The Mariners Stopped The Bleeding With A Series Win Over The Angels

That 10-game road trip felt like a month, didn’t it? It’s a good thing literally all the good players on the Angels are hurt. But, even then … couldn’t get the sweep.

Monday’s 8-5 loss was as irritating as every other loss we’ve had recently. We took a 3-0 lead in the first, gave it all back by the fourth. The game remained tied at 3-3 until the ninth, when the Mariners had a chance to walk it off. Three straight sharp singles loaded the bases with nobody out and Kelenic coming to the plate. He promptly struck out. Dylan Moore grounded into a fielder’s choice with the infield pulled in. Then, Canzone rolled over to first base to send it to extras.

The Angels hit a 2-run bomb in the top of the 10th to take a lead, but miraculously, Julio tied it with a 2-run bomb of his own in the bottom half. But, then the wheels came off in the 11th, as the Angels added three more to put it out of reach. We ended 3/12 with RISP, and left with more questions than answers from a bullpen that’s been repeatedly failing us in the later innings. I don’t know what the analytics say, but anecdotally, this group has been ass in the highest-leverage situations (unlike in previous years, when maybe we were luckier than we should’ve been). More and more, I think we’re going to point to the loss of Paul Sewald as the reason why this team fails to go all the way. Canzone sure hasn’t done much, and Rojas has once again cooled off considerably after a hot streak.

Turning things around, the Mariners executed a much-needed 8-0 victory on Tuesday. Bryan Woo looked outstanding (5.2 innings of 4-hit ball with 8 strikeouts), and we managed to close it out with Eduard Bazardo eating up 2.1 innings, and Dominic Leone finishing the ninth. THIS is the role those two were meant to fill; unfortunately, games haven’t been this out-of-reach lately to utilize them properly.

We had great games from Julio and J.P., as well as much-needed sparks from Suarez, France, and Moore. There hasn’t been a lot of production of late from the bottom of our order. Guys like Haggerty, Ford, Canzone, Rojas, Caballero, and O’Keefe have all been balls for the better part of a month and a half. It would be nice if we can get a blistering streak out of someone like Moore to fill that void. Also, it was nice to see Luis Torrens return and hit a rather meaningless double late in the game. O’Keefe is NOT a Major Leaguer, and Tom Murphy isn’t coming back anytime soon (if ever). We can’t afford to play Cal literally every single game the rest of the way.

On Wednesday, we got back to basics with some good ol’ fashioned Mariners baseball, in a 3-2 victory where Castillo pitched another Quality Start (6 innings, 2 runs, 3 hits, 3 walks, 8 strikeouts), and the bullpen was nails from there (Topa, Brash, and Munoz locking it down). All of the scoring was completed by the end of the fifth inning, so it really was a lot of pressure pitching down the stretch. Good to see, after so much shakiness lately.

That caps off the Angels for 2023. We went 8-5, which is pretty appropriate. We’re 8-2 against the Astros, and 9-1 against Oakland, so let’s hope we can keep beating those teams. For what it’s worth, we’re 1-5 against Texas, making the seven times we see them in the last 10 games vitally important. Can we go 6-1 against them? Seems unlikely, but will be necessary if we hope to win the A.L. West.

We have this weekend series with the Dodgers coming up, before we close out against the remaining divisional opponents. We are 81-65, a half-game behind the Rangers (in the loss column), with them playing in Toronto today. We’re 1.5 games behind the Astros for the division (one in the loss column, two in the win column), and they’re off today as well.

We are currently one full game ahead of Toronto for the third wild card. The Blue Jays have lost three straight against the Rangers in this series, which is honestly pretty good for us, because they were on a massive hot streak before that (albeit, against a lot of the same bad teams we played in August). Toronto has 6 against the Yankees, 3 against the Red Sox (both have fallen WAY out of playoff contention), and 6 against the mighty Rays. We will be rooting heavily for the Rays over the next couple weeks.

So, that’s it. There are three teams all within a game and a half of one another for two wild card spots, and there are three teams all within a game and a half of the A.L. West. Win the west, earn a first round BYE, and you’re able to set your rotation and rest your overworked bullpen. Win the second wild card, and you “earn” a series against either the Rays or Orioles in their home stadium. Win the third wild card, and you get the privilege of facing the lowly Twins (who are currently 7.5 games up on the Guardians).

This is very stressful! I sure hope the Mariners do well!

I should point out – since it’s been a while where this has been a topic of conversation – that the Mariners have improved their record in 1-run games to 23-25. That is a mighty jump from where it was pre-August! We are, however, 6-13 in extra innings games, which has been an absurd drain on our emotions. Wouldn’t mind seeing that go in the positive direction asap.

Also, Paul Sewald Update: after a bad blown save early, he’s been pretty great. He had 8 consecutive scoreless appearances before his next blown save. He’s since gone 5 for 5 in save appearances in September. Right now, the Diamondbacks are tied for the third wild card spot (with two more teams right on their heels).

