The Mariners Were Able To Stop The Losing Streak Thanks To Their Best(asterisk) Starter

Ahh yes, Yovani Gallardo, the last man standing in a rotation filled with infants. Where would we be without his veteran presence? Without his hittable pitches? Without his ability to gobble up innings?

He gave up 3 runs (on 2 homers) in 6.1 innings, yet the Mariners still managed to use up 6 relievers to lock down this thing in regulation, so you could tell this one was important. I just can’t get over the fact that – going into the season – we were all on the same page about Gallardo: he’d stick in the rotation for as long as he was moderately effective, but at some point he’d be DFA’d in favor of Ariel Miranda, or someone else with more promise. Now, he’s got as much job security as he could ever want! All while doing a fairly mediocre job (except, at this point, “mediocre” is a fucking godsend when compared to what we’re getting from our replacement pitchers).

The Mariners jumped out to a 4-0 lead thanks to some wildness by the A’s starter, plus a 2-run homer to center by Nelson Cruz. And, as is his wont, Gallardo gave almost all of it away by the time the fifth inning concluded. BUT, we hung in there and even added to our lead thanks to a Kyle Seager 2-run jack in the bottom of the eighth. 6-3: all the cushion in the world for closer Edwin Diaz!

And yet, after getting the leadoff hitter to foul out, Diaz proceeded to walk the next four batters, because of course. Thankfully, Scott Servais finally decided to do something about it, instead of hoping Diaz would work through it. THIS is what I’ve been asking for, pretty much, my entire baseball-watching life! The closer is treated like some savior who can’t be questioned, when in reality sometimes they just don’t have it! Just like ANY AND EVERY reliever sometimes just doesn’t have it. At which point, why force the issue? Why let them give away the entire game? If they don’t have it, they don’t have it. Let someone else get a shot at saving the fucking thing!

Enter Tony Zych, who did just that. He got the first batter to ground out, which still scored a run, intentionally walked the next guy to load the bases, and after running the count full, caught the final batter of the night looking to put everyone out of their misery.

Robinson Cano missed his fifth consecutive game after they thought for a minute that he might be able to play. That puts us halfway to the 10-Day DL minimum and I’ve gotta think the Mariners will need to pull that trigger if some other position player goes down.

Also, Tuffy Gosewisch went hitless again for the millionth game in a row. How much longer are we going to keep this farce going? I understand Mike Zunino needs a little time to get going, but why are we giving Tuffy the starting role in this catcher rotation? I think he has BEYOND proved that he’s not a Major League Baseball player by now. And I’ve yet to see anything even remotely remarkable about his defense. At least Zunino could slap you a single every now and then, or take a God damn walk once in a while. Tuffy is making me long for the days of Jesus Sucre for Christ’s sake!

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Carlos Ruiz

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

You can’t really talk about the addition of Carlos Ruiz without talking about Mike Zunino, so consider this post a 2 for 1.  Zunino has had a tricky professional career so far.  He was drafted 3rd overall in 2012, poised to be this team’s Catcher of the Future.  The “future” ended up being June 11, 2013, and if you think that sounds quick – about a year and a week after being drafted – yeah, you’re right.  That’s pretty fucking quick.

But, he had the pedigree, he had the chops in college, he did pretty well in the minors, and this team was desperate.  Really, more than anything, the GM was desperate for ONE of his high first round draft picks to pan out, so he kept throwing lukewarm damp pasta against the wall hoping something would eventually stick.

After a promising start in 2013, he was given the everyday job in 2014.  The next two years, he played more or less as this team’s starting catcher, and while he grew into a leader of pitchers and a quality defender behind the plate, it was increasingly clear that he didn’t have a clue when he stood up there with a bat in his hands.  If he didn’t luck into the barrel squaring up the ball for a homer, he usually struck out.  It got so bad that, once Jerry Dipoto took over, he brought in not one but TWO new catchers to ensure Zunino started 2016 in Tacoma, where he belonged.  An untimely injury to Steve Clevenger – who, it appeared, was starting to come around at the plate with increasing playing time – necessitated Zunino’s call-up.  Chris Iannetta’s utter incompetence necessitated Zunino’s retaking of the starting catcher role.

But, to his credit, Zunino came back with renewed focus at the plate and a keen eye for the strike zone.  The script didn’t flip totally – though his first month back saw him producing astronomic numbers at the plate – but there’s certainly something to build upon for the 2017 season.

So, why trade for Ruiz then?

Well, for starters, from August 23, 2016, through the end of the season, Zunino went 13 for 89 (.146) with 5 extra base hits.  And, while it’s great he was able to walk 11 times in that span – indeed, he nearly doubled his walk rate from the previous year, albeit in a smaller sample – you have to worry about Zunino falling back into some old, bad habits at the plate.  Enter Ruiz.

At this point in his career, 38 years old and whatnot, Ruiz probably isn’t much more than a backup catcher.  I’ll say this, though:  he should be a damned good one!  If all goes according to plan, and the Mariners are able to go with a 65/35 split, with Zunino getting the regular duty and Ruiz backing him up, I don’t think I could be happier.  That’ll mean Zunino is pulling his weight at the plate, no one is injured, and both guys are contributing in a big way.

If, however, Ruiz starts eating into that 65/35 split, and starts taking more of a starter’s role on the team, we’ll probably have some issues.  I like what Ruiz has to offer, I really do.  He’s leaps and bounds above what a Jesus Sucre can do for you; he’s got some good defense, some pop in his bat, he’ll hit for average and get on base.  As a guy who plays roughly 35% of the time, he should be golden.  But, I feel like the more he plays, the more diminishing returns we’re going to see out of him, and that scares me.  That particularly scares me in the context of this season, because that means we’re also getting diminishing returns out of Zunino, which will translate into the following:

  1. The 2017 Mariners will have a black hole at the catcher spot once again
  2. The viability of Mike Zunino as a full time starter going forward plummets

Ultimately, what we need to have happen is for Zunino to be around a .250 hitter with his pop, pitch framing, and everything else.  That’s the mark of a REAL Catcher of the Future.  If his bat falls apart again this year, then you have to strongly think about trading him away and salvaging as much value as you can, while at the same time working your ass off over the next year to fill the catcher position on a more permanent basis.

2017 is really a Do or Die year for the Mariners and their catcher spot.  Carlos Ruiz is here to hopefully mitigate some of that risk – should Zunino bottom out again – but he’s not a long-term solution.  On the flipside, for a team looking to make the playoffs, Carlos Ruiz is EXACTLY the type of guy you want on your team.  Someone who’s been there.  Someone who’s a top-flight leader (on a team full of them, with Felix, Robbie, Cruz, Seager, Martin, and so on).  And, most importantly, if he does stick in that backup role, he’s still a guy you’re not afraid to play in August and September, when the games REALLY start to get meaningful.

