The Mariners’ Rotation Is Holding Up Remarkably Well So Far

Yeah yeah yeah, I know it’s early. We are 2 and one-fifths of the way through the rotation not even two full weeks into the season. But, that’s sort of the point of today’s argument, because this early in the season is when you really have to worry about a starting rotation holding up.

We’re right out of Spring Training. Rosters are slightly expanded for this very reason: pitchers’ arms aren’t built up yet. Pitch counts are relatively low as a result. And, should they run into too many travails, starts can be cut short, resulting in over-taxing of the bullpen.

2021 was kind of the Worst Case Scenario in this regard. We lost James Paxton early in his very first start. We lost backup starter Nick Margevicius not long after. We had to suffer through numerous full-on bullpen days because we were trying to run a 6-man rotation out there to limit innings and keep guys fresh, without sufficent healthy backup options to roll with (saying nothing of other starts being cut short due to early-season ineffectiveness).

The bullpen was gassed, and it necessitated multiple back-and-forth moves between Tacoma and Seattle just to keep this pitching staff afloat. But, we haven’t had that problem this year.

The worst start we’ve had so far was Marco Gonzales’ 2.0 innings in Minnesota. The next-shortest stint was a 4.1 affair by Flexen, also in Minnesota. Everyone else has gone at least 5.0 innings per start, including rookie Matt Brash, who is reported to be on a VERY strict pitch count for this season.

I think that’s pretty remarkable. Maybe I have low standards in this regard, but it’s clearly showing in our bullpen’s performance thus far. We have a bullpen ERA under 3 and the only blown save on our ledger is a game we came back and won.

This could all change at a moment’s notice, of course, but I think it’s a pretty good sign. In the not-too-distant future, our Major League roster is going to shrink a little bit, and we’ll be limited in the number of pitchers we can keep up here. Not wearing guys out in the most fragile part of the season should hopefully work wonders towards keeping this staff in good working order.

Beyond that, though, the starters have looked good in games! Our team ERA is 3.03, so it’s not like the bullpen is doing everything. Robbie Ray had one rough start in Chicago in that crazy rain game, but otherwise has looked every bit the ace. Matt Brash has been a revelation, and looks like he’ll be a valuable big league pitcher for many years to come. Logan Gilbert has quietly been a monster. Marco bounced back with a VERY impressive outing in our home opener against a very good Astros lineup. And, Chris Flexen looks just as steady as he was last year. Considering Marco and Flexen are our 3/4 pitchers, I think that speaks very well of the talent in this pitching staff.

I’m cautiously optimistic, because the better the pitching staff does now, the better our team should be as a whole. Clearly, we’ve needed the pitching to get off to a good start. Now that the offense has started to come around since we returned home, it’s starting to look like things might be okay. The last thing we need is to go into a deep hole with our record. 6-5, with a +8 run differential isn’t shabby in the least. I’ll take it! That’s something to build on, for sure.

What A Shitty Year For Seattle Sports!

As we celebrate this Veterans Day as only we can – by sleeping in, going out to breakfast, reading the newspaper, and enjoying a most-unexpected day off of work – let us reflect on the year that was in Seattle sports. It’s been a bloody nightmare!

The absolute best thing you can say about 2021 in Seattle is that the Mariners managed to win 90 games and look poised for greater things in the immediate years to come. But, that’s still a team that failed to make the playoffs, and was clearly playing unsustainably above their talent level.

Wanna take a walk down memory lane? I don’t think you do! But, I’m going to take you anyway, so submit to my emotional kidnapping and try to think happy thoughts.

The 2021 sports year kicked off – more or less – on January 9th, as the 2020 division-winning Seahawks hosted the hated Los Angeles Rams. That was another team you could’ve argued played above its talent level, but as a 12-win team playing at home – against a team intentionally going with its backup quarterback, because its starter (Jared Goff) was so mediocre – I think most of us expected the Seahawks to advance to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Instead, that backup quarterback got injured early, and the mediocre Goff led the Rams to a 30-20 victory.

2021 also welcomed into the world a Washington Huskies basketball team. Heading into the calendar year, the Dawgs were already a paltry 1-7. The Huskies would go on to finish the year 5-21; no hyperbole: probably the worst Husky basketball team I’ve ever seen. And that’s kinda saying something.

Let’s see, following the Super Bowl, we had that whole kerfuffle with Russell Wilson possibly trying to talk his way out of town with his media campaign to voice his frustrations with A) losing, and B) getting sacked so much. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, but not before a zillion words were spilled onto Internet pages about the Seahawks, Wilson, and the list of teams he’d be willing to be traded to. Boy, did those weeks suck!

