The Mariners Probably Should’ve Been Swept By The Astros

There’s an obvious narrative going around that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. It goes as follows: the Mariners were one of the hottest teams in the league – having won four in a row over their immediate divisional rivals ahead of them in the standings – then they traded their apparent Heart & Soul of the team, Kendall Graveman, and all of a sudden are now in the tank, having lost two straight. It’s further punctuated by the fact that their last victory was an amazing come-from-behind affair where the M’s were down 7-0 before coming all the way back in dramatic fashion to win 11-8 (where, again, Graveman got the win and played a role in getting us to the point where we took the lead).

But, you know what I see when I look at this series against the Astros? I see three games the Mariners should’ve lost, and we were lucky to get the win we got.

Coming back from a 7-run deficit is as flukey as it gets. That was followed immediately by a game where we gave up a 3-spot in the top of the first and eventually found ourselves down 8-2 before coming back to lose 8-6. And then, of course, the finale saw us lose 11-4 in a game we were never even competitive in.

I mean, you can argue the wind was taken out of the team’s sails by the disappointment of seeing Graveman go to the opposing team’s clubhouse, but I think that notion is thwarted because on the very same day as the trade, you still saw this team scratch and claw to get 4 runs in the final 4 innings to make it interesting.

No, what this series featured was a clinic in disappointing Mariners starting pitching.

Monday was a disaster from the jump, as Darren McCaughan was making his Major League starting debut (recall he had pitched in the week prior, coming in after Keynan Middleton shit the bed as the Opener). McCaughan followed up his five no-hit innings by giving up 6 runs in the first in this one, ultimately managing to last 4 innings, giving up 7 runs, before being almost immediately sent back down to the minors. In case you were wondering why the Mariners traded for mediocre starter Tyler Anderson, this is why. This and all the previous Bullpen Days, where the Mariners amassed a whopping 1-8 record.

The Mariners started mounting their comeback in the bottom of the fourth, immediately after the Astros scored their 7th run, with a Cal Raleigh 3-run double. The Astros got one back in the top of the fifth to make it 8-3, but Kyle Seager hit a 3-run homer in the bottom half to cut it to 8-6. Then, Shed Long hit an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth to make it a 1-run game, and you know what the Mariners do in 1-run games!

Well, usually it’s “win them”, but this time they turned it into a 3-run victory thanks to a grand slam by Dylan Moore in the bottom of the 8th inning.

To set the stage, Middleton pitched in this one as well, giving up that 8th Astros run. But, the bullpen was nails from there. Erik Swanson pitched two scoreless innings. Kendall Graveman came in for the 8th – Mariners down a run – and kept the score where it was. He doesn’t often come in when the M’s are trailing, but there was blood in the water and Scott Servais was pulling out all the stops.

Anyway, France singled to lead off the bottom of the 8th, but then two quick outs followed. Things looked grim. Jarred Kelenic – who really hasn’t been a whole lot better since being called back up – managed to work a walk. Tom Murphy – the third catcher used in this one – pinch hit for Shed Long and also walked, to load the bases. That brought up Moore, who jacked a high fastball (“fastball” in quotes, because this guy didn’t have much velo) to the upper deck in left field, knowing he had it all the way.

Fireworks continued from there, as the Astros reliever pretty clearly went headhunting for the very next batter, in this case J.P. Crawford. The pitcher would be ejected, after some choice curse words and yelling from Servais. Crawford would immediately be picked off at first, before the next reliever – now a Mariner, Joe Smith – even threw a pitch.

Paul Sewald – presumably our closer going forward – got the final three outs of the game to send everyone home happy.

That, my friends, was the environment everyone was walking into the next day, when the Graveman trade was announced. And, like clockwork, Chris Flexen showed up with a rare clunker: 4 innings, 7 runs. Nope, this wasn’t a rerun of the night before, he was literally as bad as a guy who got demoted to AAA the very same day. Hector Santiago returned from his suspension to throw 2 innings of 1-run ball, and the rest of the bullpen was scoreless from there (including Joe Smith throwing a clean inning), but 8 runs is clearly too much. You can’t expect an 11-run outburst every fucking day.

Nevertheless, Seager had a 2-run homer in the first, Kelenic had a 2-run single in the sixth, and newcomer Abraham Toro hit a 2-run homer in the ninth. You’d love to be undefeated in games where you score 6 runs, but unfortunately that’s baseball for you.

Yusei Kikuchi wasn’t QUITE as bad yesterday, but he only went 5 innings, giving up 4 runs (3 earned). On top of that, the bullpen was atrocious, as it will be from time to time, giving up 7 runs the rest of the way.

There was another Seager homer, another Toro homer, and a Kelenic bases loaded walk to give us our 4 runs. But, obviously, not enough.

Some bright spots include Seager being hot, and Toro hitting his fourth homer in four games (two with the Astros, two with the Mariners). Toro being good and shoring up the second base spot would be a great fix for the team’s chemistry woes at the moment. Him eventually taking over the starting third base job in 2022 and beyond would make this Graveman trade one of the all-time greats. So, you know, maybe stop pissing all over yourselves to dump on it.

Today’s an off-day before tomorrow’s trade deadline, so I expect to see lots of moves happening soon. Some of the rumors are CRAZY, so it’ll be really interesting to see how far Mariners management goes in trying to Win Now.

Is This Happening? Mariners Took 3 of 4 From Athletics

Last week, when I talked about the Mariners being in contention if they go 5-2 against the Athletics and Astros, I know there’s a number of ways to get to 5-2, but what I specifically had in mind was a 3-1 series win against the A’s and a 2-1 series win against the Astros. Just keep winning series, regardless of whether the teams are great or terrible.

Well, it’s four days later and here we are with a 3-1 series win against the A’s. It could all come crumbling down against a hot Astros team, but for now I’m encouraged.

