Can The Mariners Overtake The Astros In 2023?

As we get closer to the start of Spring Training – which commences in a couple weeks – it’s looking less and less likely that the Mariners will make a big, impactful move to improve this year’s team. Although, to be fair, the Winker/Suarez deal came down in mid-March last year, so it’s not impossible for something huge to come down the pike. Nevertheless, we can only render judgments on things as we know them today.

And today, we have a team that added Teoscar Hernandez, Kolten Wong, Trevor Gott, and A.J. Pollock; they lost Mitch Haniger (Giants), Kyle Lewis (Diamondbacks), Jesse Winker (Brewers), Abraham Toro (Brewers), Adam Frazier (Orioles), Carlos Santana (Pirates), and Erik Swanson (Blue Jays), among others. Feels like a wash to me. We’re REALLY banking a lot of our hopes and dreams on Hernandez and Wong coming to Seattle and continuing their relatively high-quality play. I get why we made these moves – Haniger is an injury waiting to happen, Winker and Toro were busts here, Frazier and Santana might be over the hill – but I can see a world where Winker bounces back when fully healthy, and where Haniger manages to keep his body right and not succumb to some more atrocious injury luck.

The justification for not spending a lot in free agency, or taking a lot of money on in trades, is due to our extending Julio Rodriguez and Luis Castillo in the middle of last year. Somehow, those two get lumped into our Hot Stove tally sheet by the Mariners, mostly to play down the complaints that the M’s are fucking tightwads, but that’s neither here nor there. They are who they are.

I’m not as up in arms as a lot of fans are. For the most part, I think the Mariners are building the right way. I’m already on record as saying I hate these big-money deals for outside free agents (the Robinson Cano conundrum). And I understand the farm system took a hit in the rankings – thanks to guys graduating to the Majors, and other guys getting traded away in the Castillo deal – so there’s not a ton of value left to jettison. It’s smart to not completely gut our minors just to bring in one more guy, especially if we’re not necessarily One More Guy away from winning a World Series. What I take issue with is the fact that there were mid-tier free agents out there who we could’ve signed to mid-level free agent deals – knowing we needed at least one more outfielder, as well as someone to rotate at DH – and we opted for A.J. Pollock. I think that’s going to burn us; I hope I’m wrong.

At some point, we have to move forward with the team we’ve been given. Which brings us to the question at hand: can the Mariners overtake the Astros in 2023?

This question assumes, of course, that the Mariners and Astros are the two best teams in the A.L. West, and by “overtaking the Astros”, it means the Mariners will win the division. For the sake of argument, then, let’s just further assume there’s no huge surprise team among the Angels, Rangers, or Athletics (who I would expect to finish in that order at the bottom of the division, though there’s always the chance the Rangers make a leap).

I’ll start with this: I haven’t kept great tabs on the Astros’ wheelings and dealings this offseason. I’m just taking it for granted they’re going to be at least as good as they were in 2022. Meaning: they’re probably good enough to win over 100 games. Last year, the Astros won 106 games, and were 16 games better than the Mariners. So, that’s the gap I’m talking about. Can we make up 16 games on them?

Well, for one thing, since we only play them 13 times – down from the usual 19 – there are fewer opportunities to gain ground in head-to-head play. But, as we’ve seen pretty much since the Astros joined the American League, that actually means there are fewer opportunities for them to beat our brains in. In my mind, that can only be a good thing for the M’s.

There are two, MAYBE three major things that I’m pointing to as reasons for optimism. The big two being: Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez. As much as I loathe including them as part of our overall spending this offseason, I do think there’s a legitimate argument to be made in favor of the Mariners picking up some wins in 2023.

Recall we traded for Castillo on July 30th last year; this year, we get him for the full season! (I should point out that this post also has to assume that everyone I write about stays healthy all year, or at least the vast majority of the games, for all teams involved; of course, the M’s could overtake the Astros if their top five guys all go down with ACL tears). Castillo was a 1 WAR player for the Mariners over the final two months; he counted 3.1 WAR for the Reds. What difference will he make at the top of our rotation every 5-6 days (depending how deep of a rotation we opt to go with to start out) for a full six months? I think that’s pretty significant.

Also recall that Julio Rodriguez was effectively worthless in the month of April last year, as he was getting his footing at the Major League level. Now he’s an All Star who should play at a very high level from Day 1. Having that experience last year can only boost him that much more in year two (let’s hope there’s no Sophomore Slump!). You can also say something similar about Cal Raleigh; he was officially demoted to Tacoma for a short spell before injury thrust him back to Seattle, where he FINALLY turned it around. I’m a little more concerned about his effectiveness this year; he’s still pretty boom or bust at the plate. But, let’s just say he SHOULD be as good as he was in the second half last year, and if we get that for a full season, it’ll be a nice lift for this offense in the months of April and May.

Finally, as a little bonus, I’ll just quickly add that the training wheels are officially off of Logan Gilbert, and the experience he’s had through two seasons will hopefully propel him towards one of those upper rotation slots. If he’s not a second ace on this team, I would expect him to be at least an effective #2. His career trajectory to date has been remarkable, and there’s still room for him to get better. We’re just getting into George Kirby’s second season, where it’s expected the training wheels are very much still on (considering he pitched a lot more as a rookie than the team expected going into last year). But, his ceiling looks to be even higher than Gilbert’s, so as long as these guys don’t have any major setbacks, you’re talking about one of the best rotations in all of baseball, starting on Day 1.

Is that enough? The bullpen will have to continue being lights out. The offense will have to continue being timely with their hitting and cluster luck. If everything goes according to plan, and we don’t run into a bunch of guys having career-worst seasons, I think there’s an okay chance. Maybe a 66.67% chance the Astros win the division, with a 33.33% chance the Mariners prevail. That’s not amazing, but considering it’s usually a 99.99% chance the Astros dominate, I’ll take it.

Why Jarred Kelenic Being Penciled In As A Starter Is Potentially A Good Thing

We as fans like to think we know everything. We’re entitled pricks! It’s fine; we pay their fucking salaries, the least they can do is put up with our bullshit.

Anyway, sometimes it’s good to take a step back and acknowledge that teams generally know more than we do. Or, at the very least, they HAVE knowledge that we don’t. At the beginning of the year, the Seahawks started multiple rookie cornerbacks over veterans who had looked pretty good the previous season. We thought they were crazy, but lo and behold, Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant had pretty solid-to-elite rookie years!

