The Mariners Are About To Have A Terrible Road Trip

This 10-game road trip was always going to be a bear to get through. The Orioles and Yankees are two of the best teams in all of baseball, and the Nationals are no slouch. They have the kind of hitting that can cut through our elite pitching, and they just need live bodies to be able to keep our hitters at bay. But, they don’t just have live bodies, they also have very good pitching in their own right.

That’s kind of the thing I don’t think gets talked about enough with the Mariners. Yes, we have great pitching, and yes, over the long haul that’s going to keep us right in line with contention. But, other teams have great pitching too! They might not have 6 viable starters like we’ve got, but they’ve still got good-enough guys. Most – if not all – of these elite teams have at least 1 or 2 tip-top pitchers, maybe more. Even if they’re not one through five better than us, they’re close enough. And that’s all they need to be to best us in a 3- or 4-game series.

That’s all they’d need in a hypothetical 5- or 7-game playoff series.

Being so extremely one-dimensional can only take you so far. You need to be a complete team if you want to hang with the big boys. Otherwise, you just play teams tough, and maybe lose an 18-inning, 1-0 game.

Anyway, the Mariners lost 2 of 3 to Baltimore over the weekend. On Friday, Bryce Miller had a real stinker, giving up 5 runs in the first. He settled down enough to keep it at 5 runs through 5.1 innings, but then the D-squad bullpen guys gave up four more to lose it 9-2. Dylan Moore had a solo homer.

On Saturday, we had another Luis Castillo Quality Start (6 innings, 2 runs), which was good enough for a no decision, as he left the game down 2-0. We used our good relievers to try to keep it close and give our offense a chance, and thankfully they finally managed to show up and do their fucking jobs. 2 runs in the 7th (highlighed by a Ty France double) and 2 runs in the 8th (with Cal Raleigh and Dylan Moore RBI doubles) gave us a 4-2 lead. Andres Munoz gave up a harmless solo homer, but netted his 8th save of the season.

That brought us to Sunday, where we lost 6-3. George Kirby gave up 5 runs in 6 innings, they had their ace on the hill, and we finished 2 for 9 with RISP. That’s the difference between the Orioles and the Mariners. I feel like they can shut us down whenever they want, but our pitchers are going to continually struggle against their top tier hitting.

Now, we go to New York to face the Yankees, where I fully expect us to lose a minimum of 3 games; maybe all 4. This is the part of the season where things start going from bad to worse. If I were a betting man, I’d be betting the Taylor Family Farm on the Yankees, and raking in the winnings.

The M’s Bounced Back Against The A’s

Kind of a weird weekend series for the Mariners. I don’t think ANY of the three games went as we might expect.

Friday night saw the return of Bryan Woo. As it happened, 2024 Woo looked a lot like 2023 Woo. A lot of fastballs, a lot of strikes, pretty reasonable pitch count; on the downside, he ended up getting tight in the fifth inning and had to be pulled (4.1 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 1 walk, 3 K’s). It won’t equate to another IL stint (just yet), but it is pretty concerning. Even more concerning is that this isn’t the first time he’s had this feeling on his way back to full strength.

On the good side, his arm tightened up because he had to rest so long between the fourth and fifth innings, because the Mariners were scoring so many runs. I think it’s a fair trade; give me 8 runs, I’ll suffer a starter not being able to go five full innings. Dylan Moore kicked some fuckin’ ass in this one, going 3 for 4 with a homer and 5 RBI. Ty France bounced back with two hits (including a 2-RBI double), and Luke Raley also chipped in with an RBI double and 2 runs scored.

It was nice to get the win, and not have to use anyone of import out in the bullpen, on what could’ve otherwise been an ugly night. Instead, that ugliness ended up taking place on Saturday, as we lost by an identical 8-1 score.

We were limited to 3 hits and 0 walks, which is how you waste a perfectly good Bryce Miller Quality Start (6 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts). But, the bullpen did us no favors, with Stanek giving up a run, Speier giving up 2 runs, and Bazardo (back from AAA) giving up 3 runs.

The Mariners’ offense bounced right back, though, scoring 8 more on Sunday to win 8-4. Julio had two hits with a homer, Garver also had two hits with a homer, even the backup catcher got in on the action with his first homer of the season. Pair that with a Luis Castillo Quality Start (6 innings, 7 hits, 2 runs, 0 walks, 8 strikeouts) and some competent bullpen work, and you get out of the weekend with a series win.

In other news, I called it with Matt Brash. He had surgery recently and is out for the year. What I wasn’t expecting was Gregory Santos not being back until maybe July. That’s rough. That makes me think this team probably needs to acquire another bullpen arm or two.

In some good news, J.P. Crawford is getting ready to go out on a rehab assignment. And I think I heard something about Dom Canzone swinging a bat down in extended spring training. So, you know, that’s something.

The Mariners Are Playing Like A Playoff Team Right Now

That’s a great Atlanta Braves team right there, probably the eventual N.L. East champions and maybe even a World Series participant this season. And the Mariners just beat them two out of three games.