The Mariners Won 1 Game Per City On Their Last Road Trip

I guess it’s lucky the Rangers have been so atrocious lately, but the Mariners are free-falling, and I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done to fix it.

We lost 2 of 3 to the awful Mets. Then, we lost 2 of 3 to the average Reds. After a 1-0 victory to open up the Rays series, we lost the next 3 games to fall to 79-64, and as of Monday morning, up by only half a game over the Rangers for the final wild card spot (lost in all this has been the fact that the Blue Jays have been on a tear, winning 8 of 10 as we lost 7 of 10 on that road trip).

And, really, we were lucky to win two of those games. So, this hasn’t been the funnest September, after a record-breaking August.

The 1-0 win was everything this team needed. Dominant Luis Castillo start (6 innings, 4 hits, 4 walks, 8 strikeouts) and lockdown bullpen work by Campbell, Brash, and Munoz.

My hopes for a bounce-back series against the Rays were dashed the very next night, with another off-kilter performance by Kirby. He gave up 2 runs in a ragged first inning where he couldn’t throw strikes, then settled down through the sixth. We had a 4-2 lead heading into the seventh, but then we tried to squeeze another inning out of Kirby (who, in spite of a tough first inning, had a reasonable pitch count and probably should’ve been able to go one more). Kirby ended up getting one out before giving up a double and a game-tying homer before being pulled, turning a quality start into a no decision. Campbell entered the game and gave up a 2-run home run of his own, before Dominic Leone gave up a solo homer in the eighth to give the game its final score of 7-4.

Kirby didn’t have pleasant words to say about being put out there for the seventh. He questioned the manager’s decision, which I’m sure a lot of fans did as well. Kirby predictably walked those words back the next morning – heat of the moment and whatnot – but I’m sure a lot of fans were mixed. There’s the younger fans – who’ve become accustomed to what baseball is in today’s age – and a segment of Anti-Servais Mariners fans, who probably sided with Kirby.

Then, there’s the old timers, and the Unwritten Rules crowd (usually comprised of ex-players like Roger Clemens, who got his ass roasted on Twitter for wading into the conversation). Someone even had the gall to compare Kirby to Erik Bedard for … reasons. They point to Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan, who would regularly throw 120-150 pitches per game, trying to go the full nine if at all possible.

I don’t like this argument. Yeah, complete games are cool. But that’s not what baseball is today. Instead, you’ve got starters regularly throwing in the high-90s, and that kind of strain isn’t conducive to throwing 110+ pitches very often, if ever (unless you’re a unicorn). Not if you want them to make it through an entire season, or multiple seasons, without arm surgeries. It’s a Get Off My Lawn stance, and I won’t hear it. Just accept that things change, and it’s never going to be the way it was when you were younger.

That being said, you have to take it in context. It’s early September. We’re in the midst of a 10 games in 10 days East Coast road trip. We don’t have an off-day until this upcoming Thursday, and after that we only have one more off-day until the end of the season. We’re also breaking in not one but TWO rookie starting pitchers, whose outings need to be carefully managed (including the occasional skipped start, as with what happened to Woo on Saturday). That means the bullpen gets taxed. We also – for better or for worse – traded our best and most-consistent reliever at the deadline, which means that taxed bullpen is that much less-effective. We brought in three veterans (Thornton, Weaver, and Leone) who look(ed) objectively terrible, we have another rookie in Campbell who is just trying his best, but is by no means a lockdown guy, and other veterans we brought in – like Saucedo, Speier, and even Topa – have shown serious cracks as this season has gone on.

To be blunt, the bullpen is over-worked, and that falls on the starters. That falls predominantly on guys like Castillo, Gilbert, and Kirby, who have experience, and should be able to go out there in the seventh inning, on 94 pitches, and take care of business for another three outs.

The home run Kirby gave up was to the #9 hitter! It’s not like we were asking him to take on the heart of the order for the fourth time through. This is a backup catcher!

I 100% see why Servais did what he did. If this was April or May, or if our starters had been rolling a little more of late – allowing our bullpen to stay fresh – Kirby would’ve handed over the ball after getting out of the sixth inning, and all would’ve been right with the world. But, it’s early September, in a pennant chase, and we desperately needed our second-best starter to squeeze another inning out of his arm. He failed. He failed with a questionable mix of pitches and locations. And, if he missed his spot, that’s on him. If he hit his spot, that’s still partially on him and partially on whoever was calling this game (either the catcher or the manager in the dugout). Maybe Servais should’ve walked him. I dunno. That’s a conversation. But, I’m not blaming Servais for his handling of the bullpen. And, I’m certainly not blaming him for his handling of Kirby. Kirby, more often than not, has had it easy. The team doesn’t ask him to over-exert himself very often. He could’ve done us this solid. And, quite frankly, he should’ve taken his loss like a professional, rather than whine about it to the press after the game.

