The Mariners’ Offense Looks As Bad As Expected

The Mariners came out of that 4-game Red Sox series with a 2-2 split. It’s probably as good of an outcome as we could have expected, considering one of those wins came 1-0, and the other necessitated overcoming a 2-run deficit in the bottom of the 10th inning (after the game was tied 1-1 through regulation). By all rights, that should’ve been a 4-game sweep with the Mariners losing all four, but here we are.

We scored 10 runs in four games, so that’s not ideal. After that first game, the pitching started to come alive, but as you’ll see, there’s a difference between the high-end pitching, and everyone else.

George Kirby is the best pitcher on this team. He came out on Friday and dominated, throwing 6.2 scoreless innings, giving up 2 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 8. Speier got him out of the 7th inning with our lead intact, Stanek got two outs in the 8th, and Munoz got the 4-out save to preserve our first win of the season. J.P. Crawford hit a solo homer in the 6th for our only scoring of the day.

Saturday was another pitching-heavy day, with Logan Gilbert going 7 innings, giving up just the 1 run. He looked equally as phenomenal as Kirby, giving up 4 hits, 1 walk, while striking out 8. Lots of great movement on his pitches, with only one little mini-jam that he was able to work out of in the 5th.

The bullpen kept things square at 1-1 through nine innings. The M’s scored in their first and final frames in this one. Haniger hit an RBI single in the bottom of the first to kick off the scoring. Then, we did absolutely nothing until the 10th. We needed that 10th inning explosion, because Trent Thorton made his first 2024 appearance and looked A LOT like 2023 Trent Thornton, promptly giving up 2 runs (1 earned, 1 inherited) in 0.2 innings before being relieved. Thankfully, we kept the damage to 2 runs, and we mounted our first (and, to date, only) extended rally of the season, punctuated by Julio Rodriguez’s first-ever game-winning hit of any kind (in this case, a single to right to score Rojas from third).

The good vibes couldn’t extend to Sunday, as the Mariners had no juice whatsoever, losing 5-1. Bryce Miller gave up 4 runs in 5 innings, and the offense had nothing going.

In total, the Mariners struck out 45 times in their first four games. That’s third most in all of baseball, and one of the teams ahead of us – the Dodgers – have already played two more games. So, you know, not great. Everything we heard about this offseason revolved around cutting down on strikeouts.

As for the offensive implosion, we hired this “Offensive Coordinator”, which sounds like one of those moves a team makes that is – within a year – roundly mocked for being as stupid as we all expected it to be coming into the season. He was supposed to help our hitting coaches to – among other things – get this offense going EARLIER, so we’re not totally flailing at the plate in April and May. Well, today’s April 1st, so maybe his job didn’t quite get started for those pesky March games.

I dunno, does Boston have great pitching? They didn’t seem all that impressive to me. But, regardless, we’re second-to-last in batting average, dead last in OBP, second-to-last in slugging, and the only reason we’re not dead last in runs scored is because the three teams below us have only played three games.

I get it, it’s one series. It’s so damn early. There’s plenty of time for things to get going. But also, until these guys start performing, all they’re going to do is confirm our worst suspicions about this team. Which is only going to rile up the fanbase that much more.

I wouldn’t say I feel great about the Mariners right now. But, I also wouldn’t say my opinion has changed from this time last week. It’s a long season. Let’s just hope it’s not also a LONG season.

2024 Seattle Mariners Preview Extravaganza Part I: Run Prevention

It’s interesting how opinions can shift. Just two months ago, I was ranting and raving about the F-grade the Mariners deserved for this offseason (not necessarily the grade Jerry Dipoto & Co. earned, but the organization as a whole, starting first & foremost with ownership). Since then, it should be pointed out, three very important personnel moves were made. We traded for Jorge Polanco to shore up second base. We traded for Gregory Santos to shore up the back-end of our bullpen. Then, we signed Ryne Stanek after it became clear Santos (and Brash) wouldn’t be healthy enough to break camp with the Mariners out of Spring Training. You’re talking about some much-needed depth, and you’re also talking about – when healthy – a team that should at least hang around.

On top of those moves, the other thing that’s happened in the subsequent two months since I wrote that post is that the Mariners have had their entire Spring Training session. We have some more information than we did before. Even though we’re all loathe to talk positively about numbers, you can’t help but feel at least a little warm and fuzzy about hitters mashing the ball, and the stuff from your pitchers starting to come around.

I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve done a complete 180 on this team. But, between the additional moves, the exhibition performance, all the pundits and analytics being more bullish than bearish on this team, and the general optimism of spring and the new season directly before us, it’s hard not to have that … whatever the opposite is of cloud your thinking. Clear? Sunny up? They’ve gone and sunnied up my disposition – without my consent, I might add – and I’m not sure how to reconcile those feelings from two months ago.

You know what I hate? Being everyone’s “dark horse”. You know what else I hate? Being suckered into this fucking team, only for them to fall flat on their asses.

So, I’m trying to shut all that noise out and just focus on what my brain tells me. For starters, I have to give the usual caveat: all of this prognostication assumes we have an average amount of health (or better). Every team deals with injuries. Even the very best teams have to endure stretches where it feels like the baseball gods are whooping them with the ugly stick. The Rangers last year – World Series champions – had a spell in the second half where it looked like they might fall apart. But, they picked themselves up, steamrolled through the playoffs, and the rest was history. But, obviously, everyone remembers the 1996 Mariners, where Randy Johnson was lost for most of the year, and we also lost a good month from Ken Griffey Jr. Teams can’t endure the loss of their two best players for extended stretches and still hope to compete. If the 2024 Mariners lose Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez, no one is going to sit there and say, “Well, that’s just an average amount of baseball injuries.” It’s debilitating!

With that out of the way, let’s get going here. Since all I want to talk about is the hitting, we’re going to save that for Part II tomorrow. Right now, let’s get into the pitching and (a little bit on the) defense (at the end).

Baseball is tricky. You can’t sit there and say, “So and so is the most important guy on this team, and without him playing great, we have no chance.” It’s not football with the quarterback position. It’s not basketball with whoever your superstar is. Baseball is too much of a team sport. Yes, you need your stars to play well, but one guy can’t do it all. If that were the case, Mike Trout would be a champion countless times over.