I wouldn’t say it was easy. In fact, if a couple things happen differently, there’s a reasonable argument to be made that the M’s should’ve been swept. But, our pitching did its job and the hitting did just enough. This felt a little bit like playoff baseball, or what people think “playoff baseball” looks like in the regular season. How soon we forget what it ACTUALLY looks like, which is starters going MAYBE five innings, and their very best relievers working repeatedly on zero days rest. That’s not what this was. This was relying on your starters to go 7 dominant innings. This was getting awesome production from everyone in your bullpen, not just the top two guys. And, sure, there was a 5-out save sprinkled in, but there was also no chance he was going to appear in any other game this week.

We kicked things off on Monday with a thrilling 2-1 pitcher’s duel. Bryce Miller bounced back to go 7 strong, holding one of the better lineups we’ll see all year to 2 hits, 1 run, and a walk, while striking them out a whopping 10 times. Unfortunately for Miller, he had to settle for the no decision, because the M’s were held hitless through 7 innings and scoreless through 8. Ultimately, all it took to win this one was a bloop (by Polanco) and a blast (by Garver), to walk it off and give our newcomers something to celebrate.

Tuesday’s game was almost as impressive, with Luis Castillo also going 7 strong, holding them scoreless on 3 hits and a walk, with 7 strikeouts. For those keeping track at home, Castillo had three pretty crummy starts to kick off the season (12 runs in 15.2 innings) and four straight quality starts to follow (5 runs – 4 earned – in 26 innings). An ERA that was pushing 7 is down under 4 where it belongs.

We almost gagged that one away, though, with another brutal outing by Stanek, who got one out in the 8th and gave up 2 runs in the process. As he clearly didn’t have it, we hustled Munoz in there to get us out of the jam (though he did give up an inherited runner, and very nearly blew the save then and there). Once that nightmare subsided, Munoz had a relatively easy go of it in the 9th, to get his fifth save of the season.

The Mariners did all their damage before the fifth inning, with a 2-run Polanco homer kicking things off in the third, and a Moore RBI double in the fourth to give us the cushion we needed. Unfortunately, that clutchness failed us on Wednesday, as we lost 5-2, while being held to 2 for 11 with RISP.

I’ll be honest with you, I predicted a Mariners loss heading into that game, given all that happened leading up to it. I knew Munoz wouldn’t be used. I was pretty sure Stanek would be given some rest. That meant Speier would be held back unless we had a late lead for him to protect. Also Known As: we’d be getting the back-end of our bullpen, and a shaky Emerson Hancock, to try to keep the Braves at bay.

What I didn’t see coming was a brutal Haniger flat-out drop of a can of corn in right that led to four unearned runs in the 4th. Hancock couldn’t get out of the jam, and we were down 5-0 as a result. However, the bullpen kept the Braves scoreless from there, which is phenomenal! If we didn’t have that drop, maybe we sweep with another 2-1 victory. Or, if the offense had a little more going for it, maybe we pick Haniger and Hancock up and win it a little ugly.

But, it’s hard to be too upset about a series victory against a team like the Braves. They’re GOOD, and we hung right there with them. That has to be a confidence boost for a team that’s coming back from a horrendous first couple weeks of the season.

6-10 was our record midway through April. We’ve since won 11 of 15 games – largely on the strength of our pitching – to pull ourselves up to 17-14 and in first place in the A.L. West. Now, we’ve got an off-day, followed by a weekend series down in Houston. Then, it’s four games in Minnesota next week, who are on a major hot streak of their own after a slow start.

You can just feel the baseball oozing off of this season.

The Mariners Are Down J.P. Crawford, Continue To Win Anyway

There’s definitely an argument to be made that this isn’t really any big loss. J.P. Crawford – like most Mariners hitters – is off to an excruciatingly slow start. .198 batting average, .296 on-base percentage, four extra-base hits in 22 games, and there’s even been some defensive lapses that might not show up in your average stat sheet, but have still hampered this team at times.

That being said, other than Julio or Cal, J.P. is the guy we can least-afford to lose time. He plays the toughest defensive position, he’s our leadoff hitter, he’s one of the few competent lefty bats we have on the roster, and in spite of his slow start, I fully expect him to turn it around anytime he gets back on the field.

What’s even worse, though, is his injury. The dreaded Oblique Strain. Depending on how lucky you are, you’re either out for a month, or a year and a half if you’re Mitch Haniger. There’s luck involved, there’s giving it time to heal, there’s walking that tightrope of not rushing it and making it worse, while still getting your body back into baseball shape in order to not miss too much time, when every single game matters. Honestly? I’d rather he just kicked a water cooler and gotten hurt like Jarred Kelenic did last year; at least there’s a viable timeline you can follow, when you know he’ll be back in your lineup. J.P. Crawford could be back before the end of May, or he could have to wait until September. Or he could come back, play a while, re-injure it, and find himself once again down for the count.

