Key To The Mariners’ Chances Going Forward

The biggest key to the Mariners’ success to date in 2018 is the starting rotation staying healthy (for the most part) and vastly improving after the month of April (where just about everyone was either adequate or terrible, up to and including James Paxton).  I would argue that even the injury to Erasmo Ramirez was a blessing in disguise, as Wade LeBlanc has made a name for himself with this opportunity.  But, with Paxton, Gonzales, and Leake all overcoming rough starts to the season, turning into reliable and often dominant pieces to this puzzle (alongside LeBlanc’s baffling greatness from Day 1), the Mariners have been able to weather a lot of storms and build up a record that all but guarantees a playoff spot in October.

The biggest hit to the Mariners’ chances going forward is NOT the loss of Robbie Cano for all those games (plus the playoffs) but rather the depth of the Mariners’ bullpen (or lack thereof).

It’s truly remarkable what the Mariners are doing with this scotch taped-together bullpen.  Phelps went down in Spring Training; he was supposed to be an 8th inning type guy (who could also go multiple innings in a pinch).  Scrabble was so terrible at doing his one job (getting lefties out) that he was DFA’d.  Juan Nicasio hasn’t been nearly the dominant force we thought he’d be when we signed him to that big 2-year deal (and is currently on the DL).  Nick Vincent had a rough start to the season and is also currently on the DL (having just had a setback with his groin injury).  Dan Altavilla has had multiple DL stints this year and might be out for a very long time with his arm injury.  Casey Lawrence – while tearing it up in Tacoma as a starter right now – got off to a rough start and had to be sent down after 4 appearances.  Ryan Cook was hot when he returned from the DL, but has been hit around in 3 of his last 4 appearances.  Alex Colome has closer-type stuff, but he’s been far from perfect since coming over from the Rays (especially AGAINST those very Rays).

And yet, if you didn’t get into specifics and just asked me, “How’s Seattle’s bullpen doing this year?”  I’d likely tell you, “Pretty great!”

Edwin Diaz is taking the league by storm in his third year in the bigs.  James Pazos – in his second year on the Mariners – has been outstanding.  Chasen Bradford came out of nowhere to be a reliable back-of-the-bullpen guy to eat a lot of innings for us.  And even those guys who’ve had their struggles from time to time – Nicasio, Vincent, and Colome in particular – have also been successful in a lot of high leverage situations.

With a number of those guys on the DL (hopefully Nicasio & Vincent will be back soon), though, it’s hard not to be concerned about the future.  There are a lot of high leverage innings left this season!  With the way this team plays, with all the close games, it seems like there’s zero margin for error every single night!  Sure, a lot of the guys are young and healthy now, but will they succumb to over-use?

The good thing is, I don’t believe for a minute that the Mariners are finished making moves to improve the big league club.  We have a number of quality starters down in Tacoma, in the event we need long relief help or spot starts.  Nick Rumbelow is another guy who figured big in the Mariners’ bullpen plans before he got hurt; he’s coming back from injury and getting his feet wet in Tacoma as we speak.  Also, it usually doesn’t take a whole lot in trade to get a quality reliever back before the deadline, and with plenty of teams tanking this season, the supply should be pretty significant.

Either way, though, if you told me the Mariners would have to roll with a playoff bullpen consisting of Diaz, Colome, Nicasio, Vincent, Pazos, Bradford, Cook, and Elias, I’d be okay with that.  Two dominant closer types, two solid 8th inning guys behind them, two solid 6th/7th inning guys who can shut down rallies and go multiple innings if need be, along with a wildcard in Cook (who has 8th inning stuff, he just needs to work on his command a little bit) and a spot-starter/long-reliever in Elias … I just don’t know how you improve upon that a whole lot.  Obviously, a lot can happen between now and October.  Guys can get injured, guys can lose their stuff or their confidence, but for the most part that’s a reliable bullpen group.

What most concerns me is what happens if a lot of guys get injured, and we have to start replacing too many of these pieces.  As we’ve seen this year with the bullpen, last year with the rotation, and on and on and on, injuries can mount in a hurry.  We lose Diaz, we’re pretty much shit out of luck.  We lose too many of our 8th inning guys, same deal.  We already use Diaz too much as it is; I don’t want to see him in there for too many save opportunities where he has to get more than 3 outs.  At least not until we’re actually IN the playoffs.

The rotation and the solid hitting will carry us to where we want to go, but to do any significant damage once we get into the post-season, it’s going to rest precariously on the all-important bullpen arms.  I hope they’re up to the challenge.

The Mariners Got The Victory They Needed

There’s been so many tight games this season, but particularly over the last couple weeks, with the offense missing guys like Dee Gordon, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, and others for various amounts of time.  The margin for error has been ridiculously thin, and we’ve seen some repercussions of that in this Rangers series as the bullpen finally cracked a couple times.  This team desperately needed a breakout from the offense and to cruise to a comfortable victory.  Last night, in a 6-1 win, the Mariners got just that.

On May 3rd, Wade LeBlanc entered the starting rotation for the Seattle Mariners, taking the spot that was briefly held by an injured Erasmo Ramirez.  Up until that day, LeBlanc was a long reliever for this club – who has been on the roster since opening day, but only got in 5 games in the month of April due to all the off days and the fact that the Mariners were involved in so many close, winning games.  So, he obviously has had to be stretched out a little bit this month (he was also quite under the weather last night, which accounts for his only lasting 5 innings on 84 pitches).  But, regardless, LeBlanc has been OUTSTANDING in the month of May (really, all season, but that’s neither here nor there).  He’s 1-0 (though the team is 5-1 in his starts) with a 1.72 ERA.  31.1 innings pitched, 6 runs given up, 25 hits, only 6 walks, with 23 strikeouts in those 6 games.

I mean, if it weren’t for Paxton’s 1.67 ERA, his 2 complete games, his no hitter, his 51 strikeouts (against only 9 walks) and 21 hits in 43 innings of work across his 6 games (again, he’s got to be a lock for American League Pitcher of the Month), we’d be talking about the best starter on this team!

Small sample?  Go fuck yourself!  Wade LeBlanc is magic and I won’t hear anything else!

Pazos, Nicasio, and Chasen Bradford nailed down the final four innings without incident, meaning we were able to save guys like Diaz and Colome for the weekend.  Again, just excellent pitching all around yesterday.

