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.

Is This Happening? Mariners Took 3 of 4 From Athletics

Last week, when I talked about the Mariners being in contention if they go 5-2 against the Athletics and Astros, I know there’s a number of ways to get to 5-2, but what I specifically had in mind was a 3-1 series win against the A’s and a 2-1 series win against the Astros. Just keep winning series, regardless of whether the teams are great or terrible.

Well, it’s four days later and here we are with a 3-1 series win against the A’s. It could all come crumbling down against a hot Astros team, but for now I’m encouraged.

What this series showed me is that the Mariners are just as good as the Athletics. That’s not insignificant, because Fangraphs still gives the A’s a 41.3% chance of making the playoffs, while the Mariners sit at an abysmal 4.9% (below even the Angels, who are somehow at 9.1%). This is in spite of the fact that the Mariners currently sit 1.5 games behind the A’s (and 4 games ahead of the Angels).

Of course, “as good as” isn’t the same as better. Even though the Mariners won the series – and lead the season series 6 games to 4 – I wouldn’t go out on a limb and say we’re better than the A’s just yet. The Mariners have their issues, and still seem like they’re inordinately lucky, but I refuse to say it’s ALL luck. The Mariners have talent, and they’re extremely strong in a number of key areas (bullpen being the top of the list), and I don’t see that going away anytime soon.

This series got off to a rough start last Thursday, though, as Sean Manaea eats the Mariners for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 7 innings, 1 run (solo homer by Tom Murphy in the 7th), 13 strikeouts. Just outstanding. Over his two appearances against the M’s this year, he’s thrown 16 innings, given up 1 run on 7 hits and 5 walks, while striking out 21. If I never see him mash the living daylights out of the Mariners again, it’ll be too soon.

Chris Flexen was game for a bit, but ultimately gave up 2 runs in 5.1 innings of work. The bullpen did their best, but Rafael Montero once again sucked any joy out of this one, giving up 2 runs in 1 inning of work. That – FINALLY – earned him his walking papers; get a load of this run over his last 8 appearances: 11 innings, 17 runs, 25 hits, 4 walks, 11 strikeouts. That’s an epically atrocious stretch, but that was already on top of a vastly mediocre season. I mean, it’s never a good sign when a team trades for you to be its closer and you blow three saves in the first two weeks of the season. He’s been dubbed the unluckiest pitcher in baseball, but at some point you have to create your own luck, don’t you? By not being totally and completely inept? I have no doubt whatsoever that Rafael Montero will be picked up by another team and immediately reverse his fortunes. If not the rest of this year, then definitely in 2022 (and possibly beyond). At which point, I will be annoyed, but not surprised.

With that unpleasantness behind us, the Mariners started kicking asses and taking names.

Friday night saw the return of Yusei Kikuchi and his Quality Starts: 6 innings, 3 runs, 12 strikeouts. It was a shame he had to leave with a no decision, because he was dealing in this one. But, at the same time, it was frustrating to see him blow a 3-0 lead.

Cal Raleigh hit his first career Major League home run, 444 feet to right center, to put us up 2-0. Luis Torrens immediately followed with a solo homer (all in the 2nd inning), to keep his string of hotness going. With this Mariners team, giving us a tie game heading into the 7th is everything you could ask for. Both starters were out of the game by that point, and I’ll put our bullpen up against anyone’s. Indeed, the combo of Erik Swanson, Paul Sewald, and Kendall Graveman shut it down from there. While, the A’s gagged this away in hilarious fashion.

With two outs in the bottom of the 7th, Dylan Moore reached on an infield single. He stole second base pretty easily (against a left-handed pitcher, no less), before advancing all the way home on two separate wild pitches. That was it! 4-3 Mariners win!

Saturday’s game showed you how much the Mariners wanted this one. The whole weekend really had a playoff vibe, from the way the teams played, to the way the managers managed, to how into it the fans were in the stands. I had high hopes for Logan Gilbert – making his third start against the A’s in his young career – but he struggled wildly, unable to get out of the third inning after throwing 40-something pitches in that frame alone. Yet, when it was said and done, after three full innings, the Mariners were only down 3-2.

Mitch Haniger was a man possessed in this one, as he hit two home runs and was a few feet away from hitting a third (settling for a double off the wall). Indeed, he scored three of our first four runs and staked us to a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fifth.

