The Mariners’ Everything Looks As Bad As Expected

I don’t know what we’re doing here. We can’t string together back-to-back quality starts to save our lives, our defense is a God damn trainwreck, we’re still sucking at the plate as per usual. It’s all bad. Everything about the Mariners is bad. We’re somehow 4-6, but it feels like we should be 0-10.

The first game in Milwaukee showed some promise. But, just as much – if not more – left us with a lot of doubts. After an incredible first start to the season, Logan Gilbert gave up three bombs (4 runs total) in 5.2 innings. What’s worse is that the offense FINALLY came alive in the top of the sixth – to tie the game at 3-3 – only for Logan to give up a homer in the bottom half. We somehow managed to bridge the game down just one run in the bottom of the 8th, when Ryne Stanek – our second-best reliever – gave up three hits to give the Brewers a little extra cushion.

All that being said, credit where it’s due, the offense rallied again – this time in the top of the 9th – to score twice and force the blown save to tie the game at 5-5. Unfortunately, with Julio standing at second, Mitch Haniger couldn’t get him home. We were stuck going with our first-best reliever – Andres Munoz – who promptly walked four guys around just the one strikeout, to walk-off-walk the game to its conclusion.

On Saturday, we got probably the best start of young Bryce Miller’s career: 7 shutout innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts, on only 78 pitches. To much fan consternation, Scott Servais didn’t let him go out for the 8th, but honestly I get it. It’s his second year in the pros, he was heading into the heart of the order for the third time, why ruin a perfectly fine boost of confidence?

The second-guessers were nearly proven right, though, as the bullpen immediately turned a 4-0 lead into a 4-3 nailbiter. We did manage to add an insurance run before Munoz took another crack at pitching in a Major League Baseball game, which he passed with flying colors. Because obviously a guy in a save situation is going to try harder than a guy in a tie game.

Still looking for our first series win of the season, the Mariners had a third consecutive game where a pitcher on our staff got absolutely abused. In this case, Emerson Hancock got obliterated, from the moment he stepped on the mound. We squeezed 3.1 innings out of him, but he gave up 8 runs on 11 hits, with 1 walk, and 6 strikeouts. Caught a lot of the plate, was WAY too fastball-heavy early in the game, and his breaking pitches stunk (hence the over-reliance on the heater). Tayler Saucedo ate up 2.2 innings of shutout ball, but otherwise this was the SECOND time Josh Rojas has had to come in to pitch in a blowout, for those keeping track at home. 10 games, two Josh Rojas pitching appearances. That’s how our season is going.

It’s just so fucking demoralizing to follow this team. Every time you want to believe, they slap you with a big, fat dose of reality: the Same Ol’ Mariners are always gonna Same Ol’ Mariners. The hitting is always going to stink. Crappy defense is a new wrinkle, but at the same time not totally unprecedented. Recall back to the “glory days” of Jackie Z, when he kept bringing in the Mark Trumbos and Jesus Monteros of the world. Sacrifice a little defense in the hopes that the offense will more than make up for it. Except, SURPRISE, in Seattle that offense doesn’t play, and now you get crap defense to boot!

What I’m struggling with the most has to be the pitching. And you can’t even blame bullpen injuries for this. We’re two turns through the rotation; every starter has had one good game and one crap game, except for Luis Castillo – ostensibly our ace – who has TWO crap games (more on him in a few days, after I write about his latest fucking debacle). That kind of inconsistency isn’t going to cut it. Not with the way the hitting is going to forever struggle, and not with the way the defense is going to give teams extra outs.

We’re 23rd in ERA. We have 3 Quality Starts in 10 games. We’re middle of the road in WHIP. We’re tied for the 4th-most home runs given up (7 of the 10 games played in Seattle!), and we have the 8th-highest opponent batting average. And these are just the run of the mill dummy stats; I’m sure analytics aren’t looking at the Mariners too kindly either.

But, you know, that’s Mariners baseball. It’s a shit sandwich, all the fucking time, forever.

The Mariners’ Defense Looks As Bad As Expected

The bad defense didn’t show up all over the box score. In fact, there wasn’t a single unearned run in the entire 2-1 series loss to the Guardians. But, so far this season, there’s been a neverending barrage of plays guys are failing to make for their pitchers. It’s no small part of the reason why Castillo and Kirby had such bad days in the two losses. Even if they’re not necessarily considered errors, they’re still plays that should’ve been made. Giving teams extra outs – even middle-of-the-road teams like the Guardians – will get you beat every time.

This series started off so promising, with a 5-4 victory on Monday. Emerson Hancock made his 2024 debut, going 5.1 innings and holding them to only 3 runs. And, other than Munoz giving up a solo homer to the heart of the order in the 8th, the bullpen locked this one down pretty good.

It was especially encouraging because we saw the continued hot start to Ty France’s season (with 2 more hits and a walk), as well as a massive 3-run bomb by Dominic Canzone to center field. I’m entirely doubting Canzone’s ability to do this on a regular basis, but no one would be happier to be wrong if he decides to pan out!

Tuesday saw another underwhelming performance from Luis Castillo (again, aided by poor defense). 5.2 innings, 10 hits, 4 runs, 1 walk, and 7 K’s. He got off to a blazing start through the first three innings, then trailed off, suffering from One Big Inning (3 runs in the 4th) and another little inning (1 run in the 5th).

Of course, there’s not a lot you can do when the bats sleep through the first two-thirds of the game. We didn’t score until the 7th inning, thanks to a 1 for 13 performance with RISP.

The less said about Wednesday’s 8-0 shutout, the better. 4 measly singles and a double were all that could be mustered by the Mariners’ offense. Kirby had an all-around poor day, giving up all 8 runs in 3.2 innings (not all of that is attributable to poor defense, since he gave up 10 hits and only struck out 2).

For those keeping track at home, the Mariners’ offense has struck out 74 times in 7 games, tied for the second-most in baseball (and the Dodgers, who are first with 82, have played in 2 more games, and are also 7-2 and in first place in the N.L. West, so they get a pass).

We are 27th in batting average (.196), 28th in on-base percentage (.261), and 29th in slugging (.289). All in all, that adds up to 30th in OPS (.550).