Saturday was, *sigh*, a bullpen day. Trent Thornton got the opener role, couldn’t throw strikes in the first, and ended up going 2 innings, giving up just the one run. He gave way to Luke Weaver, who gave us the Luke Weaver Special (4.1 innings, 4 runs), and then was thankfully DFA’d by Sunday. I hope we never see him again, unless it’s on an opposing team’s pitching staff.

We, at one point, led 4-1. Then, the Weaver Experience left us trailing 5-4. We miraculously tied it in the eighth, before Saucedo lost it in the bottom of the ninth with a 2-run homer. We were 1/8 with RISP, and once again starting a backup catcher who failed to finish the game, necessitating us to overwork Cal Raleigh, as per usual this time of year.

I’m happy to say I didn’t see one iota of our 6-3 loss on Sunday, what with NFL football dominating the day. Bryce Miller stunk up the joint (5 innings, 5 runs), and I don’t even feel like talking about the rest.

Next up, we have the Angels in town. Then, it’s the Dodgers, then it’s the home stretch. One way or another, this season is almost over.

This Mariners Road Trip Has Been Pretty Fucking Miserable

The Mariners have gone 2-4 on this road trip so far, and have seen their lead in the A.L. West become eliminated. Now we’re a game behind the red-hot Astros, and it’s starting to feel like that cartoon dog inside the burning house meme.

We lost to a Bullpen Day on Monday, 6-3. Bryan Woo stunk up the joint at first, eventually going 5 innings and giving up 5 runs. The offense consisted of solo homers by Julio and Mike Ford, and a meaningless RBI single by J.P. Crawford in the ninth. Disaster times.

We followed that up with one of your more brutal losses of the season, 7-6. This was a game we – at one point – led 5-1, and at another later point still led 6-3. Then, Justin Topa gave up a 3-run bomb in the bottom of the 8th to tie it, followed by Andres Munoz VERY predictably blowing it in the bottom of the 9th.

We managed to get a relatively good start out of Bryce Miller (5 innings, 1 run), but then turned the game over to Dominic Leone, who gave up 2 homers in 2/3 of an inning. Between Leone and Weaver, I don’t know what the hell we’re doing. These guys are useless bums and you can’t magically turn around a player’s fortunes in the middle of a fucking pennant chase!

While Leone’s underwhelming performance was expected, Justin Topa has been pretty phenomenal this season. Nevertheless, you could tell right away he didn’t have it, and was a 3-run home run just waiting to happen. Munoz, I still don’t understand how he got August Reliever of the Month. You’re telling me there weren’t ANY relievers who didn’t blow two games and lose a third in the month of August? So far, his September is so bad I’m hoping it convinces the MLB to rescind the award and retroactively give it to literally anyone else.

It’s too bad, because the offense did more than enough to win this one. Teoscar continued his hot run he’s been on, with a first inning 2-run home run. Julio broke things wide open with a 3-run dinger in the fifth, and then he backed it up with another homer in the seventh. It’s a little concerning that we scored so many of our runs this series off of the long ball, but the Reds do play in a bandbox, so what do you expect?

We were at least able to salvage an 8-4 victory yesterday, though even that wasn’t particularly easy. Logan Gilbert was rolling until he wasn’t, finishing with 5.1 innings of 3-run ball. Even though we scored 7 runs in the first four innings, winning this game was all that mattered, so we went right to the top-end of our bullpen. Brash got us out of the sixth, Speier and Topa bridged the gap, and Munoz closed it out for the not-save (giving up a solo homer in the process, of course). You shouldn’t have to use those guys in a game where you lead by 4-5 runs, but that’s what happens when you blow so many fucking winnable games on this road trip. You have to buckle down and still struggle to keep it all together.

Ford had a 2-run homer, J.P. had a 3-run bomb, Cal added a solo homer, and Ty France had his first good hitting day in (seemingly) months. I am, nevertheless, done with France. He should be gone after this season. Fresh start somewhere else or whatever. But, he’s clearly a guy already on the decline, and it’s only going to get worse.

This was also the first great Suarez game we’ve seen in quite some time. Really need one of those two guys to get things going down the stretch if we want to get over the hump.

Now, we’ve got a 4-game set in Tampa, one of the best teams in all of baseball. Just what a slumping ballclub needs: a fucking freight train coming right for ’em.

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 Mariners Traded Mark Lowe & J.A. Happ Also

It’s a Mariners fire sale, and everything must go!

Well, not really.  It WAS a Mariners fire sale, and in the end a couple more guys went.

Neither was a surprise.  Mark Lowe maybe a little bit, but when you consider how good he’s been, and how he’s on a small contract that expires at season’s end, you have to figure you’re getting some good value.  Maybe the best value of the three guys the Mariners sent away.  In return from the Blue Jays, the Mariners received three players:  Rob Rasmussen (lefty reliever the Mariners just called up to the Majors), Nick Wells (another lefty pitcher who has started and relieved, placed in the low minors), and Jake Brentz (yet another lefty pitcher who has started and relieved, placed in the low minors).  Rasmussen is obviously the major part of this trade – with the other two as long-term prospects – and we’ll see how he does.  I believe he’ll be in Seattle until Charlie Furbush returns from the DL, as he’s only made a grand total of 11 Major League appearances in the last two years.  He’s only 26 years old, with lots of team control, so hopefully he pans out.  And, if Mark Lowe should want to re-sign with the Mariners at the end of the season (considering he was looking to get a house in the northwest), this trade might even be a win-win.