You can’t even pin it all on a single pitcher, though I’ll contend until my dying breath that there’s nothing quite like an ace to dominate (particularly down the stretch of a pennant race). But, with the 2024 Mariners, we’re not even close to talking about them being contenders without this pitching staff, and especially this starting rotation. They’re the straw that stirs the drink. The most important aspect of this team, by far.

I don’t think you’re going to find a more talented one through five in Major League Baseball – nor one with a higher upside – than the one the Mariners are going to throw out there this seaason. Luis Castillo and George Kirby, right now, are among the best starters in all of baseball, and Logan Gilbert isn’t too far behind. And the pure, raw stuff of Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, and Emerson Hancock (who is slotting into Woo’s spot while he starts the season on the IL with a little bit of arm inflammation) makes them more than the ideal 4 & 5 starters. There’s the kind of potential that we just saw in the first couple of seasons with Kirby and Gilbert! Now, obviously, that’s no guarantee they’re going to turn into bona fide All Stars, but if the worst thing you can say is that the guys projected to be in the back of your rotation – with mid-to-high 90’s fastballs with tons of movement and some promising off-speed pitches – are going to get hit around every now and then, that’s a pretty great problem to have.

Do you know how many teams have absolute bums in the back-end of their rotation? Do you know how many teams are relying on soft-tossing journeymen a la Marco Gonzales to simply eat up innings? Meanwhile, the Mariners have nothing but power arms fisting their way through opposing lineups; it’s outstanding!

Obviously, the knock against the rotation is the lack of depth. But, what team doesn’t have that problem? With Hancock, I’ve already listed six guys who we like. The top three guys are better than most other teams have in their ace spots; and the bottom three guys are better than most every other team’s back-end. If those other teams suffer rotation injuries, I can only imagine the drop-off in quality!

The fact of the matter is, the Mariners are uniquely positioned to withstand the injury bug every now and then. Obviously, it would be ideal if we can get through the next couple months without losing any more starters – to give our bullpen an opportunity to heal up. But, with our home stadium, with our marine layer, and eventually when we get our bullpen figured out, I don’t have a big problem ceding a few outings to a Quad-A starter every now and then. Let him five & dive and hope your offense is up to the task to win a squeaker.

Now, that bullpen does come with some questions. I think we’re all in agreement that when our studs get healthy, a top four (in whatever order you choose) of Santos, Brash, Stanek, and Munoz, is as good as it gets. Again, in all of Major League Baseball. At that point, it almost doesn’t matter who else you put out there. Saucedo and Speier are reliable-enough. Trent Thornton could conceivably be due for a bounce-back, after having a full offseason in our throwing program. And, I’m sure there are plenty of under-the-rader arms in our organization who are poised to be the next Justin Topa or Paul Sewald. Until this unit lets me down, I have to believe we have what it takes to get the job done in the bullpen.

If this team is going to get back to the playoffs, it’s going to be on the arms to get the job done. For as good as they are, it would be helpful if the defense could pick things up behind them, but we’ll see.

By all accounts, we’re going to take a serious step back defensively. Which is kind of shocking, if I’m honest. I always remember Mitch Haniger being better than average. Has he really taken such a dive with age and injury? If he has, that’s a problem, because we’re clearly not as good in left field with the loss of Kelenic. I don’t even know if Luke Raley is competent out there! We might be on the hook for Super Utility Dylan Moore more than we’d like (that is, if he’s not covering for third base).

Speaking of which, is Luis Urias the worst defensive third baseman in baseball? We’ll find out! He sure as shit seems to be worse than Suarez. And I don’t know if Rojas or Moore are much better. Also, what are we going to get out of Polanco at second?

Seems like the potential for a lot of holes. That being said, I don’t care how old Haniger is, there’s no WAY he’s worse than Teoscar Hernandez. We still have Julio and J.P. And our catching figures to be among the best in baseball as well (or, at the very least, the most underrated).

I don’t know if we can count on this defense to carry us. But, as long as it isn’t a total hindrance, then the run prevention half of this team should be among the best in the American League. Certainly good enough to get us to the post-season.

Now, will the hitting do its part? Check back tomorrow (and the rest of this regular season) to find out!

Matt Brash Is Very Important To What The Mariners Are Trying To Do In 2024

It can be easy to take the bullpen for granted. That’s funny to say as a Mariners fan dating back to 1995, when so many of those teams in the mid-to-late 90’s were totally and completely derailed by a faulty bullpen. But lately? There’s some kind of secret sauce in the organization with the way we’re coaching these guys up. Every year, there’s a smattering of dominant back-end relievers, with another heaping spoonful of guys who come from out of nowhere to give us quality innings. This team has been the epitome of buying low and getting the most out of reclamation projects.

It rarely seems to work anywhere else on the team, but in the bullpen, it’s everything. And, as we know, an elite bullpen can paper over a lot of holes. See: Fun Differential.

How have we been taking the 2024 bullpen for granted? Well, simply put, we have a tremendous top three guys in our bullpen with Andres Munoz, Matt Brash, and Gregory Santos. That’s a 7-8-9 (in whatever order you choose) that can rival the very best in baseball, when they’re going good. Then, when you factor in this team’s penchant for finding diamonds in the rough, it’s just a matter of figuring out who they are in Spring Training, and rolling them out as if they belonged up here all along. Maybe it’s some holdovers from last year, like Speier or Saucedo; maybe it’s newcomers like Carlos Vargas or Jackson Kowar; maybe it’s some youngster from the minors I’ve never heard of! Whoever it is, this team will identify them, and we’ll be just fine.

That’s the assumption, anyway. You’ve still gotta go out and play the games. The guys still have to perform. But, it becomes exponentially more difficult if we have to do all of this without Matt Brash.

Pitchers in general are tough to rely on, healthwise. That seems to go double for hard-throwing pitchers, and quadruple for high-effort guys like Brash and Munoz, with funky arm angles and biting sliders. And when it comes to a baseball team, it’s hard to pin your hopes too much on any one single player. Even someone like Julio … he’s still just one of nine guys in a lineup; one of 26 guys on an active roster. Julio could homer in every single at bat and it’s still no guarantee you’re going to win enough games to be great. A lot of other things have to go right.

But, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Matt Brash is this team’s most important reliever. He might not be the guy in the ninth inning racking up the saves every time, but he’s the guy we tend to go to when we need our most important outs of the ballgame. He’s the guy taking on the very best opposing hitters, in the toughest situations (guys on base, less than two outs, likely needing a strikeout or a double play to get out of a jam), when the game is at its most perilous point.

Last year, he led the pitching staff in appearances with 78, and he led all relievers in innings pitched with 70.2. He also, not for nothing, led all relievers in strikeouts with 107, and holds with 24. I should point out, in fairness, that Justin Topa was right there at number two in a lot of these categories (75 appearances, 69.0 innings, 23 holds), but that also speaks to Brash’s importance, since Topa is no longer with the team.

Part of the reason why Brash was so over-utilized is due to Munoz spending some time on the IL, and Sewald getting dealt at the deadline. Brash and Topa were really our most consistent relievers throughout the entire season. Part of me expects a bit of a bounce-back from Munoz (though, I’m most certainly NOT taking him for granted), which would be a big boost, especially in the early part of the regular season.

The good news about this Matt Brash injury stuff is that the MRI came back okay. It’s not perfect; he has “elbow inflammation” and as such has been shut down in the early part of Spring Training. He’s apparently not surgical at this time, however that leads me to wonder if he’s just trying to gut through it, and eventually this year his arm is going to succumb. Either way, reports indicate Brash won’t be ready for the start of the regular season, as the team is going to be overly cautious (as they should be).

This is obviously a relief compared to what everyone was speculating about earlier this week. Tommy John was being thrown around with impunity. I’m not holding my breath though, because I feel like we’re one wrong move away from it being a reality. I hope I’m wrong! I hope he makes it back to the ballclub by mid-to-late April and can go full tilt the rest of the season. But, if he’s shut down, that’s going to be AWFUL for this team.

I don’t even want to think about it. There’s always some piece of devastating news that happens before the season even gets going. Figures it had to be Matt Brash. On the level of importance to this team’s success, I’d put the starting rotation and a few select position players (Julio, Cal, J.P.) ahead of him, but Brash is right there in the Top 10 for sure. Here’s to hoping we avoid a nightmare scenario!

Looking At The Mariners’ Bullpen

My concern throughout this offseason is that the bullpen wasn’t being fostered as much as it should, and that it would be this team’s biggest weakness (even worse than a probably-terrible offense). Matt Brash can still be prone to blow-ups, and Andres Munoz can be pretty inconsistent at times. And how long before either has a serious arm injury knocking them out for the season?

Gregory Santos helps in that regard. Now, we appear to have a true three-headed monster at the back of the bullpen (as long as they stay healthy), which just means we have to slot the rest in behind them.

The Mariners are pretty clearly in a three-tier system with their bullpen, with the above-referenced guys in that very top tier. In the next tier down, I’m putting guys like:

  • Gabe Speier
  • Tayler Saucedo
  • Eduard Bazardo
  • Ty Adcock

They were all varying degrees of “fine” in 2023 for the Mariners. They could grow into something more, they could regress hard, or they could stay middle-of-the-road relievers, eating up innings mostly in lost causes, with the occasional bursts of usefulness in higher leverage situations (when our elite relievers are taxed and need a rest).

Then, we’ve got the total wild cards who currently reside on the 40-man roster:

  • Carlos Vargas
  • Austin Voth
  • Trent Thornton
  • Cody Bolton
  • Jackson Kowar
  • Mauricio Llovera

Llovera was claimed off waivers and seems like camp fodder. Bolton was purchased from the Pirates and looks like he had somewhat of a rough rookie season in 2023 (after pretty good numbers in the minors). Kowar came over in the Kelenic trade (who was himself flipped by the Braves after playing in the Royals’ organization) and seems like the best possibility to make good on that otherwise terrible deal for the M’s. Kowar hasn’t really been good since 2021, so we’ll see.

I’m on record as not understanding what Thornton is doing on the Mariners. Sure, his ERA looked amazing last year (2.08), but his FIP was 4.72 and that seems to be closer to his actual value. He got lucky last year; I expect that luck to run out very soon. As for Voth, I guess he has a sweeper pitch that might be something. Both of these guys are veterans, so I guess the hope is they prove capable enough to stick and be some mentors to the younger guys.

Carlos Vargas might be the most interesting prospect of the bunch (he came over in the Suarez deal). He’s still pretty raw and I’m guessing will start off the season in Tacoma. But, we need plenty of depth to hang out in AAA until they get the call up for injuries or ineffectiveness.

I’ll tell you what, though, the bottom of this bullpen could look VERY dire, unless we have a surprise or two make it big out of Spring Training. I guess I should stop doubting the Mariners’ abilities in finding diamonds in the rough, because they’ve done it every year for God knows. But, how long until the luck runs out, or the well runs dry, or whatever you want to call it?

My sentiment on bullpens for a while now is: since they’re so incredibly volatile, you might as well not pump a ton of free agency dollars into them. Especially if you’re a team like the Mariners and there’s a finite amount of those dollars to go around. I’d rather spend that money in more useful areas. But, if our ability to develop these nobodies ever falters, or if we find the wrong set of nobodies who don’t take to our partcular teachings, then there’s nothing worse than a truly terrible bullpen. The best way to win more games than you otherwise should – i.e. the best way to paper over a subpar offense – is to go above and beyond in your bullpen. But, conversely, the best way to look like the absolute fucking worst, is to blow a bunch of games you should’ve won, because your starting rotation is awesome and your hitting is sometimes competent, but your bullpen just can’t lock it down.

Which is why I don’t usually give the bullpen a ton of thought. I don’t want to know all the ins and outs. I just want to show up when the regular season starts and find out who’s great and who needs to go.

What We Can Be Happy About With This 2023 Mariners Season

I get it: being out of the playoffs is pretty irritating. This isn’t what we expected coming into the season; we were supposed to be a team on the rise and a team taking a step forward, after finally breaking the playoff drought in 2022. We had the core nucleus, we had the pitching, we just needed guys to play to expectations and we should’ve been all right. Did we do enough to get over the hump and become a division winner? No. We had a chance! Houston came down to Earth a little bit – which is something we definitely needed to happen for that to come to fruition – but we never expected Texas to be as good as they were, and that wrench ultimately ended our season.

