Mariners 2011 Season Overview: Michael Pineda

In my ongoing series of Obvious Mariners To Talk About, I continue with our 2010 leader in Holds, Jamey Wright.

Kidding.  Of course I’m talking about pitching phenom Michael Pineda!  To start, I give you my prediction of what I thought his output would be, from a post on March 31st of this year:

You’re going to see a guy who will probably go somewhere around 11-14 with a 4.78 ERA.  But, within those harsh numbers you’ll see his potential break out.  Remember, this is a team that’s not going to score a lot of runs, so he WILL lose more games than he wins.  Nevertheless, you’ll see some real gems where he goes 7 innings of 2-hit ball.  AND, you’ll see some games where he can’t get out of the third inning.  It happens to the best of ‘em.

Pineda will likely start out hot, then the league will figure him out, then towards the end of his season he’ll start making the right adjustments to end on a high note.

Let’s take this line by line.  Pineda, in reality, went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA.  I wasn’t too terribly far off on the record (he DID lose more than he won, thanks to the offense), but there’s no way I could’ve expected that kind of an ERA.  4.78 would’ve been a good rookie season for a guy like him.  3.74 is off the charts!

As far as potential is concerned, he did have some real gems this year.  He had four games where he went 6+ innings while giving up 0 runs.  He consistently threw strikes (173 strikeouts in 171 innings, with only 55 walks).  And he got off to an incredible start (culminating in an All Star Game appearance – mostly thanks to the high number of pitchers who couldn’t make it because they pitched the Sunday before the game).

And, yeah, he ran into some trouble.  His string of games during that 17-game losing streak were about as bad as they get.  But, you know what?  His shortest outing of the year was 4 innings, and that was in his final game (because by that point they were hoarding his innings pitched like greedy ol’ Uncle Scrooge).

To sum up his rookie season:  Michael Pineda surpassed EVERYONE’S expectations.

And he did it pretty much by being a two-pitch pitcher.  We all knew going into the season that the guy didn’t have much of a change up (indeed, that was the primary reason why many believed he should start the season out in Tacoma, to incorporate one into his repertoire; aside from that whole Service Time issue that people stopped caring about once they witnessed his 98 mile per hour fastball).  He also did it by taking a lot off of his heater as the season went on.  A guy who was hitting triple-digits in the first month of the season was regularly around 93-95 miles per hour.  Seemed like he was incorporating a new arm angle too.  Hard to tell if that was fatigue over his first big league season, or if he was trying to adjust to the hitters who were adjusting to him.  Whatever the case, after that rocky July, Pineda seemed to find a nice groove.  He wasn’t nearly as dominating as he was in the first half, but he made it.  He went a full season without missing a game due to injury, without suffering too much hardship.

He will still need that change up, but right now I’m just going to be proud of the guy.  Your rookie season is always going to be the craziest.  He just passed his with flying colors.

The Mariners Most Likely Won’t Lose 100 Games This Year

The Seattle Mariners currently sit at 62-87.  Doing the math (or better yet, just doing the counting), I see that the Mariners have only 13 games left in the season.  We would have to lose every game the rest of the way to get to 100 losses.

Our magic number is 1!

I don’t suppose that’s a magic number in the sense most people are familiar with magic numbers in sports, but for the Mariners, 1 win will make all the difference.

Look at it:  we came into this season with lower than low expectations.  Anyone who predicted a .500 season, or anything close to a .500 season is a God damn moron, there I said it!  Yeah, I’m talking to YOU!  All you blogs, all you sports writers and beat reporters and national pundits!  You all had the Mariners in the 70-win range when you had NO REASON for it!  And you M’s fans, forget about it!  You’re fucking CRAZY!

Regression.  That’s all you got?  Certain players had outrageously bad seasons and SURELY they couldn’t replicate the badness back-to-back!  Bullshit, of course they could!  And, in many cases, they did.  Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, Jack Cust, Jack Wilson, Michael Saunders; ALL of those guys followed up bad seasons with even worse seasons.  Compound that with the fact that Ichiro took a huge dive, Justin Smoak went on an extended slump (that is, when he wasn’t out with injury), Miguel Olivo is a walking Golden Sombrero …

I didn’t intend for this to be a 2011 Retrospective.  There will be plenty of time for that in the off-season.  This is a call-out to all the people who predicted this team would be better than it actually is.

And, for a while there, they were looking pretty damn good and I was looking pretty damn foolish.  For a while, the Mariners were at or above .500.  They were in contention for the AL West, their starting pitching was off-the-charts good, and their bullpen was doing things (Jamey Wright, David Pauley) that nobody in his right mind EVER could have expected.  Then, that 17-game losing streak happened.  I guess that’s one case where regression actually makes sense.

You know what I predicted for this year?  “Record Prediction:  65-97.  AL West Finish:  4th Place.  Draft Pick in 2012:  4.”  I’m EERILY fucking close to all of those things hitting right on the nose.  Look at my post HERE (and trust that I didn’t go back later and adjust it).

To hit my record, the Mariners have to go 3-10.  Look at the schedule!  6 games against the Rangers (fighting hard with Anaheim for the division), 3 games in Minnesota, another game in Cleveland, and 3 games at home vs. Oakland.  It’s not the most difficult schedule in the world, but 3-10 is VERY much on the table!

