Mike Zunino Smashed The Mariners To Glory

Not “Smashed” in the Jersey Shore sense, although in a way …

Also, what’s a Jersey Shore?

Mike Zunino has been on an incredible tear!  This is like nothing he’s ever put up before!  I’m not exaggerating; he’s never had a month as good as this June.  The closest is probably his April in 2014 when he had a slash line of:

  • .279/.306/.471/.776, with 3 homers, 4 doubles, 10 RBI, and 7 runs scored

Now, compare that to just the first 19 days in June of this year:

  • .385/.431/.885/1.316, with 8 homers, 2 doubles, 26 RBI, and 11 runs scored

The walks to strikeouts ratio hasn’t changed a whole lot, but he passes the eyeball test.  He’s putting himself in better counts, working his way back from 0-2 holes, and forcing pitchers to throw to him in the strike zone.  Even better, he’s actually HITTING those pitches instead of swinging through them like he was earlier this year (and for most of his career)!

Now, obviously, he could turn back into a pumpkin as early as tonight and go on another prolonged cold streak.  His actual June numbers by month’s end might not look so hot from a slash-line perspective (which, you would think will happen regardless, what with regression and all that), but the point is he’s never been nearly as good for nearly as long as he has through the first three weeks of this month.  No one is expecting Mike Zunino to compete for triple crowns (although, can you imagine?), but it’s comforting to know he’s got this in him.

I’ve said all along:  just give me a Mike Zunino who hits around .250.  With his power, with his pitch-framing ability and overall defensive ability, with the way he’s great with the pitching staff, with his leadership, that’s a guy I wouldn’t mind having at catcher for a good, long career.  Anything above and beyond that, hittingwise, is gravy.  And, in this month of June, we’ve been blessed with a whole shit-ton of gravy!

Last night, with the game tied in the bottom of the sixth, Mike Zunino cranked a 2-run home run to left field – over the bullpens – to put the Mariners ahead.  Then, in the bottom of the eighth, with the M’s still clinging to that 2-run lead, Mike Zunino ding-donged one to center to give the good guys a comfortable 4-run advantage (and thereby swipe a save opportunity from Edwin Diaz, who was already warming up in the ‘pen).  Not for nothing, but it was Z’s second multi-homer game of the month, but that probably doesn’t surprise you.

It might surprise you to see yet another fine pitching performance by this beleaguered bunch.  Sam Gaviglio gave the Mariners 5 solid innings of 2-run ball.  He got into a couple jams by giving up 3 hits and walking 4, but was able to greatly limit the damage thanks to some timely double plays.

Which brings us to the big question:  who will the Mariners keep in the rotation, Gaviglio or Bergman?

For what it’s worth, the organization might not have to make that decision just yet, as Iwakuma got a rehab start last night and could only make it through 2 innings.  He might need another outing or two (like Felix did) before bringing him back.  But, the question is looming regardless.

It could be further complicated if the Mariners decide to throw rationality to the wind and keep Yovani Gallardo on this roster.  I mean, look, he’s been ridiculously terrible this year.  If you go by the generous “Quality Start” definition in Major League Baseball (going at least 6 innings, giving up no more than 3 earned runs), he only has 4 in 14 total appearances.  He’s given up fewer than 3 runs only twice; for a so-called innings eater, he’s only gone 7 innings one time; and worst of all is he’s earning $11 million this year (with a $2 million buy-out next year).  It’s absolutely fucking shameful.

The primary argument for choosing Gallardo over the other two is that he’s got experience (Bergman had 14 starts over 3 seasons before this year; Gaviglio is a rookie).  He’s also a veteran, while I believe the other guys should have options (Bergman has less than 2 years of service time, so we should be good there).  Talentwise, Gallardo has a decent fastball, but he’s just been getting pounded.  There’s a slight argument in his favor that he usually only has 1 bad inning per start, and once he gets around that, he’s putting up zeroes.  But, that 1 bad inning is usually very early in the game, and it’s usually REALLY bad, putting the team in too big a hole to climb out of.  You’d think, if he could take better command of that 1 bad inning and at least limit the damage, he’d be an effective starter for this team.  But, you’d also think if he had that ability in him, he would have done it by now.

The fact of the matter is, Gallardo sucks at getting out of jams.  He’s been nothing but a liability for this team, and I don’t think we would’ve been any worse off if we’d given all of his starts to Chase De Jong all season.  Just because he’s been healthy all year and has made all of his starts is no feather in his cap.  If anything, he’s the ONE guy I WISH would’ve gotten injured, as opposed to the four guys who did.

If this is any sort of just and fair world, Gallardo gets hacked off this roster as soon as Felix returns on Friday.  Because, based on performance, Gallardo is severely lagging behind Bergman and Gaviglio.

Which gets us back to the aforementioned big question:  Bergman or Gaviglio?

Bergman has 3/9 quality starts; Gaviglio has 2/7 (with an asterisk, as one of those “quality starts” saw him give up 4 unearned runs in a loss).  By my own vague definition of starts where they kept the Mariners in the ballgame, I’ve got Bergman at 6/9 and Gaviglio at 4/7.  Bergman has a couple 7+ shutout inning performances under his belt and looks like a guy who will give you more quality innings; but he’s also got those two truly atrocious starts where he gave up 10 and 9 runs respectively.  Conversely, Gaviglio has gone between 5-6 innings in every start, giving up 0-5 runs.

Which leads to my thumbnail definition of each guy.  Bergman is more likely to eat more innings and look better doing it; but he’ll also have starts where he completely falls apart and looks like the most hittable guy on the planet.  Gaviglio is more likely to give you 5 innings and limit damage to 2-3 runs.

If I’m being honest, I think Bergman is the better, more talented pitcher right now, but I just flat out feel better when I see Gaviglio is on the mound.  There’s no way to explain it, because if these two guys pitched for the A’s or something, I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.  Frankly, I don’t know how BOTH of those guys aren’t getting destroyed every time they hit the mound.  Looks like a lot of smoke and mirrors, if you ask me.  I could be way off base, though, but I just feel like Gaviglio has a higher upside.  Maybe I’m just easily impressed by the “bulldog mentality”.  Of course, the last guy we had around here with a bulldog mentality was Erik Bedard, and he too was prone to the Five & Dive start.

I really don’t have a clue as to what the Mariners are going to decide.  I’m pretty confident they’ll let Gallardo go at some point.  Considering Bergman was called up before Gaviglio – meaning he was “ahead” of Gaviglio on the theoretical depth chart – if I had to guess I’d say they roll with Bergman for a while and let Gaviglio keep starting in Tacoma.  Of course, I doubt we will have seen the last of either of the guys who end up being sent down to Tacoma.  What, the Mariners are suddenly going to get and STAY healthy?  Poppycock!

As for the rest of last night’s game, kudos to Guillermo Heredia – getting the start for Haniger, who was given a rest day – who hit the game-tying 2-run home run in the fifth.

Big ups to James Pazos, who got the win with his 1.1 innings of shutout relief.

Bigger ups to Nick Vincent, who went 1.1 innings of shutout ball for the second day in a row.  As I was talking about on Twitter last night, that’s 13 consecutive appearances where he hasn’t given up a run.  He’s 8 for 8 in Hold opportunities in that span, going 11.1 innings, giving up 10 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 7.  He’s been an absolute beast all year and the only guy in the ‘pen (besides Pazos maybe?) who hasn’t really had any sort of prolonged slump.  He’s locked down that 8th inning role and is able to be used multiple innings on multiple days in a row, which is really important for a team that’s largely struggled with its bullpen for the season.