Now, we have to move on. We have to look forward to next year. With a little bit of time to sit in our resentment, and reflect on what’s been done and what’s been said, now it’s time to rationally look back at what went right. We know what went wrong. The bottom of the order and the bench stunk. Many guys didn’t play to expectations. But, there were some positives as well, and we can’t just ignore them because we’re mad at the end result.

This organization isn’t going to blow everything up. The front office is staying intact. The manager and coaches are all being retained. There are guys under contract who likely aren’t going anywhere, and players with club control who still figure into our future plans. Unfortunately, we’re in a similar situation as the end of the 2022 season: needing to fill in around the margins. We didn’t get it right last offseason; we must get it right this offseason.

First and foremost, how do you not love what we got from J.P. Crawford? He came into 2023 as a legitimate fringe player. His 2022 season was arguably the worst of his Mariners career. He had terrible Spring Training numbers. He started out the year batting 9th, as everyone was calling on this team to upgrade at the short stop position. 2023 was as Make Or Break as it gets. And, to his credit, he put in the work last offseason at Driveline, he picked himself up, and he had the very best season of his career. He was a 5.0 WAR player; that’s leaps and bounds better than he’s ever been. He got his batting average back up to where it’s been in the past, he increased his on-base percentage quite a bit, and he slugged off the charts at .438. He hit 19 homers; 10 more than he’s hit in any other year! His 54 extra base hits were a career high. He pretty quickly found himself at the top of the batting order and never relinquished it, which I find most encouraging. That means he didn’t suffer a lot of prolonged, aggravating slumps. He was a guy we could always count on; for most of the year, he was the ONLY guy we could count on.

That’s a tremendous foundation on which to start. Short stop is secure for the foreseeable future. His defense seemed to bounce back a bit, he’s probably the best leader we could hope for among this player group, and where do you need to be strongest on a baseball field? Up the middle.

Which brings us to Julio. I can’t say it was a better season than 2022, but I do believe he took a step forward. Julio had a rough April in 2022, before going on a tear. In 2023, he REALLY struggled through June. Sophomore Slump was being bandied about. I think we all believed he’d pull out of it at some point, but I wasn’t sure he could get anywhere near where he was as a rookie.

Then, in July, he started picking it up. And that August, MY GOD. .429/.474/.724 slash line for the entire month; he was otherworldly! All of a sudden, he DID start to get back to where we all expected. But, then he cooled again in September. His slugging was still there, but everything else severely diminished. His WAR was 5.3 – tops on the team – but his entire slash line was a little bit worse compared to 2022. He had more doubles, homers, and stolen bases, but he also played in 23 more games.

All in all, I’m not worried about Julio. I think 2023 was a great learning experience for the young superstar. But, it wasn’t a wasted year for him, either. He didn’t have a learning experience while taking an extreme step back; he was still the best and most important player on this team, and I expect him to take these first two years and move forward as one of the best players in all of baseball.

Finishing with the Up The Middle motif, we have Cal Raleigh. Thank Christ for Cal Raleigh! This was his first full year. His first full year as the unquestioned #1 at catcher. And his first year where he wasn’t in jeopardy of being sent down to Tacoma to work on some things. He improved his batting average and on-base percentage, while taking a quiet step back in slugging. He had career highs in homers and doubles, but again, played in 145 games (compared to 119 in 2022). Where he REALLY took a step forward was with his defense; he was throwing dudes out left and right, really shutting down the run game of opposing offenses (in spite of the fact that this pitching staff isn’t always the greatest at holding runners).

I wouldn’t say Cal is a finished product either, though I don’t know if I would expect him to hit considerably above his .232 batting average. What matters is, like J.P., he didn’t suffer crazy lulls. He was pretty consistent all year. And, if you’re going to give me 30 homers from a catcher, I’m going to take that every time! Going forward, we don’t have to worry about Cal; he’s the guy. He’s going to be here for a good, long while. Hopefully, we can sign him to a long term extension sooner rather than later, because I think he’s going to be worth every penny. The concern lies in who his backup is going to be. Tom Murphy is a tremendous backup – when healthy – but he’s proven that we can’t count on him in that regard. We don’t want to blow Cal out with overuse, even though he’s a stud and wants to be out there every single day.

There’s a steep drop-off from there, as far as everyday players are concerned. I don’t want to get too into the weeds with Teoscar Hernandez – because I don’t know where he’s going to be next year – but I thought he did okay. He gave us almost what he showed he was in Toronto in 2022. Worse slash line, WAY too many strikeouts, but he was a 2.1 WAR player and that’s not nothing. He hit 26 homers and 29 doubles, while playing in 160 of 162 games. Yes, he had an abysmal start to his Mariners career, but he got it going as the season went along (and also enjoyed a torrid August), showing you what he’s capable of. I get the feeling it took him some time to figure out how to hit in this ballpark, but to his credit, he figured it out. He wasn’t a total waste of space like Jesse Winker and some of these other guys we’ve brought in. His overall numbers and production were pretty much what I would’ve expected out of a healthy Mitch Haniger, though I will say the defense was often a problem.

That’s all I got for the offense. On to the pitching.

Castillo, Gilbert, Kirby, excellent work, no notes! They had wonderful seasons. All 190+ innings pitched, all sub-4 ERAs, all with 179+ strikeouts, all with WHIPs 1.10 or lower. All 3.1 WAR pitchers or above. They obviously didn’t win as many games as we’d like (between 13-14), but that’s a reflection of the team as a whole. All had 18+ quality starts (out of 31-33 starts). It’s as ideal of a Top 3 in a starting rotation as you could hope for: all young, under contract/club control for years to come, and all elite in their own ways. On top of which, it was just Logan’s third Major League season, and Kirby’s second. The training wheels are off for all of these guys; we get to head into 2024 knowing that 3/5 of our rotation is not just set, but among the best in all of baseball. They continue to get better! They continue to introduce new pitches and find new ways to get batters out! Hell, I welcome the further influx of George Kirby knuckleballs! Bring it all on!

