Who Is The Second-Best Reliever On The Mariners Right Now?

We all know Andres Munoz is the first-best reliever on the Mariners; it goes without saying, it’s so obvious. I don’t know where the Mariners would be right now without Munoz, but they’d be considerably worse-off. Maybe even at or below .500.

But, who’s #2? It’s kind of a bummer of a question, because the real answer is the second-best Mariners reliver is on the IL at the moment. It’s probably Matt Brash (if he isn’t actually #1), followed by Gregory Santos. Two of our top three relievers are out of commission, and it’s kind of a steep decline from there.

It’s not fatal, though. This is still a good bullpen. And it has the potential to be great, if Santos comes back, and if we trade for someone like Paul Sewald. But, I think Scott Servais and the Analytics Department do a good job of papering over the bald spots of this group, that might otherwise be in weaker hands if we were just managing this bullpen with our guts, or conventional wisdom.

If you’ve watched the Mariners this year, you know that after Munoz (or, rather, before Munoz, if it’s the 8th inning or earlier), we tend to see Ryne Stanek. He’s the designated #2 in this bullpen. But, is he actually the second-best reliever? Probably not. He has the most experience in high-leverage situations, but I wouldn’t say he’s the #2 guy I trust the most to get me out of a jam, or to bridge that gap to Munoz. Sure, he throws the ball hard – often touching triple digits – but it’s awfully straight and hittable. I would also say his splitter or whatever he throws to get outs isn’t what was advertised. 11 of his 27 appearances has been for less than 1 full inning, often because he’s getting himself into jams that other guys (likely Munoz, for a 4-out or 5-out save) have to get him out of. He has a 4.38 ERA at the moment, and it feels like it could be a lot worse.

Through the first month, I would’ve said Gabe Speier was the second-best reliever (with his sub-1 ERA), but his month of May was pretty atrocious, and now he’s on the IL, so wipe that away.

There’s something to be said for Tyson Miller, who had a nice start to his season as well, but we let him go and now he’s kicking ass for the Cubs.

Tayler Saucedo has good-looking numbers, and has had a few big moments this year (including finishing off the 10th inning in Kansas City for his third save of the season), but for the most part I wouldn’t say he’s coming up in the highest-leverage situations. He’s a nice lefty, but I’m not ready to put him in that upper tier just yet.

There’s a number of journeymen relievers we’ve brought in here, who’ve had varying degrees of success, in spite of finding themselves sort of up and down between the Majors and minors. Austin Voth is probably the best story of the bunch, in that he’s managed to not only stick with the Mariners all year, but is doing pretty well for himself. In the early part of the season, it seemed like he was more of a mop-up artist, but he’s slowly, but surely, finding his way into bigger spots. I still wouldn’t put him in the top two, though.

One very interesting name is Mike Baumann, who we recently picked up from the Orioles. I found it extremely intriguing when I heard on the radio last week that the Mariners’ hitters vouched for him, as he was a tough at-bat for those who’ve faced him. Even though he’s been very good for the Mariners so far, I don’t know if I’m there with him just yet. He seems to have another fastball with not a ton of movement, and without a very distinct off-speed pitch. I’m still on a wait & see approach with him.

Who I think is probably the actual second-best reliever is also the guy I would’ve been least likely to believe to be the second-best reliever heading into the season, and that’s Trent Thornton.

Now, that doesn’t mean I think he’s great or anything. I would still place him firmly in a tier or two below Andres Munoz. I couldn’t possibly tell you how he had a 2.08 ERA with the Mariners last year (after coming here from Toronto in a mid-season trade), except to say his FIP was actually 4.72, which leads me to believe his defense largely saved his bacon, and/or he left a bunch of runners on base only for other guys to pull him out of the fire. Either way, I was largely unimpressed with Thornton last year, and came into 2024 wondering why he was still on the team.

Yet, this year, as things have shaken out, he did very well in low-leverage situations, to the point where he started earning more opportunities in close games that we could actually win! Now, it hasn’t always worked out; he has a 3.62 ERA, after all. But, his FIP is actually 2.86, meaning he should actually have better numbers than he does!

