The Bullpen Was Too Much Miss, Not Enough Hit

Unless you take that phrase literally, in which case “miss”ing bats is a good thing and getting your balls “hit” is a bad thing, in which case I hate the title of this post already.

The amount of power a bullpen holds over the quality of your team’s baseball season is pretty obscene.  Granted, every area of a baseball team plays its part – hitting, defense, starting pitching, baserunning – so to get to a point where your bullpen can make or break your year means you need your starters to keep you in the game, you need your hitters to give you a lead, your defense needs to not give the other team extra outs, and you can’t take away outs from your own team by getting picked off or taking an extra base you shouldn’t have.

So, while the hitting for the Mariners wasn’t good for the longest time (mostly during the Jackie Z era), it didn’t really matter if our bullpens were good or not.

But, it’s a new day.  Our hitting is solid, our starters – for the most part – keep us in ballgames (even if they’re not particularly dominating), our defense is good enough (again, for the most part), and while our baserunning is pretty bad, it’s also a pretty small part of the game of baseball, all things considered.  A team like 2016’s Mariners had it all going for them, meaning the bullpen was the most important factor in deciding whether or not we’d make the playoffs.

And, as you can tell by our absence, obviously the bullpen wasn’t quite good enough.

For starters, the Mariners were 30-30 in 1-run games.  This is actually what one would expect.  If you’re significantly better, then it would stand to reason that you’re luckier, as these sorts of things tend to even out over time.  If you’re significantly worse, then it would stand to reason you’re unlucky.  So, we can throw luck right out the window as far as the Mariners are concerned.

The Rangers, on the other hand, were 36-11 in 1-run games, which is, like, an all-time crazy record for 1-run games.  Their dumb ass luck ran out though, when they got swept by the Blue Jays in the ALDS, going 0-1 in the playoffs in 1-run games.

Anyway, here are the records of the A.L. playoff teams in 1-run games:

  • Texas:  36-11
  • Cleveland:  28-21
  • Boston:  20-24
  • Toronto:  21-25
  • Baltimore:  21-16

So, as you can see, there’s a good mix.  Texas, Cleveland, and Baltimore were all over .500; Boston and Toronto were both a few games under.  What I noticed straight away is that the Mariners were involved in significantly MORE 1-run games than any of these teams.  37% of our games were decided by a single run.  Looking at it another way, 73% of our games (119) were decided by 4 runs or less.  So, we played a lot of close games.  I’d wager we were among the league leaders in close games.  As such, the performance of our bullpen meant a lot more than that of the rest of the American League.

The Mariners were involved in 74 save opportunities this season; we converted 49 of them, for a save percentage of 66%.  The league average was only 68%, so that doesn’t put us too far behind the 8-ball.  But, how does that compare to the playoff teams?  Let’s take a look:

  • Texas:  56 of 73, 77%
  • Cleveland:  37 of 48, 77%
  • Boston:  43 of 61, 70%
  • Toronto:  43 of 65, 66%
  • Baltimore:  54 of 68, 79%

So, as you can see, 4/5 playoff teams had superior save percentages than the Mariners.  If we’d just saved 70% of our opportunites – 2% above league average, and right in line with the playoff teams – that’s 3 more wins you could add to our total, which just so happens to be the number of games the Mariners missed the playoffs by.

The story of the 2016 Mariners bullpen kicks right off with injuries.  Charlie Furbush was a guy we’d penciled in for a significant role, but he didn’t throw a single inning.  Ryan Cook was another guy we brought in, at least on a tryout basis, but he’s a guy who’d had success as recently as 2014, and was one of the better relievers out there in 2012 & 2013; he too never pitched an inning for us.  Then, there’s Evan Scribner, who didn’t throw his first Major League pitches until September, when it turned out he’s actually terrific!  So, right off the bat, we were at a disadvantage, meaning guys like Joel Peralta and Steve Johnson were getting extended looks early in the season.