The Mariners know good and well where they are set and where they struggled a year ago. They know what their holes are. At this point in the offseason, they’ve swapped out Teoscar Hernandez for Mitch Haniger in right field. They shed Jesse Winker from left and gave Kyle Lewis a fresh start with another organization who can better afford to keep him on their 40-man. What they didn’t do is … ANYTHING to fill the void in left field, to say nothing of what’s going to happen with the DH spot. We’ve got Dylan Moore, we’ve got Sam Haggerty, and we brought in a right-handed platoon bat in A.J. Pollock for the 25% of the time we face left-handed starters.

Meaning that unless another big deal is coming down the pike in the next month, we’re looking at a healthy dose of Jarred Kelenic.

I find that very intriguing. I just got done telling you how the Mariners know good and well where they struggled a year ago, and one of the most prominent struggle spots was, indeed, Kelenic. So, why would a team that just broke through into the playoffs for the first time in two decades – a team with even higher expectations for 2023 – go into a season essentially guaranteeing a guy like Kelenic the opportunity to start in left? Make no mistake, Moore and Haggerty are insurance policies. But, Kelenic will be given every opportunity to succeed, because he has the highest upside of anyone on this team not named Julio Rodriguez.

On the one hand, this move could blow up in their faces. Kelenic could start this season like he’s started every season in the bigs, sucking HARD at the plate. He could go up and down to and from Tacoma a few times. He could play himself right out of the organization with his value the lowest it’s ever been.

But, I don’t think they believe that’s what’s going to happen. Granted, what organization in its right mind would start a guy they expect to fail? He would have to make significant strides in his development to be the kind of player we need in left. We’ve had ample opportunities to address this void, both in trades and free agents. We have enough prospects to make that spot at least league average; there were deals that could’ve been made. Instead, the Mariners seem content to roll with Kelenic. And that in and of itself gives me hope.

If it backfires, I guess there’s still the trade deadline. But, that’s a pretty huge blunder. So, let’s hope what they’re saying is on point: Kelenic is still VERY young, and there’s plenty of time for him to reach his full potential.

Who Is A.J. Pollock?

Well, he’s a new Mariners outfielder, having just signed a 1-year, $7 million deal with incentives that can bring it to $10 million. I don’t know what those incentives are yet, but I’m guessing they’ll be relatively attainable if he just does what he’s supposed to do.

According to … statistics, he apparently crushes left-handed pitching. If we just go by last year, he was a monster against lefties, and he was pretty mediocre against righties. It should also be noted that almost exactly 1/4 of his plate appearances came against lefties, which pretty much checks out. There are lots more right handed pitchers in baseball than lefties. So, 1/4 of the time, he’s elite. 3/4 of the time he’s somewhere between 2022 Jesse Winker and Jarred Kelenic.

I think those comparisons are relevant to my overall feeling about this signing, because I remember everyone with fingers and an Internet connection telling me that Winker’s greatest attribute was his ability to mash right-handed pitching. Even if he struggled against lefties, you could platoon him and be fine. What happened? Well, for starters, the Season From Hell happened. But, he also weirdly hit much better against lefties and struggled (compared to his previous norms) against righties. I’m not saying it’s going to flip-flop with Pollock the way it did with Winker (that might actually make it a genius move, if true), but I’m just saying beware of making assumptions about guys who have had successful track records.

A.J. Pollock is 35 years old. Sure, he had a 3.1 WAR season in 2021, but last year it was 0.4 (largely due to those platoon splits). He hasn’t been an All Star since 2015 (his Major League debut was in 2012). Last year was also his first in the American League, after being a career National Leaguer; that matters, and everyone pretends it doesn’t. It’s also my understanding that he’s been injury prone of late, which is what happens to most guys in baseball in their mid-30s.

I will say this: the price isn’t outrageous (what IS outrageous is the fact that this is the highest-paid position player free agent we’ve signed in the Jerry Dipoto era; that feels insane to me, even if I’m not the biggest fan of overpaying for free agents based on past success that’s never likely to be replicated). You pay $7 million for a part-time outfielder with some upside still left in the tank. You pay for his leadership, you pay for his production to just remain level with what it’s been in the last couple years, and you cross your fingers that he stays healthy.

But, this move only SORT OF works if he does just that: plays to an expected level, or better. However, you’re still going into the season with the expectation that he’s going to have a platoon partner. How often does THAT work out? How often do both guys pull their weight?

You might like your chances if switch-hitting Sam Haggerty was his partner, except Swaggerty has even MORE stark platoon splits, and his are also in favor of going against lefties. You might settle for a Dylan Moore partnership, but we all know what Dylan Moore is at this point, so don’t make me pull the Dennis Green video again. Also, don’t even try to talk to me about Taylor Trammell or Cade Marlowe, because those are non-entities. Can a guy named Cade succeed at anything?

The expected move – at this point, barring future moves – is to pair him with Jarred Kelenic. And yeah, I get it. He’s awful against lefties. He’s significantly better against righties. But, that’s just compared to how bad he is against lefties. In reality, Kelenic is terrible against EVERYONE. Now, obviously, no one’s sitting here looking to give up on a 23 year old who was once projected to be a crown jewel in our organizational prospect rebuilding effort. But, we’ve seen a decent sample size out of him; over the last two years, it kind of adds up to one full season. Therein, you’re looking at: .168/.251/.338. You saw him look solid towards the end of his 2021 season, only to regress HARD at the start of 2022. He, again, improved towards the end of last year (ever-so-slightly), but fool me twice, you know?

This is a Mariners team coming off of their first playoff appearance in two decades. There are … expectations. We’ve seen a number of lateral moves towards our 2023 roster (Teoscar Hernandez for Mitch Haniger in right, Kolten Wong for Adam Frazier at second, some addition by subtraction in getting rid of Winker and Abraham Toro), but I don’t know if any of these are going to vastly move the needle when it comes to actual wins on the field. A.J. Pollock feels very in line with those other guys; you kind of expect him to play well, but it also wouldn’t shock you in the slightest for him to faceplant as soon as he puts on a Mariners uniform (that goes for Hernandez and Wong as well).

You don’t expect Pollock to only appear in a quarter of these games; he’s not going to be limited exclusively to facing lefties. As long as he’s healthy and productive, he should start against EVERY lefty, and enough righties to put him in a 50/50 timeshare. I think that’s the best-case scenario for him. If he’s thrust into a full-time starting role, I’m guessing we’ll see drastically diminishing returns. But, even at a 50/50-ish split, that’s putting A LOT of trust into Jarred Kelenic figuring it out in his third Major League season, when he’s looked absolutely lost at the plate for 99% of his time in the bigs thus far. For a team that’s expecting a return trip to the playoffs? A team that would ideally like to compete with the Astros for the division title? I don’t think that’s smart.