What has been a big problem for the Mariners the last couple times they’ve been in September playing meaningful baseball?  Well, for one, they’ve run Mike Zunino into the fucking ground by throwing him out there practically every single day.  Here’s to hoping, at the very least, Ruiz is able to give our stud some days off!  Let him be rested and fresh when it gets down to the nitty gritty.

Compared to a lot of the other, higher-profile moves the Mariners made this offseason, I like this Ruiz deal a lot.  It’s underrated, but it could prove to make all the difference in the world, for this year and beyond.  Let him ease the pressure of Zunino being The Man, while at the same time allowing him to learn at the feet of one of the greats of the last decade at his position.

The 2016 Mariners Had A Legit Hitting Lineup

In 2010, as difficult as it seemed at the time, I knew this day would eventually arrive.  The Mariners had been a great hitting team Back In The Day, in the glory years of the early 2000’s.  And, with steroids largely policed out of the game, we couldn’t reasonably expect a return to those types of insane power numbers.  Nevertheless, whatever “Good” means in this brave new world of lower power numbers and better overall pitching, whatever the new normal would end up being, ONE DAY, the Mariners would once again have a good lineup.

And, it appears, that time has come.

This is going to be very rudimentary, so I wouldn’t come here expecting a vast expanse on sabermetrics.  My little pea brain has a general fixation on what good hitting should be, and that number is .250.  If you’re hitting .250 or above, you’re doing all right.  If you can pack your lineup with those types of guys, you’re generally going to score lots of runs and, hopefully, win lots of games.  It’s not a hard and fast rule, but more of a glance.  There are obviously other ways to contribute – a lower average, with a higher OBP, for instance, will bring a lot to the table; ditto a guy with a high slugging percentage – but I like it when I can look at the Mariners’ stat-sheet and see a bunch of guys hitting .250 or above.  It warms my fuzzies right up.

Currently, the Mariners have 6 regulars hitting .250 or above (Cano, Cruz, Marte, Martin, Smith, and Seager).  Aoki and Iannetta are lagging behind a little bit, but they do make up for it with OBP.  The only guy struggling too much for comfort is Lind, with a .216 batting average to go with all of 5 walks on the season, and a paltry .319 slugging percentage.

On the plus side, that’s really only ONE black hole.  You could make an argument that Guti is another, but he doesn’t play nearly enough to qualify for that type of slur.  If he’s still struggling in July, then maybe you think about his role on this team.

But, as far as I’m concerned, having just the one regular struggling is FANTASTIC!

I started this post back on May 25th, and then for some reason I just abandoned it to my drafts folder.  I don’t know why; I guess I just didn’t feel like getting into a whole thing.  I was apparently pretty high on the Mariners’ hitters on May 25th, and that carried through – for the most part – the rest of the season.

I already got into Cano, Cruz, and Seager in a separate post, so feel free to read about my thoughts on them over there.  Spoiler alert:  I like those guys.  But, there were other guys I liked too, so let’s talk about them for a while.  In no particular order:

Leonys Martin

As a centerfielder (as a hitter and defensively), Leonys Martin was the definition of “Meets Expectations”.  Damn near a .250 hitter, 15 homers, 24 stolen bases, and absolutely elite, top-shelf fielding.  We’re not talking about Ken Griffey Jr. numbers or anything, but that’s as ideal of a centerfielder as you can expect.  Now, as a Mariners fan, when I think of Leonys Martin, I’d have to actually put him in the “Exceeds Expectations” category, because God damn have we been tortured with a bunch of mediocre outfield crap since Mike Cameron left!  We got nearly 2 seasons of Guti in his prime before he fell apart, but other than that, it’s been a wasteland of Meh out there.  When you factor in Martin’s declining offensive numbers in Texas in 2015, I was CONVINCED that he’d be a dud this year.  But, as I said, he really did shock the world with his level of play, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.  He’d never shown that kind of power before!  When all of us were expecting the equivalent of Brendan Ryan As Centerfielder at the plate, Martin was a revelation.  Consider me delighted we have him under club control for two more seasons.

Nori Aoki

I get the feeling, with Nori, that more people are down on him than high on him after what amounts to a 1-year experiment.  I’ll admit, while I’m not crazy about him defensively, and he obnoxiously ran himself into more outs than I care to remember (caught stealing 9 times out of 16 attempts, are you kidding me?), I think I’ll look back on him fondly overall.  It doesn’t hurt that he really tore shit up over the last two months of the season, after he’d been sent down to Tacoma to work on his swing (among, I’m assuming, other things).  On June 23rd, he was hitting .245, along with his crappy defense and baserunning, making him a total liability in all phases of the game.  He was called up about a month later, played for a month, had to go back to Tacoma for about a week due to other injuries and the roster crunch therein, and then finished the season playing mostly everyday.  He got that average back up to career norms in that time (.283) while adding 100 points to his OPS from his June low.  His main competition when it comes to returning in 2017 is:

Seth Smith

Both are left-handed corner outfielders who bring more with their bats than in the field.  Smith has a little more pop in his bat, but Aoki has slightly better on-base abilities.  Given Smith’s foot speed is absolute zero, Aoki has him there on the basepaths, and overall as an offensive weapon.  Smith’s already under contract though (for a sensible $7 million) while Aoki is an unrestricted free agent.  I don’t know if Aoki will draw a Qualifying Offer, or if that’s even an option with him, but at a hefty price tag of $17+ million, I doubt the Mariners would be willing to bite.  You’d think you could get Aoki to come back on a reasonable contract, but I would assume there’d have to be assurances made (i.e. the trading away of Seth Smith).  You really don’t need both of these guys on your roster, and it doesn’t sound like the Mariners are going to try to keep both.  One thing the team will have to consider is Smith’s rapid decline over the last two months of the season.  He barely hit .215 in August and September combined, and even with his mini power surge in September (5 homers, 2 doubles), his overall OPS really bottomed out as he rolled over into shift after shift.  Seth Smith is always lauded for his professional at bats, and his ability to get on base, which shouldn’t be discounted.  But, he sure does seem to wear down the more he plays, and the second halves to his seasons sure look pretty mediocre.  At some point, it would be ideal for the Mariners to shore up the corner outfield with a more permanent, everyday option.  But, for now, I guess we can live with another platoon year.

Guti, Gamel, Heredia

Let’s just lump all these guys together and wrap up the outfield portion of this post.  I won’t be shocked when the Mariners re-sign Guti to another 1-year deal, considering he’s a veteran right-handed bat with pop.  He appeared in all of 98 games in 2016, and his overall offensive numbers took a bit of a hit, but he didn’t totally flatline.  We got Gamel from the Yankees and didn’t really see enough of him in September.  He’ll be competing with Heredia most likely to be this team’s final outfielder.  For the most part, I liked what Heredia brought to the table, but I’d like to see some more power out of him.  Slap-hitting singles hitters don’t tend to stick at the Major League level very long.