On the hitting side of things, Dee Gordon returned with a vengeance, with a leadoff triple and a run scored off of a very shallow pop up to right field.  Nelson Cruz banged a 2-run homer and later had a 3rd RBI to keep his momentum going in the right direction.  Segura was on base 3 times and scored 3 times; Healy had an RBI single; and Heredia and Span each had 2 hits as the bottom of the lineup looks remarkably improved with those two guys getting regular AB’s.  In 4 games with the Mariners so far, Span has 5 hits (including a double) and 3 runs scored.  I like Gamel as much as the next guy – and I concede he was looking better at the plate right before this trade went down – but overall he’s been terrible for almost a full year now, and he appears to be much better suited to being a team’s 4th outfielder rather than a starter.  How about that?  Everyone went into this season thinking it was Heredia that was destined to be a 4th outfielder (and that might very well be his overarching role when it’s all said and done), but right now Heredia looks like a dynamic weapon and a viable starting outfielder in this league if he can keep it up at the plate.

The Mariners ended up 18-11 in the month of May, which follows a 16-11 month of April.  We are 1 game behind the Astros in the A.L. West (tied in the loss column), and 4.5 games ahead of the Angels as we currently hold the 2nd Wild Card spot (3 full games behind the Yankees for the 1st Wild Card spot).

As I’ve noted before, the month of June looks a lot tougher.  The Rays are hanging around .500 (and we face them 7 times), and we also play the Astros, Angels, Red Sox, and Yankees this month.  In fact, we don’t play a team under .500 again until June 25th!  That’s 22 consecutive games against teams that are either IN the playoffs (if the season ended today) or fighting tooth and nail for the Wild Card spot (in other words, our direct opponents for possible post-season play).  On top of that, out of 28 games, only 12 are at home this month.  We make trips to Houston, Tampa (then back home), then we go out to New York, Boston, and Baltimore (before returning home again).  Make no mistake, everything about this month spells B-R-U-T-A-L.

The good news?  If we can avoid getaway-day rainouts that need to be made up at a later date, once we return from our East Coast road trip in Baltimore, We’ll never have to go any further east than the state of Texas the rest of the season.  The entire month of July, for instance, has us only going to Anaheim and Colorado!  In fact, all of our road trips after the month of June are against the A.L. West or the N.L. West.

Just got to get through this month.  If you offered it to me on a silver platter right now, I would absolutely accept a .500 record for the month of June.  If you gave me 14-14, SIGN ME UP!

Good: The Mariners Won The Season Series Against The Tigers

The Tigers aren’t good, man.  They’re just not.  And yet, we came out of Detroit a week ago having lost 2 of 3, followed by losing the opener to this home series over the weekend to make it 3 of 4.  It just looked dismal at that point, and you had to wonder if all the injuries and suspensions and shaky pitching had finally caught up to this team.  Let’s face it, playoff teams win season series against inferior opponents like Detroit; whereas Mariners teams – that inevitably always fall short of the playoffs – find ways to lose these series to inferior opponents like Detroit.

I mean, this is a team that’s actively tanking 2018 to try to build a better ballclub in 2019 and beyond!  The Mariners, conversely, have been building to this year for a while now, and are pretty actively trying to go for it all, farm system be damned!  With two franchises going so clearly in opposite directions right now, it couldn’t be any more demoralizing to lose a bunch of games to this team.

Before we get to the Tigers, I should point out that the Mariners split their 2-game set against the Rangers.  Honestly, with all the travel, the make-up game, and the weird scheduling times, I’m more impressed that the Mariners avoided a sweep at all.  We came back to win that 9-8 thriller on Tuesday, only to shit the bed on Wednesday afternoon, but who can get mad about that?  Sure, the Rangers are crap, but circumstances, man.

It was that Thursday loss to the Tigers, though, that really got to me.  Marco Gonzales did his thing (and might’ve even gotten through that sixth inning had Kyle Seager not made a run-scoring error), and in spite of the run, we were still up 2-1 headed into the eighth inning.  With Juan Nicasio being held back to work on his stuff, Nick Vincent came in off of quite a roll, only to blow it.  Will anyone ever take command of the 8th this year?

I was at a comedy show on Friday, so I missed this one, but things looked pretty dire heading into the 7th, down 4-0.  Thankfully, turnabout is fair play, and the M’s put on a 5-spot in the bottom of the 7th to take the lead, with Nicasio and Diaz able to hold the fort for the save.

Saturday was just a marvelous night all the way around.  James Paxton got his second career complete game (the first being his no-hitter a few games back) as the Mariners won 7-2.  He struck out 8 while giving up just a walk and 3 hits; I could’ve done without the 117 pitches – particularly with the game so well in hand – but we’ll see if that matters or not.  I know Paxton is a big, strong animal and everything, but if he goes on the DL in a week, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.  I mean, maybe it’s a nice morale boost or whatever, but we were beating them by 5 runs; seemed unnecessary to throw an extra 20 pitches on his arm just to get that 9th inning.  It’s not like the bullpen was massively overworked or anything; you still had a guy warming up just in case someone got on base!

That brought us to Sunday, where Francisco Liriano damn near no-hit us.  As it was, he went 8, giving up just 1 hit and 3 walks, before he gave way to the team’s closer, up by a comfortable 2-0 margin.  The Mariners once again saw Wade LeBlanc pitch into the sixth inning, giving up both of those runs, and got clean bullpen work from newly called-up Ryan Cook, as well as Pazos, Altavilla, Nicasio, Diaz, and Vincent.  With one out and Segura on second, Mitch Haniger stepped up in the 3-hole and belted a massive game-tying homer to ultimately send this game into extras.  Then, in the 11th, Dee Gordon singled, swiped second, and was hit in by Segura to send the fans home happy.

I’ll say this:  Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger have been absolutely carrying this team so far this year!  With Cano gone, and with Cruz being a magnet for opposing pitchers to hit on damn near a daily basis (as well as with Seager not doing a whole helluva lot at the plate, with Healy being his streaky self, and with the rest of the outfield being more Small Ball than Long Ball), it’s been a godsend to see Segura and Haniger develop into not just The Future, but The Present.  Could that Taijuan Walker trade have gone any better for the Mariners?

