There’s No Shame In Being Tier 2, Mariners Fans

This isn’t to say the Mariners aren’t good.  They are!  They’re fine.  They’re still almost certainly going to make the playoffs this year, and if I had to do a power rankings of the American League, I’d still put them ahead of Cleveland, Anaheim, and most of the rest.  But, the Mariners just aren’t the Best of the Best.  They’re not in Tier 1.  And that’s okay.

Tier 1 includes Boston, Houston, and the Yankees (and that’s it).  Those are the three best teams in the A.L. and if you let me, I’d bet everything I own that it’ll be one of those three teams that makes it into the World Series.

The Mariners, on the other hand, are not quite on their level.  We’re probably at the top of Tier 2, but there’s still a drastic difference in quality between the two tiers, as we’ve seen over the course of the last two days.

On Tuesday, Marco Gonzales got rocked, and the Mariners’ offense was held in check as we lost 7-2.  We hung in there for a bit – we were competitive, as is our trademark this year – but a 4-run Yankees fifth inning put it away.

On Wednesday, King Felix looked like the King Felix of Old again, at least through the first four innings.  He had a little bit of a hiccup in the fifth, but still escaped with a 5-2 lead before handing it off to the bullpen.  The M’s were able to ding up a guy making just his second career Major League start (who nevertheless has remarkable stuff, if he ever figures out how to cool it on his pitch count), and things looked pretty good.  But, that Yankees lineup – with power hitters for days – was just too much for our meager bullpen to match up with.  Pazos gave up a run, Colome gave up the blown save with a game-tying 2-run homer, and Cook walked it off with yet another 2-run homer.  What at one point was a 5-0 Mariners lead turned into a 7-5 defeat, as of course we couldn’t do anything with their superhuman bullpen after the fifth inning.

This is 2 years in a row where the Yankees have just bashed the fucking shit out of us.  We went 2-5 against them last year, and all I can picture is Aaron Judge mashing towering moonshot after towering moonshot against our poor excuse for a pitching staff.  This year, we’ve got Giancarlo Stanton playing that role, having homered in both games so far (including the game-winner).

It helps to take a step back and try to remember why we were so excited heading into this road trip.  Well, we split a 4-game series with the Red Sox; that’s something, huh?  Yeah, except it took a crazy come-from-behind rally and an even crazier dominant LeBlanc start to do it.  Does that feel like something that could be replicated in a playoff series?  There was the 3-game sweep of the Angels, but of course they’re super injured and are essentially just Mike Trout and a lot of nobodies.  There was that 2-game split with Houston a couple weeks ago …

Other than that, the Mariners have beaten up on a lot of shitty teams this season.  Which, believe me, I’m not complaining.  You need to beat up on the shitty teams to climb to the top of Tier 2 and make the wild card!  That’s what’s separating us from the Angels, A’s, and the rest of the wild card contenders.  But, if we’re all in agreement that the Mariners are going to make the playoffs (barring a historic collapse), then your expectations have to shift a little bit.  Now, we have to start thinking about what the Mariners are going to do when they get there.

First and foremost, they’re going to have to play a Tier 1 team in that wild card game, which means on that one day, we’re going to have to be almost perfect.  It’s something we’re capable of, but it’s also something that you can’t count on.  If we do luck our way into the ALDS, then that pits us against yet another Tier 1 team (with the way they’re going, figure Houston will have the best overall record by that point).  Who’s excited about the Mariners facing the Astros in a 5-game series?  If that isn’t a 3-game sweep, I’ll eat my hat.  Meanwhile, the Indians get to bumble their way into a guaranteed ALDS spot simply by winning the worst division in baseball.  What a bunch of fucks!

Thankfully, after this week, we’ll be done with the Red Sox and have only 3 more against the Yankees (at home) and that’s it.  Just get us through this East Coast road trip without any fucking rainouts and I’ll take whatever record I can get.

Erasmo Ramirez Needs To Go Now

This week’s 24: Live Another Day moment:  Benjamin Bratt’s character gave us a very Benjamin Bratt-like performance when he received the phone call that Jordan was dead and had to act surprised.  “What?  He’s dead?  No way … that’s, like, totally not cool, bro!”  And just like that, the main baddies are dead and now we’re on to this:  Whack-A-Mole!  Zing!

Taijuan Walker just threw a complete game shutout last night.  Erasmo Ramirez once again couldn’t get through the fifth inning, showing poor poise and even worse command in walking five while only striking out two.  This madness has to stop.  I like Ramirez in that, at least he’s keeping us in the games he starts.  That’s more than can be said for Brandon Maurer, who was just a fucking mess all over the floor of the bathroom.  But, Ramirez is also taxing our bullpen with these impotent starts.  Since he returned at the beginning of June, Ramirez has averaged 4.2 innings per start.  How we’ve managed to go 3-2 in those five starts makes it feel the Mariners are committing some sort of felony.

Is Taijuan Walker a finished product?  I wouldn’t say that.  He’s made six starts down in Tacoma, but if you discount the first couple (where he was just building up arm strength), he’s been spotty at best.  But, if last night’s game tells me anything (9 innings, 4 hits, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts), it’s that he’s better than the Triple-A level of baseball.  Even if he is still building up his arm and getting himself back in the groove of pitching every five days, I’d rather have him doing it up in the Majors (even if it means the occasional struggle) than watch another Erasmo Ramirez start.

Little by little, we’ve improved that #5 starter spot.  Ramirez was a clear improvement over Maurer, just as Walker is a clear improvement over Ramirez.  If worst comes to worst, and Walker re-injures himself, then it’s nice to know Ramirez is still out there, working on things, hopefully getting better with his command.  But, for now, it’s time to take that next step and really see what this baseball team is capable of.

Speaking of which, some people seem to think that means trading Taijuan Walker.  I REALLY have a hard time with this sort of logic.  Yes, I’m sure his value is pretty high.  Yes, I bet we CAN get a big haul for his services.  But, unless you can guarantee me a quality starting pitcher, and an outfielder who’s an All Star and under team control for a good number of years, I’m not interested!  We don’t need another handful of magic beans!  We need impact players, regardless of position.  In my opinion, Taijuan Walker is not only an impact player, but an impact player at a position of need.

I know that sounds foolish, considering the Mariners have one of the two or three best pitching staffs in the American League, but you can always improve.  And, right now, we’ve got one big, wet, infected sore spot at the #5 starter.  Replacing a stiff with an impact player can make all the difference over the last half of the season.  Yes, it’s only a guy who plays every five days, but wouldn’t you like knowing that every five days, when his turn comes around, the Mariners won’t have to white knuckle it, waste their bullpen, and/or need to score a ton of runs to win?

You know what I’d want for Walker?  Giancarlo Stanton and a couple other guys, or GTFO.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  There’s no way Walker is worth that, right?  You’ll hear no arguments from me.  But, here’s the thing:  we’d be giving up a top-shelf starting pitcher (who would be more likely to stick around in Seattle beyond his rookie contract) for one of the best power bats in the game today (who will almost certainly flee the city of Seattle just as soon as he can).  There’s no way in HELL the Mariners would be able to retain Stanton long term!  And I don’t think the organization is going to be willing to shell out another $240 million anytime soon.  So, yeah, for me to feel comfortable about a Taijuan Walker deal, I’m going to need to see an insane bounty.

Otherwise, I have no problem sticking to the program.  Let’s see where this is headed.  Teams with sub-par offenses have been able to make some noise in the playoffs before.  If the starting rotation can keep up its end of the bargain, and if the bullpen can continue to be lights out, there’s no telling how far we can go.