Currently, the Mariners are drafting 4th by a half game (San Diego is tied with us in the loss column, with one more in the win column) and by one and a half games (Baltimore has 1 extra loss, 2 fewer wins).  Should we go 3-10, as I predicted, I would say 4th is a stone cold lock (if not a lock for an even better draft slot).

And, obviously, the Mariners are last in the AL West.  By a whopping 5.5 games.  This one is a done deal.

Anyway, before I got all sidetracked on your idiotic predictions, I was talking about how 1 win will make all the difference.  And it will!  The psychological disgust involved with seeing triple-digits in the loss column is overpowering.  It’s a stench so foul, it will haunt you in your nightmares!  It’s the kind of thing that gets GMs and field managers unnecessarily fired.

I’ve said all along, while I thought the Mariners would be terrible, I still want to see Jackie Z retained.  That’s still true.  It’s a lot easier on management (I mean upper management here, the guys who hire and fire guys like Jackie Z) to NOT fire someone if they’ve got fewer than 100 losses.

However, a GM who has proceeded over a team with back-to-back 100-loss seasons … that’s a bitter fucking horse pill to swallow.  And I understand Z has already been signed to an extension, but first of all, who really expects contracts to ever be honored (even in Baseball where everything is guaranteed)?  Secondly, back-to-back 100-loss seasons is only going to serve in additional pressure on our already-beleaguered GM.

I don’t need Z suffering the ill effects of Armstrong & Lincoln breathing fire down his neck, whispering in his ear, “You gotta win now!  We gotta get more asses in those seats!”  That’s the kind of pressure that makes a guy panic in his wheelings and dealings.  Signing guys he wouldn’t normally sign because they’re a big name who might attract a few hundred more season ticket holders; trading away blue-chip prospects for guys who will help us in the interim, but won’t help us in the long run.

Look, I’m not one of those guys who says, “Don’t trade ANYBODY,” and keeps talking about the farm system like it’s some magical fairyland that produces nothing but top-notch Major Leaguers.  I understand not ALL of our prospects will pan out; I understand that we need to make trades to bring in guys to help the big ballclub (as opposed to the other way around; trading Major Leaguers to help the farm).  But, I just don’t want Z making the wrong deals, or deals he will later come to regret, simply because there’s this pressure on him to Win Now Or Else.

The Mariners winning 1 more game will go a long way toward helping that.  99 is better than 100.  Yeah, it’s just 1 game, but the distance between those numbers is a country mile wide.

That 17-Game Losing Streak Was A Thing of Beauty

It’s been a long, crazy week of Seahawks madness, but I would be completely remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the 17-game losing streak before the week ends.

Of course, every fucking person with an Internet connection and some tie to Seattle has written about this thing, so I’m gonna do something a little different.  I hereby present 17 mini recaps of 17 historical losses.  And I do mean historical.  I don’t know what you want to consider official (I choose to go by Geoff Baker’s list because it’s right there), but by Baker’s count, there were 16 teams with streaks longer than 17 games.  The top of the shitpile was the Cleveland Spiders with a whopping 24 losses in a row.  Almost made it.

Game 1 – @ Oakland, 2-0:  We came into this game 43-43, having already won the series with the A’s right after taking the series against the Padres.  We were 2.5 games behind Anaheim & Texas and all anyone could talk about was:  will the Mariners ACTUALLY be buyers at the Trade Deadline?  Then, some guy named Guillermo Moscoso made us look absolutely ridiculous as he combined with two other guys to 2-hit us and start the streak that would officially end our season.  Vargas was your hard-luck loser going the full 8 and striking out 6 while only giving up 5 hits.

Game 2 – @ Anaheim, 5-1:  This was Doug Fister vs. Jered Weaver, so what did you expect?  Run support?  Ha!  Yeah, Weaver went the full 9, striking out 6.  Our lone run started off the scoring, but ultimately the Angels were too much for Fister as they came right back in the bottom half of the third to take the lead for good.

Game 3 – @ Anaheim, 4-3:  A Blake Beavan Special!  My man actually did enough to win this, giving up 2 runs over 6.1 innings (while Ervin Santana gave up 3 runs in 7), but then Jamey Wright came in and gave up a homer to light-hitting catcher Hank Conger.  David Pauley would go on to give up the game-winning homer to Mark Trumbo in the 9th, hanging the most miserable changeup you’ve ever seen.

Game 4 – @ Anaheim, 9-3:  If you want an MVP for this losing streak, look no further than Michael Pineda who looked particularly bad in at least two all of these games.  Here, he got knocked around for 7 runs in 5 innings (including two homers to Torii Hunter).  Meanwhile, Joel Pineiro slopped his way through 7 innings  (giving up 10 hits but only 3 runs, thanks to 7 strikeouts).  We were 4 for 12 with runners in scoring position, yet only scored the 3 runs.  Sad.

Game 5 – @ Anaheim, 4-2:  Getaway day.  Last game before the All Star Break.  Felix vs. Haren.  The King did his part, holding them to 2 runs over 7 innings, but Haren also held serve, giving up 2 runs over 8.2 innings.  Co-MVP of the streak David Pauley gave up yet ANOTHER game-losing homer, this time to Alberto Callaspo in the 8th.  Again in this game the Mariners had an early lead, our 2 runs coming in the first inning.  Unfortunately, Felix isn’t always perfect, and Pauley rarely is.

