The Mariners Have One Top Ten Position Player By WAR

It’s kinda crazy how inept the Mariners are on the non-pitching side of things.

The All Star Game rosters were announced over the weekend, and Logan Gilbert was the lone entry for the Mariners for a while, until Andres Munoz was later added due to … whatever. Guys opting out, guys being injured … whatever.

If you were expecting more than one or two Mariners to be on the American League roster, I’m afraid to tell you that there just weren’t a lot of options. Let’s face it, even for as good as the pitching has been, other teams have awesome pitchers too. I’ll admit, I’m a little biased towards Munoz; I think he’s been absolutely incredible, especially while fighting through nagging ailments. But, then again, the starting pitching has been the heart & soul of this team, and you can almost throw a dart at any of our five starters and find a great candidate.

Going by WAR, Logan Gilbert is the best on the team with 2.7 (that makes him 17th in baseball). Kirby is next at 2.0 (34th in baseball), followed by Munoz (1.7; 49th), Woo (1.4; 72nd), and Castillo (1.3; 84th). That just kinda goes to show you how mediocre Castillo has been, that Woo (in 11 fewer games) has been more valuable.

Anyway, that’s not why I’m getting on here today. I thought I would go through MLB stats by position and see where all the Mariners rank. I don’t know if there’s one singular way to rank them all; you can go by average or OPS or whatever. But, I went with WAR, because it’s easy, it’s on ESPN.com, and I don’t have to think very hard.

Long story short, Cal Raleigh is the aforementioned Only Mariner In The Top Ten At His Position By WAR. He’s 9th in baseball among catchers at 1.7. He’s second on the team, and if you were going to attempt to make an argument for a position player making the All Star Game, he’d be the only guy I’d even remotely listen to.

You wanna know where everyone else ranks?

Well, at first base, Ty France is looking just as cooked as we all feared he might be. He’s 29th in baseball with a 0.1 WAR. By comparison, former Mariner (and someone we easily could’ve retained, if we wanted to, for a reasonable cost to boot) Carlos Santana is 11th in WAR for the Twins (1.4). Also, not for nothing, but Mark Canha? The guy who’s seemingly rumored to be coveted by the Mariners at every trade deadline? He’s 28th in WAR among first basemen at 0.2. So … not the super upgrade you might think.

The less said about second base, the better. Know who’s the top-ranked Mariners second baseman? That would be Ryan Bliss, 25th in baseball (0.4). Know who’s the second-best Mariners second baseman? That would be Samad Taylor, who appeared in three games (and has otherwise been in Tacoma all year); he’s 43rd. You have to go all the way down to 56 before you run into Jorge Polanco (-0.4), so that’s neat.

At third base, making a somewhat respectable showing, we have Josh Rojas, who is 14th with a 1.8 WAR. Wanna know who the top-rated third baseman is at WAR? That would be the guy nobody wanted until LATE in Spring Training (aka, the guy the Mariners could’ve had, if they’d only spent the money), Matt Chapman, with a 3.6 WAR. 3 years, $54 million, for someone who would’ve been the best player on this team. Would’ve afforded you the option to move Rojas to second (when Polanco inevitably struggled), and probably would’ve given us more of a cushion in this A.L. West race. Awesome.

At short stop, I don’t even know what to do with this, because ESPN lists Dylan Moore here, who (I guess) is the 18th best short stop in baseball with a 1.7 WAR. J.P., having a very down year, is only 25th, with a 1.3 WAR. Know who’s right in the middle between those two? Jose Caballero (now on the Rays), with a 1.4 WAR.

In left field, the highest-rated Mariner is Luke Raley, who’s 21st with a 1.2 WAR. Know who’s rated one spot higher at 1.3 WAR? If you guessed Jarred Kelenic, you’d be correct.

Center field is where it really hurts, because this is where our supposedly-best player roams. Julio is only 14th with a 1.1 WAR, but also I don’t know how seriously I can take this list, because ESPN puts Teoscar Hernandez in this category. Anyway, he’s ranked 8th among “center fielders” with a 1.8 WAR.

In right field, you have to go all the way to 27th before you run into Dominic Canzone (0.4 WAR). You have to go all the way to 81st before you run into Mitch Haniger (-0.7 WAR), where you’ll find that there are only five right fielders worse than him in all of baseball.

Taking the outfield as a whole, the top three Mariners are Luke Raley (45th), Julio (48th), and … (drum roll) … Victor Robles (81st with a 0.6 WAR between the Mariners and Nationals). That’s the same Robles who we brought in last month, who’s appeared in only 17 games in a Mariners uniform (with all of 20 at-bats). His slash line with us is .350/.435/.600, leading me to wonder … should the Mariners be playing him more?!

To round things out, Mitch Garver is the 8th ranked DH, but according to ESPN, there are only 11 qualified designated hitters in baseball, and Garver has the worst WAR among DH’s who have a positive WAR (0.1). In other words, he doesn’t count for this thought experiment. Also, Shohei Ohtani has a 5.1 WAR exclusively as a DH, which is bonkers banana times.