So, NOT IDEAL.

Yet, the Mariners managed to go 1-1 against the Rangers without him, and 2-1 against the Diamondbacks. Heading into the Braves series, we were up to 15-13 and in first place in the A.L. West!

Of course, we’re talking about a team that’s absolutely laying the league to waste with its pitching. There was a 4-0 shutout in game one against Texas, with Logan Gilbert going 6.2 innings. There was a 5-1 loss in the middle there, with Bryce Miller getting roughed up a bit. But, we came right back to win 4-3, with another Luis Castillo Quality Start, and some more shut down bullpen work.

We won our fourth consecutive series by taking the first two against the Diamondbacks (sans Paul Sewald, who has started this season on the IL). Game 1 was a 6-1 blowout (thanks in large part to a Haniger Grand Slam), with Emerson Hancock going 6 innings and giving up just the one run. In game 2, we won 3-1 behind another George Kirby masterpiece (7 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts). Even though we took a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning of game 3, we couldn’t quite lock it down, losing 3-2. Nevertheless, Gilbert went 6.1 innings, giving up two of the runs, striking out 9 along the way.

This team is in an interesting groove right now. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I totally believed in the pitching. I mean, I figured it would be good, but not good-enough, you know? Like, they’d keep us in games, but ultimately the offense would be their undoing. I think part of that disbelief has to do with the bullpen, which has been the biggest pleasant surprise of the young season so far.

All the way up and down that bullpen, you’re seeing some phenomenal numbers! Who knew Gabe Speier had this kind of dominance in him? Who saw Trent Thornton bouncing back after looking like ass for most of his career? Look at what we’re getting from guys like Cody Bolton, Brett de Geus, Tayler Saucedo, and Austin Voth! They all have ERAs under 3. We’ve seen some cracks in the armor of guys like Andres Munoz and Ryne Stanek, but they’re still – by and large – throwing flames and getting us out of big spots more often than not (their numbers are nothing to sneeze at either, also in the sub-3 ERA range).

What does that mean? Well, for one thing, we’re not having to over-work our starters. We’re able to pull them before they turn into pumpkins, without giving up the game entirely. They can focus on being economical with their pitches and just getting through six innings.

Everyone said this pitching staff – particularly the rotation – would keep the Mariners afloat. But, they’re doing so much more. They’re REALLY kicking some fucking ass! It’s all so much better than I ever could’ve imagined. And, not for nothing, but Bryan Woo is one or two more rehab starts away from coming back. We have SIX stud starters, when most teams struggle to even have three!

There’s still a lot of work left for this offense to start pulling its weight. It’s not helping that we’re forced to make Dylan Moore an everyday player. But, at some point, they’re going to have to get it together, if we want these Mariners to truly contend for a playoff spot.

The Mariners Head Into An Early-Season Showdown With The Rangers

Last year, the Mariners went 4-9 against the Texas Rangers. We had a winning record against everyone else in the division, including a 9-4 record against the Astros. Our record against Texas – it could be argued – single-handedly prevented us from making the playoffs.

What’s even worse is that 3 of the 4 victories happened in the final series of the season. It would’ve required a gargantuan series sweep to give us a chance of making the playoffs; instead, we came up two games short. That means, heading into that series, we were 1-8 against the Rangers; we were remarkably inept against the eventual World Series champs, until it practically didn’t matter.

That can’t happen again this year.

There’s probably never going to be a good time to play the Rangers this year, but I will say that it’s a helluva lot more encouraging to face them towards the end of April rather than at the beginning. While the Mariners are still quite flawed, at least the pitching has started to get into a groove, and the hitting is starting to come around.

We parlayed our sweep of the Reds into a 2-1 series win down in Colorado. Friday’s game was snowed out, if you can believe it. Thankfully, we’ve got an off-day today, so yesterday’s doubleheader shouldn’t have any sort of lasting impact.

Luis Castillo kept our streak of quality starts intact on Saturday, with a rather easy 7-0 victory. He went seven shutout innings, giving up only 2 hits and a walk, while striking out 9. That was nice to see, knowing we’d have a long day on Sunday; the bullpen was largely spared. On the flipside, the Rockies might be the worst team in all of baseball, so let’s not go crazy patting him on the back.

Cal Raleigh and Julio Rodriguez both had big games, with 4 hits each. But, this was a true offensive juggernaut, with the team going 5 for 12 with RISP.

We proceeded to biff the first game of the doubleheader on Sunday, losing 2-1 in extra innings. The game was scoreless through regulation, thanks to some nifty Dylan Moore defense in left, and a well-placed Fan Interference call in the bottom of the ninth on a would-be double (but certainly not a homer, since he actually reached out over the fence and over both the playing field and Moore’s outstretched glove). George Kirby gave us five shutout innings, when he apparently wasn’t feeling his best. The rest of the bullpen did their jobs, until they didn’t. The Mariners scored once in the 10th, on an RBI single from J.P. Crawford. But, Andres Munoz got jumped all over, failing to generate an out while gagging away the game. It happens.