Then, you have Tony Zych, who made the Major League roster out of Spring Training.  He had the best fastball on the team, and arguably the best “stuff” of any of our relievers.  He made it to 10 appearances before he got hurt and was lost for the year (for all intents and purposes; he came back in late August for a couple of innings, but had to be quickly shut down again).  And, of course, there was Joaquin Benoit, who got hurt in April, returned about a month later, but was not the rock we needed out of our 8th inning set up guy.  He ended up being traded to Toronto for Drew Storen, where the change of scenery did both of them good.

It’s really quite remarkable, not just how the bullpen ended up looking compared to how we pictured it at the beginning of 2016, but also how it evolved throughout the season.  On top of those other injuries, Storen, Wilhelmsen, Nick Vincent, and Steve Cishek all found themselves on the DL at one point or another.  When you factor in how the starters weren’t always (or even USUALLY) at their best, this bullpen was continuously taxed nine ways from Sunday, all the way until September, when we were finally allowed to expand our roster.

This, of course, affected how we shaped the rest of our roster the first five months of the season, bringing into question why Major League Baseball limits teams to 25-man rosters, when so much of the game is specialized by way of bullpens and platoons and pinch runners and defensive replacements.  It makes no sense, when you think about it, but that’s baseball for you.  It’s the “neither here nor there” of professional sports.

If you want to know how the bullpen was doing at a particular point in the season, just look at the schedule.  You don’t need to hunt for stats to figure out when this bullpen was rolling vs. when it was sucking my will to live.  In the month of May, for instance, it was on a nice little run (the Mariners just so happened to have gone 17-11 in May); in the month of June, they fell apart (the Mariners just so happened to have gone 10-18 in June).  They were great in early August, terrible in late August, and so on and so forth.  This was one of the streakiest Mariners teams in recent memory, and those streaks almost always coincided with how the bullpen was doing.  They’d go long stretches of scoreless baseball, followed by painful stretches of agonizing baseball.  And, in the end, it all added up to 3 too many blown saves.  Who were our culprits?

Well, the first name that comes to mind is Steve Cishek, who started the season as this team’s closer, but lost that job on August 1st, after yet another meltdown.  Of his 7 blown saves, the Mariners were only able to come back and win 1 of them.  He also cost us 3 other games when he came into the game tied and took it on the chin.  Immediately after ceding control of the closer’s job to Edwin Diaz, he went on the DL, only to return to be a masterful set up man.  He’s also under contract for next year, so bank on him being back.

Edwin Diaz was lights out through his first three months or so.  We started him off slowly, but he quickly earned higher leverage roles when it was readily apparent that he was striking out everybody he faced.  He blew three saves, but we were able to come back and win two of those games.  He took 3 other losses when he came into a tie situation, but two of those games were in his pre-closer days.  He did end up taking the loss in the season-deciding game on October 1st, but he was in his 3rd inning that day, and was clearly over-worked to that point.  Diaz will go into 2017 as the frontrunner for the closer role.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to manage his outings a little better.  He was on pace to make something like 74 appearances over the course of a full season, so maybe we can try to shave off 5-10 next year, since he’s still a growing boy and all.

When you take a look at the actual numbers for our bullpen, one name sticks out like a sore thumb:  Nick Vincent.  Even though he had a spell on the DL, he’s one of those constants you can point to on this team this year.  He was brought in just before the regular season, and almost immediately entered the regular rotation as one of our high-leverage pitchers.  What sticks out is that Nick Vincent of all people was involved in 9 save situations, and somehow managed to blow SIX of them!  One fewer than Steve Cishek, and double the number of blown saves of Edwin Diaz; what in the holy fuck?