Game 6 – vs. Texas, 5-0:  Vargas gave up 12 hits in 6 innings, giving up all the runs.  Derek Holland continued the mastery left-handed starters have over our hitters (to be fair, right-handed starters are also very damn good against us), going the full 9, striking out 8.  Also, count this as the start of the Jeff Gray Showcase.

Game 7 – vs. Texas, 4-0:  After this game, we were at a streak of 26 consecutive scoreless innings.  Righty Colby Lewis did most of the damage in this one, going 8.2 and striking out 8.  Fister, shockingly, got no run support again.  Of course, he did himself no favors by giving up 4 runs in 7.2.

Game 8 – vs. Texas, 5-1:  The scoreless streak went a full 30 innings.  Not nearly as impressive as 17 straight losses, but I’d say we were about 15 innings away from giving 17 losses a run for its money.  The hero here?  Ichiro singling home Guti.  Meanwhile, Wedge left Felix in the game too long, turning a 2-1 deficit into an out-of-reach 5-1 drubbing in the 8th inning.  The King’s Court, unfortunately, could not carry our ace to the finish line.  Brandon League followed up his so-so All Star appearance with a scoreless 9th to get in some work.

Game 9 – vs. Texas, 3-1:  Beavan!  Mitch Moreland jacked a 3-run homer in the second inning and this one was done.  Nevertheless, my boy had a quality start, going 6.2 innings.  Meanwhile, Matt Harrison dominated.  We scored 2 runs in this 4-game series; just in time to hit the road for a 9-game East Coast swing.

Game 10 – @ Toronto, 6-5 (14 innings):  Another poor Pineda performance.  5 runs in 6.1 innings.  The Mariners had a lead in this one too:  1-0 in the first, 5-2 after the 2nd inning.  5-2 into the 7th inning, actually, then Pineda couldn’t get anyone out.  Technically, Jeff Gray got the blown save, giving up Pineda’s 5th run on a Jose Bautista single, but he went on to go 2.1 scoreless.  David Pauley came in to go another 3 scoreless.  Jamey Wright had AH scoreless inning, then we tried to push him for two and that was that.  Meanwhile, the Mariners missed a ton of scoring opportunities in extras, and the whole thing got blown up when Rajai Davis single-handedly socked us all in the gut by stealing 2 bases and scoring on a sac fly (even though Wright did all he could do to keep him close to the bags).

Game 11 – @ Toronto, 11-6:  Can’t say the bats didn’t come out to play in this Blue Jays series.  Unfortunately, our arms were sleeping on the job.  Vargas completely fell apart, giving up 5 runs in 3 innings.  Jamey Wright and Aaron Laffey combined to give up 6 runs in 4 innings, and there you have it.  Meanwhile, Dustin Ackley is still the man.

Game 12 – @ Toronto, 7-5:  This game was depressing as shit until the top of the 8th inning.  Once again, Fister had to go up against an ace in Ricky Romero; once again, Fister got zero run support while he was standing on the mound.  Then, all of a sudden, POW, Miguel Olivo jacks a Grand Slam to tie the game at 5.  Of course, David Pauley came in and promptly hung another changeup, allowing Rajai Davis to double in 2 runs in the bottom of the inning.  In related news:  I hate Rajai Davis.  A Lot.

Game 13 – @ Boston, 7-4:  So, of course, we have Felix vs. Lackey, and of course Lackey holds us to 1 run over 7 while Felix gets battered to the tune of 6 runs in 6.1 innings (11 hits, 4 walks, 2 K’s).  Mike Carp hit a 3-run homer in the 8th after we were down 7-1, so there’s that.

Game 14 – @ Boston, 3-1:  For a while there, Blake Beavan was dealin’.  He matched Josh Beckett 0 for 0 through 6 innings, then found himself with a 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the 7th.  Mike Carp (AGAIN!) with a homer, this time when it mattered.  Of course, hindsight being what it is, we probably should’ve went straight to the bullpen.  Instead, Wedge left Beavan in and the Sox scored 3 in the bottom frame.  It was over after that.

Game 15 – @ Boston, 12-8:  How about three terrible starts for Pineda; is something wrong with him?  This time:  7 runs in 4.1 innings.  Tim Wakefield also gave up 7 runs over 6.1 innings, but it didn’t matter because our bullpen again fell apart when given a chance to hold things close.  This was another game that wasn’t nearly as close as its score.  It was 11-3 before Brendan Ryan of all people hit the second Mariners Grand Slam of the season (and, ironically, of the streak) to pull us to within 4.  After Wakefield left to a rousing ovation, that was that.

Game 16 – @ New York, 10-3:  Vargas – shitty.  Defense – shitty.  Hitting – shitty.  Freddy Garcia – shitty yet effective.  No one wants to re-live this game, so let’s just move on.

