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’ Hitting Is Fucking Atrocious

Welp, the Mariners were no-hit. Again. They have a team batting average of .198 on the season, easily dead last in all of baseball (that’s including worse than the entire National League, which regularly has pitchers bat where a Designated Hitter would be more appropriate). They have an on-base percentage of .279 on the season, easily dead last in all of baseball (that’s in spite of the fact that their organizational motto is to Control The Zone or Dominate The Zone or whatever the fuck is supposed to boil down to: swing at pitches inside the strike zone, don’t swing at pitches outside the strike zone). They have an OPS of .639 (dead last in all of baseball), they’re 22nd in runs scored, they’re tied for 8th in most times striking out, I’m sure I could go on and on, but I don’t have the time nor the patience to get into the weeds of all the advanced analytics.

The long and the short of it is what’s right there in the headline: the offense is fucking atrocious.

Sam Haggerty is practically an everyday player at this point, thanks to the litany of injuries the M’s have suffered; he’s hitting .185.

Jarred Kelenic isn’t yet the savior we kinda sorta expected him to be right out of the gate; he’s 5 for 28 to start his Major League career.

Luis Torrens was supposed to be one-half of a dynamic catching duo that was supposed to be the LEAST of our worries. He’s hitting .178 and was just demoted to the Rainiers because not only does he stink with the bat, but he’s also among the worst with his glove. Tom Murphy, meanwhile, is somehow even more God-awful at the plate, hitting .130, but he’s too much of a veteran to send to the minors.

Dylan Moore was just put on the IL; he was starting to come around, and yet his start was so poor he’s only hitting .168.

Taylor Trammell was demoted when we called up Kelenic; he’s been tearing the cover off the ball in Tacoma, but he was only hitting .157 in Seattle.

Evan White is on the IL for God knows how long; his miserable start to 2021 saw him hitting .144.

Jose Marmolejos was just DFA’d because he SUUUUUUCKS at literally everything; he was hitting .139.

Jake Fraley is on a rehab assignment for his IL stint; he was hitting a cool .100 in his 5 games to start the season.

And those are just the guys hitting UNDER .200. Not counting the recent call-ups who aren’t even worth mentioning because the expectations for these players are less than nothing.

If you want to delve into the semi-productive disappointments, there’s Ty France – who hasn’t been the same since he took a fastball off of his forearm, and who currently finds himself on the IL – whose average has dipped to .229. There’s Kyle Lewis – whose first month of the season found him largely on the IL – who is hitting .239. There’s the inherently streaky J.P. Crawford who’s hitting a robust .247. Even our very best and most productive hitters – Kyle Seager and Mitch Haniger – are only hitting .224 and .256 respectively. Obviously, batting average isn’t really the best indicator of a hitter’s productivity, and can largely be dependant upon luck on balls hit in play. But, when the team is collectively hitting under .200, I don’t give a flying piece of shit what sabermetrics you give me. THESE GUYS ARE ALL OF THEM FUCKING TERRIBLE!

The Detroit Tigers have the third-worst record in all of baseball. They have the VERY worst run differential (-57) in all of baseball. And yet, they just came into Seattle and swept the Mariners in a 3-game series, including the aforementioned no-hitter (the second time the M’s have been no-hit this season, that’s a little over a quarter of the way completed). I will not be going game-by-game on this series, because what’s the fucking point? It was an unmitigated embarrassment from the top of the organization on down.

The Mariners should be fucking ashamed of what they’ve done. They should fire every coach who has ever even referenced the concept of hitting to these players. And that’s all I have to say.

The end of May is generally when I’m my most annoyed with the Seattle Mariners, because that’s usually when they’re exposed for the frauds that they are (if they haven’t been exposed beforehand). So, by most every season’s expectations, this is coming right on cue. Nevertheless, watching so many of the potential core players flounder like this is especially demoralizing (rendered even more hopeless as key guys suffer injuries to further skew our results to the negative). Thank Christ the weather is improving and I won’t have to give as much of a shit that we’re watching the return of the Same Old Mariners.

The Mariners Are Showing Their True Colors

Based on pre-season expectations, the Mariners were playing out of their minds through approximately a month of the 2021 season. That is decidedly not the case since a 13-8 start, as the Mariners have lost 11 of their last 16 games. You can make the argument that the level of competition has been tough throughout – it makes sense, for instance, that the Mariners would get swept in a 2-game series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers – but this losing skid has been a long time coming, and cracks are starting to show against even the poor teams (2-4 in six games against Baltimore and Texas should never happen).

It doesn’t appear to get remarkably easier, as the next few weeks are littered with series against quality teams (including the Indians, starting tonight), so we’re at a bit of a crossroads here with this year’s Mariners squad. The Mariners are under .500 for the first time since April 8th; will they right the ship – with the addition of Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert, effective today – or will they continue their long slide into obscurity?