Also, a shout out to Jarrod Dyson, who is having his own fine month of June.  Ever since Mitch Haniger came back, and it looked like Dyson’s grasp of a starting job might be in jeopardy, he’s come out swinging like a big dog to fend off Heredia for now.  It’s a crowded outfield, with four guys playing really well, and I can’t remember the last time I was able to say that with a straight face.

This Tigers series continues with Ariel Miranda tonight.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Jarrod Dyson

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

Remember the days when the Mariners could hardly cobble together ONE centerfielder?  Remember when Jason Bay of all people actually got some play there?  Now, the Mariners have approximately 1 billion centerfielders, and we’re all the better for it.

We got Jarrod Dyson from the Royals for Nate Karns, which sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud, but remember how not worth a damn Karns was last year?  Remember how the Mariners are trying to “Win Now”?  You see how you scum.  You get the idea.

In a vacuum, acquiring Dyson is nothing to get one’s panties wet over.  You’re talking about a slap-hitting defense-first outfielder, for crying out loud.  But, in context, it’s hard to dislike the move.  For starters, we get to pair him with Leonys Martin to showcase the best defensive 1-2 punch of any outfield.  He’s also, not for nothing, a competent backup should Martin get injured.  And, with the likelihood of a Ben Gamel/Mitch Haniger/Taylor Motter/Guillermo Heredia in right field, you’re talking about one of the best – if not THE best – defensive outfield in Major League Baseball.  And, shush, even if you have to run Danny Valencia or *shudder* Nelson Cruz over in right, you’re not losing a whole helluva lot by having Dyson and Martin covering as much ground as they do.

Then, when you stop to consider this pitching staff – a staff that gives up a lot of contact and a lot of fly balls – and how much it’s likely to struggle this year, a top-notch defensive outfield is just what the doctor ordered.  Let’s face it, we’re going to get PLENTY of offense out of our infield and DH; maintaining an elite run-saving defense could be the difference in getting those last few victories to get us over the hump and into the playoffs.

Now, obviously, the elephant in the room is Dyson’s offense.  We’ve had terrible visions of slap-hitting, defense-first outfielders over the years (when they’re not power-hitting, defense-last lumbering oafs, that is); it seems like these little guys are the only ones we’re able to work through our minor league system.  The last time we were able to cultivate a complete outfielder, we traded him away to the Orioles with a bunch of other guys for Erik Bedard.  So, you know, what makes Dyson stand out over all the other humps we’ve run through here?

He’ll hit you anywhere from .250 to .280, depending on the season.  As I alluded to before, he’s got next-to-no power (6 homers in the last 5 seasons), aside from maybe a few singles he’s able to stretch into doubles.  He gets on base at a decent-enough clip to see him spend a significant amount of time near the top of the lineup, but I have to figure there will be peaks and valleys that will see him drop to near the bottom of the lineup at times as well.  The biggest draw with someone like Dyson – particularly when you bat him high in the lineup – is his speed on the basepaths.  156 stolen bases the last five seasons, which doesn’t even get into how many times he’ll go from first to third on a single, or score from first on a double, and so on and so forth.

One would think, on an offense like this, if he played everyday, he’d approach 100 runs scored, so long as he put up quality on-base numbers.  But, given that he’s never really been an everyday player in his 7 seasons with Kansas City, I have to wonder if the Mariners won’t do some sort of quasi-platoon with him and our other Quad-A outfielders on this team.

This move has me less hard than the one to bring in Danny Valencia, but I can still appreciate why it was made and what Dyson brings to the table.  If things break right for him this year, he could be a big part of this team’s success both defensively and offensively.  Considering he’s another one in a contract year, he has every reason to come into 2017 ready and raring to go.

All Star Week Finale: Mariners Shit Stains

I TOLD YOU I’D SHOOT, BUT YOU DIDN’T BELIEVE ME!  WHY DIDN’T YOU BELIEVE ME?

Yesterday, I hit upon the good things we’ve seen in this Mariners season.  Today:  the rest.

Like yesterday, let’s start on the hitting side.  Nori Aoki is the obvious huge disappointment, as he entered this season on the heels of not only a fruitful career in Japan, but a solid and productive 4-year MLB career as he bounced around from the Brewers to the Royals to the Giants.  I mean, like clockwork, the guy was batting in the .280’s every season, with solid on-base numbers, minimal power, and enough defense to make the whole package pretty enticing.  This year, however, his power has gone completely in the toilet, and his batting average is 40 points lower than normal.  His stolen base output has declined every year since coming to America, and this year is no exception, as he has 4 stolen bases against 7 caught stealing.  His left field defense is suspect at best, and his centerfield defense was a God damn neverending sewage-eating contest.  It’s been so bad for Aoki this year that he was sent down to Tacoma (where, to his credit, he’s regained some of his old form at the plate, albeit in only 11 games), which all points to one thing:  age.  He’s 34 years old, and it’s very reasonable to boil all this down to him just being on the downslope of his career.  Don’t take it hard, Aoki, plenty of players even better than you have come to Seattle in their twilight years only to die the True Death.

Adam Lind is my other everyday player (or quasi-everyday) catching some shade today, although I have a hard time really disliking the guy.  He seems like a really cool dude, and I like him as a player a helluva lot more than I did Smoak, LoMo, or Montero.  I do still think he’s got a bit of a turnaround in him this year, but I’m not sure that belief is entirely based in reality.  Lind had a pretty awful April, playing most every day.  He started to pick it up in May, but then he went right back in the toilet in June, so I dunno.  As noted yesterday, Dae-ho Lee is rightly eating into Lind’s playing time, as the team is trusting Lee more and more against right-handed pitching.  Should Lee continue to prove he’s capable of playing and producing on an everyday basis, we could be looking at a situation where Lind is relegated to backup status (getting occasional starts against righties, and/or when the team opts to put Cruz in the outfield and play Lee & Lind at the same time).  It’s just a bummer, because I figured Lind, of anyone we brought in this year, would be a guy you could count upon to play to his career norms.

***

And that’s it!  I’m moving on to the pitchers, because they’ve been a neverending source of rage and agita in my life this season.

Right at the top of the list – indeed, the most disappointing development of the entire 2016 Mariners season – has been the health of Felix Hernandez.  I mean, he’s far and away my favorite player on this team, and far and away my favorite local athlete playing today (he also sits on my local Mount Rushmore next to Gary Payton, Steve Largent, and Edgar Martinez, but that’s neither here nor there).  Going into any Mariners season, my worst nightmare has always been if King Felix gets injured.  By and large, over the previous ten seasons, I’ve mostly managed to dodge that harsh reality, but this year, both myself and the team has been cock-slapped by his absence.  This year’s team has EASILY had the best lineup of hitters we’ve had ’round these parts since Felix has become a Major Leaguer.  And, at least through the first couple months, this team as a whole looked like it had the best chance to make the post-season in the same span.  As a die-hard Mariners fan, all we’ve wanted to see over the last decade was Felix Hernandez pitching in the post-season.  To reward him for his baffling loyalty to this organization, and prove to the world that he made the right decision (or, at the very least, to show that it wasn’t all for naught).  The panic in all of our hearts has always been, “WE NEED TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS WHILE FELIX IS STILL IN HIS PRIME!  WE’RE WASTING HIS MOTHERFUCKING PRIME, YOU GUYS!”  So, to have him go down with this calf injury, when – 1. we have the best team around him we’ve ever had, and 2. our pitching depth is as poor as it’s ever been, and ergo he’s never been more needed – is truly a cosmic Fuck You to every Mariners fan still foolish enough to follow this team.