Dae-ho Lee & Adam Lind

Ahh, the ol’ first base platoon.  Dae-ho Lee was another really pleasant surprise, who sort of struggled as the season went along.  He’s a free agent, but I wouldn’t mind having him back for another go-around if the price is right.  As for Lind, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.  His averages across the board took a huge nosedive, with his worst OPS since 2010.  Which just adds more fuel to the fire that guys get signed by Seattle and promptly lose the ability to hit.  Safeco isn’t even that bad to hit in anymore, compared to what it used to be before the fences were moved in!  Besides, it was never all that bad for lefties!  He just stunk.  For whatever reason – maybe the reputation of Safeco got in his head – he got off to a horrid start and was never able to fully recover.  I’m sure he’ll sign elsewhere and bounce right back to his usual self, in which case he can promptly and savagely go fuck himself with a bat right in his cornhole.

Ketel Marte

This was a guy I was pretty stoked about early in the season.  He was a little raw defensively, but his speed on the basepaths was top notch, and his bat was coming around.  Then, he hurt his hand and went on the DL, and was never the same.  Tack on another DL stint for mono, and you have one of the great lost seasons in Mariners history.  He played out the stretch run, but his bat never really recovered, and his defense never really developed.  He was making the same dumb, rookie mistakes in the field as he was at the beginning of the season.  I don’t expect the world out of a guy defensively, but you’ve GOT to make the routine plays!  When one of his blunders helped cost us a game in the final week of the season, I essentially wrote him off.  I might back off that stance eventually, but if the Mariners go out and deal for an upgrade at short stop, I won’t be crushed.  As I’ve said before, we’ve got to win while the winning’s good.  Cano, Cruz, and Felix won’t be in their primes forever.  I don’t know if we have the time to hold Marte’s hand as he works his way through these growing pains.

Zunino, Iannetta, Clevenger, Sucre

My overarching take-away from Mike Zunino’s 2016 is that he’s turned the corner.  Then, I looked at his numbers and now I’m starting to wonder if that’s true.  The power is still there, which is his saving grace, but it looked like he started to fall into the same old traps over the final two months of the season.  His strike out percentage was right there at his career norms (33.9%), his batting average was barely over the Mendoza Line, but I’ll give him credit:  his eye at the plate is VASTLY improved over what it was in 2015.  His walk rate jumped up to 10.9% from 5.1% over his first three seasons, which is incredible.  I’d also say that while he’s still striking out as much as ever, he’s not necessarily falling for those breaking balls low and away as much as he was before.  Baby steps, maybe.  But, there’s still a big ol’ hole in his swing, which is going to necessitate a quality catcher to either platoon with him, or spot him more days off than we’ve been giving him.  Obviously, this year, we had no choice but to play him mostly everyday, because he was so clearly better than any other catcher in this organization (in spite of Sucre’s random surge in production in September).  Iannetta is under contract for 2017, which is less than ideal, as he brings nothing to the table offensively, and even less to the table defensively.  Hopefully, we can trade him for a bag of batting donuts, because I’d almost rather have Sucre out there, if he can continue working on his batting skills.  Clevenger seems to be a non-starter, unless the team really wants to work with him on the whole Racist Tweets shitstorm.  I wouldn’t be totally against it; seems like having a left-handed catching partner with Zunino would be a good thing for this team (plus, he’s under club control for 2 more years, so it’d be nice to see what he’s got in him as a baseball player).

And The Rest

Which is really just Shawn O’Malley.  He’s a step up from Willie Bloomquist, so that’s something.

Suffering Through The Rookie Growing Pains Of Scott Servais

Look, he fucked up, all right?  He made a stupid decision and it backfired.  But, don’t tell me he had no other choice!

Did he have a choice when he used 3 pitchers in the 7th inning to get 3 outs?  Yes he did.  Did he have a choice to bring back Dan Altavilla to start the 8th inning, as he was the one who finished the 7th and had only thrown 8 pitches at that point?  Yes he did.  But, you know what?  What’s done is done.  It’s the 8th inning now, and Scott Servais is tasked with protecting a 1-run lead against the division-leading Rangers, to help stop a 3-game losing streak in a playoff race.

Do I begrudge him going to his closer, to get the rare 6-out save?  No I don’t.  And, through two batters, it looked like a genius move, as Diaz only needed 5 pitches to get the first two outs of the inning.  Then, it took him about 20 more pitches to get that third out, and here’s where I have the fucking problem.

Scott Servais, I appreciate you’re a man with a plan and you’re sticking to your guns, but it all goes out the FUCKING window when your closer needs 25 pitches to get through the fucking 8th inning!  At that point, traditional closer roles don’t matter.  At that point, only winning the game matters.  And by leaving Edwin Diaz in there to start the 9th, you might as well have thrown Jesus Sucre out there, because he would’ve given us just as good of a chance of winning!

Where the fuck was Arquimedes Caminero?  If you tell me he wasn’t available last night, under any circumstances, then guess what?  Now, I’m calling you out for wasting three pitchers in the 7th.  If he WAS available, then I’m sorry, but you’re a fucking fool for not turning to him in the 9th.  I don’t care if the Rangers would have been a poor matchup against his fastball.  I DON’T CARE IF HIS ARM WOULD’VE FALLEN THE FUCK OFF!  You don’t try to squeeze 50 pitches out of Edwin Diaz just to see if he has what it takes!  You cut your fucking losses, admit your plan failed, and put your 8th inning guy out there in the 9th.  Simple!  Little!  Equation!

This isn’t the first instance of boneheaded bullshit out of Servais, and it certainly won’t be the last, but God damn I had high hopes for him being someone different.  Someone who wasn’t going to be a fucking slave to traditional baseball ethos.  Someone who’d go with the best pitching matchup, regardless of whether it’s the 6th or 9th inning.  Someone who doesn’t believe in the fucking Sac Bunt that NEVER FUCKING WORKS.

Instead, he’s just another Lloyd McClendon clone.  Great.  You know, we had that guy last year!  Did exactly the same shit as Servais, down to the letter.  Could’ve saved yourself some bucks.  Just sayin’, the manager’s job is total bullshit.

Have fun fucking things up again today, Mariners!  Keep fighting, you fucking losers!

Mariners Get Crucial Series-Opening Win Against Angels

Earlier in the day, news broke that James Paxton would not, in fact, get the start on Tuesday.  Indeed, he’s looking closer to hitting the DL (retroactive to August 8th), with a probable return of next Monday, the 22nd, than he is getting a start at any point this week.  It’s just so Paxton, and just so MARINERS for him to get injured in the way he did, and have it linger as long as it is.

What that means:  Ariel Miranda gets the start later today.  And Joe Wieland likely gets the start tomorrow.