The last two days were as demoralizing as it gets. There’s an argument to be made that the M’s should’ve won on Tuesday. Even though we were going up against an elite starting pitcher, we still touched him up for 4 runs on 3 homers, and in these types of games, you need to make that limited number of runs stick.

Indeed, behind a strong Yusei Kikuchi start, we held a 4-1 lead heading into the 7th, and a 4-3 lead heading into the 8th. It’s unfair to malign the bullpen too much, since they’ve carried this team in a lot of ways, but it was disappointing all around. I’m disappointed in Scott Servais for trying to squeeze an extra inning out of Kikuchi (he had gone 6 innings, giving up just the 1 run on around 90-or-so pitches before returning to start the 7th; he got one out but traded it for 2 additional runs in the process thanks to shaky bullpenning). I’m disappointed in the choice to go to Anthony Misiewicz – our primary left-handed bullpen arm – to follow a left-handed starter in Kikuchi, especially with runners on (he has not proven himself capable of regularly getting out of these types of jams unscathed in the past). If you’re going to go with Misiewicz, give him a clean inning to start with! I’m also disappointed in Misiewicz himself, who got off to a red-hot start this season before faltering in recent outings. I’m disappointed in Rafael Montero being just a Blown Save Machine for this team (his fifth in six weeks’ worth of baseball). I’m disappointed in the overall bullpen construction – where Kendall Graveman is the only actual quality reliever we have on the roster, and he can’t go 2 innings per save ever fucking time – because there really is no bridge guy to get us to the ninth. A lot of disappointment to spread around, all adds up to a 6-4 defeat that didn’t have to be.

The finale yesterday was a 7-1 drubbing. We couldn’t really touch their starter, and Justin Dunn had another one of his … outings. If he ever puts it all together, he’ll be a Cy Young-calibre player. But, I’d say the odds of that happening are remote, because he just can’t get a handle on where his pitches end up. Once the Dodgers went up 2-0 in the fourth, the game felt over. With the way the offense has performed … all season? Dunn couldn’t even get more than one out in that fourth inning, which meant a lot of opportunity for a faltering bullpen to continue being a sieve.

I would imagine the hot streak that J.P. Crawford had been on is officially over. Mitch Haniger continues to plug away with his power numbers, but his batting average and on-base percentage are dipping considerably. Kyle Lewis hasn’t done a whole lot, Kyle Seager is giving us his usual output, and Ty France looks absolutely lost at the plate (while giving us very little in the field). Beyond that, Haggerty, Moore, Trammell (who was just today sent down to Tacoma, thank Christ), White, Marmolejos, and Murphy are all hitting under .200, with Torrens hitting a robust .208. It’s … pretty fucking bad.

That having been said, it’s SUPER FUN to see Kelenic and Gilbert get the call-up today! I can’t wait for tonight’s game. I know the team is looking forward to these guys possibly igniting things with the ballclub, but they should be more interested in how this will translate to the die hard fans like me. I would have 0.0% interest in watching tonight’s game – or any of the games this series against the Indians, who have one of the best pitching staffs in the American League – were it not for a couple of our young stars being here. This should fire up the fanbase as much as the team itself; I just hope that it translates to more wins for this team.

Because things are looking QUITE bleak otherwise.

The Mariners Split A 4-Game Series Against The Red Sox

It’s interesting to think about what a 13-9 start for the Mariners means. The strength of schedule has been fucking crazy. Boston is first in the A.L. East. The White Sox are second in the Central; the Twins should end up better than their record indicates right now. The Astros are obviously slumping and will be much better than their sub-.500 record when it’s all said and done. And the Dodgers and Giants are the top two teams in the N.L. West. So, to have this winning record, and only be a game behind the scorching-hot A’s is pretty outstanding!

But, it’s also incredibly early. And maybe the bullpen has been unsustainably hot. And the clutch late-game heroics have been unsustainably … existing. This could all be randomness that just so happens to be taking place against very good teams (and the Orioles).

Or, if you want to look on the bright side – something I’ve been trying to do a little more of lately, in spite of the blog’s name – maybe the Mariners are actually good, and they’ll REALLY start to rack up the W’s when we get to the part of the schedule where we can feast on the dregs of the game! Wouldn’t that be something?!

I mean, I’ll be honest: I keep waiting for the tide to turn and the Mariners to be exposed as the frauds they are … yet here we are, 22 games in, and still going strong! If you play around .500 against the good teams, and something like .667 against the bad teams, well, that’s a playoff team in all likelihood.

So, a 2-2 road set in the city of Boston is something akin to a 2-1 series against a shitty team.

Last Thursday, the Mariners were up to their usual tricks: erasing a 2-0 deficit in the sixth inning with an impressive rally (highlighted by a 2-run double by Ty France), then erasing a 3-2 deficit in the eighth with a J.P. Crawford double. Only to explode for a 4-spot in the tenth inning, featuring a clinching 3-run homer by Mitch Haniger to put it away.