Is it scheme/philosophy? Is it talent on the roster? Is it this pesky Seattle weather? You know, just once I’d like for this team to start out the season on the road, so we’re not always having to go from the warmth of Arizona, to the dank freeze of the Pacific Northwest.

I will say that part of the problem is the fact that only Ty France and Josh Rojas are actually hitting well. Julio, J.P., and Polanco are all out to lunch. Everyone else is about where I’d expect them to be a week into the season. Honestly, it feels like a miracle that the Mariners are as good as 3-4, considering it would’ve been conceivable for them to lose every single one of these games. We’ll see what week 2 holds.

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!

I Don’t See How You Can Give The Mariners Anything But An F Grade For This Offseason

They were talking about this on Brock and Salk this morning, and it’s just absurd to me how they were bending over backwards to try to excuse this team for its actions this offseason.

I’ll just say, flat out, I don’t believe the 2024 Mariners are any better than the 2023 Mariners. Why anyone would believe that is ludicrous. We’ve downgraded in the outfield, we’ve downgraded at third base, we’ve maintained our same shitty level of play at second base and first base; the only spot we’ve upgraded is DH, which as I’ve said repeatedly the team doesn’t deserve credit for because all they’ve done is replace a corpse with a warm body. Literally ANY move at DH would’ve been an improvement.

On the pitching side of things, the rotation is the same. And while you can MAYBE hope for some improvement from the very youngest members of the rotation, I would also argue your depth is drastically reduced. Last year, Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo were your depth. Now, they’re in the rotation, and your depth guys include that dud we got from the Giants, and whoever is sucking up innings for the Rainiers. Emerson Hancock feels like a pipe dream with his litany of injuries, and it doesn’t seem like any other highly-rated prospect is ready to make the leap to the Majors this year. As for the bullpen, we never really did anything to replace Paul Sewald, unless you count the various projects we’ve brought in who we’re hoping will develop under our system. Wish in one hand and shit in the other and let’s see how much better the Mariners’ bullpen is in 2024.

So, where is this improvement coming from? Your guess is as good as mine. They tried to argue that this isn’t like last year’s crop of crap – A.J. Pollock, Tommy La Stella, Kolten Wong – but are we sure? What’s Luis Urias supposed to give us? Competent defense? We were already getting that from Suarez, along with a significant amount of pop (pop that is 100% not there with Urias). We swapped out Kelenic for a probably-worse version of Kelenic; we swapped out Teoscar Hernandez for injury-prone Mitch Haniger. We’re still saddled with the likes of Canzone, Rojas, Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty, Cade Marlowe, and Taylor Trammell; those guys aren’t anything. Mitch Garver is the only guy who looks plausibly decent, but would it shock anyone to see him come to Seattle and struggle to hit? Also, can he stay healthy?

Now, if you’re going to argue that at least the Mariners aren’t the A’s, then congratu-fucking-lations; you’re not the fucking Cleveland Indians from the movie Major League! Here’s your fucking prize! But, it’s clearly an apples & oranges situation. If you’re happy to not be the A’s, that’s not something that should automatically raise your grade. To me, you’re only graded on yourself, what you did and what you’re capable of doing. You don’t get compared to other teams; we’re not ranking all 30 MLB teams. I would say the Mariners AND the Athletics deserve F’s, albeit for different reasons.

I will say that – given the constraints handed down by ownership – Jerry Dipoto and Co. did okay for themselves. It’s not like they had a ton of options to improve the ballclub. But, we’re not grading them; we’re grading The Mariners. Fans don’t care about how good of a job the GM did; fans care about wins and losses. So, in that sense, maybe it’s too early to give a proper grade. Maybe we have to let the entire season play out and do it all at the end. But, with the information we have now, I can’t imagine the Mariners will be any better. In fact, I’m betting they will be considerably worse.

So, unless they prove me wrong in a big way, they get an F for this offseason. They let us all down, again, and they don’t deserve a single benefit of the doubt.

What The Mariners Need To Fix Heading Into 2024

Whenever you hear someone from the team talk about what went wrong with the 2023 Mariners, and what they need to do to get back to the playoffs in 2024, they make it sound like it’s just a small tweak here and there. I got into the positives of the 2023 squad, and yeah, there’s a lot of good pieces here. But, I would also say it’s not an insignificant undertaking!

I counted 12 positives, and that’s including Teoscar, who is not a guarantee to be back. He’ll likely be extended a qualifying offer, which everyone believes he will turn down. At which point, either you find a way to sign him as a free agent, or you have to go out and fill that spot in right field. Regardless, 12 is less than half of the Major League roster. Even if you add a few of those bullpen pieces to the mix, you’re still hovering around 50% of the team that could definitely use an upgrade. That’s hardly a small tweak here and there!

If we’re talking about reasons why the Mariners fell short this year, you have to start with Ty France and Eugenio Suarez. Ty has been a regular whipping boy this season, for good reason. He has drastically fallen off a cliff these last two years, to the point where he was barely above replacement level in 2023.

In 2021, I would’ve said Ty France was one of our most important players. His batting average has slipped 41 points, his on-base percentage has slipped 31 points, and his slugging has fallen a whopping 79 points. Its been a disaster, on top of which, his strikeouts are climbing. He’s doing nothing well, and even his defense – by the numbers – has fallen off. He somehow managed to avoid the IL, and he had a career high in HBP; that’s what he has to hang his hat on. He has 2 arb years remaining, and I’m not even sure we should give him that much. It might be better for everyone involved for him to just move on, except I don’t know what’s out there to fill in at that spot. It’s not like we can trust in Evan White. Free Agency sounds like a wasteland. We’ll probably have to fill that spot via trade, and so help me if we bring in another one of these Quad-A guys to try to hit in T-Mobile Park.

The only hope is that his year two arb number doesn’t increase much, and that he follows through with the program at Driveline (and it somehow manages to stick). I know they worked wonders for J.P., but I can’t imagine Ty France has been going out and doing nothing the past two offseasons; Driveline is no guarantee of future success.