Game 17 – @ New York, 4-1:  You could play this game 1,000,000 times and the Mariners’ record would be 0-1,000,000.  AGAIN with Fister going against an ace!  That guy needs to face some team’s fifth starter like you would NOT believe.  He was game for the challenge though, giving up only 3 runs in 7 innings.  Unfortunately, the offense had to go up against C.C. Sabathia.  We got the bases loaded in the 8th with no outs and could only muster a run when Figgins grounded into a fielder’s choice that should’ve been a double play to end it.  Thanks to Eric Chavez, we got the run.  Oh, and let us not forget, Sabathia was perfect through 6.1 innings.  Brendan Ryan got a clean single to the outfield.  Sabathia ended up striking out 14 over 7 innings (including 2 short rain delays) and as a team the Yankees struck out 18 Mariners.  Like I said, we could’ve played this game a million times and we would’ve lost each and every time.  I would refute any simulation of this matchup by simply showing you the Mariners’ lineup card.

So, there you have it. 17 games.  From 43-43 to 43-60; from 2.5 back in sole possession of 3rd place in the AL West (5.5 games up on Oakland) to 15.5 games back and in dead last (3 games behind Oakland).  From quasi-contenders to written-in-stone pretenders.  From potential buyers to certain sellers at the Trade Deadline.  From feel-good story to national laughingstock.

From Wednesday, July 6, 2011 through Tuesday, July 26, 2011, the Seattle Mariners were the worst team in baseball; and one of the worst baseball teams of all time.

Vernon Wells

We just lost because Vernon Wells hit two home runs.

We LOST.  Vernon Wells!  I can’t even formulate sentence-type things because WE JUST LOST TO VERNON WELLS!

With Vargas approaching 100 pitches after 6 full innings, I went to bed and the good guys had the lead 3-2.  I figured, okay, time for that lockdown bullpen we’ve been talking so much about this year.  1 inning for Pauley, 1 inning for Wright, 1 inning for League; shouldn’t be too hard for each of those capable young gentlemen to get 3 outs without giving up any runs.  CERTAINLY, they’ve done it before!

Except, no.  Pitch counts be damned!  Jason Vargas MUST GO SEVEN INNINGS.  That surely was what went through Eric Wedge’s brain.  Forget the fact that he was probably tiring – after all, we ARE just wrapping up a 20-games-in-20-days stretch of baseball.  FORGET the fact that he was about to face the teeth of the Angels’ lineup a fourth time with his pitch count nearing triple digits.  This isn’t a team that’s going to be a slave to pitch counts!

Look, I get that.  We’re a team with a 6-man bullpen (except, we’re REALLY a team with a 4-man bullpen that occasionally throws bones to the likes of Ray and Gray); our starters HAVE to pick up the slack.  But, you know what?  As the team’s manager, you have to recognize an important game when you see one.  Yesterday’s game was an important game.

Win:  and it doesn’t matter quite so much what we do against Jered Weaver tonight.  Lose:  and now we’re fucked because Jered Weaver’s going to no-hit us and Doug Fister’s going to get knocked the fuck out!

Yesterday’s game just decided this series.  We could’ve had a chance had we gone with the bullpen to start the 7th.  Instead, we got Vernon Wells’d right in the ass.

Seattle Mariners All Stars

First of all, let’s just get the obvious out of the way:  there isn’t a single Mariners hitter worthy of going to the All Star Game this year.  The last time I checked – which was, admittedly, some time ago – Ichiro was in 4th place for the outfield.  A small part of me would like to see the streak continue, but the bigger part of me hopes he doesn’t make it.

I mean, how could I?  He’s batting .252, his defense hasn’t been up to his usual standards, he’s still not walking.  In other words:  for the past month and change he’s been hurting his team WAY more than helping it.  It would be an embarrassment if he was voted in.  Everyone would blame the International Voting (instead of rightly crediting it in past seasons when Ichiro was good), and frankly I don’t want that.  I’d like to think the International Japanese voters are smarter than that.  I know they love their idol, but at some point you have to vote your conscience.

Of course, as I write this, I realize just how trivial the whole All Star Game really is.  Nobody REALLY cares about the All Star Game; hell, I don’t give two shits and haven’t given two shits since I was a teenager!  It’s nice for the players, it’s nice to see first-timers who’ve earned their way aboard by having breakout seasons; it’s annoying that players are voted in because of their names and not their numbers.  But, it’s not something to get bent out of shape about.

With that having been said:  do the right thing, Japan.  Leave Ichiro at home.  And, for the love of Christ, don’t just vote for whoever the Red Sox and Yankees are throwing out there.  Do the research!

Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s move on to the pitchers.

The Mariners have a team ERA of 3.35 – at the time of this posting that’s tied for first in the American League with Oakland (and tied for fifth behind the Padres, Phillies, Giants, and Braves).  With the amount of studs we have on this team, it would be a crime not to have at least two or three guys show up for the big game.

Michael Pineda needs to be on this team.  You’re talking about the guy who’s a frontrunner for Rookie Of The Year.  He’s 4th in AL ERA and 9th in AL strikeouts (this in spite of the fact that he’s tied for 37th in Innings Pitched).  His K’s per 9 innings pitched is Number 2 in the AL.  He’s been so very impressive, especially with what he’s been working with.  He’s a two-pitch starter with a firm 100 pitch-count limit every game.  If Michael Pineda isn’t on that team, then he will have been robbed.  It’ll just be another case of a player’s reputation being accepted over a new, fresh, exciting young stud who hasn’t “paid his dues” yet.  Bullshit.