Anyway, this roster is fucking depressing. Who’s ready for more baseball?! Because I know I sure as shit am NOT!

The Mariners Have The Biggest Divisional Lead In Baseball Right Now

Gotta get this post up before the inevitable crash!

After a 6-1 homestand – including a 3-game sweep of the Texas Rangers over the weekend – the Mariners now lead the A.L. West by 8.5 games. I think I read somewhere that this is the biggest divisional lead we’ve had since 2001, which was – of course – the last time we actually won the division. We are a whopping 17-5 against our division, including 4-2 against the Astros and 5-1 against the defending World Series champion Rangers.

For as bad as the actual start to this season was – 6-10 through April 14th – this is about as good of an outcome as you could hope for through June 16th. Not for nothing, but the Mariners are 37-21 since that nadir. Not too damn shabby.

At some point, we have to accept that this is who the Mariners are. They’re good. They’re not great. They obviously have some significant holes. An unluckier team might be down around .500, as opposed to 12 games over .500. But, this team isn’t going anywhere. Not without a significant amount of pitching injuries.

If this is what the Mariners are doing AS IS, that brings a couple questions to mind. #1 – what happens when certain players meet their inevitable positive regression? I’m going to go out on a limb and say Mitch Garver isn’t a .173 hitter all of a sudden. I’m also going to say that Jorge Polanco – when he comes back – will probably be better than .195. Now, I don’t know if those guys are going to be leaps & bounds better than what they’ve shown; I also don’t know if they’re going to continue to be around and given the playing time sufficient to pull themselves out of these respective season-long slumps. But, I would expect at least a little improvement.

I would also expect J.P. Crawford to go on a heater anytime now. Mitch Haniger, we know, has it in him. Now that Raley and Rojas have cooled off, can they readjust and get back to killing the baseball? And, we all know Julio and Cal have another gear that we haven’t quite seen yet.

So, what happens when those guys get it going a little more? Is that going to take place around the same time the pitching inevitably slumps? Well, that would be unlucky, wouldn’t it? Or, maybe perfectly lucky, depending on how clutch the offense can get.

My second question is that – if the Mariners are this good AS IS – how good can they be after adding a couple of competent bats at the trade deadline next month?

Well, obviously, that’s been a point of concern for me lately. Based on historical precedent, I don’t have a ton of confidence in their ability to deal well at the deadline.

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you know I’m prone to worry about a lot of things when it comes to the teams I follow. This is the first time I’ve written about how these 2024 Mariners are the Real Deal. It would take quite a collapse for them to blow this 8.5-game lead in the division. We also compare favorably to the wild card teams in the American League, just in case this is the second-coming of the 2002 and 2003 Mariners, where we gag away our chances in the second half.

So, this leads me into my newest concern. It’s unfamiliar territory, yet one I think at least long-time Mariners fans can relate to: what if this team is built more for the regular season than it is the post-season?

You can’t deny that this pitching staff is as good as it gets in baseball. The rotation, 1-6, is lights out. In the bullpen, we’ve got an elite closer, a couple of nice leverage arms, and competence throughout. We’ve also got a couple of nice wildcards in Logan Evans and Gregory Santos to boost us in the second half.

But, what does this group look like in the playoffs?

Castillo has been good, but it’s not like he’s Felix in his prime. There’s occasional brilliance, but more often than not, it’s 6 innings and 2 runs. Which, don’t get me wrong, is GREAT for the regular season. If you’re throwing Quality Starts out there more often than not, you’re all right in my book. But, in the playoffs, it’s anywhere from a 3-7 game series. You don’t have a lot of chances. And, if your ace blows a game, that’s a big hole to climb out of. It’s not like we can rely on pulling Castillo prematurely, because usually those two runs are being scored early. And, with the way this offense struggles to score runs through the first two-thirds of games, you’re more likely to try to squeeze a little extra out of Castillo, who tends to get better as the game goes on.

Then, there’s Kirby, who has been really up and down this season. He’s put up a lot of 0- and 1-run games, but he also has five starts of 4 runs or more given up. In the playoffs, that’s a death sentence. Or, rather, in the playoffs – with this offense – that’s a death sentence. Because, I don’t care how much we’re able to do at the deadline, we’re still going to enter the post-season with a lot of question marks on offense.

Hell, even when the Mariners have had an elite offense – back in the 90’s and early 2000’s – they still struggled mightily in the playoffs. Why? Because you’re only going up against elite teams, and all elite teams have elite pitching staffs.

I’ve probably waffled over Logan Gilbert a thousand times in his career, but that game he pitched on Sunday against the mighty Rangers’ offense – 8 innings, 0 runs, 0 walks, 2 hits, 9 strikeouts – might’ve put him over the top for me, at least when compared to Kirby, if not to the entire starting rotation. That was an absolutely brilliant performance! He had everything working, against a really tough opponent who was trying like crazy to not get swept by their direct rivals.

