The Mariners Still Have A Few Tricks Up Their Sleeves, Swept The Rangers

I spent the better part of Memorial Day weekend camping, with very limited access to Twitter or anything else. As a result, I missed the festivities, so let’s go through this 4-game series against the Rangers together, shall we?

The first game was last Thursday, which I probably saw at least some of, but for the life of me can’t remember. It was a 5-0 victory. Chris Flexen had 7 shutout innings. Oh, that’s right, Tom Murphy and *checks notes* Jacob Nottingham both had homers. I definitely saw those. Also Jack Mayfield had a 2-RBI double and Mitch Haniger closed it out with an RBI single. Pretty impressive victory all around, but also these are the Rangers, and that’s what you’re supposed to do to the Rangers.

On Friday, the M’s won 3-2 behind some phenomenal bullpen work. Justus Sheffield was just good enough (5 innings, 2 runs), but far from great. Erik Swanson came through in the clutch with the 4-out save, though he promptly was placed on the IL this weekend with a groin strain, so hopefully that won’t linger too long. Kyle Lewis had a 2-run homer and Ty France continued his hit parade since returning from the IL.

Saturday was another 3-2 Mariners victory, this time behind a solid outing from Justin Dunn (5.2 innings, 1 run, 2 hits, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts). J.P. Crawford and Mitch Haniger both homered, and replacement catcher Jose Godoy knocked in the first run of the game on a single.

For the Sunday finale, the Mariners gave themselves a little extra insurance in a 4-2 victory. Yusei Kikuchi continued his great season, with 6.2 innings of 2-run ball. Ty France and Kyle Seager both had multi-hit games (including a late solo homer for Seager) to lead the way offensively.

This was a pretty impressive little series for the Mariners. They pulled themselves back to .500 on the season, which is nice to see after that long drought in mid-May. I know it’s only the Rangers, but the Tigers were only the Tigers and look at what happened there.

We’re still not getting a ton from the offense, obviously, and you wonder how the pitching staff is going to hold up – particularly the bullpen – with so many injuries and so many high-leverage situations to have to pitch through. The bottom of the lineup doesn’t figure to improve all that much, and there really doesn’t look like much offensive help on the horizon. It would be nice if Jarred Kelenic started hitting sooner rather than later; I think it was reasonable to expect him to struggle for the first couple weeks or so, but not THIS much, and not for THIS long. We’re through three weeks now, and I’ll NEVER understand why he was put first in the batting order from day one.

I’ll be curious to see what the next four months bring, because clearly things aren’t going quite as planned. The winning is nice and everything, but we seem to be relying largely upon veterans and guys who might not necessarily figure into the team’s long-term plans. Haniger, Seager, and France are still producing the bulk of the offense. Kelenic is struggling, Crawford is streaky, and White is still on the IL (with Kyle Lewis joining him, it would seem). I like what we’re seeing from Kikuchi, Flexen, and Dunn (for the most part), but Sheffield remains a mystery.

All in all, a pretty odd first couple months of the season.

The Mariners Bounced Back With A Series Win In Oakland

The six-game losing streak really took it out of me, fanwise. To be fair, the three-game losing streak to just the Tigers caused the most damage, since that was probably the last time I watched a full game. I missed the entire Padres series, then the first two games of this past Athletics series, before dipping my toe back in those Mariners waters. So, of course, I missed the two victories, while the bad taste in my mouth remains.

Yusei Kikuchi had another solid outing on Monday, going 6 innings, giving up just 1 run. He might’ve gone longer, but had some sort of back issue that prevented him from going any further, but it shouldn’t keep him from his next start, which is nice. Kikuchi has EASILY been our most reliable starter this season, which is great to see since this is his big option year. 7 of his 9 starts have officially been Quality Starts (at least 6 innings, with 3 runs or fewer given up), and if he keeps this up, he will easily earn the remainder of his contract from the Mariners.

This game featured homers by Kyle Lewis and Jarred Kelenic, as well as doubles by Mitch Haniger, J.P. Crawford, and the return of Ty France. Of course, the bottom third of the lineup is a complete wasteland of nobodies not even worth mentioning here, but at least there are 6 hitters now who I don’t totally loathe. The M’s won 4-2, as the bullpen (minus Graveman, who is another one of those COVID casualties) managed to lock it down. Erik Swanson in particular is more dominant than I’ve ever seen him; he got out of an 8th inning jam by striking out the side.

Tuesday featured another mediocre start by Logan Gilbert, who has yet to get beyond the 4th inning or throw more than 80 pitches in any of his three starts. He can’t seem to avoid giving up a big inning or two in each of his appearances, and the team is obviously unwilling to push it by having him try to pitch through trouble the third time through the order. Technically, this was his best start, as he only gave up 2 runs in 4 innings, while striking out 4, walking 0, and giving up only 4 hits. But, obviously, that’s a low bar to clear. The bullpen once again showed up in a big way, giving up just 1 more run over the remaining 5 innings.