The second game went much more favorably, 10-2 in our favor. Emerson Hancock gave up 2 runs in the first, but still went six innings, keeping them to 4 hits and a walk, while striking out 4. The offense proceeded to mash, with Cal, Julio, and Luke Raley each generating 2 hits. Even Seby Zavala chipped in with his first three hits of the season, to stave off his inevitable release.

All in all, this team is in as good a shape as it’s ever going to be, all things considered. Jorge Polanco still isn’t doing much of anything, and Munoz has had more hiccups than I like to see (without Brash or Santos here to pick up some slack). But, all in all, the bullpen has been solid all year, the starters are on cruise control, and the rest of the hitters seem to be coming around.

We’re 11-11. The Rangers lead the A.L. West at 12-11. This is our shot to really make a name for ourselves and stake our claim to the division.

What we CAN’T do is blow all three games, and suffer a repeat of last season. So, figure it the fuck out Mariners!

Another Series Played, Another Series Lost By The Mariners

The Mariners scored a season-high 6 runs on Wednesday to salvage one game of the 3-game series in Toronto. Five of those runs came in the 10th inning.

If a Mariners game leaving regulation tied at 1-1 sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it also happened in the Red Sox series, when we gave up 2 runs in the top half of the 10th, before exploding for 3 runs in the bottom half to walk it off.

The Mariners have played 13 games this season. They have a 5-8 record. Two of those wins came in our only two extra-innings games. I think you know where I’m going with this. From innings 1-9, the Mariners have scored a total of 34 runs, or 2.62 runs per regulation-length game. And they’ve scored 8 runs in the 10th inning of games. So, really, it’s just a matter of keeping the game tied as long as possible!

There’s nothing good or pleasant to say about this team, so I have to resort to that kind of bullshit to keep myself entertained. We lost on Monday thanks to another lousy fucking start from Luis Castillo. Another 5-inning, 4-run affair from the world’s most mediocre ace. That’s three games now, none of which have seen him get out of the 6th inning. He’s given up 4 runs in each of them, 2 homers, and 25 (!) hits. At times, he’s wildly unlucky, with guys poking filthy stuff off the plate for singles; at other times, he’s serving up ding-dongers right down the middle. It all adds up to him being unquestionably our worst starter so far; yeah, I said it!

We lost on Tuesday thanks to another abysmal outing by George Kirby. Looks like I was premature in labelling him the best starter on the team after his initial outing. Once again, he got crushed because he doesn’t know how to NOT throw strikes. Free-swingin’ teams are going to have a field day every time he takes the mound, because all he wants to do is throw first-pitch strikes, second-pitch strikes, and third-pitch strikes. Until he learns to start pitching backwards – because CLEARLY his reputation preceeds him – I just don’t see how he’s going to develop into a fully-rounded pitcher.

We also lost those games, of course, because the offense failed to bail out our struggling starters. To the bullpen’s credit, they only gave up 1 run across 7 innings of work. But, there’s no comeback and very little fight in this offense.

I mean, shit, we damn near squandered another gem from Logan Gilbert on Wednesday. He went 7.2 innings, held them to 1 run on 5 hits and a walk, while striking out 8. He couldn’t quite get through eight, even though he was at 89 pitches, but Andres Munoz got him out of the jam, and kept the game tied through the bottom of the 9th.

That’s when, finally, guys started hitting. Cal Raleigh had a 2-run bomb, Ty France had an RBI double, and Mitch Haniger had a 2-run single.

If I had to dig deep and find something vaguely interesting to talk about this offense, I think it has to be this: last year – and for probably the last decade-plus – we lamented the lack of production out of the bottom of the order. To the point where many fans have charged that these black holes are keeping us from making the playoffs. I know I’ve definitely banged that drum!

But, when you sit down and think about it logically, the fact of the matter is, the Mariners are only going as far as the top of the order takes them. If you’re sitting there worried about what hitters 7-9 are doing, you’re missing the point. This season – through 13 games, anyway – is really proving that point. Because it’s largely been the bottom of the order that’s been doing the most damage.

Dom Canzone might not be an All Star or anything, but he’s far and away leading this team in slugging with .567! He’s the team leader in homers with 3, he’s tied for the lead in extra-base hits with 4, he’s second in RBI with 6, he’s second in total bases, and tied for first in WAR. And he’s only tied for sixth in hits with 7! When he puts the bat to the ball, it goes far, and I just might have some words to eat after calling him the Spring Training Mirage.

Ty France has been hitting so much at the bottom of the order that he’s worked his way back up to the 3-hole! He’s got a .316 average and leads the team with 12 hits (even though he missed three games with paternity leave)! Dylan Moore, Josh Rojas, and even Luis Urias are all slugging over .400, which isn’t any kind of phenomenal bar to clear, but do you know how many of our top-of-the-order and middle-of-the-order hitters are slugging over .400? Mitch Haniger, end of list.