Now, were they all totally consistent all year long? No. Castillo and Kirby really came up short in that final week and a half. There were enough instances this season where their lines really left me scratching my head. But, that’s pretty nit-picky. On the whole, all three of these guys were tremendous, and I’m happy to go forward with them.

Sticking with the rotation, how do you not like what we got from Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo as rookies? They very much WERE under strict pitch counts and innings limits. They weren’t perfect, but they had ERAs of 4.32 and 4.21 respectively. They had K/9 rates of 8.2 and 9.5, which slots them quite nicely with our Top 3 listed above. Going into 2024, a rotation of just those five guys looks – on paper – to be outstanding!

We don’t know exactly what they are yet, though. They’re still very raw, very young, very inexperienced. I don’t know that they have a great command of their secondary/off-speed pitches. They were both fucking bananas against righties, but really had their struggles against lefties, and that has to get fixed if they expect to stay in the Major Leagues for the long haul.

  • Miller vs. Righties: 7.20 K/BB, .200/.234/.315, in 282 PA
  • Miller vs. Lefties: 2.94 K/BB, .303/.358/.558, in 255 PA
  • Woo vs. Righties: 7.25 K/BB, .179/.226/.268, in 191 PA
  • Woo vs. Lefties: 1.52 K/BB, .283/.389/.540, in 180 PA

That’s too stark of a difference. It’s a little Matt Brash-y. Excellent numbers for a reliever, but not so hot if you want to hack it as a starter.

With Marco Gonzales coming back for one more go-around – assuming we can’t find a trade partner for him – and with Robbie Ray still on the books for a tremendous amount of money (though, I was dismayed to hear he likely won’t be back until midseason, which means he probably won’t be back to normal until 2025), I think there’s a general sense among the fanbase that one of Miller or Woo won’t be here next year. That one will be traded to help bolster other areas of need. It makes sense, though it’s unfortunate. I can’t help but feel like it’s a case of We Can’t Have Nice Things. Just when we lock down the rotation as solidly as possible, we have to bust it up – YET AGAIN – to help out our feeble offense. I was surprised to hear that Woo is more liked than Miller, as far as the scouts and analytical people are concerned. That’s interesting, considering Miller passed the eye test a little bit more. He’s a little further along in his development, has more innings under his belt, and doesn’t have the injury history of Woo. But, whatever, I guess. Both guys looked awesome, and I hope we’re able to find a way to keep ’em around.

I can only go as far as Matt Brash, Justin Topa, and Andres Munoz with the bullpen. We had other nice-ish pieces – Gabe Speier, Tayler Saucedo, Isaiah Campbell all got an extended run, and looked decent as back-end of the bullpen kind of guys – Eduard Bazardo had good-looking stuff, Ty Adcock got a cup of coffee and looked decent, Prelander Berroa got a tiny cup of espresso and looked like a guy with tremendous upside, but I don’t know how much you can count on ANY of those guys. Especially when you consider, in 2022, we had the likes of Diego Castillo (who spent most of 2023 in Tacoma), Matt Festa (who had solid numbers in Tacoma, but isn’t even in the organization anymore), Penn Murfee (who got hurt, and isn’t expected to be healthy in time to start 2024), not to mention Paul Sewald (who famously was traded at the deadline). There’s so much flux with any bullpen, year to year, that it’s kind of pointless to project. If we get anything out of any of these lower tier guys in 2024, it’ll be gravy. I’m expecting nothing; I’m not even expecting they’ll be on the team.

You have to say Matt Brash was the best reliever on the team, especially after Sewald went to Arizona. There’s a lot to like here. 107 strikeouts was fifth on the team, behind our top four starters. 13.6 K/9 led the team. 3.06 ERA was very respectable. I wouldn’t say he gave us quite what we were expecting, but I think that’s because we were expecting the moon and the stars. Every report about his offseason was about how he might have the best slider of all time, in baseball history. Shit like that. As your #3 reliever behind Sewald and Munoz coming in? I think I expected something like a sub-1 ERA and maybe no more than 1 or 2 blown saves. Instead, you know, he was on the hook for 5 blown saves, and he got dinged with 4 losses. He had a somewhat rocky first couple months, but then improved over the rest of the season, and became the pitcher we all thought he’d be. He was the most reliable reliever we had by season’s end. And I think he improved enough – and worked on his pitch mix enough – to get even better in 2024.

Justin Topa came out of nowhere, as an older pre-arb player – to totally blow away expectations. Before 2023, he had played in no more than 7 games in any given season with the Brewers; this year he was in 75. He had an 8.0 K/9 rate, and had the best WAR of any Mariners reliever with 1.6 (over Brash’s 1.3). He wasn’t perfect – none of these guys were – but he was maybe the most consistently-good reliever we had, with no prolonged slumps. Every once in a while he didn’t have it, but you could say that about anyone; Topa didn’t cost us very many games, and was an incredible asset overall.

Andres Munoz, at least for me, barely qualifies for the theme of this post. But, he’s under contract through 2028 and isn’t going anywhere. He was fine. He wasn’t what he was in 2022, but an early-season injury took him out of commission for a good chunk of games. For as amazing as his stuff is, he was a little too inconsistent for me. As one of five regular relievers with 10+ K/9 (12.3), it’s clear his arm talent is pretty rare. But, his walk rate spiked, his K/BB rate dropped considerably (6.4 in 2022, 3.0 in 2023), and his splits vs. lefties and righties flip-flopped. He was better against lefties than righties in 2022; though still amazing against righties. But, while he was still strong against righties in 2023, he took a big dive against lefties, for whatever reason.

Ultimately, I’m not too worried. Though, I will say it’s concerning that he got hurt again. Remember, he missed all of 2020 and most of 2021 coming back from injury. He might just be a guy – with the way he throws – that he’s going to break down sooner than you’d hope. The M’s will want to take a good, hard look at this bullpen, and have more contingencies in place, so we’re not forced to rely on guys like Trent Thornton, Dominic Leone, Luke Weaver, and Juan Then types.

So, when you hear about the Mariners talking up their core guys, these are who they’re talking about. It’s a fine core! I like all these guys. But, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. There are guys who had really BAD 2023 seasons that need to be called out; we’ll get into that next time.

The Mariners Won 1 Game Per City On Their Last Road Trip

I guess it’s lucky the Rangers have been so atrocious lately, but the Mariners are free-falling, and I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done to fix it.