The M’s scratched out their runs on 11 hits, with Kelenic, Crawford, and France all having multi-hit games. It’s nice to see France healthy and Kelenic finally have some success at the plate. He’ll be hitting over .200 in no time at this rate!

The afternoon get-away game on Wednesday was a 6-3 defeat, and hopefully the final bullpen day for a while. Robert Dugger gave up 5 runs in 3.1 innings, and that’s obviously not going to fly. He just didn’t have it, but we had to stick with him just to eat up a few innings. It sounds like Marco Gonzales will be back in the next turn of the rotation, so that’s a bit of happy news.

This game was particularly brutal because it looked like so many other Mariners defeats, in that we didn’t put up any runs until the 8th inning. It is what it is, though. This offense is rarely going to be competent.

The Mariners Bounced Back With An Impressive Series Win Over The Indians

I didn’t have much in the way of high hopes for this 4-game home set, in spite of Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert getting the call-up. Nevertheless, Thursday’s game held the highest anticipation for me since Opening Day; it did end up disappointing, however.

The 4-2 defeat looks better than it actually was; the Mariners were held hitless through seven innings before a J.P. Crawford single and a Dylan Moore homer made it remotely interesting. Things got moderately more interesting in the ninth, as the M’s walked the bases loaded, but the Indians were able to escape.

Gilbert struggled somewhat in his four innings of work, giving up all four runs. His stuff looked good, though I would argue he kept catching too much of the plate, and hitters at this level aren’t going to miss when you do that, regardless of how hard you throw. No walks and five strikeouts are both great; but, obviously the two homers are far from ideal. Mixed bag of a first start for a guy the Mariners plan on handling with kid gloves (he was limited to 71 pitches, which is well below even what the plan was heading in; somewhere around 85, I believe).

As for Kelenic, he’s apparently our leadoff hitter now! Right out of the box, no slow ramp-up, no soft landing. Fucking, right into the fire. He went hitless in 4 at-bats, with a strikeout; but the Mariners all day only had 2 hits, so whatever.

The tide changed immediately afterward, starting on Friday, with a 7-3 victory. Kelenic went 3 for 4 with two doubles and a homer, two runs scored and three runs batted in. THAT’S the guy we all expected to see, and that’s the guy we figure to see a lot more of as he gets used to playing at this level. Mitch Haniger and Kyle Seager both hit homers as well, as the team combined for 10 hits.

Chris Flexen gave up only 1 run in 5.2 innings, and Kendall Graveman followed with 1.1 shutout innings. Erik Swanson added another inning of shutout relief before J.T. Chargois (never heard of him) stumbled in the ninth. Rafael Montero had to come in to lock it down for the 1-out save.

The Mariners followed this up with another 7-3 victory on Saturday. Kelenic had another rough day (no hits, 3 strikeouts), but Haniger and Dylan Moore both had homers, and recently called-up Donovan Walton had a triple to lead the way.

Justus Sheffield came away with a quality start (6 innings, 2 runs) and the bullpen did its job.

I was all set for the series split on Sunday, with Shane Bieber getting the start for the Indians. But, the Mariners had an excellent approach to the Cy Young winner, roughing him up for 3 runs in 4.2 innings, which turned out to be all the M’s would need on a bullpen day. Rafael Montero gave up our only two runs; everyone else pitched a shutout in the 3-2 victory.

I’ll say this much: Erik Swanson is looking like our second-best reliever at the moment (so, watch for the jinx to fuck him the next chance it gets). Rafael Montero should probably be DFA’d at some point, as other relievers return from injury, because he looks like a total lost cause.

It was another 0 for 5 for Kelenic in the weekend finale; he’s down to .167/.167/.444 in his 4-game career. I wouldn’t expect that to continue, but I also wonder how much longer we opt to keep him as our leadoff hitter. I get the team is excited and they want to cultivate excitement in the fanbase, but putting him at the top of our lineup right out of the gate seems a little extreme and unnecessary. We’ll be just as excited to see him batting 7th as we are now.

The Tigers come to town for three starting tonight; they are truly awful. So, this looks like a great opportunity to pick up some easy wins!

It’s Okay That Justus Sheffield Doesn’t Quite Have The Ceiling Everyone Hoped He’d Have

I’ll just put it this way: who would you rather have right now, James Paxton or Justus Sheffield?

The fun answer to that question is, in theory, the Mariners could have BOTH, what with Paxton currently being a free agent. Since we traded him to the Yankees for Sheffield (and … others), Paxton has predictably suffered from injuries and it seems like a long shot that he’ll ever be counted upon to anchor a rotation. He could be had for an incentive-laden deal, but I wouldn’t count him among any longterm plans.

Since this is Uninteresting Mariners Week, though, let’s leave the more interesting topics for another time. Similarly to a lot of other guys, I like Sheffield. I would rather have him, even though the ceiling is always going to be higher for Paxton when he’s healthy. But Sheffield is much younger and – so far – not prone to injury. It’s a no-brainer, in that sense.

