Mike Leake Is Killing It For The Mariners

The Mariners have been on such a tremendous run of pitching, they actually needed to shoehorn Alex Colome into this game regardless of the score.  Pretty much the only way he wasn’t going to see action was if the Mariners had a comfortable-enough lead, and the starter was cruising along at a low-enough pitch count to go the complete game.

Mike Leake damn near made it.

I want to say he was in the low 90’s as far as pitches go when he came out to start the bottom of the 9th inning – the Mariners holding a comfortable-enough 5-1 lead – so the margin for error was pretty thin.  But, he’d had a number of single-digit innings with the ol’ pitch count, so as long as he didn’t allow a base runner – or run into a couple of super-long at-bats – it looked like he was going to get the chance to finish it.  Unfortunately, Anticlimax Alert:  Leake gave up a leadoff double and was promptly yanked.  That’s where things got interesting.

The M’s almost made a mockery of Tampa’s “opener” last night – loading the bases with 1 out on a single and a couple walks – but he was able to wiggle out of the jam.  Nevertheless, while their gambit may have theoretically paid off (the M’s used up their top 6 batters in that scoreless first inning, before the ostensible “starter” came in at the top of the 2nd), we were still able to get to him early and often.  We scored three runs in that very 2nd inning (the bottom of our lineup getting two of the hits to turn it over to Dee Gordon & Co.), punctuated by a Mitch Haniger 2-run single.  We got our fourth run off of a Denard Span solo homer (his second in as many days).  Span has a slash line of .290/.333/.516 in 9 games since coming over to Seattle against a slash line of .238/.364/.385 with Tampa earlier this year.  I once again commend Jerry Dipoto for buying low on a solid veteran who was bound to push his production back up towards his career norms.  Finally, the Mariners concluded their scoring with a solo homer by Haniger in the 5th.  Before that double in the ninth (that would eventually come around to score; spoiler alert), Mike Leake had only given up a solo homer in his first 8 innings of work.  Not too shabby.

With a runner on second base and no outs, Alex Colome got the first two batters in quick order.  Then, he had a hard-luck HBP (with the guy seriously ON TOP of the plate), a single up the middle, and a bases-loaded 3-run double to make the game 5-4.  Edwin Diaz started to warm up at this point – as presumably Colome would be given one more opportunity to try to get out of this thing alive – and as chance would have it, we wouldn’t need him.  Colome got the final guy to ground out to third (on a really excellent play by Seager, who has been playing better defense than his Gold Glove season of 2014 and is VERY deserving of his second such award) and crisis was officially averted (as the Mariners got to add a cheapo 1-run victory to their ledger).

But, let’s go back to Mike Leake for a moment.  I was pretty disgruntled with him early in the season.  He came over at the end of August, 2017, and had one of the more memorable Septembers I’ve ever seen from a trade acquisition, going 3-1 in 5 starts, with all 5 seeing him pitch at least into the 6th inning, while giving up 3 runs or less.  It was enough to lead a lot of fans to expect really great things out of him in 2018 (in spite of the fact that his career numbers are more or less just okay, but not in that elite realm we saw out of him for a month).

Leake proceeded to prove my skepticism right in the early going of 2018.  He had 2 quality starts out of 6 in April, with 2 really awful starts (lowlighted by a game where he couldn’t even get through 4 innings, while giving up 8 runs), and the only reason he had a winning record at all (with his 6.48 ERA) was due to some outstanding run support (40 runs in those 6 games, while averaging 8.75 runs in the 4 games the Mariners won when he started).

He’s been considerably better since the calendar flipped to May (and now June).  In 7 games, he’s thrown 5 quality starts, going at least 7 innings four times, and 8 innings twice.  He’s also dropped his ERA two full points, down to 4.46, while pitching into the 6th inning all 7 times, and being super economical with his pitch counts.  Quite frankly, this run he’s been on is BETTER than what we saw out of him last September, which I really didn’t think was likely or all that possible.

Leake – along with Gonzales and LeBlanc – has been one of the better surprises for me this season, as the Mariners now stand at 39-23, still a game up (two in the loss column) on the Astros.

Three more to go against the Rays.  Aside from Felix vs. Blake Snell Part 2, we should be favored in the others.  I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see another Mariners sweep (and a 7-0 season series against the Rays, which is insane).

The Mariners Swept The Rays, Are In First Place

This is the latest the Mariners have been in first place in the A.L. West since 2003?  Am I reading that right?

This is … utter insanity.  I keep waiting for these guys to fall apart and this team keeps proving me wrong!  We’ve seen good stretches of Mariners baseball before; in each of the last 4 years, for instance, we’ve flirted with the concept of contention.  Maybe the M’s have a great week or two, maybe they have an outstanding road trip or something and head home to face a division rival for a huge weekend series, and what happens next?  They fall apart.  And, it’s not necessarily always against the likes of the Astros!  This team has been on some runs and were set to face some sub-.500 competition and they would STILL find ways to lose to those teams, and derail all the progress they’d made scratching and clawing to get to that point!