Cal Raleigh, J.P. Crawford, Mitch Garver, Julio Rodriguez, and especially Jorge Polanco have all SUUUUUUUCKED so far. Polanco has done so poorly he’s dropped to fifth in the lineup, and I don’t think we’re too far away from him getting a rest day, or dropping towards the bottom for a spell.

Those are your studs. Those are the guys (plus Haniger) you’re counting on to take you to the promised land. And you’re getting next-to-nothing from them.

So, yeah, that’s where we’re at. We have an off-day, then it’s home for the Cubbies. I guess the good news is the fact that no one is really running away with the A.L. West yet. Not that I’m standings-watching or anything.

The Mariners Lost Their Home Opener

We got a lot of information out of that first game. I don’t know if it was enough information to make an informed opinion about this Mariners team, but it was more information than we had from all the Spring Training games combined.

For starters, this is the first go-around for the rotation. Arms aren’t quite built up to mid-season form. There’s going to be a little ramping up period. So, I can’t say I’m totally shocked by Luis Castillo’s 5 innings/4 runs performance. To be honest, that’s almost exactly what I had him pegged for heading into yesterday.

The bottom of the bullpen isn’t anything special … yet. It’s gonna be a lot more fun to watch this team when Brash and Santos rejoin the squad.

Mitch Haniger has taken his hot hitting into the regular season. 2 for 3 with a walk and a homer. He’s always been a streaky guy, which is part of the reason why games that matter couldn’t arrive soon enough. Here’s hoping he can keep this going into April and beyond.

Polanco and Garver look like they can help. It was nice to see both of them get hits, including a double by Garver late.

Julio and Cal look like studs. We just need guys to get on base ahead of them.

Canzone came crashing down to Earth immediately in this one, with an 0 for 2 day at the plate, and a wildly misplayed ball in left field to let someone stretch a double into a triple. He was replaced by Dylan Moore, who promptly hit a 2-run bomb to center to pull the game to within a run in the 7th. I wonder if this is the Dylan Moore the team was expecting last year. Now that he’s fully healthy, maybe he’s ready to show what he can do.

Batting 8th, Ty France went 0 for 4. I didn’t get the sense that he was swinging at a lot of crap, but the results are the results. Today is another day.

J.P. seemed to get a little jobbed by the home plate umpire on balls & strikes, especially in his first at bat, when he should’ve earned a walk. Tough night at the plate, but he offered his usual excellence in the field.

Can’t say that for Luis Urias, who took over for Josh Rojas late, struck out, and misplayed a grounder so hard at third base that he not only didn’t tag the runner coming from second (who was standing practically an arm’s length away), but he took forever to throw it to first AND the throw was as soft and wobbly as any pass you would’ve seen from Peyton Manning in his final NFL season. What are we even doing with this guy?

Luke Raley ended our evening in the bottom of the 9th. He batted for Urias with two outs and Haniger standing at first, down 6-4. This wasn’t even remotely a competitive at bat, as he took a strike down the middle, then flailed wildly at the next two pitches (both in the zone). All were apparently cutters, 93-94 miles per hour. Not even a foul tip. Trading with the Rays seems like it’s always a fool’s errand. My guess is, we’re going to wish we had Caballero to handle third base for us, because I just don’t see a path for Raley to be successful here.

2024 Seattle Mariners Preview Extravaganza Part II: Run Scoring

In case you missed it, read Part I here about the 2024 Mariners run prevention.

As was discussed yesterday, the Mariners aren’t even close to contenders without a dominant pitching staff. That’s what this team is built on. We need the starters to keep things close and low scoring, we need the bullpen to go above and beyond, and we need the defense to just be passable. This gets us to the front porch of the playoffs. How we’re going to walk in the door? How far we’re going into the house? Well, that’s up to the hitters, now isn’t it?

It’s really a Chicken Or Egg situation then, isn’t it? What’s more important, the pitching or the hitting? We need great pitching, because the hitting is subpar. But, with no hitting whatsoever, it doesn’t matter how great our pitching is, because if you can’t score runs, you’re not winning games!

And, as we discussed yesterday, we can’t really rely on the Spring Training numbers, because they don’t matter. They don’t translate to the regular season. It’s not like they’re A.P. classes we can use for college credit; everyone reverts back to .000 starting today.

You know who were the four best OPS regulars this spring? Julio (naturally), Haniger (sounds right), Polanco (solid veteran), and Canzone (The Mirage). It’ll be interesting to see where these guys end up at season’s end – and who ends up as the top four OPS guys – because other than Julio, I don’t know if I believe in ANY of them.

The stars on this squad are Julio, J.P., and Cal. Center field, short stop, catcher. Those are our studs. We don’t have to worry about them producing; they’re going to be fine. We love them, and honestly, we don’t talk enough about how great they are!