Eugenio is a slightly different story. His batting average and on-base percentages year over year are pretty close to one another; it was just his power that took a bit of a dive (31 homers in 2022, 22 homers in 2023). That’s a little trickier to explain. His line drive percentage actually went up this year – which might speak to the uptick in doubles – but his fly ball percentage dropped. His pull percentage spiked, while his balls to center and right fell. His hard hit rate and ground ball percentages were both static, and his strikeout rate actually went down a tick (even though his overall strikeouts went up, mostly due to his playing in every single game). Is that just bat angle? Is that the way pitchers were throwing to him? Were they busting him up and in, and that reduced his effectiveness in getting the ball to leave the park?

He also just turned 32 years old, so we can’t necessarily rule that out. Either way, I don’t see him going anywhere. Or, let me put it this way: I don’t see both him AND France leaving (maybe one or the other). But, you can’t try to replace both of those guys plus Teoscar; that’s just too much to try to accomplish in one offseason.

There wasn’t a bigger (and better) story than Jarred Kelenic for the early part of the season. This was truly a make-or-break season for the youngster, and he seemed to take the biggest step forward of anyone in a Mariners uniform. The first couple months were outstanding! It’s too bad they were overshadowed by the rest of the team struggling as much as they did.

His first 53 games – through the end of May – saw him hit .277/.333/.513, with 14 doubles, a triple, and 10 homers. His final 52 games – June through the end of the year – saw him hit .226/.320/.316, with 11 doubles, a triple, and 1 homer.

So, what was that all about? How much did the stint on the IL for kicking a water cooler have to play into it? Well, considering he was struggling mightily leading up to it – hence his physical display of frustration – you can’t blame it ALL on the layoff. Did pitchers adjust to whatever adjustments he had made in the offseason? Probably. Was he ill-equipped to then adjust again? Sure seems like it. What does this mean for his Major League career going forward?

Well, I think it’s safe to say he salvaged some of his value, which is a plus. But, can you really go into next season with him as your everyday left fielder? Or even your most-days platoon left fielder? For what it’s worth, I don’t know if his splits necessarily dictate that he HAS to be a platoon guy. He had a slightly higher batting average and slugging percentage against lefties, and was actually luckier with BABIP against righties than lefties. So, I think he’s fine to be an everyday outfielder. I still think there’s room for him to grow as he continues getting comfortable at the Major League level. But, he goes in the tank for far too long to be considered dependable, and he doesn’t strike me as an All Star type player. He might luck into a hot half-season and get handed a spot one year. Overall, though, I think he’s destined to do whatever it is he’s going to do in another uniform. I believe this will be the offseason we package him to another team, in hopes to bring in a veteran we can count on.

The rest of the problem children include Jose Caballero, Mike Ford, Kolten Wong, Dylan Moore, Dominic Canzone, A.J. Pollock, Josh Rojas, Sam Haggerty, Cade Marlowe, Taylor Trammell, Cooper Hummel (remember him?), Tommy La Stella, and Brian O’Keefe. I can’t possibly devote an entire paragraph or series of paragraphs to these guys, because we’d be here all day. Suffice it to say, they’re all fringe Major Leaguers (at best), and were eating up WAY too many spots in our lineup for this offense to be even remotely effective. Some of them had decent stretches (Ford had 16 homers on the year, Caballero was an on-base machine for a while, Rojas and Marlowe had brief hot streaks), but on the whole, these are not the types of players you want to pin your hopes on.

On the pitching side of things, you have to begin with Robbie Ray and the fact that he only made the one start this year. Now, do we know if he would’ve been good this year? Remember how poorly the end of his 2022 season went. But, that could’ve been a fluke. The bottom line is that a guy you were expecting to eat up a significant chunk of quality innings wasn’t around for you. It accelerated the development of Miller and Woo – which in the end might’ve been a bonus – but you could see those guys start to wear down towards the end of the year. Would they have been fresher if we could’ve held them back a little longer? We’ll never know, but it sure seems likely.

Marco Gonzales only made it 10 starts this year, and continued his gradual downturn ever since 2020. We’re still stuck with him for one more year, and I find it hard to believe we’ll be able to find a trade partner for him. On the one hand, he’ll be healthy by the start of 2024, and you can’t have too much starting pitching; on the other hand, he’s useless as a member of the bullpen, and if he keeps Woo or Miller from starting for too long, it’s going to be enraging.

The biggest tragedy of this year might’ve been the injury to Emerson Hancock. We only got about two and a half starts out of him, but he looked fairly promising in his limited action. And it happened right around the time Bryan Woo was returning from his brief IL stint, when we were supposed to head into the dog days of summer with a 6-man rotation, to hopefully keep everyone fresh. How important was THAT in derailing our season? Who’s to say? It’s one more What If to throw onto a season full of ’em.

And we’ve already gone into the bullpen of it all. There were gods and clods, and the clods were pretty damn mediocre. Trading Sewald, so far, looks like a disaster. But, that’s one of those things you can’t measure in two months’ time. You have to look at it over the next 2-3 years and see where everyone lands. I’ll say this: I don’t have any confidence in Canzone or Rojas. But, I also think we’re right around the corner from Sewald turning into a pumpkin. In which case, it was all for naught, and very well might’ve been the single biggest factor in sinking our season.

So, TL;DR, what do we need to fix? Well, we need to upgrade at either 1B or 3B. We need to fill RF with either Teoscar or Other. We need a bona fide fucking DH, because this horse shit we’ve been doing isn’t going to fly.

The Mariners are so full of shit with this DH thing, by the way. It was supposedly a means to give regular guys off-days, but how often was it used for that purpose, really? Suarez played at third damn near every day. France rarely went off first. J.P. never sits. Instead, that spot went to Teoscar on occasion (which was really a means to improve our outfield defense), Cal once in a while (when Murphy was healthy and able to back him up), and people like Ford, Pollock, Haggerty, Rojas, and the like. Lots of bullshit bench guys getting DH starts and doing nothing with them! Just sign a great hitter and park him there! Enough with this experiment that you’re not even using as you say you will!

Also, we need a proper second baseman, a proper backup catcher (who can stay healthy all year), and an outfielder or three (depending on what happens with Teoscar and Kelenic). Oh, and replenish the bullpen with at least one heavy duty arm (so it’s not just Brash, Topa, and Munoz and that’s it).