I didn’t mean to push this section into a second paragraph, but here’s my point:  where would the Mariners be if Felix had never gotten injured?  He went down on May 27th.  We’ve gone 17-25 ever since.  In the starts that he missed (counting every five days, assuming no rotation shuffling), the Mariners have gone 3-5, including Paxton’s initial disaster of a start on June 1st, a mediocre Miley start on July 9th, and a few hard-luck defeats where the offense didn’t necessarily show up (or, commonly known as your average Felix start).  A healthy Felix would conservatively get you two more wins in that stretch, with a very reasonable possibility of him pitching a shutout in there and squeezing out a third.  But, a healthy Felix also slots out some of the shakier pitchers who have made appearances in the rotation.  Maybe a healthy Felix – combined with Paxton’s resurgence down in Tacoma – bumps Karns out of the rotation sooner.  Maybe it prevents Adrian Sampson’s call-up (and subsequent arm injury that cost him his season).  Maybe we don’t have a potentially-useless LeBlanc to kick around.  MAYBE, it allows us to DL Taijuan Walker sooner – which I’m on record as saying we should have done in the first place – because we’re not so obsessed about our awful pitching depth.  There are endless What If’s out there, all surrounding the injury of our Ace.

But, it also bears mentioning that even when Felix was healthy this season, he didn’t look quite right.  Dating back to last year, Felix has been prone to getting knocked around a little bit in some starts.  His velocity is way down (even more than usual), and his command hasn’t quite been there.  Was the injury causing that?  Is it the natural effect of aging (he may only be 30 years old, but he’s got a billion miles on his pitching arm right now)?  It’s something to watch, as he makes his rehab starts ahead of an expected return to the Majors next Wednesday.  Please be healthy and good again, Felix!  We need you more than ever before!

***

I devoted more of this post than I’d anticipated on King Felix, so let me run through the rest of the pitching disappointments as quickly as possible.

Wade Miley – Fuck You!

Joel Peralta – Good Fucking Riddance!

Wade Miley – Fuck You Again, I can’t wait until this team cuts your ass!

Joaquin Benoit – Over-priced, spent time on the DL, has been garbage since his return.  Not the 8th inning enforcer we traded for.

Nathan Karns – 5 & Dive specialist we haven’t seen since Erik Bedard.  Not a long-term solution to our rotation woes.

Hisashi Iwakuma – A .500, middle-of-the-road pitcher who might be an okay 3rd or 4th starter, but is past his prime and no longer a viable #2.

James Paxton – Has the stuff to be an ace, but for some reason always gets killed by dribblers, dinks, and dunks (and poor defense).

Taijuan Walker – This injured foot has killed what was once a promising season in his development; a chronic set-back that likely won’t resolve until after the season ends.

Tony Zych – Probably this team’s 2nd best reliever (after Diaz), whose injury issues will cost him almost the entire season.

Charlie Furbush – Has been out the whole year, is set to return soon, but will probably be terrible.

Tom Wilhelmsen – Has returned, has been okay in his first few appearances, but the other shoe is right here, just waiting to drop.

Fernando Rodney – A HUGE Fuck You!  Pitches like dogshit last year for the Mariners, gets demoted, gets released, then comes back this year to have his very best-ever season?  What the fuck?!  Eat all the dicks, you turd!

Steve Cishek – For making me long for the days of the Fernando Rodney Experience.  Whereas Rodney’s appearances were always a slow bleed for 30 minutes, followed by complete disaster; Cishek just stabs you in the gut, then comes back two days later to jam his thumb into your festering wound.

The Mariners Won More Than They Lost Against The Yankees

It’s Monday, which means it’s time to talk about the weekend that was.

The M’s won an impressive one on Friday, 7-1, scoring in each of the final six innings to put it away.  Cruz and Cano had big games, we got a lot out of the DH combo of Smith & Guti, Adam Lind had something of a breakout game with a couple of hits, and Iannetta continued his torrid start to the season, which has been the most welcome of surprises.  Most everyone got in on the action offensively, except of course for poor Kyle Seager, who can’t buy a hit (but has plenty of Double Play foodstamps to throw around – THANKS OBAMA!).

Nathan Karns had a very Nathan Karns type of outing:  5 innings, 5 hits, 4 walks, 1 run, 7 strikeouts.  He got himself into and out of trouble in almost every inning, which is just something we should all get used to seeing, because that’s going to be the norm with this guy.  His inability to consistently pound the strikezone and get guys to hit into our defense is going to mean high pitch counts, low innings counts, and potentially a lot of crooked numbers.  In games like on Friday, where he was able to wiggle off the hook time and time again, he’ll resemble a bulldog like Erik Bedard.  You take the good with the bad with a guy like Bedard/Karns.  A tendency to Five & Dive, but at the same time (ideally) someone who can give you a QUALITY five innings.  Which, compared to some of the 5th starters we’ve seen in years past (weak-throwing flyball pitchers like Beavan and such), this might be a welcome change.  But, if Karns starts getting beat up more often than not (BECAUSE he’s putting so many people on base early in innings), then you’ll likely see him replaced by Paxton sooner rather than later.  It’ll be an interesting first few weeks of his Mariners career.

As the Mariners played add-on, the bullpen locked it down for the final four innings, including Peralta, who had been savaged in recent games by the long ball.

The Mariners won again on Saturday, 3-2, in a very Mariners-like performance, where the team scored three runs in the fifth inning, and no runs in any other inning.  Felix got the start, and for a while, this looked like the prototypical Hard Luck Felix Game.  C.C. Sabathia was working his magic through the first four innings, and it looked like a return to form for the erstwhile ace.  Felix, meanwhile, struggled in Karns-like fashion each and every inning, as he too was limited to five innings on the day.  It was a really weird day, if I’m being honest.  Felix had some of the most unhittable stuff I’ve ever seen out of him, but the downside was that he had pretty much no control over anything.  He threw about 80% offspeed stuff, and that shit was flying every which way but inside the strikezone.  As such, he only gave up 5 hits, but he gave up 6 walks.  When you add Saturday’s performance to his opening day start, there might be cause for concern.  I, however, choose to believe in the King, and like to see that he’s got such strong movement this early into the season.  He’ll harness everything, and get control over his command, and once he does, we could see a nice long run of dominance out of him this season.  As it is, he’s only got a 1.00 ERA, so the Felix Haters can eat all the dicks.

When Felix left the game, he had a 3-1 lead, and you sure as shit know none of us Mariners fans thought that lead was REMOTELY safe.  Vidal Nuno came in on his second consecutive day to throw shutout ball for an inning; he’s going to be a HUGE piece to this bullpen when it’s all said and done.  In the 7th, Nick Vincent gave up a solo homer to make it 3-2, and it was Hold Your Nuts time from there on out.  Benoit returned from his shoulder soreness to throw an uneventful scoreless inning, and Cishek came in for the 9th, gave up a couple hits, but ultimately got the job done for his first save of the year.  Last year, that game is a loss 11 times out of 10 games, so good on the bullpen to snap back after a rough homestand.

