The Mariners Toppled The Twins

Last Thursday’s 10-2 drubbing of the Mariners by the hot Twins bats feels like a decade ago. We shouldn’t forget about it, though, because that’s the second start in as many outings for Marco Gonzales where he looked decidedly un-ace-like. After giving up 3 walks and 3 homers on Opening Day, Marco gave up two of each to the Twins. His ERA now sits at over 10, and while it’s not time yet to completely panic, there’s a version of Marco out there in the Multiverse who REALLY breaks bad, and this is the start of it all.

I don’t think that’s the Marco of our universe, though. But, I’m not throwing that out with the bathwater, either. I pause because it’s the very start of the season, after an unusually-short 2020 season. His command/control is clearly off, and it just might take him a little bit to get it going again. I hope that’s it, and that he rights the ship in a hurry.

Based on that game, you’d be right to worry about … well, everything! But, then Yusei Kikuchi stepped onto the mound and spun 6 innings of 2-run ball to keep us in it! His only blemish was a 2-run homer by Nelson Cruz (on a pretty good pitch on the outside of the zone, hit the other way over a very high wall), and can you blame him for being mashed by one of the best in the game today? I’m always surprised when Nellie makes an out!

This was a nice little coming-out series for Taylor Trammell, who had his first Major League homer in this one. Haniger also had a solo blast that contributed to the Mariners’ temporary lead. Kyle Seager would also come up big in this series, hitting a go-ahead RBI in the eighth inning before Rafael Montero blew his second save of the season in the bottom of the eighth (why he was in there so early is anyone’s guess; I refuse to research this insignificant detail). Ultimately, Haniger hit the winning sacrifice fly in the tenth to help put this one away. Sadler, Graveman (who also got the win), and Middleton (who ended up with the save) all did their jobs with a scoreless inning of bullpen work each. Lots of help up and down the lineup in this one; it seems like this team – more than most – is going to need the whole “Team Effort” thing to be a big part of their victories this season, at least until the superstars separate themselves. All in all, a nice 4-3 victory for the M’s.

The rubber match on Sunday looked like as big of a lost cause as I’ve seen. I tuned in specifically to see Chris Flexen – because I missed his first start with the M’s – and it was an interesting one! He was in a nasty little jam in the first, but got out of it while giving up only the one run. It looked like he might cruise for a while after that, but the third inning happened with lots of unlucky balls finding grass they shouldn’t have (including a pretty harmful error to help things along). Flexen limited the damage to three more runs (two earned), only to pretty much fall apart in the fifth. In all, he went the five innings, giving up six runs (five earned), while throwing only 84 pitches.

The Mariners were down 6-0 at that point, and I officially switched over to watch The Masters, so I missed the four runs the Mariners scored in the top of the sixth. Including a homer by Seager, and a 3-run blast by Trammell! Once I saw what was happening on Twitter, I switched it back, and was rewarded by a pretty entertaining little comeback!

The Mariners got one more back in the seventh, and it was a 6-5 game until the ninth, when Kyle Seager stepped to the plate with two on, jacking his second homer of the game. The bullpen was truly remarkable in this one. Will Vest went two scoreless, Drew Steckenrider pitched a scoreless eighth to earn his first victory, and Rafael Montero bounced back with his second save of the season, with an easy 9-pitch affair.

It was reasonable to think – before this past weekend – that Trammell might be on a fast track to Tacoma for a long-ish stint in AAA, but hopefully he’s starting to turn a corner. Hopefully success begets success. He’s still sitting with a sub-.200 batting average, so obviously there’s work to be done. But, now pitchers know they’re going to have to be reasonably careful with him. At the very least, I’d love to see what he looks like when Kyle Lewis reclaims his spot in the middle of the order. If nothing else, our outfield coverage should be insane!

Also, props to Kyle Seager for his output so far this season. This is the guy I was hoping to see, as it may be his final year with the team that drafted him.

Wins like these are important to teams like this. That attitude of never saying die or whatever is a pretty big deal when it comes to Scott Servais-managed Mariners squads, which is why I’m really rooting for him to make it through this rebuild unscathed. I do think Servais is one of the good ones; if managers do anything other than decide when to take out pitchers and be scapegoats for underperforming teams, I think they can help breed a culture, and I like the culture he’s breeding here. Given what the Mariners have had to endure in all the years since Lou Piniella was here, it’s HARD to turn around a culture like the one that had set in!

That’s all I got. Four more in Baltimore starting today. They’re pretty bad, the Mariners should be somewhat better, so you’d hope another series win is in the cards, as we get to the real meat of the April schedule coming up.

The Mariners Somehow Won Their Opening Weekend Series!

Actually, that’s not such a remarkable feat, but you try writing thousands of quasi-unique blog post titles and see what you come up with.