That looked like it might’ve been enough, but Drew Steckenrider gave up a hard-luck solo homer around the right field foul pole to a backup catcher going the other way in the 7th inning to tie it back up. That’s one of those bad omens you’d see countless times by the Mariners that would totally derail everything. Indeed, my instincts as a Mariners fan kicked in and I was convinced we’d lose it late.

But, the bullpen kept the game tied into the bottom of the 9th, where Luis Torrens led off with a single against the Athletics’ closer. Kelenic walked to move the pinch runner to second. Then, after a Shed Long strikeout, Jake Bauers walked to load the bases. After a J.P. Crawford fielder’s choice – with the infield drawn in – got the runner out at home, that set up Haniger to be the hero once again.

Except: surprise! The hero was, I shit you not, another wild pitch! Kelenic was able to easily scamper home and give us the walk-off 5-4 victory. Two games in a row where the winning run was scored late on a wild pitch; what are the odds?!

I was busy on Sunday and missed the finale; it sounds like I missed a great one! Marco Gonzales was on the hill – better the A’s than having him face the Astros, I’ll tell you that much – and he was okay. 5.2 innings, 2 runs. You’re really not asking him for much more than that, given the season he’s had so far.

Thankfully, the hitters didn’t hang him out to dry, putting up 4 runs in the bottom of the third to take a 4-2 lead to the bullpens. Seager, Torrens, and Murphy were the offensive heroes in this one, giving the Mariners just enough. Casey Sadler returned from the IL over the weekend – he was the guy taking Montero’s spot on the roster – and was dominant on Saturday, before getting touched up for a solo homer on Sunday. That was it, though, as the bullpen once again was phenomenal.

Tough break on this Astros series though, needing Darren McCaughan to make the spot start later today. It’s kind of difficult to see us winning this one, which would require us to win the next two games in a row to win the series. Not impossible, of course, but you always hate to lose that first game of a series. It doesn’t always turn out so amazingly – like it did against the A’s.

Then, after an off-day on Thursday, the Mariners embark on a massive 10-game road trip to Texas, Tampa, and New York. I know the Rangers are awful – and we get to see them a lot in the next month – but the Rays and Yankees are elite, and should pose significant tests. Are the Mariners REALLY a playoff team? Well, how we fare against the Astros, Rays, and Yankees will go a long way in determining if we are or not.

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.

Is The Mariners’ Jake Fraley For Real?

The alternate title for this post was going to be, “Jake Fraley Is This Year’s Dylan Moore Of 2020”, but it’s not quite apples to apples. The sentiment is there: he’s a fringe player, thought to be nothing more than a bench bat/fourth outfielder, who has stepped his game up to the point where the Mariners MUST put him in the lineup everyday. Or face the consequences. Namely: my wrath.

Dylan Moore was just that prior to 2020. He was a nobody. Then, last year, he figured out how to generate more power from his bat; his slugging jumped from .389 in 2019 to .496 in 2020. Of course, last year was a pandemic year. On top of that, Moore was buried on the active roster by lesser players (mostly an injured Shed Long), so even though he was killing it, he only appeared in 38 of 60 games.

Not for nothing, but through the first half of 2021, Moore finds himself playing considerably worse than even his paltry 2019 season. The only aspect of Moore that’s better today is his defense, but you couldn’t be much worse defensively than Moore was in 2019 (especially in the first half of that season). I had much higher hopes for Moore heading into this year, based on his 2020. I thought he’d enacted some sort of Chris Taylor transformation, but apparently that’s not the case. In all likelihood, 2020 was a mirage.

That brings us to Jake Fraley. He was brought over after the 2018 season from the Rays in the Mike Zunino/Mallex Smith trade. Mallex Smith was a bust, and I don’t think anyone had any confidence in Fraley being anything more than a Quad-A type of player. His brief cups of coffee in 2019 and 2020 all but confirmed it. I figured, at best, he was a reserve outfielder who might be a defensive replacement late in games, or an emergency starter if enough guys got injured.

And yet, here we are in 2021, and Jake Fraley is tied with Ty France for second (among position players) on the Mariners in WAR (1.6) even though he’s only appeared in half the games of France. He’s among the best players on the team in on-base percentage (first among position players at .409), slugging (third among position players at .439), and OPS (first among position players at .848).

And, like Moore in 2020, Fraley has often found himself buried on the active roster behind inferior players. It’s really only since the end of May that Fraley has found himself in the lineup on a regular basis. And yet, he’s managed to produce!