Now, here we are – with a Monday off-day – 27-19, in second place in the A.L. West (2 games behind the Astros and 1.5 games ahead of the Angels to lock into that second Wild Card spot.  I’m still not convinced this is a playoff team and probably never will be until it actually happens, but this is as good as I’ve ever felt about a Mariners team this late into the season for a long, long time.

Getting back to winning that season series against the Tigers, we’ve also won the season series against the Indians, and are 2-1 against the Twins, Royals, White Sox, and Blue Jays.  We’re 3-2 against the Rangers and 4-2 against the suddenly-surging A’s.  The only teams we have losing records against are the Angels (1-2) and the impossible Astros (1-3).

Obviously, the hitting is the story of the season.  Segura, Gordon, and Haniger are leading the way.  Cano was having a fantastic season until he got popped and broke his hand.  Zunino, Cruz, and Seager could be better, but are still providing the power this lineup needs.  Healy overcame a disaster of a start to be a dynamic force towards the bottom of the lineup.  Heredia has not shied away one little bit with his increased playing time.  All we need is for Gamel and our bench guys to pick it up just a tad and the offense should be able to weather the storm (for the most part) of losing Cano for 80 games.

I’ve been a little intrigued by the pitching of late, though.  Obviously, Felix and Leake have been pretty big disappointments, even based on my lowered expectations, but they’ve kind of been keeping us in games for the most part.  He never looks great, but Felix has only looked BAD a couple times; other than that, he has a bad inning here and there, but is usually able to limit the damage and hold it down until the offense can pick him up.  And, while I think most people expected Leake to be better heading into the season, he’s only a little bit worse than what I predicted, based on his overall experience in the MLB (and not just his last 2 amazing months of 2017).

On the flipside of things, James Paxton has been on the roll of all rolls in the month of May.  Wade LeBlanc continues to be on the run of his life (and absolutely should not be returned to the bullpen if/when Erasmo Ramirez gets healthy).  And even Marco Gonzales continues to be the most economical of starters that we have.  If he EVER figures out how to make it through the sixth inning without handing over the lead he’s been given – and God forbid starts working his magic into the seventh inning and beyond – I might actually be able to one day forgive this GM for trading away future superstar Tyler O’Neill.  That’s not even getting into Christian Bergman’s 7-inning 0-run start and Ariel Miranda’s 5-inning 1-run start.

As for the bullpen, that’s always going to be volatile.  Scrabble hasn’t been anything close to what we need from a lefty specialist.  Nicasio has had moments of greatness, but too many slip-ups for comfort from an 8th inning guy.  Vincent has been a little bit up and down (probably right on track, from my pre-season expectations).  But, Diaz has been extra-special, Pazos has been very stout, Altavilla’s been a little better than expected, and if Ryan Cook can hold it together, he could be a pretty big addition to this group.  Also, Chasen Bradford has been a nice innings eater and someone I didn’t even come close to expecting anything from.

All in all, I think the bullpen will have its bad moments (as they all do), but is overall better than I thought.  And, while the starters are far from elite (aside from Paxton), I’m coming away very impressed with this unit.  I’ll never be confident with these guys, but I think they’re managed very well.  If that continues, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility for this to be a Wild Card team in 2018.

The Mariners Won A Crucial Series Against The Blue Jays

And we’re back!

I was listening to the Brock & Salk show this week, and one of the callers bemoaned the fact that the Mariners keep winning these series, but they’re totally incapable of sweeping them.  And, while obviously the hosts were right to laugh at him because when you think about this organization … I mean, your expectations can’t be that high!  It’d be like the Cleveland Browns starting to turn around their fortunes and being upset they’re not immediately in the Super Bowl.  These are the MARINERS, just be happy they’re winning any games at all!

And yet … I kinda sorta get where that caller was coming from!

Dating back to the first series of the year, the Mariners had chances against the Indians in that loss, but the offense couldn’t push us over the top.  Then, in the finale against the A’s, we lost a 2-1 heartbreaker to lose out on the sweep.  There was the finale in Texas where Erasmo Ramirez stunk up the joint; the opener against the lowly White Sox where Mike Leake stunk up the joint; and once again against the Indians, where a late rally against Kluber & Co. fell just short.  Then, we had Paxton’s 16-strikeout game against the A’s that should’ve given us the sweep, until finally we get back to this Toronto series.

Game 1 – no hitter.  Glorious.  Game 2 – sigh.

The headline of Game 2 was:  Juan Nicasio melted down in the 8th inning with a 2-1 lead, giving up 4 runs and costing us the game.  But, I’m here to argue it never should’ve come to that.  The Blue Jays were running out a starter on a terrible streak – Jaime Garcia – and we had MULTIPLE chances early in the game to put him away.

Bases loaded in the first, but only managed 1 run.  Multiple runners on in the third, but again managed just 1 run.  Two more walks in the fifth, but couldn’t push a runner home.  Garcia allowed runners in 4 out of 5 of his innings pitched, but in the end all we could muster against a guy who walked 5 and hit 1 batter was a measly 2 runs (1 earned).  I mean, that was the game right there, and it was vastly overshadowed by people bemoaning our bullpen woes.

And I get it.  We have two guys – Nicasio and Diaz – and right now Nicasio, I’m not sure, is the guy we thought we were getting.  He’s been fantastic most nights, but he’s been shakier a whole lot more often than we were hoping.  And I don’t know if anyone else is really stepping up.  Nick Vincent maybe, but I feel like we need more right now.  Hopefully James Pazos can be a guy like that, though he’s got to handle all of our left-handed duties with Scrabble sucking as hard as he is.

It’s a shame too, because we wasted a really good start out of Wade LeBlanc.  Sure, he only lasted 5 innings, and sure he threw less than 60 pitches, but he held the Blue Jays to 1 run off 4 hits with 0 walks and 3 strikeouts, and I agree with the decision to turn it over to the bullpen at that point, with a narrow 1-run lead.  The fact that the offense let it remain so close is what’s really the overriding factor of why we lost that game.

Too bad, too, because we ended up crushing Game 3.

7 out of 9 guys had at least 2 hits (only Cruz and Heredia lost out on the fun).  Seager hit two homers, including a first inning grand salami, and most importantly everyone kept piling on the rest of the way, scoring in 6 out of 9 innings.  We knocked J.A. Fucking Happ’s ass out of there in a hurry, and went on cruise control the rest of the way.