Then, we get to the Mariners. I can’t deny that was a fun team to watch, but in the early going it was a little rough. James Paxton got injured in his first start, more arms went down in those first few weeks, we were clinging to an ill-advised 6-man rotation even though we literally didn’t have six viable starters to throw out there (often going with miserable Bullpen Days, which severely taxed the biggest strength on this team, and only once translated to an actual win on the field). Sure, the Mariners won 90 games, but this team was below .500 for much of the first half of the year.

Another kerfuffle popped up at the trade deadline, with the Kendall Graveman deal that was actually a win for the Mariners’ organization, but was portrayed as the biggest catastrophe ever to befall Seattle sports (approx). As the season went on, the Mariners pulled together and impressed the hell out of most everyone, but by the last month or so there were too many games to make up in too short of time. The bottom line was: these Mariners weren’t very good against the teams they needed to beat to legitimately compete in the playoffs; the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox. Time will tell if the 2021 Mariners were a mirage, and we see a huge unintentional step-back in 2022.

If you’re into the Seattle Storm, it appears they largely underachieved, and lost in the first round of the WNBA playoffs. I’ll also add that 2021 was yet ANOTHER year without the Supersonics in Seattle, always adding at least a little bit to our collective sports misery.

Then, football season arrived, and BOY has that been a shitshow!

So much has been written about the under-achieving Washington Huskies. They were expected to contend with Oregon for the Pac-12 North title, which also means they were expected to contend with Oregon for the Pac-12 Conference title (because the South will rise again sucks). We promptly lost to Montana in the first game of the season, dashing those hopes. Then, we got fucking destroyed in Michigan. Yadda yadda yadda, and here we are, with the offensive coordinator FINALLY fired, the head coach suspended for at least the one game (though, looking more and more like he’ll be fired sooner or later), sitting with a 4-5 record and a high likelihood that we fail to qualify for a bowl game. Unbelievable.

The Seahawks have proven to be just as aggravating. We started off with a 2-5 record before blowing out a bad Jags team at home two weeks ago. Our iron man of a quarterback landed on the IR and missed games for the first time in his career. We continued to employ Geno Smith, who led us to a 1-2 record in Wilson’s absence. The offense – which was supposed to be more efficient and improved – has gone in the tank for large stretches of games/this season. And the defense started off as miserable as it was at the beginning of last year, before a turnaround happened (mostly thanks to the schedule easing up). We have no first round draft pick next year – going to the Jets in the Jamal Adams deal – so we can’t even root for the Seahawks to tank! It’s my worst nightmare, manifested. We’ll see if they can turn things around, but I’m not holding my breath.

I was kind of hoping the inaugural season of the Seattle Kraken might be a nice little wintertime distraction, but so far they’re 4-8-1 and look to be pretty punchless both offensively and defensively.

I don’t care enough about soccer to give a shit about what the Sounders are doing.

My last hope was the Washington Husky basketball team, potentially-rejuvenated with a vast influx of transfers. But, they just lost their season-opener to a team they were favored over by 20 points. Feels likely to be more of the same as last season’s team.

Maybe some Hot Stove action in baseball could improve my outlook on life in the weeks ahead, but I know in my gut the Mariners will find a way to make all the wrong moves to continue being among the worst-run organizations in all of professional sports. When you’re hanging all of your hopes on the Mariners … I mean, can it get any worse than that?

2021 has been a sports disaster for Seattle. I’d say it’s time to adopt another city’s teams and move on with my life, but I’m a sickeningly loyal man. This is the laundry I’ve attached myself to. This is the laundry I’ll die with.

The 2021 Seattle Mariners State Of The Union

We just wrapped up a wildly entertaining and overachieving season by the Seattle Mariners. They won 90 games for the first time since 2003 and fell just two games short of the playoffs. We’re in the thick of a full-on rebuild, but it’s the fun part of the rebuild: where things turn from being a perennial loser to hopefully a perennial winner. If things go according to plan, the 2022 Mariners should make the postseason for the first time since 2001 – breaking the longest drought in all of the major North American sports – and the 2023 Mariners should start contending for American League pennants and World Series championships.

There’s also a Glass Half Empty outlook to this whole thing. Because this is Seattle, and these are the Mariners, so of course we have every reason to believe it’ll all go to shit like everything else in our sports universe.

Let’s start with the hitting: the Mariners were dead-last in the American League with a .226 batting average. We were second-to-last with a .303 on-base percentage and .385 slugging percentage. That’s all good for a second-to-last OPS of .688; we were one of only two teams (the Texas Rangers, at the exceedingly UNFUN portion of a rebuild, where they’re legitimately one of the worst squads in all of baseball) with an OPS under .700. And, as far as pitching goes, we were very much middle-of-the-road across the board.