A lot of the hype – especially early on – surrounded Fraley’s walk rate. It was off the charts! It continues to be his biggest asset, but he’s managed to add a little pop to his bat to balance things out. He’s also – like J.P. Crawford – finding himself in the middle of a lot of these Mariners rallies. He’ll find a way on base when we need someone, he’ll steal a bag for you, and he’ll come up with a clutch hit late in the game to win it. What more can you ask for from someone who consistently finds himself batting near the bottom of the lineup?

It’s difficult to see Fraley’s long-term viability on the Mariners, with guys like Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez soon-to-be patrolling the outfield on a regular basis, and also Kyle Lewis, whenever he gets his injury issues squared away. Fraley could be an excellent bridge guy to our Outfield of the Future, or he could supplant someone like Lewis (if we find the right trade for him), or he could be a trade chip himself! I would want Fraley to build up considerably more value before the Mariners deal him, but thankfully there’s still plenty of time for that.

Ironically, Jake Fraley is exactly the type of player who would thrive in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. If he’s able to keep it up through the rest of this season, maybe we send him back for another Rays player, who perhaps will soon be too expensive for them to retain. Fraley has team control through 2025, so he’ll continue to be a bargain for a little while yet.

It’s always fun seeing these guys who you never expect to turn into anything, become quality everyday players. Fraley is especially fun because he’s so involved in all of the best aspects of what this 2021 Mariners team has become. Scrappy, fast, playing above their overall talent level, finding ways to get it done that are maybe a little less conventional than the Three True Outcomes. In another time, Fraley might’ve been one of my all-time favorite players. As it is, I’m going to enjoy the ride for as long as he takes me on it.

The Mariners Keep Winning Series, Defeating The Blue Jays

Are the Mariners actually decent? This question was posed to me yesterday after the M’s took the series against the Blue Jays, 2 games out of 3. Sure, I think the Mariners are decent. But, “decent” and “good” are two different things. I think the Mariners will hover around .500 all year, but I also think there will be some ugly losing stretches we’ll have to endure, that ultimately prevent us from making the playoffs. When I close my eyes, I don’t see a playoff team. If I squint really hard, it’s possible. But, you have to wonder how much help is on the horizon.

There are still younger guys who will be called up and could make a difference in the second half of the season. Kelenic is out there, Cal Raleigh is bursting at the seams. But, where is the pitching coming from? With all of these off-days of late, we’ve temporarily abandoned the 6-man rotation, but you have to believe it’s returning after the All Star Break. The M’s don’t HAVE six healthy viable starters, with Justin Dunn on the shelf and presumably requiring an extended break to calm down his arm. On top of that, Justus Sheffield has been hot garbage over the last month, so we’re REALLY in need of two starters if we want to continue on these winning ways. And that assumes our existing starters manage to stay healthy the rest of the way, which you know will not happen.

Just enjoy the fucking ride. It’s been fun the last couple weeks, as the Mariners have gone 12-4 to lift their record to 43-39. That seems like an abnormally fortunate stretch of baseball for a team whose run differential is still -42.

I talked earlier in the week about how the Blue Jays’ record wasn’t indicative of their talent level, that they’re much better than you might think. Tuesday’s 9-3 drubbing proved that point quite nicely. Chris Flexen was okay (5 innings, 3 runs), but the bullpen totally shit the bed, with Rafael Montero and Will Vest giving up 3-run home runs in back-to-back innings. Ty France’s 3-run home run – to grace Flexen with the well-earned no decision – was the only offense to speak of.

Wednesday’s 9-7 Mariners victory was one of the more entertaining games of the season, marred by a brutal YouTube telecast (more Sarah Langs, less of … everyone else, please). I, of course, had zero faith in the M’s in this one, especially after what I witnessed the previous evening. Justus Sheffield didn’t disappoint, in that respect, giving up 4 runs in 4 innings. Frankly, he was lucky he didn’t get blown up more than he did!

The M’s jumped out to a 4-1 lead that was chipped away to a 4-4 tie after four innings. Highlights from that stretch included a Trammell RBI double and a Seager 2-run home run. Haniger hit a 2-run bomb in the fifth to make it 6-4, which dropped to 6-5 by the bottom half of the inning. That score held until the 8th when the Blue Jays hit a solo bomb to tie it. We made it to extras where, in the tenth, Dylan Moore hit a 3-run home run to put the game away (a harmless Blue Jays unearned run scored in the bottom half, but nothing after that).