Ultimately, I think Thornton and Baumann are pretty close to the same guys, and maybe even throw Stanek in that bunch. I don’t think any of them have done enough to earn the 8th inning on a regular basis. But, they’re right there, good enough to maybe get a 7th inning every now and again, or to be put into tie games or games where we’re not losing by much and want to just keep it close to see if our offense scores late.

But, if we had to rely on those three guys exclusively in the biggest situations? I think it would be a disaster waiting to happen.

A bullpen is a fragile ecosystem. Guys need to have their roles sussed out. Ideally, we’re able to keep Munoz upright and dominating all year. Ideally, Santos will make his comeback at mid-season and take some of the load off of Stanek and Thornton. Ideally, Logan Evans will get called up at some point and become the next Matt Brash. Even if he does, it won’t start off that way; he’s going to have to earn his high-leverage spots. But, if by season’s end, we can put some space between Munoz and the Stanek/Thornton/Baumann triumvirate, I think we’ll have a nice little unit we can go to war with come playoff time.

In the interim, maybe Thornton keeps getting the job done. Maybe he’s the next Justin Topa. If nothing else, he’s another feather in the cap of this organization’s uncanny ability to get the most out of average-looking guys in the bullpen. Where were these coaches back in the 90’s, when the bullpen was – without question – our biggest Achilles heel?

How Are Certain Ex-Mariners Doing After Two Months?

If you were following along in mid-April, you might’ve caught wind that certain ex-Mariners – guys we traded away, or otherwise didn’t retain for whatever reason – started off the season quite hot.

If you’re still following along today, you might be aware that certain current-Mariners that we brought in to replace those ex-Mariners aren’t doing so hot. Mitch Garver stinks, Jorge Polanco is hurt (and a total disappointment in every way), Luis Urias is so bad he’s in Tacoma right now, Mitch Haniger is playing more like a 43 year old than a 33 year old, Gregory Santos still hasn’t thrown a meaningful pitch in a Mariners uniform. It makes one wonder – two-plus months into the season – did we make a series of calamitous mistakes? Should we have held onto the players we once had?

So, let’s go around the horn, and see if those certain ex-Mariners are still tearing things up, or if they’ve come back down to Earth.

Let’s start with Jarred Kelenic, because why not? Once touted as The Future of the Mariners’ organization, he’s trying to rebuild his career down in Atlanta. I would say he’s doing okay, but definitely reverting closer to career norms. .268 batting average, .717 OPS, not quite a starter, but appears to be the left-handed platoon partner he’s destined to be. Seems like he’s more or less what he was last year, which is leaps and bounds better than he was in his first two seasons in the bigs, but obviously a far cry from the superstar we all hoped he’d be. If you pit him against Luke Raley, I’d say the Mariners have the better platoon bat. But, it’s still early, and this could be a neck-and-neck race for years.

How’s Eugenio Suarez doing down in Arizona? Well, after a torrid first week-to-ten-days, he’s kind of fallen off a cliff. He’s still an everyday third baseman, but his -0.1 WAR isn’t a pleasant number to look at. He has 4 homers in almost 60 games – which, to be honest, is also what Julio has – and he’s batting .205 with a .582 OPS. Considering the player Josh Rojas has been so far this season, this has honestly worked out exceedingly well for the Mariners.

Sticking with Arizona, how about Paul Sewald? Well, he missed the first month and change with an injury, but since he returned on May 7th, he has 5 saves and has given up 1 run in 8.1 innings across 9 appearances. So far in his tenure with the Diamondbacks, he looks like the same ol’ Paul Sewald we knew and loved with the Mariners. It’s too early to say for sure who’s winning that trade, but at the moment Ryan Bliss is just starting to get his feet wet at the Major League level (having gotten his first hit last Saturday), Dominic Canzone has some decent power numbers, but otherwise is who we thought he was, and we’re clinging to Josh Rojas being on this hot pace, which seems destined to cool considerably sooner rather than later. Would I rather have the Sure Thing reliever or the three question marks? Tough to say, but with Dylan Moore eating into third base with Urias down in Tacoma, I’d probably rather have the stud reliever (especially with Brash out for the year, and Santos likely down until the All Star Break, at best).