Justin Dunn looked more in control in his 5 innings of work (2 runs on 6 hits and only 1 walk, with 5 strikeouts), and the bullpen was dominant from there (1 run on 2 hits and 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts).

The M’s couldn’t keep the good times going on Friday, but very nearly did pull yet another game out of their asses! Yusei Kikuchi didn’t have it, giving up 5 runs in less than 5 innings of work. The bullpen, however, kept us in it JUST enough to let things get interesting (minus an unearned run attributed to Ljay Newsome, who was otherwise solid). We were down 6-2 in the ninth inning before a 3-run homer by Kyle Seager made things interesting. But, just not enough offense in this one; 4/12 with runners in scoring position, with 9 left on base.

We bounced back in a huge way on Saturday behind a STRONG Chris Flexen start (7 innings, 1 run on 4 hits & 1 walk, with 7 strikeouts). The offense blew the doors off, with France, Seager, White, and Haggerty all contributing multi-hit games in the 8-2 victory. Can’t say enough good things about how Flexen has looked the first few times through the rotation. He is a VERY welcome surprise, after the dud of a bottle rocket that was the return of James Paxton.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t pull off the series victory on Sunday, as Nick Margevicius couldn’t get more than a single out and we had to go with a Bullpen Day. After being pulled prematurely in his previous start, Margevicius was put on the IL today with shoulder inflammation; we’ll see who takes his place (though Newsome figures to be a safe bet).

You’d think a Bullpen Day – with the way the bullpen has been going – might not be the worst idea. And, indeed, they were excellent, holding the Red Sox to 1 run over 7.2 innings. But, the damage was done with the 4-spot Margevicius gave up, as we lost 5-3. Again, the offense scuffled, going 2/11 with RISP and striking out 11 more times. That’s going to happen, as the offense isn’t elite after the first couple batters, and as we go up against top tier starters. Hopefully, things start to level off on both ends (where we’re not facing so many guys with Ace-like stuff, and our hitters regress to a more competent level of baseline).

Now, it’s four in Houston. So, maybe the swoon starts today? We’ll see! I’m still waiting.

What’s Happening Here? The Mariners Won The Series Over The Astros

This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. Even in those recent seasons where the Mariners have mostly contended for a playoff spot, we never had results like this.

Oh sure, we’ve seen 5-2 type road trips, especially in the month of April it would seem. What happens afterward? Invariably, we return home to face the fucking Astros. The hype train starts chugging along in the leadup to that Friday night game, with everyone thinking, “If we can keep this going against the divisional favorite, we might really have something this season!” And THEN what happens? The Astros fucking smack us down and we return to the depths of our own despair, tails between our legs, resigned to another year of mediocrity.

It’s that point, in every season, where hope is dashed. Emphatically. You can set your watch to it! My friends and I texted all about it. We ultimately decided to forego gambling against the Mariners on Friday because every time we’ve ever been this sure about an outcome, we’ve lost miserably.

For a while there, it looked like a bit of a missed opportunity. After four scoreless innings, the Astros put up three runs in the 5th. Just to tease us, the M’s got two back in the 6th, only to watch the Astros get two more in the top of the 7th to make it 5-2. At that point, I don’t know if there was a Mariners fan alive who would’ve been delusional to expect a comeback.

Yet! The Miracle Mariners are starting to make some of us into believers! Two runs in the bottom of the 7th made it 5-4. An Evan White solo homer in the 8th tied it up. And, I shit you not, a ground-rule single in the bottom of the 9th walked it off!

Get the fuck out of here! What are we seeing?!

Well, admittedly, we’re seeing a depleted Astros squad that was missing four prominent players due to some sort of COVID-related issue. But, even without those guys, the Astros are still plenty good, so I’ll take a win over them any way I can get it.

Yusei Kikuchi had another impressive-looking start going, only to have his numbers look not-so-hot in the end: 7 innings, 5 runs. It seemed to me that he was dealing through the first four no-hit innings by featuring his live fastball. Then, he went away from it, featuring some iffy breaking pitches that the Astros were able to handle. Maybe it was to conserve his pitch count (he finished with 91 over those 7 innings), but I wish he’d put Aledmys Diaz away with the hard stuff before he hit that 2-run single, even if he ended the game at a sub-90 pitch count. Those two runs were nearly the final nail in the coffin.

That being said, the top of this lineup is ridiculous. Haniger, France, and Seager combined to go 6 for 12, with 5 RBI and 2 runs scored. That’s a beautiful thing! You obviously can’t expect that to remain the entire season, but in the early going this team is going to have to rely on those guys to carry the mail, until Kyle Lewis returns from injury (this week, hopefully) and Jarred Kelenic gets the call-up.

When the top of your lineup is dealing like that, anything you get from the other six guys is gravy. White and Crawford have struggled, but at times they’ve flashed as well. I hope that tips to where they flash more than they don’t. Tom Murphy coming around with his bat will be huge too; I’m not as worried about him as I am the younger guys.