What’s most encouraging to me about Gilbert is his ability to go deep into games. He leads the Major Leagues in innings pitched! He’s got a really good ERA – 2.93 – but it’s not Cy Young calibre just yet. He’s got a low WAR – 1.9 – compared to the other greats across baseball. And, obviously, his 4-4 record isn’t anything to write home about (mostly because it feels like he gets among the worst run support in the game today). But, there’s been a number of times this year where his starts have gone from potentially elite, to merely just good, thanks to a late bomb or run scored, when he’s trying to eke out another inning. If he can clean that up, he’s got Cy Young written all over him.

As it stands now, though, Gilbert seems to have the best and most varied arsenal of the bunch. Bryce Miller is close, but he lacks the command to know where everything is going to go. Gilbert looks pretty close to having mastered the command of his splitter and a variety of other off-speed stuff, to go with that outstanding fastball. Especially that splitter, though; he had that thing dropping like a yo-yo against the Rangers!

Kirby, on the other hand, is still pretty fastball-heavy. He’s trying with his off-speed stuff, but he’s not good enough yet to get those balls to consistently fall out of the strike zone. As such, he’s struggling with his swing-and-miss at times, and that’s hurting his overall numbers.

I would like to see this team really maximize Gilbert. If he’s not this team’s ace, he should at least be our number two in the playoffs. But, even then, will it be enough?

As I said before, when you get to the playoffs, they ALL have elite pitching. And, as we’ve seen all year, you don’t necessarily need elite pitching to shut down this Mariners offense. The funny thing about this offense is that it kinda doesn’t matter who they face. They’re going to score 3-4 runs per game against the best AND the worst. We’ve seen them eat into pitch counts against aces, we’ve seen them overcome deficits against top-notch closers … AND we’ve seen them suck against soft-tossing junkball pitchers. No rhyme or reason to any of it!

I will say that I’ve been fairly discouraged with our lineups against lefty starters. We tried a lineup last Thursday against the White Sox – during the Buhner Buzz Cut night that I attended with some friends – that was among the worst I’ve ever seen. A struggling Dylan Moore in the 2-hole; a miserable Mitch Garver batting cleanup and DH’ing; a bottom four of Tyler Locklear (who actually managed to hit a solo homer against a pretty elite starter), Victor Robles (who should be off of this team very soon), Ryan Bliss (who probably just doesn’t have it, and needs to go back to Tacoma), and Seby Zavala (who I thought would’ve been cut by now, since Garver has become Kirby’s own personal catcher). The offense was as bad as advertised in that one, yet an Emerson Hancock spot start (7 innings, just 2 solo homers in the third), and a clutch Julio bomb in the ninth to tie it, took that game into extras, where unfortunately they scored their ghost runner and we didn’t.

That was the difference between a perfect homestand and a still very, very good one.

Which is funny, because the Mariners were fortunate to take 3 of 4 against the lowly White Sox. We really played down to our competition in that series! It required beating up on their maligned bullpen to do as well as we did. Yet, we came back against Texas and really poured it on! That was nice to see, after some iffy baseball against the Sox.

Thus ends our stretch of 30 games in 31 days. A positively BRUTAL stretch that should be outlawed in the MLB at this point. If you can’t give teams one fucking day off a week, then what are we even doing as a society? Yet, we managed to go 19-11 in that stretch. That was a real Separate The Men From The Boys part of the season, and we passed with flying colors.

Things calm down a bit as we head into the All Star Break, but not before another extended east coast road trip, starting in Cleveland tomorrow before a Florida two-step to play the Marlins and Rays. If we’re looking ahead, there’s only a 3-game set in Boston in the second half, otherwise our road trips only go as far east as Pittsburgh. There’s five series total played in the central or eastern timezones outside of our division in the second half. There’s also only one more trip to Texas (we play the Rangers and Astros back-to-back in late September). So, once we get past this immediate road swing, it’s SMOOTH SAILING as far as travel goes the rest of the way.

The Mariners Are About To Have A Terrible Road Trip

This 10-game road trip was always going to be a bear to get through. The Orioles and Yankees are two of the best teams in all of baseball, and the Nationals are no slouch. They have the kind of hitting that can cut through our elite pitching, and they just need live bodies to be able to keep our hitters at bay. But, they don’t just have live bodies, they also have very good pitching in their own right.

That’s kind of the thing I don’t think gets talked about enough with the Mariners. Yes, we have great pitching, and yes, over the long haul that’s going to keep us right in line with contention. But, other teams have great pitching too! They might not have 6 viable starters like we’ve got, but they’ve still got good-enough guys. Most – if not all – of these elite teams have at least 1 or 2 tip-top pitchers, maybe more. Even if they’re not one through five better than us, they’re close enough. And that’s all they need to be to best us in a 3- or 4-game series.

That’s all they’d need in a hypothetical 5- or 7-game playoff series.

Being so extremely one-dimensional can only take you so far. You need to be a complete team if you want to hang with the big boys. Otherwise, you just play teams tough, and maybe lose an 18-inning, 1-0 game.

Anyway, the Mariners lost 2 of 3 to Baltimore over the weekend. On Friday, Bryce Miller had a real stinker, giving up 5 runs in the first. He settled down enough to keep it at 5 runs through 5.1 innings, but then the D-squad bullpen guys gave up four more to lose it 9-2. Dylan Moore had a solo homer.