And, to his credit, Sheffield had a pretty good year in 2020! It was his first “full” season in the Major Leagues (COVID-19 limitations notwithstanding; he would’ve been up here for a 162-game season as well, had the pandemic not raged quite so hard). Clearly, the Mariners were taking it easy on him, not pushing him too much; his longest outings were 7 innings, and his highest single-game pitch count was 99. Yet, he still managed 6 Quality Starts out of 10 total appearances, which is pretty good for a 24 year old.

My biggest concern, obviously, lies in his fastball. It’s not particularly … fast. He did improve his command, and hitters weren’t quite as able to mash him for extra-base hits. If anything, he’s a perfectly fine starting pitcher! He’s just a victim of expectations. When you trade a pitcher like Paxton to a team like the Yankees – and you hear about a guy like Sheffield, who used to be one of the highest-rated prospects in the country – you expect you’re trading a Current Ace for a Future Ace. Sheffield will most likely never be an Ace, in the sense that we think of them. He doesn’t have that overpowering fastball, so he’s going to have to improve as an all-around pitcher. 2020 saw him making that first step. One would hope he has the drive to continue working on his game, because he could be a fine mainstay in this rotation with Marco Gonzales and whoever else emerges from the young crop.

I really don’t have a lot to say otherwise. Worst case scenario is he regresses in 2021, and he puts his future with the organization in jeopardy (or he gets injured, in which case, his future will still be in jeopardy). Part of me sort of expects him to be Just Another Guy, which is why I’ve yet to fully commit to him as a prospect in our overall rebuild. At least he’s not Erik Swanson, though; that guy … yeesh!

The Mariners Have Been Smoked Out Of Seattle; Things Are Clearly Going Great Right Now

We got that doubleheader in against the A’s on Monday – in far-less than ideal conditions, smokewise – but with the air quality failing to improve, MLB made the probably-smart decision to move the 2-game series against the Giants to San Francisco, where I guess things have improved dramatically since the last time we played them (on September 9th) and the sky made it look like they were on Mars. That pushed things back to where our Tuesday/Wednesday do-si-do this week became a Wednesday/Thursday whathaveyou, which necessitated a flip-flopping of my Seahawks preview post and this Mariners post-series post, so what I’m REALLY getting at is this whole thing is a huge inconvenience to me above everyone else!

I am, of course, kidding. The smoke in the Pacific Northwest continues to be a huge dumpster fire to the point that even our 3-game home series against the Padres had to be moved to San Diego this weekend. Between these five games, and the additional make-up game against the A’s that’s already been tacked onto our season-ending series in Oakland, that’s at least six home games the Mariners will have had to play on the road this year. So, on top of being a rebuilding team that has improbably found itself on the fringe of playoff contention in spite of trades shedding the roster of a couple of our best guys, we’re saddled with a 24/36 home/road split. If we figure out some way to make the post-season with all of this going against us, then truly there is a higher power who is improbably a Mariners fan (to whom I would like to ask: WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN THE LAST 20 YEARS?!).

Anyhoozle, the Mariners were just beaten two more times by the Giants, so I’m pretty glad to be the fuck away from THAT team for a while.

Wednesday’s 9-3 defeat was pretty demoralizing. Ljay Newsome – fresh off of a shortened start when he was hit in the pitching hand by a line drive – was clearly rusty, giving up 5 runs in 3 innings. Erik Swanson was recently called back up – fresh off of either being demoted for sucking, or maybe an injury, I forget/don’t care – and clearly hasn’t learned how to pitch since he was with the Mariners last, giving up 3 more runs (2 earned) in 1/3 of an inning. There was some okay bullpen work beyond that, but the damage was done. Kyle Lewis had a couple hits in this one, but he’s been pretty cold of late, with his batting average dipping below .300. I hope his Rookie of the Year chances aren’t in jeopardy!

Thursday’s 6-4 defeat was demoralizing in a completely different way. After five innings, the Mariners held a 4-1 lead (scoring all of our runs in the second, as we chased the Giants’ starter from the game), but proceeded to slowly, but surely, give it all away. Nick Margevicius was spectacular through five, but he couldn’t get a single out in the sixth inning, and two more runs were allowed in the process. Things were still in okay shape, with Kendall Graveman coming in for the seventh inning. But, he just didn’t have it in this one, giving up three more runs while getting only two outs. It’s been a while since we’ve had a prolonged slump from our bullpen, but we appear to be in the throes of one right now, and it’s not much fun.

Our only chance to make the playoffs seems to be as the A.L. West’s second place team, as the Wild Card looks to be out of reach. The Cheating Astros were working with us on that goal by losing a bunch of games, but they have the easiest remaining schedule in all of baseball the rest of the way, while I believe the Mariners have one of the hardest. We currently sit three games behind Houston, which is really four games, because they own the tiebreaker in the head-to-head matchup already.

It’s not looking likely that we break the streak, is my point. As I mentioned, we have three more games down in San Diego over the weekend. If we can somehow get through that without losing any more ground on the Astros, then we have a three-game set against Houston that we SHOULD be able to play in Seattle next week! If we hold serve in San Diego, and sweep the Astros next week, that would put us in a dead heat; from there we’d have four games down in Oakland to try to make up one game’s worth of ground against Houston to overtake them.