What THAT means:  with Iwakuma set to start the finale on Thursday (also a must-win), the Mariners absolutely HAD to take the King Felix start, if they had any hope of winning the 4-game series.

As it stands, they’re going to have to gut out one of the next two games, and then hope Kuma is on his game, to get 3 out of 4.  Sack up, boys.

They did last night, anyway.  Felix let a run pass in the 2nd inning, but was otherwise in good shape most of the game.  He held it together long enough for Lind and Zunino to push a couple runs across with singles, followed by Nelson Cruz with a moon shot to complete our scoring in the 5th.  The fact that he gave up a meatball to Trout in the bottom of the 5th was a mere trifle in the grand scheme of things (but, at the time, after he’d walked Trout – the ONLY guy on their team who can beat us right now – the previous two at bats, I gotta say it was more than a little aggravating).

Felix ended up going 6.2 innings before giving way to Wilhelmsen with 2 runners on and Trout back at the plate.  With first base open, Wilhelmsen did the unthinkable and hung a curve.  I had that pegged as a goner, along with the Mariners’ chances of winning that game, but somehow it stayed in the park for the final out of the 7th.  Wilhelmsen put their scrubs down in order in the 8th before Edwin Diaz finished it off with a 5-pitch 9th (that somehow also included a strikeout, so you do the math).

HUGE win!  The Mariners are 9 games over .500 for the first time since June 2nd.  They’ve only been 10 games over .500 for a single day back in May, and they’ve yet to be 11 games over .500, so pretty big week ahead of us potentially.

The Mariners are now only 5.5 games behind Texas in the A.L. West (and 2.5 games ahead of Houston, for what it’s worth), as well as only 2 games behind Boston for the 2nd Wild Card (leapfrogging the Tigers tonight by a half game).  It’s all there in front of us, for the taking!

A few random thoughts:

The Mariners need to figure out how to get Ketel Marte’s bat going.  I know we all love the Shawn O’Rally story, but Marte is still a clear upgrade defensively, and with all offensive things being equal, the defense gives Marte the edge.  However, with Marte in a 1 for 19 slump since returning to action, we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul here between the two.

Cruz hit his 30th home run of the season, and now has 74 homers with the Mariners in his first two seasons. It’s so nice having that middle-of-the-order production in between the likes of Cano and Seager.

Speaking of:  you gotta like what Seager has brought to the table this year, particularly with his offense.  He doesn’t appear to be faltering late like he has every year prior.  He also had a nifty opposite-field hit with an 0-2 count last night.  It’s not often, but he’s been going the other way more this year than ever before, and it’s paying dividends with his batting average.

I was going to save this for its own post, but I think I’ll close with this thought:  where would the Mariners be right now without Mike Zunino?

In years like this – special years, where your team contends for meaningful baseball in August and (hopefully) beyond – there are always a smattering of unlikely heroes.  With the Mariners, you have to look at Diaz (making the leap from AA to win our closer’s job), Wilhelmsen (starting the year with Texas, and being a dumpster fire to boot, he’s given up all of 3 runs in 14 innings so far with the Mariners to really help bolster the back-end of the bullpen), Caminero (acquired in trade from Pittsburgh after the July 31st trade deadline; he’s already solidified himself as our primary 8th inning guy behind Diaz), Dae-ho Lee (off to a critically important start – with Lind struggling early – even though he’s been in a slump of late), and the aforementioned heroics of O’Malley.  But, I just can’t say enough about how Mike Zunino has lifted this team with his bat and his solid pitch framing over the last month or so.

Chris Iannetta was a valuable addition to this team coming into 2016.  The Mariners needed to give Zunino some more seasoning in the minors, they needed a veteran presence guiding this pitching staff, and they needed someone who wasn’t a black hole like Jesus Sucre (besides, Sucre started the season on the 60-day DL).  And, aside from a few mishandled relay throws to the plate, Iannetta didn’t disappoint.  I’m not going to say he was some great wizard with the bat or anything, but he was providing steady production from the catcher position (particularly through the first month of the season).  The only problem that I could see was that the team was grossly over-using him in the first half, and it ultimately caught up to him.  Steve Clevenger was NOT a bad backup option, but he got hurt and that opened up the spot for Zunino’s return.

Not only has Zunino held his own, but he’s overtaken Iannetta for the starting job.  What’s even more important is that it was actually EARNED this time, as opposed to when he was first rushed up, because we had no one competent at that spot ahead of him.  22 games into this season, Zunino already has 6 homers and 3 doubles.  But, he’s also hitting for a solid average (.267), he’s walking WAY more than I thought possible (.400 OBP), and with that slugging where it is (.617), he’s not just an improvement over Iannetta, or over the previous incarnation of Mike Zunino, but he’s a legitimate threat at or near the bottom of the lineup for this team.

See, since we’ve got Cano/Cruz/Seager, along with Lind/Lee, you really don’t have to bat Zunino until 7th or 8th, depending on the lineup.  Pressure’s off, allowing him to just go up there and hit.  And he’s really taken to the instruction the organization has given him.  I couldn’t be happier, and I hope like hell I haven’t jinxed him.

Felix, Zunino, and Aoki Return Today

Down goes David Rollins, Jesus Sucre, and Dan Robertson.

We all knew Felix was coming back, we just didn’t know whose spot he was going to take.  As far as roster spots go, the odd man out is David Rollins, left-handed bullpen relief.  In taking a look at the upcoming pitching probables, one name is conspicuously missing:  Mike Montgomery.  Which means Wade LeBlanc holds onto his rotation spot a little bit longer, and Wade Miley somehow still has a job period.  Maybe they can pick J.A. Happ’s brain this weekend, to find out what alien species inhabited his body the minute he left Seattle last year, causing him to pitch lights out ever since.

Zunino takes over as backup catcher for Jesus Sucre, because duh.  Because Sucre at the plate is the equivalent of having a pitcher bat.  Because there is no future with Sucre in it, aside from being AAA fodder and an occasional injury-replacement backup.  With today’s move, we return to the original plan:  seeing what Zunino has as a Major League hitter, and whether he is, indeed, the future at the catcher position for the Seattle Mariners.

Aoki returns, having done quite a bit of damage down in Tacoma.  He replaces Dan Robertson, who isn’t really anything.  We all know what Aoki is at this point, and his time away has proven without a shadow of a doubt that he is, indeed, this organization’s top 4th outfielder.  You figure he’ll slot back into a regular playing role against right-handed pitchers, whenever we’re not trying to squeeze Lind and Lee into the same lineup.

The moves make the Mariners better, there’s no question about that.  But, will they make the Mariners good enough to return to the form they displayed in the first two months of the season?  I tend to have my doubts.