On Saturday, we had another Luis Castillo Quality Start (6 innings, 2 runs), which was good enough for a no decision, as he left the game down 2-0. We used our good relievers to try to keep it close and give our offense a chance, and thankfully they finally managed to show up and do their fucking jobs. 2 runs in the 7th (highlighed by a Ty France double) and 2 runs in the 8th (with Cal Raleigh and Dylan Moore RBI doubles) gave us a 4-2 lead. Andres Munoz gave up a harmless solo homer, but netted his 8th save of the season.

That brought us to Sunday, where we lost 6-3. George Kirby gave up 5 runs in 6 innings, they had their ace on the hill, and we finished 2 for 9 with RISP. That’s the difference between the Orioles and the Mariners. I feel like they can shut us down whenever they want, but our pitchers are going to continually struggle against their top tier hitting.

Now, we go to New York to face the Yankees, where I fully expect us to lose a minimum of 3 games; maybe all 4. This is the part of the season where things start going from bad to worse. If I were a betting man, I’d be betting the Taylor Family Farm on the Yankees, and raking in the winnings.

The Mariners Won An Important Series Against The Royals

The Mariners needed to come home and go 4-2 or better. And that’s just what they did, go 4-2, winning both series against the A’s and Royals. Now, they get Thursday off, before a 10-game road trip in 10 days, followed by another 7 games in 7 days at home. 17 in a row. Why Major League Baseball does this is asinine, but nobody put me in charge of scheduling.

George Kirby got us off to a great start on Monday, going 7 shutout innings, giving up only 3 hits, while striking out 6. There was another stutter by Ryne Stanek, which necessitated an Andres Munoz 4-out save, but we got the job done, winning 6-2.

Ty France had 2 hits, including a late homer to give us some insurance runs. Cal Raleigh also had two hits and an RBI. And, don’t look now, but Luke Raley has been fucking RAKING; he went 3 for 4 with 3 RBI, 2 runs, and a homer. At this point, he’s easily the hottest hitter on the team, and you absolutely can’t keep him out of the lineup.

Tuesday’s game was a bitter pill to swallow, in spite of yet another Luke Raley homer staking us to a 1-0 lead. For a while, it looked like that might be good enough, as Logan Gilbert was on one. But, sadly, with two outs in the 7th, he gave up a 3-run home run to earn the loss.

Julio had a couple hits, and Mitch Haniger finally broke out with a 3 for 3 day with a homer, but a 4-2 defeat was all she wrote.

We managed to win 4-2 on Wednesday. Bryan Woo went 5.1 innings, giving up only 1 run (though leaving with a bit of a jam on his hands in the 6th). Gabe Speier got him out of it, though, and the bullpen was pretty great from there. Except for Austin Voth, who could only manage one out in the 8th, necessitating another multi-inning save from Munoz. This time of the 5-out variety. He did it! But, clearly, the loss of Brash and Santos is going to take its toll sooner or later.

We had another two hits from Raley, another homer from France, and we even saw the return of Dominic Canzone (who hit a double and scored a run). Even better, barring a setback tonight in Tacoma, J.P. Crawford should be back in the lineup on Friday.

We’re really separating the men from the boys on this road trip. The Orioles and Yankees are phenomenal, and the Nationals are hovering around .500. If we can get out of this with a 5-5 record or better, I think that’s huge. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see our pitching start to show some cracks in the armor. With the offense still waiting around for summer to get going.

The Mariners Finally Did Lose Another Series

We lost 3-1 over in Minnesota. Could be a big one, in the grand scheme of things, if we’re both in contention for the same wild card spot. We’ll see.

This series was really lost in game one, when we couldn’t muster more than a single run in a 3-1 defeat. Our offense had all of 3 hits and 2 walks, with 14 strikeouts; ’nuff said.

The offense only came to play once this series, in game two, in a 10-6 victory. And even that was kickstarted late, with a pinch hit, 7th inning grand slam by Cal Raleigh to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 6-4 lead. The Twins managed to tie it up over the subsequent two innings, but we rallied for 4 more in the top of the 9th to shut it down.

That ended up being Emerson Hancock’s last start for the Mariners for a while; he went 4 innings and gave up 4 runs. Here’s the rundown on his initial stint with the team in 2024:

  • 7 games, 3-3 record, 5.24 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 34.1 IP, 23 K, 11 BB

He had 3 Quality Starts in that span, but also 3 starts where he failed to reach 5 innings. There’s a need for him to continue working on his secondary pitches, and also a need for him to be a little sounder with the strike zone. You also can’t help but notice the stark contrast between him and the other four starters, especially when it comes to strikeouts. That’s going to be challenging for him as he’s leading the team in runners on the basepaths.

It’ll be nice to have Bryan Woo back; he’s rocking a 0.00 ERA across three starts with Tacoma; in 11.1 innings he has a whopping 17 strikeouts. Part of me kinda hoped he would have one more start to really ramp up his arm, but with the way Hancock’s been going his last two outings, this might be the perfect time. Add in the fact that he gets a relatively soft landing with Oakland coming to town (certainly a better team than they were last year, but by no means world beaters), I think this will be all right.