What this series showed me is that the Mariners are just as good as the Athletics. That’s not insignificant, because Fangraphs still gives the A’s a 41.3% chance of making the playoffs, while the Mariners sit at an abysmal 4.9% (below even the Angels, who are somehow at 9.1%). This is in spite of the fact that the Mariners currently sit 1.5 games behind the A’s (and 4 games ahead of the Angels).

Of course, “as good as” isn’t the same as better. Even though the Mariners won the series – and lead the season series 6 games to 4 – I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say we’re better than the A’s just yet. The Mariners have their issues, and still seem like they’re inordinately lucky, but I refuse to say it’s ALL luck. The Mariners have talent, and they’re extremely strong in a number of key areas (bullpen being the top of the list), and I don’t see that going away anytime soon.

This series got off to a rough start last Thursday, though, as Sean Manaea eats the Mariners for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 7 innings, 1 run (solo homer by Tom Murphy in the 7th), 13 strikeouts. Just outstanding. Over his two appearances against the M’s this year, he’s thrown 16 innings, given up 1 run on 7 hits and 5 walks, while striking out 21. If I never see him mash the living daylights out of the Mariners again, it’ll be too soon.

Chris Flexen was game for a bit, but ultimately gave up 2 runs in 5.1 innings of work. The bullpen did their best, but Rafael Montero once again sucked any joy out of this one, giving up 2 runs in 1 inning of work. That – FINALLY – earned him his walking papers; get a load of this run over his last 8 appearances: 11 innings, 17 runs, 25 hits, 4 walks, 11 strikeouts. That’s an epically atrocious stretch, but that was already on top of a vastly mediocre season. I mean, it’s never a good sign when a team trades for you to be its closer and you blow three saves in the first two weeks of the season. He’s been dubbed the unluckiest pitcher in baseball, but at some point you have to create your own luck, don’t you? By not being totally and completely inept? I have no doubt whatsoever that Rafael Montero will be picked up by another team and immediately reverse his fortunes. If not the rest of this year, then definitely in 2022 (and possibly beyond). At which point, I will be annoyed, but not surprised.

With that unpleasantness behind us, the Mariners started kicking asses and taking names.

Friday night saw the return of Yusei Kikuchi and his Quality Starts: 6 innings, 3 runs, 12 strikeouts. It was a shame he had to leave with a no decision, because he was dealing in this one. But, at the same time, it was frustrating to see him blow a 3-0 lead.

Cal Raleigh hit his first career Major League home run, 444 feet to right center, to put us up 2-0. Luis Torrens immediately followed with a solo homer (all in the 2nd inning), to keep his string of hotness going. With this Mariners team, giving us a tie game heading into the 7th is everything you could ask for. Both starters were out of the game by that point, and I’ll put our bullpen up against anyone’s. Indeed, the combo of Erik Swanson, Paul Sewald, and Kendall Graveman shut it down from there. While, the A’s gagged this away in hilarious fashion.

With two outs in the bottom of the 7th, Dylan Moore reached on an infield single. He stole second base pretty easily (against a left-handed pitcher, no less), before advancing all the way home on two separate wild pitches. That was it! 4-3 Mariners win!

Saturday’s game showed you how much the Mariners wanted this one. The whole weekend really had a playoff vibe, from the way the teams played, to the way the managers managed, to how into it the fans were in the stands. I had high hopes for Logan Gilbert – making his third start against the A’s in his young career – but he struggled wildly, unable to get out of the third inning after throwing 40-something pitches in that frame alone. Yet, when it was said and done, after three full innings, the Mariners were only down 3-2.

Mitch Haniger was a man possessed in this one, as he hit two home runs and was a few feet away from hitting a third (settling for a double off the wall). Indeed, he scored three of our first four runs and staked us to a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fifth.

That looked like it might’ve been enough, but Drew Steckenrider gave up a hard-luck solo homer around the right field foul pole to a backup catcher going the other way in the 7th inning to tie it back up. That’s one of those bad omens you’d see countless times by the Mariners that would totally derail everything. Indeed, my instincts as a Mariners fan kicked in and I was convinced we’d lose it late.

But, the bullpen kept the game tied into the bottom of the 9th, where Luis Torrens led off with a single against the Athletics’ closer. Kelenic walked to move the pinch runner to second. Then, after a Shed Long strikeout, Jake Bauers walked to load the bases. After a J.P. Crawford fielder’s choice – with the infield drawn in – got the runner out at home, that set up Haniger to be the hero once again.

Except: surprise! The hero was, I shit you not, another wild pitch! Kelenic was able to easily scamper home and give us the walk-off 5-4 victory. Two games in a row where the winning run was scored late on a wild pitch; what are the odds?!

I was busy on Sunday and missed the finale; it sounds like I missed a great one! Marco Gonzales was on the hill – better the A’s than having him face the Astros, I’ll tell you that much – and he was okay. 5.2 innings, 2 runs. You’re really not asking him for much more than that, given the season he’s had so far.

Thankfully, the hitters didn’t hang him out to dry, putting up 4 runs in the bottom of the third to take a 4-2 lead to the bullpens. Seager, Torrens, and Murphy were the offensive heroes in this one, giving the Mariners just enough. Casey Sadler returned from the IL over the weekend – he was the guy taking Montero’s spot on the roster – and was dominant on Saturday, before getting touched up for a solo homer on Sunday. That was it, though, as the bullpen once again was phenomenal.

Tough break on this Astros series though, needing Darren McCaughan to make the spot start later today. It’s kind of difficult to see us winning this one, which would require us to win the next two games in a row to win the series. Not impossible, of course, but you always hate to lose that first game of a series. It doesn’t always turn out so amazingly – like it did against the A’s.

Then, after an off-day on Thursday, the Mariners embark on a massive 10-game road trip to Texas, Tampa, and New York. I know the Rangers are awful – and we get to see them a lot in the next month – but the Rays and Yankees are elite, and should pose significant tests. Are the Mariners REALLY a playoff team? Well, how we fare against the Astros, Rays, and Yankees will go a long way in determining if we are or not.