As I’ve said before, Vincent isn’t bad, but he’s also not a guy – in an ideal world – you want in there late in the game with a lead.  He’s a guy who should be used earlier in games, when the starter gets knocked out prematurely.  Or, put him in there in the 6th/7th innings, or in games where it’s close but we’re trailing.  I’m not saying he can’t handle the pressure of high-leverage, game-winning situations, but I’m VERY MUCH saying his stuff is weaksauce and I’m surprised guys didn’t smack him around more than they did.  Unfortunately, the 2016 Mariners bullpen was far from an ideal world, so he was counted upon more than he should’ve been.  It’s one of the reasons why he hit the DL in the first place; he simply wasn’t used to pitching that much, and his body couldn’t take it!

His semi-saving grace is that only 3 of his 6 blown saves led to losses.  But, again, he accounted for 4 other defeats in tie-game situations.  Of our pitchers who were exclusively relievers, who threw a minimum of 20 innings this year, Vincent was one of only two who had a negative Win Probability Added, leading me to believe that it’s pretty difficult for a reliever to GET a negative rating for this stat over the course of a full (or even PARTIAL) season.

For what it’s worth, Vidal Nuno is the other reliever to have a negative WPA.  I was about to dismiss his numbers though, as he seemed to be used mostly in mop-up duties, but apparently he appeared in the 4th most high leverage situations of guys in our bullpen at 16.  The only people to appear in more high leverage games were Vincent (24), Diaz (26) and Cishek (37).  Diaz had a whopping 1.9 WPA (meaning he alone was worth nearly 2 wins by himself), and Cishek actually had a respectable 0.7 WPA (or he was worth nearly 1 win by himself).

Most of the guys had their ups and downs, but I’d like to point out a few of the good ones.  Drew Storen was actually pretty great, especially considering Toronto was THIS CLOSE to DFA’ing his ass before they traded him to us for Benoit.  Tom Wilhelmsen, same deal (especially considering his stint in Texas, when he was worth -0.9 WPA in 21 games before they did DFA his ass).  Mike Montgomery was also one of the good ones, which is why it’s so unfortunate that he was traded away to the Cubs mid-season.  He’s a pretty rock solid reliever, and he’s good for the occasional spot start, which in my book makes him invaluable, but in the Mariners’ book makes him worth Dan Vogelbach.  Scribner, as I said before, had the all-world September; and Arquimedes Caminero has some lethal stuff, if only he can harness it.

Going into 2017, there’s a lot to like about this unit.  We’re, unfortunately, going to be without Charlie Furbush again, as he needed surgery that would keep him out ANOTHER year, but hopefully with certain guys returning, we can solidify this part of our team and not have to worry about it so much.

Guys I like:

  • Edwin Diaz
  • Steve Cishek
  • Evan Scribner
  • Tony Zych

If we can get these guys back and keep them healthy, that’s as good a foundation to a bullpen as can be.

Guys I like, sort of:

  • Drew Storen
  • Nick Vincent
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Vidal Nuno

Storen isn’t under contract, so the team would have to go out and re-sign him, but I think for the right price, that could be a nice little move for this team.  The rest of these guys, I could take or leave.  I don’t totally trust any of them in high leverage situations, so I’d PREFER they stick to 6th/7th innings, or in extras; but, I also wouldn’t be devastated if the team traded them away or otherwise got rid of them.

Guys I find interesting:

  • Arquimedes Caminero
  • Dan Altavilla

Caminero I talked about before.  Altavilla is another one of these guys (like Diaz) where the Mariners brought him up straight from AA.  He was called up late in the season for the team to get a look at him, and only 3 of his 15 appearances were in high leverage situations, but he showed good stuff, and if he carries that over into Spring Training, I could easily see him making this roster.  If he proves he’s got what it takes to do well in those high leverage situations, he could find himself quickly climbing into the Guys I Like category.

All the other bullpen guys on the roster feel like Spring Training fodder and little more.  The team is in desperate need of a quality left-handed reliever, so I’d expect them to make a move in that regard in the not-too-distant future.  My way-too-early prediction for next season has our bullpen looking like this:

  • Diaz – closer
  • Cishek
  • Scribner
  • Zych
  • Vincent
  • Altavilla
  • Random Lefty Not Currently In The Organization

Depending on the lefty, that strikes me as a bullpen we can work with!  Again, assuming they’re utilized properly.