After staying at the game past 11pm, and then not getting home until around midnight last Thursday, I didn’t have it in me to watch the entirety of Friday night’s game. I’m such a bad fan! I’m such an old man! Kill me now!

What I did see, however, was an impressive outing by Yusei Kikuchi (who swapped places with Paxton in the rotation for … reasons), who went 6 innings, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk while striking out 10! Unfortunately, all three of his runs came on 2 homers, and he ended up with a no decision for his troubles.

This feels like a pretty standard 6-3 loss for the Mariners in 2021: pretty good starting pitching, not so great hitting (only 6 hits all game), and a dud performance from the bullpen (highlighted by Drew Steckenrider’s 3 runs in 0.2 innings of relief). Once the game was given away like that, I toddled off to bed. But, I still say this one was promising, for Kikuchi’s improved command alone. If he can keep that up all year, we might be onto something!

I’ll admit, I didn’t have high hopes for the rubber match on Saturday (the rare Sunday off-day is throwing me for a loop, I have to admit), with Chris Flexen making his Mariners debut. I was also outside working with my friends in their backyard gravel pit, so I managed to miss all but the very end of this one. Which is too bad, because it looks like I missed a pretty good Flexen outing! 5 innings of shutout ball, on 4 hits & 2 walks, with 6 strikeouts. We were told ahead of time that he might be limited in how long he could go, so all things considered that’s pretty amazing!

The bullpen behind him was also pretty fantastic! I would assume the combination – in some order – of Kendall Graveman, Anthony Misiewicz, and closer Rafael Montero will be in play for the vast majority of games where the Mariners hold a lead late. These are the guys Scott Servais is going to rely on until they prove they can’t handle it. Graveman went 2 shutout innings, striking out 5. Misiewicz appeared to struggle, but got two outs in the eighth. And Montero came through with the 4-out save after blowing one on Opening Night. All in all, as solid a 4-0 victory as you’ll see.

It’s obviously too early to draw any grand conclusions from three games. I don’t think the Giants are overburdened with quality pitching, so while it’s nice that the M’s hitters did as well as they did, we could very well be in for lean times ahead. Only three American League teams – who have played in just three games – have more team strikeouts so far. And, again, that’s with the Giants not having good pitching whatsoever.

The vaunted White Sox come to town for three starting tonight, before we hit the road for Minnesota and Baltimore. It would be nice to steal as many wins over the next ten days as possible, considering how difficult the schedule gets in the back-half of this month, and on into May.

2021 Mariners Preview Extravaganza: We Have A Rest Of The Team

Yesterday, I wrote about the starting rotation. Today – the day of the Mariners’ first game of the season – I’ll be writing about everything else.

If you’ve been following along all offseason, I’ve already written about most of these guys. But, now we have an official roster, so let’s run through it.

We’re pretty set with the infield:

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Dylan Moore (2B)
  • Evan White (1B)
  • Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)

All healthy, present, and accounted for! All of them, of course, come with question marks. Does Seager have anything left in the late-career resurgence tank? Can Crawford build on his Gold Glove campaign to be a more consistent (and somewhat more powerful) hitter? Was 2020 a mirage for Moore? Will White EVER hit, period? And, is the catcher position as strong as I expect it to be? How many of these guys – if any – will be longterm solutions at their respective positions? I gotta believe that the Next Great Mariners Team has at least a few of these guys playing roles; they can’t ALL still be in the minors or other organizations!

One guy we don’t have to worry about is:

This guy can hit! No notes! Also, since I believe in him so strongly, watch him struggle mightily. This is the way.

The outfield is my favorite part of this team, now and especially in the future. With Kyle Lewis starting on the 10-Day IL, it’s a little underwhelming at the moment, but obviously the M’s have to play it super safe with our 2020 Rookie of the Year.

  • Mitch Haniger (RF)
  • Jake Fraley (CF)
  • Taylor Trammell (LF)
  • Sam Haggerty (INF/OF)
  • Jose Marmolejos (INF/OF)

The story of camp has been Trammell making the Opening Day roster. Not just as an injury replacement to the injured Lewis, but as a legitimate starting left fielder for this team. He’s another one of those great guys we traded for from the Padres last year when we sent them Austin Nola – making us three for three of guys coming over in return making the team in 2021, with France and Torrens – whose prospect stock has fluctuated wildly over the course of his minor league career. But, he appears to be putting it all together now at just the right time: ahead of Kelenic and Rodriguez. This glut of highly-touted outfielders will only make things that much easier for the M’s as they fill out the rest of the roster to try to build a championship ballclub. Of everyone on this 26-man roster, Trammell is the one I’m most excited about.