Mike Leake rebounded in a big way, going 7 innings, giving up just 2 runs.  And, some shaky bullpenning in the 8th inning notwithstanding, we got out of the series with a much-needed win against a potential Wild Card rival.  I said it before, but keeping the Blue Jays at bay is going to be critical to our chances, as we need to keep it to a 2-team race for that second wild card, between us and the Angels.

The Mariners are in Detroit right now and already had one rained out, so there’s supposed to be a doubleheader today.  We’ll see how this goes.  The Tigers are bad, so we gotta find a way to squeeze out another non-sweep series win!

The Mariners Won The One They Weren’t Supposed To Win

Oh so close to a series sweep.  Oh so close to first place in the A.L. West.

Just like they drew it up, right?  Blow the game where Paxton has the best game of his career, come back with a spot starter and beat the other team’s ace!  This is baseball, everyone.  It’s dumb as fuck.

We squeezed 4 shutout innings out of Wade LeBlanc last night, as we stretched him out to 70 pitches.  Assuming he stays in the rotation, I’d think the goal next time out is 85 or 90 pitches, and then full go by his third start.  But, that’s getting ahead of ourselves.  For now, it’s just nice to get this one win.  LeBlanc has truly been a godsend this season, coming in super late, locking down the long relief role in the bullpen, and now entering the rotation following an injury to Erasmo Ramirez.  I don’t know if we can expect this type of dominance going forward, but I’ll take whatever I can get when I can get it.

Chasen Bradford is another guy who just came out of nowhere.  I guess he was a reliever for the Mets in the second half of last year, but other than that, this is his first real opportunity to earn a bullpen role on a Major League ballclub.  I mean, I dunno, he had pretty decent numbers last year, all things considered, and they just cut him out of nowhere before Spring Training this year!  Is their bullpen really so great?  Is he out of options?  These are the questions I don’t have answers to, because I don’t give a shit, but their loss is our gain.  Bradford has done nothing but his fucking JOB this year, and he’s been wonderful!  Back-end of the bullpen guy, there to eat up innings.  That’s it, but he does it like a champ!  Last night, to wit:  2.1 innings, 1 run, to bridge the gap between LeBlanc and the late inning guys (and get his THIRD win of the season, no less!).

After Pazos closed out the 7th, it was hang-on time, and Scott Servais did the prudent thing:  he went right back to Nicasio & Diaz, hot off their blown save/loss combo the night prior.  Nicasio burned through the A’s for 3 strikeouts in the 8th, and Diaz had a ho-hum 1 strikeout in the 9th to get his 13th save of the year.

Dee Gordon continues his absolute mastery of the leadoff position, going 3 for 4 with 2 runs and 2 more stolen bases.  Robbie Cano had a 2-hit, 2-RBI night.  And Nellie Cruz had a 2-run bomb to put the game away.  The night wasn’t anything extra special; it was a very workmanlike 4-1 victory where the top of the lineup carried the bulk of the mail.

That’s another series win!  7-1-2, with a 3-game set against the Angels coming up, starting tonight.  The Mariners are now 18-12, 0.5 games out of first place (behind the 20-13 Astros and the 19-12 Angels).  So, yeah, you could say this series is pretty huge, as far as early-May series go.

I’m going to the game tonight (Han Seago Bobblehead WHAT?!) and I’m going to the game tomorrow (James Paxton Fanny Packs WHAT?!?!?!).  The last time I went to multiple games in the same series against the Angels, we were swept, so let’s not let that happen again, huh?

The Mariners Won The Series Opener Against The Athletics

And also sent a couple pitchers onto the DL.  So, you know, you take the good, you take the bad, and so on and so forth.

Got another Felixy good start in this one!  6 innings, 3 runs, 3 hits, 4 walks, 7 strikeouts.  Numbers probably would’ve been better, but as has been the case just about every single game, he was brought out to start an inning he shouldn’t have started, gave up a couple baserunners immediately without getting an out, then the bullpen was left to fend for itself.  Maybe in another 10 or 20 years, the Mariners will find a manager who has a clue and runs a pitching staff the way it’s supposed to be run in the 21st century.

Dan Altavilla was one of the arms to go on the DL.  He has a minor strain of something or other that shouldn’t keep him out too long, but I dunno.  Are we sure this isn’t something that’s going to nag at him all season?  We’ve got five months to go!  Knowing absolutely nothing about the injury, I’m setting the over/under at 2.5 months of Major League action out of Altavilla, and right now I’m staring hard at the under.  Because when do pitchers ever just bounce back like nothing happened, without further repercussions down the line?  Everyone’s always super optimistic right when the injury happens, then there’s setbacks, shutting him down, ramping him back up, rehab assignments, a return a few weeks later, then after a bunch of subpar performances, BAM, shut down for the season.  Maybe that over/under was too high.  Maybe 1.5 months is more accurate.

Anyway, in his place, Struggling Nick Vincent handled the 7th inning, gave up both of Felix’s runs, then managed to get out of trouble.  Juan Nicasio did his thing in the 8th (he’s REALLY looking like the guy we signed to the big bucks this past offseason), and Edwin Diaz worked around a couple walks in the 9th to strike out two guys in getting his 12th save of the season.  Absolutely mind-blowing!

On offense, Dee Gordon went 5/5 with 2 stolen bases and a run scored.  Nelson Cruz had a 3-run bomb in the 5th to take the lead for good in the game.  And Jean Segura tacked on a couple of RBI – including a crucial late insurance run – to salt the game away.

The Mariners are now 17-11, and notably, +1 in run differential.  That’s somewhat concerning, as you gotta wonder when the other shoe is going to drop with the back-end of that bullpen.  I’m not saying it’ll fully collapse, but Diaz and Nicasio won’t be this dominant every single game.  On the flipside, with the offense fully healthy, we gotta hope that we’ll see more GOOD Mariners blowouts as opposed to the bad ones that have hindered our run differential thus far.  I’ll be more curious what that figure is in another month, as we get more time with our full roster.