Then, there’s a creamy middle of veterans: Haniger, Polanco, France, Garver. Right field, second base, first base, DH. This is the pile we’re relying on to stay healthy, as all have massive injury concerns, and it would be a miracle if they avoided the IL. They’re good, productive middle-of-the-order hitters when they’re healthy, except France comes with the additional caveat of having worked on a new swing all offseason. He seems to have made some headway in that department this spring; I’ll reject a lot of exhibition numbers, but 6 walks over 5 strikeouts definitely seems like a step in the right direction. On the downside, he tied for the lead in spring at bats with 44 and managed all of zero homers. The high batting average is nice – and if he reverts to a high average/high on-base guy with limited power, I’ll take it – but it is a little concerning to see so few extra-base hits.

If those seven hitters all pan out, I think we’ll be fine. But, when have things EVER panned out the way we want them to?

Which brings us to the fringe guys: Canzone, Raley, Urias, Rojas, Moore. Left field, third base, utility. These are the guys who we always try to talk ourselves into. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if Canzone turned into a legitimate baseball player? Oh, wouldn’t it be great if Urias came in here and proved everybody wrong? Oh, wouldn’t it be so sweet if Raley was the Rays player they gave up on who actually turned out to be someone useful?

As you can tell, I don’t have a ton of any confidence in any of those guys, or anyone else residing in this area of the active roster. These are barely .200 hitters who strike out too much and might sack up for a homer once every 20 games or so. Canzone, I’ve talked about. He’s the guy getting the most pub, and probably the guy I want MOST to succeed, so he’s clearly going to crap out. Raley has had about as bad of a Spring Training as you can get (.159/.245/.227), joining France as the other player with 44 at bats and 0 homers. It’s funny how spring numbers never matter … except when you hit as poorly as Raley. Then, you have to wonder: if he can’t hit in the cozy confines of a slick Arizona atmosphere, how is he ever going to hit in the murky slog that is Seattle?

Third base just seems like a cesspool at this point. The black hole to end all black holes. Rojas is Moore without the unjustified confidence, and Urias seems like a total bust. I think, at best, we get nothing from that spot in the order, but are at least middle-of-the-road defensively. At worst, we also lead the league in errors; think Russ Davis without the 30 homer potential.

I really want to believe in this team. I really want to believe in the pundits and nerds who think this offense will be better than expected. But, I have almost 30 years of Mariners fandom in my back pocket. I know what this team does. I know what it’s capable of when you start to believe in them. Every season where I’ve come in confident, they’ve let me down. It’s only when my belief is at its lowest when they at least flirt with contention. But, you know the story. One playoff appearance in the last 20-something years, which was a sweep in the ALCS to the Houston Astros of all teams. We can’t have nice things, so why should 2024 be any different?

It’s the first day of the season. The time of unbridled optimism and rejuvenated hope. This is supposed to be when you Believe Big or whatnot! But, I just can’t get there. Not with all the holes this organization left for itself. Not with all the question marks we have to rely on if we want to be good.

The best I can give you is my attention. I’ll be honest, when I heard about all the nonsense with payroll, I was ready to quit on this team. I was ready to be a fairweather fan at best, and maybe just stop watching them altogether. While they didn’t do enough to suck me into believing this is a playoff team, they did do enough to at least keep me around for a while.

The projections say this is an 85-win team, which is good enough to hang around contention and maybe sneak into a wild card if things break right. I think 85-77 feels about right. I also think that won’t be NEARLY enough to make a wild card. We’ll probably end up a few games out, but ultimately another wasted year is upon us.

2024 Seattle Mariners Preview Extravaganza Part I: Run Prevention

It’s interesting how opinions can shift. Just two months ago, I was ranting and raving about the F-grade the Mariners deserved for this offseason (not necessarily the grade Jerry Dipoto & Co. earned, but the organization as a whole, starting first & foremost with ownership). Since then, it should be pointed out, three very important personnel moves were made. We traded for Jorge Polanco to shore up second base. We traded for Gregory Santos to shore up the back-end of our bullpen. Then, we signed Ryne Stanek after it became clear Santos (and Brash) wouldn’t be healthy enough to break camp with the Mariners out of Spring Training. You’re talking about some much-needed depth, and you’re also talking about – when healthy – a team that should at least hang around.

On top of those moves, the other thing that’s happened in the subsequent two months since I wrote that post is that the Mariners have had their entire Spring Training session. We have some more information than we did before. Even though we’re all loathe to talk positively about numbers, you can’t help but feel at least a little warm and fuzzy about hitters mashing the ball, and the stuff from your pitchers starting to come around.

I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve done a complete 180 on this team. But, between the additional moves, the exhibition performance, all the pundits and analytics being more bullish than bearish on this team, and the general optimism of spring and the new season directly before us, it’s hard not to have that … whatever the opposite is of cloud your thinking. Clear? Sunny up? They’ve gone and sunnied up my disposition – without my consent, I might add – and I’m not sure how to reconcile those feelings from two months ago.

