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

See, here’s the thing.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

The pitching side of things is pretty mediocre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

The Mariners Got Pounded By The Angels And Oh By The Way Paxton Injured His Back

Fucking great.

Before we all go jumping off of buildings, I’m gonna wait and see how this plays out.  Given the timing of this – with the All Star Break next week – it might not be the worst thing in the world.

Remember last year, when the Mariners were sort of barely clinging to contention for the second wild card spot, and going into the All Star Break I was talking about how we needed – above all else – to maximize James Paxton the rest of the way?  He spent most of the month of May on the shelf, then had a really rocky month of June as he worked his way back to his usual dominance.  Well, it was paid off in July, when he went 6-0 and won the A.L. Pitcher of the Month award.  He had a 1.37 ERA and went at least 6 innings in all 6 of his starts.  I figured:  yes, get him as many starts as humanly possible between now and the end of the year (even if it meant having him pitch every 5th day regardless of off-days, and shuffling the rest of the rotation around him accordingly), and MAYBE the Mariners would be within reach of the wild card by the end of the year.

What happened?  He made 2 starts in August before going back on the DL, struggled through half of September, and had 1 more quality start the rest of the way (on October 1st, the final game of the season).  The Mariners finished under .500 and out of the playoffs, and his absence was one of a million reasons why this team underachieved.

Of course, that made one of the keys to this 2018 season to:  Keep Paxton Healthy.  His entire offseason program was centered around making all of his starts for the first time in his career.  He’s been the ace of this staff through the first half, but obviously it’s all coming to a head with this injury he suffered last night.

After biffing that series against the Rockies over the weekend, the M’s didn’t play their best baseball against the Angels in Anaheim.  In fact, in two of these games they might’ve played their very worst baseball of the season.

On Tuesday, Leake could only make it through 4 innings, giving up 7 runs (5 earned), and the bullpen allowed them to tack on a couple more to really put it away.  Anaheim’s starter left injured in the third, but we couldn’t take advantage of their bullpen and ended up losing 9-3.  Haniger had a good game – with a double, a homer, and 3 RBI – but everyone else was unremarkable at best.

The M’s didn’t completely shit the bed this series, as they notched a win on Wednesday behind Marco Gonzales’ 7 shutout innings, on 2 hits and 0 walks.  David Freitas of all people hit a homer (the first of his brief Major League career), and Nelson Cruz hit a 2-run single to put the M’s up 3-0.  The bullpen was able to keep it that way, with a scoreless inning apiece from Colome and Diaz (for hold #14 and save # 36, respectively).

That led us into last night’s game, with a chance to win the series and feel a lot better about things heading into Colorado this weekend.  But, Paxton apparently never felt right even in his warmups, and just prayed that his back would loosen up during the game.  It didn’t, and he was pulled 2 outs into the first inning.  We were up against Anaheim’s best pitcher, and our bullpen couldn’t keep us anywhere even remotely in it (behind a 4-run inning from the completely inept Nick Rumbelow, who spent most of the year on the DL, and was mystifyingly called up after a short stint in Tacoma – THREE GAMES – even though he really has no Major League success of which to speak whatsoever!  Why are we moving Heaven and Earth to get this guy to the bigs when it’s clear he needs a lot more seasoning in AAA?).

(I mean, Rumbelow has made 8 appearances – all defeats – and has given up at least 1 run in 5 of those games!  How much more do you need to see out of this guy?  You’re telling me there’s absolutely NO ONE ELSE down in Tacoma who can take this guy’s spot?  It’s not like he’s out of options, so what the fuck?).

Anyway, getting back, the M’s lost last night 11-2.  We put Andrew Romine in there to pitch the bottom of the 8th because it got so out of hand (he gave up 2 runs, yet still managed to get Trout & Pujols out, which is something he’ll have to tell the ol’ grandkids one day).  It was ugly, to say the least (I’m glad I slept through this entire series, to be honest).