But, then again, I don’t have a lot of answers here. I’m a guy who doesn’t want to hand over the keys to 50% of the left field job to Jarred Kelenic, but I’m also a guy who doesn’t want to give up on him either. I guess I’d like him to be a guy who goes into this season as a backup outfielder, who slowly builds up his confidence at the plate over sporadic playing time, until he commands starting time through his achievements. Otherwise, this would be the third year in a row where he’s essentially handed a starting job in this lineup, without actually having to prove he’s capable in regular season, Major League baseball games. What has he done to EARN it, other than be good in the minors, and have one hot Spring Training?

I dunno. The Mariners aren’t done, and won’t be set until we get closer to April. I’m still half-expecting a big move between now and Spring Training. But, so far, I’m not exactly bursting with enthusiasm for the moves to date. I guess I’m just waiting to find out who’s set to disappoint us in the 2023 season. It’s not always the people you expect!

Gun to my head, though, I’m expecting A.J. Pollock to disappoint.

The Seahawks Are Somehow Back In The Playoffs

As a Seahawks fan – but really, as a longtime, hardcore fan of most (if not all) Seattle sports – there are a few universal truths. The Mariners are always going to bring in a guy who looks like an amazing fit, only for him to immediately go in the tank (last year it was Jesse Winker, this year it figures to be A.J. Pollock; though never discount the surprise bust). Similarly, the Mariners are always going to give up on someone who goes somewhere else and plays amazing. The Sonics are always going to get screwed over by the NBA (who continually tantalizes us with promises of a new team, with zero follow through) until they’ve crushed the spirit of every last basketball fan in Seattle. The Husky football team is always going to have at least one enraging defeat to a mediocre-to-bad team that prevents them from ever making the playoffs. And for every Seattle-based team, it goes like this: if you need help from someone else to bolster the future of our franchise – whether it’s the near-future, in helping us win a division title in the final week of the season, or the more distant future by giving us an improved draft pick – bet against our interests, because that’s the result you’re going to get.

Now, you can read that and say, “But! But!” And yeah, duh, it’s not literally 100% of the time that these “universal truths” come to fruition, but more often than not. And when it’s not in our favor, BOY does it seem to hurt us bad.

Remember in 2008, when the Mariners were expected to compete for a playoff spot, only to lose over 100 games and be in direct competition for the top overall draft pick? Remember how we won a meaningless series against Oakland at the very end of the year to fall to the #2 spot (whereas the Washington Nationals did their fucking jobs and got to draft a great starting pitcher)? The Mariners got Dustin Ackley and it set us back considerably. Remember in 1992 when the Seahawks had maybe one of the worst offenses in NFL history and finished 2-14? We were in direct competition with the 2-14 Patriots for the top overall pick. Since we beat them, they had the tiebreaker and got to pick first (incidentally, they also had a chance to get a third win in the final week of the season, but lost to the Dolphins in overtime; what’s most galling is that the Pats had a 10-point halftime lead and a 7-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, to say nothing of being in field goal range just before regulation expired, before taking a brutal sack to get knocked back). The Patriots got to draft Drew Bledsoe; the Seahawks were saddled with Rick Mirer.

There are countless examples of the Seattle team getting fucked over at the very end by outside forces compelled to make us all feel bad. It’s the We Can’t Have Nice Things law of nature, and it’s a bitch.

Now, you might also say, “What about the Lions? They just did us a solid by defeating the Packers in Green Bay last night, sending us to the playoffs!”

But, DID they do us a solid? Do we have ANY business being in these playoffs? It took overtime and the total and complete depletion of the Los Angeles Rams by injury (including their three best players: Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, and Matthew Stafford, who also rank among the best players in the NFL at their positions) for the Seahawks just to finish 9-8 and in a position to need help last night.

Part of me will accept the answer that you shouldn’t get accustomed to losing. That it’s better to do sort of what the Seahawks did and hover around .500, than it is to be 3-14 and vie for the top overall draft pick. That means the players you have currently on your roster – and in our case, a lot of them are very young, with room to blossom and improve – are pretty good and gained valuable experience while getting better as the season progressed. But, at the same time, this Seahawks team isn’t good enough to win ONE playoff game, let alone enough to get us to Super Bowl. I would say it doesn’t matter who we play – we could go to any of the top four seeds and most definitely lose – but having to face the 49ers (who already DOMINATED us twice, and is probably the best team in the NFC) is just a blowout embarrassment waiting to happen.

You might say, “Well, it’s hard to beat a team three times in the same season. Plus, they’re down to their third quarterback, and if our defense can just keep things close, you never know.” Even if I give you that – and assume, for the sake of argument, that we find a way to prevail next week – you’re telling me then we have to go to Philly, and I’m telling you there is NO FUCKING CHANCE we win that game against a #1 seed that just had a bye week to get healthy. All that does is bump our draft pick to 25th (or even 26th, if the Bucs upset the Cowboys in the first round before succumbing to reality).

You know what I would’ve rather had? The 14th pick, which is what we would’ve gotten if we’d lost to the Rams on Sunday. Failing that, you know what I would’ve rather had? The 17th pick, which is what we would’ve gotten if the Packers defeated the Lions (everything else being the same). Now, as it stands? We have the 20th pick. If everything goes according to plan – we lose to the 49ers, the Bucs lose to the Cowboys – we get the 20th. What’s the one thing that could help us? The Bucs winning next Monday night and the Seahawks losing, which would bump us up one to 19th overall. Will that happen? Please see: the entire beginning to this blog post.

I would argue that just being 8-9 or 9-8 has achieved everything we wanted. It kept the team relevant to the very end, it showed us a lot of the young guys who figure to be stalwarts on this team for the foreseeable future, and it didn’t get anyone on the coaching staff fired, so we can have that continuity going into the 2023 season. We already HAD that, we didn’t need to add a meaningless playoff defeat into the mix! All that does is hurt our potential in next year’s draft.

And, if you think I’m being an overly-dramatic Negative Nelly, I want you to look at some of the OTHER ways the rest of the NFL could’ve helped us … with the Denver draft pick.

We have the 5th pick. If the Chargers had simply tried to beat Denver and succeeded, that would’ve improved to the 3rd pick. Or if the Colts and Cards had won ONCE in the last seven weeks, it would’ve been the 3rd pick. The Colts had the fucking Texans of all teams in week 18, and still managed to bungle it! And the Cardinals the week before blew it at the end against the lowly Falcons.

Then, there would’ve been the ultimate prize, if Denver had lost to the Chargers, and the Bears had won once in the last TEN weeks, that could’ve moved all the way to a 2nd overall pick.