6 innings and only 2 earned runs out of the bullpen in that one! On top of which, Crawford, Seager, and Moore all had multi-hit games (13 hits total for the Mariners). The only downside to this one was the money I definitely didn’t lose by betting against the Mariners, I don’t even know what you guys are talking about!

There was a lot to like about the rubber match, with another dominant Yusei Kikuchi performance right at the top. 7 innings, 1 run (5 hits, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts). Dude, we HAVE to pick up his option years. I mean, yeah, wait until the end of the season or whatever, but get this done. He has clearly turned a corner in his career, and if this is the type of pitcher we can expect going forward, he’ll be a bargain!

Homers by Fraley and Long, multi-hit games by Fraley, Haniger, and Seager. Just a great game all around for the Mariners.

That made it a 4-2 road trip, and now here we are: a 9-game homestand to close out the first half, starting with three against the Rangers this weekend. Don’t look now, but there’s buzz around this team. Maybe ill-placed buzz, but buzz nonetheless.

Jarred Kelenic Got Sent Back Down To Tacoma Temporarily

The thing is: I don’t think there’s a way to positively spin this. The best you can do is give it a Not Negative spin, which is that: it happens to the best of them.

There’s no reason to be excited Jarred Kelenic is being sent back down to the minors, after hitting a whopping .096/.185/.193, with 2 doubles, 2 homers, 8 walks, and 26 strikeouts in 23 games (over 83 at bats). The alternative is: he’s great right from the get-go! And who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t want Kelenic to tear the cover off the ball from his very first game and laugh all the way to the bank at all the people who doubted he was ready when he said he was ready?

I guess the only thing that came to my mind was that he’s a cocky little shit, so maybe a little humble pie wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for him to be eating. But, that’s really only a positive for his everyday life. When he’s on the field, and at that plate, I think you WANT him to be a cocky little shit! You want him to walk with that swag everywhere he goes between those lines! You want him to talk trash and give entertaining post-game quotes, it makes baseball – one of our most-boring professional sports – fun!

There’s an impulse to want to say, “Here we go again, the Mariners fucked up another one of their can’t-miss prospects.” I’ll admit, it’s hard for me not to come out with both barrels blazing. This fucking organization is so fucking God damned inept … BUT, in this one instance, I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think they rushed him like they clearly did with Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, and some of their pitchers through the years (Brandon Morrow being jerked around from starter to reliever comes to mind). Jarred Kelenic has proven every step of the way that he’s too good for the minors. And, where it matters most – his mental make-up – is clearly off the charts. While it feels idiotic to put him as your leadoff hitter from his very first game, even then I don’t think they gave him anything that was too big for him to handle. If they had “hidden” him as a 7-hole hitter from Day One, I don’t think his batting average would be any better today. Who knows? I could be totally off-base. But, I think this is just one of those things.

He wasn’t ready this time. I expect Jarred Kelenic will be ready next time.

Sometimes you just need an opportunity to reset. I understand – as I think we all do – how difficult life can be when you’re overwhelmed, your mind is racing a mile a minute, and it’s a struggle just to keep your head above water. With everything feeling like it’s happening all at once, you become overstimulated, and it fries your brain a little bit. It’s nice, in those cases, to just get away from whatever it is that’s dominating your focus, think about literally anything else, and just breathe, without the lights constantly pointed at you.

I don’t care how great your mental make-up is, look at what Jarred Kelenic has come to represent: the next big hope for one of the most hapless organizations in Major League Baseball history. The guy that is supposed to lead the charge out of the 20-year playoff drought and get us to our first-ever World Series. The tentpole for this great rebuild back to respectability. That’s a lot to carry on one kid’s shoulders. Besides that, I’m sure he wants to be great for himself, and for his career, to be the superstar that he feels he was always destined to be. It’s hard not to want all of that RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND.

But, baseball has a way of knocking you down. It’ll be very interesting to see how he responds when he gets his next opportunity.

If you’re one of those fans who is freaking out about Kelenic being a bust, just go ahead and slow your roll. He’ll be fine. Probably. I mean, no one really knows, I guess. But, if you were a believer before, one month of shabby play shouldn’t deter you. My hunch is: he’ll go to Tacoma for a month, do fine, get called back up, and be much better than he was in his initial call-up.

Years from now, we’ll forget all about this unpleasant little first stint in the Majors. Hopefully it’s because he’s going to All Star Games every year, and not because he’s totally flamed out.