Or, as close to it as we can get.  The bigger of the two DL drops yesterday goes to Erasmo Ramirez, who we can’t confirm was brought back too quickly from his Spring Training injury … but he was totally brought back too quickly from his Spring Training injury.  It’s disappointing, I guess, but I dunno.  I wasn’t expecting Ramirez to replicate his August and September of 2017, because for him, that was an unsustainable run.  Now, by the same token, I didn’t expect him to be as bad as he was in his first two starts this year, but again THE TEAM RUSHED HIM BACK TOO SOON!  My overall feeling on this injury – which looks like it could keep him out for a month at a minimum, but probably a lot longer – is No Big Loss.  It’s Erasmo Ramirez, it’s not James Paxton.  It’s not Felix Hernandez.  It’s not even Mike Leake!  Replacing Erasmo Ramirez with Wade LeBlanc (which is the plan this week) or Ariel Miranda at some point down the line, or a couple of the other no-names in Tacoma, isn’t a huge drop-off from Ramirez.  It might not be ANY drop-off!  And, dare I say it, if the baseball gods are on our side, could we be talking about addition by subtraction?

What I do know is, with Hisashi Iwakuma’s latest setback, don’t count on him filling this role.  He’s done.  It’s not official, but he’s done.  It’s time to stop CPR and call the time of death.  He had a nice career with the Mariners, made more money than he should need for the rest of his life, so I tip my cap and let’s move on.

Paxton goes tonight.  Hopefully, with the new calendar month, he figures it out and gets it going.  Should probably win this one if we hope to win the series, as LeBlanc is a huge question mark going tomorrow.

The Mariners Are Kinda Good

The last time I wrote about the Mariners, they just barely grinded out a series win against the pretty hapless Chicago White Sox.  It wasn’t pretty, it was far from impressive, but it felt so very Mariners and what they are in the early going of 2018.  They were headed to Cleveland to wrap up a 10-game road trip with a 4-spot against a team that’s been to the playoffs the last two years, including a World Series trip.

And somehow not only won 3 out of 4, but DOMINATED in the final two to put an exclamation point on the month of April.

Paxton took the hill on Thursday and left with a 4-2 lead after 6 innings, but the bullpen – behind the struggling Nick Vincent and the outright shitty Scrabble, alongside the hard-luck Blown Save Guy Dan Altavilla – coughed it up in the 7th.  Thankfully, Kyle Seager doubled in the go-ahead run, and Nicasio & Diaz were able to slam the door shut.  That’s 11 saves for Diaz in the first month of the season, who is on quite a pace right now.

Corey Kluber got the start on Friday, against Erasmo Ramirez who apparently was rushed back to the Majors off of his injury and doesn’t quite have his usual stuff.  Why this happened, I have no idea, but obviously the M’s didn’t stand a chance in this one.  Erasmo gave up 6 runs in 5 innings; Kluber almost got the complete game.  AND YET, the combo of Scrabble and Wade LeBlanc kept the damage to those 6 runs, while the Mariners were able to chip away.  Mitch Haniger hit a 2-run homer in the 7th, and Mike Zunino hit a 3-run homer in the 9th to make it VERY interesting.  Unfortunately, one batter later, Ben Gamel lined out to end the threat.  Pretty impressive showing, nevertheless.  You have to wonder if someone like Ariel Miranda might’ve limited the Indians to fewer runs … maybe we’re talking about the second hard-luck loss for Kluber against the Mariners this season!

On Saturday, it didn’t matter who got the start, as the Mariners blew the Indians away, 12-4.  Leake did his job, going 6 innings, giving up 4 runs, and the lesser bullpen guys wrapped this one up in a nice little bow.  But, this one was all about the offense.  Gordon had 2 hits, including a double, as well as a stolen base and 3 runs scored.  Segura had 3 hits, including a homer, as well as 4 RBI and 3 runs scored.  Cano had a hit, a run, and 2 RBI.  Cruz went 4/5 with a homer and 2 RBI.  Seager had a 2-run homer.  Even Healy joined in on the action with a 2-run homer of his own!  Nothing but mashing, up and down the lineup in this one.  It’s too bad I was busy all day, this one would’ve been fun to watch.

On Sunday, again, who started?  I have no idea.  Marco Gonzales, I guess.  6 innings, 2 runs allowed off of 6 hits and a walk, with 4 strikeouts and only 89 pitches.  That’s not a bad little line right there!  Back-to-back quality starts for the kid; let’s build on this!  Keep your chins up!  But, again, the offense just laid them to waste.  Dee Gordon 4/5 with a run and an RBI.  Segura with a hit, run and RBI.  Cano with a 2-run homer.  Haniger with a triple, homer, RBI, and 3 runs scored.  And good ol’ Ryon Healy – BACK FROM THE DEAD – with 2 more homers, 3 runs and 4 RBI in the 9-hole in the lineup.  I wouldn’t expect that to last (I don’t get why we keep putting the slowest players in the 9-hole for Gordon to bat behind), but it is kinda cool to think that the lineup, 1-9, is as stacked as it is, especially if Healy can keep it up.

We had an off-day yesterday, allowing a road-weary team a chance to rest before a quick 6-game homestand.  3 against the A’s, followed by 3 against the Angels this weekend.  It looks like I’m going to both the Friday and Saturday games, which means I’ve got a VERY good chance of seeing Shohei Ohtani.  I know he’s probably going to destroy us, but I’m going to be screaming my lungs dry just in case we’re able to knock him out.  Fingers crossed!

Anyway, I dunno, it’s kinda fun to be a Mariners fan right now.  After all the expectations I had for the 2017 team, and how miserably they started in the month of April, it’s nice to see us at 16-11, in second place in the A.L. West (half game ahead of the Angels; 2.5 games behind the Astros), and locked into that 2nd Wild Card spot (half game ahead of the Angels & Blue Jays; 1.5 games behind the Yankees for the 1st Wild Card spot).  Unrelated in all of this:  it looks like the winner of the A.L. Central gets a free ride into the ALDS, as all the Wild Card contenders right now appear to be in the East & West.  Must be nice to play in such a shitty division; if the Mariners were in the Central, we’d be competing for the top record in the American League right now!

As things stand, the Astros are who we thought they were, the Angels are pretty much who I thought they were (going to hang around that Wild Card area all year), the Rangers are much worse than I thought they’d be, and the A’s are a little better than I thought they’d be.  If the A’s turn out to be a serious player for the Wild Card, it’s going to make our lives miserable having 3 fucking good teams in same division to play 19 times apiece.  So, let’s nip this thing in the bud right now, starting tonight.  Sweep these fuckers out of Seattle and send them down a shame spiral for the rest of the year!