So many fucking possibilities to get into the Top 3. Instead, we’re saddled with 5th. There were chances to get one of the two best defensive line prospects in this draft class. But, looking at it now, it’s going to require teams trading down:

  1. Chicago – probably keeping Justin Fields and taking the best defender available, unless they trade down
  2. Houston – quarterback most likely
  3. Arizona – committed to Kyler Murray for many years, GM situation in flux, probably not trading at all and taking best defender available
  4. Indianapolis – quarterback all but certainly
  5. Seattle – fucked

What’s worse is that if Chicago trades down, they probably don’t want to trade very far, so I’m guessing Indy will be a likely trade partner; that does not help us. We need someone like the Raiders (7th), Panthers (9th) or Titans (11th) to make a big move, since all three are probably in the market for a quarterback upgrade.

It sucks. What does 5 and 20 get us? One stud, hopefully, and maybe the best guard or center in the draft (assuming there’s one worth taking in the first round; quality centers can usually be had in rounds 2 or 3). Otherwise, at 20, you’re looking for a good quarterback who’s fallen (maybe packaging that with our high second rounder to move up into the teens).

I dunno, I guess that’s Future Me’s concern. For now, I have to try to talk myself into a scenario where the Seahawks aren’t blown out of the stadium on Saturday afternoon (always the anticipated Worst Wild Card Round Game). God help us if we find a way to win, and that 20th overall pick falls to where it normally is, in the mid-to-high 20’s. I may lose my God damn mind.

The Mariners Traded For Kolten Wong & Added A Reliever

I’m a little behind in my Hot Stove updates, but to be fair these things tend to come crashing down in waves, so this relative trickle of moves has come as a bit of a shock.

So far, we’ve brought in Teoscar Hernandez via trade, sent Kyle Lewis for some change of scenery in exchange for a utility player, and more or less declared that the top tier free agents are not going to be targets for us (which I’m more or less okay with). The Mariners have a history of being quick to act at this point in the offseason, so it’s a little surprising to see the relative inaction.

We brought in right-handed reliever Trevor Gott, who’s under team control through 2024. His numbers don’t inspire a ton of confidence, but the Mariners have worked magic with relievers in recent years, so I could see our coaching staff unlocking his full potential. I don’t want to get too high or too low about this guy until he starts showing up in regular season games, so for now I plan on forgetting all about him until next April.

We also, not for nothing, signed Casey Sadler to a minor league deal, which is exciting! He was hurt for the entirety of 2022, but he was one of our very-best relievers (in an already-elite bullpen) in 2021, so if he can get somewhere close to that, I’d be thrilled.

The big news of the last couple weeks was the trade for second baseman Kolten Wong. Like Teoscar Hernandez, Wong is signed through 2023. So, this time next year, we very well might have these two holes to re-fill yet again. But, in the short term, things look promising.

The good thing about trades like this is that they don’t really cost you a whole lot. Hernandez cost us a good reliever and a low-minors prospect. Wong cost us two Major Leaguers who we all grew tired of by season’s end: Jesse Winker and Abraham Toro.

If you’re the Brewers, I think you’re pretty happy with this deal. As I said, Wong’s only under contract for one more year. So is Jesse Winker, but Winker’s upside at the plate (especially in the friendlier confines of the National League Central) is an automatic upgrade if he can return to full health and approach the type of player he was as recently as 2021. Toro is the real prize for them though, because he’s under club control through 2026, he plays multiple positions in the infield and outfield, and he’s already accumulated a number of clutch hits in his Major League career. Consistency at the plate is what he’s lacked thus far. If they can either turn him into a hitter with fewer holes – or find a way to unlock his power potential – they’ll have a real gem on their hands. Both guys, most certainly, needed a change of scenery out of the arms race that is the A.L. West.

As with most of these types of deals, the likeliest outcome is that Winker is toast, Toro will never be anything more than a frustrating utility guy, and Wong will come to Seattle and disappoint.

I’m not as high on the return as other Mariners fans. It’s not that I think the deal isn’t fair, it’s just I’m not sure about the player. Wong is 32. His career-high in homers was 15 last year. His career batting average is only .261, and I feel like both of those numbers are going to take a severe hit in Seattle. I guess he finds a way to get on base fairly regularly, and his defense has traditionally been better than average. But, I hear injuries largely hampered his mobility last year, which seems like a clear sign of aging. Best case scenario has him as a moderately more effective player than Adam Frazier. But, there’s a good chance he’s just as bad or worse.

Where do these moves have us in relation to last year’s team? When you factor in the loss of Haniger (who signed a lovely deal with the San Francisco Giants, finally cashing in on his Major League Baseball skills), it kind of feels like a wash so far. Obviously, the moves aren’t done yet. It feels like there’s something major set to roll down the pike any time now, involving a number of highly-rated prospects for an impact Major Leaguer. But, for now, I don’t think I see this Mariners team as any better than last year’s. Last year was fun and all, but this is the time to make significant strides towards trying to win the division.

The Mariners Traded For Teoscar Hernández

It’s our first big deal of the offseason! The Mariners sent Erik Swanson and prospect Adam Macko to the Blue Jays for outfielder Teoscar Hernández.

Hernández, you may recall, hit two home runs off of Robbie Ray in that 10-9 wild card clinching performance, so there’s a little bit of a reverse If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em thing going on. We’re stuck with Robbie Ray for a while, so we might as well acquire all the guys who kick his ass.

Expanding beyond that, though, it’s hard not to see this as a huge upgrade for our offense and specifically for our outfield. I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know what he brings to the table defensively, but that didn’t stop us with Winker or anyone else. My guess is he’ll slot into left, which will still free us to re-sign Mitch Haniger and possibly platoon him in right with Kelenic or whoever else we bring in.

I should point out that I’m under the assumption we’re going to cut and run with Winker, so this feels like his replacement, and a huge upgrade at that. Whereas Winker struggled to hit for power in Seattle, Hernández should have no problem whatsoever. He’s among the league leaders in hard hit balls. He has a track record of 20+ home runs in 4 of the last 5 years (the holdout being the 2020 COVID year where he still hit 16 homers in 50 games). He’s also hit for a pretty good average in each of the last three years.

This type of deal doesn’t come without downsides, though. He’s going to strike out a lot. Like, A LOT a lot. I also wouldn’t expect a huge on-base percentage boost out of him. He’s here to sit in the middle of our lineup and mash dingers; being our 5th hitter is probably his most likely landing spot. If I had to venture a guess at our lineup – extremely premature, I grant you – it’ll look something like this:

  1. Julio (CF)
  2. Ty France (1B)
  3. TBD (SS/2B)
  4. Suarez (3B)
  5. Hernández (LF)
  6. Raleigh (C)
  7. TBD (RF)
  8. TBD (DH)
  9. Crawford (2B/SS)

I’ll be curious to see how this morphs and changes over the offseason.