Yesterday, the Mariners lost 4-3, in a game that necessitated a dominant starting pitching performance, and ultimately didn’t see one.  Masahiro Tanaka was going for the Yankees, and he’s always been a tough cookie against the Mariners.  Quite frankly, seeing the Mariners get even 3 runs was laudable, as more often than not you’re lucky to get more than a single run against the guy.  Ultimately, when you get three runs off of a team’s ace, you need to find a way to win that game, and the Mariners just couldn’t hack it.

Hisashi Iwakuma is one of the more infuriating pitchers I’ve seen in a good, long while.  Not the same kind of infuriating as guys like J.A. Happ, or Carlos Silva, or even Jeff Weaver.  Unlike those guys, we’ve SEEN Iwakuma do really well in a Mariners uniform.  We KNOW he has greatness in him.  In the last two seasons, he’s had decent, if injury-plagued years, and in 2013 he had near-Cy Young quality stuff over 33 games.  When we all think of Iwakuma, we think of him in that 2013 context, where he solidified his reputation as a legitimate #2 starter on this team.  But, the truth is, even in 2013, he’s prone to these dumpy runs of mediocrity.  THAT’S what makes him so infuriating!  It’s not like he runs into a bad game here and there; even Felix has a bad game every now and again.  But, Iwakuma tends to string his bad games, or his so-so games, all in a row, before he has these prolonged stretches of quality starts.

Here are some of the stretches to which I’m referring (not counting his first year in the Bigs, as he was still getting over some shoulder issues):

  • 2013 – a five-game run where he gave up at least 4 runs per game
  • 2014 – a six-game run where he couldn’t get through the 6th inning in 5 of 6 games (and, more often than not, couldn’t even get through the 5th inning)
  • 2015 – a four-game run to start the season where he gave up at least 4 runs per game

I don’t know if it’s fair to saddle him with this run of three games to start the 2016 season as it being one of his bad runs, but he hasn’t been great by any stretch.  In 18 innings, he’s given up 22 hits and another 6 walks.  While he’s only given up the one homer (to A-Rod yesterday, ugh), teams are stringing their hits and walks together just enough to force him into this 0-2 start.  I wouldn’t say it’s dire straits yet with Kuma, but it would be really nice to see him overwhelm one of these teams soon with a dominant performance.

All in all, as I said before, a commendable hitting performance out of the M’s yesterday.  We were able to tie it in the fifth, but Kuma went right out in the bottom of the inning and gave up the fourth run of the day for the Yankees.  Even though Kuma was able to go 7 innings, and let the bullpen relax a little bit, those four runs proved to be too much.  Tanaka was also able to go 7 innings, and once the Yankees have a lead going into the 8th inning, you might as well forget it.  Dellin Betances is a fucking beast, and Andrew Miller is rock solid.  Can you even imagine what that bullpen is going to look like when Aroldis Chapman returns from suspension?  You better pile your runs up early, because you’re not budging that bullpen an inch in the late innings!

I do have to say something about Kyle Seager, though, because he’s been an absolute mess through two weeks.  He’s down to a line of .119/.245/.238, he was benched on Saturday to give him a day off to mentally unwind, and he’s just been a machine at grounding out to the right side of the infield (into the shift, which I have to believe is in his head more than anyone wants to let on).  I have confidence in his ability to turn it around, as I’ve seen these slow starts out of him almost every year of his career, but if this team wants to avoid digging a hole impossible to get out of, it’ll need Seager to start pulling his weight.

I like what I’ve seen out of Cruz and Iannetta.  Smith and Guti have had truly professional starts to the season.  Aoki’s been on a nice little run, and Martin has showed better power than I would’ve given him credit for prior to the season.  Dae-ho Lee has brought exactly what I expected to the table.  It’s really only a matter of time before Cano goes on a hot streak to get his numbers back to career norms.  Sardinas has brought what you like to see out of a guy off the bench.  Marte has had a rough go of it, but he’s young, and he has a knack for getting on base and using his speed to his advantage.  Lind’s rough start can’t be sugar-coated, but at least he looks like a guy who can hit it to all fields, so he’ll find some of those balls dropping in for hits sooner or later.  That just leaves Seager, who is bringing up the rear like a maniac.

When you think of a lineup, you’re going to see lots of peaks and valleys out of guys.  For instance, Iannetta is having a tremendous start to his Mariners career.  But, that other shoe is going to drop in a minute, and it would be NICE to see someone else hit one of his peaks at the same time as Iannetta’s inevitable valley, so the offense doesn’t go completely in the tank.  Iannetta is giving us Seager-like production right now, but that won’t last forever (if it even lasts much longer than these first two weeks); we’re going to need Seager to step it up just to maintain the status quo we’ve got going on right now!  That’s a scary thought, especially if it takes him much longer to pull out of this nosedive he’s been in.

Reasonable Expectations For The 2016 Mariners

WORLD SERIES OR SUCK MY TITS BABY, WOOOOOO!!!

It’s been a whirlwind whatever amount of time since the new GM, Jerry Dipoto, took over, what with all the trades and signings and whatnot.  A TON of turnover up and down the roster, as well as up and down the organization.  So often, we get all caught up in the excitement of talking about new players, that we automatically associate New with Improved.  I mean, let’s face it, the advertising world has conditioned us to this effect.  Digiorno Pizza got a new pizza sauce recipe:  NEW & IMPROVED!  Except, while it was new, the flavor was a huge downgrade and their product tasted like shit, so they eventually switched back to the old recipe and the world rejoiced.

The truth of the matter is, sometimes New means Improved, and sometimes you end up with the PR nightmare of New Coke (or, that’s just what the Coca Cola company wants you to think, you sheeple).  The point is, change for the sake of change doesn’t mean this Mariners team is going to be any better than prior Mariners teams.

Then again, when you factor in how crummy this team was, could it really hurt to trim off the excess fat and replace it with literally anything else?

In many ways, particularly with the lineup and the outfield defense, we’re talking about Addition By Subtraction.  LoMo, Trumbo, and Zunino are great places to start.  Last year, LoMo flashed a quality glove at first base, but his production at the plate was pathetic; he’s gone, replaced by Adam Lind, who should be a steady presence at the plate, and good enough at the bag.  Trumbo was forced into a regular outfield starting role, because he was deemed marginally better than Dustin Ackley.  The outfield is probably the last place you want to see Trumbo, especially if that outfield is in Safeco Field.  Then, you gotta tack on his horrific start once he was traded over here, and regardless of how hot his season finished, he’s too streaky to be depended upon.  He’s also gone, replaced by let’s say Nori Aoki, a quality leadoff hitter and a significant upgrade in our corner defense.  Then, with Zunino, you’re talking about a guy ahead of his years defensively, but he was the blackest of black holes offensively.  He’s still in the organization, but he’s going to get his cuts down in Tacoma to hopefully build up some confidence and build up some better habits at the plate.  Replacing him with even a Replacement Level hitter like Iannetta should be a huge upgrade in our overall offense.

Gone are other young guys like Ackley and Miller, who were more Promising Hopefuls than Professionals You Could Rely On.  Gone are worthless veterans like Rickie Weeks, Justin Ruggiano, and Willie Bloomquist.  All of these moves are upgrades just by not having them on our team anymore!  This is truly a professional lineup that should get the job done day-in and day-out.  If we had this offense back in 2014, when our pitching was studly, we’d be talking about a World Series contender.