We were 90-72, but ninth in the American League with a -51 run differential. Our Pythagorean win/loss record indicates we should’ve been 76-86 (per Baseball Reference). So, how do you make sense of a season like this? Well, the M’s were 11-28 in blowouts (games decided by 5 or more runs), but we were 33-19 in 1-run games.

It boils down to the starters being good enough to keep us in most ballgames, our manager pulling the right strings regarding when to take them out of harm’s way, and a bullpen that, in part, was one of the best units in the league. And, our hitters being among the most clutch I’ve ever seen. They didn’t hit much, but when they did, they made those opportunities count! Often late in games, to either come from behind, or break a tie to win it in thrilling fashion.

So, where do we attribute the Mariners’ success and ultimate failure?

Well, for the highlights, look no further than J.P. Crawford, Ty France, Mitch Haniger, and Kyle Seager, on the hitting side of things. They had an inordinate amount of impact on just how well the Mariners performed this season. It’s not even close; the drop-off after those four guys is insane. You don’t LOVE to see something like that, because Seager is gone next year, and Haniger only has one year of Arbitration left before he might walk in free agency.

What you want to see is the young guys stepping up and assuming huge roles; I’ll discuss these guys in a separate post, but suffice it to say, they weren’t quite up to the task just yet.

But, Crawford and France are still pretty young, with lots of team control remaining. They’re not nothing!

If you think about the Mariners in 2-3 year chunks, then we’ve got at least those two guys in the fold and producing at a high level. We can always extend Haniger after next year, or if we don’t, that means we likely have someone else of a high calibre who can fill his shoes (Julio Rodriguez, for instance).

In the meantime, as I’ll get into another time, it’s far from doom-and-gloom with the young guys. Plus, it’s not like we’re going to rest on our laurels with the guys in the farm system. We’ll bring in veterans in free agency and trades to fill out the lineup, and make up for the loss of Seager.

As for the starting pitching side of things, who doesn’t love what Chris Flexen did as a bargain-basement signing? He led the starters in innings pitched, WAR, ERA, and wins, and he did it with sustainable stuff that should continue to play as a solid #2 or #3 starter. Marco Gonzales continued to do Marco Gonzales things. And, Logan Gilbert had a strong first season, seeming to improve as the year went on (more on him later).

The downside is, that’s pretty much it. James Paxton got injured on day one. Yusei Kikuchi likely pitched his way off the team (losing a 4-year, $66 million option in the process), though he could always exercise a 1-year player option for $13 million (but, that seems unlikely, as you’d think someone else would fork over more guaranteed dollars and try to fix his issues). Justus Sheffield was one of the biggest disappointments on the team and his future is very much in doubt. Justin Dunn lost half his season to injury, but wasn’t all that effective in the half he was healthy. Tyler Anderson was a competent back-of-the-rotation starter we acquired at the trade deadline, but he’ll be a free agent this offseason and will be looking for a significant raise.

I would argue the Mariners need at least two starters, and it’s debatable as to whether or not the young guys in our farm system are ready yet. If we’re trying to make the playoffs in 2022, entrusting two more rotation spots to rookies seems like a bad idea. But, we have to do better than Sheffield and Dunn, so they better figure something out.

The bullpen was the biggest pleasant surprise on the team. Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, and Casey Sadler were all lights out! Diego Castillo was fine, though it’s hard to want to trust him in the highest-leverage situations. Kendall Graveman was excellent when he was here, and he netted us a nice little return in Abraham Toro; plus we could always sign him again this offseason if we wanted!

The thing is, we have team control with all of those guys (save Graveman), and I haven’t even gotten to the younger guys who I’ll talk about later. Nor did I mention Ken Giles, who missed this year with injury, but is signed through the 2022 season and is slated to return and be a big part of this group! The bullpen went from being arguably this team’s biggest weakness heading into the 2021 season, to being arguably its biggest strength heading into 2022. That’s HUGE (with the usual caveat being: bullpens are notoriously volatile from year-to-year, so they could all shit the bed as well).

So, what’s the state of the union as we exit 2021 and head into 2022?

I know the marketing materials would tell us it’s all looking up, and I’m buying right into the rose-colored glasses this organization is trying to peddle, but I think they’re right! I like the looks of things for the Mariners in the coming years. I’m not going to sit here and guarantee a playoff spot in 2022; I could easily see this team taking a step backwards.

Odds are, the 2022 Mariners won’t be quite so lucky in 1-run games. Odds are, the 2022 Mariners won’t hit quite so well in the clutch. Odds are, the 2022 Mariners will continue to suffer injuries to key guys (anyone remember Kyle Lewis?).