Mr. Dipoto’s Wild Ride

Jerry Dipoto was hired to be Seattle’s general manager on September 28, 2015.  His first major move was claiming Cody Martin off waivers from Oakland on October 19th.  Four days later, he hired Scott Servais to be his manager.  From there, we were off and running in the Jerry Dipoto Era.

He made a lot of moves in the ol’ transactions wire, both large and small.  I tried to pull most of the ones relevant to the 2016 Mariners’ Major League ballclub.  For the purposes of this post, I’m going to go ahead and rank his moves from most impactful to least, with commentary on each.  At the very bottom of the post, I’ll throw in a section with just the transactions in chronological order, so you can see them all lined up in a neat little pile.

Also, if you want to know my overall thoughts on Dipoto’s first year as the GM of the Mariners, you’ll find my closing arguments at the bottom (just before the chronological list of important transactions).  This post has TL;DR written all over it!

12/2/15 – Baltimore Orioles traded C Steve Clevenger to Seattle Mariners for RF Mark Trumbo and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser.

This one feels like cheating, but I’m still putting this at #1 because it’s so laughably lopsided against the Mariners, it harkens back to the Bill Bavasi glory days.  Trumbo was an All Star outfielder on a wild card team who hit 47 homers, 108 RBI, and all around had his best season ever.  Granted, the same problems were still there – a low batting average, a not-great on-base percentage, a shit-ton of strikeouts – but if you’re just talking about the right-handed half of a corner outfield platoon, making just a hair over $9 million, would you rather have his massive bat or Franklin Gutierrez making $2.5 million?  I know we love Guti and all of that, but his defense isn’t all that much better than Trumbo’s, and there’s no comparing the hitting numbers.  Even in a very minor role, Guti still had a down year by his standards.  And, of course, who can forget what we got back in return?  Aside from salary saved (that, as far as I can tell, ended up going to Joaquin Benoit, so *fart noise*), we got a left-handed backup catcher in Steve Clevenger who hardly ever played, then broke a bone in his hand, then said a bunch of racist shit on Twitter, then was suspended for the rest of the year, before ultimately (I’m assuming) being released.  On top of ALL of that, this trade had a direct impact on the standings.  The Orioles probably would’ve made a different move to acquire a power bat, but it almost certainly wouldn’t have been as good.  And, we ended up finishing 3 games behind Baltimore in the wild card.  So, we sent what would become their very best power bat and run producer to our direct rival, who snatched up the final A.L. playoff spot by just a handful of games.  Inauspicious start to say the least.

11/16/15 – Texas Rangers traded CF Leonys Martin and RHP Anthony Bass to Seattle Mariners for RHP Tom Wilhelmsen, CF James Jones and PTBNL (3B Patrick Kivlehan).

Let’s follow that turd sandwich with the opposite of that (vagina pizza?).  The Rangers ended up signing Ian Desmond on a 1-year, $8 million deal later on in the offseason (leaving me to wonder why we just didn’t fucking do that, but whatever), so I don’t totally understand why they were so keen to let Leonys Martin go, but obviously they didn’t see him in their future plans.  Martin ended up starting for us from day 1, playing a superb centerfield, and even blowing away his season high for homers with 15.  All in all, he was slightly better than we thought he’d be, with two more years of Arbitration to go.  While he’ll never be a superstar, he’s a solid offensive piece and an elite defensive talent.  The fact that we ended up getting back 2/3 of this trade for nothing later in the season is the hilarious part, along with the fact that Wilhelmsen was a dumpster fire while wearing a Rangers uniform (and sort of his usual okay self when the alleged double-agent returned to Seattle), and the fact that James Jones is who we thought he was.  We essentially gave the Rangers nothing and got a starting centerfielder for a minimum of 3 years in return.  Not too shabby.