The So-So Mariners Split A Series Against The Angels

We kicked things off last Thursday with an impressive 6-2 victory, behind a gutty Justus Sheffield performance (2 runs in 5.2 innings), when he didn’t necessarily have his best stuff. Jake Fraley hit his first big league home run – a 3-run shot – and continued to add to his crazy-high on-base percentage with two more walks. Seager and Haniger also had a couple hits each (including a solo homer for Seager), and the bullpen totally shut things down in the end.

Friday’s game was a hard-luck 3-2 defeat. We were able to touch up Shohei Ohtani for a couple runs in his 6 innings of work (thanks to J.P. Crawford, who has been remarkable of late). Even though Taylor Trammell and Donovan Walton both had a couple hits each, there just wasn’t enough offense to go around. The Bullpen Day did its job and then some, with Robert Dugger giving up 2 runs in 2.1 innings, but there was only one run given up the rest of the way. The Mariners actually had the bases loaded with nobody out in the 8th, with the heart of the order coming up. We’ve been much better with runners in scoring position this season than we have with the bases empty – which seems more a byproduct of flukiness than anything – but it wasn’t to be on this night. Haniger fouled out, and Seager and France both struck out to end the threat.

Saturday’s game was a nightmare scenario (12-5 defeat) that thankfully wasn’t even worse. I would argue the Mariners had a very good chance to take this game, except Yusei Kikuchi – who had been pretty much cruising as usual to this point – took a line drive off of his knee in the bottom of the fifth with nobody out and had to come out of the game. This was on his 64th pitch of the game, so his arm was fresh enough to take him into the seventh or eighth. If that batter hits it anywhere else in the infield, we might’ve been looking at a double play and a quick end to that inning! Instead, he gave up 4 runs in 4 innings, and the overworked bullpen imploded from there, giving up 8 additional runs the rest of the way. The lone bright spot was the 5-run fourth inning for the Mariners, thanks in large part to a Jake Fraley grand slam. I don’t know how the Angels’ starter ended up going 7 full innings, but I guess other than that one inning, the Mariners rolled over like obedient puppy dogs (literally figuratively, with a 12:3 ground ball to fly ball ratio). The silver lining here is that Kikuchi responded well to treatment and might not miss a start, which is a relief considering how much agony he was in on the field when he had to be helped off.

That was unfortunate, but the M’s bounced back with a 9-5 victory on Sunday to even the series. Logan Gilbert was really impressive for his second consecutive outing, going 5 innings, giving up 1 run, and getting his first Major League win. He struck out 7 (which is good), gave up only 2 hits (which is great), but did walk 4 guys (not so hot). We did stretch him out for 105 pitches (his previous high in a big league game had been 80), but that’s probably just as much out of necessity (the bullpen being shot) than wanting to build up his arm. This one could’ve gotten hairy, as the Mariners only had a 4-2 lead heading into the ninth, but we were able to add on 5 runs in the top half, to counter their 3 additional runs in the bottom. J.P. Crawford continued his hot streak with 2 hits, runs, and RBI. Fraley had another hit, walk, and RBI (on said walk). Donovan Walton had two more hits, including a solo homer, 2 RBI, and 3 runs scored. And Jarred Kelenic didn’t get any at-bats, as he’s mired in an 0-for-forever slump, with his batting average down to .096.

The road trip continues through the midwest this week – Detroit and Cleveland, so hopefully no weather SNAFUs – before another nice, long homestand.

The Mariners Still Have A Few Tricks Up Their Sleeves, Swept The Rangers

I spent the better part of Memorial Day weekend camping, with very limited access to Twitter or anything else. As a result, I missed the festivities, so let’s go through this 4-game series against the Rangers together, shall we?

The first game was last Thursday, which I probably saw at least some of, but for the life of me can’t remember. It was a 5-0 victory. Chris Flexen had 7 shutout innings. Oh, that’s right, Tom Murphy and *checks notes* Jacob Nottingham both had homers. I definitely saw those. Also Jack Mayfield had a 2-RBI double and Mitch Haniger closed it out with an RBI single. Pretty impressive victory all around, but also these are the Rangers, and that’s what you’re supposed to do to the Rangers.

On Friday, the M’s won 3-2 behind some phenomenal bullpen work. Justus Sheffield was just good enough (5 innings, 2 runs), but far from great. Erik Swanson came through in the clutch with the 4-out save, though he promptly was placed on the IL this weekend with a groin strain, so hopefully that won’t linger too long. Kyle Lewis had a 2-run homer and Ty France continued his hit parade since returning from the IL.