Felix is obviously a huge plus for the rotation, but I’d say a good 3/5 of that rotation is completely untrustworthy, with Iwakuma as a 50/50 wildcard of good days & bad days.  Montgomery unquestionably makes the bullpen better (for me, he’s probably the second-best reliever on the team behind Diaz), but is that to the detriment of the starting rotation?  Would Montgomery be better used starting?  With LeBlanc or Miley dumped into the bullpen?  I think so.

But, why quibble?  There are too many pitching issues to even deal right now.  With how baseball churns through hitting coaches like they’re nothing, I’ve gotta wonder why you don’t see a similar churn with pitching coaches.  Why does Mel Stottlemyre Jr. get a pass?  Because he’s got a famous and more-successful dad?  Because the average fan probably doesn’t know the difference between the two?

Stottlemyre has had over four months with these pitchers, if you count Spring Training.  Tell me, who has improved in that time?  Is ANYONE getting better under his tutelage?  I mean, shit, there are pitching coaches out there who can make J.A. Fucking Happ into a quality starter; there’s GOT to be hope for Miley!  Obviously, whatever that fix is, Stottlemyre isn’t equipped to diagnose it and cure it.  So, in that sense, he deserves to be on the hot seat in his first year with the team.

Adam Lind: Real American Hero!

To be perfectly honest, yesterday was going according to plan through the first eight innings.  Mind you, it wasn’t an IDEAL plan.  But, they had Chris Sale coming off of an All Star Game start and we didn’t.  Sale threw 100 pitches and gave up 1 hit and 3 walks, while striking out 6.  In the meantime, the White Sox pushed across 3 runs off of Wade LeBlanc (who managed to go a respectable 7 innings while also striking out 6, making 3 of his 4 starts at least 6 innings, which is Cy Young material when compared to the rest of the Mariners’ starting rotation).

Thanks to traditional baseball roles, the White Sox went to their closer, David Robertson, who had only blown 2 saves coming into last night’s game.  Aside from a couple of random meltdowns, Robertson has been a quality reliever for the White Sox this year.  Hindsight being what it is, if I was a White Sox fan last night, part of me would understand going to your closer in a 3-run game.  But, as someone who is quickly growing tired of traditional baseball roles, when you see your starter rolling through 8 innings, having only thrown 100 pitches, it’s hard to fathom why he wasn’t out there to at least start the 9th inning.  I mean, OBVIOUSLY, the Mariners wouldn’t have done anything!  They hadn’t gotten anything over a single off of him all day, and that was back in the first inning!  The most trouble he was in all day was the 7th, when he hit two guys, with the middle of the order coming up.  But, Cano, Cruz, and Seager all went down no problem; threat erased.

Of course, had Sale gone out in the 9th, and given up a couple of baserunners, I’m sure everyone would have flipped out on their manager anyway.  Going to your closer is an effective way to push blame off of the manager and onto the closer who couldn’t get the job done.  But, I dunno.  Wins are precious in baseball.  And managers are paid to lead.  No guts, no glory, my main man.

Anyway, that 9th inning was a thing of beauty.  Seager at the plate, 2 on, 2 out, singled to center to make it a 3-1 game.  Adam Lind hit for Iannetta – who has been in a pretty stiff funk so far in July, so much so that Jesus Sucre of all people started in back-to-back games, which should NEVER happen EVER – who was in a very similar situation back on June 24th, against the Cardinals.  That game also featured the Mariners down 3-1, with 2 runners on in the bottom of the 9th (the only difference was that there weren’t any outs that time, so arguably there was more pressure last night), before Lind jacked the game-winning homer.

I don’t want to try to make an argument that Lind is some sort of super-clutch godhead or something.  I will say that, while his season has been a bit of a disappointment, he certainly knows how to pick his moments.

As always, you wonder if these moments are catalysts for potential hot streaks.  Well, after the June 24th game, he had a couple of multi-hit games (including a 4-hit day) to generate a temporary boost, but then he had an 0 for 13 stretch of 5 games that brought him back down to Earth, to the point where after last night’s heroics, he’s pretty much right where he was back on June 24th.  In other words, it’s probably crazy to expect a huge bounce back to being productive again, but at least we know he still has this in him.  He hasn’t totally let the sagging numbers of this season destroy him mentally.  And, while you probably don’t want to EXPECT great things in the second half, it wouldn’t shock me to see steady improvement, as he’s continued to be put into appropriate situations where he can take advantage of his excellence against right-handed pitching.

Adam Lind:  the hero the Mariners deserve.  Let’s hope for a repeat tonight.

Is Help Really On The Horizon For The Mariners?

I feel like the narrative for the 2016 Mariners is about to be established, and it’s totally fucking fraudulent.

At the end of May, the Mariners were in first place and headed into a key stretch of season.  Then, Ketel Marte and Leonys Martin went down in the same week, and the Mariners totally bungled that key stretch of season.  They both returned as soon as their 15-day DL stints were up, but that was just the beginning.  In what has become a nightmare scenario, the Mariners have seen King Felix, Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker, Nick Vincent, Joaquin Benoit, Steve Clevenger, Tony Zych, and Adrian Sampson all hit the DL this year (on top of such “mainstays” as Charlie Furbush, Jesus Sucre, Ryan Cook, and Evan Scribner all starting the year on the DL).  While losing these guys certainly hasn’t helped the cause of remaining in post-season contention, I feel like the argument is about to shift to where it’s the injuries themselves that are to blame for all of this, and by simply getting guys back, the Mariners will return to their April & May glories.

When, the reality is, I was writing about this team needing help before most these injuries even started!  Now, I’ll certainly take the blame for putting the whammy on this team when I wrote about how healthy they’d been to date, but it’s pretty quaint to look back on that post now.  THESE Mariners look like they need help just about everywhere, wheras THOSE Mariners weren’t too far off.

I’ll give you this:  getting Felix Hernandez back will – hopefully – be a big boost to this rotation.  It’s tough to say how much this calf injury is going to affect him the rest of the year – we know he’s a gamer, and will play through a lot of pain to be the leader this team needs, but will that make him a less effective pitcher overall?  Regardless, King Felix at 75% is still better than Wade Miley, Wade LeBlanc, Mike Montgomery, and Taijuan Walker at 50%; indeed, King Felix at 75% is probably better than everyone on this roster (save Iwakuma when he’s on a hot streak).

I still think this team needs another bigtime starting pitcher, but given how the last six weeks have gone, I’m less high on acquiring a 2-month rental than I was in mid-May.  I just don’t think it’s reasonable to expect this team to blow the farm on 2016 alone, when so much of this team (especially in the pitching department) is falling apart and needs an upgrade.