12/18/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Hisashi Iwakuma.

We all know the story of how the Mariners got Iwakuma back in the fold, but if you don’t know, go here and read this.  What I will say is, to anyone making any sort of argument that the Mariners’ cost-cutting measures helped pave the way for Kuma’s return, you can go fuck yourself, because you’re full of shit.  Those moves were made well before we got Kuma back, and were under the assumption that he was going to go elsewhere for a higher guaranteed contract than we were willing to pay.  The owners, to their credit, opted to make room in the budget to bring him back when the opportunity presented itself, and it paid off pretty well, all things considered.  Without Kuma, things could’ve been A LOT worse (I don’t know if I made that point well enough in that linked post up there, but it’s true; the AAA starting prospects were pretty shabby).

12/14/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Steve Cishek.

Two years, $10 million, plus incentives.  He secured 25 saves and blew 7 of them.  That’s a lot of blown saves in what amounted to a little over half a season’s worth of closing ballgames, particularly for a team that finished 3 games out of the wild card.  Overall, his numbers actually look pretty good on the season, and at times he approached the level of dominance he once had back in 2013.  But, a career-high 8 homers allowed really did him in.  He was pretty dominant against righties, but lefties hit 5 of those 8 homers, in significantly fewer plate appearances.  With him losing his job to Edwin Diaz the way he did, he projects to be an 8th inning set up man in 2017, with an outside chance of regaining his closer’s job should Diaz falter in his Sophomore season.

12/9/15 – Milwaukee Brewers traded 1B Adam Lind to Seattle Mariners for RHP Carlos Herrera, RHP Daniel Missaki and RHP Freddy Peralta.

Meet Adam Lind, your left-handed first baseman platoon partner.  He had a few memorable late-game hits (walk-offs and whatnot), but for the most part Lind was a huge disappointment.  His numbers took a significant dive compared to his career norms, and they never really recovered the way we all hoped.  He was essentially a replacement-level player making $8 million.  On the plus side, we likely didn’t give up anyone special to get him, but suffice it to say, first base is the hole that can never be filled.

7/31/16 – Seattle Mariners traded LHP Wade Miley to Baltimore Orioles for LHP Ariel Miranda.

12/7/15 – Boston Red Sox traded RHP Jonathan Aro and LHP Wade Miley to Seattle Mariners for RHP Carson Smith and LHP Roenis Elias.

Ahh, the Miley deals.  I ranked the deal sending him away higher than the deal bringing him in for a couple reasons.  For starters, while he spent more time in Seattle doing everything he could to ruin our playoff chances, we were able to deal him to our main rival in Baltimore, where he proceeded to do everything he could to ruin their playoff chances.  We were able to dump salary (and increase theirs), while at the same time getting in return a potential future starter, at a minimum salary, with many years of club control.  On the flipside, those Red Sox really swindled us good!  Though, it had no effect on the 2016 season, as neither Smith nor Elias hardly played at all due to injuries/ineffectiveness.  The decider could be Jonathan Aro – who made all of one appearance with the big league ballclub – but I’d put my money on Carson Smith returning at some point and being a dominant late-game reliever.

11/5/15 – Seattle Mariners traded SS Brad Miller, 1B Logan Morrison and RHP Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay Rays for RHP Nathan Karns, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser and CF Boog Powell.