I apologize if you wasted your time reading the previous paragraph, because none of that is EVER going to happen. My hunch is: we’ll continue to spiral this weekend, and be officially eliminated at home in Seattle next week, making our final series in Oakland totally meaningless.

Which brings us back to draft positioning! We’re 22-28 right now. That puts us squarely in the 10th spot in the draft next year. I don’t want to alarm you, but given our difficult schedule, we have a VERY legitimate opportunity to leapfrog anywhere from 4 to 8 teams. To get to the #2 overall draft position, we’re only four games separated from the Texas Rangers! Obviously, they’re terrible, but you never know!

The floor is the limit, everyone!

If The Astros Beat Up On The Mariners And I’m Not Around To Watch It, Does It Make A Sound?

Looks like I picked a good weekend to go camping with my friends. Spoiler Alert: the Mariners lost all three games down in Houston over the weekend!

So, let’s go through this together, shall we?

Apparently Yusei Kikuchi was scratched from his start on Friday with neck spasms. We’re hoping that he misses just the one start, and is fine for his next scheduled go-around. But, in the meantime, Friday was a bullpen day, and if you know anything about this Mariners bullpen, it’s that – HOLY HELL – do they suck!

Nestor Cortes got the “start” – if you want to call it that – and got exactly one out, while giving up 8 runs (7 earned), before handing the ball off to Bryan Shaw (who was called back up to the Majors against my wishes). All told, the Mariners gave up 9 runs in the first inning (and 10 runs across the first two innings) to make this one totally and completely pointless. In the end, the M’s lost 11-1 and Bryan Shaw was finally released from the organization after his 1.2 innings of 2-run ball. He’s shot, from a Major League perspective, and while he was a fun punching bag while it lasted, it’s starting to literally feel like beating a dead horse.

One good thing that came out of this one is Yohan Ramirez went 3 innings and only gave up 1 run. He’s a promising young bullpen arm we poached from the Astros, so it would be nice if he did well this season. We also apparently picked up someone by the name of Brady Lail, who also went 3 innings in this one, giving up 0 runs on 0 hits while striking out 3. So, could be a name to watch going forward.

The Mariners were in need of a quality start following that debacle, which makes it all the more impressive that Nick Margevicius – on Saturday – went 6 innings, giving up just 2 runs on 4 hits and 0 walks, while striking out 3. With the bullpen behind him holding things down, that’s a game you’d expect even a team like the Mariners to win! But, unfortunately, the offense was PRETTY dormant in this series. Again, we were held to just one run – an Evan White blast to center – in a 2-1 defeat.

So, technically, I lied when I said I didn’t see any of this series. I got home just in time to see Justus Sheffield get through his sixth and final inning of work (he only gave up 2 runs, 1 earned, on 6 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 4). It was 2-2 at the time and the game was handed off to the bullpens of both teams. In my defense, though, I was texting and otherwise catching up on all the news I’d missed over the weekend, so my mind was occupied elsewhere for the hour or so that I was in front of the TV. We got into the ninth still tied, when in walked Erik Swanson, who ended up suffering his second tough loss in a week. I kept wondering – as I occasionally looked up at the screen – why he kept pitching to a left-handed batter low and inside, until lo and behold, the dude jacked a solo homer to right to end the game 3-2. This is a week, I’m sure, Swanson will be happy to forget and move on from.

As you can see, the offense shit the bed in this one as well. Kyle Lewis had a couple hits, but otherwise there wasn’t much to see here. As I discussed last week, it doesn’t get any easier for the Mariners, as we have four games against a dominant Dodgers team coming up.

What did a three-game sweep do to our draft stock? Well, we’re still the third-worst team in Major League Baseball. We’ve played considerably more games than both the Red Sox and Pirates, though, so it’ll be interesting to see if they have to make up those games they missed. At 7-16, we’re only a half game worse than the Angels, which boggles the mind considering they have Mike Trout and a very high payroll full of quality players.

The good news is, after this past weekend, we never have to go to the state of Texas again in the 2020 season. Not that I was overly concerned about our level of travel this year, but it’s kind of nice considering that was as far east as we were ever going. All but three of our remaining road games are in the state of California (with the aforementioned three non-California games being in Arizona).

The offensive struggles are a wee bit concerning, but I’m not losing my shit just yet. Kyle Lewis has cooled off a tad, but that’s good. It’s good for him to have to adjust and work through a dip. Kyle Seager and Austin Nola are still plugging away. J.P. Crawford is probably always going to be a little streaky. Shed Long is still batting under .200, which is unfortunate; I don’t think he’s going to end up being our everyday second baseman of the future. And Evan White is still struggling, though hopefully that homer he hit over the weekend is a little spark that gets him going.