Anyway, the other main drawback is that Hernández is on the final year of Arbitration. He’s set to earn a reasonable amount of money in 2023 (projected anywhere from $10-$14 million), but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2024. Presumably, if we like his fit, we could extend him during the season. But, by the same token, presumably he’ll want to see free agency and cash in as a guy who just turned 30 this past October.

In spite of the rental status – and the fact that he’s another righty, when we could really use a quality left-handed bat in the middle of our lineup – I would do this trade 100 out of 100 times. We’ll see if it pans out, of course, but knowing what we know now, the cost isn’t extreme.

We lost Erik Swanson, which is tough, but not heartbreaking or anything. He had a great 2022 season – after a few years struggling with command/control – but I don’t know how sustainable his stuff is. The key was figuring out a quality Out Pitch, which he seems to have found. But, his fastball doesn’t seem all that impressive; this really feels like we’re selling at the height of his value. We got an elite 2022 season out of him (1.68 ERA in 57 games), but he didn’t often have to take on those high-leverage situations, since we had more elite relievers ahead of him. I was happy we were finally able to get him into a playoff game – in that 18-inning barnburner – but it was odd that it took us five games before we finally trusted him enough to let him in there (and, even then, it wasn’t until the 13th inning).

My ultimate feelings about Swanson are largely positive, even though his career in Seattle started out very negative. He came over with Justus Sheffield in the James Paxton trade, with both guys expected to be starters. Swanson was converted to a reliever fairly quickly -after making 8 starts in 2019 – but even then he looked mediocre-to-bad. So, I was quite impressed with how he worked on his craft and continued to improve every season. I wish him nothing but the best. He might not ever be an elite closer or anything, but he should be a steady presence for years to come.

I don’t know anything about the other pitcher we sent over. Apparently he’s a lefty starter from A-ball. So, he’s a lottery ticket. Odds are, he won’t be anything. And, if he DOES turn into someone great, we’ll all be screaming about it in a few years.

Solid start to the offseason, but there’s a lot more left to do.

What I’d Like To See The Mariners Do This Offseason

It’s impossible to predict the fluctuation of outcomes from individual players year over year. A guy might’ve had a great 2022, then all of a sudden goes in the tank due to injuries, private personal matters, or just total randomness. Baseball can be INFURIATING in that respect.

That being said, there doesn’t appear to be quite as many holes to fill this offseason as usual. Coming off of back-to-back 90-win seasons – the latest being a playoff run into the ALDS – that’s a good problem to have. It’s also one we’re not used to experiencing, as Mariners fans. I almost don’t know what to do with myself!

The starting rotation, for instance, looks to be set, barring trades. My hunch on the order goes like this:

  • Luis Castillo (R)
  • Logan Gilbert (R)
  • Robbie Ray (L)
  • George Kirby (R)
  • Marco Gonzales (L)

Is it perfect? No. But, I think the top end is good-to-elite, and I think the two lefties are solid innings eaters. The depth beyond those five guys is a little suspect, as I don’t know if any of our upcoming minor league starters are ready to ascend (or will even be with the club, since they present as our biggest trade chips), but we at least should have Chris Flexen around as a long relief arm/injury replacement starter.

I would say the bullpen is largely set too, though of course there’s room to tinker. We’ve got the following arms under contract (among a host of others):

  • Andres Munoz
  • Paul Sewald
  • Erik Swanson
  • Matt Brash
  • Diego Castillo
  • Penn Murfee
  • Matt Festa

We probably need another left-handed reliever or two, but that’s what Spring Training is there for. We go out and find underappreciated rejects and turn them into monster relievers. I’m sure there are guys out on the scrap heap looking to turn their careers around in Seattle.

The major holes are where you’d expect: the everyday lineup.

Right off the bat, Mitch Haniger, Carlos Santana, and Adam Frazier are all free agents. That’s your starting right fielder, DH, and second baseman. Then, there’s the whole Jesse Winker fiasco, so you’re probably looking at a need to replace your left fielder.

Coming at it from the other direction, we look solid-to-great at center field (Julio), third base (Suarez), first base (France), catcher (Raleigh), and short stop or second base (Crawford).

Internal depth pieces include Kelenic, Toro, Lewis, Haggerty, Moore, Trammell, and Torrens. I don’t think we should be confident in any of those guys. I like Haggerty a lot, but I wonder if he’ll get exposed the more he plays. I like Kyle Lewis a lot, but he can’t stay healthy with his chronic knee issues that probably prevent him from playing everyday outside of DH (and, considering how bad he was at the plate this year, you have to wonder if he even has value with his bat anymore). Trammell, Toro, and Torrens all look to be Quad-A players not to be trusted with starting jobs. And Kelenic is the real wild card in all of this. Highly touted, highly regarded throughout his minor league career, but definitely stalled out at the Major League level. Is it possible for him to figure it out? Of course. But, will he do so in a Mariners uniform? That’s a huge question.

It’s frustrating to see so much of the outfield in flux, because that looked like our area of greatest strength. It was supposed to be Julio, Lewis, and Kelenic for the next 5-10 years. Now, it looks like we’ve hit on 1 out of 3.

I’d love for Mitch Haniger to stick around, but clearly he too can’t stay healthy. The smarter play feels like we should let him move on to another team. Which is a tough pill to swallow, because he’s exactly the kind of guy you want. Works hard, plays quality outfield defense, hits for good average and power when he’s healthy, great teammate. But, if he’s spending more time in the training room than out on the field, that’s not a guy you can count on.

I’m already at the point where I think Winker needs to go, but his value has taken such a sharp hit this year, I don’t know what you’d get in return. The smart play might be to get rid of him anyway, because his attitude and alleged lack of work ethic might be a bigger detriment than whatever good we might squeeze out of positive regression, but I can see why the organization might want to avoid having to replace BOTH corner outfield spots. There’s also the chance that, you know, his severe surgical injuries might have hampered him just a bit. So, maybe he’s on the short list for a bit of positive regression.

Even though the Mariners are in the best spot they’ve been in since 2001, it’s not like this is an EASY fix. Two outfielders, one middle-infielder, and one big bat to DH and maybe help out in the field on occasion.

I think the middle infielder is the key. I think we have to sign one of the big bats that hit the market in free agency to either play short stop (and move Crawford over to second) or second base. From there, I think you take a shot in free agency at a quality outfielder, but more likely will have to make a trade for that guy. Then, as for the other outfielder, I think you maybe find someone to platoon, with the other platoon partner being an internal candidate (either Kelenic, Haggerty, or Moore, whoever produces best in Spring Training). As for the DH, find some vet akin to Carlos Santana (only maybe slightly younger and more spry) who can fill in at first base in a pinch, to give France regular days off to DH in his place.