So, yeah, there’s a lot to do, and only one offseason to do it.

The Mariners Are On The Brink With Their Starting Rotation

I don’t want to alarm anyone, or overlook all the awesome things the Mariners are doing as a team this year. But … this is just something to keep an eye on.

The unquestioned strength of the 2023 Mariners is its starting rotation. It’s interesting to think of what could’ve been had everyone stayed as healthy as they were in 2022, but there’s definitely an argument to be made that injuries to Robbie Ray and later Marco Gonzales actually made this rotation stronger.

We have no idea how Robbie would’ve responded after some late-season challenges last year; he is a former Cy Young Award winner, after all. There’s no reason why he couldn’t return to form. But, I think some skepticism is a little smart – and valid – and if you asked me who I would want right now to start an important game between Bryce Miller and a fully healthy Robbie Ray, I’d pick Miller and it’s not even close. As for Marco, he’s been on a clear downward trend since 2020; his stuff wasn’t even good enough to crack the playoff roster last year. Between an inexperienced and sometimes wild Woo or Gonzo, I think I’m taking Woo’s stuff and not looking back.

The thing is, while that’s fine in a hypothetical, in reality we’re talking about two rookie pitchers who have limits to how long they can pitch this season. They’re both skyrocketing beyond their career highs in innings. The short IL stint for Woo will help, but just think where we were a week ago. We were staring down the barrel of a 6-man rotation, with the addition of another impressive young arm in Emerson Hancock. An embarrassment of riches! Just as the offense is catching fire and pulling this team back into the playoff race. It was all so perfect.

It turns out, a little too perfect. Hancock’s last start got cut short after two innings, he came up lame with a shoulder issue, and now he not only finds himself on the IL, but the 60-day IL. His season is done. It speaks to a tragic long-term outlook – considering this is the third time he’s found himself with serious arm issues – and if you look at the way he throws a baseball, it just looks fucking painful. I imagine this won’t be his last time on the IL, and I’m seeing a bullpen role ultimately being his fate.

Okay, fine. Woo has returned and we’re back to our five best starters. We’ll see how it goes the rest of the way.

The thing that scares me is now we’re talking about the third season-ending injury to a valued starting pitcher. Four if you want to count Easton McGee (whose season was dashed after one spot start in Seattle), though I don’t know if I’d call him “valued”. Digging deeper into our depth, obviously Chris Flexen was a flop and was DFA’d. And, until this year, Taylor Dollard was an up-and-coming prospect who just got his feet wet in AAA before going down for the season after 3 starts. Who’s left? Darren McCaughan (of the 5.99 ERA in Tacoma, and underwhelming mop-up appearances with the Mariners) and Tommy Milone (of the 4.44 ERA in Tacoma, with two decent spot starts with the M’s spanning 9 total innings). That’s it. The cupboard is bare in AA; there aren’t any more flashy prospects waiting in the wings.

Now, I see that – as part of yesterday’s spate of roster moves – we picked up someone named Luke Weaver. He’s just flat out bad. He started all year for Cincinnati and sucked through and through with a near-7 ERA, averaging less than 5 innings per outing. It was pretty clear the Reds didn’t trust him, nor was he someone to be trusted, ultimately resulting in his release last week.

We’re told that he’s going to be a long reliever, and an occasional spot starter, and BOY HOWDY does that sound unappealing coming from him.

It’s weird that we’d choose Weaver over Milone or McCaughan, two guys in our system, whose stuff we’re familiar with. What do we know about Weaver? He’s got a good pitch mix, but just hasn’t unlocked his potential yet? He’s 30 years old! He is who we thought he was! Besides, is late August of a pennant chase the best time to build up a reclamation project? Can you even call someone a “reclamation project” if he’s never put together a full season of competence?

Here’s my concern: what if we lose another starter? That’s what I’m talking about when I say we’re on the brink. God forbid we lose one of our top three guys, but even if we lose Miller or Woo to injury, the dropoff is CONSIDERABLE. Again, the plus side is that it’s late August. A pisspoor fifth starter won’t ultimately be the reason we’d fail to miss the playoffs in that scenario. But, then again, the Mariners are where they’re at, and the margin for error is pretty thin. So, YEAH, a pisspoor fifth starter MIGHT ultimately be the reason we flame out! One bad game in the last week or two of the season might be the one game that costs us.

Hopefully, the offense is here to stay, and maybe they’d bail us out going forward. That’s what I have to cling to, anyway. The Rays have been bitten by the injury bug probably more than any contender, and yet they’ve still managed to stay in the thick of things. They’re an inspiration! Here’s to the Mariners being like the Rays (minus employing the alleged underage sexual assaulters).

Well, really, here’s to the Mariners not losing any more guys to injury. Let’s stay just the way we are from here on out!

This Is Not A Drill: The Mariners Swept The Astros In Houston

Well, then I guess there’s only one thing left to do

I can’t even begin to tell you how unlikely all of this is. We’re now 14 games over .500; remember the All Star Break? We were one game over .500, and needed to go 45-28 to get to 90 wins. Remember the next week after the All Star Break? Remember how we lost a series at home against the lowly Tigers, and were in the midst of breaking even against the Twins? Remember how – at that point – we’d dipped down to one game below .500? It’s insane to think of how this season has turned around in such a short period of time.

Now, all we need to do is go 21-17 to get to 90 wins. Not that 90 wins are any sort of guarantee. Might take 93-95 wins this year, with the way things are going in the American League. Regardless, as of this weekend, we are in the third wild card spot by half a game. Time will tell if this is our emotional high-water mark on the season, or if we’ll power through to the finish. But it’s been a lot more fun to watch this team over the last month.

It was especially fun to watch the Mariners this weekend, because fuck the Astros! As you know from my post on Friday, I didn’t have high hopes. It just seemed like our bullpen was taxed, our starters were iffy, and we were in their home (where we’ve rarely done well). I don’t think this weekend could’ve gone more perfectly.