With Felix back, your five best starting pitchers are:

  1. Felix
  2. Iwakuma
  3. Paxton
  4. Montgomery
  5. LeBlanc

Walker will jump up to the 3-4 range once his foot injury heals, thankfully pushing LeBlanc out of here, but the fact remains that Karns and Miley are both ineffective and need to be removed (if not from the team entirely, then at least from the rotation – which has already happened to Karns).  The timetable on Walker looks like at least another couple weeks, which puts us into August, but I still maintain that this team needs to get him all the way back to 100% before bringing him back, because his injury-shortened starts are killing this team.

As for the bullpen, I don’t know where the help is going to come from, to be honest.  As a good start, it’d be nice to take away the closing role from Cishek.  I thought this was a really well-reasoned argument to go to the Bullpen By Committee approach.  That’s a tough thing, though, when I really only have confidence in one guy – Edwin Diaz, who has been un-fucking-believable – and even then, I have to see what happens when the league figures him out and he has to adjust.  If anything, I think the Mariners need to be more like the Angels in their bullpen usage – just annoy the piss out of everyone by using multiple relievers per inning if you have to, playing the matchup game to the Nth degree.

But, let’s face it, who can trust this bullpen?  Cishek and Benoit were supposed to bring veteran stability to this unit, but they’ve both been disasters at times.  Nick Vincent was strong to start the year, but he’s injured (and before that, was starting to get hit pretty hard).  Montgomery has been good, but he struggled in late-game, pressure situations (and he might also be MUCH better used in the starting rotation).  Nuno has been good, but he’s more of a wild card than we’ve seen.  The jury is still out on Karns (though, the team appears to be saving him for mop-up long relief).  And, if Miley does get demoted to the bullpen, how exactly will that be a good thing (when the vast majority of his starts involve him getting shelled early, only to settle down for the last few innings)?

Beyond that, Zych appears to be a lost cause for 2016.  Furbush is on the mend, but will he return to his 2015 form?  Or, his pre-2015 form when he was spotty at best?  Wilhelmsen is back, and looking like he’s being groomed for more high-leverage situations (even though he was a Hindenburg crossed with a Challenger-level disaster in Texas); can’t say I have much trust there.  And, with all these veterans leaving a lot to be desired, why would I feel good having faith in the likes of Cook or Scribner, should they ever fully make it back from injury?

That just leaves the Tacoma guys:  Roach, Aro, Martin, Guaipe, and Rollins, none of whom have been able to consistently throw strikes or generally do their fucking jobs at the Big League level.

So, you can go ahead and make Diaz the closer if you want, but that’s still only taking care of the 9th inning.  What about the 8th, 7th, 6th, and 5th innings?  You know, the ones our starters are too inept to get through.

Quite frankly, I LIKE how they’ve used Diaz so far.  Diaz is by far the best reliever on this team right now, and he’s being used as such:  in situations with runners on base, in close ballgames, when you absolutely, no questions asked, need a strikeout to get out of a huge mess.  As has been noted by countless smarter baseball fans than myself, sometimes the most important inning of relief ISN’T the 9th inning.  In fact, I’d say more often than not, that moment reveals itself to be earlier; but, baseball is so entrenched in this system of set up men & closers that it’s considered automatic when it really shouldn’t be.  As such, THAT’S the most important reason why I think the Mariners should go with a bullpen by committee; not because I necessarily need to see Cishek pitch earlier, but because I don’t think he should be entrusted with getting the final three outs when he might only be qualified to get 1-2 of those outs.

Fuck.  The.  Save.  Stat.

You want some help on the horizon?  Get rid of established bullpen roles, bring in another starter for more than just the stretch run, demote the shit out of Miley & Karns, and let everything ride.

You know what you DON’T do?  You don’t make “corner outfield” your top priority.

Here’s what I don’t understand:  everyone under the sun praises Seth Smith for his quality, professional at bats.  Yet, these same people keep telling anyone who’ll listen that this team needs to trade for a left fielder.  WHY?  I get it, you’d like to see improved outfield defense.  So would I.  But, you still need to start Smith against any right-handed starter, which puts him in your lineup 2/3 of the time.  And, while his numbers aren’t necessarily eye-popping, I think you’re getting enough out of Guti in his platoon role to justify the roster spot.

Which, I guess, leaves right field, where we’ve seen more of Nelson Cruz than anyone could possibly like.  But, it comes back to getting your best hitting lineup out there.  And, more often than not, when a right handed pitcher is on the mound against us, that means getting both Lind and Dae-ho Lee in there.  Lee has shown he deserves more regular at bats, even against righties, which means if you’re getting both Lee and Lind in there, one of them is going to have to DH.  That pushes Cruz into the outfield, for obvious reasons, on the days you don’t sit one of Lind or Lee.

This team doesn’t need a starting corner outfielder (besides, getting one that’s good defensively AND one that has good on-base skills, is a fucking unicorn that most other teams aren’t willing to part with); it needs a better reserve outfielder.  Nori Aoki has already been demoted to Tacoma, which was appropriate and the right start.  At this point, if anything, you’d just want a reserve that’s better than him, or O’Malley, or the recently recalled Dan Robertson (who really hasn’t had a chance to play enough to show you he’s ready to stick or not).

For me, I’m not really sweating the outfield right now.  The rest of this team’s hitting and defense is good enough to withstand the occasional Robertson start in the outfield, or the occasional outfield with both Smith and Cruz roaming the corners.

In TL;DR, while there IS help on the horizon, with injured guys getting healthy, I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be enough to turn around the fortunes for this star-crossed team.  For this team to do what it truly NEEDS to do, it’s going to have to trade away the farm and it’s going to have to take on some significant payroll, neither of which I think this organization is prepared to do.

The Mariners Drafted Kyle Lewis & Joe Rizzo

I’m not a huge draftnik in general, and specifically with baseball I don’t know if I could care any less than I already do.  I don’t follow college baseball, I sure as SHIT don’t follow high school baseball, I’m not a scout, and trying to project what teenagers will become in 3-8 years sounds like a futile and pointless exercise.

I pay attention one day a year, and that’s Day 1 of the draft, and by “pay attention” I mean:  I happen to be on Twitter and notice the beat writers talking about it.  Then, I click on links they offer, read what people have to say, and that’s the basis for my knowledge on the subject.  Pretty neat, huh?

In years past, the Mariners have drafted the following in the first round:

  • 2015 –
  • 2014 – Alex Jackson (OF)
  • 2013 – D.J. Peterson (3B – converted to 1B)
  • 2012 – Mike Zunino (C)
  • 2011 – Danny Hultzen (SP)
  • 2010 – Taijuan Walker (SP)
  • 2009 – Dustin Ackley (OF – converted to 2B – converted to OF)
  • 2009 – Nick Franklin (SS)
  • 2009 – Steve Baron (C)

As you can see, a real Who’s Who of garbage (and Taijuan Walker).  To be honest, I forgot all about Steve Baron, but he’s a no-bat defensive catcher who makes Jesus Sucre look like Babe Ruth at the plate.  Nick Franklin is in the Tampa Bay organization and is still trying to break on through into becoming a regular big leaguer.  Dustin Ackley is The Most Disappointing Man In The World.  Taijuan you all know and love.  Hultzen is one of a long line of safe Jackie Z draft picks, who was supposedly the most “Major League-ready” pitcher, but whose bevy of arm injuries has killed his career.  The jury is still out on Peterson and Jackson; but Peterson was drafted for his bat and his power, and has yet to really impress with either on a regular basis; and Jackson is mired in single-A ball, appearing to be on nobody’s fast track to the Majors.