A little later on in the day (obviously, both of these trades went down on Friday the 31st), we were mercifully rid of J.A. Happ, who was shipped off to Pittsburgh for Adrian Sampson, a 23 year old right-handed pitcher born in Redmond, WA, who went to high school at Skyline.  He made the jump to AAA last year and has already made a start for the Tacoma Rainiers over the weekend, going 8 innings and giving up 3 runs.  If he pitches well this month, he might be a guy the Mariners want to give a call-up to in September to get an up-close look at their new prospect.

Getting rid of Happ was a no-brainer; I’m just a little surprised the Mariners found a taker.  And as useful of a piece as this Sampson guy to boot!  If nothing else, he represents a little more depth at the upper-minors level, with the possibility of being yet another candidate to fight for a starting rotation job in 2016.

All in all, you have to be at least a little impressed with what the Mariners did last week.  They recognized this was a team going nowhere (a VERY difficult thing, as I still have a hard time wrapping my head around how much better this team was last year, with a lot of the same personnel) and they made the tough decision of going public with that knowledge in the form of three deadline deals.  Ackley had to go, for reasons I’ve gone over already, primarily because who could justify going through arbitration with him for the next two years and giving him raises for accomplishing nothing?  Happ had to go because he’s on the last year of his deal and he’s not someone you’d want to extend long term.  And while Lowe didn’t necessarily have to go, there’s not really much point in keeping him.  Even if we want to try to bring him back next year, I don’t see why we couldn’t still do that just because he spends a couple months playing in Toronto.

In return, we received the above-referenced four pitching prospects (ranging from the A-level, all the way to the upper minors & fringe Majors), as well as the two upper-level prospects we got from the Yankees in right-handed reliever Jose Ramirez and outfielder Ramon Flores.  That’s six prospects of varying talent levels (though, obviously, not super-highly ranked, given the scraps we gave up) for three guys who aren’t helping us much now and don’t factor much in our future (with the possible exception of Lowe, who may or may not come back as a quality middle reliever with past injury issues).  I figure if one of these guys pans out as a useful Major Leaguer at some point (or can be used as trade bait to eventually bring in a useful Major Leaguer), that’s a victory.

All that remains now is to wonder whether or not the Mariners shake things up organizationally at the end of the season.  Was Jackie Z allowed to make these deals because we’re going to give him one more year to try to do this thing?  Or, were these deals the final nail in the GM coffin; a directive to cut as much fat as we can prior to blowing everything up?

I still have to believe the Mariners are going to make a change, but I’m not nearly as confident as I was two weeks ago.  As annoying as it is to say, there really was a lot right with how this team was set up this year.  Obviously, that doesn’t apply to what we had planned defensively (especially in the outfield), but offensively, and pitchingwise, the Mariners should have been better.  The bummer of 2015, and how this season will ultimately be defined, is that nearly everything that could have gone wrong DID go wrong.  When it wasn’t our offense letting us down, it was our bullpen blowing saves.  When it wasn’t our bullpen blowing saves, it was our starting pitching getting rocked around.  Even Felix hasn’t been immune, as he obviously is well off of his near-Cy Young pace of 2014.  Between Felix being a little less Felixy, Paxton getting injured yet again, Iwakuma being injured and inconsistent, Walker just being inconsistent, and Happ being good for a bit and then a complete disaster, this rotation isn’t immune from criticism.  I know the fans have been all over the offense, and the organization has been down on the bullpen, but I would argue that every part of this team ended up failing, from the top of the organization (Trumbo trade) on down to the 25th man (Jesus Sucre) and through the minors (many of our prospects taking big steps back).

What I will say – as this might be the last chance I get – is that I think Lloyd McClendon has taken a big step forward in his managing style this year.  He’s been able to recognize where the problems are and he’s been remarkably efficient in eliminating these problems.  It didn’t take long to remove Fernando Rodney from the closer’s role.  It REALLY didn’t take him long to see the negative regression in guys like Yoervis Medina, Danny Farquhar, and Dominic Leone.  I think his bullpen usage overall has been about as good as can be expected given how many of our guys have struggled.  And, furthermore, his everyday lineups have started to resemble the kind of outside-the-box thinking this team has DESPERATELY needed for the majority of the last decade.  Say what you will about lineup construction, but shifting Seager to the 2-hole, Cruz to the 3-hole, and Cano to cleanup (to take advantage of the lefty-righty-lefty dynamic that tends to pay dividends in the other teams’ bullpen usage) not only sets us up better as a lineup, but it also puts our best hitters closer to the top, where they belong.  Cruz is obviously this team’s MVP, so why not bump him up from 4 to 3 in the lineup?  Seager is one of our all-around best hitters, and he’s been MADE for the 2-hole since he came up here.  Why keep Seager down in the 5-hole where he’s going to receive fewer at-bats over the course of the season?  It took a while for LMC to get there (mainly because he had misguided affection for our lesser hitters like Ackley, LoMo, and Miller for most of the season), but he’s there now, and it’s been interesting to see his maturation as a field manager.