We lost 2 of 3 to the awful Mets. Then, we lost 2 of 3 to the average Reds. After a 1-0 victory to open up the Rays series, we lost the next 3 games to fall to 79-64, and as of Monday morning, up by only half a game over the Rangers for the final wild card spot (lost in all this has been the fact that the Blue Jays have been on a tear, winning 8 of 10 as we lost 7 of 10 on that road trip).

And, really, we were lucky to win two of those games. So, this hasn’t been the funnest September, after a record-breaking August.

The 1-0 win was everything this team needed. Dominant Luis Castillo start (6 innings, 4 hits, 4 walks, 8 strikeouts) and lockdown bullpen work by Campbell, Brash, and Munoz.

My hopes for a bounce-back series against the Rays were dashed the very next night, with another off-kilter performance by Kirby. He gave up 2 runs in a ragged first inning where he couldn’t throw strikes, then settled down through the sixth. We had a 4-2 lead heading into the seventh, but then we tried to squeeze another inning out of Kirby (who, in spite of a tough first inning, had a reasonable pitch count and probably should’ve been able to go one more). Kirby ended up getting one out before giving up a double and a game-tying homer before being pulled, turning a quality start into a no decision. Campbell entered the game and gave up a 2-run home run of his own, before Dominic Leone gave up a solo homer in the eighth to give the game its final score of 7-4.

Kirby didn’t have pleasant words to say about being put out there for the seventh. He questioned the manager’s decision, which I’m sure a lot of fans did as well. Kirby predictably walked those words back the next morning – heat of the moment and whatnot – but I’m sure a lot of fans were mixed. There’s the younger fans – who’ve become accustomed to what baseball is in today’s age – and a segment of Anti-Servais Mariners fans, who probably sided with Kirby.

Then, there’s the old timers, and the Unwritten Rules crowd (usually comprised of ex-players like Roger Clemens, who got his ass roasted on Twitter for wading into the conversation). Someone even had the gall to compare Kirby to Erik Bedard for … reasons. They point to Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan, who would regularly throw 120-150 pitches per game, trying to go the full nine if at all possible.

I don’t like this argument. Yeah, complete games are cool. But that’s not what baseball is today. Instead, you’ve got starters regularly throwing in the high-90s, and that kind of strain isn’t conducive to throwing 110+ pitches very often, if ever (unless you’re a unicorn). Not if you want them to make it through an entire season, or multiple seasons, without arm surgeries. It’s a Get Off My Lawn stance, and I won’t hear it. Just accept that things change, and it’s never going to be the way it was when you were younger.

That being said, you have to take it in context. It’s early September. We’re in the midst of a 10 games in 10 days East Coast road trip. We don’t have an off-day until this upcoming Thursday, and after that we only have one more off-day until the end of the season. We’re also breaking in not one but TWO rookie starting pitchers, whose outings need to be carefully managed (including the occasional skipped start, as with what happened to Woo on Saturday). That means the bullpen gets taxed. We also – for better or for worse – traded our best and most-consistent reliever at the deadline, which means that taxed bullpen is that much less-effective. We brought in three veterans (Thornton, Weaver, and Leone) who look(ed) objectively terrible, we have another rookie in Campbell who is just trying his best, but is by no means a lockdown guy, and other veterans we brought in – like Saucedo, Speier, and even Topa – have shown serious cracks as this season has gone on.

To be blunt, the bullpen is over-worked, and that falls on the starters. That falls predominantly on guys like Castillo, Gilbert, and Kirby, who have experience, and should be able to go out there in the seventh inning, on 94 pitches, and take care of business for another three outs.

The home run Kirby gave up was to the #9 hitter! It’s not like we were asking him to take on the heart of the order for the fourth time through. This is a backup catcher!

I 100% see why Servais did what he did. If this was April or May, or if our starters had been rolling a little more of late – allowing our bullpen to stay fresh – Kirby would’ve handed over the ball after getting out of the sixth inning, and all would’ve been right with the world. But, it’s early September, in a pennant chase, and we desperately needed our second-best starter to squeeze another inning out of his arm. He failed. He failed with a questionable mix of pitches and locations. And, if he missed his spot, that’s on him. If he hit his spot, that’s still partially on him and partially on whoever was calling this game (either the catcher or the manager in the dugout). Maybe Servais should’ve walked him. I dunno. That’s a conversation. But, I’m not blaming Servais for his handling of the bullpen. And, I’m certainly not blaming him for his handling of Kirby. Kirby, more often than not, has had it easy. The team doesn’t ask him to over-exert himself very often. He could’ve done us this solid. And, quite frankly, he should’ve taken his loss like a professional, rather than whine about it to the press after the game.

Saturday was, *sigh*, a bullpen day. Trent Thornton got the opener role, couldn’t throw strikes in the first, and ended up going 2 innings, giving up just the one run. He gave way to Luke Weaver, who gave us the Luke Weaver Special (4.1 innings, 4 runs), and then was thankfully DFA’d by Sunday. I hope we never see him again, unless it’s on an opposing team’s pitching staff.

We, at one point, led 4-1. Then, the Weaver Experience left us trailing 5-4. We miraculously tied it in the eighth, before Saucedo lost it in the bottom of the ninth with a 2-run homer. We were 1/8 with RISP, and once again starting a backup catcher who failed to finish the game, necessitating us to overwork Cal Raleigh, as per usual this time of year.

I’m happy to say I didn’t see one iota of our 6-3 loss on Sunday, what with NFL football dominating the day. Bryce Miller stunk up the joint (5 innings, 5 runs), and I don’t even feel like talking about the rest.

Next up, we have the Angels in town. Then, it’s the Dodgers, then it’s the home stretch. One way or another, this season is almost over.

This Mariners Road Trip Has Been Pretty Fucking Miserable

The Mariners have gone 2-4 on this road trip so far, and have seen their lead in the A.L. West become eliminated. Now we’re a game behind the red-hot Astros, and it’s starting to feel like that cartoon dog inside the burning house meme.

We lost to a Bullpen Day on Monday, 6-3. Bryan Woo stunk up the joint at first, eventually going 5 innings and giving up 5 runs. The offense consisted of solo homers by Julio and Mike Ford, and a meaningless RBI single by J.P. Crawford in the ninth. Disaster times.