Hell, when the Astros were the worst team in baseball – before all their prospects hit it big – we’d STILL lose to their fucking asses at least half the time!

What’s the difference this time?  The Mariners are still beating all the teams they’re supposed to beat.  They’re beating the Twins, and the Royals, and the Tigers, and the Blue Jays, and the White Sox, and the Athletics, and the Rangers, and the Indians.  Coming into this series, the Rays were one game over .500; they were a scrappy group of battlers who might’ve been JUST the thorn in our side to – as I mentioned – derail all of the progress we’ve made lately.  And yet, what happened?  We beat them in all three games by a combined 4 runs!

On Friday, we saw another Mike Leake gem:  7 innings, 2 runs, 6 hits, 0 walks, 8 strikeouts.  Colome got us to the 9th with a 1-run lead, but unfortunately Diaz had his 3rd blown save of the season to send it to extras.  We eventually won it in the bottom of the 13th (after 2 scoreless innings from Roenis Elias, who was called up to replace the DFA’d Scrabble; I’ll be happy to not have to talk about that guy ever again) on a Mitch Haniger solo homer to center.

On Saturday, we saw the continuing emergence of Marco Gonzales, who went 6.2 innings of 1-run ball, with 5 hits, 2 walks, and 6 strikeouts.  He continues to be so impressive; I love it!  Cruz, Seager, and Healy accounted for the 3 runs, and the bullpen was perfect (with Diaz getting his 20th save of the season).

On Sunday, we saw the return of Dominant King Felix:  8 innings of 1-run ball, with 5 hits, 1 walk, and 7 strikeouts.  I say dominant even though it wasn’t Felix at his peak; it wasn’t Perfect Game Felix or anything.  But, even when Felix was a Cy Young guy, he had games like this:  he’d dance around a couple jams here and there, but he’d go deep into the ballgame nevertheless, keeping the team in it.  Indeed, it was so much like a Classic King Felix game that the Mariners didn’t score any runs until the 8th inning!  It was 1-0 for the longest time, because the Rays’ Blake Snell absolutely murdered us through 6 innings, striking out 12 (including the first 7 of the game, to tie the A.L. record, and 8 of the first 9 through the lineup), walking 0, and giving up only 2 weak singles.  We were fortunate to foul off a bunch of pitches and otherwise get his pitch count high so they had to pull him early.  We finally scratched a couple runs across in the bottom of the 8th thanks to some elite small ball from the likes of Span and Gordon, and Diaz was able to make it hold up with his 21st save of the season.

As for the Felix show yesterday, I’ll say this:  I was thrilled for him.  He REALLY needed that.  Now, it’s the Rays, and their lineup looks like one of the more impotent ones in the American League (at least from what I’ve seen of it), but with the way Felix had been going, that didn’t matter.  He would’ve struggled against AAA hitting; so hopefully it’s something mechanical they were able to work out.  He gets a rematch against the Rays (and the same opponent in Snell) this week, so hopefully it goes the same as before.

We’re now 37-22; the Astros are 37-24.  The Yankees are still a ridiculous 37-17, but they don’t matter at the moment; they’re the Astros’ problem!  Because WE own the division right now!  And, not for nothing, but we’re 5.5 games over the Angels, which is a lot of breathing room (but I’ll always accept a little more).

Of course, we have a 2-game set in Houston starting tomorrow, so this very well could be a short-term division lead.  They have the best rotation in all of baseball; but we have Paxton and LeBlanc going, our two hottest pitchers!  If anyone is going to keep us in these games, it’s those guys!

Now that I’ve said that, watch us get blown out and swept.  But, today’s an off-day; WE CAN’T LOSE TODAY (knock on wood)!

The Mariners Got The Victory They Needed

There’s been so many tight games this season, but particularly over the last couple weeks, with the offense missing guys like Dee Gordon, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, and others for various amounts of time.  The margin for error has been ridiculously thin, and we’ve seen some repercussions of that in this Rangers series as the bullpen finally cracked a couple times.  This team desperately needed a breakout from the offense and to cruise to a comfortable victory.  Last night, in a 6-1 win, the Mariners got just that.

On May 3rd, Wade LeBlanc entered the starting rotation for the Seattle Mariners, taking the spot that was briefly held by an injured Erasmo Ramirez.  Up until that day, LeBlanc was a long reliever for this club – who has been on the roster since opening day, but only got in 5 games in the month of April due to all the off days and the fact that the Mariners were involved in so many close, winning games.  So, he obviously has had to be stretched out a little bit this month (he was also quite under the weather last night, which accounts for his only lasting 5 innings on 84 pitches).  But, regardless, LeBlanc has been OUTSTANDING in the month of May (really, all season, but that’s neither here nor there).  He’s 1-0 (though the team is 5-1 in his starts) with a 1.72 ERA.  31.1 innings pitched, 6 runs given up, 25 hits, only 6 walks, with 23 strikeouts in those 6 games.

