The Mariners Probably Should’ve Been Swept By The Astros

There’s an obvious narrative going around that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. It goes as follows: the Mariners were one of the hottest teams in the league – having won four in a row over their immediate divisional rivals ahead of them in the standings – then they traded their apparent Heart & Soul of the team, Kendall Graveman, and all of a sudden are now in the tank, having lost two straight. It’s further punctuated by the fact that their last victory was an amazing come-from-behind affair where the M’s were down 7-0 before coming all the way back in dramatic fashion to win 11-8 (where, again, Graveman got the win and played a role in getting us to the point where we took the lead).

But, you know what I see when I look at this series against the Astros? I see three games the Mariners should’ve lost, and we were lucky to get the win we got.

Coming back from a 7-run deficit is as flukey as it gets. That was followed immediately by a game where we gave up a 3-spot in the top of the first and eventually found ourselves down 8-2 before coming back to lose 8-6. And then, of course, the finale saw us lose 11-4 in a game we were never even competitive in.

I mean, you can argue the wind was taken out of the team’s sails by the disappointment of seeing Graveman go to the opposing team’s clubhouse, but I think that notion is thwarted because on the very same day as the trade, you still saw this team scratch and claw to get 4 runs in the final 4 innings to make it interesting.

No, what this series featured was a clinic in disappointing Mariners starting pitching.

Monday was a disaster from the jump, as Darren McCaughan was making his Major League starting debut (recall he had pitched in the week prior, coming in after Keynan Middleton shit the bed as the Opener). McCaughan followed up his five no-hit innings by giving up 6 runs in the first in this one, ultimately managing to last 4 innings, giving up 7 runs, before being almost immediately sent back down to the minors. In case you were wondering why the Mariners traded for mediocre starter Tyler Anderson, this is why. This and all the previous Bullpen Days, where the Mariners amassed a whopping 1-8 record.

The Mariners started mounting their comeback in the bottom of the fourth, immediately after the Astros scored their 7th run, with a Cal Raleigh 3-run double. The Astros got one back in the top of the fifth to make it 8-3, but Kyle Seager hit a 3-run homer in the bottom half to cut it to 8-6. Then, Shed Long hit an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth to make it a 1-run game, and you know what the Mariners do in 1-run games!

Well, usually it’s “win them”, but this time they turned it into a 3-run victory thanks to a grand slam by Dylan Moore in the bottom of the 8th inning.

To set the stage, Middleton pitched in this one as well, giving up that 8th Astros run. But, the bullpen was nails from there. Erik Swanson pitched two scoreless innings. Kendall Graveman came in for the 8th – Mariners down a run – and kept the score where it was. He doesn’t often come in when the M’s are trailing, but there was blood in the water and Scott Servais was pulling out all the stops.

Anyway, France singled to lead off the bottom of the 8th, but then two quick outs followed. Things looked grim. Jarred Kelenic – who really hasn’t been a whole lot better since being called back up – managed to work a walk. Tom Murphy – the third catcher used in this one – pinch hit for Shed Long and also walked, to load the bases. That brought up Moore, who jacked a high fastball (“fastball” in quotes, because this guy didn’t have much velo) to the upper deck in left field, knowing he had it all the way.

Fireworks continued from there, as the Astros reliever pretty clearly went headhunting for the very next batter, in this case J.P. Crawford. The pitcher would be ejected, after some choice curse words and yelling from Servais. Crawford would immediately be picked off at first, before the next reliever – now a Mariner, Joe Smith – even threw a pitch.

Paul Sewald – presumably our closer going forward – got the final three outs of the game to send everyone home happy.

That, my friends, was the environment everyone was walking into the next day, when the Graveman trade was announced. And, like clockwork, Chris Flexen showed up with a rare clunker: 4 innings, 7 runs. Nope, this wasn’t a rerun of the night before, he was literally as bad as a guy who got demoted to AAA the very same day. Hector Santiago returned from his suspension to throw 2 innings of 1-run ball, and the rest of the bullpen was scoreless from there (including Joe Smith throwing a clean inning), but 8 runs is clearly too much. You can’t expect an 11-run outburst every fucking day.