See, the problem with all this change – which I alluded to above – is that we as fans get seduced by all the improvements that we fail to recognize the weaknesses.  Or, we choose to see the weaknesses as potential strengths, if such and such breaks in our favor.  The fact of the matter is, the pitching is going to be a real issue in 2016, and our depth at the Major League level is already razor thin, so should injuries crop up (as they do for literally every single team), we may be in serious trouble.

The one problem with the lineup that I’ve neglected to this point is its reliance upon platoons.  The aforementioned Adam Lind, for instance, is GREAT against righties.  But, he’s absolutely awful against left-handed pitchers.  That presents a problem that the team is tentatively looking to rectify by platooning him with Jesus Montero (who is pretty solid against lefties, but struggles mightily against righties).  What happens if one of those guys gets injured?  What happens, particularly, if Lind gets injured (since there are more right-handed pitchers in the game than lefties)?  Then, we’re stuck with Montero as our everyday first baseman, and our production from that position at the plate plummets.

Same deal in the outfield.  We’ve got a Seth Smith/Franklin Gutierrez platoon.  Guti is a walking nightmare of maladies.  Last year, he was fortunate, as the team was in a position to give him the time he needed between games to recover.  But, he’s on a Major League deal; we can’t just send him to Tacoma or whatever, without putting him on the DL.  So, what happens if Seth Smith has a serious injury that keeps him out for a few months?  What was once a strength (our outfield defense) will now require the presence of Nelson Cruz to just get by!

You get the idea.  This thing goes on and on.  Even at the catcher position, we’ve got a righty and a lefty, which will only encourage the team to pursue a platoon sitch there too.  I know platoons are the wave of the future – and really, they make good sense, and should prolong some careers of guys with radical platoon splits – but when the shit hits the fan, you’re sort of left with your dick in your hand.

As for the pitching, I’ve gone over that repeatedly in recent weeks.  It’s scary.  After Felix, you need a lot of things to break right:

  • Will Taijuan Walker improve upon a decent – but far from great – rookie season?
  • Will Taijuan Walker manage to stay healthy again for a full season?
  • Will James Paxton manage to stay healthy for longer than a couple months?
  • Will Wade Miley’s numbers improve with the move to Safeco Field?
  • Will Wade Miley be good enough on the road to not be a total Joe Saunders?
  • Will Nathan Karns resemble the second coming of Erik Bedard in a good way (strong stuff, bulldog on the mound, stiffens with runners on); or will he resemble the second coming of Erik Bedard in a bad way (5 inning limit, arm problems, poor interviewee leading all of us to listen to the constant bitching of local Seattle media)?

Then, there’s the bullpen, which is a complete unknown.  After Joaquin Benoit (who has been a rock his entire career), it’s all cause for concern:

  • Who’s going to be the closer?
  • Will this team even employ a traditional closer?
  • Who’s our next-best reliever after Benoit?
  • Will Furbush continue his strong 2015, or revert to his inconsistent 2014?
  • Will Zych make good on his lights-out cup of coffee last season?
  • Will Evan Scribner continue to have issues with giving up home runs?
  • Will Jonathan Aro be the second coming of Evan Scribner, home run problem and all?
  • Will this apparent trend toward bullpen pitchers with lackluster velocity on their fastballs be the death of us all?

If I had to reach down into my gut, to see what it says about this team’s chances in 2016, I’d say the starting rotation is a little more promising than the bullpen.  I think the ‘pen has the chance to be one of the worst we’ve ever seen.  Mid-90s bad.  Bobby Ayala bad.  And the worst part?  I fear that this starting rotation will probably put a lot of strain on the bullpen by throwing short games.  Walker, Paxton, and Karns will all have their games where they can’t get past the 5th inning.  Miley is a total wild card, who could range from 2 innings to 8 innings.  That’s going to put a lot of stress on the King to get the job done in his starts.

I want to go off the deep end.  I want to jump to the head of the parade and pronounce this team as a true contender.  I want to like all these moves and champion the new GM as a guy who finally GETS it.  But, if I’m being honest, I think he’s just morphed this team into a different kind of sub-.500 team.  One that may hit better, score more runs.  But, in the end, a team that will blow a lot of leads late.  The question is:  how clutch are these hitters?  It’s an impossible metric to track, of course.  But, if this team is going to somehow hang in there and fight for a Wild Card spot, it’s going to have to somehow manufacture a crazy win/loss record in 1-run games and in walk-off/extra innings games.

Which is just another way of saying, I’ll have to see it to believe it.  I’ll have to see this team play well before I believe this team will continue to play well.

The Mariners Made A Big Ol’ Trade With The Rays

If you read my Seahawks mid-season post from yesterday and were looking forward to the Part 2, where I rip into everything I find objectionable about this Seahawks season so far, I apologize.  Fortunately, it will still be “mid-season” after the weekend; and really, when you think about it, this gives Seahawks players an extra three full days (if you include today) to fuck up somehow (DUIs, spousal abuse, disorderly conduct, attending a Taylor Swift concert).

The reason for the delay, as I’m sure you’re able to glean from the title, is something a little more timely and pressing of my interest took place last night:  the aforementioned tig ol’ brade.

The Deets:

  • Seattle sends SS/OF Brad Miller, 1B/DH/OF Logan Morrison, and relief pitcher Danny Farquhar to Tampa
  • Tampa sends starting pitcher Nathan Karns, relief pitcher C.J. Riefenhauser, and OF (sigh) Boog Powell to Seattle

Really?  “Boog” is the name we’re going with?

I know very little about what we got in return, other than what I’ve just read about this trade this morning.  Nathan Karns is a soon-to-be 28 year old right-handed starter who was a rookie last year with the Rays.  He made 26 starts (and 1 relief appearance), going 7-5, striking out 145 in 147 innings.  He was shut down in early September (probably prudent) with forearm tightness, but I doubt that’ll be a problem going into 2016.

In 2014, he pitched 157 innings across AAA and the bigs (only 12 of those innings in the bigs), so he might be a couple years away from being a reliable 200-innings-per-year guy.  As far as his 2015 is concerned, I wonder.  He only made three starts all year where he went a full 7 innings or more; a lot of his starts are in the 4-5 innings range.  Maybe that’s Tampa being cautious with a young pitcher, in hopes of preserving his arm, in which case, fine.  But, if he’s a little 5-inning dandy a la Erik Bedard, then that’s probably not too good.  Also, from what I’ve read, no one is falling all over themselves praising his rocket arm.  They actually don’t really mention anything about his fastball speed, which leads me to believe he falls in the realm of “average”, which for the world we’re living in today, probably means he throws in the 92-93 mph range.  Nothing flashy, but also just fast enough to avoid Jamie Moyer comparisons.  Everyone seems to believe he’s a back-end (read: 4th or 5th) starter, which in an ideal scenario – on a GOOD team – means an innings eater who manages to keep his ERA under or around 4.  But, in the case of every Mariners 4th or 5th starter you’ve ever seen in the last decade, always means he’s good for about 10 quality starts, with the rest being absolute disasters.

So, we’ll see.

C.J. Riefenhauser (whose name already annoys me, so I hope they get rid of him as soon as possible) is a lefty reliever who has pitched in small parts of the last two seasons in the Major Leagues.  His 2015 September call-up was apparently the toast of Tampa, so maybe we’ve got something there.  Or, maybe he’s just another guy.  Or, maybe he’s worse than just another guy because he’s got a stupid, hard-to-spell last name.  If he turns out to be good, and makes the big league club out of Spring Training, I’m calling him The Ceej and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it.