The Mariners should have a decent amount of money to play around with, so I’m hoping there’s at least one big splash. The trade candidates can be guys with 1-2 years left. Maybe we can flip Winker for someone else’s problem, in a greener pastures sort of situation.

The big story this offseason is where will Aaron Judge go. He’s going to get half a billion dollars, easy. Is that someone I’d want in a Mariners uniform? I dunno, how well did it go the last time we signed away a former Yankees superstar?

Here’s the deal: I would be thrilled if the Mariners signed Judge to play right field. As we all would. In the short term, pairing him with Julio and the other guys on our roster is only going to make them the most formidable pairing in baseball. But, there’s a reason why his numbers have been so insane with the Yankees, and that’s because he plays half his game in Yankee Stadium. Hitting homers there is as easy as breathing. If he moves to Seattle, expect a DRAMATIC downturn in his number of homers. He hit 60+ this year? You might bank on him hitting 40+ with the Mariners. I’d say the 30-40 range is more likely. And that’s assuming he stays healthy.

Of course, long term, I think that contract will be a disaster. What worries me is if it’s a disaster from the start. Think Albert Pujols when he joined the Angels. He went downhill almost immediately, and they had to endure a decade of his creaky knees.

I’d rather put that money into a short stop who’s a better long-term fit, and then trade for a value bat in the outfield. That’s easier said than done, obviously. But, I will say that now that we’ve had this success, and we’ve got a lot of our core locked up, Seattle is a more attractive place to come and play. Obviously, it’s not perfect. There’s a lot of travel involved. The home park isn’t easy, especially in the colder months. But, locating the right guys who fit our dynamic and what we’re trying to do offensively will be critical to getting over the hump.

As Napster guy said to Facebook guy in The Social Network, “The wild card isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Winning the division and getting a top two seed.”

2022 Seattle Mariners: In Memoriam

It’s fun to look back at my prediction post to see what I thought about the Mariners heading into the season. Long story short: I was right about some guys, VERY wrong about some guys, and I had this team pegged as an 84-win squad who would go on to miss the playoffs once again.

It’s funny how this season ebbed and flowed. We started out 11-6, which kind of gets lost in the shuffle in the narrative to this season, because the next stretch was so terrible. As late as June 19th, we were infamously 10 games under .500 at 29-39 (meaning in that span of almost two months, we went 18-33). Then, amazingly, we finished the year 61-33 (winning at a .649 clip), including a 14-game winning streak to close out the first half. This was a year removed from another 90-win Mariners team who had a pretty shabby record in May/June before turning it on the rest of the way. The main difference is that we had three wild card teams to go along with three divisional winners making the playoffs in each league. So, this time around, 90 wins was just enough.

There are so many fun storylines that came along this year, with the top being Julio Rodriguez. He’s a superstar! He’s the superstar we’ve been waiting for since Ken Griffey Jr. left. He hits for average (.284), he hits for power (28 homers, 25 doubles, 3 triples), he steals bases (25 against 7 caught stealing), he plays tremendous defense in center field, and he’s by all accounts a fantastic leader and teammate. He’s everything you could want in a 6-WAR player, and oh by the way, he also had an absolutely atrocious month of April before figuring out how to play at this level. Meaning he did all he did in 5 months, which is absolutely incredible. He’s your American League Rookie of the Year, and unlike the last Mariners ROY (Kyle Lewis), he figures to play at a high level for many years to come (hence the humongous mega-deal he signed during the season).

You know who else was a really cool story? Cal Raleigh! He struggled in 2021, and was off to another rough start in 2022, to the point where he was briefly sent back down to Tacoma to work on some things. He ultimately was forced to return due to catcher injuries, but this time he made the most of it. He doesn’t hit for much average, but he was among the best catchers in the game with his power (27 homers, 20 doubles, and one improbable triple) and he obviously has a great defensive game (both in handling pitchers as well as throwing runners out and pitch-framing). As far as Pleasant Surprises go, he’s way up there for me and a lot of Mariners fans.

Another guy I wasn’t expecting a ton from was Eugenio Suarez. I wondered – as did many people – if his best days weren’t behind him. Instead, he was probably the best version of what he can be: a 4-WAR player who hit 31 homers, 24 doubles, and 2 triples. He also played very good defense at third base, and is amazingly an upgrade over what we had with Kyle Seager over the last few years. His batting average isn’t stupendous, but his on-base percentage is very good.

One more pleasant surprise before we get to the guys we expected to be good, and that’s Sam Haggerty. It’s a rough go that he wasn’t able to make it to the playoffs – suffering a major injury in the final week of the regular season – but as a bench guy, he finished with 2.2 WAR. It got to the point that he forced his way into an almost-everyday role on this team (bouncing around from various outfield AND infield spots) through sheer grit and talent. I don’t know what his role is long-term, but he’s one of those guys every playoff team needs: someone who hits for average, plays amazing defense, and will steal you a money bag in a pinch.

We got Ty France and J.P. Crawford through almost a full season intact, and they produced about as well as you’d expect, with 3.0 and 2.8 WAR respectively. I think you’d still look to improve at one of the middle infield spots this offseason (potentially moving J.P. over to second), but you have to like what both of these guys give you, as far as leadership and production go. Ultimately, you wonder how both of them will handle the rigors of a full season (as nagging injuries seem to creep in and sap their effectiveness as the season wears on), but for now I have no complaints.

Finally, pour one out for Mitch Haniger and Carlos Santana. Both were on the final years of their respective deals (Santana was a trade acquisition who didn’t hit a lot, but when he did, they seemed to be in the biggest of moments). Santana is probably washed as an everyday bat, while Haniger proved once again that he can’t stay healthy for a full (or multiple) season(s). I would say Haniger was great while he was in there, but even with his 1.4 WAR across 57 games, he still went in the tank for long stretches (and didn’t really give us much in the playoffs).

As far as pitching goes, there are plenty of kudos to go around. Logan Gilbert led the squad in WAR with 3.2. He built on his impressive rookie season with an even better one, throwing 185.2 innings in 32 starts. It looks like Gilbert is going to be a workhorse for many years to come.

On Gilbert’s heels came George Kirby, who had a similar rookie year this year to Gilbert’s last year: very restricted innings, yet still impressive output. What Kirby had this year – which Gilbert never got a chance to show last year – was a phenomenal playoff run. You would expect Kirby to have a similar increase in his innings next year, followed by the training wheels coming all the way off in 2024.

Luis Castillo was our big deadline acquisition, and he showed why the cost was worth it. To the point that he earned himself a long-term extension to stick around and be this team’s ace for the foreseeable future. He’s like a harder-throwing Felix with a similarly-impressive change up.