The Mariners Split Again With The Rockies

Two-game series in baseball are inherently unsatisfying. Splitting a two-game series, therefore, is unsatisfying to the tenth power (don’t ask me how the math works, I’m just the CEO here). The first game was outstanding! The second game left a bitter and confusing taste in my mouth. Without further ado.

Marco Gonzales has been a collosal disappointment in 2021, and until I hear definitively otherwise, I’m going to believe it’s because he’s secretly injured and trying to power through with mediocre stuff. Like, I’m going to need to see MRI reports, bone scans, blood test results, the works. He’s injured, is my firm belief and I’m sticking to it. See, his stuff is relatively close to what it’s been, but he’s clearly lost a bit off of his fastball. But, what’s really concerning is his command. Too many pitches are catching the heart of the plate, and as a result are either getting mashed or just missed getting mashed. I think it’s more the lack of command that his alleged injury is affecting. He’s trying to gut through the pain, which means he’s losing focus on where the pitches should be going. That’s my theory! Prove me wrong.

Anyway, Gonzo used smoke and mirrors to get through 5 innings, giving up 2 runs. His pitch count was in the 80’s, so under normal (healthy) circumstances, there would’ve been no question that the erstwhile Mariners ace would’ve gone out for one more frame. But, he was already starting to get hit around pretty good in his last couple innings, so it was beyond appropriate to pull him.

It also didn’t hurt that the M’s put up a 4-spot in the top of the sixth to give Marco a 4-2 lead. Cal Raleigh had his coming out party in this one, recording his first Major League hit (a bloop single to center), his first Major League RBI (a 2-run double in the aforementioned sixth inning), while walking once and scoring a run. Dylan Moore capped the scoring in the sixth with a 2-run homer. And Ty France hit a 2-run double in the seventh to add to the fun.

The only black spot on the bullpen’s ledger was a 2-run home run by C.J. Cron off of Paul Sewald in the eighth. Otherwise, Kendall Graveman had little trouble getting his 9th save of the season.

The game on Wednesday was yet another bullpen start that the Mariners lost. What is our record in Bullpen Day games? One of these days I’m going to go through the schedule and try to find out.

Literally everything was stupid and annoying about this one, starting with Keynan Middleton getting the “start”, going 1 inning, and giving up 5 runs on 5 hits and a walk. It’s especially galling because we’d called up Darren McCaughan from Tacoma to fill the bulk of the game’s innings. I hate the Opener in baseball. I think it’s fucking stupid and backfires more often than it is supposed to help. The idea seems based in logic – you get a hard-throwing “good” reliever in there to take out the first 3-4 batters (usually a team’s best hitters), then you give a mediocre starter a soft landing by having to face those batters fewer times over the course of his outing – but it rarely seems to work out as intended. Maybe because a reliever in a starting role gets in his head about it, maybe because the opposing team is more geared up to face the super hard stuff early in games. I don’t know! What I do know is that in this game, Middleton faced all 9 of Colorado’s batters. Meaning that when McCaughan entered the game, he had to start with the top of the lineup regardless.

What’s worst of all is that McCaughan was great! He threw five no-hit innings, giving up 1 run on 3 walks (technically, it was 2 walks and two sacrifices in the fourth inning, but he did give up 3 walks in total) and 0 strikeouts. No one is saying McCaughan is an immediate solution to our starting rotation woes, but as a spot starter, you could do worse. Indeed, the Mariners have done worse this year. A lot worse. In this very game no less!

Seager, Torrens, and Haniger all hit solo homers in this one, as we lost by a respectable 6-3 margin. Oddly enough, you could argue all three of these guys are on the trading block as we head into the July 31st trade deadline. I’m sure we’ll have more to say on the matter next week, but just keep an eye out for those guys.

All right, here we go! Are you ready for this? Four home games against the Athletics, followed by three home games against the Astros. The two teams ahead of us in the American League West standings, and the team (A’s) directly ahead of us in the Wild Card standings. It’s crazy that these games hit just as we’re sliding into the trade deadline, because these next seven games could really make or break our season. If we go 5-2 or better, I think you have to admit the Mariners are officially in contention for a playoff spot. If we go 3-4 or worse, I think it’s probably safe to say the Mariners are who we thought they were.

Not for nothing, but if the Mariners go 4-3, the season automatically shuts down and the World Series is canceled. I don’t make the rules! I’m just your humble servant reporting the news.

In prior years, this is always when the Mariners have face-planted. But, 2021 feels different somehow. I dunno, it could be an interesting next seven days.

The Mariners Open Up The Second Half With A Series Win Over The Angels

I was heartened to see the Mariners did the sensible thing and went with their three best starting pitchers to open up the second half stretch run. With the All Star Break giving the team a few days off, they easily could’ve rejiggered the rotation however they wanted, including making last Friday a de facto Opening Day 2.0 (or Opening Day 3.0 if you count when the state started allowing full capacity seating again) and brought out Marco Gonzales as the ostensible “ace” of the staff. Instead, he’s been bumped to the 4-hole in the rotation, missing the Angels entirely as he gets his turn in Colorado.

Scott Servais gets overlooked quite a bit when we talk about the success of the Seattle Mariners, both this season and over his tenure with the team. He also gets an inordinate amount of blame when shit goes wrong, particularly whenever the bullpen melts down late in various demoralizing losses. In essence, how the bullpen does seems to be the only indicator as to whether or not a manager is good … at least, if you read which way the tea leaves are blowing on Twitter.

Managers are more than bullpen decisions. Granted, they make those choices too; they have to use their best judgment to determine whether or not a guy “has it” on a particular night. But, a lot of even THOSE decisions are made for them by the stats department. Guys have certain strengths and weaknesses and if you’re in a position to win a ballgame, you put the pitchers in there who figure to fare best based on the myriad numbers that have been crunched.