(sigh) Boog Powell has never played in the Majors.  He’s a center fielder – a position we desperately need, now that Austin Jackson and Brad Miller are both gone – and he apparently is pretty athletic.  So, hopefully that means he’s good defensively, or at least means he’ll one day soon be good defensively, because the Safeco outfield has a lot of space to cover.  He finally cracked AAA last year for half of the season, batting .257, but with a robust .360 on-base percentage (and absolutely no power whatsoever).  He’s gotten on base his whole career, and he makes a lot of contact, which are two things this team so desperately needs at the top of the lineup.  He steals a middling number of bases (approximately 15 or so a year), so he’s not a super-burner, but should be a good-enough base-runner.  What we don’t know, obviously, is whether or not he’s ready to face Major League pitching.  You can be an on-base machine, but if you can’t hit above .150, you’re not going to last.  I have my doubts, but I’m willing to feign hope.

The Mariners got rid of three players, none of whom make me sad to no longer be wearing a Mariners uniform.  I know a lot of the local baseball nerds haven’t finished sucking Brad Miller’s dick yet (and Tampa is SUCH a long flight away), but I’m just glad we were able to maximize as much trade value out of him as possible.  Brad Miller: The Whole Package was pretty valuable, I suppose.  But, he was always going to be frustrating for never living up to the potential that most fans saw in him.  His batting average always stunk.  He wasn’t THAT good at getting on-base.  He wasn’t THAT good at making contact.  And sure, his bat had power, but what are we talking about here, 20 doubles and 10 homers a year?  Pardon me for not falling all over my fainting couch with the vapors at this great and wonderous player who apparently had a lot of defensive ability, but still couldn’t manage to hold onto his natural short stop position.  Maybe he’ll put it all together one day.  He strikes me as a guy (unlike, say, Ackley or Smoak, who feel like lost causes no matter where they play) who could really shake things up in a more hitter-friendly environment.  I think he’ll be a good one for Tampa – maybe even an All Star – but he was never going to be that here.

LoMo feels like a tack-on more than anything.  There’s no way the Mariners wanted to give him a raise in arbitration (to upwards of $5 million for next year), just to get the same mediocre play.  On a good team, LoMo might be a nice bench player and backup first baseman.  His defensive skills really blossomed once he got everyday play, but his bat was never consistent enough to hack it on a daily basis.  For every hot stretch, he’d suffer a slump five times as long.  And, not for nothing, but he’s worthless in the outfield, so don’t go there girlfriend.  I don’t know what Tampa’s future holds at the first base and DH positions, but as long as LoMo isn’t starting at either, they should be fine.

Danny Farquhar actually feels a little more interesting to me, if I’m a Rays fan.  He’s HAD success in the very recent past.  Yeah, his 2015 was a fucking disaster, but I feel like a little tweak here and there in his mechanics might be all that it takes to get him back to his 2014 glory.  To be honest, the Mariners might have been able to do the same thing, mechanics-wise, but if you do that and it fails, then you’re stuck with a reliever with no value whatsoever.  Too much of a risk for a guy who doesn’t really have a future here (he’s not a closer, and as he gets into arbitration, he’s going to cost more and more money).

I like the deal a lot.  The Mariners got rid of three players with no value to the current regime.  Brad Miller already lost his starting short stop job to Ketel Marte, and there was no guarantee he was ever going to fully grasp the outfield position.  LoMo is terrible, and in a logjam with Trumbo, Cruz, and Jesus Montero as far as 1B/DH is concerned.  And, honestly, if we can’t do better than Farquhar, then our bullpen is already fucked.

In return, we get a young starting pitcher who goes immediately into the starting rotation (assuming he doesn’t have a total meltdown in Spring Training), who we have club control over for a very long time; a potential lefty specialist out of the bullpen; and a potential starting centerfielder for – again – a very long time.  Or, we just picked up an injury-prone starter who can’t get out of the sixth inning, a minor league lefty reliever, and a Quad-A outfielder in a long line of crappy Quad-A outfielders in recent Mariners history.  But, the point is, we took a chance, and now we just let the chips fall.  If it works out, GREAT!  The new GM is a genius (for now).  If it doesn’t work out, then how is that any different than what we’ve endured as Mariners fans for the last 15 years?

I’m right.  You see how I’m right.

What I won’t do is fall all over myself praising the new GM for having the balls to trade away highly-touted players from the previous GM’s regime.  Don’t forget, Jackie Z did the same exact thing with the VAST majority of the players Bill Bavasi cultivated in his tenure here.  I think, after a year or two, the only name players still here from the Bavasi era were Michael Saunders and, like Brandon Maurer.

This is what ALWAYS HAPPENS.  The new GM marks his territory by pissing all over the place, as he rids the organization of every faulty move that got him here in the first place.  Obviously, this is the first move of many; the only shocking thing about it is how early it happened.  Jerry Dipoto isn’t wasting any time; good for him.  But, if I’m anyone on this team not named Felix Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, or Kyle Seager, I wouldn’t go buying a house in the area anytime soon.  It’s okay Robinson Cano, you can buy a house.  They probably won’t trade you; but even if they do, have you SEEN the real estate market in Seattle?  It’s booming!  Buy as much as you can!

Jack Zduriencik Is Gone

I remember June 16, 2008, like it was seven years and a few weeks ago.  We were in the middle of a year that would just get worse and worse and worse.  The Mariners, coming off of a winning 2007 campaign, revamped their starting rotation with the Erik Bedard trade and the Carlos Silva signing.  A would-be weakness for the team was bolstered by the addition of a second ace pitcher, and an innings eater who’d solidify the back-end of the rotation while pitching half his games in the spacious Safeco Field.

Those 2008 Mariners would go on to lose over 100 games, netting the #2 overall draft pick.  On June 16, 2008, Bill Bavasi was fired after four and a half miserable fucking seasons.  And we all rejoiced, for we all knew Bavasi was not only the face of Satan incarnate, but the most bumbling and inept motherfucker ever to be given the keys to a professional franchise (tell me I’m wrong, COME AT ME BRO; I will fight you to the death).  Every year of his reign was another chance to reload.  Re-BUILD?  What does that even MEAN?  The Mariners were coming off of their most fruitful seasons under Pat Gillick; but those veterans were all long dead and buried.  Bavasi made it his mission to bring in veteran after veteran to try to right the ship, at the expense of our entire farm system and anything else he could get his hands on.  He wasted money, he traded away superstars, and he brought us nothing but losses piled upon losses piled upon shit.

On October 22, 2008, the Mariners brought in Jack Zduriencik, and while we didn’t really know much about him, we knew he worked in the upper management in Milwaukee, for a Brewers organization on the rise.  He was responsible for that team bringing in some of its biggest stars, and was the first non-GM to win Executive of the Year in 2007.  This guy was a rising star in his own right, and it seemed like he’d fit into the GM world like a glove.

On August 28, 2015, the Mariners fired Jack Zduriencik.  He’d been at the helm for a little over 6 and a half seasons.  So, it was time.  He’d out-lasted his predecessor and really wasn’t all that much better at his job.

Bill Bavasi’s Mariners record:  322-395, .449 winning percentage
Jack Zduriencik’s Mariners record:  506-595, .460 winning percentage

Over time, the Bavasi regime has become known for the Erik Bedard/Adam Jones trade, and the dual trades to the Indians in 2006 giving them quality All Stars Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera for magic beans.  Those are desperate moves no GM would EVER live down.  The Zduriencik regime will ultimately go down for the Triad of Suck that was Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero.  The Mariners gave up some legitimately great capital to bring in those guys (2nd overall draft pick, Cliff Lee, and Michael Pineda, respectively) and they all blew up in Z’s face.