As for the Saturday game, I missed it entirely. I mean, it’s hard to blame me, blink and you would’ve missed it! 1-0 defeats are VERY rare in today’s game, and while it sucks to be on the losing end, there are still positive take-aways for the Mariners.

Chris Flexen went six innings, spreading out 10 hits while somehow limiting the damage to just the 1 run. Insane! I don’t know if that’s sustainable, but it’s nice to see a gutty performance like that. The bullpen as well continued to keep it on lockdown, which makes it all the more disappointing that the hitters couldn’t get one over on Zack Greinke (who went 8 shutout innings, striking out 6, on just 91 pitches).

Again, if this were one of those Mariners teams of years past, the rubber match probably would’ve been a lost cause. But, instead if was an emphatic 7-2 victory!

This one could’ve gone haywire in a hurry. Nick Margevicius had to be pulled during the first at-bat of the fifth inning, with … arm fatigue? Is that a thing? Anyway, he’s supposedly going to make his next start, so that’s neither here nor there. He went just the four innings, giving up 2 runs (1 earned), and the M’s were temporarily down 2-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth.

That’s when the offense came alive, with a 2-run triple by Haniger (that was almost caught for a heartbreaking out in deep centerfield) and a 2-run homer by France (who else?). Haniger and France added on in the 7th, with back-to-back RBI doubles to give the game its final score.

The bullpen has been on fire lately, with the best ERA in baseball over the last week and change. I especially liked how Servais stuck with Rafael Montero in the highest-leverage situation in the 8th, even though the M’s had just tacked on two more runs. The 3-4-5 hitters were coming up, and even though we had a 5-run lead, that’s just the type of scenario where you could see a team like the Astros start to mount a comeback. Better to put them away right then and there, to give Steckenrider a soft landing in the 9th.

The Mariners are 10-6, everyone! The Mariners were in first place heading into this series, and the Mariners are still in first place today! Who saw that coming?

The First Place Mariners Played A Couple Of Doubleheaders In Baltimore

And won three of four! Ain’t that some shit?!

If you thought I had zero interest in the M’s going back to Minnesota later this year for any rainout make-up games, I REALLY had no interest in them going back to Baltimore! There were somehow two rainouts – on Monday, and again on Wednesday – that necessitated two 7-inning doubleheaders (on Tuesday and Thursday, naturally). The largest margin of victory was two runs, in case you saw that I just told you the Mariners won three of four and thought it might have been some dominating week of baseball. It was fine, but these teams are a lot closer to one another in talent level – at least, at the moment – than you like to see.

The first game saw a solid outing out of Justus Sheffield – 6 innings, 2 runs, on 3 hits, 2 walks, with 5 strikeouts – and he would’ve got the win if it weren’t for the third blown save of the young season by Rafael Montero. Look, this is probably just who he is. I don’t think he’s going to be 50% saves, 50% blown saves for the entire season (I mean, obviously, if he keeps blowing them, he won’t be our closer anymore), but I do think he’s shaky and will continue to be so.

France, Murphy, and Haniger helped the Mariners build an early 3-0 lead in the first couple innings. Sheffield gave up a 2-run homer in the fifth, but was able to get through six innings with the lead intact. Montero actually got two quick outs before giving up a double and a single to tie it in the bottom of the seventh. From there, he was able to wiggle out of it to send the game into extras.

Kyle Seager was once again the late-game hero, doubling in the 8th to score Haniger from second to take the lead. From there, Graveman was able to lock it down for his first save of the season.

The second game was wild! Nick Margevicius got the start and was hampered severely by a third inning that saw him give up four unearned runs after the M’s had taken a 4-0 lead in the top half of the inning. Having expended so many pitches to get out of it, he was allowed to start the fourth, but let the first two batters get on before being pulled. They would come around to score, leaving the M’s trailing 6-4.

Sam Haggerty, though, heroically mashed a 2-run homer in the top of the seventh to tie it up! It looked like we might have a double-header replete with extra-innings games! But, sadly (!), after Sadler got two outs, he sort of fell apart and ended up gagging away the game in the bottom half of the inning.

Haniger had three more hits in this one, and Jose Marmolejos – filling in for a banged up Evan White at first base – hit a 3-run home run to stake us to that early lead. Players filling in and helping the team all throughout the roster, it’s wonderful to see!

After the second rainout of the series, the Mariners had to play two on getaway day (that’s two full 7-inning games, followed by an almost-immediate flight from Baltimore to Seattle to play the Astros later tonight; sounds brutal). Marco Gonzales got his third start of the season and promptly gave up a 2-run homer in the first. Here we go. BUT, he settled down nicely, not giving up a hit after the first, the rest of the way, in his five total innings of work. We’re far from ace-level pitching, but it was great to see him settle down like that and get the win.