I mean, if it weren’t for Paxton’s 1.67 ERA, his 2 complete games, his no hitter, his 51 strikeouts (against only 9 walks) and 21 hits in 43 innings of work across his 6 games (again, he’s got to be a lock for American League Pitcher of the Month), we’d be talking about the best starter on this team!

Small sample?  Go fuck yourself!  Wade LeBlanc is magic and I won’t hear anything else!

Pazos, Nicasio, and Chasen Bradford nailed down the final four innings without incident, meaning we were able to save guys like Diaz and Colome for the weekend.  Again, just excellent pitching all around yesterday.

On the hitting side of things, Dee Gordon returned with a vengeance, with a leadoff triple and a run scored off of a very shallow pop up to right field.  Nelson Cruz banged a 2-run homer and later had a 3rd RBI to keep his momentum going in the right direction.  Segura was on base 3 times and scored 3 times; Healy had an RBI single; and Heredia and Span each had 2 hits as the bottom of the lineup looks remarkably improved with those two guys getting regular AB’s.  In 4 games with the Mariners so far, Span has 5 hits (including a double) and 3 runs scored.  I like Gamel as much as the next guy – and I concede he was looking better at the plate right before this trade went down – but overall he’s been terrible for almost a full year now, and he appears to be much better suited to being a team’s 4th outfielder rather than a starter.  How about that?  Everyone went into this season thinking it was Heredia that was destined to be a 4th outfielder (and that might very well be his overarching role when it’s all said and done), but right now Heredia looks like a dynamic weapon and a viable starting outfielder in this league if he can keep it up at the plate.

The Mariners ended up 18-11 in the month of May, which follows a 16-11 month of April.  We are 1 game behind the Astros in the A.L. West (tied in the loss column), and 4.5 games ahead of the Angels as we currently hold the 2nd Wild Card spot (3 full games behind the Yankees for the 1st Wild Card spot).

As I’ve noted before, the month of June looks a lot tougher.  The Rays are hanging around .500 (and we face them 7 times), and we also play the Astros, Angels, Red Sox, and Yankees this month.  In fact, we don’t play a team under .500 again until June 25th!  That’s 22 consecutive games against teams that are either IN the playoffs (if the season ended today) or fighting tooth and nail for the Wild Card spot (in other words, our direct opponents for possible post-season play).  On top of that, out of 28 games, only 12 are at home this month.  We make trips to Houston, Tampa (then back home), then we go out to New York, Boston, and Baltimore (before returning home again).  Make no mistake, everything about this month spells B-R-U-T-A-L.

The good news?  If we can avoid getaway-day rainouts that need to be made up at a later date, once we return from our East Coast road trip in Baltimore, We’ll never have to go any further east than the state of Texas the rest of the season.  The entire month of July, for instance, has us only going to Anaheim and Colorado!  In fact, all of our road trips after the month of June are against the A.L. West or the N.L. West.

Just got to get through this month.  If you offered it to me on a silver platter right now, I would absolutely accept a .500 record for the month of June.  If you gave me 14-14, SIGN ME UP!

How Did The Mariners Get So Damn Good?

Or, at least, so damn lucky?

The last time I wrote about the Mariners, it was to comment on the big trade for Colome and Span.  The time immediately before that was to comment on the loss to the A’s.  It sort of felt like the beginning of maybe a little down period for the M’s – because, with all the injuries and whatnot, how could they possibly continue to keep winning?  And yet, in spite of my obvious negativity, the Mariners bucked the odds and went right back to winning!

They beat the Twins in all three games over the weekend – some sweet revenge over that stupid make-up game – then they took the first game over the Rangers.  Three 1-run victories and a 2-run victory; I’m telling you, either we’re witnessing the hottest stretch of the season for this pitching staff, or I’m going to have to admit that they’re a lot better than I originally thought!

On Friday, we were all treated to a James Paxton Special:  7 innings, 1 run, 3 hits, 0 walks, 11 strikeouts.  Nick Vincent held down the 8th and Edwin Diaz got his 18th save of the season, as the Mariners won 2-1.  It was a game where the offense was really held in check, but Cruz and Haniger were able to knock home a couple guys from second base.

On Saturday, we were all treated to a Wade LeBlanc Special:  6 innings, 2 runs, 4 hits, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts in 77 pitches.  There was a little hiccup with the bullpen – after the offense was able to overcome a 2-run deficit with a 3-run bottom of the 6th on homers from Segura and Cruz – as Vincent and Pazos combined to allow the tying run.  However, the rest of those guys got us through the 12th (anchored by Juan Nicasio’s scoreless 2 innings with 5 strikeouts), when Mike Zunino – with 2 outs – jacked a homer to left to walk it off.