Next up, we have Teoscar Hernandez with the Dodgers. The Dodgers are a great team, in first place in the N.L. West, with such superstars as Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman. Yet, it’s Teoscar who is leading the Dodgers with 38 RBI. It’s Teoscar who’s 2nd on the team in homers with 12 (two behind Shohei). It’s Teoscar with the .790 OPS, who would be killing all qualified Mariners hitters with that figure (and even leading most non-qualified Mariners, or all the ones who’ve appeared in more than 5 games). Oh sure, he has 76 strikeouts, but tell me that wouldn’t fit in with Cal and Julio (both over 70). He’s got a 1.3 WAR at the moment, which would only be behind Cal and Moore. You’re telling me that’s not worth $20 million? You’re telling me you’d rather have Garver over Teoscar as your DH? If things keep up like this, I can only call the move to not retain Teoscar (while paying the same amount to Garver, albeit over 2 seasons, which is arguably worse because it means we have to suffer his ineptitude for more than just 2024) a total disaster, and one that ultimately might cost us a real shot at contending for a World Series.

Hey, does anyone remember Jose Caballero? We traded him to the Rays for Luke Raley straight up, which is an interesting conundrum for me, because I’m on record as liking Raley over Kelenic. BUT, if you’re asking me if I would rather have Kelenic and Caballero, or Raley and Polanco’s Rotting Corpse … yeah, I think the Mariners would be better off with the former. Caballero is mostly an everyday player at short stop for the Rays – as opposed to sort of a replacement second baseman for the Mariners last year – and he’s having an even better 2024 than he was in limited duty in 2023. He’s 4 hits off of his season total from a year ago, in about half the games; he’s already got 20 stolen bases (after getting 26 last year); he’s got a higher batting average and slugging percentage, though his OBP has taken a dip, giving him a fairly comparable OPS. All in all, I’d say he’s a slightly better version of himself from a year ago, playing a more difficult defensive position. Meanwhile, Polanco is a fucking decomposing mummy shuffling out there with tattered rags and rigor mortis. If Raley wasn’t raking as much as he’s been, I’d be more upset. But, this one hurts a lot more than I thought it would, I’m not gonna lie to you.

I’d like to visit with the San Francisco Giants for a bit, because they have a number of former Mariners and would-be Mariners, if certain fans had it their way. Tom Murphy is there, and finds himself on the 60-Day IL. In other words, the least-surprising development of all time. In spite of his being injured – and being remarkably terrible when he was healthy – I’d say it’s still a wash between him and Seby Zavala.

Then, there’s Robbie Ray, who still hasn’t returned from his injury sustained in the first game of 2023. However, he’s getting close to throwing in extended Spring Training or whatever, so it does indeed look like he’s poised for a second half return, if all goes well over the next month. That being said, would I rather have him for half a season over the rotation we’ve got currently? No way.

And, I thought – for shits and giggles – I’d throw Blake Snell into the mix. Blake Snell: the 2-time Cy Young Award winner. Blake Snell: who signed a 2-year, $62 million contract with the Giants very late into the offseason. Blake Snell: the Seattle resident who very desperately wanted to sign with the Mariners (and who many Mariners fans wanted as well). Well, in 6 games, he’s 0-3 with a 9.51 ERA and a -1.1 WAR. He got a late start to the season, then got hurt for a month, and overall has been pretty abysmal. Is this just a Year From Hell situation? Or is he – at age 31 – not necessarily worth $31 million per year? Again, I would 1,000% rather have the Mariners’ rotation that we have currently.

There’s also Marco Gonzales with the Pirates, who I alluded to in this post, who was having a decent start to the season until he got hurt. There’s Isaiah Campbell with the Red Sox, who’s appeared in 7 games, then got hurt, and looks no better than he was last year (and might be worse). And there’s Justin Topa, who finds himself on the 60-day IL with the Twins, and doesn’t figure to start throwing again for another month.

All in all, I would say the majority of the Mariners who got away were let go for a good reason. Nevertheless, there’s a few moves here and there that we might live to regret.

The Mariners Have Managed To Hold Onto First Place In Spite Of Their Offensive Incompetence

Is the incompetence offensive? Or is the offense incompetent? Why not both?!