The Mariners Won That Series In Kansas City

It’s been a really busy week, so I’m keeping this brief.  After blowing the Minnesota home opener, the M’s routed the Twins on Saturday behind some solid Mike Leake pitching and a ton of hitting up and down the lineup.

Sunday’s game was snowed out.  It will be made up at the end of a road trip in mid-May.

On Monday, the Mariners were destroyed 10-0 in the series opener with the Royals.  The M’s got exactly 2 hits – both singles – and 2 walks.  On top of that, Marco Gonzales got absolutely murdered and wasn’t able to get out of the third inning.  2.1, 8 hits, 4 runs, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts.  Meanwhile, Tyler O’Neill is motherfucking tearing shit up in AAA for the Cardinals, so GREAT FUCKING TRADE DIPOTO.

Don’t think I’m not going to bring up this trade each and every time Gonzales takes a dick in the ass this year, before he’s either ultimately traded for peanuts on the dollar or given his outright release.  What a crock of shit deal.

Anyway, the M’s were able to shrug that off and come back strong, winning 8-3 on Tuesday.  Felix had an okay start (5.2, 3 runs, 6 hits, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts), and the top of the lineup did top of the lineup things.  Shout out to Jean Segura, who was a homer short of the cycle in this one.  Also, shout out to Seager for starting to bust out of his early-season slump in this one, with a 2-RBI double to really sock the game away.

Then, on get-away day yesterday, the Mariners earned a hard-fought 4-2 victory.  Paxton got the no decision, going 6, giving up 2 runs off of 6 hits & 1 walk, with a whopping 10 strikeouts.  Safe to say he’s rounding into mid-season form (so his DL stint should be any day now).  Seager was the hero in this one, kicking off the scoring with a sac fly in the first, then homering in the go-ahead runs when the game was tied 2-2.  Rock solid bullpen work followed, with Nick Vincent getting the win, Juan Nicasio getting the hold, and Edwin Diaz getting his 4th save of the new year.

The Mariners are now 6-4 and have easily played the fewest games in the AL West.  Another off-day today only exacerbates that figure.  Predictably, the M’s are in third place.  The Angels are on a hot streak, at 10-3, and the Astros are the Astros, at 9-4.  Shohei Ohtani is annoyingly amazing, and I hate every single person on the planet.

I do think there’s reason for optimism with the way the Mariners have played so far, but let’s not go crazy.  Lots of off-days have us as a very well-rested ballclub; let’s see what this team is made of when it has to play 20 games in 20 days or whatever bullshit this schedule has in store.  Also, we’ve yet to see a fifth starter in the rotation.  Is anyone excited by Ariel Miranda’s minor league mediocrity thus far?  Is anyone even remotely confident in Erasmo Ramirez, whenever he returns from the DL?  We’ve already got Marco Gonzales stinking up the joint at least half the time, and Felix is going to be an adventure every time out, so all the problems we had heading into the season are still there.

But, yes, 6-4 with the imminent return of Nelson Cruz, Mike Zunino, and Ben Gamel is pretty fun.  Also, this early-season schedule has been pretty easy.  Going forward, aside from the games against Houston and Cleveland, the rest of the month of April looks do-able.

Oakland’s coming up this weekend.  Let’s just keep winning and see what happens, huh?

Mariners Offense Continues Humming Along

With Nelson Cruz joining Mike Zunino, Ben Gamel, David Phelps, and Erasmo Ramirez on the DL, I’ll admit I didn’t have the highest of hopes for the Mariners yesterday.  We’re rolling with two nobodies at catcher, left field and first base haven’t provided a whole lot on the offensive side of the ball, and there we were in San Francisco, playing in a National League park.  With Seager’s usual early-season struggles in full effect, it seemed like a day where the offense might shit the bed.  And, with Marco Gonzales on the mound, I more than have my doubts that he can hold it together this season.

Happily, my fears were unfounded, at least for a day.  Though, with these injuries to Cruz and Zunino, the bottom of the order is pretty pathetic.  The bulk of the damage yesterday was done by hitters 1-5 (Gordon, Segura, Cano, Haniger, Seager).  Sure, Healy & Heredia both had their first hits of the season, but neither is really going to be an offensive force this year (or ever); more like complementary players who might chip in some production here and there.

While it was nice to see Seager get a couple hits and a walk, the top four guys are really dominating so far this season.  Dee Gordon was 3/5 with 2 stolen bases and a run scored.  Jean Segura was 3/4 with a walk and 2 runs scored.  Cano was 1/4 with a walk, an RBI, and 2 runs scored.  And Haniger continues to be this team’s MVP through four games, going 1/5 with a run and 2 RBI.  Here’s hoping his hot streak continues at least until Cruz can come back.

Marco Gonzales looked about as impressive as I’ve ever seen him through 6 innings yesterday.  At that point, he’d only given up 1 run off of 4 hits, 0 walks, and 1 strikeout on a measly 80 pitches.  So, it made perfect sense to try to squeeze one more inning out of him.  Heading into the bottom of the seventh, the M’s were up 6-1.  Gonzo struck out the leadoff hitter, but that was followed by a single and a 2-run homer (on a pitch that was about as middle-middle as they get) to unceremoniously end his day.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a great way to start his season (probably the most important season of his professional career), but God damn would it have been a lot cooler to see him only give up the 1 run.  Not that I think a late-game 2-run homer will completely shatter his confidence, but I do think confidence is his friend, and the more of it he has, the better off we’ll all be.  Don’t forget, he’s out of options.  It’s not like we can just stash him in Tacoma for another season to work on his craft.  It’s now or never!

Nick Vincent got us out of the seventh with a couple scary-looking fly-outs.  Juan Nicasio struggled in his second consecutive appearance (giving up 3 hits and 1 run to make things interesting and get Dan Altavilla warming up in the bullpen).  It did look like he was starting to throw harder than before, so maybe he’s still rounding into shape.  I’m still sort of expecting him to land on the DL any day now with arm issues that will explain away why he’s looked so mediocre through three outings.  Thankfully, Edwin Diaz is still red hot, as he closed out the game with no trouble.