Saturday was another 3-2 Mariners victory, this time behind a solid outing from Justin Dunn (5.2 innings, 1 run, 2 hits, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts). J.P. Crawford and Mitch Haniger both homered, and replacement catcher Jose Godoy knocked in the first run of the game on a single.

For the Sunday finale, the Mariners gave themselves a little extra insurance in a 4-2 victory. Yusei Kikuchi continued his great season, with 6.2 innings of 2-run ball. Ty France and Kyle Seager both had multi-hit games (including a late solo homer for Seager) to lead the way offensively.

This was a pretty impressive little series for the Mariners. They pulled themselves back to .500 on the season, which is nice to see after that long drought in mid-May. I know it’s only the Rangers, but the Tigers were only the Tigers and look at what happened there.

We’re still not getting a ton from the offense, obviously, and you wonder how the pitching staff is going to hold up – particularly the bullpen – with so many injuries and so many high-leverage situations to have to pitch through. The bottom of the lineup doesn’t figure to improve all that much, and there really doesn’t look like much offensive help on the horizon. It would be nice if Jarred Kelenic started hitting sooner rather than later; I think it was reasonable to expect him to struggle for the first couple weeks or so, but not THIS much, and not for THIS long. We’re through three weeks now, and I’ll NEVER understand why he was put first in the batting order from day one.

I’ll be curious to see what the next four months bring, because clearly things aren’t going quite as planned. The winning is nice and everything, but we seem to be relying largely upon veterans and guys who might not necessarily figure into the team’s long-term plans. Haniger, Seager, and France are still producing the bulk of the offense. Kelenic is struggling, Crawford is streaky, and White is still on the IL (with Kyle Lewis joining him, it would seem). I like what we’re seeing from Kikuchi, Flexen, and Dunn (for the most part), but Sheffield remains a mystery.

All in all, a pretty odd first couple months of the season.

The Mariners Bounced Back With A Series Win In Oakland

The six-game losing streak really took it out of me, fanwise. To be fair, the three-game losing streak to just the Tigers caused the most damage, since that was probably the last time I watched a full game. I missed the entire Padres series, then the first two games of this past Athletics series, before dipping my toe back in those Mariners waters. So, of course, I missed the two victories, while the bad taste in my mouth remains.

Yusei Kikuchi had another solid outing on Monday, going 6 innings, giving up just 1 run. He might’ve gone longer, but had some sort of back issue that prevented him from going any further, but it shouldn’t keep him from his next start, which is nice. Kikuchi has EASILY been our most reliable starter this season, which is great to see since this is his big option year. 7 of his 9 starts have officially been Quality Starts (at least 6 innings, with 3 runs or fewer given up), and if he keeps this up, he will easily earn the remainder of his contract from the Mariners.

This game featured homers by Kyle Lewis and Jarred Kelenic, as well as doubles by Mitch Haniger, J.P. Crawford, and the return of Ty France. Of course, the bottom third of the lineup is a complete wasteland of nobodies not even worth mentioning here, but at least there are 6 hitters now who I don’t totally loathe. The M’s won 4-2, as the bullpen (minus Graveman, who is another one of those COVID casualties) managed to lock it down. Erik Swanson in particular is more dominant than I’ve ever seen him; he got out of an 8th inning jam by striking out the side.

Tuesday featured another mediocre start by Logan Gilbert, who has yet to get beyond the 4th inning or throw more than 80 pitches in any of his three starts. He can’t seem to avoid giving up a big inning or two in each of his appearances, and the team is obviously unwilling to push it by having him try to pitch through trouble the third time through the order. Technically, this was his best start, as he only gave up 2 runs in 4 innings, while striking out 4, walking 0, and giving up only 4 hits. But, obviously, that’s a low bar to clear. The bullpen once again showed up in a big way, giving up just 1 more run over the remaining 5 innings.

The M’s scratched out their runs on 11 hits, with Kelenic, Crawford, and France all having multi-hit games. It’s nice to see France healthy and Kelenic finally have some success at the plate. He’ll be hitting over .200 in no time at this rate!