It’s not Servais’ fault if a guy has an off-night though. It’s not his fault if his bullpen is terrible, just as it’s not his good grace if a bullpen is amazing. I would argue, compared to the managers we’ve seen over the last 10-15 years, Servais has shown the best judgment in not sticking with bad relievers for too long. Even when you glom onto the latest thorn in our side, Rafael Montero, you can see he lost his closer’s job almost immediately this year. He’s pretty much been converted to a long relief role in blowouts at this point, to see if the team can salvage some value or production out of him. His stuff still has potential, and he must be willing to work with the coaches in improving his game, otherwise if he was difficult I think he’d already be gone.

But, if you take a step back from obsessing over one guy, and look at the team globally, what Servais and his staff have been able to do with this group of guys is pretty remarkable. The Mariners are 50-44. They have no right to be this good, with a group of players this mediocre, and with a run differential of -51. You can write this off as a fluke, but this also isn’t the first time a Scott Servais-managed team has had a winning record with a negative run differential. This isn’t the first time he’s maximized the talent of his team and squeezed out as many wins as possible. He seems to be adept at getting a lot out of a little, which leaves me excited to see what he could do with a team loaded with talent.

That gets me back to his decision to go Flexen/Kikuchi/Gilbert over the weekend. He’s loyal to his guys, to a point, but he’s not going to force an issue just to make guys happy. He’s going to lead, by making the hard choices and potentially pissing off a guy like Marco Gonzales. Too many former Mariners managers would’ve stubbornly stuck with Marco, saying, “He’s my guy” and getting rightly roasted as a result. But, where are the accolades when Servais makes the smart decisions like this? Well, they come from me, on a blog hardly anyone reads.

I like Servais. I hope he stays here a good, long time. I hope he gets to see this rebuild to fruition. I hope we get to see what he’s capable of when the Mariners are ready to start winning 100 games per season.

***

As I mentioned, Chris Flexen got the start on Friday. He kept the good times rolling by going 7 innings, giving up 1 run. Thankfully, the M’s were able to rack up a 6-1 lead by the time he left the game, because the defense and bullpen just didn’t have it in this one. We nevertheless were able to hang on for a 6-5 victory, but it was a nailbiter at the end.

Kendall Graveman has been a concern for us of late, since he returned from the COVID-IL with a case of being an anti-vax idiot (allegedly). I wouldn’t put a lot of the blame on him in this one, since all three of his runs were unearned (thanks to two errors), but he’s also shown to be much more hittable of late. Even though, spread out over the entire season, Graveman has been our best reliever, it was heartening to see Servais pull him with one out remaining in the bottom of the ninth, to go with the hot hand of Paul Sewald, who was able to shut the door.

Jarred Kelenic got called back up to the Mariners in this one. How far we’ve fallen that he’s not the biggest story on this blog at the moment. But, he broke his 0-for-Forever streak with a hit on Friday, so good for him. He also found himself batting 7th in the lineup, which is probably where he should’ve been all along, so go ahead and count that as a knock on Servais (I would say, in general, his lineup construction has been fine, though there are baffling moments sprinkled in, as there are with all managers).

The offensive heroes on Friday were the guys we’ve come to expect to lead the way: Haniger, France, and Seager. They combined to go 7 for 12 with 5 RBI, 5 runs scored, including homers by Seager and Haniger, and a double by Haniger to boot. Dylan Moore also had a couple hits to chip in.

Saturday was worrying, because it was the second sub-par outing in a row for Yusei Kikuchi. Ever since he made the All Star squad, he’s fallen apart. It was easy to explain-away the game against the Yankees (who tend to mash lefties), but giving up 7 runs in 5 innings to the Angels makes this the start of a trend. A trend, quite frankly, I don’t like! Let’s hope he turns it back around sooner rather than later.

The other two runs were given up by, you guessed it, Rafael Montero in his one inning of work. Again, what can you do with this guy besides release him at this point? I feel like he has until Hector Santiago’s suspension is up, then he’s most likely gone. He’s pitched in 39 games this season. He’s performed well on occasion, but he’s given up at least one run in 19 of those games. That’s an INSANELY high percentage of games where he’s failed (I would argue it’s a failure whenever a reliever gives up even one run; blanket statement, and probably unfair, I know). 11 of those games he’s given up 2 or more runs, which is astronomically bad. And he’s not trending in the good direction; he’s given up 2-3 runs in 6 of his last 7 appearances (since he had those remarkable back-to-back 10th inning shutdown performances against the Rays). Rafael Montero, we hardly knew ye.

The Mariners lost 9-4 on Saturday, though, so it’s hard to be too mad at Montero. Maybe he slips through the cracks; we’ll see. There are certainly enough blowout opportunities to sneak him to the finish line with this team.

Haniger had a homer and 4 RBI in this one. Kelenic had his second hit since being called back up. Dylan Moore had two more hits. As did Ty France. J.P. Crawford had three hits!

The rubber match was thrilling for a number of reasons. Logan Gilbert pitched into the sixth inning again (5.2 innings, 2 runs on 4 hits & 2 walks, with 9 strikeouts), and the bullpen did its job until the very end. Things got a little hairy in the ninth, after an Ohtani homer off of Sewald, but the M’s were up by a lot and things weren’t really in doubt. A 7-4 win and yet another series for the good guys.

Kelenic has a 3-game hit streak, everyone! France is red hot (had 3 hits – including a homer – with 2 runs and 3 RBI), Luis Torrens had another dinger. And Mitch Haniger scored 3 runs to be highly involved.

The Mariners keep plugging away. This is really a fun team! I can’t say I’m loving EVERY minute of the experience, but the good days outnumber the bad ones, and I think that’s all you can really ask from this team.

Is The Mariners’ Jake Fraley For Real?