Mitch Haniger had a 2-run home run in the fifth to tie it up, and J.P. Crawford hit a 2-run double to take the lead in the sixth. Rafael Montero came in for the bottom of the sixth inning – not because he’s lost his closer’s job, but because they want him in there for the highest-leverage situations – to face the heart of the lineup. He got through it while just giving up one harmless hit. Graveman came in for the seventh to get his second save of the series.

I fully expected the Mariners to lose the second game of the doubleheader, but Justin Dunn showed up in a major way! He had much better command, though he did walk two. His stuff was electric, though. He struck out 6 in five innings of work, while only giving up 2 hits and 1 run. Will Vest got the hold and Keynan Middleton locked down his second save of the season in pretty impressive fashion.

It was a 2-1 win, with solo homers by Dylan Moore and Mitch Haniger. Haniger, by the way, is slashing like crazy: .321/.333/.623. You’d like to see more from the on-base percentage, but it’s obviously still insanely early.

Anyway, as the title suggests, the Seattle Mariners – at 8-5 – are in first motherfucking place! How wild is that?! The Angels are right there at 7-5, and the Astros – who come to town severely depleted (thanks to COVID issues) – are 6-6. Also, there are still 149 games to play this season, so it’s really anyone’s race!

What do we make of this start so far? I don’t think the Mariners are elite yet, but I do think they could potentially be among the better of the rest. They’re clearly beating up on teams that are either bad or middle-of-the-road. Being middle-of-the-road themselves is, honestly, probably an upgrade over initial expectations. If they continue to do this, they WILL compete for a Wild Card spot (mostly by default, because there are so many wild card spots, but still).

But, they could also just be really, extremely lucky in these first two weeks. 6 of their 8 wins are by 2 runs or less. The Mariners are 6-1 in games decided by 2 runs or less; that feels extremely unsustainable, especially with Montero seeing the highest-leverage situations. The Mariners are also 3-0 in extra innings games; again, it’s unsustainable. The M’s have a -8 run differential, which is more indicative of a team that would be under .500 in record.

There’s A LOT of noise in the first month of the season, so it’s obviously too early to start declaring trends. But, you know, 8-5 and in first place is fun! So, enjoy it you fucking nerd and quit trying to spot every dark cloud on the horizon!

2021 Mariners Preview Extravaganza: We Have A Rest Of The Team

Yesterday, I wrote about the starting rotation. Today – the day of the Mariners’ first game of the season – I’ll be writing about everything else.

If you’ve been following along all offseason, I’ve already written about most of these guys. But, now we have an official roster, so let’s run through it.

We’re pretty set with the infield:

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Dylan Moore (2B)
  • Evan White (1B)
  • Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)

All healthy, present, and accounted for! All of them, of course, come with question marks. Does Seager have anything left in the late-career resurgence tank? Can Crawford build on his Gold Glove campaign to be a more consistent (and somewhat more powerful) hitter? Was 2020 a mirage for Moore? Will White EVER hit, period? And, is the catcher position as strong as I expect it to be? How many of these guys – if any – will be longterm solutions at their respective positions? I gotta believe that the Next Great Mariners Team has at least a few of these guys playing roles; they can’t ALL still be in the minors or other organizations!

One guy we don’t have to worry about is:

This guy can hit! No notes! Also, since I believe in him so strongly, watch him struggle mightily. This is the way.

The outfield is my favorite part of this team, now and especially in the future. With Kyle Lewis starting on the 10-Day IL, it’s a little underwhelming at the moment, but obviously the M’s have to play it super safe with our 2020 Rookie of the Year.

  • Mitch Haniger (RF)
  • Jake Fraley (CF)
  • Taylor Trammell (LF)
  • Sam Haggerty (INF/OF)
  • Jose Marmolejos (INF/OF)

The story of camp has been Trammell making the Opening Day roster. Not just as an injury replacement to the injured Lewis, but as a legitimate starting left fielder for this team. He’s another one of those great guys we traded for from the Padres last year when we sent them Austin Nola – making us three for three of guys coming over in return making the team in 2021, with France and Torrens – whose prospect stock has fluctuated wildly over the course of his minor league career. But, he appears to be putting it all together now at just the right time: ahead of Kelenic and Rodriguez. This glut of highly-touted outfielders will only make things that much easier for the M’s as they fill out the rest of the roster to try to build a championship ballclub. Of everyone on this 26-man roster, Trammell is the one I’m most excited about.

And Haniger is the one I’m most curious about. He’s had a long road back to full health; at one point in his career he was one of the top 25-or-so players in the American League. It wouldn’t shock me to see him right back in that area; it also wouldn’t shock me to see him totally shit the bed. He no longer seems to be the future of the franchise, but he’s currently the present, and will have every opportunity to rebuild his value in the game of baseball.

Fraley and the rest are just guys. Placeholders until our young superstars return from injury and/or get called up from the minors.