The thing is, we could see all of that; we could even see the 2022 Mariners end up as a sub-.500 ballclub in the overall standings! That having been said, we could see all of that while the team itself continues to grow and get better. Maybe we start out slow, losing games we expected to win, but in the process we get to watch more young guys make their Major League debuts. We get to see other young guys continue to blossom into Major Leaguers and All Stars. Maybe 2022 is the final step-back before things all skyrocket in 2023 and beyond.

The point is, there will be more bumps in the road. Things never EVER go according to plan. But, that doesn’t mean the overall outlook isn’t high. Just don’t put too much pressure on the year right in front of us. It might take two years, and that’s okay.

But, if we’re not in the playoffs by 2023, there should be hell to pay. Because how do you fuck up an organization with a farm system this stacked? Well, if anyone can fuck it up, you know the Mariners can!

The Mariners Played The Indians For The Last Time

Haha! Fun with technicalities and team name changes.

This was a camping weekend for yours truly, so I only ended up watching maybe the last couple innings of the Sunday game. Turns out, I didn’t really miss much.

The Mariners lost 7-0 on Friday. A text from my friend came through that read, “At least the Mariners weren’t no hit. Minor win with that.” That was really all I needed to know. I think this was Justin Dunn’s first start back since the brief IL stint, and clearly he didn’t have anything, nor did anyone else on the team.

Saturday’s game was an unfortunate one that we probably should’ve had. A 4-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth? That’s a game you should win 10 times out of 10. The real shame of it all is that another great start by Yusei Kikuchi was wasted; he went 7 innings of shutout ball, giving up 3 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 6. Kendall Graveman – still working his way back from the COVID IL – gave up a solo homer in the 8th, but that’s still no excuse for Rafael Montero blowing the 9th the way he did. That’s his 6th blown save of the season and at this point I just don’t see how we salvage it with him. It’s one of two things with him: either this is a lost season and he’ll get it all back in 2022 (presumably with a new team), or he’s just finished as a Major League pitcher. The way he’s been throwing, I just can’t see him turning things around in 2021, and even if he does, it DEFINITELY won’t be with the Mariners. One of the biggest busts of the year, and that’s factoring in James Paxton getting injured in his very first start.

On top of everything, Saturday’s game was our first loss in extra innings. We salvaged things on Sunday, winning that one 6-2. Logan Gilbert had another great start, going 6.2 innings, giving up 1 run on 4 hits and 1 walk, striking out 6. The bullpen was lockdown from there, until two outs into the 9th inning, when Graveman had some trouble getting that 27th out. He eventually loaded the bases and wild pitched in a run before closing the door. Even with a 5-run lead, Scott Servais wasn’t taking any chances with this one. The aforementioned Graveman went on back-to-back days (throwing 33 pitches in this game alone), Kyle Seager went from DH to 3B for that 9th inning. Shed Long was removed from LF for Jake Fraley; Ty France went from 3B to 1B. He WOULD NOT tolerate another blown save, if he could help it! And yet, Graveman almost did so anyway, which would’ve been pretty hilarious, in a sick way.

The Mariners went 4-6 on that road trip, losing two games in every city they visited. They’ve now earned a nice, long homestand for their trouble.

The Mariners Bounced Back The Opposite Way, Lost A Series To The Athletics

The 6-5 victory on Monday sealed off five wins in a row, and a stretch of 7 wins in 8 games: relatively impressive after the 6 losses in a row that preceeded it. Granted, the bullpen gagged away our 4-2 lead late in the game, blowing a would-be victory for Logan Gilbert – who was impressive over 6 innings, giving up just 2 runs on 5 hits and a walk, with 5 strikeouts, on 80 pitches – but we were able to prevail in extras thanks to some clutch hitting and a rabid sacrifice fly by Tom Murphy.

My friends and I went to the game on Tuesday thinking we had this game pegged. Marco Gonzales was making his return from the IL and wasn’t projected to go very far, since he hadn’t made any tune-up starts in the minor leagues. This one had all the feel of a game that might get out of hand early, with the bullpen carrying the mail like it usually does to keep things interesting to the end.

Instead, Marco was great! He threw 50 pitches, made it through 4 innings, and gave up only 1 run on 2 hits. It was, indeed, the bullpen that was shot, giving up the other 11 runs that turned this game into a rout, particularly with a 6-run seventh inning. We left the game not long after that debacle.

Wednesday’s rubber match was a total nightmare. I watched for almost three innings, but the A’s put up a 5-spot in the third and I knew it was over from there. I don’t know a ton about the Athletics and their players, but I know Sean Manaea fucking owns our asses. One run would’ve been too much, as this ended in a 6-0 complete game shutout for the man. Chris Flexen was able to gamely make it through 6 innings, just giving up those 5 runs, so it was nice of him to spare the bullpen a little bit (as Justin Dunn is going to miss his next start, which means we’re in for yet another bullpen day coming up).