Considering Jackie Z’s extensive history in scouting for Major League Baseball, that makes his transgressions all the more galling.  He’d been here for over 6 years and all he had to show for his work was Kyle Seager.  Anyone he ever brought in who was worth a damn was either an established free agent (Cano, Cruz) or some scrub who’d previously washed out of baseball either via injury or ineffectiveness, only to make his comeback with us for an anomalous year or two (Chris Young, Mark Lowe, Tom Wilhelmsen, Joe Beimel).  I mean, will you LOOK at some of the bullshit that’s crossed our paths thanks to Jackie Z:

  • Dustin Ackley, draft pick
  • Chone Figgins, free agent
  • Eric Byrnes, free agent
  • Justin Smoak, trade
  • The Entire Doug Fister Trade, less Charlie Furbush (a sometimes-okay lefty specialist out of the bullpen)
  • Jesus Montero, trade
  • Brandon League, trade
  • Casey Kotchman, trade
  • Mike Morse for John Jaso
  • Logan Morrison for Carter Capps
  • Mark Trumbo for Welington Castillo
  • Mike Zunino, draft pick
  • Danny Hultzen, draft pick
  • Nick Franklin, draft pick
  • Corey Hart, free agent
  • Jason Bay, free agent
  • Joe Saunders, free agent
  • Hector Noesi, trade
  • Miguel Olivo, free agent
  • The Hitless Wonder That Is Brendan Ryan, trade
  • Jack Cust, free agent
  • Blake Beavan, trade
  • Milton Bradley, trade
  • Rob Johnson, trade(ish)

You could go on and on, and I know I’m just picking and choosing the most worthless piles of crap out there, but LOOK AT THAT LIST!  Look at all those miserable bastards that have contributed to nearly 600 losses the last 6+ seasons!  That’s Jack’s legacy!  Did he give away studs on par with Jones, Choo, Cabrera, Tillman and the like?  No.  But, he did get PENNY on the dollar out of stud trade chips like Cliff Lee, Michael Pineda, Doug Fister, Brandon Morrow, John Jaso, and Carter Capps.  He had three draft picks in the top 3 overall and we’ve yet to see any of them amount to anything more than somewhat quality defense.  After this year, it’s highly likely two of those three draft picks won’t even be in the organization, with Ackley traded, Hultzen an injured free agent who should probably retire, and Mike Zunino fighting for his life somewhere between Tacoma and Seattle.

Was he as destructive as Bill Bavasi?  No, he was not.  That’s why August 28, 2015, came and went a little bit differently than June 16, 2008.  I don’t feel quite the sense of elation as I did when Bavasi finally got the ax.  That was on par with the Wicked Witch of the West getting assassinated; this is more like Old Yeller taking a bullet out behind the house.  Could the Mariners afford to keep him in charge even one more year?  Absolutely not.  His rabies-infested mind would surely destroy us all; he NEEDED to be put down, for his sake as much as our own.

But, it’s not even like that.  I have no real affinity for Jackie Z; it’s not like I’m going to miss him now that he’s gone.  But, it’s still a bummer, because this isn’t supposed to be how it ended.  There was a lot of flawed decision-making when it comes to Jackie Z’s reign; but, there’s also a lot of moves where you could see why he thought the way he did.  A lot of moves that looked good on paper, and then that paper was set ablaze by a fucking cannon.  Guys like Smoak and Ackley and Figgins and Montero – they all came highly touted and having produced quite a bit in their careers up to the point they arrived in Seattle.

In fact, you could say 2015 was a perfect microcosm of the entire Jackie Z era.  There was hope – coming off of a year where the Mariners ended up 1 game out of the playoffs.  There was a smart signing – Nelson Cruz, MVP candidate in 2015.  There was flawed logic – trading away a professional catcher during Zunino’s worst year in the Bigs for a righty power bat who will never play well in Safeco (and who’s yet another DH who shouldn’t be playing out in the field to boot).  And there was a whole lot of bad luck – Cano’s shitty start to the season, Ackley turning back into a pumpkin after last year’s bonanza second half, the bullpen absolutely falling apart after being one of the best units in the American League last year.

Like him or hate him, it’s just sad.  This whole season has been depressing as shit!  Jackie Z getting the boot is just the cherry on top.

The worst part is:  what do we do going forward?  When Bavasi was fired, there was a clear thought process:  scrap everything and start over through the draft.  It only got muddled when the Mariners had a winning record in 2009; that shouldn’t have happened, and it set things back in a lot of ways.  The Mariners made “contending ballclub” moves when they should’ve stuck to the gameplan to keep rebuilding.  It backfired in 2010, meaning we wasted two good rebuilding years thinking we were worth a damn.  We started anew in 2011, built the club up into a winner in 2014, only to see it all bottom out yet again.  Unexpectedly.  Yet again.  But, maybe we should have expected it.  This city is cursed in a lot of ways, and it took one of the greatest football teams of all time to break that spell in 2013.

Now, like in 2008, the Mariners have no farm system.  But, they’ve got plenty good at the Major League level.  This team is far from great, but it’s also far from the worst.  Will the organization be able to find the right guy to come in here and put all the pieces in place?

No.

It won’t.

Because Howard Lincoln is still the man calling all the shots.

He’s an imbecile and he needs to go.

But, we’re stuck with him, and that’s why we’ll always be losers.

Mariners Tidbit 65: Enjoying Baseball More

I don’t know what it is.  Maybe it’s the fact that the Mariners have won 6 of 9.  Maybe it’s all the raking our offense did in Colorado last week.  Maybe it’s residual honeymoon afterglow of a thrilling flurry of deadline deals.  Or, maybe it’s peace and contentedness in the knowledge that the “contention” portion of this season is long gone, and all that’s left is to give some of the younger guys some play to see what we have for next year.

The 2015 season rates pretty high on the unpleasant scale.  Sure, we’re losing a lot, and it’s not entirely unlike 2013, 2012, 2011, and so on; but 2015 deserves it’s own wing in the Unpleasantness Museum of Seattle.  Not since 2010 have expectations and reality been so diametrically opposed, but even then (or 2008 for that matter), we were coming off of seasons that were largely fraudulent.  In 2007, the Mariners were 14 games over .500 in spite of a -27 run differential.  In 2009, the Mariners were 8 games over .500, with a ridiculous -52 run differential.  One could say, in spite of heightened expectations in 2008 and 2010, you could have seen our regression coming a mile away (perhaps clouded by the likes of Erik Bedard and Cliff Lee, who many saw as the “missing pieces” of a championship run).

But, the God damned 2014 Mariners were 12 games over .500 (and a single game out of the Wild Card play-in game) with a whopping +80 run differential!  And what did we do but get “better” with offseason additions like Nelson Cruz and company?  2015 should have been a fucking slam dunk, and instead it’s been a sledgehammer to the nuts.

So, why do I feel better now?  It’s probably a combo of everything in the first paragraph.  There’s no real pressure that comes with expectations, because all expectations right now point to this team playing .500 ball and running out the string of games.  We’re also in the throes of NFL training camp and a few days away from the first pre-season game.  So, for the time being, it’s all about baseball until it’s not about baseball anymore until next February.