I still have a lot of concerns about this offense as we continue on this week without two of our biggest boppers.  Things look okay now, because we’re 3-1, but after we leave Frisco we’ve gotta go to Minnesota and Kansas City before we start to see some guys return.  In that time, we’re gonna need some of these guys who aren’t hitting to pick it up in a big way.  I don’t think cluster luck is going to be our friend for too much longer.

My 2-Part Mariners Preview: My Expectations For 2018

Wish in one hand, shit in the other.  You get the idea.

And so here we are, Opening Day.  We’re all overflowing with optimism.  Well, not all of us.  Super annoying baseball fans are overflowing with optimism, but what do they know?  They’re just excited baseball’s back, as if it’s not the longest death march every fucking year.  Six months of this shit, plus a month of playoffs (or, hell, maybe more).  It starts today and lasts the rest of our fucking lives.

You want my opinion on the 2018 season?  MOOD.

I dunno, I feel like I’ve written this same exact fucking preview every year for the last decade.  Honestly, I can see this season going one of two ways:  either the Mariners do shock the world and break the playoff-less streak, or they completely and totally fall apart and end up with a Top 5 draft pick next year.  I don’t think there’s a middle-ground, at all.  And, if I were a betting man, I’d bet the ol’ farm on the latter.

So, let’s get into it.  Let’s talk about the plan; the bundle of twine and duct tape holding the season together.  Let’s see how Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais try to MacGyver their way to contention.

The Rotation

  • Felix Hernandez
  • James Paxton
  • Mike Leake
  • Marco Gonzales
  • Erasmo Ramirez
  • Ariel Miranda
  • Andrew Moore
  • Rob Whalen
  • Chase De Jong
  • Wade LeBlanc
  • Hisashi Iwakuma?

Normally, I just hit you with a 5-man rotation (in this case, the top five names, whenever Ramirez gets healthy), but why bother stopping there?  Ramirez is ALREADY injured, and while they say they won’t need the fifth spot in the rotation until April 11th or some damn thing, you know he won’t be healthy by then, so that puts Ariel Miranda (blessedly starting the season in Tacoma, where he belongs) in line for at least one start.  Quite frankly, it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if he’s called up sooner than April 11th because someone ELSE got injured.  I’m looking at Felix, I’m looking at Paxton, I’m looking at Marco Gonzales.  Pick your poison!

And believe me, they’re all poison.  I’d start aligning your expectations with mine pretty soon, because there’s no saving this rotation.  It’s abysmal.  Felix is not the Felix of old and he’s never going to be.  He’s going to give up annoying dingers with his nothing fastball, he’s going to walk a ton of guys because hitters have been told to lay off the changeup, and he’ll kinda sorta keep the Mariners in a lot of games, but only if the offense comes to play.

Paxton is great, but obviously can’t stay healthy and never will.  It’s always some damn thing, and the saving grace has always been that it’s never anything really serious.  It’s never a bad shoulder or elbow injury … but you know they’re coming.  It’s only a matter of time.  And, when those injuries hit, his career is pretty much over.  Maybe just rent property in the Maple Grove, don’t buy.

I like the IDEA of Mike Leake more than I think I like the actual pitcher.  I think he’s just okay, but far from special.  He’ll be like Felix in a different way; he’ll probably keep this team in a lot of games (again, if the offense shows up), but he’s rarely going to wow you with his stuff or blow other teams away.

I don’t even really like the idea of Marco Gonzales, much less the actual pitcher.  I think it was a bust of a trade that brought him here, I think he’s only in the rotation because he’s out of minor league options, and while he had a good Spring Training, we all know that means nothing.  These types of pitchers (go ahead and throw Erasmo Ramirez into the mix – who had a great stretch of starts last year, but don’t expect THAT to last), who are just gifted a spot on a 25-man roster due to being out of options, RARELY end up panning out.  If they were worth a damn, they would’ve solidified their status as bona fide Major Leaguers a long time ago.  What are the odds they manage to put it all together – COINCIDENTALLY – the same year they run out of minor league options?  You see my point.

The rest of those guys are just guys.  Iwakuma will never pitch in the Major Leagues again.  Wade LeBlanc has been brought in to be a long reliever, but I could see him getting a spot start or two.  Andrew Moore sucked last year, and didn’t really wow anyone with his Spring.  Chase De Jong is just a guy.  And, while Rob Whalen turned some heads (until his disaster of a final start back on the 18th), he also appears to be just a guy.

The plan with this rotation is to try and limit their innings to 5-6 per start, in the hopes of keeping guys fresh and healthy, and limit the damage opposing offenses can do the third & fourth times through a lineup.  So, the day-to-day management on Servais’ shoulders is going to be pretty hefty.  That’s also going to put a high burden on the bullpen to pick up the slack.  And, since Major League Baseball has stubbornly refused to expand gameday rosters beyond 25 players (in spite of the fact that the game is obviously going in this direction, and therefore teams will need more arms than ever before), that either means over-working your ‘pen, playing with a smaller bench (as it is, there’s usually room for no more than 4 players on your bench, and 1 of those guys has to be a backup catcher), or running guys back and forth from Tacoma to Seattle.  The problem, of course, is when too many starters have too many games in a row where they’re not pitching enough innings, the bullpen is gassed, there aren’t any off-days, there aren’t any guys to bring up from Tacoma, and you’re essentially throwing games away because you just need the starter to pick the team up, regardless of how terrible he is.  With a team like this Mariners team – that often finds itself (in recent seasons) only a handful of games out of the playoffs – they can ill-afford to just throw games away.  Sure, it’s a marathon and all that, but it’s a marathon that ultimately comes down to a couple seconds at the finish line.

I think the Mariners are doing the best with what they have, and the plan is sound in my mind.  But, the pitchers just aren’t good.  And the ones that are good aren’t reliable.  It’s easy for me to see a similar deluge of injuries happening this year, and the whole season just falling apart.

The Bullpen

  • Edwin Diaz
  • Juan Nicasio
  • Nick Vincent
  • James Pazos
  • Marc Rzepczynski
  • Dan Altavilla
  • Casey Lawrence
  • Wade LeBlanc

There are obviously a number of guys starting out in Tacoma, so I’ll stick with the Opening Day 8 for the time being.  Right off the bat, the Mariners lost David Phelps for the season, as I believe he’s going in for Tommy John surgery.  That was going to be a huge part of our late-inning dominance.  Recall we just traded a bunch of prospects to the Marlins for his services before the deadline last year, where he made all of 10 appearances before being shut down with an injury.  Now, he’s out for all of 2018, and this is the final year of his deal before he’s a free agent.  So, not only did we throw a bunch of prospects away, but we wasted $5.5 million dollars this year, just so he can go out next year and pitch for somebody else.  Why would he stay?  Why would the Mariners commit to spending more money on him?  This is Drew Smyly all over again.  GREAT TRADE DIPOTO!