The alternate title for this post was going to be, “Jake Fraley Is This Year’s Dylan Moore Of 2020”, but it’s not quite apples to apples. The sentiment is there: he’s a fringe player, thought to be nothing more than a bench bat/fourth outfielder, who has stepped his game up to the point where the Mariners MUST put him in the lineup everyday. Or face the consequences. Namely: my wrath.

Dylan Moore was just that prior to 2020. He was a nobody. Then, last year, he figured out how to generate more power from his bat; his slugging jumped from .389 in 2019 to .496 in 2020. Of course, last year was a pandemic year. On top of that, Moore was buried on the active roster by lesser players (mostly an injured Shed Long), so even though he was killing it, he only appeared in 38 of 60 games.

Not for nothing, but through the first half of 2021, Moore finds himself playing considerably worse than even his paltry 2019 season. The only aspect of Moore that’s better today is his defense, but you couldn’t be much worse defensively than Moore was in 2019 (especially in the first half of that season). I had much higher hopes for Moore heading into this year, based on his 2020. I thought he’d enacted some sort of Chris Taylor transformation, but apparently that’s not the case. In all likelihood, 2020 was a mirage.

That brings us to Jake Fraley. He was brought over after the 2018 season from the Rays in the Mike Zunino/Mallex Smith trade. Mallex Smith was a bust, and I don’t think anyone had any confidence in Fraley being anything more than a Quad-A type of player. His brief cups of coffee in 2019 and 2020 all but confirmed it. I figured, at best, he was a reserve outfielder who might be a defensive replacement late in games, or an emergency starter if enough guys got injured.

And yet, here we are in 2021, and Jake Fraley is tied with Ty France for second (among position players) on the Mariners in WAR (1.6) even though he’s only appeared in half the games of France. He’s among the best players on the team in on-base percentage (first among position players at .409), slugging (third among position players at .439), and OPS (first among position players at .848).

And, like Moore in 2020, Fraley has often found himself buried on the active roster behind inferior players. It’s really only since the end of May that Fraley has found himself in the lineup on a regular basis. And yet, he’s managed to produce!

A lot of the hype – especially early on – surrounded Fraley’s walk rate. It was off the charts! It continues to be his biggest asset, but he’s managed to add a little pop to his bat to balance things out. He’s also – like J.P. Crawford – finding himself in the middle of a lot of these Mariners rallies. He’ll find a way on base when we need someone, he’ll steal a bag for you, and he’ll come up with a clutch hit late in the game to win it. What more can you ask for from someone who consistently finds himself batting near the bottom of the lineup?

It’s difficult to see Fraley’s long-term viability on the Mariners, with guys like Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez soon-to-be patrolling the outfield on a regular basis, and also Kyle Lewis, whenever he gets his injury issues squared away. Fraley could be an excellent bridge guy to our Outfield of the Future, or he could supplant someone like Lewis (if we find the right trade for him), or he could be a trade chip himself! I would want Fraley to build up considerably more value before the Mariners deal him, but thankfully there’s still plenty of time for that.

Ironically, Jake Fraley is exactly the type of player who would thrive in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. If he’s able to keep it up through the rest of this season, maybe we send him back for another Rays player, who perhaps will soon be too expensive for them to retain. Fraley has team control through 2025, so he’ll continue to be a bargain for a little while yet.

It’s always fun seeing these guys who you never expect to turn into anything, become quality everyday players. Fraley is especially fun because he’s so involved in all of the best aspects of what this 2021 Mariners team has become. Scrappy, fast, playing above their overall talent level, finding ways to get it done that are maybe a little less conventional than the Three True Outcomes. In another time, Fraley might’ve been one of my all-time favorite players. As it is, I’m going to enjoy the ride for as long as he takes me on it.

The Mariners Stop Winning Series, Losing To The Yankees

The Yankees are a right-handed laden lineup who also happen to crush left-handed pitching, so this was always going to be a poor matchup for the Mariners. Just kidding, it’s actually Clay Bennett’s fault (anytime I can join in on Clay Bennett bashing, you’re damn right I’m going to jump on the bandwagon!).

Justus Sheffield continued on his Suck Hard World Tour Tuesday night with yet another miserable outing. He made it 1.2 innings, giving up 6 runs in the process, en route to an eventual 12-1 thrashing. It’s no surprise he landed on the IL with a “strained forearm and/or oblique”. I mean, I guess there’s probably something legit there, because I’m pretty sure we still have options for him to go down to Tacoma (to be fair, I don’t totally understand all the ins and outs of baseball options), but it still seems shady when he recently said he wasn’t hurt. I dunno.

I don’t have a lot to report about this game, as Sheffield starts aren’t exactly Must See TV. I wish I had gambled against the Mariners in this one. I also wish the Mariners had literally any other starting pitching options to put in his place, but it seems like whoever we go with will be sub-replacement level. And I don’t trust for one second that Justin Dunn will be healthy enough to return and finish the season.

Wednesday’s game was another rocky road, with Yusei Kikuchi (another lefty) getting bashed for 5 runs in his first two innings of work. He was able to settle down and put up three scoreless innings after that, but the damage was done. Not really the outing the only Mariners All Star wanted to put out into the world before the break. The bullpen, however, continued to shut things down from there, just long enough for the Mariners to make a 5-1 start into a 5-4 close loss. But, the back-end of that Yankees bullpen is almost always totally savage, and they had no problem getting through the final two innings.

Yesterday’s game was absolutely remarkable! We 1-hit the Yankees in a 4-0 victory. Logan Gilbert gave up the only hit – a double – but went 7 innings, walking 0 and striking out 8. It was the most dominant outing by a Mariners starter since Felix’s perfect game. Seager, Moore, and Haniger homered in all the runs.

With the Angels in town for three games this weekend, that concludes the first half of the baseball season. Next week, I’ll post about some Mariners highlights; don’t think I’m not looking forward to writing at length about how great Logan Gilbert has been lately!