On Sunday, we were all treated to a Mike Leake Special:  8 innings, 1 run, 4 hits, 0 walks, 2 strikeouts in 86 pitches.  Newcomer Alex Colome got his first save in a Mariners uniform (allowing the team to rest Edwin Diaz) as we won 3-1.  The M’s were down 1-0 early, then Seager tied it with a solo homer in the 4th, followed by Healy knocking in the winning runs in the 8th with a double.  Combined, both pitchers threw less than 100 pitches, which is kind of insane in this day and age.

On Monday, we were all treated to a Marco Gonzales Special:  6.2 innings, 1 run (0 earned), 4 hits, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts.  Pazos finished up the 7th on 2 pitches, Colome embraced his new 8th inning role without trouble, and Diaz got his 19th save.  Offensively, Cruz and Seager hit in a couple guys from second and that’s all we needed as the Mariners won 2-1.

I haven’t been tracking it – mostly because I wrote them off in the off-season – but the pitching staff has really been terrific.  I vaguely remember them struggling in the early going, but right now the Mariners are 5th in the American League in ERA (behind the obvious suspects:  Houston, Boston, Anaheim and New York).  Yeah, our run differential is pretty crappy, which points to a number of issues with this team; but without this pitching staff, we’d be looking at A LOT more losses.  If they pitched like I thought they’d pitch heading into the season, we might be talking about a 9-game or a 10-game losing streak right now.  Instead, the Mariners are 33-20, 1 game behind the Astros (tied in the loss column), and 1.5 games behind the Yankees for the top Wild Card spot.  Yes, that’s correct, we’re closer to the division lead than we are the top Wild Card spot!  How insane is that?

Three more games against the lowly Rangers to close out the month, then a weekend series against the Rays to close out this 10-game homestand.  Very important to keep this ball rolling, because June looks insanely difficult.  The 7 games against the Rays, 4 games against the Orioles on the road, and 2 games against the Royals are the easiest games of the bunch.  But, on the flipside, we face the Astros twice, the Red Sox 7 times, the Yankees 3 times, and the Angels 3 times.  So, we’ll get a good look at how good these Mariners really are.

The Mariners Traded For Alex Colome & Denard Span

Win now!  That’s the obvious message, implied in the trade made today as well as said directly by manager Scott Servais.

Incoming:  reliever Alex Colome and outfielder Denard Span
Outgoing:  starter Andrew Moore and starter Tommy Romero

Colome has been one of the best closers in all of baseball the last 2+ seasons.  The Mariners already have an elite closer in Edwin Diaz, so Colome figures to slot into that 8th inning role, bumping back Juan Nicasio and Nick Vincent.  Colome is also, obviously, closer insurance in case Diaz falls apart or needs a break because he’s gone too many days in a row.  He’s also got 2 more arb years left on him, so it’s not just a 2018 rental.

(not for nothing, but that also means we can flip Colome at any time, if this thing falls apart)

Span is an aging veteran outfielder who gets on base a lot and that’s about it.  Not a lot of power, not a lot of speed, not a lot of great defensive ability, but he walks a lot I guess.  I dunno, I’m not super jazzed about the addition.  He’s over-priced – so it’s a bit of a salary dump for the Rays – but they did give us a little over $4 million in return, which just so happens to be the cost of buying out his contract after this season.  He would otherwise be set to make $12 million in 2019, and there’s just no fucking way that’s going to happen.

Span is apparently going to take over for Ben Gamel, which feels somewhat appropriate given Gamel’s struggles since the All Star Break last year.  The hope being that Span gets hot and his batting average creeps up to his career average (.282).  He’s hitting .238 right now, so if he does approach his career average, that could be quite the boost to this team.  He’s 34 years old though, so maybe don’t count on it.

I love the deal.  I worry that Colome might be somewhat disgruntled taking a backseat to another closer, but he’s apparently saying all the right things, so I’ll reserve any judgment until I see him in action.  If he kicks ass, then this could be a HUGE boost to this bullpen.  You have to figure Nicasio isn’t going to suck forever, and with Vincent working his magic, and Pazos and Cook being potentially dependable fireballers, we could be looking at one of the top bullpens in the American League.

I also don’t mind the loss of Andrew Moore.  He’s another in a long line of soft-tossing starters we’ve cultivated in our farm system and I just don’t think he’s going to be anything special.  He certainly wasn’t going to help us this year, and he probably wasn’t much of a long-term viable rotation option.  He could prove me wrong, but right now I’m not broken up about it.  As for the other guy, he’s still in A-ball, so whatever.