You know what I hate? Being everyone’s “dark horse”. You know what else I hate? Being suckered into this fucking team, only for them to fall flat on their asses.

So, I’m trying to shut all that noise out and just focus on what my brain tells me. For starters, I have to give the usual caveat: all of this prognostication assumes we have an average amount of health (or better). Every team deals with injuries. Even the very best teams have to endure stretches where it feels like the baseball gods are whooping them with the ugly stick. The Rangers last year – World Series champions – had a spell in the second half where it looked like they might fall apart. But, they picked themselves up, steamrolled through the playoffs, and the rest was history. But, obviously, everyone remembers the 1996 Mariners, where Randy Johnson was lost for most of the year, and we also lost a good month from Ken Griffey Jr. Teams can’t endure the loss of their two best players for extended stretches and still hope to compete. If the 2024 Mariners lose Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez, no one is going to sit there and say, “Well, that’s just an average amount of baseball injuries.” It’s debilitating!

With that out of the way, let’s get going here. Since all I want to talk about is the hitting, we’re going to save that for Part II tomorrow. Right now, let’s get into the pitching and (a little bit on the) defense (at the end).

Baseball is tricky. You can’t sit there and say, “So and so is the most important guy on this team, and without him playing great, we have no chance.” It’s not football with the quarterback position. It’s not basketball with whoever your superstar is. Baseball is too much of a team sport. Yes, you need your stars to play well, but one guy can’t do it all. If that were the case, Mike Trout would be a champion countless times over.

You can’t even pin it all on a single pitcher, though I’ll contend until my dying breath that there’s nothing quite like an ace to dominate (particularly down the stretch of a pennant race). But, with the 2024 Mariners, we’re not even close to talking about them being contenders without this pitching staff, and especially this starting rotation. They’re the straw that stirs the drink. The most important aspect of this team, by far.

I don’t think you’re going to find a more talented one through five in Major League Baseball – nor one with a higher upside – than the one the Mariners are going to throw out there this seaason. Luis Castillo and George Kirby, right now, are among the best starters in all of baseball, and Logan Gilbert isn’t too far behind. And the pure, raw stuff of Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, and Emerson Hancock (who is slotting into Woo’s spot while he starts the season on the IL with a little bit of arm inflammation) makes them more than the ideal 4 & 5 starters. There’s the kind of potential that we just saw in the first couple of seasons with Kirby and Gilbert! Now, obviously, that’s no guarantee they’re going to turn into bona fide All Stars, but if the worst thing you can say is that the guys projected to be in the back of your rotation – with mid-to-high 90’s fastballs with tons of movement and some promising off-speed pitches – are going to get hit around every now and then, that’s a pretty great problem to have.

Do you know how many teams have absolute bums in the back-end of their rotation? Do you know how many teams are relying on soft-tossing journeymen a la Marco Gonzales to simply eat up innings? Meanwhile, the Mariners have nothing but power arms fisting their way through opposing lineups; it’s outstanding!

Obviously, the knock against the rotation is the lack of depth. But, what team doesn’t have that problem? With Hancock, I’ve already listed six guys who we like. The top three guys are better than most other teams have in their ace spots; and the bottom three guys are better than most every other team’s back-end. If those other teams suffer rotation injuries, I can only imagine the drop-off in quality!

The fact of the matter is, the Mariners are uniquely positioned to withstand the injury bug every now and then. Obviously, it would be ideal if we can get through the next couple months without losing any more starters – to give our bullpen an opportunity to heal up. But, with our home stadium, with our marine layer, and eventually when we get our bullpen figured out, I don’t have a big problem ceding a few outings to a Quad-A starter every now and then. Let him five & dive and hope your offense is up to the task to win a squeaker.

Now, that bullpen does come with some questions. I think we’re all in agreement that when our studs get healthy, a top four (in whatever order you choose) of Santos, Brash, Stanek, and Munoz, is as good as it gets. Again, in all of Major League Baseball. At that point, it almost doesn’t matter who else you put out there. Saucedo and Speier are reliable-enough. Trent Thornton could conceivably be due for a bounce-back, after having a full offseason in our throwing program. And, I’m sure there are plenty of under-the-rader arms in our organization who are poised to be the next Justin Topa or Paul Sewald. Until this unit lets me down, I have to believe we have what it takes to get the job done in the bullpen.

If this team is going to get back to the playoffs, it’s going to be on the arms to get the job done. For as good as they are, it would be helpful if the defense could pick things up behind them, but we’ll see.

By all accounts, we’re going to take a serious step back defensively. Which is kind of shocking, if I’m honest. I always remember Mitch Haniger being better than average. Has he really taken such a dive with age and injury? If he has, that’s a problem, because we’re clearly not as good in left field with the loss of Kelenic. I don’t even know if Luke Raley is competent out there! We might be on the hook for Super Utility Dylan Moore more than we’d like (that is, if he’s not covering for third base).