The obvious wildcard on the Mariners is the bullpen:

  • Rafael Montero
  • Kendall Graveman
  • Nick Margevicius
  • Anthony Misiewicz
  • Keynan Middleton
  • Casey Sadler
  • Will Vest
  • Drew Steckenrider

Oof. Like I said, I have avoided learning too much about the bullpen; I’d rather watch them with my own eyes and draw my own conclusions. But, to get me started, I guess I’ll look up some info and regurgitate it here, for my own benefit if nothing else.

The Mariners traded for Rafael Montero from the Rangers in the offseason. He had 8 saves for a terrible Rangers team last year, and I guess figures to be our closer out of the gate? He doesn’t have a ton of Major League experience, but maybe he’s put it all together. We’ll see. He’s not a bad buy-low candidate, at least in the short term.

Graveman we all know. He was here last year, signed to be a starter after missing a lot of time with injuries. He ended up with a neck issue that somehow allows him to throw very hard in short bursts as a reliever, but hampers him too much to go too many innings in a row. I don’t understand this one iota (mostly, I don’t understand why he doesn’t just have some surgical procedure to fix it and return 100% healthy), but whatever. He’s generally pretty good for an inning most of the time, so that makes him a quality set-up candidate in my mind.

Margevicius was neck-and-neck with Justin Dunn for the sixth starter job. He will be one of the long men in the bullpen to eat up innings and keep us in ballgames when a starter falters. He’ll also be the first man to join the rotation if there’s an injury (and there will be an injury). He’s fine, I like him in this role a great deal. He’s also one of just two lefties in the ‘pen, so there should be no shortage of work for him this season.

Misiewicz is presumably our top lefty reliever. We drafted him in 2015 and he made his debut last year. He was pretty good, I think! I dunno, we’ll see I guess.

Keynan “Don’t Call Me Kenyan” Middleton was a free agent signing who played for the Angels’ organization the last four years. His 2020 looked pretty atrocious. The three years prior look better, just as long as you don’t go sniffing around his FIP too hard. He might be just a guy. A cheap guy, but a guy nevertheless. He’s still young enough to put it all together, but don’t hold your breath.

Sadler is a veteran we claimed from the Cubs last year, who has bounced around multiple organizations. He’s someone else with big Just A Guy energy.

Will Vest is a Rule 5 guy we poached from the Tigers this offseason. He will be making his Major League debut this year, which will be somewhat fun! Other than that, I dunno. He’s the Rule 5 guy, that’s the nugget I’m going to keep in my brain and promptly forget as soon as he makes it into an actual game.

Drew Steckenrider sounds like one of those names I always fuck up when it comes to those Lookout Landing Sporcle quizzes asking you to name all the Mariners’ pitchers from a particular season. He came over from the Marlins organization on a minor league deal and was apparently one of the last guys to make the team. He’s another one I’m not holding my breath about.

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The world is our oyster here! The Mariners could be a Bottom Five team, but I really don’t think that will be the case. There’s a lot of young talent in the organization just waiting to break through. There’s a TON of athleticism. There’s promise bursting at the seams. This is a team that WANTS to be great, that has just enough leadership at just the right spots – including the coaching staff – to potentially make it happen. We could be looking at a team that hangs around and FINALLY becomes the one to break the playoff drought!

Or, you know, it could be another year with another mediocre record.

But, the hope is that the young guys will improve. That’s really all that matters. 2020 was a roaring success because we saw improvement from the guys we needed to see improvement from. 2021 needs to be more of the same. Winning and losing isn’t quite as irrelevant as it was last year, but that’s not the ultimate agenda quite yet. The experience of winning isn’t quite as important as the experience of just playing at this level, but there is a lot of value there. That’s why I won’t be as maniacal as in years past when it comes to getting a high draft pick for next season.

Do what you’re going to do, Mariners!

My prediction is that the M’s easily surpass the 72.5 win total that Vegas has them at. But, ultimately I don’t see us getting one of those Wild Card spots. Instead, we’ll probably be drafting in the teens next year.

I’m reserving all predictions beyond that. I’m not making ANY specific player predictions, because so much can happen. Injuries, regression, breakouts, it’s all on the table. My only hope is that I don’t exit this season feeling worse about the Mariners than I do right now. Right now, I’m full of optimism! So, let’s just work in service of that and try to make 2022 and beyond really special!

I Don’t Know If The Mariners Are High On Ty France, But I Am!

Ty France seems to be one of those players without a position. That seems to be a trend with a lot of quote/unquote third basemen who come up through the minors at that spot, especially when they’re more known for their bats than their gloves. Do natural third basemen even exist? Or are they just plus-sized second basemen or slow-footed short stops? You be the judge!

Ty France, apparently, is coming at it from another angle, as a slightly-more-athletic first baseman type. Like, imagine if Daniel Vogelbach was 2/3 of his actual size, but, you know, could still actually hit a baseball.