This year, with the 11th overall pick, the Mariners selected Kyle Lewis, an outfielder out of Mercer University.  He’s 6’4, he bats and throws right-handed, his position for now is in centerfield, but some project him to be a corner outfield guy.  He played basketball and baseball in high school, and only dedicated himself exclusively to baseball relatively late in his amateur career.  He went to Mercer as a project, busted out as a Sophomore, and was “College Player of the Year” as a Junior this year.  In 61 games this season, he hit 20 homers while putting up a slash line of .395/.535/.731, while also walking a whopping 66 times.  So, he’s got the power, he’s got the plate discipline, his swing is apparently a little long and wonky, but they can work on that with him after he signs, he’s rangy, with good but not great speed, and has a nice arm.  His high leg kick is apparently a concern, which could mean he’s in for a lot of strikeouts when paired with that swing.  So, it’ll be imperative that he smooths all that out if he wants to make it to the Bigs someday.  One would think, as he continues to round out as a pro and puts on some more muscle, he won’t necessarily need that leg kick to generate the power he’s accustomed to.  If that clicks for him, he could be a monster.  I’m seeing comparisons ranging from Jason Heyward to Mike Cameron.

From what I’ve read, I like the pick, but then again I’d probably be saying that no matter who the Mariners went with at the 11th overall spot.  Lewis had been considered by many to be a Top 10 pick, with some people ranking him as high as the third overall selection.  The Mariners themselves thought they didn’t have a chance at him when they scouted him initially, so for them it was a nice, pleasant surprise.  I mostly like that he’s a high upside player.  Granted, he could make it to Tacoma and promptly flame out like so many Quad-A outfielders we’ve gotten to that point in recent years.  But, if he figures it all out, he could be a superstar in this league.  Here’s to hoping he’s got the focus, and the organization has the people around him to make that a reality.

The farm system, right now, is pretty dire.  I don’t think there’s a single person in AAA, for instance, who projects to be an everyday Major Leaguer (maybe a bullpen guy or something, but the rest of those guys seem to have hit their ceilings).  There’s some good-looking talent in AA right now, but you figure you’re still at least a couple years away (at best) from seeing them produce in a Mariners uniform.  Beyond that, who knows?  So, when I see the Mariners have drafted a centerfielder, I don’t really pay attention to specific “needs” at the big league level.  Since these guys don’t generally make an impact for many years after they’re drafted, it’s not like football where you see holes and you draft guys to fill those holes; in 5 years, or whatever, when Kyle Lewis is ready to get his shot at the Major Leagues, will there be a hole in centerfield?  Probably, but you can’t think that way as a fan.  From a farm system perspective, there are holes EVERYWHERE, at all levels!  The draft is the crappiest of crapshoots, particularly in baseball.  Bringing in talent, regardless of position, is what’s important right now.

Especially since, when you think about it, the Mariners are currently in contention, and might be robbing from that farm system to try to bring in big leaguers to help us win right now.  Obviously, we just drafted Kyle Lewis, so he isn’t going anywhere.  But, guys above him, in AA and AAA, might be shipped off.  So, replacing those guys with incoming draft picks – and having some of those draft picks actually pan out – is going to be pretty important.

Which brings me to the Mariners’ second round pick, Joe Rizzo.  He’s a high schooler with a nice swing, who appears to be pretty polished at the plate, and raw literally everywhere else.  He’s not as athletic as you like – particularly for a third baseman – which is why everyone is already projecting him to move anywhere from left field to first base.  Considering that’s more or less what they were talking about when the Mariners drafted D.J. Peterson, I’m not super-thrilled with these descriptions.  I mean, who was the last guy they talked about in these terms, who actually panned out in a big way in the Majors?  Seriously, I’m asking, because as I said before, I don’t follow the draft all that closely!

For what it’s worth, they said similar things about Dustin Ackley as well (although, his bat was more highly regarded, thus the #2 overall draft slot).  Guys who hit well in college and high school, who don’t have an established defensive position, aren’t really options in my mind.  Yeah, they may be good to go from a hitting perspective, but that just means they’re going to put all their energy into either learning a new defensive position, or trying to refine the position they came up with.  Either way, all that focus on the defensive side of the ball – which is VERY important – will inevitably take away from them becoming a professional hitter, at which point you’ve got a player who isn’t good defensively, who also hasn’t made any strides at the plate, and all that promise they had coming in will have been squandered.

Look for Joe Rizzo to be absolutely nothing for the Mariners one day.  I hope he proves me wrong, but I seriously doubt it.

At least with Kyle Lewis, you’ve got athleticism, and some built-in defensive ability, to go with his excellence at the plate, so all he has to do is refine and mature, as opposed to essentially starting all over as a professional.

Baseball can be really discouraging.  Baseball prospects are generally at the top of that pyramid.  Now you can see why I rarely try to put any energy into focusing on the minor leagues.

The Mariners Are Crushing It Right Now

I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but God damn is 7pm too late to be starting a weekday baseball game!  At least, for someone like me, who has to wake up at 5:30am every day.

Hi, my name is Steven, and I predicted the Mariners would lose yesterday.  I also predicted a losing homestand, and while that very well could still come to pass, for the time being I’m happy to be so wrong.  For what it’s worth, I see nothing but bad things coming in tonight’s game, what with McHugh generally owning us, and Iwakuma generally being a mixed bag, so thank me for the big win long after I’ve gone to bed from exhaustion.

Last night’s game was so much fun (hence why I stayed up until all hours of the night 10pm or so) because it was so unexpected.  I’ve never seen Dallas Keuchel NOT murder us in our sleep, which meant for the Mariners to be in it, we would’ve needed a Herculean shutout effort out of our starting pitcher, and hopefully some timely late-game hitting against their bullpen.  Since I have to figure the Astros are so well-regarded (in spite of their bottom-feeding record) in part because they probably have a solid bullpen, and since Karns didn’t look like the type of pitcher who could shut down a quality Houston offense, I made a point of remarking on Twitter that last night’s game felt – going in – like a loss 99 out of 100 times.

Well, apparently we live in the lone universe where the Mariners actually WIN that game.  And, truth be told, it was a Best Case Scenario game in every aspect.