On Friday, we just barely scraped by with a 2-0 victory. Bryce Miller had his good stuff going in this one, completing 6.1 innings, giving up only 2 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 2. Justin Topa – who was pretty fresh – bridged that gap to the ninth inning, where Andres Munoz (also pretty fresh) nailed down the save.

Offensively, this was the Julio Rodriguez Show. It’s been his show for the last week, and really since the All Star Break. He went 4/5 in this one with a solo homer in the third. Mike Ford had the other solo homer in the sixth off of J.P. France, who was otherwise very good.

On Saturday, Julio went 4/6 with 2 runs scored en route to a 10-3 Mariners victory over Framber Valdez (who went 5 innings, giving up 6 runs). It was largely a team effort in this one, as Teoscar Hernandez had a big game (3/5 with 2 RBI and a run), as did Dylan Moore (2 home runs, 3 RBI), Ty France (2 hits, 2 runs), Sam Haggerty (2 hits, including a homer), and Jose Caballero (1 hit, 1 walk, 1 run, and 1 fight instigated by the Astros battery, who just hate him).

Logan Gilbert gave us 6 innings of competent pitching in this one, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits and a walk, with 3 strikeouts. Thankfully, we kept adding on runs throughout, so we got away with our back-of-the-bullpen arms to finish this one. That ended up being pretty fortuitous, considering what happened on Sunday.

It looks like Emerson Hancock’s season might be done. He left the game after 2 innings with a right shoulder strain. He had a lat strain in 2022 that delayed the start of that season, so I would say this is pretty concerning. For him, anyway. The Mariners were all set to bring back Bryan Woo from the IL in this upcoming series in Chicago. Now, the intention was to go to a 6-man rotation for a spell, and that appears to be in jeopardy. But, maybe the time off was all Woo needed to at least get us to the finish line. Either that, or maybe we sprinkle in a spot start or two out of one of our AAA starters. It’s already almost September, so it’s not like the guys have a ton of starts remaining.

Anyway, on Sunday, the M’s had built up a 6-0 lead heading into the bottom of the third, when our bullpen was forced to take over. Unfortunately, that bullpen gave us quite a scare right off the bat. Tayler Saucedo had zilch, getting no outs, giving up 5 runs on 4 hits and a HBP. Of course, two of those runs came around to score by his successor, but that’s still his fault.

The rest of the bullpen was pretty much nails! Thorton ate up 1.2 innings (including getting us out of that Saucedo scrape with a lead intact), Brash went 1.1 innings, Campbell went 1 inning (giving up the Astros’ sixth run, after we’d already gotten our seventh), and Topa, Munoz, and Speier locked it down from there, keeping the score where it was, 7-6. As it happened, I was at Wild Waves, following along on my phone. I saw that Munoz did the 8th inning – taking out the top of the order – and was sure he’d be in there for the 2-inning save. Instead, Speier of all people got the job done, starting with Destroyer Of All Things Mariner Yordan Alvarez and striking him out. I’m glad Y.A. was relatively cool in this series; it’s nice not to see him homer against us literally every single day.

Julio doubled in the first in this one, before coming around to score. Otherwise, he was quiet, but if he’s not the Player of the Week, there’s some shenanigans going on. Canzone was 4/5 with a RBI and a run, Moore was also 4/5 with a RBI. Rojas had 2 hits and 2 runs; Suarez had a 2-run homer; and even Brian O’Keefe had a 2-run double (though he’s still yet to finish a game he’s started, with Cal pinch hitting late both times).

The Mariners got all the way to be within a half game of the Astros (tied in the loss column). On top of that, we have officially taken the season series against them! So, bring on the tiebreaker! Again, we’ll see if this is our high-water mark or not. We have three more against the White Sox starting tonight, before we get to go back home for what – ON PAPER – looks like the cheesiest of all homestands (3 vs. the Royals, 3 vs. the A’s), but we saw what happened the last time we faced the Royals. Off-days are starting to get scarce, but we rustled up a well-deserved one this Thursday.

On the plus side, we finally get J.P. Crawford back from his concussion. On the downside, we’ll see how long it takes him to get back in the groove.

The Mariners Completed An Exhausting Series Victory Over The Royals

Is anybody else wiped out by this 4-game series? I mean yeah, the Mariners had to fly from Seattle to Kansas City without an off-day and play in four hard-fought back-and-forth games, down to the bitter end each and every day, in sweltering heat, minus their short stop and regular backup catcher (Murphy, who landed on the IL this week), with just a pesky, free-swinging opponent that didn’t play for one minute like the bottom-feeders they are. But, as fans, I would argue it was even MORE exhausting! Yeah, I said it! I need a cigarette and a nap!

On the one hand, you hate to lose even one of those games against a team like the Royals, who are pretty clearly the second-worst team in the entire MLB, in a tier with only the A’s as the absolute beans of baseball. But, on the other hand, I think I’m just relieved we won the three we did, and didn’t endure an insufferable split. Following our recent scorching hot stretch by blowing two games against the Orioles, and then treading water against KC would’ve been a nightmare, if not totally on brand for the Mariners.

Still … could’ve had the sweep. The M’s were three outs away from one of the most impressive potential comeback victories of the year, with ostensibly their best reliever on the mound starting a clean 9th inning with a 1-run lead. That’s the table that was set on Monday, after an absolutely abysmal first 7 innings of that game, where we were no-hit through most of them. We headed into the top of the eighth nursing our wounds down 5-0, when finally the offense got things going.

With one out, Mike Ford doubled to right and Dylan Moore reached on a HBP. Josh Rojas singled sharply to load the bases for Julio Rodriguez, who mashed a double to left to clear them. After a J-Rod steal of third, Suarez singled him home to make it 5-4, before Raleigh and Canzone struck out to end it.

No matter, with two on and two out in the top of the ninth, Rojas singled to tie the game, and Julio singled to take the lead. What a reckoning! If only …

All you can say is that Brash didn’t have it. He gave up three hits, managed only one out, and even that was a sac fly to tie the game. I’m hard-pressed to say he was even overworked in that one; sure, he pitched the night before against the Orioles, but that was coming off of three days off.