By the by, you know who’s Number 1 in K’s per 9 innings?  Well, that would be Mr. Felix Hernandez.  Felix is leading the AL in strikeouts (4 more than Justin Verlander with 4 fewer innings pitched), he’s only 18th in ERA (with a still-amazing – and better than last year’s – 3.29) and he’s the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner.  I don’t think there’s anyway King Felix ISN’T on this team, but if that ERA was holding some people back, then I hypocritically applaud the people who vote him in on name-recognition alone.

Another should-be lock is, surprisingly enough, Brandon League.  At the moment, he’s leading the AL in saves with 18 (2 more than the next closest).  I don’t think I remember there EVER being a year where the saves-leader going into the All Star Game wasn’t actually ON the All Star team.  I will grant you, that week in May was one of the ugliest weeks I’ve ever witnessed for a single player (4 losses with 3 blown saves in five days).  But, he’s yet to give up a single RUN in his last 11 appearances (with 4 hits, 2 walks, and 5 strikeouts).  If League can keep it up (which, I would define as blowing no more than a single save between now and when they choose teams), he’s as big a lock as there is.

There has been talk bandied about that perhaps another reliever is deserving to go from the Mariners.  Well, you can cross off Jamey Wright from that list right now.  His ERA is almost at three; set-up men will never get in with numbers like his.  Aaron Laffey, I would argue, hasn’t been in enough games or pressure situations, though his ERA is sub-2.  Besides, he’s handcuffed because we have an even BETTER reliever than him who’s currently hogging all the focus.

David Pauley.  Who in Christ’s name would’ve thunk it?  But, you can’t deny the man’s been nails with the ball in his hand.  He gave up 2 runs in April (in 16.1 innings, mostly as a long-guy in losing situations), 1 run in May (when he was essentially promoted as our 7th/8th inning guy, over the course of another 16 innings), and so far 1 run in June over 5 innings.  His ERA stands right now at 0.96.  He’s got 23 strikeouts against 8 walks, and his WHIP is 0.78.  The guy is a fire-breathing dragon (who induces a helluva lot of ground balls).  And, I don’t remember him giving up too many runs from inherited baserunners either.

With those numbers, I don’t see how you could keep the guy off the team.  If he manages to keep it up (meaning, that ERA stays BELOW 1.00), David Pauley definitely belongs.  That being said, it’s damn near impossible for a reliever who’s not a closer to make the All Star Team.  I only remember a couple of Mariners (Jeff Nelson and maybe Shigetoshi Hasegawa) ever managing that feat.  Of course, when they made it, they had the peripheral numbers on their side.

The powers that be who pick these teams pretty much just look at two things with relievers:  Saves and ERA.  If you’ve got zero saves, you’re at a HUGE disadvantage.  So, your ERA better be fucking sparkling.  I’d feel more confident in Pauley’s chances if he was perfect for the rest of this month.  I’d also feel more confident in Pauley’s chances if some of these other closers ahead of him started throwing out their shoulders.

My guess?  I’m going with Felix and League as a lock.  I think Ichiro misses his first-ever All Star Game since joining the Mariners.  I think Pineda and Pauley are the last two pitchers left off the team.  Let’s face it, we’ve got the Texas Rangers picking the team’s pitching; are they REALLY going to take four Mariners from a team that’s in 2nd or 3rd place at the time of the game?  Highly unlikely, if you ask me.

Which, to be honest, wouldn’t piss me off in the least (well, that’s not true, I’m sure I’d be on here with venom spewing from my fingers if Pineda’s left off).  Michael Pineda, by getting the shaft, would have that much more to prove the rest of this season.  Hell, it could be a rallying cry for this entire team as it heads toward the second half of the season.


Of course, in today’s game, Michael Pineda goes 5.1 and gives up 5 earned runs.  Next up:  Felix tanks tomorrow’s game and David Pauley gives up four runs in an inning.

Basking In The Glow Of Another Series Win

Boy, was I ever doubting that we’d win that game yesterday.  And I mean that going in; once the game started and we were down 3-0, I was SURE we were going to lose.

But, these are your Comeback Kids; time and time again they’ve done the unthinkable.  At least, unthinkable by last year’s standards.  THIS year, I dunno, maybe we have to realize, once and for all, that these are NOT the 2010 Seattle Mariners.

Yesterday’s game had it all.  Ichiro tripled home two runs; Brendan Ryan succeeded in getting down the suicide squeeze to tie the game; Greg Halman – in his first game as a Mariner this season – went 3 for 4 with a triple and two RBI; Jamey Wright blew the 8th inning (when we had a 2-run lead) by giving up three runs; the M’s came right back in the bottom of the 8th with a Kennedy RBI single and an Olivo 3-run bomb; and Brandon League notched his 16th save.

That sealed it.  6th consecutive series win.  A crazy-good record since April 26th.  And yet, we’re still 2.5 games back of Texas because they’ve been on a tear of late.  They just went on the road and swept Cleveland in 4 games!  If Cleveland can’t slow this team down, who will?

I dunno, but there’s still reason to be optimistic for the rest of this month.  We have seven games against the White Sox and the Tigers (who we’ve dominated thus far).  Then, we’re at home against a couple of good teams (Anaheim & Philly) before a quick 3-game set in D.C. before coming right back home to play Florida (where we’ll be the road team in our own stadium) and Atlanta to close out June.  That’s a lot of home cookin’.