After this Dodgers series, the schedule eases up considerably the rest of the way (until the last week of the season), so that might be a good opportunity for our young guys – and our pitching staff – to get into a bit of a groove. I don’t really believe the Mariners are the third-worst team in baseball. They’re PROBABLY better than that, and just in a bad streak right now. They also very well could be exactly that bad or worse, at least from a record standpoint. Young teams like this tend to find ways to lose more than they find ways to win. So, you’ll often see when the pitching is good (like it was on Saturday & Sunday), the hitting goes in the tank. Or, if our hitting rebounds, then the pitching goes in the tank. It’s not ideal, but it’s also not an indicator of things to come, next season and beyond. That’s why I’m rooting for as bad of a finish as possible. Let’s stockpile more high draft picks – hopefully in a 2021 draft that’s more than five rounds long! – continue to replenish this farm system (currently ranked third in all of baseball) and try to build a sustainable winner for years to come!

Mariners Gonna Mariners Down In Texas

The Mariners had another GREAT opportunity to win a series against a mediocre opponent. But then, you know …

The first game of the series against the Rangers saw the first Mariners blowout victory of the season! A 10-2 drubbing! Prior to that, the most the M’s had won by was three runs (on the flipside, we’ve lost by 6, 5, 8, 10, 5, and 5 runs already in this truncated season; which would explain our -35 run differential, pretty decisively the worst in all of Major League Baseball). Kyle Seager hit a grand slam in this one, Kyle Lewis and Dylan Moore both also had homers; in fact, every Mariner had at least one hit.

It wouldn’t be a sign of better things to come for the offense.

Justin Dunn got his first Major League victory in this one, having gone 6 innings, giving up 7 hits, 3 walks, 2 runs, while striking out 2. Not super dominant, but easily the best performance of his very brief career. More of these types of games and fewer of his … usual types of games, would be important going forward.

The next day, Marco Gonzales didn’t really have it (5 innings, 4 runs), but while the bullpen managed to limit the damage to just that, the offense couldn’t get it going. The Rangers needed six pitchers to get through this one, but did so, 4-2. Two hits for Kyle Seager, and there’s your offensive highlight.

The final game, yesterday, was a total shitshow! The Mariners jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second inning and held that through five. Taijuan Walker had a very nice outing, all things considered, and was about to make it through the sixth inning just as unscathed. Dylan Moore got the start at first base because of his hot hitting of late (he was 0 for 3 with a walk and two strikeouts in this one) and couldn’t dig out a slightly errant throw from J.P. Crawford for the final out of the inning. An out that Evan White – had he been starting – almost certainly would have made. Crawford got the error, but more importantly an unearned run was allowed to score in the process. I wondered at the time if that run would bite us in the ass, but Walker managed to wiggle off the line in the next at bat.

The Rangers scraped another run onto the board in the very next inning to make it 4-2; this one off of newcomer Joey Gerber (though, again, the next pitcher who inherited the baserunners allowed that man to score, because this bullpen is soft as freshly fallen snow and can’t be disturbed by complications on the field behind them). At this rate – one run per inning – the Rangers would tie the game up before the end of regulation!

Actually, it was much earlier than that.

In the eighth inning, Erik Swanson came in and the wheels came off. To his credit, he was throwing hard. Mike Blowers, on the broadcast, was absolutely creaming his jeans about some of the fastballs he was seeing out of this kid; he even touched 99mph on the radar gun! That, of course, got me excited, but it quickly faltered when it was clear Swanson couldn’t hit his spots. It’s frustrating to see a catcher set up in one spot (top of the zone) and see the pitcher throw the ball low and away. Or, worse, to see the catcher set up in the dirt, and watching Swanson groove a slider in the very middle of the plate.

Swanson, you’ll remember, is a former starting pitcher we got in the Justus Sheffield/James Paxton trade. At the time, we hoped maybe he could top out as a middle-of-the-rotation guy, but already he’s been demoted to a run-of-the-mill bullpen arm. And, with more appearances like this one, he won’t even have that for long. When it was all said and done, Swanson got 2 outs, gave up 3 hits, hit two batters, and gave up five runs while striking out just one (to be fair, it was an impressive-looking strikeout to kick off the inning). All the runs in that inning were charged to him, but of course Taylor Williams had every opportunity to get us out of it with the game still tied. Instead, a wild pitch and a 2-run single put the game away.

Austin Nola had a homer (as did Vogey) and another hit, and J.P. Crawford had two hits. But, the offense not ever adding on after that second inning was pretty criminal. So, you can say this was a total team effort, but the defense and bullpen really blew this one.

That puts the Mariners at 7-13 through 20 games; we’re a full third of the way through the season! 7-13 is also good for last place in the A.L. West (though, we’re somehow only 2.5 games out of a playoff spot, in this asterisk season).

Considering how bad we are, it’s probably a good thing the defense and bullpen are blowing so many games. I know there’s the argument that you don’t want to be a young team who’s used to losing, but the Astros lost more than anyone for a bunch of years in a row before being one of the most dominant teams in all of baseball (and cheaters, don’t forget the most dominant cheaters in all of baseball). 7-13 puts us as the third-worst team in all of baseball. That’s exciting! We could be in a prime drafting spot next year! The Red Sox are somehow worse, but I wouldn’t expect that to last; we could EASILY fall into the second spot! The Pirates, right now, are 3-13, but there’s still a lot of baseball left to be played.