Nathan Karns was mostly economical with his pitches, for the first time all year, and would’ve gotten through 7 innings while throwing less than 100 pitches if Robbie Cano had only remembered there was 1 out in the inning and not 2, and turned that sure-thing double play.  Even with that brain fart, Karns was able to rack up his 6th strikeout of the game with no damage done.  No runs, 2 hits, and 3 walks rounded out his line on the day, which makes it easily his best game of the season, and arguably the best game he’s had since September 2014 (when he also went 7 innings of shutout ball, with 2 hits, 2 walks, and 8 strikeouts).  I mean, I can’t say enough good things about Karns last night.  Four of his seven innings went 1-2-3 (and he would’ve had five such innings if not for Cano), and when he did get into a little trouble, he was able to squash it before they were able to rally for a big inning.

Karns’ success, especially early in the game, was critical, because the Mariners only had one baserunner through 3 innings.  We were finally able to scrap a run in on an RBI single in the 4th, before blowing the game wide open with a 4-run fifth.

Ketel Marte was phenomenal last night, and really showed the full strength of his game in all facets.  He went 3 for 5 with a double and 2 RBI, really driving the ball well up the middle.  He also scored three times, running well on the basepaths, and flashed a plus glove in the field.  Marte has been on a nice little hot spurt over the last six games, batting .400, with 3 doubles, 2 RBI, and scoring 7 times, to bring his season slash line to a whopping .265/.301/.309.  Granted, it’s not much, and it’s still REALLY early, but it beats the hell out of his line before this 6-game stretch:  .186/.250/.186.

If the Mariners are going to go anywhere this year, I won’t put it on any one person, but I will say this:  they need to drastically reduce the number of black holes in their lineup.  I think we’ve been more or less confident in our veterans (Cano, Cruz, Seager, Smith, Guti, Lind, Aoki, and Iannetta), but one spot you couldn’t help but be concerned about was short stop.  They were putting a lot of pressure on the kid, first by not really featuring any semblance of competition going into the season (and thus simply handing him the keys to the starting job from Day One), and then making him such a focal point of the offense by frequently featuring him at or near the top of the lineup.  Considering he’s a holdover from the Jackie Z regime, I mean, who could blame you if you had doubts about the kid?  And, as I’ve stated already, it’s still early in the season.  You could STILL have doubts and still be 100% valid in your opinions.

I know I’m inviting all sorts of jinxes into the mix here, but if I can be a dreamer for a minute:  it would be SO DAMN HUGE for Ketel Marte to pan out!  Oh, can you imagine it???  Another homegrown talent in the everyday lineup?  Bringing the grand total to TWO players, with Seager?  But, to nevertheless have a cost-controlled force at an important defensive position, who can get on base, hit for a bit of power into the gaps, and abuse opponents with his speed?  I’m not saying he’s ever going to be an MVP.  He might not even make an All Star Game in his career or win a Gold Glove.  But, if he could just be an everyday starter at the top of our lineup, who teams have to worry about keeping off the basepaths, because once he’s there you know he’s going to do everything in his power to score on you that inning … it just gives me the feels like you would not believe.  A big, raging, veiny, throbbing case of the feels.  Right in my pants.

… Allow me to redirect this thing back to last night’s game, if I can.

Keuchel was able to get through six innings before his pitch count dictated that he needed to be relieved.  From that point onward, the Mariners used their finishing move to rip the spines out of the Astros.  Starting in the bottom of the 7th, where a single, an error, and a single loaded the bases for Robinson Cano, who to that point had the aforementioned gaffe in the top half of the inning by forgetting how many outs were made, as well as the baserunning mistake-turned-happy-accident as he was caught in a rundown in the 5th inning, allowing Marte to score from third base when the other team wasn’t paying attention (made all the happier by Cano successfully advancing to second base on the fielder’s choice to throw home in vain).  You could’ve easily argued that this was just one of those games where Cano’s head wasn’t totally in it.

As a fan, part of me wants to rant and rave on the topic.  I mean, dude makes $24 million per year.  He’s been in the Majors for over a decade, save your mental days off for your ACTUAL days off!  But, what are you gonna do?  It’s not a popular saying by any stretch, but that’s why people say he’s just Robbie being Robbie.  He’s so good, so naturally gifted, that he can often play the game on auto-pilot and get away with it.  It’s just that, when he gets caught, it’s out there in the open for all to see, so it’s magnified by a million percent.  And, obviously, his high salary isn’t going to win him any sympathy – not that I’m saying he deserves sympathy when something like that happens; he very rightly deserves to feel embarrassment, in hopes that it doesn’t happen again anytime soon – but with Robbie, you take the good with the bad.  Because the good SO FAR OUTWEIGHS the bad, it more than makes up for an error here, a baserunning mistake there, and the occasional brain fart as noted above.  Is it frustrating, as a fan?  Sure.  I mean, if he’s this good and this accomplished playing on auto-pilot, just how high is his ceiling REALLY?  But, as a guy who works 40 hours, 5 days a week, I can relate to a guy whose head isn’t in it every minute of every workday.  Some days are just better and more focused than others; that’s the way it goes.  I’m really good at my job too, and oftentimes I can run on autopilot for a while.  As a result, occasional mistakes are made.  But, hopefully the embarrassment and shame of failing will ultimately help me in the long run, just as I would hope it helps him.

Anyway, as I said, you could have argued that Cano just wasn’t all there last night.  But, in that bottom of the 7th inning, with the bases loaded and only 1 out, Cano worked an at-bat for the ages.  If the stakes were higher – if we were in a playoff game, or even if the game was merely closer than the 5-0 affair it was at the time – we’d all be talking about how it might go down as the finest at-bat ever registered.  He laid off of a low-and-inside fastball for Ball 1, then laid off of a low-and-outside changeup (one that had been called a strike on him earlier in the game by the ump) for Ball 2.  He fouled off a fastball, then took a borderline fastball inside to make the count 3-1.  He then proceeded to foul off four consecutive fastballs – all in the strikezone, both inside and outside – before, on the 9th pitch of the at-bat, drilling a fastball right at the bottom of the strikezone to right-center field for a grand slam.  Just, fucking brilliant.

The M’s ended up getting dinged by an error and a couple of walks in the top of the 8th, but we were able to hold them to the lone run, and played a little add-on against the Astros’ backup catcher in the bottom of the 8th, who came in to pitch and did a VERY un-Sucre-like job in the role.  11-1 victory, a fourth consecutive series win, and an opportunity for a sweep tonight (which, as I said at the top, is probably not going to happen, so take my words for what they’re worth).

All in all, a helluva game, and a helluva start to the season for the Mariners.  11-9, first place in the A.L. West by a half game, the bullpen has been great, the starters have gotten better as the season has gone along, and the hitting is starting to come around.  I don’t want to start counting my chickens or anything, but it’s starting to look like this season could be a lot of fun.