As for Tuesday’s 10-8 victory in ten innings, I don’t even know what to tell you. I missed the whole thing, as full disclosure, I was out in the sweltering heat sweating my way through engagement photos; I hope our photographer can photoshop out my perspiration. I’m kinda glad I didn’t have to sit through the nonsense of this game though.

Not to be out-done by the Royals gagging away a 5-run lead the previous day, the M’s decided it would be fun to somehow send a game that was once 7-0 into extra innings. We scored those 7 runs in the fourth, with a massive deluge of hitting prowess. Suarez homered, France homered, Cal walked and Teoscar homered. Caballero doubled in a run, then Rojas homered him in. I don’t know if there are many things I love more in baseball than when my team fully bats around; it’s always a tremendous amount of fun!

Unfortunately, Emerson Hancock had a bit of a crushing rookie moment. He was more or less cruising through two outs in the fifth inning, but then gave them 5 runs back, including a grand slam that I don’t know how didn’t end his day right then and there. 5 of his 9 hits given up were in that inning; I don’t know if he got tired, or if the Royals just figured him out in their second and third time through the order. I’m not inclined to freak out about the results (again, I wasn’t able to witness the actual stuff), because the Royals kind of did that to all of our starters in this series. Maybe not in such a massive clump like that, but no one was safe.

Certainly not our bullpen! We even went so far as to add on an insurance run in the seventh with another Teoscar RBI (he was 5 for 5 on the day with a homer, a double, and 3 RBI) to make it 8-5, but Andres Munoz – on the heels of back-to-back late-game suck-jobs against the Orioles – gave up a whopping 3 unearned runs in the bottom of the ninth to send this to extras. Luckily, he was bailed out by Ty France with his 2-RBI single, and we won 10-8.

Wednesday’s victory I want to say was less frustrating, but how can I? The Royals went with a de facto bullpen day, gave us 4 runs in the first two innings, with Luis Castillo on the mound; how WASN’T that a cake walk?! Well, with the bullpen so taxed over the last few days, Castillo was forced to get us 7 innings if we wanted to survive this series. That meant pitching more to contact – with less focus on strikeouts – to keep his pitch count down. Quite frankly, he didn’t have his best stuff, and for whatever reason, when he managed to throw a good pitch out of the zone, they were hitting them fair.

Anyway, the offense went into hibernation from the third through the seventh innings. Well, I can’t say that’s totally accurate; we were getting guys on base, but not hitting them in (finishing a disrespectful 4/15 with RISP, with 13 LOB). That gave the Royals enough time to tie the game 4-4 heading into the eighth, when we finally woke up. We didn’t quite get the big hit we needed, but Teoscar hit a medium foul ball to right field and the resultant throw just BARELY missed the sliding Dylan Moore. For good measure, Julio knocked in another run in the ninth to give us some extra cushion (his 4th hit and 2nd RBI of the day), which was absolutely necessary since Brash gave up a solo homer before recording just his third save of the season.

To wrap it all up, we had Kirby going yesterday morning, coming off of his 9 innings of shutout ball. Even HE had trouble with this lineup, ultimately giving them 4 runs in 6 innings of work. Three of those runs came in the sixth inning, taking a 2-1 lead and turning it into a 4-2 deficit. It all started to feel a little hopeless until the eighth, when Julio mashed a 3-run bomb to give us the lead. Cal hit a pinch hit bomb in the top of the ninth, and this time Brash worked a clean bottom half to get his fourth save.

What does this all mean? Well, for starters, I can’t envision a scenario where Brash pitches tonight, since he’s gone 4 games in 5 days, all of them extremely high-leverage. Campbell and Thornton helped mop up Thursday’s in-between later innings, so that should free up the rest of our (better) bullpen members to take the reins.

But, I dunno. That series looked like we played 8 games in 4 days. No rest, no easy ones, constantly battling for nine and sometimes nine-plus innings. Now, we gotta go to Houston to play a team that’s gone 20-11 since the All Star Break? A team that’s still 3.5 games up on us, that’s had our number (especially in their home ball park) for ages now, without our top two starters (Castillo and Kirby). I just can’t envision a scenario where we win this series. We likely won’t even win a game! J.P. France dominated us earlier this year, and Framber Valdez has been a force against us (and everyone in baseball). The only guy we’ve had success against – Hunter Brown – goes up against Emerson Hancock, who I have to imagine is going to struggle mightily in this ballpark, against that offense.

Don’t forget, the Astros have four guys who are slugging well over .500, with Alex Bregman to boot, who always gives us fits.

This is NOT the time you want to play the Astros. That doesn’t even mention how we’re riding a 3-game winning streak; you want to know the best cure for that? The best cure for Mariners fan excitement? Play a series down in Houston and rant and rave while getting swept and it’s not even particularly close. And oh by the way, it’s not even a given that we’ll have J.P. Crawford back yet, as he still needs to play at least one rehab game in Everett.

Weather’s still nice, folks. I’d recommend making other weekend plans. I’ve got a Paul Reiser stand up comedy show in Tacoma on Saturday night, and a trip to Wild Waves on the agenda for Sunday morning. I’ll see y’all there!

The Mariners Won Their Sixth Straight Series With A Sweep Of The Padres

In case you weren’t counting along at home, that’s 7 consecutive victories, 12 of 14, and 24 of 34 dating back to the season’s nadir: when we were 4 games under .500 after a 15-4 loss where we were booed off the field at home against the Rays back on June 30th.

The funny thing is, this is exactly the kind of winning I said we can’t depend on. There’s no way the Mariners can keep doing this year after year! At some point, we need a little more everyday consistency! Yet, here we are, with the same exact record – 62-52 – that we had last year. The standings around us are different, but otherwise we’re right there in the thick of it thanks to this stretch. Baseball is fucking weird.

This was just a 2-game series against the Padres, with off-days on either side. So, otherwise a restful week, all things considered.

On Tuesday, we saw perhaps Logan Gilbert’s best-ever performance. He went 7 innings, gave up 1 questionable hit (that very well could’ve been an error), and struck out 12 en route to a 2-0 victory. That was the nastiest, filthiest stuff I’ve ever seen from him; he was in complete command from the jump. Sure, he had some help – a few nifty catches by Julio in the outfield, including a home run robbery – but this was Logan at his finest. He’s put up great box scores before; a lot of zeroes in his relatively short history with the M’s. But, I’ve never quite seen the type of movement and mix of off-speed he was able to throw at them. It’s cool to see Logan blossom, from a long-armed fireballer with lots of run on his fastball, to a crafty pitcher who can keep other teams off-balance and guessing throughout.