Here’s to keeping the streak of series wins alive!  Game time 5pm tonight.

M’s Lose; Top Of The Order Keeps Sucking

C.C. Sabathia.  What did I tell you?  This one had Loss written all over it.

Instead of focusing on the negatives twice in one day (Ichiro, Figgins, Vargas, Saunders), I’m going to pull some positives!  Probably could’ve done that after yesterday’s game – when we were ACTUALLY one game over .500 this late in May – but that’s how I roll.  Zagging when you think I’ll zig, bitches!

First of all, the bullpen was fantastic again.  6 innings, only 1 run given up after the Vargas 3-inning prostate exam.  It’s a little lot early to proclaim Jeff Gray a Jackie Z success story, but he WAS able to eat up 4 innings today after two hard-fought ballgames out of the better half of our bullpen the last two nights.  You can’t say enough about a guy who comes in and limits the carnage; sure we were down 6-0 when he came in – a comeback was slim-to-none.  Nevertheless, that’s something we can look at down the road.  You know, mabye pull Vargas after he’s given up FOUR runs in 3 innings; I dunno.

Also, don’t look now, but Chris Ray has only given up 1 earned run in his last six appearances, lowering his ERA from 16.88 to a paltry 8.03!  Granted, those six appearances were spread out well over a month’s time – and mostly in lost causes or desperate, bullpen-overused situations.  NEVERTHELESS, this could be his road back to being a somewhat reasonable human being.  It would be nice to have a dealin’ Chris Ray for when Jamey Wright inevitably collapses (and, for that matter, Laffey and Pauley).

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Justin Smoak’s solo homer in the sixth inning.  Prevented the shutout, and hey, a homer!  Finally the unstoppable downward slide of Smoak’s slugging percentage has ceased!

And, in conclusion, Brendan Ryan had two more hits (including a double) to raise his average to .277.  For some of these guys (Ichiro, Figgins, Smoak), the end of the month of May can’t come soon enough.  For Brendan Ryan, it’s going to be a sad sight to see the month of June this week.  On the one hand, I hope he keeps it up.  On the other, I don’t want to live in a world where Brendan Ryan has a higher batting average than Ichiro.  Or, you know, a whole fucking batting line right down to the OPS!


Incoming, we have the Baltimore Orioles.  They just got swept by the A’s.  Take that how you will, I’m just glad I don’t have to see Chris Tillman rub our noses in it.  Maybe this time Bedard can make Orioles fans wish they’d never made that trade!

Yeah, unlikely, I know.

Pandemonium In The Streets: The Mariners Hit .500

The last time the Mariners were .500, they were 2-2 and in the early stages of a 7-game losing streak.  After a promising start in Oakland, we were annihilated by Texas and Cleveland; it was 2010 all over again.  Discounting the waterfall of unearned runs via Oakland, our offense was as bad as it’s ever been, and our starting pitching wasn’t anywhere near what it is now.  Things were bleak.

We would eventually bottom out to 7-games under .500 for a while, and it was just a matter of time before talk of 100 losses and yet another regime change.  Then:  a spark!  A 5-game winning streak.  That got us to within two games of .500 and put us right back in the thick of the AL West race.  People might not have quite believed in these Mariners just yet, but we definitely perked our ears up, like a dog watching his master going into the kitchen.

That eventually led us back to a 6-game losing streak thanks to a bullpen implosion; but unlike the early-season struggles, we couldn’t quite write this team off.  It’s one thing to have a bad offense compounded by uneven starting pitching; it’s another to do just enough to win some games, only to have the rug pulled out from under us in the later innings.

Sure enough, what has immediately followed is truly remarkable, especially taking our early-April start into consideration.  The Mariners have won 9 of their last 11 games, with all three elements – starters, bullpen, and hitting – picking up their efforts.  With that 5-1 road trip, and last night’s come-from-behind victory over the Yankees, the Mariners are FINALLY back to .500, out of last place in the division, and indeed only .5 games out of first (tied with Texas in the loss column).

How in bloody hell did we do it?

This series with the Yankees seems like a pivotal stretch.  It might not be enough to prove us contenders, but if we figure out a way to win at least 2 of 3, it could very well prove whether or not we’re able to hang around.  Hanging around, in all honesty, is all we can really hope for at this point.

When it’s put that way – if this is indeed a pivotal series – then yesterday’s game was the most important of the bunch.

We had Pineda going, and for the rest of this season he’s going to be our Wildcard.  With him and Felix going back-t0-back, it’s Pineda’s starts that will ultimately determine how far we’re going to go.  Or, at least, how long we’re going to stay within a stone’s throw of Texas.

In true Wildcard fashion, Pineda didn’t have his best stuff going last night.  He appeared to struggle with his slider, and overall with his command of the strike zone (5 walks to only 5 strikeouts in 5 innings, giving up 3 runs).  Fortunately, the rest of the team was able to pick him up, and in exciting fashion no less!