Aside from being super proud of my boy Marco (and, SUPER DUPER proud of my fellow M’s fans for voting Jean Segura into the All Star Game this week), it hasn’t been so hot for the Mariners of late.  That’s 5 losses in 8 games, following our 8-game winning streak, following our 3-7 stretch against the Red Sox & Yankees.  A real rollercoaster; the All Star Break can’t come soon e-fucking-nough.

3 more games.  Felix is on the DL for the break, Paxton looks like he’ll join him there; Zunino has been keeping the shelf nice and warm with his own issues.  This isn’t trending in the right direction.  All of these guys need to come back fast, and not just so we can put a bunch of other guys down; the rest of the team absolutely needs to stay healthy as well.

The A’s have won a million games in a row and are now only 5 games behind us for that second wild card spot.  We’re a full 3 games behind the Astros for the division.  And, even though it’s essentially meaningless, our run differential is all the way down to +5.  We’re 22 games over .500 and just 5 runs over .500!  Do you know how insane that is?  It’s insane, just in case you forgot.

We’ve got Christian Bergman going tonight.  He has 1 start this year with Seattle, where he went 7 shutout innings (in a game we somehow lost 5-1) before being sent right back down to AAA.  He’s been pretty good, but far from amazing, in Tacoma, so while I like him as a spot starter type, I’m pretty lukewarm on the idea of him making many multiple starts for the Mariners this year.

So, get well soon James Paxton!  And, when you do come back, don’t suck balls for a month like you did last year!

The Mariners Had Some Trouble Against The Rockies

The Mariners lost the first two games of the weekend series against the Rockies, and it wasn’t even close.  Losing 7-1 and 5-1, only to win the finale 6-4 is a big reason why we’re only +17 in run differential in spite of the fact that we’re 23 games over .500.

Of course, in the two defeats, we had injuries to contend with.  Mike Zunino is on the DL, which makes an already-bad position a million times worse.  The Mariners have to be among the worst in all of baseball in offensive production from the catcher spot, where our mostly-everyday starter is hitting just .189.  It’s somehow this bad and Mike Marjama still decided to retire from the game of baseball, which is a mind-blowing revelation we just learned about recently.

Anyway, Mike Haniger was also out on Friday, when we lost 7-1.  Felix wasn’t great (lasting only 5 innings, giving up 3 runs), the bullpen was worse, and there you go.  A Denard Span solo homer was the only thing keeping us from being shut out.

We got Haniger back for Saturday, but had to sit Dee Gordon with a hip issue, and the bottom third of our order was John Andreoli, David Freitas, and Andrew Romine.  They absolutely lived up to expectations as the Mariners lost 5-1.  James Paxton was on the hill and the game was a 1-1 tie heading into the 7th inning; then after a 1-out walk and bloop single, he made a mistake with his cutter in the middle of the plate that was turned around for a 3-run home run.  They tacked on another run in the 9th, but that was really all they needed.  This time, it was a Jean Segura solo homer preventing us from being shut out.

We got Gordon back for Sunday and were back to mostly full strength.  Ryon Healy had a 2-run double and a 3-run homer to lead the charge, as Wade LeBlanc muscled through 6 innings (giving up 4 runs) and the bullpen locked it down to give him his 5th win of the season.  Edwin Diaz got his 35th save of the season.

This series was a classic example of how this team could be in trouble if we run into too many injuries down the stretch.  You could say that about every team, but I think it’s especially tenuous with this M’s team and how we’re winning ballgames.  We need everyone, working in perfect harmony, to account for all these close wins; take even one man out, and it starts to break down.

Also, this series was a classic example of the Rockies straight up murdering bad pitches.  It seemed like not a single mistake went by them.  I mean, shit, their backup catcher hit TWO triples on Friday!  That’s a .153 hitter!

We play them again next week, in Colorado, and then God willing that’ll be the last time we ever see this team, so whatever.  In the meantime, the M’s have a day off today, then it’s 6 more road games until the All Star Break.  Time to go down to Anaheim and further bury the Angels, then see what we can do against the Rockies.

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?