Nevertheless, Seager had a 2-run homer in the first, Kelenic had a 2-run single in the sixth, and newcomer Abraham Toro hit a 2-run homer in the ninth. You’d love to be undefeated in games where you score 6 runs, but unfortunately that’s baseball for you.

Yusei Kikuchi wasn’t QUITE as bad yesterday, but he only went 5 innings, giving up 4 runs (3 earned). On top of that, the bullpen was atrocious, as it will be from time to time, giving up 7 runs the rest of the way.

There was another Seager homer, another Toro homer, and a Kelenic bases loaded walk to give us our 4 runs. But, obviously, not enough.

Some bright spots include Seager being hot, and Toro hitting his fourth homer in four games (two with the Astros, two with the Mariners). Toro being good and shoring up the second base spot would be a great fix for the team’s chemistry woes at the moment. Him eventually taking over the starting third base job in 2022 and beyond would make this Graveman trade one of the all-time greats. So, you know, maybe stop pissing all over yourselves to dump on it.

Today’s an off-day before tomorrow’s trade deadline, so I expect to see lots of moves happening soon. Some of the rumors are CRAZY, so it’ll be really interesting to see how far Mariners management goes in trying to Win Now.

The Mariners Open Up The Second Half With A Series Win Over The Angels

I was heartened to see the Mariners did the sensible thing and went with their three best starting pitchers to open up the second half stretch run. With the All Star Break giving the team a few days off, they easily could’ve rejiggered the rotation however they wanted, including making last Friday a de facto Opening Day 2.0 (or Opening Day 3.0 if you count when the state started allowing full capacity seating again) and brought out Marco Gonzales as the ostensible “ace” of the staff. Instead, he’s been bumped to the 4-hole in the rotation, missing the Angels entirely as he gets his turn in Colorado.

Scott Servais gets overlooked quite a bit when we talk about the success of the Seattle Mariners, both this season and over his tenure with the team. He also gets an inordinate amount of blame when shit goes wrong, particularly whenever the bullpen melts down late in various demoralizing losses. In essence, how the bullpen does seems to be the only indicator as to whether or not a manager is good … at least, if you read which way the tea leaves are blowing on Twitter.

Managers are more than bullpen decisions. Granted, they make those choices too; they have to use their best judgment to determine whether or not a guy “has it” on a particular night. But, a lot of even THOSE decisions are made for them by the stats department. Guys have certain strengths and weaknesses and if you’re in a position to win a ballgame, you put the pitchers in there who figure to fare best based on the myriad numbers that have been crunched.

It’s not Servais’ fault if a guy has an off-night though. It’s not his fault if his bullpen is terrible, just as it’s not his good grace if a bullpen is amazing. I would argue, compared to the managers we’ve seen over the last 10-15 years, Servais has shown the best judgment in not sticking with bad relievers for too long. Even when you glom onto the latest thorn in our side, Rafael Montero, you can see he lost his closer’s job almost immediately this year. He’s pretty much been converted to a long relief role in blowouts at this point, to see if the team can salvage some value or production out of him. His stuff still has potential, and he must be willing to work with the coaches in improving his game, otherwise if he was difficult I think he’d already be gone.

But, if you take a step back from obsessing over one guy, and look at the team globally, what Servais and his staff have been able to do with this group of guys is pretty remarkable. The Mariners are 50-44. They have no right to be this good, with a group of players this mediocre, and with a run differential of -51. You can write this off as a fluke, but this also isn’t the first time a Scott Servais-managed team has had a winning record with a negative run differential. This isn’t the first time he’s maximized the talent of his team and squeezed out as many wins as possible. He seems to be adept at getting a lot out of a little, which leaves me excited to see what he could do with a team loaded with talent.