And Haniger is the one I’m most curious about. He’s had a long road back to full health; at one point in his career he was one of the top 25-or-so players in the American League. It wouldn’t shock me to see him right back in that area; it also wouldn’t shock me to see him totally shit the bed. He no longer seems to be the future of the franchise, but he’s currently the present, and will have every opportunity to rebuild his value in the game of baseball.

Fraley and the rest are just guys. Placeholders until our young superstars return from injury and/or get called up from the minors.

The obvious wildcard on the Mariners is the bullpen:

  • Rafael Montero
  • Kendall Graveman
  • Nick Margevicius
  • Anthony Misiewicz
  • Keynan Middleton
  • Casey Sadler
  • Will Vest
  • Drew Steckenrider

Oof. Like I said, I have avoided learning too much about the bullpen; I’d rather watch them with my own eyes and draw my own conclusions. But, to get me started, I guess I’ll look up some info and regurgitate it here, for my own benefit if nothing else.

The Mariners traded for Rafael Montero from the Rangers in the offseason. He had 8 saves for a terrible Rangers team last year, and I guess figures to be our closer out of the gate? He doesn’t have a ton of Major League experience, but maybe he’s put it all together. We’ll see. He’s not a bad buy-low candidate, at least in the short term.

Graveman we all know. He was here last year, signed to be a starter after missing a lot of time with injuries. He ended up with a neck issue that somehow allows him to throw very hard in short bursts as a reliever, but hampers him too much to go too many innings in a row. I don’t understand this one iota (mostly, I don’t understand why he doesn’t just have some surgical procedure to fix it and return 100% healthy), but whatever. He’s generally pretty good for an inning most of the time, so that makes him a quality set-up candidate in my mind.

Margevicius was neck-and-neck with Justin Dunn for the sixth starter job. He will be one of the long men in the bullpen to eat up innings and keep us in ballgames when a starter falters. He’ll also be the first man to join the rotation if there’s an injury (and there will be an injury). He’s fine, I like him in this role a great deal. He’s also one of just two lefties in the ‘pen, so there should be no shortage of work for him this season.

Misiewicz is presumably our top lefty reliever. We drafted him in 2015 and he made his debut last year. He was pretty good, I think! I dunno, we’ll see I guess.

Keynan “Don’t Call Me Kenyan” Middleton was a free agent signing who played for the Angels’ organization the last four years. His 2020 looked pretty atrocious. The three years prior look better, just as long as you don’t go sniffing around his FIP too hard. He might be just a guy. A cheap guy, but a guy nevertheless. He’s still young enough to put it all together, but don’t hold your breath.

Sadler is a veteran we claimed from the Cubs last year, who has bounced around multiple organizations. He’s someone else with big Just A Guy energy.

Will Vest is a Rule 5 guy we poached from the Tigers this offseason. He will be making his Major League debut this year, which will be somewhat fun! Other than that, I dunno. He’s the Rule 5 guy, that’s the nugget I’m going to keep in my brain and promptly forget as soon as he makes it into an actual game.

Drew Steckenrider sounds like one of those names I always fuck up when it comes to those Lookout Landing Sporcle quizzes asking you to name all the Mariners’ pitchers from a particular season. He came over from the Marlins organization on a minor league deal and was apparently one of the last guys to make the team. He’s another one I’m not holding my breath about.

***

The world is our oyster here! The Mariners could be a Bottom Five team, but I really don’t think that will be the case. There’s a lot of young talent in the organization just waiting to break through. There’s a TON of athleticism. There’s promise bursting at the seams. This is a team that WANTS to be great, that has just enough leadership at just the right spots – including the coaching staff – to potentially make it happen. We could be looking at a team that hangs around and FINALLY becomes the one to break the playoff drought!

Or, you know, it could be another year with another mediocre record.

But, the hope is that the young guys will improve. That’s really all that matters. 2020 was a roaring success because we saw improvement from the guys we needed to see improvement from. 2021 needs to be more of the same. Winning and losing isn’t quite as irrelevant as it was last year, but that’s not the ultimate agenda quite yet. The experience of winning isn’t quite as important as the experience of just playing at this level, but there is a lot of value there. That’s why I won’t be as maniacal as in years past when it comes to getting a high draft pick for next season.

Do what you’re going to do, Mariners!

My prediction is that the M’s easily surpass the 72.5 win total that Vegas has them at. But, ultimately I don’t see us getting one of those Wild Card spots. Instead, we’ll probably be drafting in the teens next year.

I’m reserving all predictions beyond that. I’m not making ANY specific player predictions, because so much can happen. Injuries, regression, breakouts, it’s all on the table. My only hope is that I don’t exit this season feeling worse about the Mariners than I do right now. Right now, I’m full of optimism! So, let’s just work in service of that and try to make 2022 and beyond really special!