The Mariners get their first off-day of the season today. Then, it’s off to Houston for a 3-game set over the weekend. I was kind of hoping, for morale’s sake, that the M’s would win that Rangers series, because our next seven games are against the Astros and Dodgers (a 2-game road series, followed immediately by a 2-game home series). I mean, I could see us going 0-7 in that stretch and it’s not even difficult to imagine!

The Nothing Continues: Here’s Something About The Mariners’ Bullpen (Part 3)

Last week, we got into the everyday players and the starting rotation for the 2020 Seattle Mariners. I’ve put it off long enough – this is the equivalent of having already eaten my dessert and main course, leaving just the garbage cole slaw sweating its way across my plate two hours later (as I’m not allowed to leave the dinner table until I’ve eaten my vegetables) – so I present to you some VERY unhelpful words on the bullpen.

I’ll split this in two sections and see how it goes. First, we’ll look at the guys who played for the Mariners last year, then we’ll look at the newcomers to the ballclub (again, this is based on the Depth Chart section of the official Mariners roster). The “fun” thing about this one is: they’re all effectively new to me, because I have no idea who any of these guys are!

(let’s get this over with)

Holdovers

  • Matt Magill
  • Erik Swanson
  • Brandon Brennan
  • Dan Altavilla
  • Taylor Guilbeau
  • Gerson Bautista
  • Austin Adams

Looks like Matt Magill came over from the Twins before the trade deadline as he was released and the M’s picked up his contract. He’s been a middling reliever pretty steadily with the Twins since 2018, but doesn’t really do anything particularly well. He’s a right-handed 30-year old, so I guess there’s still time to turn it around, but for now he screams journeyman.

Erik Swanson came over in the James Paxton deal. There was initially hope that he could be part of a 1-2 punch with Justus Sheffield in the starting rotation, but it looks pretty clear that the Mariners believe Swanson’s destiny is as a bullpen arm. He started in 8 of his 27 appearances with the M’s in 2019 – his first whiff of the Major Leagues – but that clearly looked to be too much for him, as he was sent down to AAA in mid-May. When he returned in August, it was exclusively as a reliever who’d go 1-2 innings per appearance. Sort of a disappointing result for someone who looked like a promising mid-rotation starter, but that’s what happens when you over-value Yankees prospects.

Brandon Brennan was a Rule 5 guy the Mariners selected last year who managed to stay on the big league club all season. He was probably our best reliever last year through the first half of the season before going on the Injured List. His last two outings before going down were total disasters, which really hampered an otherwise pretty-good season. I don’t know if he has closer potential or not, but he’s at least somewhat interesting as is.

Dan Altavilla (pictured here looking like his head was photoshopped onto his body really awkwardly) feels like he’s been around forever. He’s got an arm like a rocket, but otherwise hasn’t been able to put together anything close to consistency (unless “consistently terrible” is what you’re looking for). With the stuff he’s got, combined with the fact that he’s only 27 years old, you can’t really write him off. But, we’ve been waiting around since 2016 when he made his Major League debut; ANY TIME NOW, ALTAVILLA!

Taylor Guilbeau sounds like a made-up name. Not in the way all names are made up, but like a clearly-fake alias a famous person gives a hotel manager when he’s out of town and wants to fuck some prostitutes. He apparently came over in the Roenis Elias trade with the Nationals last year, and got a lot of play in the last two months of 2019. He had two bad outings (resulting in blown saves) but was otherwise fine. Last year was the first time he’d gotten to either AAA or the bigs, so there’s still room to dream with this kid.

Gerson Bautista came over in the Cano/Diaz deal with the Mets, a right savaging of epic proportions. If memory serves, this kid throws hard, but my memory is for shit, so don’t take my word for it. He appeared in 8 games with the M’s last year and sucked, but he’s only 25 years old in May, so let’s hope that’s just a bad start to an otherwise stellar professional career.

Austin Adams came over in a separate deal with the Nationals last year. He’s in the running with Brennan for best reliever who finished the season with the M’s in 2019. It doesn’t seem like he’s got closer potential either though, so I dunno.

Newcomers

  • Yoshihisa Hirano
  • Carl Edwards Jr.
  • Yohan Ramirez

Yoshihisa Hirano is a buy-low candidate on a cheap 1-year deal. He had a great year in Arizona in 2018 as a rookie, but totally fell apart in 2019. After a long, successful career in Japan, he’ll be 36 years old this year and really just trying to maximize the last of his Major League value before presumably retiring or returning to Japan. I wouldn’t expect a lot; maybe we can flip him at the deadline this year if there’s a season and he plays well.

Carl Edwards Jr. was pretty awesome with the Cubs from 2016-2018, but had just a shitty 2019, which led to him signing with the Mariners this past offseason. He’ll only be 28 years old this year, so that makes him a far-more-interesting buy-low candidate than Hirano.