Mariners Tidbit 57: Mark Lowe Has Been A Godsend

There haven’t been many pleasant surprises in this disaster of a season.  The list of unpleasant surprises (or, maybe more accurately, “Unpleasant I Should Have Seen This Coming’s”) is seemingly endless:

  • Cano
  • Ackley
  • Ruggiano
  • Weeks
  • Trumbo
  • Sucre
  • Zunino
  • Iwakuma
  • Paxton
  • Farquhar
  • Leone
  • Wilhelmsen
  • Medina
  • Rodney

You can practically field a full team with all the guys who’ve sucked for us!  But, the real pleasant surprises have been few and far between.

  • Montgomery
  • Cruz through the first two months
  • Sucre the relief pitcher
  • Mark Lowe

Everyone else is pretty much as expected.  Maybe I should’ve expected worse out of guys like Ackley, Zunino, and the like, but I’m a foolish, foolish man.  Constantly suckered in by promise.

Mark Lowe, though, is one of the good ones.  He was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training and I really didn’t have much hope for him sticking around.  Shows what I know.  He did make it onto the Tacoma roster, pitched well for a month, and was called up to Seattle in early May.  Since then, he’s merely pitched 26 innings across 26 games, giving up 2 earned runs, walking 10 and striking out 34.  He’s got that life on his fastball – throwing anywhere from 95-97 mph – and most importantly he’s got command.  He’s easily been one of the best – if not THE best – relievers on this team (he’s at least in the top 2 with Carson Smith), and it’s showing with how the team has used him.

Early on, he was being used in early innings, in blowouts, and in close losing efforts.  Now, he’s one of the main set-up guys with Smith and Rodney (depending on who’s closing that particular night).  With the likes of Furbush and Beimel locking things down from the left side, and with Rodney’s recent improvement (last night’s blown save notwithstanding), the Mariners ALMOST have a top notch bullpen.  Those last two spots are really up for grabs at this point, with a rotating cast of characters trying and failing to get the job done.  But, it’s nice to know we don’t have to worry about someone like Lowe.

In games we’re winning late, we shouldn’t have much problem locking down the save (again, depending on which version of Rodney we get).  A big reason behind that is Mark Lowe returning to form.  He might be pitching his way toward a raise next year – and as such, might be out of our price range for 2016 – but it’s nice to see SOMETHING go right in this year that has gone so wrong.

Mariners Tidbit 54: Bullpen Roster Moves

Five highly productive members of the 2014 bullpen are no longer in Seattle.  Brandon Maurer was traded in the offseason for Seth Smith.  Yoervis Medina was traded in May for Welington Castillo.  Dominic Leone was traded with Castillo and two minor leaguers for Mark Trumbo.  Danny Farquhar has been languishing in Tacoma due to ineffectiveness for much of the season, and he hasn’t been thriving in AAA.  Now, Tom Wilhelmsen is the latest to get the boot, being sent down to join Farquhar in the Minor League Ballclub of the Damned.

Wilhelmsen has been mostly awful this year, but he’s gotten away with it for longer than he probably should’ve thanks to the fact that the majority of the runs he’s given up have been inherited runners that counted against the pitchers he relieved.  Like most of our other underperforming bullpen pitchers, it’s all about command.  He doesn’t have it.  Seemingly no one in this year’s bullpen has it.  And as such, the Mariners have struggled.

David Rollins gets his shot, after missing half the season due to a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.  He looked amazeballs in Spring Training, so we’ll see if there’s another diamond in the rough.  If he succeeds, then that’s swell, because he’s under team control for a good long while.  If he fails, then we may have to offer him back to his former team, as he’s a Rule 5 draft pick.  The last thing we need to be doing is helping the Astros stay great, so let’s just hope he pitches well for us.

The Mariners also sent down Vidal Nuno, presumably to give him more of a chance to pitch (and maybe stretch him out to be a starter).  It’d be nice to have a spot starter down there ready to go should disaster strike.  In his place, we called up Mayckol Guaipe, a right hander who you may recall made his first-ever Major League appearance on June 1st, pitching 2.1 shutout innings in a blowout loss to the Yankees.  That was one of Felix’s rare duds, and Guaipe really saved our ‘pen that day.  He would be sent back down immediately after, so it’s nice to see him get another crack at the bigs, given that this is his 9th year in our organization.

Other roster moves were made, but I’m splitting these posts up in the name of brevity.  And because I’ve got other shit I need to do.