I downgraded this move mostly for the incomplete/unknown nature of the various players involved.  I will say that Brad Miller ended up hitting 30 homers for Tampa, and playing a decent number of games at first base, leading me to wonder what could have been had we held onto him and Trumbo and either platooned them both at first, or at various positions around the field.  Miller’s overall batting numbers are nothing to write home about, but those homers would’ve looked awfully nice in a Seattle uniform.  In return, we got about half a season out of Karns, who was mostly mediocre.  He’s still a starter with lots of club control, but now he’s injured, and I’d say no news is bad news when it comes to his injury, as it doesn’t appear he’s anywhere close to returning to action.  And, if he does, will he ever make good on his promise?  I’m starting to have my doubts.  The one saving grace might be Boog Powell, but he spent most of 2016 suspended for ‘roids or some damn thing.  Besides, at best he appears to be a 4th outfielder, so all in all, I’d say this is another major trade we got killed in.  It particularly hurts because Brad Miller is cheap, versatile, with lots of club control, and we essentially got back nothing in return.

12/3/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent LF Norichika Aoki.

Aoki signed a 2-year deal, but only 2016 was guaranteed.  His 2017 option would’ve vested at 480 plate appearances, but he only managed 467.  He ended up earning just shy of $6 million this year, but lost out on $6 million next year by 13 PA’s.  He likely would’ve had a lot less, but he ended the last two months absolutely on FIRE at the plate, and we couldn’t sit him.  Even with his finish, I’d say he was a net-negative for this team, considering his defense was pretty galling, and his base running was even worse.  The team already has Seth Smith under club control next year, so I can’t imagine we bring Aoki back unless we deal Smith first.  File this under:  Eh, It Was Worth A Shot.

3/30/16 – San Diego Padres traded RHP Nick Vincent to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL.

Faced with a bevy of bullpen injuries in Spring Training, this was an underrated move just before the regular season that ended up paying off.  Until it stopped paying off, like a hot black jack table with a new dealer.  All in all, Nick Vincent was a fine reliever in 2016, but he was savagely over-used, and I can’t really blame Servais for it either, because he didn’t really have a whole lotta options in the first half of the season.  It wasn’t until Dipoto made all of his summer deals when the Mariners could finally cobble together a workable bullpen.  By that point, injuries (directly attributed to said overuse) piled up on Vincent, sending him on a DL stint.  He did return, and was okay, but by that point he was behind a number of superior relievers, which was appropriate.  Vincent should be nobody’s 8th inning guy.  Save him for the blowouts and the extra innings affairs and you’ll be in better shape.

11/23/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent C Chris Iannetta.

He started off hot in April, cooled off in May, and I contend he ended up losing his starter’s job because the team overused him (though, this time I DO blame Servais).  We brought Clevenger in here in that ill-fated Trumbo deal, so why didn’t we use him more?  Was he REALLY that terrible?  If so, why bring him in in the first place?  Seems to me they made a snap judgment in Spring Training, refused to give Clevenger a consistent chance, even though when he did start, he looked pretty okay.  Iannetta, on the other hand, proved to be a pretty big disaster defensively, and his power was drained to zero by the second half of the season.  Now, it’s neither here nor there that Clevenger ended up breaking his hand, opening the door for Mike Zunino’s triumphant return.  All I know is Iannetta is under contract at over $4 million next year, and he figures to be this team’s backup catcher.  Not ideal use of funds.

2/3/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent 1B Dae-ho Lee to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Oh how I love Dae-ho Lee, let me count the ways!  He started the season by knocking Jesus Montero off the roster, which is always nice.  He secured the right-handed platoon of first base, and ended up by and large outplaying Adam Lind.  On top of that, some early heroics endeared him to the fanbase for all eternity.  But, he did cool off considerably as the season went along, and with that his playing opportunities dwindled.  He spent some time in Tacoma, to regain his swing, but never really made much of an impact in the stretch run.  His defense was a pleasant surprise, and his ability to go the other way kept opposing defenses honest.  Then again, his base running was predictably bad.  But, he was cheap, earning just $1 million, while being worth every penny.  Word is the team wants him back for 2017, and I don’t blame ’em!  I’d like to see him back as well!  I don’t know if he’ll ever be an everyday starter, but I’m curious to see how his game will grow now that he’s got a season’s worth of experience in the Majors.

11/11/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RF Franklin Gutierrez.