We followed that up with one of your more brutal losses of the season, 7-6. This was a game we – at one point – led 5-1, and at another later point still led 6-3. Then, Justin Topa gave up a 3-run bomb in the bottom of the 8th to tie it, followed by Andres Munoz VERY predictably blowing it in the bottom of the 9th.

We managed to get a relatively good start out of Bryce Miller (5 innings, 1 run), but then turned the game over to Dominic Leone, who gave up 2 homers in 2/3 of an inning. Between Leone and Weaver, I don’t know what the hell we’re doing. These guys are useless bums and you can’t magically turn around a player’s fortunes in the middle of a fucking pennant chase!

While Leone’s underwhelming performance was expected, Justin Topa has been pretty phenomenal this season. Nevertheless, you could tell right away he didn’t have it, and was a 3-run home run just waiting to happen. Munoz, I still don’t understand how he got August Reliever of the Month. You’re telling me there weren’t ANY relievers who didn’t blow two games and lose a third in the month of August? So far, his September is so bad I’m hoping it convinces the MLB to rescind the award and retroactively give it to literally anyone else.

It’s too bad, because the offense did more than enough to win this one. Teoscar continued his hot run he’s been on, with a first inning 2-run home run. Julio broke things wide open with a 3-run dinger in the fifth, and then he backed it up with another homer in the seventh. It’s a little concerning that we scored so many of our runs this series off of the long ball, but the Reds do play in a bandbox, so what do you expect?

We were at least able to salvage an 8-4 victory yesterday, though even that wasn’t particularly easy. Logan Gilbert was rolling until he wasn’t, finishing with 5.1 innings of 3-run ball. Even though we scored 7 runs in the first four innings, winning this game was all that mattered, so we went right to the top-end of our bullpen. Brash got us out of the sixth, Speier and Topa bridged the gap, and Munoz closed it out for the not-save (giving up a solo homer in the process, of course). You shouldn’t have to use those guys in a game where you lead by 4-5 runs, but that’s what happens when you blow so many fucking winnable games on this road trip. You have to buckle down and still struggle to keep it all together.

Ford had a 2-run homer, J.P. had a 3-run bomb, Cal added a solo homer, and Ty France had his first good hitting day in (seemingly) months. I am, nevertheless, done with France. He should be gone after this season. Fresh start somewhere else or whatever. But, he’s clearly a guy already on the decline, and it’s only going to get worse.

This was also the first great Suarez game we’ve seen in quite some time. Really need one of those two guys to get things going down the stretch if we want to get over the hump.

Now, we’ve got a 4-game set in Tampa, one of the best teams in all of baseball. Just what a slumping ballclub needs: a fucking freight train coming right for ’em.

The Mariners Looked Like Their Old Selves, Losing 2 of 3 To The Mets

I hated almost every minute of this weekend when it came to the Mariners. I’m not going to say I saw the losing series coming, but I also can’t say that I’m entirely surprised.

The 2-1 loss on Friday was easily the most frustrating game of the series. It’s frustrating that we struck out 13 times, it’s frustrating that we were 0 for 7 with RISP, it’s frustrating that we squandered another awesome start by Logan Gilbert, it’s frustrating that Andres Munoz blew yet another one late (how he ended up winning the Reliever of the Month Award for August is beyond me), it’s frustrating that he just STOPPED throwing off-speed pitches to Daniel Vogelbach (who was timing him up pretty well, and only needed a bleeder of a single to get the go-ahead run home), and it’s even frustating that we got saddled going up against their lone quality starter, in an otherwise miserable season for the Mets.

We won Saturday’s game 8-7, but it shouldn’t have been that difficult. We were up 3-0 early, before Castillo gave it all back. Then, we took a 7-3 lead, before the combination of Castillo and Speier gave most of it back again. 5 innings and 5 runs for our “Ace”. Saucedo ended up blowing the save in the bottom of the 8th, but luckily J.P. Crawford was there to homer in the top of the 9th to give us the margin of victory.

Sunday’s game was a real nothing-burger from the whole team. George Kirby had an even-worse start than Castillo, going only 3 innings, giving up 4 runs (3 earned). From there, the bullpen was just eating innings, with oldcomer-turned-newcomer Dominic Leone, Isaiah Campbell, and Trent Thornton going 5 and giving up 2. We hit back-to-back homers (Canzone and Ford) to score our only three runs in the 4th, but otherwise the offense was garbage against a lot of garbage pitching.

What, did we spend all weekend going to Broadway plays and partying until five in the morning? Cincinnati should offer much less in the way of distractions. Of course, they more than make up for it in having a better baseball team to go up against, including one of the most exciting players in the league in Elly De La Cruz. So, that’s fun.

The Mariners Are All Alone In First Place In The A.L. West, For Now (Maybe Forever)

Oh that’s just a jinx! That’s a jinx waiting to happen! That’s so much of a jinx it just burped its way through a murder confession while still on microphone!

The Mariners swept the Royals over the weekend. This series wasn’t quite as rough and tumble as the one in Kansas City last week. Not a lot of crazy back and forth. Just some solid, all-American good play by the home team.

Friday, we had Bryce Miller not giving us his best stuff; he went 4 innings and gave up 3 runs before we opted to pull him and overwhelm the Royals with bullpen arms. Thankfully, the offense came to play, scoring two in the 1st, two in the 4th, and two in the fifth. The bullpen wasn’t perfect – Matt Brash gave up a 2-run bomb (I have some real concern about his arm wearing down, based on recent comments by management in the media) – but thankfully that was the only blemish.

We had 16 hits in this one, including a very respectable 5/15 with runners in scoring position. Crawford, Suarez, and Raleigh all led the way with 3 hits each; Canzone and Julio had 2 hits each. This was a 7-5 victory that, quite frankly, we should have against a team like that, with the terrible pitching they’re saddled with.

Saturday’s 15-2 drubbing was an onslaught for the ages. Between the bottom of the third and the end of the game, we scored in every inning, with a 7-spot leading the way. The following players had two hits: J.P., Cal, Teo, Ford, and Rojas. Teo led all parties with 6 RBI, including 2 homers. Cal, Julio, Ford, Rojas, and Marlowe also homered (giving us 7 on the day). It was just pure annihilation!