The offense consisted of a bases-loaded walk by Cal on a pitch clock violation in the fifth, and a Moore triple in the sixth that scored Tom Murphy. I had kind of hoped for more when it came to the Padres going with a Bullpen Day thanks to injuries. But, it turns out, that’s all we needed, as Brash and Munoz nailed down the final two innings no problem.

I had cause for concern yesterday, as Yu Darvish was on the mound. I don’t know if this is actually true, but it feels like Darvish always dominates us, getting tons of flailing swings and misses. But, this is an older Darvish. Even though he spun some nice gold – 6 innings, 1 run, 0 earned runs – we managed to keep the pressure up, putting a man on almost every inning he was out there. In the end, though, it was 1-1 going to the bottom of the eighth, before we finally busted this one wide open.

We don’t often get to talk about the Mariners batting around, but we saw it last night. Julio led off the eighth with a walk and after a Suarez strikeout, Cal hit a massive 2-run bomb to make it 3-1. That felt like it was going to be it for us, and it also felt like all we needed. But, after Teo was hit by a pitch (on the bill of his helmet, definitely not intentional, based on the pitcher’s immediate reaction, and he fact that he had two strikes on Teo), and the next batter grounded out, the bats really came to life. Ty France doubled in Teo, Marlowe singled in Ty, Rojas reached on an error (originally ruled as his first hit in a Mariners uniform), and Moore singled in Marlowe, to give the game its final score, 6-1.

This game was notable for being Emerson Hancock’s first Major League start. I guess he most certainly IS ready for this promotion!

It started off a little rocky in the first. He walked the leadoff hitter, then pretty much ignored the guy as he stole second and third base. Hancock even ignored him as he was scoring on a fielder’s choice right back to the pitcher; granted, the likelihood of gunning down the runner at home was slim, but it was weird to see a pitcher so casual about his base runner. I’m wondering if he was told by the team to not worry about the men on base, just focus on the hitter at the plate.

In spite of that run coming around to score in the first, Hancock never looked overwhelmed. He had lots of good movement on his pitches, and was pretty willing to mix it up and not just stick to fastballs. In total, he went five innings (throwing 87 pitches), limiting the Padres to just that one run, on 2 hits and 3 walks, with 3 strikeouts. The biggest concern in that whole line is the three walks, but we can chalk that up to first-start nerves. Otherwise, I was very impressed, as that Padres lineup has the potential to be quite potent and damaging.

We brought out all the stops with the bullpen, considering we had two off-days to count on this week. We used five different guys to get through the last four innings, and as the game remained tied later and later, it felt like this one was going to go extras. We even used Brash on back-to-back days in the eighth. The only thing saving us from using Munoz again – he was warming up to come in – was the fact that we put up a 5-spot in the bottom of the eighth. That’s the second time recently that Isaiah Campbell took Munoz’s spot thanks to a late Mariners scoring spree.

You know, I hate to be this guy, but I’ve found myself to be very much more engaged with the Mariners of late, now that they’ve been winning. Oh sure, it’s bandwagony as hell, but this team was legitimately hard to watch in the first half of the season.

With everyone starting to come together and get hot at the same time, it really feels like the Mariners can do anything. That they’re capable of playing with anyone and taking this thing all the way to the World Series. I know that’s just the hot streak talking. We’ll come back to Earth and play some .500 ball again for a while. But, I’m inclined to ride this wave as long as it’ll take me. It’s fun winning so often!

One cause for concern: Suarez and Crawford collided in the field yesterday, both trying to make a play on the same ball. This resulted in J.P. getting hit in the head and later being taken out of the game. He’s being tested for a concussion right now; I hope to Christ it isn’t serious. He’s the last guy I want to lose, after all he’s done to keep this team together.

Also, quick sidebar: Paul Sewald has only appeared in two games so far with the Diamondbacks. They’ve been on a massive losing streak (0 for the month of August) and so he hasn’t had many opportunities to save games. Finally, they threw him into a 12-1 blowout just to get him some work, and he pitched a clean inning. But then, the very next day, with a 3-2 lead in the ninth, Sewald gave up two homers to lose it 5-3 in walk-off fashion. Yikes!

Is Now The Right Time For The Mariners To Call Up Emerson Hancock?

I always find August to be the most interesting time in a baseball season. It’s also often the most frustrating. When you hear about the “dog days of summer” in reference to baseball, this is the time that’s being referenced. Early-to-mid August through the end of the month; this three week (or so) stretch. You’re past the All Star Break, you’re past that stretch run in July where every game fells like life or death because of the impending trade deadline, and you’re a little bit beyond that deadline, where you see a little boost from whatever moves you ended up making (to either add to your big league club, or from minor leaguer call-ups after subtracting from your big league club).

It’s also, critically, before the stretch run in the month of September, where playoff spots are won or lost.

These are the hardest games. Everyone’s tired. Everyone’s at least a little banged up. The weather is fucking miserable. And, lord help you if the scheduling gods have thrust an extended road trip upon you.

I don’t know how to search for this – or if the information even exists to someone like me (without going through every single season and doing the math for 40+ years) – but anecdotally it feels like the Mariners fucking stink in the month of August. Like, more than most teams. I’m sure I’m way off base and we’d find them somewhere in the middle of the pack, but I think it’s actually a pretty safe assumption given how mediocre the Mariners have been for the duration of their history. Nevertheless, I always dread this stretch of August, because bad things always seem to happen.

Is it any coincidence that the greatest collapse in Mariners history – a 15-14 defeat in Cleveland in 2001, when we had a 14-2 lead going into the bottom of the 7th inning – happened right around this time (August 5th)? I will always believe that was a turning point in our 116-win season, that ultimately led to an unceremonious ouster in the ALCS.