As noted above in the Trumbo section, this turned out to be less than ideal.  Complain all you want about there not being any right handed power bats on the market, but we fucking gave one away in Trumbo!  The plus side on Guti is that he’s cheaper, he’s well-liked in the clubhouse, and he doesn’t need to or even want to play everyday.  He’ll always be as prepared as can be in a pinch, so that’s not something to worry about.  But, in the end, he’s another year older, and his body has been ravaged by injuries and illnesses over the years.  His defense has taken a huge step back, and I don’t think any part of his game is ever going to get better; it can, indeed, only get worse.  Sounds like the team wants him back too, but I think that’s a mistake.

7/20/16 – Seattle Mariners traded RHP Jordan Pries and LHP Mike Montgomery to Chicago Cubs for 1B Dan Vogelbach and RHP Paul Blackburn.

Oh what could’ve been with Mike Montgomery.  As I’ve written about repeatedly, this was a deal made to sell high on an iffy bullpen piece, for hopefully a future starter at first base.  Montgomery proved with his ongoing stint with the Cubs that he’s here to stay, and this one might end up backfiring even more depending on how long and impressive his Major League career ends up being.  Shades of Matt Thornton, if you ask me.  In return, Dan Vogelbach, who got a cup of coffee with the Mariners, but still looks pretty raw.  He figures to get a shot in Spring Training (at least in a platoon role), but I have serious doubts.  If anything, he probably figures to be a placeholder until one of our other impressive first base prospects is ready to make the jump.  Don’t be shocked if, come June 2017, D.J. Peterson has supplanted Vogelbach (that is, assuming we don’t go out on the open market to bring in a veteran).

7/26/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded RHP Drew Storen and cash to Seattle Mariners for RHP Joaquin Benoit.

11/12/15 – San Diego Padres traded RHP Joaquin Benoit to Seattle Mariners for RHP Enyel De Los Santos and SS Nelson Ward.

The Joaquin Benoit deals!  He cost upwards of $8 million this year, and he ended up being a total dud, first hitting the DL for a protracted injury, then being a lump of crap upon his return.  Makes you wonder how he was ever good in the first place, but then he went to Toronto and pitched lights out the rest of the year.  Hence why that deal is ranked higher.  I don’t think we gave up much of anything to get him (seemed like a cost-cutting move by the Padres, if anything), but we did end up getting back an interesting piece in Drew Storen.  One of those Change of Scenery deals that ACTUALLY works, as Storen was MUCH better as a member of the Mariners than he was in a Blue Jays uni.  Of course, this move helped/hurt both teams, as Toronto was the other wild card team that had us by 3 games by season’s end.  They got the better of us ever-so-slightly, as Benoit proved to be the healthier option than Storen, and the more important piece to their bullpen than Storen was to ours.  Both are UFA’s this year, and neither figures to make a substantial salary; I could easily see Storen returning to Seattle if the price is right.

2/9/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Joel Peralta to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

6/22/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent Tom Wilhelmsen.

12/8/15 – Oakland Athletics traded RHP Evan Scribner to Seattle Mariners for RHP Trey Cochran-Gill.

I’m going to start lumping a bunch of moves in, as I failed to anticipate how long this post would end up being.  Peralta was a longtime vet brought in on an invite to Spring Training.  He ended up winning a job in our bullpen thanks to lots of injuries ahead of him.  He was also pretty okay in March, but it would not last long.  We ended up designating him for assignment in June, after it was clear his Major League career was done.  Similarly, Tom Wilhelmsen – in on that Leonys Martin deal – had a hard luck stint with the Rangers.  They’d finally had enough of him by June, and we were more than happy to bring him back.  A veteran, making the minimum, familiar with the organization, willing to go to Tacoma to work on some things, while at the same time able to fill in on Seattle’s bullpen that was sort of in shambles at this point of the season.  Wilhelmsen ended up being who we thought he was, which is far from elite, but at the same time far from the waste of space he was for Texas.  Scribner spent the bulk of 2016 on the DL.  He returned in September and was FAR AND AWAY our best reliever in those 12 appearances, giving up 0 runs and only 5 hits in 14 innings.  Where was THAT when we needed it April through August?  He’s under club control for three more years, and if he pitches anywhere close to what he was in September, this trade with Oakland looks MUCH better than it already is.