Anyway, getting back, the Mariners lost game three 6-3, with George Kirby giving up 4 hits, 3 of them homers. And, of course, the offense couldn’t save him, going 1/7 with RISP.

The Thursday matinee was a nightmare we’d all love to forget, though it WAS nice of them to make the game so non-competitive so early, so we could all get some much-needed work done. 11-1, with Logan Gilbert having one of the worst starts in his career (8 runs in 4 innings).

That’s a 3-4 road trip. Not the end of the world, but obviously not ideal. Texas has reclaimed first place in the A.L. West by 1.5 games; and, yes, I am going to keep track of this all year (unless we fall so far out of it that it stops making sense), so get used to it.

The problem is the offense. It stinks. No one but Cal is hitting for power. People are losing patience in Ty France. Polanco is being dropped in the order. Garver is struggling like we all expected he would. Rojas is still the best player on the team (and that really says it all, doesn’t it?). I will say that Luke Raley appears to be coming around, and we might be entering a phase where he and France enter into a time-share at first base (with France being limited to only facing lefties).

We have an interesting homestand on our hands. Oakland for three, then KC for three. Both teams are doing much better than anyone expected. By the same token, it would be nice to knock them both down a peg, because shit starts getting real on our next road trip: 10 games in 10 days at the Orioles, Yankees, and Nationals. Then, no days off as we fly from D.C. back home to face the Astros and Angels for seven more. Yep, 17 games without an off-day; buckle up!

The Mariners Fucked The Astros Right In Their Pig Anuses

Is there anything better than the Mariners being in first place while the Astros are in last place with the Angels, who just suffered yet another Mike Trout injury that’s going to cost him a significant chunk of the season? Whatever you’re doing, don’t stop, because I’m about to fucking come all over the place!

Would it have been ideal if the Mariners’ bullpen didn’t gag away Friday’s game, costing us the sweep? Of course. Who doesn’t enjoy a sweep down in Houston? Those fucking smug, self-satisfied fans can eat a thousand bags of shit-covered dicks for all I care. But, knowing they had a series win practically in the bag, only to lose the next two, kinda makes their tears of unfathomable sadness all the sweeter.

The only reason to be pissed off about Friday’s game is because it was the Astros. If that happened against any other team, I’d shrug my shoulders and say, “Listen, this bullpen has been better than I could’ve possibly imagined so far this season; they’re bound to drop one here and there.” You could’ve quibbled during the game, when a masterful George Kirby was pulled after 6 innings and only 88 pitches, but we later found out he’s been dealing with a nagging knee issue that’s going to limit him for a bit. You could’ve also lamented going to Trent Thornton in that spot, but the dude just spent the entire month of April having only given up 1 run in 10 appearances. He was on a very impressive streak; and that doesn’t explain why Gabe Speier – who relieved Thornton – also shit the bed, when he’s been bar none one of our best relievers period.

It’s a bummer, shit happens, and also Mariners? Score more than 3 runs for a change.

Saturday’s game was everything that the doctor ordered. 5-0 shutout. Logan Gilbert going 8 innings, giving up 2 hits and 4 walks, while striking out six. We got to Framber Valdez (5 runs in 5.1 innings), and we got to save our best relievers, with Saucedo mopping up the 9th.

The Chef’s Kiss happened on Sunday, though. We had a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the sixth, before Bryce Miller gave up a 2-run bomb to close the gap. He limited the damage there, but we tried to squeeze a 7th inning out of him, only for him to give up a go-ahead (for the Astros) 2-run jack. Under usual circumstances, this would be a predictable fate, and the Astros would’ve gone on to win the game (maybe even blowing us out over the final couple innings).

Instead, we powered back with a game-tying RBI single by Urias in the 8th, followed by a Cal Raleigh right-handed solo homer in the 9th to take the lead. That got Munoz the win, after another 4-out appearance.

There’s been a remarkably interesting development with the offense, as Josh Rojas – one of the better stories of the early season, as far as hitting has been concerned – has simply continued to be a massive offensive presence. He’s slashing .360/.442/.587, with 4 doubles, 2 triples, and 3 homers. He’s been mostly hitting leadoff since J.P. Crawford went down, and he’s actually picked up his game! I can’t fathom any way this continues, because come on! He’s Josh Rojas! But, how crazy is it that with all the guys we thought might step up and be the surprise bat in this offense – Polanco, Garver, Raley, Canzone – it was actually Josh Fucking Rojas of all people?!

As I said, it won’t continue (I might’ve even jinxed the hell out of him by even mentioning his name here), but I also don’t expect him to totally fall flat on his face either. He might not be a .360 hitter, but he could level off around .270 or .280, which would still be really fucking good, especially since it looks like he’s going to be an everyday player going forward (even against left-handed pitchers, Scott Servais announced). Start him at third, play him in left field in a pinch, leave him right there at the top of the lineup (and maybe push Julio down in the lineup for a while, until he figures his swing out). Not a bad way to run a railroad.