Yohan Ramirez was taken by the Mariners in this past offseason’s Rule 5 Draft from the Astros, so we know a couple things: he’s probably pretty good (though, obviously not good enough for them to protect him), and he knows how to cheat. I want both of those things for the Mariners!

How Many 2020 Mariners Can I Name Off The Top Of My Head, With Just A Minimal Amount Of Coffee Inside Me?

I listen to this podcast called Threedom, which features three of my favorite podcast comedians sitting around and bullshitting for an hour. And, last week I listened to the episode where Lauren was trying to list off as many different characters and whatnot as she could from the Star Wars franchise, having never (at the time) seen the movies. Essentially just going off of what pop culture has referenced that’s seeped into her subconscious. I thought that was a lot of fun, especially because I have my own blind spots; I’d be curious to see how many characters I could pull from something like the Harry Potter series, for instance. There’s Harry, of course. Hermione. The red-headed freak. Snape? Snope? Voldemort, for sure. From there, it’s all a jumble of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, so let’s move on.

I’m stealing this idea to see how many players from the 2020 Mariners I can name, without cheating. You’re bound to see a few guys from the minors in this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’ve said it before, but in 2019 I checked out on the Seattle Mariners. Part of that had to do with my work schedule – waking up at 4am, going to bed by 8pm, not wanting to be thoroughly irritated right before it’s time to sleep – but most of that had to do with the Mariners being just awful. I’ve put up with a lot of bad baseball in my 20-something years of following this team, but I refuse to lose sleep over them! Especially when the object isn’t to win games, but see the young guys develop.

Well, that carries over into 2020. In fact, the team might actually lose a lot MORE games than they did last year (and 94 losses is quite a lot on its own). So, suffice it to say, it’s going to be difficult to get any interest ramped up for this team.

So, without further ado, here is the (pitiful) list of pitchers that I know based on memory alone:

  • Marco Gonzales
  • Yusei Kikuchi
  • Justus Sheffield
  • Erik … Samsonite? Swanson!
  • Julio Rodriguez
  • Dan Altavilla
  • Brandon … Brennan?
  • Festa?
  • Taijuan Walker!

That’s really all I got. And honestly, I don’t even feel like a bad fan! I think Rodriguez and Festa are minor leaguers, but I was close (except Rodriguez is actually an outfielder, so I was WAY OFF). The only one I probably should’ve remembered was Sam Tuivailala, as he’s been around a little bit and was a pretty significant return in one of those damn trades we made with the Cardinals.

Here’s all the catchers I know:

  • Tom Murphy

And that’s it. Do the M’s even HAVE a backup catcher in the Major Leagues? We’ll find out this spring.

Outfield:

  • Mitch Haniger (injured list)
  • Kyle Lewis
  • Mallex Smith
  • Braden … Bishop?
  • Jarred Kelenic

Kelenic is obviously in the minors, but I nailed the rest! I mean, yeah, I also missed a couple, but I got the big names.

Infield:

  • Evan White
  • Kyle Seager
  • J.P. Crawford
  • Dee Gordon
  • Daniel Vogelbach
  • Shed Long

I almost forgot Shed Long! I knew he had a short name, and almost biffed it, but it fell out of my brain at the last second. Considering the rest of the 40-man roster is filled with potential backups and minor leaguers, I feel good about my effort here. Shame I forgot Austin Nola (who, I guess, can also play backup catcher?!), but what can you do?

That’s 21 guys. Honestly, better than I would’ve expected. Thankfully, with Pitchers & Catchers just reporting this week, I’ll have plenty of time to learn about everyone else.

Did I say “thankfully”? I meant Dreadfully.

My Confidence Level In The Mariners’ Rebuild So Far

Jeff Passan made a good point on Brock & Salk yesterday, when he asked who’s going to be part of the Mariners’ Major League team in 3 years. The more names you can pull from the current crop of players – either currently in the Bigs, or hopefully to-be-in-the-Bigs in 3 years’ time – the higher your confidence level should be in how the rebuild is going.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t have a great handle on the minors, aside from all the names everyone talks about all the time, so my choices are going to be different from someone who’s an expert. But, that’s the way it goes. I’m going to split up everyone I can think of into three-ish categories.

High Confidence

  • J.P. Crawford (INF)
  • Kyle Lewis (OF)
  • Mitch Haniger (OF)
  • Marco Gonzales (SP)
  • Justin Dunn (P)
  • Justus Sheffield (P)
  • Jarred Kelenic (OF)
  • Julio Rodriguez (OF)
  • Evan White (INF)

These are guys I’m all-but-guaranteeing will be part of the Mariners in three years, which right away feels both inadequate and wrong. I mean, for starters, I see four outfielders here. I suppose one or more of them could flame out and end up as a utility player, but more likely we’ll see one or more of them traded to help in other areas of the roster. My hunch is Mitch Haniger would be the one to go by the time we get to 2022, which is making me REALLY regret going out and buying his jersey earlier this year.