It’s actually kind of crazy how many Mariners are hitting the IL this year. I have little frame of reference how they compare to the rest of MLB, or how they compare to normal seasons in the recent past, but it feels like a lot. It feels somewhat abnormal. Some of these would have happened in any ol’ season – I’m looking at Ty France getting hit by a pitch, and Kyle Lewis’ bum knee – but there has to be a non-zero number of injuries that we can attribute to COVID-19 and the cockadoodie 2020 season with only 60 games and no minor leagues. Guys whose bodies … for lack of a better phrase are out of baseball shape. So they’re getting these strains that they might not otherwise.

Of course, this could also just be a byproduct of the game today. Today’s player probably needs more regular off-days than they’re getting. Teams are unwilling or unable to roster full benches – because they’re using every extra spot on their bullpens – and obviously that’s for good reason, given how many of these injuries are happening to pitchers. When you’re a team like the Mariners – trying to run a 6-man rotation out there, partially in hopes of reducing some of the wear-and-tear, even though we no longer employ more than 6 viable starting pitchers at the Major League level – this rash of injuries becomes more pronounced. When fans are forced to watch many multiple bullpen days because the organization fucked around in the offseason putting all their chips in on James Paxton, there’s an injury trickle-down effect when that very bullpen that’s been carrying this team gets overworked. All in the name of this theory that a 6-man rotation is supposed to cut down on injuries.

IT’S NOT WORKING, MARINERS! All it’s doing is costing you games and the livelihood of your relievers that you’re running through a fucking meat-grinder.

In theory, in an ideal world where the Mariners have an unlimited source of quality starting pitchers, a 6-man rotation might be a good idea. But, in reality, almost no team has 6 good-to-great starters. They BARELY have 5, with the depth being of the sub-replacement level variety. There’s a reason why teams in the playoffs scale back to three starters, maybe four at the most. Obviously, you can’t do that over the course of a full 162-game season, but it’s pretty apparent you also can’t stretch it out to 6 without throwing away some games.

Those games start to add up when you’re hovering around .500 and ostensibly in contention for a postseason berth.

The Mariners Split A 4-Game Series Against The Red Sox

It’s interesting to think about what a 13-9 start for the Mariners means. The strength of schedule has been fucking crazy. Boston is first in the A.L. East. The White Sox are second in the Central; the Twins should end up better than their record indicates right now. The Astros are obviously slumping and will be much better than their sub-.500 record when it’s all said and done. And the Dodgers and Giants are the top two teams in the N.L. West. So, to have this winning record, and only be a game behind the scorching-hot A’s is pretty outstanding!

But, it’s also incredibly early. And maybe the bullpen has been unsustainably hot. And the clutch late-game heroics have been unsustainably … existing. This could all be randomness that just so happens to be taking place against very good teams (and the Orioles).

Or, if you want to look on the bright side – something I’ve been trying to do a little more of lately, in spite of the blog’s name – maybe the Mariners are actually good, and they’ll REALLY start to rack up the W’s when we get to the part of the schedule where we can feast on the dregs of the game! Wouldn’t that be something?!

I mean, I’ll be honest: I keep waiting for the tide to turn and the Mariners to be exposed as the frauds they are … yet here we are, 22 games in, and still going strong! If you play around .500 against the good teams, and something like .667 against the bad teams, well, that’s a playoff team in all likelihood.

So, a 2-2 road set in the city of Boston is something akin to a 2-1 series against a shitty team.

Last Thursday, the Mariners were up to their usual tricks: erasing a 2-0 deficit in the sixth inning with an impressive rally (highlighted by a 2-run double by Ty France), then erasing a 3-2 deficit in the eighth with a J.P. Crawford double. Only to explode for a 4-spot in the tenth inning, featuring a clinching 3-run homer by Mitch Haniger to put it away.

Justin Dunn looked more in control in his 5 innings of work (2 runs on 6 hits and only 1 walk, with 5 strikeouts), and the bullpen was dominant from there (1 run on 2 hits and 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts).

The M’s couldn’t keep the good times going on Friday, but very nearly did pull yet another game out of their asses! Yusei Kikuchi didn’t have it, giving up 5 runs in less than 5 innings of work. The bullpen, however, kept us in it JUST enough to let things get interesting (minus an unearned run attributed to Ljay Newsome, who was otherwise solid). We were down 6-2 in the ninth inning before a 3-run homer by Kyle Seager made things interesting. But, just not enough offense in this one; 4/12 with runners in scoring position, with 9 left on base.