Franklin Gutierrez:  I can’t say enough what his return means to this team.  Obviously, in our lineup, he’s a massive upgrade over Michael Saunders (who doesn’t look like he’ll ever become the Major League hitter we always hoped he’d be).  And in the field, for as good as Saunders has been, Guti just takes it to another level.  It seems like every play he makes is a minor miracle; no one else on this team could have made that catch to rob Nick Swisher of a home run last night.  And he made it with relative ease!  He’s hands down the best centerfielder we’ve had roaming the grass in Safeco.  As such, he’s a calming influence for the rest of the team.  He takes pressure off of Ichiro and “Left Fielder”; he gives confidence to pitchers that long fly balls will be run down with regularity; and his defense is a boon to the entire offense, knowing that runs will be saved whenever he’s out there.

It’s no surprise that we’re undefeated in the games he’s started this season.

Still, we were down 3-0 going into the bottom of the 5th.  It looked like A.J. Burnett was going to cruise through seven shutout innings until we figured out a way to put two runs back on the board.  Brendan Ryan started things off with a single, then Ichiro poked a double down the left field line to put runners in scoring position.  Two groundouts later and we were right back in the ballgame.

This was one of the craziest games I’ve ever seen from an offensive standpoint.  We scored 4 runs, but we were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position.  The RISP issue has been a serious weak point for this team all year, so the 0 for 8 doesn’t surprise me.  It’s how we managed to push the runners home that was so odd.

The Yankees didn’t have any fielding errors.  No stolen bases contributed to our rallies.  We didn’t score on any wild pitches, or indeed any sacrifice flies!  ALL of our runs came on ground ball outs in the infield!

The 6th inning started off much like the 5th:  our first two batters got hits.  Then, somehow, Peguero walked to load the bases.  From there, it was two more consecutive infield outs to finish the job.  “Playing the right way,” and “making the right kinds of outs” – these cliched phrases baseball people talk about ad nauseum – were precisely the reasons we scored those runs and eventually won that ballgame.  Insanity!  Insanity because:  the Mariners, for the last good long while, have been LOUSY about “playing the right way” and “making the right kinds of outs”!  They NEVER get the guy from third home with less than two outs.  EVER!

I’m afraid to say this, but the M’s probably used up a month’s worth of “the right kinds of outs” in this lone ballgame.  It’s a good thing we won, then.

In closing, the bullpen continued their en fuego status.  David Pauley went two innings of two-hit ball to lower his ERA under 1.00.  What kind of parallel universe are we living in???  Jamey Wright got his 10th Hold and lowered his ERA to 1.57 – seriously!  And Brandon League has gotten his mojo back with his 13th save.

For as satisfying a win as that was, it had to be doubly frustrating for the Yankees.  So, good!  There’s nothing quite like beating up on the Yanks.  My hatred may have waned in the last decade – what with all the ball-sucking the Mariners have been doing – but my hatred for the Yankees will never fully die.

We needed that one yesterday.  To get us all the way back to .500, and to get us that much closer to a series win.  Now, we have Felix going tonight.  I won’t start gloating now, because our offense could very well go back into hiding tonight, leaving us all sick to our stomachs.  But, we have a very good chance to take care of business here.  Felix, in the past, has made the Yankees his bitch, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue – if indeed Felix has turned the corner and is ready to step his game up for the rest of the season.

This is the game we have to win.  Tonight.  Because Sabathia goes tomorrow, and that one has Loss written all over it.

Is It Crazy To Think The Mariners Can Contend?

Short answer:  fuck yes!

Long answer:  still yes, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

I’m not saying the Mariners are going to contend.  I’m generally in the market of making outrageous statements, but I gotta draw the line somewhere.  This is still a team that’s 29th out of 30 teams in runs scored.  This is a team that regularly trots out either Jack Cust or Miguel Olivo on an everyday basis as its Cleanup Hitter (in spite of the fact that they’re only even remotely capable of “Cleaning Up” my vomit after I watch them try to hit with runners in scoring position).  This is a team with more black holes at the bottom of its lineup than a (edited for inappropriate, mildly racial, and overt sexual content).

But, you know what?  Call me crazy, but I really like this team right now!

What’s wrong with me?  Have I been slipped some narcotic that’s giving me such a rosy outlook in times of … well, “despair” is too strong a word, so I’ll just say “inconsistency”.

Anyway, you can’t argue with the Scoreboard.  And right now, the “Scoreboard” is saying that we’re only 3.5 games out of first place, and here we are on the 20th of May.  That’s something!  Do you know where we were as of May 20, 2010?  We were 15-26 (as opposed to today’s record of 19-24), and still in last place in the division, except that meant we were 8.5 games behind Texas.

After our initial swoon where we started out 4-11, we’re 15-13 (thanks in large part to two rainouts in Cleveland last weekend).  Nevertheless, over the last month’s worth of games, we’re a team that’s over .500.  Heckuva deal.

So, the team as a whole is playing better; obviously, that’s always going to be a source of optimism.  But, what about the individual players?

Well, first and foremost, the dark cloud of angst and failure that was Milton Bradley is officially gone.  Not having to watch him struggle mightily 8 out of every 10 at bats is pretty satisfying.  Likewise, not having to watch him have some small modicum of success (or, even a large, game-winning amount of success) followed by seeing the sourpuss to end all sourpusses on his face is quite the relief.  There’s nothing more aggravating than watching an athlete get paid millions of dollars to play a game NOT enjoying himself when he does something good.  For Christ’s sake, crack a smile when you hit an RBI double, you miserable fuck!