The 10-day/10-game road trip that just concluded wasn’t as mortifying as it could’ve been. There was a nice late-game scramble in Baltimore to take one of those three games; we managed to score 4 runs off the hottest closer in the game to help us split the 4-game series against the Yankees; and, while winning 1 of 3 against the Nationals isn’t ideal, it limited the damage to only a 4-6 road trip, when it very easily could’ve been 2-8 or worse.

Knowing how close it had been atop the A.L. West for most of this season, I was pleasantly surprised to see the Mariners somehow comfortably ahead of the rest. I was even more shocked to see that the Mariners are the only team in the division with a winning record as of this writing. We are 3 games over .500, and 3.5 games ahead of second place Texas (who are 4 games under .500). The Astros (who we’re playing now, back in Seattle) are 6 games under, the A’s are 11 games under, and the Angels are a whopping 13 games under .500.

It’s always something with the Mariners. It seems like every single year, we can say, “If only X, Y, and Z were to happen, this team would contend for a World Series.” A buddy of mine and I were talking about this very subject yesterday. If the Mariners ever figure out how to score more runs, they’re going all the way! He had mentioned previously that the 2018 Mariners – the last decent group, with Cruz, Seager, Cano, etc. – if they had only had more pitching, would’ve been serious contenders.

This MIGHT end up being the most extreme case we’ve ever seen, though. The starting pitching is SO good, and the bullpen has been its usual brand of effective (and occasionally excellent), that it feels like if the Mariners ever score 5 runs, they should be undefeated. That if we can average an extra half-run per game the rest of the year, we WILL go all the way.

Through 55 games, the Mariners are averaging 3.73 runs per game. If you were to bump that up to just 4 and a quarter, that’s an extra 28-29 runs. Are you telling me – with an extra 28-29 runs – we wouldn’t have an extra 6-7 wins? Come on. We’d be one of the best teams in baseball! If you bump us up to 234 runs (as opposed to our actual 205 runs), there would still be 15 teams ahead of us in the MLB. 234 is EXTREMELY middle-of-the-road. 205 is 4th-worst. So, it’s not like I’m asking a lot. I’m not asking for the moon and the stars here. I’m asking for an extra half-run per game, to turn us into one of the best teams in the game.

Now, the question, obviously, is: how do we get there?

It’s a valiant effort by this team to hang around .500 and luck into the division lead as we head into June, but a lot of that has been predicated on the Astros and Rangers either dealing with an inordinate amount of injuries or just playing well below their means. You can argue the Mariners have also had injuries (Brash, Santos, Woo, Crawford, Canzone, now Polanco), and have also played below their means (Julio, Polanco, Garver, Haniger). But, I would argue our ceiling isn’t nearly as high as the two Texas teams, and they’re coming. They’re GOING to get hot and start making a charge; it’s only a matter of when, not if.

So, how do we fend them off? Or, at the very least, put ourselves in a position to steal this division when it’s all said and done?

How do we get to that extra half-run per game?

I really want to say there’s enough on this roster as it’s currently constructed. I want to believe that Julio has started to turn things around as soon as I badmouthed him on the blog (as was my intent, naturally). I want J.P. to rebound, I want Garver to start mashing, I want Ty France to salvage his career, I want Haniger to look a little more like he did 6 years ago, and a lot less like he’s looked the last two seasons. I want the Polanco that was advertised to us when we traded for him, and I want our pleasant surprises (Raley, Moore, Rojas) to continue being productive Major Leaguers.

But, that might be asking too much. Haniger is probably toast. Polanco and Garver clearly haven’t adjusted to life in Seattle. Rojas has already started to come down to Earth after that supernova start to the season, and I don’t think Raley or Moore are far behind. Those guys are fine, but expecting more from them than what they are is a bridge too far. I do see better days for J.P. And, obviously, Julio will have his good times. But, it sure feels like Ty is on borrowed time, and is probably one extended slump away from getting the boot (or, at least, getting benched in favor of Tyler Locklear, who was recently promoted to AAA Tacoma).

That leads me to believe there’s an outside move or two coming. But, will that be enough?