These types of supposedly-deficient defenders always intrigue me, because if his 2020 season was any indication, the bat is there! He slashed .305/.368/.468 in 43 games across two teams (coming over in the Austin Nola deal with the Padres), with not really much of a dropoff at all during the transition. Ideally, you probably want a little more than the 14 extra base hits in that span, but a high batting average and competent on-base percentage makes up for a lot of ills in the power game for me. I’d rather someone come from this type of floor, because you can tweak a swing to create more loft if need be; but that kind of eye for balls and strikes is much harder to teach by the time you get to the Major League level. Knowing when to swing and what to swing at is an art, and most baseball players fail miserably at it.

He’s also only 26 years old, with up to five seasons of team control (including arbitration years), and while he’s not proficient at any one position, he’s capable of filling in at just about any spot on the infield (and by that I mean first, second, or third base).

It’s hard to talk about Ty France without talking about Dylan Moore, because both of them look to factor heavily on this team in the early going of the 2021 season. Presumably, that puts Moore in left field (next to Kyle Lewis in center, and Mitch Haniger in right) and that puts France at second base (between Evan White at first and J.P. Crawford at short, with Kyle Seager at his trusty third base spot). While we know Moore can play anywhere, it’s unknown at this time if we can hide France in one of the corner outfield spots in a pinch, but given our history of left fielders, it wouldn’t shock me to see the team give it a go (it just depends on how much of a liability France is up the middle).

As I alluded to, France’s “natural” position is third base. One would hope, if Seager ends up leaving after this season, that France could slide in there and we won’t miss a beat. But, if France isn’t any good at third, you’d have to wonder about his ability to play second, where I would assume – even between a couple of Gold Glovers in White & Crawford – defensive range is more of an issue.

Worst case scenario has the Mariners playing France primarily as the team’s Designated Hitter. You would think, given our history with Edgar Martinez (and our complete inability to properly replace Gar since his retirement), that the Mariners – more than most – can appreciate what an elite DH can bring to the table. But, like most teams, we’re trying to live in the 21st Century, where the DH is more of a rotational job, to give guys days off from playing in the field every day. Which means that, in their mind, you probably don’t want to be saddled with France at DH more than 3-4 times per week, which means he will need to be at least an adequate fielder 2-3 times per week. If he’s completely inept, that’s a problem, as it drastically reduces your lineup versatility.

That’s why guys like France – more often than not – aren’t foundational pieces, but instead guys who bounce around in deals like the one we made last year. He has value – so long as he’s hitting – but rarely gets the opportunity to stick in any one place thanks to his mediocre glove.

I’m, nevertheless, quite high on him for the reasons I’ve stated. The Mariners also have one of the best infield coaches in the Major Leagues, so I would hope that he can mold France into something passable in the field. Because, if we can work that out, that’s a HUGE hole we don’t need to fill later.

If we’re looking to break the playoff drought in 2021 – at least a year ahead of schedule – then we’re going to need more consistency out of our everyday lineup. While the pitching is shaky, as we saw last year, our coaches were able to mitigate things by keeping close tabs on the starters in their individual starts (not leaving them out there to get out of jams too often in the third/fourth times through the lineup). Obviously, the bullpen needs to drastically improve, but given the natural volatility of even high-level relievers, sheer randomness could always come into play to help us out this season. But, we need the hitters to hit, and not go into super-long funks.

That means, of course, that our stars – Lewis, Haniger, and Seager – need to perform to their potential/abilities, and that means some of these diamonds in the rough that we’ve stumbled upon – Moore, our catchers, Crawford, White, and France – need to be more consistent, and help pick up the slack when others are struggling. I have no doubt that France’s bat can be a big pick-me-up for this team. But, he just needs to not be a total wasteland out in the field.

I believe he can do it! And I hope that Austin Nola deal continues to pay huge dividends for many years to come!

At What Point Do The Mariners Worry About Evan White?

Let me be clear: I’m not worried about Evan White right now. He was a 24-year old rookie last year, making the jump from AA to the Majors, fresh off of a contract extension that bought out his cheap team control and arbitration years to give him a guaranteed $24 million over 6 seasons, with the possibility of being worth up to $55.5 million over 9 seasons. There was a worldwide pandemic, no fans in the stands, and he’s on a rebuilding team that’s looking to go from mediocre-at-best to elite within the next few years. He was a first round draft pick in 2017 and has been handed the keys to the first base position for the foreseeable future.

There was, in short, A LOT on his plate in 2020. And, other than his defense – which was superb enough to garner him the first of probably many Gold Glove Awards – a lot went wrong. He had a slash line of .176/.252/.346. His strikeout rate was through the roof, his swing-and-miss rate skyrocketed compared to his minor league norms, and he got off to a REALLY bad start; so those terrible numbers are a result of him sort of turning things on a little bit towards the end of the truncated season (emphasis on “a little bit”).