Kyle Lewis’ first week with the Mariners has been nothing short of phenomenal, and he’ll absolutely come into Spring Training next year looking to win a job of some sort. Rodriguez and Kelenic will look to get more seasoning in the minors next year, but if all goes according to plan, one or both will at least get a cup of coffee before the end of 2020. Evan White feels like he’s probably a couple of years away, but he too wouldn’t shock me if he saw some time in Seattle next season.

As for the pitchers, Marco should still be around, but who knows? The younger guys are still too young to put too much money on staying as starters, vs. being relegated to the bullpen. Better prospects than Sheffield have been banished as such.

Medium Confidence

  • Omar Narvaez (C)
  • Tom Murphy (C)
  • Cal Raleigh (C)
  • Austin Nola (Util)
  • Mallex Smith (OF)
  • Domingo Santana (OF)
  • Yusei Kikuchi (SP)
  • Sam Tuivailala (RP)
  • Erik Swanson (P)

I feel like if Cal Raleigh is going to stick with the Mariners, it might take up to three years for him to fully earn a roster spot. I have to imagine one of the two vets we have on roster now will be gone, but I honestly have no idea who it would be. Nola feels like the perfect candidate to be a utility player who can cover first base and the corner outfield spots (saying nothing of his ability to be a third catcher). Mallex Smith would only still be here as cheap insurance in case our younger outfielders don’t pan out. Santana feels like a candidate to eventually convert to 1B/DH. Kikuchi will either have figured it out and will be a nice middle-of-the-rotation staple for this team, or he’ll be elsewhere. Tuivailala is the only reliever right now I have ANY remote confidence in; not that none of the guys we have on roster now won’t still be here, but relief pitching is the last thing you need to shore up after settling things down everywhere else (in other words, I see a lot of potential trade candidates on the Major League roster right now). I’m not convinced whatsoever that Swanson will still be starting in 2022, but I’m medium convinced he’ll still be with the Mariners in some capacity.

Medium-Low Confidence

  • Shed Long (Util)
  • Dan Vogelbach (1B/DH)
  • Jake Fraley (OF)
  • Joe Rizzo (Util)

Long has enough pop in his bat, and can play enough different positions, to be a quality utility player. But, can he hit for high-enough average and get on base to this organization’s liking? On the flipside, Rizzo already has the average, and he appears to be improving on his power, but the question is his versatility. I read that they’re playing him all over the field, which is great for his chances, because it feels like his bat will play. But, if he can’t hack it defensively and he’s a man without a position, he could be some strong trade bait. As for Vogey, his first half was encouraging, but his second half has me concerned. The power is great, the on-base percentage is great, but if he’s hitting around the mendoza line, I just don’t know if there’s ENOUGH power there to make him worth all the strikeouts and whatnot. Also, if he never hits lefties, it’s REALLY hard to platoon a 1B/DH type; ideally you want him in your lineup every day mashing dingers no matter who’s pitching. All I know about Fraley is he’s a pretty highly-rated prospect for the Mariners, but he has yet to really show much in his short stint with the team this year. He feels like more trade bait.

Low Confidence

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • Dylan Moore (Util)
  • Braden Bishop (OF)
  • Dee Gordon (2B)
  • Tim Lopes (INF)
  • Donnie Walton (INF)
  • Ryon Healy (1B)
  • Every other pitcher I haven’t listed above

I have to imagine the Mariners will do whatever it takes to make 2021 Seager’s last year in Seattle. He’s not worth what he’s making now, so by 2022, it should be pretty obnoxious. Healy’s injury status makes him a probable cut candidate as soon as the end of this year. Moore feels like a dime-a-dozen utility player who won’t be worth keeping around. Dee Gordon is another guy I gotta think will be gone before his contract expires in 2021. As for the younger guys, and anyone else I didn’t list, who the fuck knows? I know enough not to be super confident that they’ll be here in three years. If I’m wrong, then GREAT! That probably means they took serious leaps in their development. Who knows, maybe Bishop could be the next Chris Taylor with a simple change in his swing?! I mean, I doubt it, but you never know.

Anyway, to wrap this all up, I guess I give the rebuild a B- so far. I love the combination of those four outfielders I listed up top. I think our catching situation is pretty strong in the near future. First base should finally be locked down once Evan White makes it. I don’t know if I see a ton of hope on the pitching side of things, unless Dunn and Sheffield stick as starters and really start kicking some ass. If that’s the case, and you can pair them with Gonzales and Kikuchi, that’s a pretty solid rotation.

Still, gonna need some of these lower candidates to pop over the next couple seasons. If someone like Rizzo could lock down the third base job, and maybe Long the second base job, with some veterans crushing it in the middle of the lineup at DH … if you squint awful hard, you can see the makings of something special.

But, really, the odds of the Mariners being great in 2022 are remote any way you slice it. The Angels have the best baseball player in the world and when was the last time they really scared you? It goes without saying I doubt the Mariners will have someone in Trout’s league by then (which doesn’t even refer to the Astros and A’s and their crack development squads).