Speaking of which, is Luis Urias the worst defensive third baseman in baseball? We’ll find out! He sure as shit seems to be worse than Suarez. And I don’t know if Rojas or Moore are much better. Also, what are we going to get out of Polanco at second?

Seems like the potential for a lot of holes. That being said, I don’t care how old Haniger is, there’s no WAY he’s worse than Teoscar Hernandez. We still have Julio and J.P. And our catching figures to be among the best in baseball as well (or, at the very least, the most underrated).

I don’t know if we can count on this defense to carry us. But, as long as it isn’t a total hindrance, then the run prevention half of this team should be among the best in the American League. Certainly good enough to get us to the post-season.

Now, will the hitting do its part? Check back tomorrow (and the rest of this regular season) to find out!

The Mariners’ Non-Julio Outfielders Scare The Bejesus Out Of Me

When I talk about the Mariners having holes (multiple), part of what I’m talking about is this. Look no further than the non-Julio components of the Mariners’ outfield.

As I’ve talked about, a Julio playing at an MVP level would compensate for a lot of struggling on this team. But, the fact that we can have this conversation of someone with his level of talent going above and beyond – and STILL only end up right around 83-88 wins – is really the problem with our roster construction as it’s presented today. With the pitching we have, and complementary hitters like Cal Raleigh and J.P. Crawford giving us their best, you’d think it wouldn’t be so hard to fill out this roster and go chase a championship. But, here we are.

I know I’ve been lamenting third base, and the Mariners’ need to go out and get a Matt Chapman to help Band Aid over the lack of offensive production on this roster, but that’s not our only problem area, or questionable position group, or whathaveyou.

As things stand right now, we’re looking at Mitch Haniger being our regular Right Fielder; can’t really say “everyday” there because he’s going to require built-in off-days in order to stay healthy (in addition to the off-days already part of the schedule). And that’s only until he inevitably lands on the IL; another reason we strip him of the “everyday” moniker.

In Left Field, we have some split of Luke Raley and Dominic Canzone, though you really can’t say it’s a proper platoon, because both hit left-handed. If you want to round things out, you could probably add Dylan Moore to the mix, for more of a right-handed presence, but we’ll see where he ultimately ends up helping out most, especially considering the aforementioned quagmire that is third base.

Let’s say it’s some combination of the four: Haniger and Moore from the right side, Raley and Canzone from the left. Who’s happy with that?!

I’m already on record as having my reservations about what Haniger has left in the tank, even when healthy. I’m willing to let that go, for now (pending the start of the regular season, because if he struggles to open the year, you better believe I’ll be yapping again) and just assume Haniger will be fine. He’ll be some semblance of what he was before. What was that? I’m not talking his very peak of 2018; rather, someone who’s a little streakier, can carry an offense at times, but can also get lost at the plate. When Haniger is going good, this team should win a lot of games. When Haniger is going bad, we’ll need someone to step up and pick up the slack.

Dylan Moore is Dylan Moore. VERY occasional power, low-to-terrible batting average, so-so on-base percentage, pretty good on the basepaths (though he’s in his 30’s now, so we’ll see what that means for his stolen bases), and competent defense. The more you’re needing to play Dylan Moore, the worse your chances of winning (because that means other guys aren’t producing, and so you’re forced to start someone who’s supposed to be a utility guy).

In a lot of ways, this season hinges on one of either Raley or Canzone being above replacement-level. Otherwise, expect left field to be yet another black hole.

If we got Luke Raley to replicate his 2023 season – even if it’s just the same 118-game span – I think I would take that in a heartbeat. I don’t expect him to play the full year, just because I don’t think he’ll be good enough, and will likely spend some time benched to work on some things, so getting around the same amount of games, with that production (19 homers, 23 doubles) would be a boon for the middle of our lineup. If we get that out of him, with Haniger being great sometimes, with Ty France hopefully improved, with Polanco and Garver doing their things, that’s a lineup that can do some damage! A lot of “ifs” there, though.

Canzone would need to take a considerable step up in his development. I would say his production in 2023 – admittedly in just 59 games – was sub-replacement-level. He had glimpses of power, but his batting average and on-base numbers took a nosedive. And he never gives you enough defense to be worth the crater he is at the plate.

But, the team obviously likes him enough to ship off Kelenic, and to only bring in a guy in Raley who’s probably a platoon partner for someone (be it in the outfield, or as a timeshare with Ty France if he continues to flatline). Canzone apparently had some nagging lower body injuries last year that hampered him. We’ll see. With experience, with good health, with a vote of confidence, maybe he starts to make good on his potential.

I can’t say I’m holding my breath, though. I think this non-Julio outfield has a chance to be an unwatchable disaster. And, with all the other question marks on this team, we most likely won’t go down as one of the worst Mariners offenses of all time, but it’ll be painful to have to suffer through. Just, brace yourselves now. I know with this being Spring Training, we all want to look on the bright side and hope for the best. But it’s okay to splash our faces with a cold dose of reality.