That gets me back to his decision to go Flexen/Kikuchi/Gilbert over the weekend. He’s loyal to his guys, to a point, but he’s not going to force an issue just to make guys happy. He’s going to lead, by making the hard choices and potentially pissing off a guy like Marco Gonzales. Too many former Mariners managers would’ve stubbornly stuck with Marco, saying, “He’s my guy” and getting rightly roasted as a result. But, where are the accolades when Servais makes the smart decisions like this? Well, they come from me, on a blog hardly anyone reads.

I like Servais. I hope he stays here a good, long time. I hope he gets to see this rebuild to fruition. I hope we get to see what he’s capable of when the Mariners are ready to start winning 100 games per season.

***

As I mentioned, Chris Flexen got the start on Friday. He kept the good times rolling by going 7 innings, giving up 1 run. Thankfully, the M’s were able to rack up a 6-1 lead by the time he left the game, because the defense and bullpen just didn’t have it in this one. We nevertheless were able to hang on for a 6-5 victory, but it was a nailbiter at the end.

Kendall Graveman has been a concern for us of late, since he returned from the COVID-IL with a case of being an anti-vax idiot (allegedly). I wouldn’t put a lot of the blame on him in this one, since all three of his runs were unearned (thanks to two errors), but he’s also shown to be much more hittable of late. Even though, spread out over the entire season, Graveman has been our best reliever, it was heartening to see Servais pull him with one out remaining in the bottom of the ninth, to go with the hot hand of Paul Sewald, who was able to shut the door.

Jarred Kelenic got called back up to the Mariners in this one. How far we’ve fallen that he’s not the biggest story on this blog at the moment. But, he broke his 0-for-Forever streak with a hit on Friday, so good for him. He also found himself batting 7th in the lineup, which is probably where he should’ve been all along, so go ahead and count that as a knock on Servais (I would say, in general, his lineup construction has been fine, though there are baffling moments sprinkled in, as there are with all managers).

The offensive heroes on Friday were the guys we’ve come to expect to lead the way: Haniger, France, and Seager. They combined to go 7 for 12 with 5 RBI, 5 runs scored, including homers by Seager and Haniger, and a double by Haniger to boot. Dylan Moore also had a couple hits to chip in.

Saturday was worrying, because it was the second sub-par outing in a row for Yusei Kikuchi. Ever since he made the All Star squad, he’s fallen apart. It was easy to explain-away the game against the Yankees (who tend to mash lefties), but giving up 7 runs in 5 innings to the Angels makes this the start of a trend. A trend, quite frankly, I don’t like! Let’s hope he turns it back around sooner rather than later.

The other two runs were given up by, you guessed it, Rafael Montero in his one inning of work. Again, what can you do with this guy besides release him at this point? I feel like he has until Hector Santiago’s suspension is up, then he’s most likely gone. He’s pitched in 39 games this season. He’s performed well on occasion, but he’s given up at least one run in 19 of those games. That’s an INSANELY high percentage of games where he’s failed (I would argue it’s a failure whenever a reliever gives up even one run; blanket statement, and probably unfair, I know). 11 of those games he’s given up 2 or more runs, which is astronomically bad. And he’s not trending in the good direction; he’s given up 2-3 runs in 6 of his last 7 appearances (since he had those remarkable back-to-back 10th inning shutdown performances against the Rays). Rafael Montero, we hardly knew ye.

The Mariners lost 9-4 on Saturday, though, so it’s hard to be too mad at Montero. Maybe he slips through the cracks; we’ll see. There are certainly enough blowout opportunities to sneak him to the finish line with this team.

Haniger had a homer and 4 RBI in this one. Kelenic had his second hit since being called back up. Dylan Moore had two more hits. As did Ty France. J.P. Crawford had three hits!

The rubber match was thrilling for a number of reasons. Logan Gilbert pitched into the sixth inning again (5.2 innings, 2 runs on 4 hits & 2 walks, with 9 strikeouts), and the bullpen did its job until the very end. Things got a little hairy in the ninth, after an Ohtani homer off of Sewald, but the M’s were up by a lot and things weren’t really in doubt. A 7-4 win and yet another series for the good guys.

Kelenic has a 3-game hit streak, everyone! France is red hot (had 3 hits – including a homer – with 2 runs and 3 RBI), Luis Torrens had another dinger. And Mitch Haniger scored 3 runs to be highly involved.