I was going to do a post about how I don’t want the Mariners to go after seasoned veterans anymore. Too many of them get here, get it into their heads that they can’t hit here (if they didn’t already arrive with those preconceived notions), and it becomes one long self-fulfilling prophecy until they get shit-canned or sold for scrap parts. The problem with that concept for a blog post is, there are too many players I’d have to exclude. I mean, obviously, you have to take out Nelson Cruz: Greatest Mariners Free Agent Of All Time. You have to forget about the first Eugenio Suarez season. You at least have to ignore the occasional clutch success of Carlos Santana in big moments, and the semi-competence of Teoscar Hernandez (particularly when he was super hot last August, only to be overshadowed by Julio, who was a man possessed).

But, I would write that post because of guys like Garver and Polanco and Jesse Winker and Kolton Wong and A.J. Pollock and Adam Frazier. What do they have in common? They’re all established, veteran Major Leaguers. They were all very productive immediately before arriving in Seattle. And, they all sucked. They probably shouldn’t have. If they had signed with another team, maybe one that didn’t have as much pressure to win (and win close), or maybe with a team that had a friendlier hitting environment, maybe they would’ve been success stories with those respective teams. Guys like Frazier and Winker HAVE, in fact, gone on to other teams, with moderate success. One would suspect that Garver and/or Polanco – when they move on next year – will have a much easier time turning their fortunes around.

On the flipside, maybe the Mariners are smarter to buy low on younger, hungrier Quad-A type players, like Canzone and Raley and Rojas. Maybe it’s better to continue bringing up guys from within, like Clase and Bliss. Oh sure, a lot of them will fail and move on. But, if you can get one or two to hit, that’s invaluable! Because they’re cheap, and they will have done it here. They won’t be coming from some other organization and have to try to adapt.

Or, we can just admit that every team has moves that flop, involving both young guys and veterans alike, and it’s all one big, shitty crapshoot. That’s kind of where I’m at with all of this, and why I didn’t bother writing that post (you didn’t see nothin’ here; these aren’t the droids you’re looking for).

Some interesting numbers to look at: we’re 10-4 in one-run games, which I heard is best in baseball. That’s going to HAVE to happen if this thing is going to continue. We finished April 15-11 (we were 2-2 in March), which I don’t think anyone saw coming after the way we started. And we’re actually a game under .500 in May (it certainly felt like we were doing better than that, but again, that last road trip was certainly a killer). We’re 7-7 in blowouts, we’re 6 games over .500 at home, and 3 games under .500 on the road. Most importantly, we have a winning record in our division (7-3 against Houston, Texas, and Oakland; we’ve yet to play the Angels).

Keep it up! We eked one out against the Astros last night, gotta find a way to win at least one of the next two.

The Mariners Made A Somewhat Interesting, Minor Trade

It’s a trade so minor, not even Lookout Landing bothered to do a write-up on it (yet).

The Mariners acquired reliever Mike Baumann and minor league catcher Michael Perez from the Orioles, for minor league catcher Blake Hunt.

It kinda feels like that stupid Tik Tok thing, where I’m walking down the sidewalk and talking into my phone … “We’re Mariners fans! Of course we’re going to nit-pick to death even the most minuscule details of every trade!”

“We’re Mariners fans! Of course we believe guys only turn into good baseball players once they’ve left the organization!”

“We’re Mariners fans! Of course we can’t wait for the sweet release of death!”

By the way, I don’t actually have Tik Tok, but I do watch a stupid amount of Instagram Reels. Yet, even I know it’s a Tik Tok thing, because no one in their right mind talks about watching Instagram Reels. But, I digress.

I kinda want to like this deal, but I’ve got my foot caught in some netting that I just can’t pull myself free from. I understand the need to bolster our bullpen. In that sense, the addition of Mike Baumann feels like it at least has potential. Is he remarkably better than Cody Bolton, who was optioned to Tacoma? I dunno, we’ll see. I would say probably, but who knows? He’s been pretty darn good the last two seasons, and he’s only 28. But, if he’s so great, why did Baltimore DFA him recently (leading to this trade, because we wouldn’t be in line to claim him off waivers, given our overall record)? Especially when bullpen is their biggest weakness as a team?

The first thing I look at when it comes to pitchers is their ERA, because I’m a 43 year old man and I’m dumb. The second thing I look at is their strikeouts per 9. I feel like that’s one of the better dummy stats for relievers; shows you what kind of stuff they have and how good of an out-pitch they’ve got.

