remember him really looking much more than competent in any of them. But, we didn’t really get much out of our hitting in this one either. Austin Nola had a couple of RBIs on two hits, Kyle Lewis added a double to his pile, and Dylan Moore hit a homer, but a 5-3 loss is a 5-3 loss.

The M’s won the second game of this series behind another strong start from Marco Gonzales. 7 innings of 3-run ball is something I will take every single time! The bullpen, of course, tried their damnedest to gag this one away – giving up 3 more runs in the 8th – but we shut it down in the 9th to preserve a 7-6 victory. Nola had 2 more doubles, Kyle Seager hit his 200th career home run, and Dylan Moore and Kyle Lewis each had multiple hits to breathe life into things.

I fully expected the Mariners to take this series in the rubber match, but Taijuan Walker had other ideas. After a masterful start last week, he tossed quite the clunker here. 3.2 innings of 4-run ball where he pretty much labored throughout. The bullpen did an okay job of limiting the damage, but this was a no-go from the get-go. Dylan Bundy of the Angels tossed a complete game, giving up just a solo home run to Daniel Vogelbach for his first dinger of the season. The offense was ice cold in this one, which is certainly to be expected out of a group this young; you’re going to see games like this (honestly, I would’ve expected them to be a more regular occurrence than what we’ve seen to this point; but, the season IS young).

That drops the Mariners to 5-9, leaving us in fourth place in the division, with the red-hot Rockies coming to town for a weekend series. This … might get ugly.

I’m still quite pleased with Kyle Lewis’ Rookie of the Year campaign. The resurgence of Kyle Seager has been really fun to watch as well. And, Dylan Moore’s six extra-base hits in nine games has been a revelation! Austin Nola has been a real find these last couple of seasons; he looks like a very good Major Leaguer that we plucked out of nowhere. I’m still cautiously optimistic with J.P. Crawford’s start, and I’m reserving judgment for now on Shed Long. It would be fun to see Vogey mash some more home runs, but otherwise I don’t know if he’s long for a Mariners uniform. Evan White’s defense is predictably laudable, but the offense has been a MASSIVE struggle through a couple weeks. That’ll pick up, but it might be a long rookie season for the kid.

I’ve been shitting on the bullpen all year, but there are some good-looking guys who should be commended. Joey Gerber was just called up and has looked great in his two appearances! Yohan Ramirez was a Rule 5 guy we claimed from the Astros and while rough, he looks very promising. Carl Edwards is a veteran, but he got the save in that Angels series and seems to be reliable. Taylor Guilbeau has only given up one run in three innings of work as a lefty. And Matt Magill – another veteran – might be having the best go of it out of the bullpen with four shutout innings of work (and looking much less wild than Ramirez in doing so).

So, you know, that’s something anyway. In roster news, the aforementioned Bryan Shaw was sent down to Tacoma, presumably to work on some … everything. And Summer Camp darling Jose Marmolejos was also sent down to bring the Major League roster to 28 players. He was pretty overwhelmed at the plate – and a walking herd of cats in the outfield – so this is for the best for him and the team. In better news, thanks to all of these idiot MLB teams contracting so much COVID, 28 is the set roster minimum for teams the rest of the season. We were set to have to reduce it to 26 in a couple weeks, but no longer. So, thanks Marlins! Dozens of players will earn Major League checks because of your incompetence!

The Mariners Mariners’d Things Up Down In Houston

This season was always going to be a bit of a sideshow combined with a tire fire, but it was particularly cruel to have the Mariners go to Houston to start the season with a four-game series. You’d be hard-pressed to find two more polar opposites with the Astros at the top of the game today (probably trending downward, you’d have to figure, as their players acclimate to the difficulties of not being able to cheat as much) and the Mariners near the very bottom (certainly trending upward, because how much lower can things get?). Frankly, I was surprised the M’s even won ONE game this weekend!

The pitching – across the board – really failed the Mariners in this series. We more or less expected that out of the bullpen (and that’s more or less what we got from them, aside from the lone victory), but the starters also completely shit the bed! It’s like they TRIED to get as much of it on there as possible, clogging up their bowels with lots of meat and cheese, holding it in for a few extra days, then unleashing their stinky fury all over the place.

  • Marco Gonzales: 4.1 innings, 4 runs, 3 earned
  • Taijuan Walker: 3.1 innings, 5 runs
  • Yusei Kikuchi: 3.2 innings, 5 runs
  • Kendall Graveman: 4.0 innings, 7 runs, 6 earned

I would expect those guys to get better sooner rather than later, as their arms build back up and they’re not forced to go up against lineups as stacked as the Astros’. Clearly, these guys were on shortened pitch counts, as no one really had an opportunity to ramp up completely; but even if they were at mid-season strength, I would argue there wasn’t much point in extending their leashes in these games given how poorly they performed.

The numbers from the bullpen in this series are actually better than they looked (I would attribute that to their inability to save the starters’ ERAs by preventing inherited runners from scoring):

  • Game 1: 3.2 innings, 4 runs
  • Game 2: 4.2 innings, 2 runs
  • Game 3: 5.1 innings, 1 run
  • Game 4: 4.0 innings, 1 run

Those aren’t terrible, particularly against a team like Houston, but we’ll see how things look as the season progresses.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though! There were some real bright spots among the hitters!

Kyle Lewis continues to be a Mariners dreamboat. Six hits in the four games, including two homers, with four RBI and a slash line of .400/.500/.800. J.P. Crawford hit two triples and a double, Evan White banged out his first career Major League home run yesterday, Tim Lopes had a couple of doubles. The only guys who are REALLY struggling are Mallex Smith and Daniel Vogelbach, and I don’t think either of them figure into the Mariners’ long-term plans anyway.

I was also really impressed with veteran Kyle Seager, who jacked a homer and three doubles (including at least one to left-center). It’s cool that he’s off to a hot start, and it seems like he’s really a calming veteran presence on what is the very youngest team in the Major Leagues.

I will say the defense overall was pretty rough. Only two errors in the four games, but I think there was some generous scoring going on. There were a number of allegedly-difficult plays that we flat out missed, that good defensive teams would’ve had no problem converting. I won’t make a big deal about it – because in the overall outlook of this season, defense is probably the least of our concerns – but it’s nevertheless something to monitor as these games pile on.

Now we’re off to Anaheim (does the fun ever START?) before our home opener this weekend. These games will be mighty interesting. Anaheim was projected to be one of the divisional contenders, but they’ve also compiled a 1-3 record. The M’s will feature Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn tonight and tomorrow; believe you me, my eyeballs will be glued to the screen for their 3.2 innings of work apiece!