Robbie Ray was the leader of the pitchers throughout the year, but he had a number of rough patches to endure. His start was rocky as hell, until he started incorporating his 2-seam fastball. That led to improved results, but ultimately it seemed like he struggled against better teams. I don’t know what tweaks are in his future, but he’s going to need to rein in his command if he’s going to be worth the huge wad of money the Mariners are giving him over the next few years.

The rotation was wildly healthy this year, which is pretty insane. Marco Gonzales did Marco Gonzales things, finishing pretty well in line with his career norms, throwing 183 innings across 32 starts, and being about league average as you can get. Chris Flexen also did Chris Flexen things, and earned himself a nice little bump in pay in 2023 (to be this team’s long reliever, I guess, if he’s not traded at some point).

The bullpen – for the second year in a row – was this team’s heart and soul, and they needed every bit of the talent on offer. What’s interesting is that – aside from Sewald – we got it from a gaggle of new guys. Andres Munoz was the obvious breakout star, throwing 100+, with a 90+ slider. But, Erik Swanson dramatically improved his game, Penn Murfee was a nice surprise, Matt Festa was a competent arm, Diego Castillo got better once he was dropped from the highest-leverage spots, and Matt Brash was a revelation once the team demoted him from starter to reliever. If Brash sticks with relief, I think the sky is the limit with this kid, which is great news when you figure he’ll slot alongside Munoz and Sewald for the next few years at least.

It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for the 2022 Mariners, though.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Jesse Winker was this team’s biggest disappointment. He came over in that first big trade with the Reds (alongside Suarez), and everyone pegged Winker as the cornerstone of that deal. For good reason, because all Winker has done is produce at the plate in his Major League career. Especially in 2021, when he played at an All Star level.

Winker’s production fell dramatically this year. He suffered the Seattle curse. At home, his slash line was .203/.331/.294; on the road, it was dramatically higher: .232/.354/.382. 10 of his 14 homers came on the road. Ironically, the book on him was that he struggled against lefties but crushed righties; however that flipped for some bizarre reason in 2022. Across the board he was better against lefties, which is crazy to me!

The final nail in the coffin appears to be his work ethic, and his chemistry in the clubhouse as a result of that (lack of) work ethic. I’ll say this: I agree with Divish, I don’t think he looks very strong or athletic whatsoever. His defense isn’t just mediocre, it’s an outright liability. Sure, his eye at the plate is pretty strong, but you can’t build a career on crap defense and walks. That’s not going to work on a team that has a razor-thin margin for error when it comes to our offensive struggles at times. This is a team with a whole lotta alpha dogs who are in it to win it. I don’t know what Winker’s vibe is exactly – he struck me as an easygoing, comedy relief type of presence, but I don’t know if that’s totally accurate given the RBF we’ve come to witness so often – but clearly it doesn’t mesh with this team. Either he gets traded, or they try to make it work with an offseason meeting of the minds. My hunch is we cut and run, though I hope there’s at least a little value, since I think his bat would play in a friendlier offensive environment.

Adam Frazier was also a pretty significant offseason acquisition that was also a major disappointment. You bring in a guy like Frazier for his high batting average and on-base percentage. Competent defense at second and in the corner outfield is a bonus, but he’s supposed to be a regular baserunner for other guys to hit in. That’s what makes his 2022 season so befuddling, because his bat SHOULD play anywhere he goes. We’re not relying on him to be a dynamic power source like Winker, we just want him standing on first base for other guys to knock him around. He only turned 30 this year, so he should still be close enough to his prime to be effective. But, regardless, he started in a pretty deep hole and could never fully get out of it, in spite of occasional hot stretches. As I mentioned, there’s room for improvement up the middle, but that was always going to be the case. Frazier was on a 1-year deal, so we were going to have to look to fill this spot either way. Between left field and second base, we need to find at least ONE bigtime bat to help prop up this offense to get closer to league-average in scoring.

I’ll just rattle off really quickly: the other major disappointments were Luis Torrens, Abraham Toro, and Jarred Kelenic.

Kelenic had a fantastic finish to his 2021 season, which gave us all hope that he’d be here to stay in 2022. Instead, he sucked hard in the early going, spent MOST of the year down in Tacoma, had a nice little blip in the last couple weeks of the regular season, but ultimately wasn’t able to continue that through the playoffs. There’s still a lot he needs to do to be a more consistent Major League presence, and I just don’t know if he’s ever going to stick in Seattle.

Toro was a deadline acquisition in 2021 who has had a number of big hits in clutch moments, but by and large he’s been atrocious. He had to play for the Mariners quite a bit this year due to injuries and ineffectiveness around the roster, but he’s a huge wad of nothing. Time to move on.

Torrens, we thought, figured out his bat in 2021, and was supposed to be a steady middle-of-the-order type of guy, either as a backup catcher, or as this team’s DH. But, once again, he fell off the map and found himself DFA’d. He passed through without anyone claiming him, so we were able to get him to Tacoma until late in the regular season, when he returned to Seattle (with Raleigh’s injury issues) and saw an uptick in his offensive production again. I couldn’t tell you what his future holds, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the Mariners need improvement at backup catcher.

I don’t have a ton of complaints about the pitching. Again, it would be nice if Robbie Ray was better against good teams, since we clearly need him if we’re going to make it back to the playoffs. It was also disconcerting to see Sewald get beaten around so much late in the year. But, other than some minor quibbles, most of the guys who sucked (Steckenrider sure didn’t last long, did he?) were jettisoned in a timely fashion.

The overarching analysis for the 2022 Mariners is a rousing success. We made the playoffs for the first time since 2001! Even if it was last year’s playoff format, we would have made it to the Wild Card play-in game, and we would have prevailed to advance to the ALDS. So, I’m not taking anything away from the Mariners. Quite frankly, it’s insane there haven’t been more playoff teams for a while now. After a 162-game season, there needs to be proper representation! There are so many good teams in baseball who deserve a shot every year, why deprive markets of fun opportunities?

This is a team that outperformed expectations. It’s also a team that can easily keep things going, barring injuries. A couple of key additions should leave us contending for the A.L. West next year. And, as long as we don’t totally strip the farm system, there should be enough studs coming up through the pipeline – especially on the pitching side – to keep us playing at a high level for years to come.

The last time the Mariners were good, we had a nice 9-year run of success. Unfortunately, in that span, we only made it to the postseason 4 times, and never advanced beyond the ALCS. That needs to change here. Hopefully, we have the talent and the scouting to make the leap. It’s time for the Mariners – the only team to never play for a world championship – to make the World Series. Will that happen in 2023? A lot would have to go right, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Of course, the odds are super long. But, it’s just nice to have a fun baseball team to root for again. It’s been FAR too long!