The Mariners Are Down J.P. Crawford, Continue To Win Anyway

There’s definitely an argument to be made that this isn’t really any big loss. J.P. Crawford – like most Mariners hitters – is off to an excruciatingly slow start. .198 batting average, .296 on-base percentage, four extra-base hits in 22 games, and there’s even been some defensive lapses that might not show up in your average stat sheet, but have still hampered this team at times.

That being said, other than Julio or Cal, J.P. is the guy we can least-afford to lose time. He plays the toughest defensive position, he’s our leadoff hitter, he’s one of the few competent lefty bats we have on the roster, and in spite of his slow start, I fully expect him to turn it around anytime he gets back on the field.

What’s even worse, though, is his injury. The dreaded Oblique Strain. Depending on how lucky you are, you’re either out for a month, or a year and a half if you’re Mitch Haniger. There’s luck involved, there’s giving it time to heal, there’s walking that tightrope of not rushing it and making it worse, while still getting your body back into baseball shape in order to not miss too much time, when every single game matters. Honestly? I’d rather he just kicked a water cooler and gotten hurt like Jarred Kelenic did last year; at least there’s a viable timeline you can follow, when you know he’ll be back in your lineup. J.P. Crawford could be back before the end of May, or he could have to wait until September. Or he could come back, play a while, re-injure it, and find himself once again down for the count.

So, NOT IDEAL.

Yet, the Mariners managed to go 1-1 against the Rangers without him, and 2-1 against the Diamondbacks. Heading into the Braves series, we were up to 15-13 and in first place in the A.L. West!

Of course, we’re talking about a team that’s absolutely laying the league to waste with its pitching. There was a 4-0 shutout in game one against Texas, with Logan Gilbert going 6.2 innings. There was a 5-1 loss in the middle there, with Bryce Miller getting roughed up a bit. But, we came right back to win 4-3, with another Luis Castillo Quality Start, and some more shut down bullpen work.

We won our fourth consecutive series by taking the first two against the Diamondbacks (sans Paul Sewald, who has started this season on the IL). Game 1 was a 6-1 blowout (thanks in large part to a Haniger Grand Slam), with Emerson Hancock going 6 innings and giving up just the one run. In game 2, we won 3-1 behind another George Kirby masterpiece (7 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts). Even though we took a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning of game 3, we couldn’t quite lock it down, losing 3-2. Nevertheless, Gilbert went 6.1 innings, giving up two of the runs, striking out 9 along the way.

This team is in an interesting groove right now. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I totally believed in the pitching. I mean, I figured it would be good, but not good-enough, you know? Like, they’d keep us in games, but ultimately the offense would be their undoing. I think part of that disbelief has to do with the bullpen, which has been the biggest pleasant surprise of the young season so far.

All the way up and down that bullpen, you’re seeing some phenomenal numbers! Who knew Gabe Speier had this kind of dominance in him? Who saw Trent Thornton bouncing back after looking like ass for most of his career? Look at what we’re getting from guys like Cody Bolton, Brett de Geus, Tayler Saucedo, and Austin Voth! They all have ERAs under 3. We’ve seen some cracks in the armor of guys like Andres Munoz and Ryne Stanek, but they’re still – by and large – throwing flames and getting us out of big spots more often than not (their numbers are nothing to sneeze at either, also in the sub-3 ERA range).

What does that mean? Well, for one thing, we’re not having to over-work our starters. We’re able to pull them before they turn into pumpkins, without giving up the game entirely. They can focus on being economical with their pitches and just getting through six innings.

Everyone said this pitching staff – particularly the rotation – would keep the Mariners afloat. But, they’re doing so much more. They’re REALLY kicking some fucking ass! It’s all so much better than I ever could’ve imagined. And, not for nothing, but Bryan Woo is one or two more rehab starts away from coming back. We have SIX stud starters, when most teams struggle to even have three!

There’s still a lot of work left for this offense to start pulling its weight. It’s not helping that we’re forced to make Dylan Moore an everyday player. But, at some point, they’re going to have to get it together, if we want these Mariners to truly contend for a playoff spot.

The Mariners Head Into An Early-Season Showdown With The Rangers

Last year, the Mariners went 4-9 against the Texas Rangers. We had a winning record against everyone else in the division, including a 9-4 record against the Astros. Our record against Texas – it could be argued – single-handedly prevented us from making the playoffs.

What’s even worse is that 3 of the 4 victories happened in the final series of the season. It would’ve required a gargantuan series sweep to give us a chance of making the playoffs; instead, we came up two games short. That means, heading into that series, we were 1-8 against the Rangers; we were remarkably inept against the eventual World Series champs, until it practically didn’t matter.

That can’t happen again this year.

There’s probably never going to be a good time to play the Rangers this year, but I will say that it’s a helluva lot more encouraging to face them towards the end of April rather than at the beginning. While the Mariners are still quite flawed, at least the pitching has started to get into a groove, and the hitting is starting to come around.

We parlayed our sweep of the Reds into a 2-1 series win down in Colorado. Friday’s game was snowed out, if you can believe it. Thankfully, we’ve got an off-day today, so yesterday’s doubleheader shouldn’t have any sort of lasting impact.