The Mariners Keep Winning Series, Defeating The Rangers

Last Friday’s game was touted as (something to the effect of) the grand Re-Opening Day, because this was the first home game we’ve had since June 30th, when the governor took all restrictions off the state. For the purposes of the Seattle Mariners, that means no more social distancing. That means full capacity. That means no more masks or bullshit (unless you’re one of the idiot unvaccinated, in which case pinky-swear that you WILL wear a mask, and definitely don’t just pretend you’re vaccinated to get out of wearing one).

Even though this was Re-Opening Day 2021 or some damn thing (though, I’ll be honest, I must have missed the memo, because I didn’t realize they were making this such a huge promotional campaign until I was already inside the stadium), and the Mariners have been winning a lot of games recently, AND (most importantly of all, apparently) there would be a post-game fireworks show, I don’t think we even cracked 30,000 fans on Friday. Maybe Washingtonians had other plans this weekend.

Whatever the case may be, they missed a whale of a game on Friday! Mitch Haniger had one of the worst games I’ve seen from an individual Mariners player all season. He had two errors in the third inning, resulting in a 2-0 Rangers lead. He was also 0 for 4 on the day with a walk, including 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position (you know, when he could have directly helped his team by making up for his earlier blunders). I thought I was going to have to come on here and rip him to shreds more than I have, but this Mariners team is something else, and they picked him up like they’ve been picking up guys all year.

It was 3-0 in the fifth before Jake Fraley hit a solo bomb to get us on the board. While I was on a neverending quest to find a food line that wasn’t a mile long (seriously, the Mariners need to figure it the fuck out when it comes to these insane concessions lines; I shouldn’t have to miss two innings of gameplay just to get a fucking hot dog), we scratched another run on the board in the seventh thanks to an error. Then, in the bottom of the 8th, Luis Torrens hit a game-tying homer.

The really magical moment came in that same half-inning. Jake Fraley walked and stole second following the Torrens homer. After a Dylan Moore strikeout, J.P. Crawford walked up to the plate with two outs. As the crowd chanted J.P. over and over, he came through with a single that scored the speedy Fraley, giving the Mariners a 4-3 lead.

That turned out to be short-lived, as Kendall Graveman gave up an unearned run. Ty France – starting at third base – made just a MISERABLE throw to first on a ground ball, that skipped away, allowing the runner to reach second. A Rangers double plated him, tying it up and ultimately sending the game to extras. But, Anthony Misiewicz pitched around the 10th inning ghost runner to keep the game tied. That was all we needed. Shed Long bunted the runner to third. Torrens took his intentional walk. And Jake Fraley knocked in the run on a single through the drawn-in infield (why they were drawn in even though they had the double play set up, I’ll never know). Just like that, a 5-4 victory and a Mariners celebration in the outfield!

The good vibrations were short lived, as Saturday’s game got away from us. Marco Gonzales didn’t have it, giving up 7 runs in 3.1 innings. But, the combo of Rafael Montero (2.2 innings) and Yohan Ramirez (3 innings) kept the game scoreless the rest of the way. It wouldn’t be enough, though, as the offense could only muster 3 runs. Kyle Seager was 2 for 2 with two walks and a homer. That’s pretty much it.

But, the Mariners came right back on Sunday to win 4-1. Chris Flexen pitched six innings of 1-run ball, Luis Torrens hit a 3-run home run in the fourth, and Shed Long hit a solo homer in the fifth. This game was over in a flash, as the Mariners and Rangers accommodated everyone who would’ve rather been doing 4th of July things than sitting there watching a baseball game. It was awful sweet of them, really.

The Mariners have been doing a pretty good job of cleaning up against the rest of the American League (and the dregs of the A.L. West), but their 45-40 record is still a whopping 7 games behind the Astros (who seem to be doing the same thing as us when it comes to all the ass-kicking). Probably best not to scoreboard watch this early in the season, but how can you not?! We haven’t lost a series since June 12th!

Anyway, the Yankees are in town for three games starting tomorrow. They’ve been a disappointment, by Yankees-standards, but will most likely still be a formidable foe.

The Mariners Keep Winning Series, Defeating The Blue Jays

Are the Mariners actually decent? This question was posed to me yesterday after the M’s took the series against the Blue Jays, 2 games out of 3. Sure, I think the Mariners are decent. But, “decent” and “good” are two different things. I think the Mariners will hover around .500 all year, but I also think there will be some ugly losing stretches we’ll have to endure, that ultimately prevent us from making the playoffs. When I close my eyes, I don’t see a playoff team. If I squint really hard, it’s possible. But, you have to wonder how much help is on the horizon.

There are still younger guys who will be called up and could make a difference in the second half of the season. Kelenic is out there, Cal Raleigh is bursting at the seams. But, where is the pitching coming from? With all of these off-days of late, we’ve temporarily abandoned the 6-man rotation, but you have to believe it’s returning after the All Star Break. The M’s don’t HAVE six healthy viable starters, with Justin Dunn on the shelf and presumably requiring an extended break to calm down his arm. On top of that, Justus Sheffield has been hot garbage over the last month, so we’re REALLY in need of two starters if we want to continue on these winning ways. And that assumes our existing starters manage to stay healthy the rest of the way, which you know will not happen.

Just enjoy the fucking ride. It’s been fun the last couple weeks, as the Mariners have gone 12-4 to lift their record to 43-39. That seems like an abnormally fortunate stretch of baseball for a team whose run differential is still -42.

I talked earlier in the week about how the Blue Jays’ record wasn’t indicative of their talent level, that they’re much better than you might think. Tuesday’s 9-3 drubbing proved that point quite nicely. Chris Flexen was okay (5 innings, 3 runs), but the bullpen totally shit the bed, with Rafael Montero and Will Vest giving up 3-run home runs in back-to-back innings. Ty France’s 3-run home run – to grace Flexen with the well-earned no decision – was the only offense to speak of.