Mariners Tidbit 46: The Trumbo Trade

Mariners get Mark Trumbo and Vidal Nuno from Arizona; they give up backup catcher Welington Castillo, reliever Dominic Leone, and two minor leaguers (who I’m REALLY hoping won’t come back to bite us in the ass in a few years).

Trumbo is a right handed power bat whose ideal position is probably DH; but, since the Mariners have about 57 guys who fit that mold, I should probably point out that he’s serviceable as a first baseman and less serviceable as a corner outfielder.  Where is he going to play primarily?  Your guess is as good as mine, but I wouldn’t be shocked if we see him in left on most days.  Although, one would think the team would AT LEAST do us the courtesy of having either Trumbo or Cruz DH and not have BOTH of them in the outfield at the same time.

Trumbo doesn’t walk much, hits for a low average, and strikes out a ton, so he should fit in with this team like a glove.  His low average is usually at least 30-70 points higher than what we’re getting out of the likes of Ackley or Weeks right now, so you’d have to anticipate at least a moderate uptick in scoring.  I’m not necessarily as Doom & Gloom about his defense as most, but there are certainly going to be plays he leaves out there on the field because he’s slow.  The key will be:  does his offense outweigh his poor defense?  As I don’t entirely buy the measures of defensive statistics we’ve got going right now, I’m going to say Trumbo is a net positive for this team until I see otherwise.

Vidal Nuno is a guy who can start, but has played his share of games in the bullpen as well.  He’s a lefty and apparently doesn’t throw super hard, but he should be able to eat up innings.  And, apparently he’s looked pretty good this year in a small sample.  Best part of all – if he turns out to be a quality Major Leaguer – is that we’ve got 5 years of team control over him.  So, pretty please, with sugar on top, be a good pitcher Nuno!

We lost a backup catcher in Castillo who was DEFINITELY an upgrade over Jesus Sucre (who figures to be the call up) and who I was interested in seeing in a bigger role with this team as Zunino continues to be a disaster at the plate.  Now, we’re back to Sucre playing once a fortnight and getting a collective dick in the ass out of our catcher position.  Maybe the Mariners will make a deal for yet another backup catcher; a girl can dream, can’t she?

We also lost a reliever I’m not super high on.  Leone was a rookie last year, and he was fine, but he wasn’t NEARLY as good as a lot of fans think he was.  This year, he’s regressed hard in the negative direction.  While I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him, I also don’t think he was going to turn it around in time to be useful for us this year.  Watch, in a couple years he’ll probably be closing games for the D-Backs.

The minor leaguers are prospects who are complete unknowns.  I’d rather not mention them because I don’t feel like tagging them, and because I don’t want to be reminded of this trade in the future when they’re both All Stars.

All in all, I like the trade and I like that the Mariners didn’t wait.  The offense is a joke NOW, they need help NOW, and Trumbo should help NOW.  He pushes Ackley to the bench and allows us to keep playing Seth Smith (again, so long as either Trumbo or Cruz are at the DH spot).  That’s win-win.

The Year The Mariners Make It Back To The Playoffs

The 2014 Mariners finished the final two months of the season with a 31-22 record.  The team fell into a nice little routine, once all the kinks were worked out.  Logan Morrison officially supplanted Justin Smoak at first base.  Dustin Ackley looked more comfortable at the plate.  Felix Hernandez had a Cy Young-ish season.  The bullpen was the best in the American League.  You could point to any number of reasons why those Mariners ultimately failed, but never forget that as it stood, those Mariners were only one game away from a shot at the post-season.

Every year, at least since I’ve started this blog, I’ve gone into each Mariners season looking for reasons why the team might succeed.  If THIS and THIS and THIS and THIS happens, our best case scenario is:  the Mariners make the playoffs.  Usually, whatever THIS stood for was something huge.  Like, if the starting pitching holds up, and if the bullpen is lights out, and if all of our young players make big leaps forward in progress, and if the best players on the other teams in our division get injured, then MAYBE the Mariners would be good.  It was always a fantasy, where I ended every preview article with some variation of:  just keep me interested until football season, that’s all I ask.

Then, 2014 happened.  Robinson Cano provided us with a real middle-of-the-order presence.  Kyle Seager continued to progress into the All Star we all knew he could be.  Felix had another Felix-like year and the bullpen WAS lights out!  We still couldn’t fill in that DH spot to save our lives, and the offense in general was just inconsistent enough to keep us out of post-season action.  But, we were right there.  One or two moves away.

Those moves ended up being Nelson Cruz, a right field platoon, and a different veteran starter to hopefully lock down the back of our rotation.  Considering right field and DH were easily our worst two positions on the team last year, and in the early going, the fifth starter was a circus, you couldn’t have asked for a more efficient offseason from a front office perspective.  Everything else pretty much stays the same, which in this case isn’t the worst thing in the world.