Anyway, THAT’S gone.  And, in his place, we have two young kids doing fairly well.  Mike Wilson and Carlos Peguero are mixing it up, batting in runs, looking nothing less than overjoyed to be on a Major League ballclub.  Refreshing!  So very refreshing.

We got Guti back as of Wednesday, and he’s one of my favorite players on the team!  So, that’s two bits of goodness for the price of one, because I was getting sick and tired of watching Michael Saunders suck dick at the plate night in and night out.  Yes, Saunders was a wonderful centerfield defender while he got the chance, but if I had to watch him fall behind in the count thanks to him taking strikes right down the middle ONE MORE TIME …

Whoa, easy tiger.  This is supposed to be a Positivity Post.

Speaking of our middle of the order (OK, so I wasn’t speaking of them per se, but a guy’s gotta transition anyway he can), while Miguel Olivo has been pretty much the waste of fucking life we’ve all expected, at least Eric Wedge isn’t INSISTING that he stick as our Number 4 hitter just because.  And, even though Cust has yet to homer, as I mentioned earlier this week, his hitting has come alive.  If I can’t have a homer-slugging DH, I guess I’ll take a doubles-slugging DH.  It’s better than what we were getting in the month of April.

And, to wrap things up, Smoak has been better than expected, Ichiro has been as expected, and Figgins has been worse than expected, but not a total waste.  No, he’s not worth the $9 million he’s making this year (and probably never will be worth it for the duration of his contract), but he’s raised his batting average about 80 points in the last month.  It’s not incredible (considering how poorly he started), but it’s something at least.

When you account for all the hitting I’ve outlined above, yes, it’s insane to think about contention.  But, then again, what is “contending”?  Is it a reasonable, rational run at a division title?  Or, is it just hanging around, 3-5 games back for most of the year?  When you look at it like that, it’s not BATSHIT crazy.

Our starting pitching is among the best in the American League.  From 1 to 5, we’re solid every step of the way.  Our bullpen has settled into a nice little rotation of Pauley, Laffey, and Wright (who all have amazing ERAs).  And, aside from the nuclear holocaust that was last week (which, mind you, happened to him a couple times last year), Brandon League has been pretty kickass.  Rare is the closer who’s perfect for a whole season.  Rare is the reliever period who’s rock solid for six straight months.  I would look for League to come back strong for a solid run through the summer.

With those arms, if they’re able to keep it up, I argue that we’re closer than we think.

I’m not saying we should sell the farm to trade for some hired guns for a pennant run (too many holes to fill along our offense; besides, we’re not at a point where we can take on a bunch of contracts), but I do think if some of our younger guys continue to develop (Smoak, Guti, Ackley, Wilson, Peguero) and gain some quality big league experience – all the while playing for a team that’s hovering right around .500 and right around the AL West leader – maybe we’re not that far off.  Maybe, instead of 2013 or 2014, we can seriously contend in 2012!

Of course, 2011 is out of the question.  One of these teams – likely Texas – will figure it out.  One of them – again, likely Texas – will make a blockbuster trade at the deadline for a big piece that helps them make a huge run in the last two months.  A baseball season is too long for a team like the Mariners to hang around forever.

Still, a girl CAN dream, can’t she?

Oh Vargas, You Came & You Gave Without Taking!

16 consecutive innings pitched without a run given up.  How ABOUT that Jason Vargas!

He’s been on some kind of tear the last two games.  9 innings of no-decision shut out baseball back in Baltimore, then another 7 innings of mastery last night.  Nine strikeouts.  NINE!  In one game!  And it’s not all just soft stuff people are chasing in the dirt; he’s got guys whiffing right through his 88 mph fastball! 

I tell you, most of the time I’m pretty indifferent to Jason Vargas.  He always seems like a nice #4 starter and not much more.  However, every once in a while, the guy impresses the shit out of me.

In other news, Jack Cust is literally on fire!  Literally!  OK, so I don’t know what “literally” means, but I do know this much:  he has a .225 batting average.  Considering he’s spent most of the year in the .170’s, this is a good sign.  He’s got 13 hits so far in May.  13 hits in 13 games.  6 of those hits – nearly half! – are doubles.  0 of those hits are home runs, but that’s neither here nor there.  I may not have to take Jack Cust behind the barn and shoot him with my shotgun after all.

In Heart Attack Bullpen News:  Jamey Wright was so NOT on last night, I about died.  Can I just say something?  If you’re having trouble locating your pitches, if you walk 2 guys on your way to a 30-pitch inning, and you get a batter on a 2-2 count … STOP THROWING CURVE BALLS!  He did it twice in a row, both missed horribly, and I was about this close to getting a lynch mob’s blood all angered up!  Luckily for him, he managed to catch some moron looking on an inside strike three to end the inning with the bases juiced.

And, don’t look now, but we have our closer back!  I’m not going to sing the guy’s praises too much because, seriously, I don’t want to have another Last Week ever again.  Still, he came in two nights ago, got the job done in a non-save situation.  Then, last night, Brandon League saw the minimum through his lone inning of work, ending it on a double play.  THAT’S the Brandon League we like.

Now, if you could just work in something on that first pitch to every batter BESIDES a fastball, I think we’d be all set.

Helluva way to run a railroad.  Don’t look now, but the Mariners are officially 29th out of 30th in runs scored.  How they’re only 6 games from .500 this late in the season is pretty outstanding.