Luis Castillo kept our streak of quality starts intact on Saturday, with a rather easy 7-0 victory. He went seven shutout innings, giving up only 2 hits and a walk, while striking out 9. That was nice to see, knowing we’d have a long day on Sunday; the bullpen was largely spared. On the flipside, the Rockies might be the worst team in all of baseball, so let’s not go crazy patting him on the back.

Cal Raleigh and Julio Rodriguez both had big games, with 4 hits each. But, this was a true offensive juggernaut, with the team going 5 for 12 with RISP.

We proceeded to biff the first game of the doubleheader on Sunday, losing 2-1 in extra innings. The game was scoreless through regulation, thanks to some nifty Dylan Moore defense in left, and a well-placed Fan Interference call in the bottom of the ninth on a would-be double (but certainly not a homer, since he actually reached out over the fence and over both the playing field and Moore’s outstretched glove). George Kirby gave us five shutout innings, when he apparently wasn’t feeling his best. The rest of the bullpen did their jobs, until they didn’t. The Mariners scored once in the 10th, on an RBI single from J.P. Crawford. But, Andres Munoz got jumped all over, failing to generate an out while gagging away the game. It happens.

The second game went much more favorably, 10-2 in our favor. Emerson Hancock gave up 2 runs in the first, but still went six innings, keeping them to 4 hits and a walk, while striking out 4. The offense proceeded to mash, with Cal, Julio, and Luke Raley each generating 2 hits. Even Seby Zavala chipped in with his first three hits of the season, to stave off his inevitable release.

All in all, this team is in as good a shape as it’s ever going to be, all things considered. Jorge Polanco still isn’t doing much of anything, and Munoz has had more hiccups than I like to see (without Brash or Santos here to pick up some slack). But, all in all, the bullpen has been solid all year, the starters are on cruise control, and the rest of the hitters seem to be coming around.

We’re 11-11. The Rangers lead the A.L. West at 12-11. This is our shot to really make a name for ourselves and stake our claim to the division.

What we CAN’T do is blow all three games, and suffer a repeat of last season. So, figure it the fuck out Mariners!

The Mariners Finally Won A Series

We can’t sit here and say the Mariners finally flipped a switch and now all the hitting woes are solved. I will say, however, that we saw some signs of life. We saw better approaches at the plate. We saw guys start to lay off of those breaking pitches out of the zone; not ENTIRELY, of course, there were still plenty of strikeouts to be had by everyone. But, we saw competent Major League at bats throughout the lineup, which was encouraging.

How much of that derived from poor Reds pitching? That remains to be seen. But, I will say that the way we were inflating pitch counts from their starters is going to be the way we win ballgames going forward. It doesn’t make sense for this team to have a swing-first attitude. There’s not enough power, and frankly not enough bat-to-ball skills, for that to be our plan of action. No, we need the opposite approach. We need to be patient. We need to foul off pitches, take our walks, and take these starters out of games in five innings or less.

Thankfully, with how good our pitching can be, we can scrape by with this meager run support. Three more Quality Starts – running the streak to seven straight games – led the way to holding the Reds to 5 runs in three games.

George Kirby got off the schneid on Monday, going 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 5 hits, with 6 strikeouts. This was the game where the run support was decidedly NOT meager; 9 runs! Can you even fathom it?! Haniger had a double and a homer (3 RBI), Polanco had a 3-run bomb to go along with 3 runs scored; Luke Raley had two hits, including a triple. Everyone in the lineup had at least a hit or a walk. We scored early, we piled on late, it was almost the perfect game.

We got back to our old tricks on Tuesday, edging the Reds out 3-1. Logan Gilbert went 6.2 innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits and a walk, with 6 strikeouts. Haniger, J.P., and Julio had two hits each. Newcomer Jonatan Clase – who got the start in left in all three games this series – had his second consecutive game with a hit, this time an RBI double. And, we shot all of our high-leverage bullpen bullets to lock it down. Andres Munoz had to get 4 outs again (we’re really relying on him to do that a lot so far in the early going; Brash and Santos can’t return soon enough), spanning the game from Logan’s final inning to the 9th. Unfortunately, Stanek couldn’t quite get the save, as he had to be pulled after getting two outs. But, Saucedo finished the job, as we all believed he would (and certainly did NOT believe he was going to add gasoline to the fire of this impending blown save).

The Mariners wrapped up the sweep thanks to another Bryce Miller sterling outing. 6 innings, 1 run on 1 hit and 1 walk, with 7 strikeouts. The lone hit was a solo homer by the best player on the Reds, Elly De La Cruz, but thankfully we had some firepower of our own. Raleigh, Garver, and Rojas each homered to account for our first three runs. This was Garver’s first in a Mariners uniform, which was nice to finally see. Julio had a couple of doubles. And Clase even had a walk and a run scored!