Many fans are concerned, because the Mariners are planning on giving him a LONG leash, for obvious reasons: his contract, the fact that he’s a high draft pick, the fact that he’s so elite at defense, the fact that we’re still not projected to legitimately contend for championships for at least another few years. This doesn’t have the feel of rushing someone along like it did with so many guys prior (Mike Zunino most notably), because he’s not on a team that’s expected to do anything, other than incrementally improve year by year. Rather, he’s being given the experience he needs – in a low-pressure environment, relative to expectations (obviously, it’s high-pressure in the sense that it’s the MAJOR LEAGUES and therefore the dream of everyone who’s ever picked up a baseball bat as a child) – as this organization continues to grow through its rebuild. He’s not the Franchise Savior; White has always been projected as a solid complementary piece to a potentially-great team. If everything pans out with the rest of the rebuild, you’d be happy with White bringing you his usual brand of defense, and batting 7th in the order every night. Best case scenario still only has White maybe batting in the 2-hole (if he gets his strikeouts under control and starts walking and hitting for power more).

Even though the plan seems sound, you never know if it’s a case of too much too soon. White needs to hit to make it in the Majors, that’s the bottom line. He doesn’t need to be a guy who hits .300, or who bashes 35+ home runs; with his defense, you can excuse some mediocre or streaky hitting. BUT, he can’t be a sub-.200 guy who strikes out 200 times; that’s never going to fly.

I won’t say 2021 is a Make Or Break year for White, like it might be for someone like Haniger or obviously Kikuchi; I will say that it would be nice to see some improvement. If it’s more of the same – or God forbid worse – then I think that’s a very ominous trend, and you’d have to start wondering if he will last through his contract. At the very least, we would seriously alter our expectations. A prolonged slump to start his Major League career can very well be his reality, since he brings so much with his glove; it’s nearly impossible to sit him (made all the more apparent by the fact that we have no other first basemen of note in the pipeline behind him). It’s White Or Bust, for at LEAST the next two seasons!

The Mariners can make it easier on him by other guys producing in the lineup. If we can hide White towards the bottom of the order, then I think it’s okay to keep a struggling hitter who is otherwise a value add in the field. But, if everyone else underperforms, that’s only going to magnify White’s presence, since he is considered a piece of this team’s future.

I know we’re all rooting for him to succeed; it’s always a bonus whenever you can draft and develop your own talent and turn them into viable everyday players. An Evan White who pans out means we have one less hole to fill on this roster going forward; a roster full of more question marks than definite answers. And since expectations for him have been tempered from the beginning – he was never projected to be a huge power bat in the middle of the lineup, for instance – the bar he needs to cross isn’t unreasonable at all. Be a .250 hitter. Get on base at a .350 clip. Hit 20 homers and 30 doubles a year. And be a regular finalist for the Gold Glove at first base. That isn’t too much to ask, I don’t think. Anything beyond that is gravy.

It would be nice if he could clear this benchmark starting in 2021, but if he doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world. However, if he isn’t at that level for 2022 and beyond … then I think it could be time to worry.

Cool Beans: The Mariners Have A Couple More Gold Gloves To Throw Onto The Pile

I like to keep track of all the major Seattle sports awards winners HERE. What constitutes “major” is obviously up for debate, but, you know, it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to.

Evan White (first base) and J.P. Crawford (short stop) just won gold gloves! That’s incredibly encouraging since both figure to be significant parts of the Mariners’ rebuild. Evan White, of course, was a known defensive prodigy at first base when we drafted him in the first round in 2017. Normally, with someone so athletic – and with nominal power respective to traditional first baseman-types – organizations like to convert those types of players to other positions (second base, corner outfield) to try to extract more value. The Mariners, from day-one, were dedicated to keeping White at his preferred defensive position, confident that his prowess will more than make up for any limitations in power hitting. With this being White’s rookie season, and him being one-for-one in Gold Glove opportunities, I’d say the Mariners made the right decision.

I wondered, of course, if his reputation preceeded him in sort of rubber-stamping this award in his favor, but the defensive metrics back him up (as you can read towards the end of this article HERE). I’ll admit, though, I was surprised J.P. Crawford even made the top three, let alone won it for short stop, but as you can read in that article, the metrics bear out for him as well.

When we first heard about Crawford coming over from the Phillies organization, I seem to recall the word on the street was that he had plus-defensive ability, but he was still a little raw and unrefined. Compared to his bat, I think the defense was always ahead, but I guess I never anticipated he’d rank among the top in the league. So, it’s truly outstanding to see him win this award, and come to the realization that he truly earned it. There are some great short stops in the American League, so to be this consistently great – even in a 60-game season – is absolutely fantastic!

It is, as I mentioned above, all the more important that it’s our young guys winning these awards, as it shows we’re heading in the right direction with the rebuild. Even more exciting is the upcoming Rookie of the Year announcement next Monday, as Kyle Lewis was already named in the top three and figures to be the favorite to win the award. And, speaking of Gold Gloves, while Lewis wasn’t quite as consistent defensively, he still flashed some sparkling glovework at times and this could very well be something to look forward to in his future as well.

2020 wasn’t perfect for the Mariners, but it was better than I possibly could’ve imagined. Let’s hope we see that trajectory continue on its upward path!