To add insult to injury, Logan Gilbert made it look easy. He finished 7 innings, giving up 1 run, 2 hits, 1 walk, while striking out 7. That’s all on only 83 pitches, so he easily could’ve gone longer if need be. Luke Weaver – after a marvelous Mariners debut where he struck out 5 White Sox in 2 innings – came down to Earth with a run given up on a couple hits, but that was it.

Sunday’s 3-2 victory was the game most in jeopardy, but we managed to hold it together at the end. Luis Castillo went 7 strong, giving up zero runs on 1 hit and 1 walk, while striking out 6. We had cobbled together a 3-0 lead through that point, thanks to another Teo homer, and another Julio 2-run bomb. Gabe Speier gave them two runs right back in the 8th inning to make it tight, but Topa got us out of the jam, and Munoz sealed it with an easy 9th.

Most importantly here, as the title indicates, the Mariners have climbed all the way into first place by themselves in the A.L. West. That’s thanks to the Mariners going 9-1 in their last 10 games, while the Rangers have gone 1-9 (I shit you not), with the Astros going a mediocre 4-6. We’re 74-56, one game over Texas and Houston. We have the third-best run differential in the American League. And, even if the shit hit the fan over the next month, we’re still riding a 3.5 game lead over the Blue Jays (the first team on the outside looking in on the wild card).

But, clearly, we’re not thinking about the wild card anymore. I mean, we’d take it if we had to settle for it, but we’re 130 games into this season and we’ve got the division in our grasp!

Remember when we were 50-50? That was a thing! In the last 30 games we’ve gone 24-6, which is IN-sane!

We start a 3-game set against an already-eliminated Athletics team, before an off-day and then a lengthy 10 games in 10 days East Coast road trip. It’s going to be fun, boys and girls!

The Mariners Bookended A Perfect Road Trip With Two Walk-Off Losses

The Mariners have been on a tear of late. They’ve had two separate 8-game winning streaks in the month of August alone! Including on this most recent 8-2 road trip. Since July 24th – when we were 50-50 through 100 games – we’ve gone 21-6. Just outstanding!

But, you can’t literally win them all, not even against the dregs of the dregs.

I’m trying to not get worked up over Andres Munoz blowing yet another game, this time in the finale yesterday. I’m holding myself back from officially labelling him my least-favorite player on this team. But, I’ll tell you what I also told you on Twitter (I’m not calling it X, fuck you): I was in a meeting and took a peek over at the television in the bottom of the 9th. Munoz was on the mound, there was a runner on second, and we were nursing a surprising 1-run lead (I had missed the previous couple innings, so this development was momentarily delightful to me); my initial thought as I turned my attention quickly back to the meeting was, “Oh, he’s going to blow this.” By the time my meeting was over, the game was over. The only shocking event was that the game went to extras, and wasn’t lost then and there in the 9th.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. A series win is a series win! Even if it should’ve been a sweep. I’m not excusing the loss by any means; these games all count the same, and as I’ve stated repeatedly: our margin for error is razor thin. But, I’m just not going to let it ruin my day. The Mariners are enjoying what figures to be a rare off-day the rest of the way, before returning home to play – on paper – the two worst teams in baseball. We’ll see how that goes.

Game 1 of this White Sox series was such a massive blowout that they ended up firing their executive vice president and their GM. It’s been a disappointing year for the south siders, but apparently a 14-2 defeat to the Mariners was the final straw.

Just to get it out of the way, Luis Castillo was masterful: 7 innings, 5 hits, 0 walks, 1 run, 9 strikeouts, in a game where – once again – he was in charge of eating a lot of innings to spare a tired bullpen. We mopped this one up with Eduard Bazardo and Darren McCaughan before promptly sending them down to Tacoma. Ahh, the life of a fringe reliever.

On the hitting side, you have to start with Cal. 3 hits (2 homers and a double), 3 runs, 6 RBI. Josh Rojas also had 3 hits, with 2 runs and an RBI. Suarez, France, and Hernandez all had 2 hits each, with Teo and Canzone both hitting homers. It was the most lop-sided victory for the Mariners this season, and they managed it all without Julio, who was getting a scheduled rest day.

In Game 2, we welcomed back Bryan Woo from the IL. He was limited to 65 pitches, but still managed to go 4 innings, giving up just the 1 run. We ended up emptying the bullpen in this one, needing 6 guys to go the final 5 innings, with Munoz getting the cheap 1-out save, thanks to Gabe Speier not being able to quite get the job done.

This 6-3 victory was brought to you by – among others – Josh Rojas with his 2-run homer. Ford and Teo each had 2 hits. J.P., Ty, and Cal each had RBIs. All, again, without Julio, who this time sat due to a stomach bug.

It all seemed perfect heading into Game 3, but to be quite honest, the M’s had no business winning that one. George Kirby didn’t quite have it, and couldn’t quite get through six full innings, going 5.2, giving up 8 hits and 3 runs with 9 strikeouts (a 2-run bomb was his final pitch of the day).

We were down 3-0 heading into the 7th, when we were finally able to make good on a rally by scoring 1 run. The game stayed at 3-1 heading into the 9th, when finally the M’s broke open the floodgates. Julio was back and got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Then, Suarez hit a 2-RBI single to take the lead. That’s some improbable, ’95 Refuse To Lose shit right there!

Except not really. Munoz failed again, then Topa wasn’t even really given a chance to hold things in the 10th, on one of the more bizarre endings to a game you’ll ever see.

The ghost runner broke for third, and for some reason, Cal threw down to 2nd base. I wish I had seen it from another angle, to get a clear picture of what the runner was actually doing. Did he double-back only to continue running to 3rd? If not, I don’t understand why Cal didn’t just throw down to 3rd. Regardless, J.P. caught the ball as the runner was heading into 3rd, and tried to throw to Suarez, only to hit the runner on the helmet, sending the ball scattering into foul territory. That was all the runner needed to make it home for an easy score.

Maybe it’s better I missed that in real time. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to contain my fury in that work meeting.

Hey, remember the Royals? Well, now they’re coming to Seattle! If they play us as tough as they did in Kansas City, I don’t know if we’ll win this series.