The Mariners Got Back To 90 Wins

I didn’t see that coming!

What a nice little treat that was to see. It took winning 3 of 4 against the lowly Tigers to do it, but I’ll take it. The series was completely meaningless from a wild card perspective, because we ended up 2 games behind Toronto (so, even if we won all 4, it wouldn’t have mattered) and a whopping 4 games ahead of Tampa (so even if we lost all 4, it wouldn’t have mattered). As such, this series was treated as completely meaningless.

Monday was another glitchy start from George Kirby (4 innings, 4 runs), all but ensuring that – while he’ll still be on the playoff roster – he won’t be starting anytime soon. We’re all chocking it up to fatigue and moving on. This game was notable for Julio Rodriguez returning and getting right back into the swing of things with a 3-hit day (including a double, a run, and an RBI). It was also notable because it was our only loss on the season to the Tigers, so there’s that.

Tuesday was the big doubleheader. Game 1 featured the return of Chris Flexen to a starting role. He sadly could only go 4 innings, giving up 3 runs in the process, on 71 pitches. Some bullpen guys got a final tune-up, but this one ended up going extras. That brought in Luis Torrens, who pitched the 10th and limited the damage to just the ghost runner (sparing his ERA in the process). He ended up getting the victory when we won it in the bottom half! Casali and Haniger homered.

Game 2 featured the first and only Major League start for Justus Sheffield this year. Brutal campaign in Tacoma has all but eliminated him as anything of import to this organization. He managed to slug his way through 5 innings, giving up 5 runs on 99 pitches. Big fucking whoop. Penn Murfee ate up a couple of crucial innings and other guys got tune-ups, as we thankfully held on and won this in regulation. Toro had a big game, Cal Raleigh had a homer, it was cool.

Wednesday’s season closer featured a heroic Marco Gonzales start. He’s biting the bullet for the team in making that start, as he’ll be left off of the Wild Card roster (he can return for the ALDS if we make it). The plan was for him to pitch as long as he could, and he gave us 7 innings of 4-run (3 earned) ball. Fucking awesome. Couple more tune-ups closed it, as we walked it off in the bottom of the 9th.

As noted, we’re going to Toronto. Friday at 1pm, Saturday at 1pm, Sunday TBD. Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert.

We got a fighter’s chance. We need our starters to really keep us in the game from the jump, because the Blue Jays have an amazing lineup, and presumably an amazing everything else.

Of note, Sam Haggerty pulled a groin on a stolen base attempt. Also, Jesse Winker’s bum neck has cost him the rest of the year. We’re down to Jarred Kelenic in left, with maybe Dylan Moore (unless he plays second base) or Adam Frazier. I don’t know who’s going to start, but it’s not great to lose a couple of important pieces (say what you want about Winker, but he could walk with the best of ’em, and presumably he’s hitting better on the road than at home).

I’m excited! I’m nervous as hell. I can’t wait for this series to start. I’m praying like crazy that we win Game 1, because I’m VERY worried about Robbie Ray. Let’s go!

The Mariners Losing Games Isn’t So Much A Concern As Losing Players

The good teams can withstand a few injuries and still be great. The good teams can withstand players underperforming expectations, or otherwise going through prolonged slumps, because they have enough depth to fill things out and compete at a high level.

The Mariners aren’t there yet. The Mariners are on a shoestring tightrope they’re trying to walk, with pretty much zero depth and therefore zero margin for error when it comes to players getting injured. That’s why, this slew of guys either suffering severe injuries, or otherwise playing through nagging ones, is much more of a nightmare scenario than the Mariners having a sub-par road trip.

Julio Rodriguez had to be pulled from the outfield yesterday, as he’s dealing with back tightness that it sounds like will land him on the IL. Eugenio Suarez is famously already on the IL with an injured hand that might prevent him from playing third base again this season (rendering him as exclusively a DH, which really does a number on our team defensively). Mitch Haniger is playing through aches and pains. Ty France is playing through aches and pains (and has to try his glove at third base for the first time in years). J.P. Crawford missed yesterday with a leg issue or some damn thing. Cal Raleigh has an injured thumb on his glove hand.

This is forcing us into a position we’d rather not be in. Like having Carlos Santana out there every day (when he’s probably best served with regular rest days, at his advanced age). Like being forced to use Winker in spite of his struggles both at the plate and in the field. Like riding Sam Haggerty and Dylan Moore, when you figure both will come with diminishing returns the more they’re exposed to MLB pitching. Like playing Toro even though he’s a nonsense man with zero bat-on-ball skills whatsoever. Like taking stabs in the dark, with Kelenic called back up even though he can’t hit Major League bendy pitches (and, from what I recall, his prowess at hitting Major League straight pitches isn’t all that elite either).

Everyone feels this need for the team to fight to the bitter end for that top wild card spot, when that’s just asinine to me. Rest everyone who needs to rest – putting them on the IL for 10 days, if need be – and let’s just back into the playoffs as Wild Card #3!

There’s no way Baltimore is catching us. They play Houston for 4, the Red Sox for 4 on the road, the Yankees for 3 on the road, and the Blue Jays for 3 to close out their season. They won’t have the wins when all is said and done. And the White Sox aren’t even on my radar; they’re too far back. I don’t give two shits about the #1 or #2 wild card slots. Just give me #3 and let’s call it a season.

Meanwhile, let’s use these remaining 2 weeks to get healthy! We need all these guys for the post-season. How we finish the regular season is irrelevant! We did it! We’re good enough with the pitching we have to coast into that third wild card slot. But, if we keep pushing guys before they’re fully healed, then it’ll all be for naught.

I only care about what happens in the playoffs, against the Guardians of Cleveland, the Yankees of New York, and whoever we might face in a potential ALCS.

So, you can panic about this Oakland series all you want. It’s not phasing me. We lost 4-1 on Tuesday after managing all of one hit. Seems like a bad luck game to me more than anything (Luis Castillo falling apart against that lineup for a second time is a bit perturbing, though). We lost 2-1 on Wednesday, but that was even crazier of a scenario, where Robbie Ray went 6 shutout innings and some poor defense behind Erik Swanson doomed us.

Sanity was restored (at least for one day) in yesterday’s 9-5 victory. Sure, Julio had to leave, but Kelenic had a couple of monster hits (has he FINALLY turned a corner? We’ll see over the next week and change), and France and Haniger seem to be waking up from their slumber. It wasn’t a good outing by Kirby, but it was nice to see the offense overcome against a team they’re supposed to beat.

One final trip – to Kansas City – and then we’re home until the playoffs. We’ve only got a half-game cushion with the Rays keeping us in that third wild card spot. We’re still 4 up on Baltimore (but really we’re 5 up, since we hold the tiebreaker).