We bounced back in a huge way on Saturday behind a STRONG Chris Flexen start (7 innings, 1 run on 4 hits & 1 walk, with 7 strikeouts). The offense blew the doors off, with France, Seager, White, and Haggerty all contributing multi-hit games in the 8-2 victory. Can’t say enough good things about how Flexen has looked the first few times through the rotation. He is a VERY welcome surprise, after the dud of a bottle rocket that was the return of James Paxton.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t pull off the series victory on Sunday, as Nick Margevicius couldn’t get more than a single out and we had to go with a Bullpen Day. After being pulled prematurely in his previous start, Margevicius was put on the IL today with shoulder inflammation; we’ll see who takes his place (though Newsome figures to be a safe bet).

You’d think a Bullpen Day – with the way the bullpen has been going – might not be the worst idea. And, indeed, they were excellent, holding the Red Sox to 1 run over 7.2 innings. But, the damage was done with the 4-spot Margevicius gave up, as we lost 5-3. Again, the offense scuffled, going 2/11 with RISP and striking out 11 more times. That’s going to happen, as the offense isn’t elite after the first couple batters, and as we go up against top tier starters. Hopefully, things start to level off on both ends (where we’re not facing so many guys with Ace-like stuff, and our hitters regress to a more competent level of baseline).

Now, it’s four in Houston. So, maybe the swoon starts today? We’ll see! I’m still waiting.

The Mariners Won One Against The White Sox

If you ever want to know where the Mariners are in their rebuild, it’s helpful to see how they play against the very best teams in baseball. I would put the White Sox up there among them, and at least at this point in the rebuild, the M’s were outclassed.

The game on Monday was a brutal 6-0 shutout. Justus Sheffield looked pretty good through three innings, but the wheels started to come off in the fourth, and he was done after five, having given up 6 runs, 4 earned. I would say that performance was as expected for a guy making his first start of the season, against a team that absolutely mashes left-handed pitching.

The real drag was from the lineup, who managed only three hits on the day (two of them by Haniger). We struck out 15 fucking times against only 4 walks; that’s as pathetic as it gets. Take a picture of what the outfield looks like right now (sans Haniger), as it can ONLY improve from here with call-ups and guys returning from injury. Jake Fraley, Sam Haggerty, and Taylor Trammell don’t appear to be Major League players (yet? maybe ever?). Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, and Julio Rodriguez can’t get here soon enough.

The only positive in this one was the four innings of shutout ball by the bullpen. Don’t get used to that, though.

Tuesday’s game was a miserable 10-4 blowout, where both Paxton and Fraley left injured. Paxton’s injury seems particularly bad, as he’s reportedly seeking a second opinion. Fraley: who cares? Margevicius never should’ve appeared in this series – being a soft-tossing lefty – and was roped around accordingly. The rest of the bullpen behind him didn’t do the team any favors either, as everyone after Paxton combined to give up 9 of the 10 runs.

As for the hitters, Haniger and Ty France were good! Tom Murphy was productive in his at-bats at DH. Everyone else was pretty mediocre.

Yesterday’s game was a relatively impressive 8-4 victory for the M’s! I’ll be honest, that was a tough one to see coming, and in retrospect seems even less likely!

Justin Dunn has improved velocity on his fastball, but was otherwise up to his old tricks in this one: allowing one hit while walking EIGHT! Ye gods. He failed to get through the fifth inning. BUT, the hitters brought their lunch pails in this one, scoring three off of old buddy Dallas Keuchel, then five more against some hapless reliever who got knocked around something fierce.

Kyle Seager started pulling his weight in this one, with three hits and three RBI. But, seven Mariners in total had hits, most of them in a 7-run sixth inning.

The bullpen went 4.1 innings, giving up just 1 run, with Will Vest getting his first career Major League win. All in all, a lot to like about this one game at least. If the series as a whole is a barometer of where the Mariners are in their rebuild, it’s encouraging to have a performance like this one to at least give us some hope.

Now, the Mariners are off on their first road trip of the season, with a weird three-game series against the Twins (with a random Friday off-day). I don’t understand why MLB didn’t schedule this with another off-day on Sunday; if you’re SO worried about there being a rainout, why not front-load the games so you have a better opportunity to get the entire series in? Sure, the Twins’ home-opener is secure, but what happens if there’s a rain storm on Saturday or Sunday? We’re fucked into making a repeat trip to Minnesota later in the season! Fucking idiots; schedule smarter!

James Paxton Is Hurt Again

In his first start back, no less!

Before the game yesterday, I was trying to think of a couple storylines to write about the Mariners this morning. One, I think, is very much on the table, and I will get to it shortly. The other was going to compliment the bullpen a little bit, but that might be premature.