Wednesday’s 9-7 Mariners victory was one of the more entertaining games of the season, marred by a brutal YouTube telecast (more Sarah Langs, less of … everyone else, please). I, of course, had zero faith in the M’s in this one, especially after what I witnessed the previous evening. Justus Sheffield didn’t disappoint, in that respect, giving up 4 runs in 4 innings. Frankly, he was lucky he didn’t get blown up more than he did!

The M’s jumped out to a 4-1 lead that was chipped away to a 4-4 tie after four innings. Highlights from that stretch included a Trammell RBI double and a Seager 2-run home run. Haniger hit a 2-run bomb in the fifth to make it 6-4, which dropped to 6-5 by the bottom half of the inning. That score held until the 8th when the Blue Jays hit a solo bomb to tie it. We made it to extras where, in the tenth, Dylan Moore hit a 3-run home run to put the game away (a harmless Blue Jays unearned run scored in the bottom half, but nothing after that).

6 innings and only 2 earned runs out of the bullpen in that one! On top of which, Crawford, Seager, and Moore all had multi-hit games (13 hits total for the Mariners). The only downside to this one was the money I definitely didn’t lose by betting against the Mariners, I don’t even know what you guys are talking about!

There was a lot to like about the rubber match, with another dominant Yusei Kikuchi performance right at the top. 7 innings, 1 run (5 hits, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts). Dude, we HAVE to pick up his option years. I mean, yeah, wait until the end of the season or whatever, but get this done. He has clearly turned a corner in his career, and if this is the type of pitcher we can expect going forward, he’ll be a bargain!

Homers by Fraley and Long, multi-hit games by Fraley, Haniger, and Seager. Just a great game all around for the Mariners.

That made it a 4-2 road trip, and now here we are: a 9-game homestand to close out the first half, starting with three against the Rangers this weekend. Don’t look now, but there’s buzz around this team. Maybe ill-placed buzz, but buzz nonetheless.

The Mariners Keep Winning Series, Defeating The White Sox

I was traveling over the weekend and therefore blissfully unaware of anything going on that was Mariners-related, or intense 100+ degree heat-related. I kept up with events, sort of, by following along on Twitter, but we all know that’s not the same thing as being actually informed.

We blew the doors off of the White Sox on Friday, winning 9-3. Yusei Kikuchi had another solid outing, going 5.2 innings and giving up only 1 run on 2 hits and 4 walks, striking out 6. Looks like he got into some trouble in that sixth inning, walking three guys in total, but we got out of it unscathed. Rafael Montero gave up a couple of harmless runs in the eighth, but otherwise the bullpen was dynamite.

Give it up for the offense in this one, as everyone had at least one hit, with Crawford, Haniger, Bauers, Torrens, and Moore all notching two hits. Everyone got on base at least twice in this one except for Murphy (who still managed to score 2 runs, so figure that one out). Luis Torrens hit two homers, with Jake Fraley also hitting a dinger.

Saturday’s game was rain-delayed and had to be completed on Sunday, which is unfortunate, as Logan Gilbert looked to be dealing through his two scoreless innings. The Mariners loaded up their lineup with lefty hitters to face Lance Lynn, only to be treated to a heavy dose of Dallas Keuchel come Sunday morning (he was originally set to start the actual Sunday game, but got bumped over to this one, as if he needed the soft landing). This one turned into a de facto Bullpen Day; thankfully the Mariners have a pretty great bullpen. Hector Santiago gave up one run in 2.1 innings of work (taking over for Gilbert to start the rest of the game on Sunday), before being pulled, and subsequently suspended for having sticky stuff in his glove. If he was cheating, bravo umpires. But, they still have to inspect the glove to confirm it was actually an illegal substance. I guess pine tar is okay? I dunno, I don’t pretend to understand what the rules are anymore. I also don’t know if this has been resolved yet, but if it has I apologize for even bringing it up. If the suspension holds, Santiago would be the first player in the Major Leagues to be suspended for the rule this year, which is interesting trivia.

Taylor Trammell had two homers, including the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth. Ty France also added a solo homer to help give us the 3-2 victory. Haniger also had two hits in this one, as it appears he’s pulling out of his recent offensive nosedive.

In the series and season finale against the White Sox, the Mariners lost 7-5, but four of our runs were scored after they had a 7-1 lead, in the final two innings of the game. So, it wasn’t THAT close. This was only a 7-inning game, since technically Sunday turned into a Doubleheader, and you have to wonder what might’ve been had we been gifted an extra two innings to play around with against that bullpen (with Keuchel going in the early game, the late game was a White Sox Bullpen Day). The Mariners needed a Bullpen Day of our own, as Marco Gonzales had to leave to be with his wife for the birth of their child. I’m not going to be one of those fans who gets mad at a dad wanting to be there in person, you know, BEING a dad.

Robert Dugger got the nod and … he’s not a Major Leaguer. It’s fine. He ate up almost three innings and gave up 3 runs (2 earned). Will Vest has good stuff, but at times has been unreliable; he gave up 2 runs in 1 inning in this one. Just when you think Rafael Montero is going to turn a corner (after his two extra innings performances against the Rays), here he is giving up another 2 runs in a third of an inning. That’s just too many runs for MOST offenses to overcome, let alone a Mariners offense that has been vastly improved over the last month, but still has its struggles. Haniger, again, had two hits (including a 3-run homer in the seventh), but otherwise offense was tough to come by in this one.

I’m pretty happy with another series win against a good team. The White Sox are in first place in the A.L. Central, and we managed to tie them in the season series 3-3. I’ll take that!

Now, we go to … Buffalo I guess? Where the Blue Jays play? I dunno. The Jays are very close in record to the Mariners (40-36 to our 41-38), and are also third place in their respective division. However, they are +65 in run differential, compared to our -43; they appear to be a MUCH better team than their record would give them credit for (while we remain in the bottom third of all Major League teams, vastly outplaying our level of talent). I would say this series would be a good test for us in where we are, but the truth of the matter is this isn’t a matchup of two similar teams. This is closer to us playing the White Sox, in that it would be equally-impressive if we were to go on the road and steal a series from them.