Anyway, I find this particular stretch, in 2023, to be more interesting than almost any other in my time following the M’s. Obviously, we all know what’s happened so far this year. The Mariners were supposed to be playoff (and even divisional) contenders, they got off to an absolutely mediocre start, and have only in the last month and change clawed their way back to respectability. The job isn’t done yet – not by a long shot – but the Mariners are just now starting to resemble the team we all expected them to be.

It’s an interesting time because of what we did – or didn’t – do at the trade deadline. We kept our everyday lineup mostly intact. There were a couple of addition-by-subtraction moves in jettisoning Pollock and Wong, along with a couple of We’ll See additions of Canzone and Rojas (who, for now, are largely on the fringe of regular playing time, mixing in with the group we already had in place, rather than getting extended looks). What’s happened is what was obvious to everyone: the M’s were only going to start winning more often when the core guys started hitting more often.

But, maybe the most important thing is happening as we speak. We’re at a crossroads, so to speak, when it comes to the back of our rotation.

We lost Robbie Ray after his first start of the season. We lost Marco Gonzales at the end of May. We lost Chris Flexen to ineffectiveness. That, in turn, opened up two spots in the rotation that were filled by AA call-ups Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo. As has been pointed out by the Seattle Times, among others, they’re both nearing their innings limits. Miller is at a combined 106 innings, after throwing for 133.2 last year. Woo is at a combined 99 innings, after throwing only 57 last year (he’s coming off of a major arm injury in 2021). I don’t know what the upper limit is for these two guys, but I get the sense it’s fast approaching. The Mariners are all about working guys up slowly, to hopefully prevent long-term damage, which is the right thing to do, but a bitter pill to swallow in a playoff chase.

The tough part is: there’s no veteran help coming anytime soon. Ray is out for the year. And we have no idea when Marco will be able to throw again; he very well also might be done. We have Tommy Milone – a Quad-A guy in Tacoma at the moment – and that’s pretty much it as far as guys with Major League experience.

Enter Emerson Hancock.

It’s not totally clear what the plan is at this point. We know that Woo was placed on the IL with a forearm strain, so probably Hancock is taking Woo’s spot for now. My hope is that the M’s are fudging the numbers a bit, and this is just an excuse to give Woo some healthy rest, without needing to make a more serious move to free up a spot on the active roster.

Assuming that’s the case, what’s the plan for when Woo returns? Are the Mariners going to move one of these young guys to the bullpen? Are they going to go to a 6-man rotation for the next few weeks/the rest of the season? Some combination of the two (a 6-man rotation, then convert one or two to the bullpen at season’s end)? Anything could be on the table.

My main questions for today are: is this the right move? Is it the right move for the Mariners? And is it the right move for Hancock’s professional baseball career?

Hancock was selected in the first round of the 2020 draft. He pitched most of 2021 in Everett, before a late call up to AA Arkansas. Then, he spent the entirety of 2022 in AA (with, I believe, some injury issues limiting his availability), and so far in 2023, he’s spent a comparable amount of time (0.1 fewer innings in 1 fewer start) in AA, working on things and growing as a pitcher.

In that sense, he’s probably ready. The Mariners, for their highest-rated prospects, like to call them up directly from AA. It makes you wonder why they even have a AAA team in the PCL, if all the stadia are so bad for pitchers/good for hitters, but the allure of having the Tacoma Rainiers right there in your backyard (for IL purposes, as well as hopefully-temporary demotions to work on things or get heads right) should be obvious to all.

I like to look through game logs in cases like these, where a highly-rated prospect is invited to The Show. Just looking at a stat line might be deceiving, unless the numbers are so blazing hot they’re undeniable. Hancock, at first blush, doesn’t look like a dominating AA force (4.32 ERA in 98 innings across 20 games), but that doesn’t tell you everything. Before his most recent outing on August 2nd (5 innings, 3 runs, on 6 hits and 2 walks, with 7 strikeouts; nothing to sneeze at), he was on fire: 20 IP, 1 ER, 8 hits, 2 walks, 19 K’s across three starts.

Cause for concern: in the start immediately preceeding that stretch, he was knocked out in the second inning, after giving up 9 runs on 9 hits, with 2 walks and 2 K’s. But, by and large he’s been mostly good this year, especially since the beginning of June. And, again, not even the game logs tell the full story, because we don’t really know what the team was asking him to do. Maybe he was told to focus on his secondary pitches, to get them up to snuff (knowing his fastball and control would play anywhere).

In the first two months of Woo’s season down in AA, he wasn’t anything spectacular. He was fine, but the starts tended to run short (almost certainly by design), and the results were up and down. But, apparently he’d mastered whatever it was the Mariners wanted him to work on (at least, well enough to get the call-up once Marco went down), and that’s all that mattered.

Similarly, with Bryce Miller, he wasn’t setting AA ablaze in the month of April. He had one good start, and even that was limited to 5 innings! So, you know, it’s impossible for someone like me, outside of the organization, to make any sort of educated determination on a pitcher’s readiness.

I would say Hancock is at least as ready as Miller or Woo. Maybe more! He has far and away more innings logged in AA than Miller and Woo combined. We’ll see how it translates to Hancock’s performance with the Mariners – especially in the dog days of summer, in the middle of a playoff race – but I can’t argue with decision, knowing what we know.

So, we’ll see if this is the right move for this year’s Mariners. I would think, going forward, this experience will be invaluable in the years to come. Either Hancock ingratiates himself as a permanent member of this rotation, or he turns himself into an even more valuable trade chip this offseason, in the event we find a deal for a quality bat. He’s never going to reach his fullest value as a trade prospect until teams see him pitch at this level. You have to believe – with Ray returning next year, and with one more year of Marco under contract – that the Mariners will be trading one of these young arms (as loathe as we are to think of it) in the offseason.

But, as I said before, for 2023, it’s either Hancock or Milone. Milone can get called up anytime; he’s not going anywhere. He’s a known quantity. You like him as a spot start guy in an emergency, but there’s diminishing returns the more exposed he becomes to Major League hitting. Hancock, on the other hand, has vastly more impressive stuff, and he’s a bit of a mystery. Here’s hoping that plays well in the short term, to give us a much-needed boost in this oh-so-critical time of the season.