As for the guys who are here, there’s a lot to like about Edwin Diaz and Juan Nicasio.  But, of course, when will Diaz turn back into a pumpkin?  All our other closers – dating back to, I want to say, Kaz Sasaki – have had 1-2 good years before falling apart.  Well, Diaz has been up here for around 1.5 years, so it’s time for him to suck.  As for Nicasio, I’m getting a real Joaquin Benoit vibe.  Remember that guy?  He was around forever, never got hurt, was always a reliable 8th inning guy?  Then, when he donned a Mariners jersey, he was hurt within the first month of the season?  I’m just saying, let’s see the guy do something for a couple months before we get too excited.

Nick Vincent was a workhorse and our most reliable pitcher in 2017.  Of course, he got tuckered out in September, due to all the overuse, so they took it easy on him this Spring.  Yeah, I feel like that’s a bad sign.  If he’s not an arm injury waiting to happen, he’s certainly a terrible pitching season waiting to happen.  Pass.

Lefties Pazos and Scrabble should be okay, but you never know.  Tony Zych was finally shit-canned because he can’t stay healthy; that’s a bummer.  I loved his stuff and thought he had really dominant potential.  In his place, Altavilla has won a job.  He was all over the place last year, but it wouldn’t shock me to see him settle down and have a good year.  Might take a while for this team to realize how much better he is than someone like Vincent (who I expect to struggle early and often), but they’ll probably have no choice but to use Altavilla in some high-leverage situations before too long.

Then, we’ve got a couple of long relievers.  The Mariners brought in Wade LeBlanc, who I guess has been converted to relief?  He’s got no minor league options, so either he comes here and eats up innings like a champ, or he’s cut.  The problem with this signing is, if he’s not absolutely terrific, I have a hard time seeing him stick on the 25-man roster.  This team likes to bring guys up from Tacoma far too often, and needs relievers with minor league options so they can dick them around.  That’s why I like the chances of someone like Casey Lawrence (who I assume still has options, but I refuse to go online to research).  Lawrence had a bonzer Spring Training and essentially came out of nowhere to win a job in the Bigs (he was a starter last year, brought up & down a few times when guys got injured, but wasn’t anything special).  I assume if he does well, he’ll STILL be sent back and forth to and from Tacoma, because Mariners gonna Mariners.

Having a couple of innings-eaters in your bullpen is going to be critical, so here’s hoping those guys manage to keep us in enough games to be relevant.  But, the more of our back-end of the bullpen guys get injured or otherwise have terrible years, the higher the chances this entire house of cards comes crashing down.  To make the playoffs, the Mariners will need to have one of the 5 best bullpens in the American League (maybe even Top 3), to compensate for that disaster of a starting rotation.  Do these guys inspire that sort of confidence?  I gotta say, replacing David Phelps with Wade LeBlanc is a BAD start to this season that’s only going to get worse from here.

The Everyday Players

  1. Dee Gordon (CF)
  2. Jean Segura (SS)
  3. Robinson Cano (2B)
  4. Nelson Cruz (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Mitch Haniger (RF)
  7. Ryon Healy (1B)
  8. Mike Zunino (C)
  9. Ichiro (LF)
  • Mike Marjama (C)
  • Dan Vogelbach (1B)
  • Guillermo Heredia (OF)
  • Andrew Romine (INF)
  • Ben Gamel (OF) – DL
  • Taylor Motter (OF/INF) – Tacoma

I like that lineup.  I like it a lot more with Ben Gamel in the fold, but we probably won’t see him at his best for a while.

I expect Gordon to be fine defensively, but I do expect him to struggle at the plate.  That’ll be rough.  I think Segura will be fine.  I think Cano will be okay (I think we’re still in the gradual stage of his decline; I don’t believe the cliff is here yet).  I think Cruz will have his ups and downs (I could see him succumbing more to injury this year than his past 4 years combined).  Kyle Seager is what he is and I’m going to stop trying to wish into existence another level to his game.  I think Hangier will be good when healthy, but again I think he’ll rarely be healthy.  I think Healy is sort of a nothing guy who might have a few good games here and there, but for the most part will be mediocre.  I think Zunino will be great!  I like him to make a big jump in his game!  Not only will he NOT be sent down to Tacoma to work on his swing, but I think he’ll be in the conversation for the All Star Game (and might even make the team as a backup).  As for Ichiro, I can only see it ending badly.  Final year with Griffey bad.  Like, waived in the first month or two bad.  He’s got no power, he’s down in speed, he had pretty much no Spring Training, and he’s coming off of a minor injury.  Just seems like a recipe for immediate disaster.

I’m interested to see what Marjama brings; I have no opinion one way or the other on what his season will be like.  Vogelbach is the story of Spring Training, but that won’t last.  He won’t get much in the way of playing time, and when he does get a start, he won’t make the most of his opportunities.  Heredia is a nice bench outfielder; hope he’s fully healthy.  Romine is a guy; I could see him getting waived in favor of Motter (who also is just a guy, but a younger, cheaper guy).

This season will go down the toilet in a hurry if guys like Cano, Cruz, and Seager all struggle.  I like Segura to hit, but I could see his power continue to be limited by Safeco and this cold Seattle weather.  And, of course, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that younger guys like Haniger and Zunino do struggle at the plate (injuries aside) and this team is left scrambling.  For the most part, I believe the offense will be okay, and I don’t think ALL those bad things will happen, but I don’t think the offense is good enough to compensate for the shitty pitching.  Frankly, I don’t think ANY offense would be good enough to compensate for the shitty pitching on this team.

The last couple times the Mariners really bottomed out, we went 61-101 (in 2008 & 2010).  I could see something around that number yet again.  My prediction?

65-97

The 2018 Seattle Mariners:  Feel The Excitement It’s Faaaaannnn-Tastic Suck Our Dicks, You’re Just Here For The Beer & Fried Crickets Anyway!