His ERA numbers are good; under 4 in 2023 and 2024. He had 8.5 SO/9 in 2023, and 7.9 this year (in a much smaller sample size). It’s good. Ideally, you want 9 or more (averaging a strikeout-plus per inning), but that’s fine. I will, of course, have to reserve judgment until I can see him actually pitch in a Mariners uniform, but it seems like this should be a value-add to the team.

What I don’t totally get are these shenanigans with the catcher position. Specifically the backup catcher spot.

We all know Cal Raleigh is great. But, the dude could use a break every once in a while! And the team could use someone who isn’t a total fucking waste of space. If you’re going to back up Cal Raleigh and you’re going to be a black hole in the lineup, the least you can do is be a whiz defensively! But, Seby Zavala is neither a remotely decent hitter, nor a remotely competent backstop. That kid from The Sandlot would be a better alternative!

Before we brought in Zavala, we traded for Blake Hunt (giving up Tatem “Don’t Call Me Lewis” Levins). Levins is still in A-ball with the Rays, so who knows if he’ll ever amount to anything. But, Hunt at least seemed promising. He was in AAA last year with the Rays, and has been a very pleasant surprise for the Tacoma Rainiers so far this year (slashing .293/.372/.533).

You’re telling me, right now, Blake Hunt isn’t an improvement over Seby Zavala? The same Seby Zavala who went into today’s game slashing .188/.212/.344? Frankly, it’s asinine that Zavala is here in the first place, and for what? Because he’s 5 years older than Hunt?

Now, Hunt goes to Baltimore, where he should be a significant improvement over the guy we got for him, Michael Perez. Perez who, at this point, is hardly even a AAA player. He looks as washed up as it gets, which isn’t the worst thing in the world as long as he stays in Tacoma. But, it looks like the Mariners found the one guy in professional baseball who’s more useless than Zavala.

I would take Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham over either of these guys. Hell, I would take Kevin Costner TODAY over them!

I wish I could find information on how much team control the M’s will have over Baumann. From what I could glean, he’s a pre-arbitration player, so that gives us a few years of team control. This only really works out if we can turn him into a leverage arm. With Brash gone, and Santos the biggest of question marks, we’re in desperate need of another leverage arm.

It does NOT work if Baumann is another Austin Voth or Cody Bolton-type. He needs to be better. He needs to slot most of the rest of the arms (not named Munoz or Stanek) down a rung. At that point, I think I’ll find a way to move beyond this backup catcher conundrum.

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 M’s Bounced Back Against The A’s

Kind of a weird weekend series for the Mariners. I don’t think ANY of the three games went as we might expect.

Friday night saw the return of Bryan Woo. As it happened, 2024 Woo looked a lot like 2023 Woo. A lot of fastballs, a lot of strikes, pretty reasonable pitch count; on the downside, he ended up getting tight in the fifth inning and had to be pulled (4.1 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 1 walk, 3 K’s). It won’t equate to another IL stint (just yet), but it is pretty concerning. Even more concerning is that this isn’t the first time he’s had this feeling on his way back to full strength.

On the good side, his arm tightened up because he had to rest so long between the fourth and fifth innings, because the Mariners were scoring so many runs. I think it’s a fair trade; give me 8 runs, I’ll suffer a starter not being able to go five full innings. Dylan Moore kicked some fuckin’ ass in this one, going 3 for 4 with a homer and 5 RBI. Ty France bounced back with two hits (including a 2-RBI double), and Luke Raley also chipped in with an RBI double and 2 runs scored.

It was nice to get the win, and not have to use anyone of import out in the bullpen, on what could’ve otherwise been an ugly night. Instead, that ugliness ended up taking place on Saturday, as we lost by an identical 8-1 score.

We were limited to 3 hits and 0 walks, which is how you waste a perfectly good Bryce Miller Quality Start (6 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts). But, the bullpen did us no favors, with Stanek giving up a run, Speier giving up 2 runs, and Bazardo (back from AAA) giving up 3 runs.

The Mariners’ offense bounced right back, though, scoring 8 more on Sunday to win 8-4. Julio had two hits with a homer, Garver also had two hits with a homer, even the backup catcher got in on the action with his first homer of the season. Pair that with a Luis Castillo Quality Start (6 innings, 7 hits, 2 runs, 0 walks, 8 strikeouts) and some competent bullpen work, and you get out of the weekend with a series win.