Regardless, they take a backseat to James Paxton throwing 24 pitches in anger last night before succumbing to elbow pain. Jesus Christ.

When you sign a guy in the prime of his life – if not, necessarily, the prime of his Major League Baseball career – you kind of expect … something. Even when you sign him to a 1-year, prove-it deal, after an injury-shortened 2020 season, you still figure there’s been plenty of time for him to recover and build himself up into a Best Shape Of His Life candidate. While you’re aware of the risk of another injury befalling this unlucky individual, you DEFINITELY don’t expect that injury to take place in the very first start, after an incident-free Spring Training!

I mean, I can’t even begin to tell you the level of relative despair I felt when I heard the announcers say that Scott Servais was coming out of the dugout in the second inning. I’m sure that’s nothing to the actual despair felt by Paxton and those close to him, but this really fucking sucks. Not just from a fan or a team perspective. Obviously, I want to see him pitch. He’s great when he’s healthy! He’s a fun guy to root for! And, not for nothing, but if he helps the Mariners win ballgames, maybe we can parlay that into ongoing affiliation with the team; or, conversely, if we want to take another stab at trading a veteran on a short deal for prospect(s) at the trade deadline this summer, all the better there too. But, even if nothing comes out of his second stint with the Mariners, and it fails to benefit us whatsoever, I was mostly hoping – for his sake – that he’d last the whole season and be able to resurrect things, to the extent that a pitcher with his injury history is able to do so. He really does deserve to have sustained success, and it’s not completely unheard of for guys in his position to have late-career flourishes.

It was announced today that he’s going on the 10-Day IL (as well as Jake Fraley, who apparently injured his hamstring while making a spectacular diving catch last night). Nick Margevicius – who had the ignominious honor to follow Paxton last night into a hornet’s nest of White Sox batters who crush left-handed pitching – will take the open spot in the rotation. That’s as big of a downgrade as you can get, I’d imagine, but it obviously won’t be as bad as it was last night in every start he makes.

Get well soon, Paxton! This season is A LOT more fun with you on the mound!

The Mariners Somehow Won Their Opening Weekend Series!

Actually, that’s not such a remarkable feat, but you try writing thousands of quasi-unique blog post titles and see what you come up with.

After staying at the game past 11pm, and then not getting home until around midnight last Thursday, I didn’t have it in me to watch the entirety of Friday night’s game. I’m such a bad fan! I’m such an old man! Kill me now!

What I did see, however, was an impressive outing by Yusei Kikuchi (who swapped places with Paxton in the rotation for … reasons), who went 6 innings, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk while striking out 10! Unfortunately, all three of his runs came on 2 homers, and he ended up with a no decision for his troubles.

This feels like a pretty standard 6-3 loss for the Mariners in 2021: pretty good starting pitching, not so great hitting (only 6 hits all game), and a dud performance from the bullpen (highlighted by Drew Steckenrider’s 3 runs in 0.2 innings of relief). Once the game was given away like that, I toddled off to bed. But, I still say this one was promising, for Kikuchi’s improved command alone. If he can keep that up all year, we might be onto something!

I’ll admit, I didn’t have high hopes for the rubber match on Saturday (the rare Sunday off-day is throwing me for a loop, I have to admit), with Chris Flexen making his Mariners debut. I was also outside working with my friends in their backyard gravel pit, so I managed to miss all but the very end of this one. Which is too bad, because it looks like I missed a pretty good Flexen outing! 5 innings of shutout ball, on 4 hits & 2 walks, with 6 strikeouts. We were told ahead of time that he might be limited in how long he could go, so all things considered that’s pretty amazing!

The bullpen behind him was also pretty fantastic! I would assume the combination – in some order – of Kendall Graveman, Anthony Misiewicz, and closer Rafael Montero will be in play for the vast majority of games where the Mariners hold a lead late. These are the guys Scott Servais is going to rely on until they prove they can’t handle it. Graveman went 2 shutout innings, striking out 5. Misiewicz appeared to struggle, but got two outs in the eighth. And Montero came through with the 4-out save after blowing one on Opening Night. All in all, as solid a 4-0 victory as you’ll see.

It’s obviously too early to draw any grand conclusions from three games. I don’t think the Giants are overburdened with quality pitching, so while it’s nice that the M’s hitters did as well as they did, we could very well be in for lean times ahead. Only three American League teams – who have played in just three games – have more team strikeouts so far. And, again, that’s with the Giants not having good pitching whatsoever.

The vaunted White Sox come to town for three starting tonight, before we hit the road for Minnesota and Baltimore. It would be nice to steal as many wins over the next ten days as possible, considering how difficult the schedule gets in the back-half of this month, and on into May.