The Mariners keep plugging away. This is really a fun team! I can’t say I’m loving EVERY minute of the experience, but the good days outnumber the bad ones, and I think that’s all you can really ask from this team.

The Mariners Closed Out The First Half With A Series Win Over The Angels

Friday’s 7-3 victory set a nice tone for the weekend. Marco Gonzales got the start and had a very 2021 Marco performance, giving up a run in each of the first three innings (including probably the most mammoth home run in any game ever, off the bat of Shohei Ohtani), before looking like the Marco of old the rest of the way. He ultimately was pulled after 5.2 innings, giving up those three runs on 7 hits, while striking out 3. One out from a Quality Start, yet I don’t know if anyone would describe it as such. He has a problem, almost certainly physical, that he’s dealing with this year, and I don’t hold a lot of hope for him to turn this season around.

The Mariners bats were quiet throughout, except for an opposite-field 2-run double (that was inches away from being a 3-run homer) by Shed Long in the fourth inning. We were losing 3-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning before a Ty France single tied it up. It remained 3-3 into the bottom of the eighth when Mitch Haniger hit the go-ahead grand slam to give the game its final score. Helluva run by the bullpen in this one, with four guys combining to go the last 3.1 innings, giving up just 2 hits in that stretch.

Chris Flexen was the obvious hero in Saturday’s 2-0 victory, going 7 shutout innings, giving up just 3 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 6. Luis Torrens had two hits – including an RBI triple – and the other guys did just enough to eke this one out. I can’t say enough good things about Flexen this year, as he’s really been the co-Ace of this staff with Yusei Kikuchi. I won’t go so far as to suggest Flexen also deserved to be an All Star, but I will say he’s easily the biggest free agent bargain on this team, for what he’s been producing.

On Sunday, we were saddled with yet another bullpen day, thanks to Justus Sheffield’s injury. And, we were rewarded with yet another Justus Sheffield-like performance. The soon-to-be suspended Hector Santiago got the start and lucked his way into 3 innings, giving up just 1 run. But, the bullpen behind him couldn’t do the impossible once again. These games are going to happen, especially with the struggles of the Mariners’ rotation outside of Flexen, Kikuchi, and Gilbert.

Sunday’s game was noteworthy because Cal Raleigh got called up from Tacoma. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, but I thought there were some promising signs. In his very first at bat, he saw 8 pitches, fouling off 5 of them (he also saw 7 pitches in his final AB of the day). I know that’s really grasping at straws for positivity, but it’s always nice to see guys not look totally lost in their initial call-ups. I also need to cool my jets when it comes to having high expectations for these guys right out of the box. Young players struggle early in their careers MUCH more than not. An 0 for 4 is normal, not a disappointment.

This leaves the Mariners at 48-43 over the first half. There are only 71 games remaining, with the M’s right in the thick of the Wild Card hunt. We’re 3.5 games behind the Oakland A’s for the second wild card spot. We’re also 7 games behind the Houston Astros for the A.L. West. With those two teams ahead of us – and both pretty clearly superior – I would still say it’s a considerable long shot for the Mariners to make the post-season. But, you never know.

In an odd turn of events, immediately following this week’s All Star Break, we resume playing the Angels, this time on the road. It already looks like we’ll be seeing two of the same Angels starters we just saw over the weekend; I’ll be curious to see what the Mariners decide to do. Ideally, we should take this opportunity to reshuffle the rotation, maybe come right back with Flexen, Kikuchi, Gilbert. But, I don’t think they’ll disrespect Marco like that (unless he does have nagging injury issues going on, and they decide to give him extra rest over the next week), and I also don’t think they want to over-work Gilbert’s arm this early into his career.

What the Mariners really need to do is make a trade for a quality starter or two, but that’s neither here nor there.

The Mariners Keep Winning Series, Defeating The White Sox

I was traveling over the weekend and therefore blissfully unaware of anything going on that was Mariners-related, or intense 100+ degree heat-related. I kept up with events, sort of, by following along on Twitter, but we all know that’s not the same thing as being actually informed.