The fact of the matter is, going into 2015, instead of searching far and wide for reasons why the Mariners might be good, I’ve found myself searching far and wide for reasons why the Mariners might fall short.  Will the bullpen regress back to 2013 levels of frustration?  Will key players get injured and miss the majority of the season?  Will our younger players fall apart as so many have before them?  These are the questions I’ve got floating around my head, but if I take a step back, forget I’ve been a Mariners fan for these last 10+ years of futility, and look at the whole situation with a fresh perspective, then I have to admit that what I’m looking at right now is a very good baseball team.  A playoff baseball team!  And these are the reasons why:

  • Felix Hernandez is the best right handed pitcher in baseball.  He has more than paid his dues with this organization, and now the organization looks like it’s FINALLY paying him back.  There have been years where we looked forward to a potentially contending season out of the Mariners, but this is easily the best team we’ve ever put around the King.  We’re coming off of an authentic winning season, he just got snubbed a little bit for the Cy Young Award, and now we’re better than ever:  you’re telling me Felix won’t be jacked up for 2015?  I think it’s possible he’s even better than before!
  • The bullpen is back.  We’ve got so many good, young arms behind Fernando Rodney that we’ve got legit Major Leaguers starting off the season in AAA.  Last year, they were the best in the league; if we can keep them somewhere around the Top 5 bullpens in the A.L., I think that’s more than enough to push us into the 90-win range.
  • The 3-4-5 spots in our lineup rival anyone in baseball.  Cano-Cruz-Seager, should they stay healthy, will be filling out the stat sheets on a regular basis.  We should be looking at anywhere from 60-70 homers, 250-270 RBI, and lots of hero moments as they come through in the clutch.
  • There are still regulars on this team who can get even better.  Specifically, I’m looking at Mike Zunino.  He’s super young and just starting his second full season behind the plate.  Now that he’s more or less acclimated with the pitching staff, and what it takes to be a superb defensive catcher, he can work on his bat.  He may not yet be the perennial All Star we all think he’ll be, but I’m looking forward to a big step forward in his pitch recognition and overall production at the plate.
  • I also think Ackley has something to prove – as he’s staring down the barrel of a platoon in the early going.  I’m a little dubious on Rickie Weeks carrying over his hot spring into the chilly April air of Seattle.  Here’s to hoping Ackley carries over his second half of 2014.
  • Logan Morrison needs to prove he can stay healthy and play 140-150 games, so why not have it be this year?  If you think about it, 2015 is really his last chance at being an everyday player.  If he misses half the season, I’m sure he’ll be relegated to a bench role for the duration of his career.
  • Brad Miller is another guy who could be a wonderful surprise.  If he does what he did last September – and not so much what he did last April – we could be in for a real boost at the bottom of our lineup.
  • The rest of our rotation behind King Felix has a lot of promise.  Hisashi Iwakuma has, for the most part in his Major League career, been a VERY effective starter.  He hit the skids late last season, but his entire 2013 season was rock solid.  He’s also in the last year of his deal, so I’m sure there’ll be a little extra juice in his appearances.  Walker and Paxton won spots in the rotation and are looking to jumpstart their careers.  One day, they’ll be multi-millionaires many times over; to be able to get strong production out of them while they make peanuts is a big reason why this team will be successful.  J.A. Happ is our bottom-of-the-rotation innings eater who we’re banking on being successful in Safeco.  He’s essentially fighting for his career too.  If he can’t make it in Seattle, what hope does he have of making it anywhere else?
  • Lloyd McClendan & Jack Zduriencik are not fucking around.  Dominic Leone had a shitstorm of a Spring Training one year removed from dominating at the Major League level as a rookie.  So, what happens?  Any other year, he would’ve had his 25-man roster spot warmed for him; but not this year.  This year, he gets to work out some things in Tacoma, as the guy who had the better spring takes his place.  Roenis Elias also had a phenomenal rookie season last year.  This year?  He was automatically placed into a dogfight with Taijuan Walker, which he ultimately lost.  LMC did everything in his power to downplay Walker’s outstanding spring – as he didn’t give up an earned run until the final week – when in years past, he might have been puffing him up.  There’s definitely an air of seriousness to what’s going on.  We are IN a pennant race, and the fucking season hasn’t started yet!  But, that’s the mindset you have to have.  Most of the players on the team – especially those brought up through the organization – haven’t been in this situation yet.  Well, they’ve been getting a hard and fast lesson thus far:  it’s do or die.  If you don’t produce, the Mariners have no problem replacing you with someone who will.  This isn’t about getting guys experience and preparing them for future seasons.  This is about 2015.

It’s that last bullet point that gets me most excited.  We all figured someone like J.A. Happ would be slotted in as the #3 starter, just given his experience alone.  But, no; the Mariners have him in the 5-hole.  Happ has more or less had a rotten spring.  While I understand the rationale for giving him a spot in the rotation – injuries always happen, we needed the depth – I can see straight away that he’s not going to have the long leash we all expected.  If he flubs up the month of April, and we aren’t beset with injuries to other starters, it wouldn’t shock me in the least to see him DFA’d (or mysteriously placed on the DL) as the team brings back Elias.