2021 Mariners Preview Extravaganza: We Have A Starting Rotation

I don’t know if the official 26-man roster has been set yet, but I do know we have the 6-man rotation good to go. So, I’ll start there. I’ll forego the bullpen because I don’t know those men, nor do I care to know those men. Tomorrow, I’ll look to talk about the everyday players and then we’ll get this pig in gear!

  1. Marco Gonzales (L)
  2. James Paxton (L)
  3. Chris Flexen (R)
  4. Justus Sheffield (L)
  5. Yusei Kikuchi (L)
  6. Justin Dunn (R)

The next man up – at least until Logan Gilbert gets his initial call-up – figures to be lefty Nick Margevicius. So, a lot of familiar faces there.

Once the M’s signed Paxton, this is pretty much the group we expected all along, even if the order after the top two is a little surprising. I think you can really toss all four of the bottom guys (five if you count Margevicius) into a hat and pick them out at random. Is Flexen really the #3 guy? Or, is he just projected to be the most-reliable right-handed starter and Scott Servais wanted to break up the four lefties? My hunch is it’s the latter.

When healthy, I’ll ride or die with Gonzales and Paxton all day every day; I think that’s as solid a 1-2 punch as you’ll find. Especially with Paxton as your #2? When he’s going strong, he’s as dominant as they come! If things break right with this team, these two guys should have tremendous winning percentages when it’s all said and done.

Neither, of course, were particularly amazing in Spring Training; Gonzales had a pretty high ERA and Paxton only made two official starts (with, presumably, lots of games in back-alleys to fill out his pitch counts). But, these are tried and true veterans who only need to get the work in; they have nothing to prove in these games. I expect big things.

Flexen has always been an interesting case, as he’s largely either an unknown in America, or a terrible pitcher. He salvaged his career in Asia, and obviously is hoping he can carry that over back in the Major Leagues, but this is all Wait & See for me. He had five starts in Spring Training, and pretty pedestrian numbers, but his last two starts totalled 8 innings of 5-hit, shutout ball. So, at least he’s hot heading into the regular season.

Justus Sheffield impressed the hell out of me in 2020. He’s another one with pretty shabby Spring Training numbers, but his last two starts totalled 8.2 innings of 6-hit, 2-run ball. He’s not the proven veteran that Gonzales and Paxton are, so I don’t know if we can totally write off his performance in those four official games. I would still expect an up-and-down season, hopefully with more ups than downs. A full Mariners turnaround and/or a playoff-bound 2021 season likely requires Sheffield to be better than he was in 2020, and to continue to improve as time goes on. I’ll be rooting like crazy for this to happen, even though I have my nagging doubts.

Seeing Yusei Kikuchi as the #5 starter is pretty abysmal, all things considered. There’s no way the Mariners signed him to all of that money to be their fifth starter. Kikuchi had three official starts in Spring Training and his numbers were solid. He continues to make steady progress, but I don’t know if he’s making ENOUGH progress to be a guy that will stick around beyond 2021. At this point, I’d say my prediction is that he’ll continue to scuffle and won’t be here in 2022 under his existing contract, if at all. BUT, of any one of these bottom four guys who might put it all together, I think Kikuchi has the highest ceiling in 2021 (if not necessarily beyond). He has the stuff! The fastball works. If the command locks in, the American League better watch out, because Kikuchi could be pretty special.

I was happy to see Justin Dunn make the rotation in the 6-spot, because obviously he has a much higher ceiling than Margevicius. He’s apparently in tremendous shape and has added a few MPH to his fastball. He’s still young, he’s still raw, but he battled like crazy in 2020 and I’m hopeful another year in the Bigs will work wonders for his development. Like the rest of these bottom four guys, I expect ups and downs. Like Sheffield (and, really, everyone, I suppose), here’s to more ups than downs.

The over/under for Mariners wins is 72.5 (72-90/73-89). That’s a pretty low bar for this team to clear. If it does, I think we’ll have to lean on the rotation to … just keep us in games. That’s largely what they did in 2020. Nothing TOO flashy, just some solid 5-6 innings of 3-4 run ball. The hitting will be there sometimes and will fail us sometimes (but, I think it’ll be there more often than not); the bullpen PROBABLY won’t blow it every single time.

For this team to exceed expectations and actually contend for a playoff spot, I think the rotation will have to be better than just solid. They’ll have to go long stretches of carrying this team. Of not putting too much on the shoulders of the bullpen, as it tries to sort itself out. It COULD be capable of that, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I think this rotation is good enough to get us to 76-80 wins, with the team constructed around it as such. The real wild card is what we have in the upper minors, how quickly they can develop, and how hot they start their Major League careers.

The Mariners are going to have to ride their youngsters if they’re going to wildly exceed expectations. Fingers crossed!