In other news, I called it with Matt Brash. He had surgery recently and is out for the year. What I wasn’t expecting was Gregory Santos not being back until maybe July. That’s rough. That makes me think this team probably needs to acquire another bullpen arm or two.

In some good news, J.P. Crawford is getting ready to go out on a rehab assignment. And I think I heard something about Dom Canzone swinging a bat down in extended spring training. So, you know, that’s something.

It Sure Seems Like Matt Brash’s Season Is Over

We got some bad news in the last week or so, with word coming out that Matt Brash had a setback in his recovery. They shut him down in Spring Training, to rest his arm in the hopes that he’d maybe be back a month into the season. Things were going according to plan, as he ramped himself back up to throwing normally in bullpen sessions. He was all ready to go out to Tacoma or wherever for a rehab assignment, when it was announced that his arm wasn’t recovering like it’s supposed to after throwing his bullpens. They shut Brash down again, this time sending him to some specialist down in Texas.

We haven’t heard anything yet about the findings, but it sure feels like Brash isn’t going to make it back. Either he needs surgery and his year is over, or they’re going to keep dicking around with us – hoping that more rest and rehab will do the trick – before he ultimately gets shut down again and has to have surgery anyway. Just get the surgery! If you need it, just get it, because otherwise if you wait, it’s going to cost you part or all of 2025 too.

This is, obviously, a severe blow to the 2024 Mariners. Brash was projected to be our best reliever this year, maybe even one of the best in all of baseball. There was always that possibility, anyway. That he’d make 70+ appearances and have a sub-2 ERA, with 100+ strikeouts and a ton of high-leverage holds and saves. No one else you’d replace him with has anything close to his level of ability. And, to boot, this puts more stress on guys like Munoz and Stanek, who have proven to be hittable; saying nothing of Gregory Santos, who is also still on the IL and whose timeline is still very much TBD.

Ultimately, it’s a huge bummer. I would’ve loved to have seen what this team looks like with four elite, top-end relievers doing their thing down the stretch and in the playoffs. That might still happen, but if it does, it’s going to require the Mariners making a deadline deal and probably shelling out more money than they look like they’re willing to spend.

Or, they’d have to do something that makes them even more uncomfortable, and that’s turning one of their hot-shit young arms into a bullpen guy.

I find it utterly fascinating that – by all accounts – the notion of Bryan Woo being converted to a reliever is a non-starter. Maybe they’re smart to keep him where he is, and I’ll be made to look the fool as he develops into an ace-level talent one day. But, it’s not like Brash is going to be the only reliever injury we’re going to see this year. And you’re telling me Woo wouldn’t be fucking awesome as a 1-inning guy, letting it rip and blowing it by guys in the late innings?

I’m not necessarily saying that we need to be doing this right away. Of course, I would prefer the Mariners to keep their six starters stretched out and available. As we’ve already seen with Woo’s spring injury, it’s hard to keep pitchers off the IL. When Woo is ready to come back to the Mariners, Hancock SHOULD go down to Tacoma and continue starting. We should have him working on his secondary pitches, knowing full well that we’re going to need him back up here again at some point.

But, I find it hard to believe that we can’t even broach the subject of Woo as a reliever. If the rotation holds up the rest of the way, maybe Woo has some sophomore struggles here and there, we get into August and the bullpen needs a jolt … wouldn’t that be the perfect opportunity for him to just slide in there and be a 6th or 7th inning guy for a while? Maybe, as he has success and gains confidence, we can use that arm in higher leverage situations once – God forbid – the playoffs roll around and we need the extra arms in that capacity.

It’s ridiculous to me that Woo as a reliever won’t happen because he’s never done it before. That’s idiotic to me! If that were a legitimate reason, nobody would ever do anything else than what they’ve already done! It’s asinine!

I dunno, it’s a long season. Seems dumb to get all worked up over something like this, when we don’t know what’s going to happen. I just keep thinking about how good Woo might look as a reliever, and with Brash now on the shelf, it seems like a no-brainer to me. We’ve converted much better-looking starters into relievers with pretty good success, including Brash himself! Why not Woo? Yes Woo can!

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.

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!