The biggest positive I have about this team is that there aren’t the holes that there were in years past.  There are potential problem areas – as there are with all teams – but there aren’t outright holes, guys you KNOW are going to be terrible.  Here’s the lineup:

  1. Austin Jackson (CF)
  2. Seth Smith / Justin Ruggiano (RF)
  3. Robbie Cano (2B)
  4. Nelson Cruz (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Logan Morrison / Willie Bloomquist (1B)
  7. Dustin Ackley / Rickie Weeks (LF)
  8. Mike Zunino / Jesus Sucre (C)
  9. Brad Miller (SS)

I could see A-Jax bounce back; it’s not impossible!  I could see the Smith/Ruggiano platoon being very effective.  I could see LoMo magically remain healthy.  I could see Ackley continue to improve as he gets more comfortable with his position.  And, I could see Miller reach that high ceiling we all dreamed he might.  If it all clicks and falls into place, this team could be a 100-win monster.  If certain players struggle, or if we run into a few DL stints here and there, I think we’re still looking at an 85-win minimum, with room to grow depending on luck and how well our pitching staff holds up.

I don’t think we’re in for a torrid start.  I’d be happy with an April that gets us to or a little above .500.  The thing with 2015 though, is if enough players are able to carry over their hot spring numbers, these Mariners have a better chance than any of the last 10+ Mariners teams of jumping out of the gate on fire.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see them win around 20 games in the first month, but I don’t think that’s mandatory for us to have a division-winning season.

I don’t really have a good handle on the other teams in the A.L. West.  The Rangers will probably be terrible.  I think the Astros and A’s will duke it out for the 3rd place spot.  And, I think Anaheim will be our primary foe.  I’d like to believe that the Mariners are a little more balanced.  I think the Angels might be a tad more top-heavy with some of their elite players, but if you look at us and them, 1-25, I think the Mariners are getting more bang for their buck.

Ultimately, I see a 95-67 record out of the Mariners in 2015.  To put it one way, that amounts to the Mariners winning approximately 16 games per month.  You’re telling me the 2015 Seattle Mariners can’t go 16-11 every single month?  That seems BEYOND reasonable!

I’ve got the Mariners just squeaking the division away from Anaheim, bumping them down to the Wild Card.  And, not for nothing, but I like this Mariners team to make a deep run in the post-season.  Oh yes, this is really, FINALLY happening.

The season starts in a few hours.  Who’s ready?

Mariners Tidbit 15: We Have A 25-Man Roster

UPDATE 4/3/2015:  And, forget almost nothing of what I said below; Dominic Leone will be starting the season in Tacoma while Carson Smith gets called back up …

Mostly, it’s who you’d think.  The rotation:

  1. King Felix
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. James Paxton
  4. J.A. Happ
  5. Taijuan Walker

The bullpen:

  • Fernando Rodney
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Yoervis Medina
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Dominic Leone
  • Tyler Olson

The Starting Nine:

  1. Austin Jackson (CF)
  2. Seth Smith (RF)
  3. Robbie Cano (2B)
  4. Nelson Cruz (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Logan Morrison (1B)
  7. Dustin Ackley (LF)
  8. Mike Zunino (C)
  9. Brad Miller (SS)

The Bench:

  • Jesus Sucre (C)
  • Rickie Weeks (INF/OF)
  • Willie Bloomquist (INF)
  • Justin Ruggiano (OF)

Considering Taijuan Walker was the favorite to make the rotation since before Spring Training even started, hard to find a surprise there.

There’s a moderate surprise with the bullpen.  We were all wondering if the team would go with an 8-man or 7-man bullpen.  Carson Smith made a huge splash in September of last year, leading us all to believe he’d be a shoo-in for the final 25 this year.  But, an underwhelming spring apparently did him in (even though you could argue Leone has been an absolute trainwreck in 9 appearances, giving up 10 earned runs in 7 innings).

The big surprise ends up being the seventh man in the bullpen, lefty Tyler Olson.  He has yet to give up an earned run in 10 appearances, striking out 15 in 12.2 innings.  He makes the jump from AA and gives us a little Furbush insurance (who has been his usual awful self this spring).

No shocks in the lineup; this thing was nailed down the minute we signed Rickie Weeks.  Once Bloomquist proved he’s back and 100% healthy, the only question was whether the team would go with Sucre or the veteran John Baker.  Considering this is Zunino’s team, and he’s ready to grab the bull by the ol’ horns, I don’t see any point in having a veteran backup just for the sake of having a veteran backup.  Sucre is the better defender, they’re probably both equally terrible with a bat in their hands, so when in doubt, go with the better defender.

Obviously, no 25-man roster is going to stay the same for the full season.  Players will get hurt, players will be sent down to Tacoma, players might even get cut.  But, the bulk of what you see above is what should lead this team to its first playoff appearance since 2001.

I may or may not do a proper season preview ahead of Monday’s opener, but I’ve yet to miss one in the last however many years and I’m not about to start missing them now.