I’m not trying to jinx him or anything, but it does finally feel like Julio is working his way out of the slump. He’s starting to go the other way at the plate, he’s finding more barrels to balls, and his defense has been absolutely superb this season. Other than that memorable ball over the fence he couldn’t quite bring back (even though he got a glove on it), he’s been a dynamo in center, and almost single-handedly won us that game on Tuesday, throwing De La Cruz out at third base before Jake Fraley could score at home, and running down a number of would-be doubles in the gaps.

This puts us at 9-10, with a series against the hapless Rockies down in Colorado this weekend. If ever there was a time to defy expectations and find a way to blow it, now would be it. A good team would take this winning streak to 6 games. I suspect that won’t even remotely be the case.

Another Series Played, Another Series Lost By The Mariners

The Mariners scored a season-high 6 runs on Wednesday to salvage one game of the 3-game series in Toronto. Five of those runs came in the 10th inning.

If a Mariners game leaving regulation tied at 1-1 sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it also happened in the Red Sox series, when we gave up 2 runs in the top half of the 10th, before exploding for 3 runs in the bottom half to walk it off.

The Mariners have played 13 games this season. They have a 5-8 record. Two of those wins came in our only two extra-innings games. I think you know where I’m going with this. From innings 1-9, the Mariners have scored a total of 34 runs, or 2.62 runs per regulation-length game. And they’ve scored 8 runs in the 10th inning of games. So, really, it’s just a matter of keeping the game tied as long as possible!

There’s nothing good or pleasant to say about this team, so I have to resort to that kind of bullshit to keep myself entertained. We lost on Monday thanks to another lousy fucking start from Luis Castillo. Another 5-inning, 4-run affair from the world’s most mediocre ace. That’s three games now, none of which have seen him get out of the 6th inning. He’s given up 4 runs in each of them, 2 homers, and 25 (!) hits. At times, he’s wildly unlucky, with guys poking filthy stuff off the plate for singles; at other times, he’s serving up ding-dongers right down the middle. It all adds up to him being unquestionably our worst starter so far; yeah, I said it!

We lost on Tuesday thanks to another abysmal outing by George Kirby. Looks like I was premature in labelling him the best starter on the team after his initial outing. Once again, he got crushed because he doesn’t know how to NOT throw strikes. Free-swingin’ teams are going to have a field day every time he takes the mound, because all he wants to do is throw first-pitch strikes, second-pitch strikes, and third-pitch strikes. Until he learns to start pitching backwards – because CLEARLY his reputation preceeds him – I just don’t see how he’s going to develop into a fully-rounded pitcher.

We also lost those games, of course, because the offense failed to bail out our struggling starters. To the bullpen’s credit, they only gave up 1 run across 7 innings of work. But, there’s no comeback and very little fight in this offense.

I mean, shit, we damn near squandered another gem from Logan Gilbert on Wednesday. He went 7.2 innings, held them to 1 run on 5 hits and a walk, while striking out 8. He couldn’t quite get through eight, even though he was at 89 pitches, but Andres Munoz got him out of the jam, and kept the game tied through the bottom of the 9th.

That’s when, finally, guys started hitting. Cal Raleigh had a 2-run bomb, Ty France had an RBI double, and Mitch Haniger had a 2-run single.

If I had to dig deep and find something vaguely interesting to talk about this offense, I think it has to be this: last year – and for probably the last decade-plus – we lamented the lack of production out of the bottom of the order. To the point where many fans have charged that these black holes are keeping us from making the playoffs. I know I’ve definitely banged that drum!

But, when you sit down and think about it logically, the fact of the matter is, the Mariners are only going as far as the top of the order takes them. If you’re sitting there worried about what hitters 7-9 are doing, you’re missing the point. This season – through 13 games, anyway – is really proving that point. Because it’s largely been the bottom of the order that’s been doing the most damage.

Dom Canzone might not be an All Star or anything, but he’s far and away leading this team in slugging with .567! He’s the team leader in homers with 3, he’s tied for the lead in extra-base hits with 4, he’s second in RBI with 6, he’s second in total bases, and tied for first in WAR. And he’s only tied for sixth in hits with 7! When he puts the bat to the ball, it goes far, and I just might have some words to eat after calling him the Spring Training Mirage.

Ty France has been hitting so much at the bottom of the order that he’s worked his way back up to the 3-hole! He’s got a .316 average and leads the team with 12 hits (even though he missed three games with paternity leave)! Dylan Moore, Josh Rojas, and even Luis Urias are all slugging over .400, which isn’t any kind of phenomenal bar to clear, but do you know how many of our top-of-the-order and middle-of-the-order hitters are slugging over .400? Mitch Haniger, end of list.

Cal Raleigh, J.P. Crawford, Mitch Garver, Julio Rodriguez, and especially Jorge Polanco have all SUUUUUUUCKED so far. Polanco has done so poorly he’s dropped to fifth in the lineup, and I don’t think we’re too far away from him getting a rest day, or dropping towards the bottom for a spell.

Those are your studs. Those are the guys (plus Haniger) you’re counting on to take you to the promised land. And you’re getting next-to-nothing from them.

So, yeah, that’s where we’re at. We have an off-day, then it’s home for the Cubbies. I guess the good news is the fact that no one is really running away with the A.L. West yet. Not that I’m standings-watching or anything.