And, while it’s still batty to hope for some sort of turnaround, I think what’s most encouraging is some of the new players being productive and hitting.  Specifically, Jesus Montero and his 6 extra base hits in a very short sample size.  It might not last, but then again it might!  And just imagine where this team could be if Montero miraculously pans out.  The Pineda/Montero trade is the deal that won’t stop swinging wildly between one team clearly winning it over the other.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to see a bum like Ackley hit the DL mere days after we unloaded him.  I don’t expect his back issues to be a long-term issue; I’m just glad he’s away from me and my team, and we’ll never have to see him in a Mariners lineup ever again.  Maybe THAT’S why I’m so high on baseball right now!  I live in an Ackley-free world and a Happ-free world; there’s something to be said for your team getting rid of players you absolutely loathe.

Mariners Tidbit 42: One of the Three Worst Trades in the Jackie Z Era Comes To Town

For your reference, here’s a link to all the worst Seattle sports trades, signings, and draft picks.  For your more specific reference, here’s a list of just the ones about the Mariners.

I split them up by GM, so go ahead and scroll down to the bottom of that second link.  There, you’ll find the Jackie Z Poo-Poo Platter of GM moves.  The most recent three trades listed have thus far defined his tenure as GM (in addition to the Dustin Ackley draft pick, and as we move along, most likely the Danny Hultzen pick as well).

The Cliff Lee Trade, the Doug Fister Trade, and now the Michael Pineda Trade.  Notable for the bullshit we received in return, but defined by the studs we gave away.  The only trades that have been more soul-crushing from an organizational standpoint have been the Erik Bedard Trade (losing out on a killer combo of Adam Jones & Chris Tillman), the Tino Martinez/Jeff Nelson Trade, and the Randy Johnson Trade (because you’ll never convince me it was a smart idea to give up on a future Hall of Famer who’d go on to win many multiple Cy Young Awards).  That’s a sextet of suck if I’ve ever seen it!

Cliff Lee begat Justin Smoak, which turned into nothing.  Doug Fister has only left us Charlie Furbush, lefty specialist out of the bullpen.  And Michael Pineda was turned into Fat Jesus Montero who is now Skinny Jesus Montero who is still learning how to play first base down in Tacoma and is therefore worthless until the Mariners either get something for him, or figure out a way to call him back up and properly use him.  At best, he’s probably only a bench/reserve pinch hitter type.

Meanwhile, Michael Pineda returns tonight to face Felix Hernandez.  Pineda, you may recall, had a shit-ton of injuries just as soon as he was traded away.  We all thought we REALLY worked one over on the smug ol’ Yankees.  Stole their power-hitting catcher prospect, gave them damaged goods; fine by me.  Pineda ended up missing two full seasons – 2012 & 2013 – before returning in 2014 only to get suspended and then injured again, ultimately losing about half of that season as well.  Finally healthy, and pine tar-free, Pineda has racked up some incredibly impressive numbers through the first two months of this year.  A 6-2 record, a sub-4 ERA, a 16 strikeout game (67 total strikeouts against only 5 walks); he’s every bit the stud the Yankees thought they were getting in 2012, it just took him a long while to get there.

There have been a lot of winding roads to this Pineda/Montero Trade, but I think we can officially call it in favor of the Yankees.  And, as such, tonight we get to watch a huge reminder of why the Mariners are a terribly-run and forever-snakebitten organization.

Happy Monday again.

Mariners Tidbit 33: Tangling With A Sports Addiction

I missed the entirety of last night’s game.  When I went to bed, the Mariners were down by the score of 2-1, but I didn’t watch any of the first few innings either.  If I’m being perfectly honest, watching a bunch of old episodes of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia was more appealing than trying to get myself interested in a Mariners game against the Angels.  Two teams, 4 games under .500 coming into the evening, battling it out for sole possession of second place in the A.L. West.  That’s got Yawn written all over it.

I’ll be the first one to admit it, I don’t have the same juice that I had even a year ago.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a full game that I didn’t also attend in person.  I REALLY can’t remember the last time I saw a full game that I didn’t also attend in person that didn’t in some way feature Felix Hernandez on the mound.  And I wonder if I’m slowly going the way of the casual, fair-weather fan.

I read an article on Joss Whedon quitting Twitter.  Don’t ask me why; I’m not a particular fan of his work, nor was I a follower of his.  But, he said something interesting that struck a chord; he said, “When you keep doing something after it stops giving you pleasure, that’s kind of rock bottom for an addict.”  That’s the absolute epitome of being an addict, expecially of hard drugs like heroin.  At first, it feels like the best thing ever.  So, you continue to do it.  By the time you realize that you feel nothing after having done it, that’s when you know you’re doing it just to not feel shitty all the time.

Watching the Seattle Mariners used to give me great pleasure.  I’d ride the highs by jumping around and cheering like a maniac.  I’d suffer the lows by swearing my face off and throwing things.  Every year – even over this last decade – I’d legitimately get myself all in a lather about our chances at contending.  And, every year, I’d have to suffer the season falling through our grasp.  Sometimes it happened in late May, sometimes it happened in late September.  But always with the crushing realization that we’d once again failed to make the playoffs.

2003 was the last time the Mariners won over 90 games.  Since that year, there have been three other winning seasons.  In 2007, the Mariners won 88 games.  In response to that, the Mariners went out and signed Carlos Silva and traded for Erik Bedard.  We were really going to make a push for the post-season based on all the promise we’d just experienced.  In 2008, the Mariners lost 101 games and everyone was fired.  In 2009, somehow the Mariners won another 85 games.  In response to that, the Mariners went out and signed Chone Figgins and traded for Cliff Lee.  THIS TIME, we’d do it right!  In 2010, the Mariners once again lost 101 games.

In 2014, the Mariners won 87 games.  In response to that, the Mariners went out and signed Nelson Cruz and traded for J.A. Happ.  The Mariners right now are 11-16 and well on their way to another 101-loss season.

All the things we should’ve seen coming – and indeed a lot of the things we DID see coming – have come.  Our young starters have been spotty.  Our bullpen – after an insanely great 2014 – has regressed terribly.  Our young hitters are struggling, no one is getting on base, and when they do, no one is really hitting with runners in scoring position.  We overlooked all of this going into the season, because all we could see was an 87-win squad from 2014, largely unchanged, with the addition of the big bopper we’d been sorely lacking.  And, with that bopper actually producing … we’ve still managed to be far worse.

Aside from Felix, this is a hard team to watch.  You could say that about any of the Mariners teams since he came into the league – and indeed, I HAVE been saying that for as far back as I can remember – but I’ll tell you this much:  even in our worst years, I still watched a higher percentage of Mariners games than I’ve bothered with this year.  Why sit through something when you know they’re just going to find a way to lose?  When you wake up insanely early like I do every day, it REALLY has to be worth your while to want to stay up until 10pm or later.  And, for the most part this season, I just haven’t had it in me.  I’d rather catch up on some sleep than watch this Mariners season die by a thousand papercuts.

Baseball has never really had a super strong hold on me.  It was always a sport growing up that I’d rather play in my backyard than watch on TV.  I’ve always said I’m not a baseball fan, I’m a Mariners fan.  Nothing has changed in that regard.  I’m still a Mariners fan, I suppose.  But, my desire to follow the team as closely – on television or in print – is waning considerably.

At this point, until the Mariners seriously start to turn this around, I’m a Felix fan.  Until further notice, I’ll be watching every fifth day.  This team is going to have to work at it to get me back, because I refuse to get my hopes up again for another losing season.