The afternoon get-away game on Wednesday was a 6-3 defeat, and hopefully the final bullpen day for a while. Robert Dugger gave up 5 runs in 3.1 innings, and that’s obviously not going to fly. He just didn’t have it, but we had to stick with him just to eat up a few innings. It sounds like Marco Gonzales will be back in the next turn of the rotation, so that’s a bit of happy news.

This game was particularly brutal because it looked like so many other Mariners defeats, in that we didn’t put up any runs until the 8th inning. It is what it is, though. This offense is rarely going to be competent.

The Mariners’ Hitting Is Fucking Atrocious

Welp, the Mariners were no-hit. Again. They have a team batting average of .198 on the season, easily dead last in all of baseball (that’s including worse than the entire National League, which regularly has pitchers bat where a Designated Hitter would be more appropriate). They have an on-base percentage of .279 on the season, easily dead last in all of baseball (that’s in spite of the fact that their organizational motto is to Control The Zone or Dominate The Zone or whatever the fuck is supposed to boil down to: swing at pitches inside the strike zone, don’t swing at pitches outside the strike zone). They have an OPS of .639 (dead last in all of baseball), they’re 22nd in runs scored, they’re tied for 8th in most times striking out, I’m sure I could go on and on, but I don’t have the time nor the patience to get into the weeds of all the advanced analytics.

The long and the short of it is what’s right there in the headline: the offense is fucking atrocious.

Sam Haggerty is practically an everyday player at this point, thanks to the litany of injuries the M’s have suffered; he’s hitting .185.

Jarred Kelenic isn’t yet the savior we kinda sorta expected him to be right out of the gate; he’s 5 for 28 to start his Major League career.

Luis Torrens was supposed to be one-half of a dynamic catching duo that was supposed to be the LEAST of our worries. He’s hitting .178 and was just demoted to the Rainiers because not only does he stink with the bat, but he’s also among the worst with his glove. Tom Murphy, meanwhile, is somehow even more God-awful at the plate, hitting .130, but he’s too much of a veteran to send to the minors.

Dylan Moore was just put on the IL; he was starting to come around, and yet his start was so poor he’s only hitting .168.

Taylor Trammell was demoted when we called up Kelenic; he’s been tearing the cover off the ball in Tacoma, but he was only hitting .157 in Seattle.

Evan White is on the IL for God knows how long; his miserable start to 2021 saw him hitting .144.

Jose Marmolejos was just DFA’d because he SUUUUUUCKS at literally everything; he was hitting .139.

Jake Fraley is on a rehab assignment for his IL stint; he was hitting a cool .100 in his 5 games to start the season.

And those are just the guys hitting UNDER .200. Not counting the recent call-ups who aren’t even worth mentioning because the expectations for these players are less than nothing.

If you want to delve into the semi-productive disappointments, there’s Ty France – who hasn’t been the same since he took a fastball off of his forearm, and who currently finds himself on the IL – whose average has dipped to .229. There’s Kyle Lewis – whose first month of the season found him largely on the IL – who is hitting .239. There’s the inherently streaky J.P. Crawford who’s hitting a robust .247. Even our very best and most productive hitters – Kyle Seager and Mitch Haniger – are only hitting .224 and .256 respectively. Obviously, batting average isn’t really the best indicator of a hitter’s productivity, and can largely be dependant upon luck on balls hit in play. But, when the team is collectively hitting under .200, I don’t give a flying piece of shit what sabermetrics you give me. THESE GUYS ARE ALL OF THEM FUCKING TERRIBLE!

The Detroit Tigers have the third-worst record in all of baseball. They have the VERY worst run differential (-57) in all of baseball. And yet, they just came into Seattle and swept the Mariners in a 3-game series, including the aforementioned no-hitter (the second time the M’s have been no-hit this season, that’s a little over a quarter of the way completed). I will not be going game-by-game on this series, because what’s the fucking point? It was an unmitigated embarrassment from the top of the organization on down.

The Mariners should be fucking ashamed of what they’ve done. They should fire every coach who has ever even referenced the concept of hitting to these players. And that’s all I have to say.

The end of May is generally when I’m my most annoyed with the Seattle Mariners, because that’s usually when they’re exposed for the frauds that they are (if they haven’t been exposed beforehand). So, by most every season’s expectations, this is coming right on cue. Nevertheless, watching so many of the potential core players flounder like this is especially demoralizing (rendered even more hopeless as key guys suffer injuries to further skew our results to the negative). Thank Christ the weather is improving and I won’t have to give as much of a shit that we’re watching the return of the Same Old Mariners.