The Elite Mariners Exploded All Over The Mediocre Rays

A 4-game sweep over the erstwhile A.L. East-leading Tampa Bay Rays? Only in America!

What a fun and exciting series if you’re a Mariners fan. And really just totally unexpected. The enjoyment kicked off with a 6-5 come-from-behind victory on Thursday, where Justin Dunn managed only two innings before leaving with an injury to his throwing shoulder, the same shoulder that landed him in the IL just a couple weeks prior. It’s apparently non-surgical, but it is something that’s going to keep him on the shelf for a while, so that’s a bummer. It’s especially bad because Justus Sheffield has been sucking, and there really aren’t any high-profile prospects on the horizon to fill in. I guess the hope is that Dunn won’t have to stay on the IL again for TOO long, and there are enough off-days to get us to his return, but I have my doubts.

The bullpen didn’t totally have it in this one, as JT Chargois, Rafael Montero, and Anthony Misiewicz combined for 5 runs in 5 innings of work. But, somehow, there was JUST enough pitching in this one, to give the hitters time to mount the comeback. J.P. Crawford singled in a run in the third, Torrens and France homered in a combined three runs, Shed Long doubled in a run in the bottom of the 9th to tie it, and Kyle Seager singled in a run right after that to walk it off.

Friday’s game was an impressive 5-1 victory, for obviously different reasons. Yusei Kikuchi dominated once again, going 7 innings of 1-run ball, with 4 hits and 3 walks allowed, while striking out 6. He is just absolutely on a tear this season, and it’s wonderful to see. The offense got it all done early, taking a 4-1 lead after one inning, and tacking on the insurance run in the third. Crawford, Seager, France, Bauers, and Torrens all had multi-hit games, with Long and Haniger also chipping in on the fun.

Saturday was another thrilling 6-5 victory, this time in extras. The M’s jumped out to a 5-2 lead after two innings, before the Rays slowly chipped away at our lead over the rest of regulation. Logan Gilbert went 5.2 innings, giving up 4 of those runs on 6 hits, striking out 7. He ALMOST had a quality start in there, but couldn’t quite make it. We still had the lead into the 9th until Kendall Graveman – who hasn’t quite been as spotless since his COVID IL stint – gave up a tying homer. Rafael Montero pitched a clean 10th, though, and we won it in the bottom half on a first-pitch single.

J.P. Crawford hit a grand slam in that second inning to lead the way. Jake Bauers had the first RBI of the game on a single, and Mitch Haniger had the walk-off single to end it. Bauers has been red-hot since the Mariners signed him, and it would be utterly fascinating to see if he can keep this going for the rest of the season. He was once a highly-touted prospect, so it would make sense for him to eventually put it all together. Then again, it’s unprecedented for the Mariners to be the team to ever benefit from such a turnaround. Also, don’t look now, but Crawford’s 2021 season is insane! At the end of April, his slash line was .250/.313/.295; at the end of May, it was .246/.310/.328; and as of today, it is .281/.341/.404. How about THAT? I mean, we’re not even halfway through the season yet – so there’s plenty of time for those numbers to plummet – but this is highly encouraging! I don’t know if there were a lot of people banking on Crawford being such a huge piece to the rebuild, but it’s looking like – for the moment – he’s the best of the young bunch!

Sunday’s 6-2 victory might’ve been the best of the weekend. Marco Gonzales was stellar, going 6.1 innings, giving up just 2 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 6. His pitch count was good-enough (87) to allow him to at least finish the 7th, but we were actually losing 2-1 at the time of his departure, and it was clear Marco was starting to falter (having given up a run in back-to-back innings to close it out).

The Mariners got a 3rd inning homer from Luis Torrens to take a 1-0 lead, and a 7th inning homer from Ty France to re-tie the game at 2-2. Lockdown work from the bullpen got us to the 10th inning, where once again Rafael Montero pitched around the ghost runner on second base to keep the game tied heading into the bottom half. From there, it looked like the M’s might squander a golden opportunity. Dylan Moore bunted over the runner to third (reaching on the fielder’s choice as a result), and after a Bauers fielder’s choice that eliminated the runner at home, the M’s loaded the bases on a Torrens walk. With one out, Jake Fraley flied out to shallow left field, bringing up Shed Long, who hit a wall-scraper of a Grand Slam to initiate a party at home plate.

It’s been very cool to see Shed Long do a few things since returning from injury. After last year’s abomination – due almost exclusively to a leg injury that hampered him all season – he’s hitting much closer to his career norms. He has 10 hits and 10 RBI in 11 games, with 5 of those hits going for extra bases. We’re obviously talking about a small sample there, but it’s always more fun when our guys do good as opposed to when they do bad. Also, big shout-out to Torrens, who has been superb since he was called back up from Tacoma. We’re talking about another very small sample, but in five games this month – including three against the Rays – he’s hit 3 homers and 5 RBI. That’s obviously huge because Tom Murphy is still sucking at the plate. It’s even bigger for Torrens because Cal Raleigh has been going supernova down in Tacoma and it’s absurd at this point that he hasn’t been called up.

No Weak-Willed Motherfucker-Guy, but remember when I said the Mariners were stacked at catcher and thoroughly jinxed Murphy and Torrens in the process? Because I don’t remember that at all.

Anyway, there aren’t quite as many healthy regulars who are hitting under .200 at the moment. Murphy and Dylan Moore are probably the closest to getting over that hump, with Taylor Trammell probably needing more opportunities to adjust. Anyway, the hitting hasn’t been quite as atrocious this month, and that’s been nice.

Two games against the Rockies close out this homestand on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, we have a jaunty little 6-game road trip to close out an otherwise exciting month of June. We’re sitting at 38-36 at the moment, so it’s nice to be above .500 for the time being.