We blew the doors off of the White Sox on Friday, winning 9-3. Yusei Kikuchi had another solid outing, going 5.2 innings and giving up only 1 run on 2 hits and 4 walks, striking out 6. Looks like he got into some trouble in that sixth inning, walking three guys in total, but we got out of it unscathed. Rafael Montero gave up a couple of harmless runs in the eighth, but otherwise the bullpen was dynamite.

Give it up for the offense in this one, as everyone had at least one hit, with Crawford, Haniger, Bauers, Torrens, and Moore all notching two hits. Everyone got on base at least twice in this one except for Murphy (who still managed to score 2 runs, so figure that one out). Luis Torrens hit two homers, with Jake Fraley also hitting a dinger.

Saturday’s game was rain-delayed and had to be completed on Sunday, which is unfortunate, as Logan Gilbert looked to be dealing through his two scoreless innings. The Mariners loaded up their lineup with lefty hitters to face Lance Lynn, only to be treated to a heavy dose of Dallas Keuchel come Sunday morning (he was originally set to start the actual Sunday game, but got bumped over to this one, as if he needed the soft landing). This one turned into a de facto Bullpen Day; thankfully the Mariners have a pretty great bullpen. Hector Santiago gave up one run in 2.1 innings of work (taking over for Gilbert to start the rest of the game on Sunday), before being pulled, and subsequently suspended for having sticky stuff in his glove. If he was cheating, bravo umpires. But, they still have to inspect the glove to confirm it was actually an illegal substance. I guess pine tar is okay? I dunno, I don’t pretend to understand what the rules are anymore. I also don’t know if this has been resolved yet, but if it has I apologize for even bringing it up. If the suspension holds, Santiago would be the first player in the Major Leagues to be suspended for the rule this year, which is interesting trivia.

Taylor Trammell had two homers, including the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth. Ty France also added a solo homer to help give us the 3-2 victory. Haniger also had two hits in this one, as it appears he’s pulling out of his recent offensive nosedive.

In the series and season finale against the White Sox, the Mariners lost 7-5, but four of our runs were scored after they had a 7-1 lead, in the final two innings of the game. So, it wasn’t THAT close. This was only a 7-inning game, since technically Sunday turned into a Doubleheader, and you have to wonder what might’ve been had we been gifted an extra two innings to play around with against that bullpen (with Keuchel going in the early game, the late game was a White Sox Bullpen Day). The Mariners needed a Bullpen Day of our own, as Marco Gonzales had to leave to be with his wife for the birth of their child. I’m not going to be one of those fans who gets mad at a dad wanting to be there in person, you know, BEING a dad.

Robert Dugger got the nod and … he’s not a Major Leaguer. It’s fine. He ate up almost three innings and gave up 3 runs (2 earned). Will Vest has good stuff, but at times has been unreliable; he gave up 2 runs in 1 inning in this one. Just when you think Rafael Montero is going to turn a corner (after his two extra innings performances against the Rays), here he is giving up another 2 runs in a third of an inning. That’s just too many runs for MOST offenses to overcome, let alone a Mariners offense that has been vastly improved over the last month, but still has its struggles. Haniger, again, had two hits (including a 3-run homer in the seventh), but otherwise offense was tough to come by in this one.

I’m pretty happy with another series win against a good team. The White Sox are in first place in the A.L. Central, and we managed to tie them in the season series 3-3. I’ll take that!

Now, we go to … Buffalo I guess? Where the Blue Jays play? I dunno. The Jays are very close in record to the Mariners (40-36 to our 41-38), and are also third place in their respective division. However, they are +65 in run differential, compared to our -43; they appear to be a MUCH better team than their record would give them credit for (while we remain in the bottom third of all Major League teams, vastly outplaying our level of talent). I would say this series would be a good test for us in where we are, but the truth of the matter is this isn’t a matchup of two similar teams. This is closer to us playing the White Sox, in that it would be equally-impressive if we were to go on the road and steal a series from them.