6/22/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded LHP Wade LeBlanc to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL.

One of these days, I’d like to write a book about Wade LeBlanc’s 2016 season, because something sure as shit doesn’t add up.  We traded for him at probably our lowest point in the season (most likely for cash), and he was inserted into our rotation when most everyone else was injured.  AND HE WAS ALL RIGHT!  He didn’t turn the world on with his smile or anything, but he was somewhat competent!  He had 5 quality starts out of 8, and he looked no worse than Ariel Miranda.  Of course, there’s no point in having both Miranda and LeBlanc in your rotation at the same time, unless you’re just riddled with injuries, but who’s to say LeBlanc couldn’t have taken to a bullpen role?  He sure as shit took to it with Pittsburgh, when we dealt him to the Pirates in September!  He gave up 1 earned run in 12 innings with them!  I hope that PTBNL we get back from the Pirates is something more than just the cash we gave away to the Blue Jays in June.

8/6/16 – Pittsburgh Pirates traded RHP Arquimedes Caminero to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL and Future Considerations (LHP Jake Brentz and RHP Pedro Vasquez).

10/19/15 – Seattle Mariners claimed Cody Martin off waivers from Oakland Athletics.

Caminero came to Seattle and tore the A.L. a new asshole with his 100mph fastball.  Unfortunately, when teams started sitting dead red, and when he lost his command, they tore him a new asshole right back.  You can’t help but be intrigued by a guy like that, and hopefully our coaches are able to work with him mechanically to help him reign in some of that explosiveness.  Regardless, we’ve got 4 more years of club control on a guy with a ton of upside, so I like the move.  As for Cody Martin, I don’t know what to tell you.  He made a couple of spot starts for us, and a few more relief appearances, but other than mop up duty in extra innings games, he didn’t provide much of an impact.  He started primarily with Tacoma, and he figures to do more of the same in 2017.

3/1/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent CF Guillermo Heredia.

8/31/16 – New York Yankees traded RF Ben Gamel to Seattle Mariners for RHP Jio Orozco and RHP Juan De Paula.

I honestly have no idea where Heredia came from, what he was doing for the entirety of the 2015 calendar year, or anything other than we signed him as a free agent out of Cuba.  But, he tore through the minors and was called up to be primarily a defensive replacement in the outfield.  He figures to compete with Ben Gamel, among other guys, to be one of this team’s reserve outfielders.  Heredia bats righty and Gamel lefty, so it’s not like they’re in direct competition, but they sort of are, with Heredia on the inside track considering this organization’s lack of right handed bats.  They’re both for the most part on the same level, talent-wise, with Heredia having the higher ceiling, and Gamel more likely to be Major League-ready.  The 2017 outfield figures to be pretty jam-packed, with centerfield already on lockdown, so guys like Heredia and Gamel have a long way to go.

8/1/16 – Seattle Mariners claimed 1B Mike Freeman off waivers from Arizona Diamondbacks.

6/19/16 – Seattle Mariners traded SS Chris Taylor to Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Zach Lee.

11/20/15 – Seattle Mariners traded CF Ramon Flores to Milwaukee Brewers for 2B Luis Sardinas.

The Mariners never really figured out their reserve infielder spot.  Ultimately, Shawn O’Malley took the bull by the horns, but he’s not really much better than any of these guys listed here.  Luis Sardinas had the first crack at the job, but quickly proved to be ineffective (ultimately traded away to San Diego in August).  Chris Taylor had about the shortest opportunity I’ve ever seen, but in what I want to say was his only start with us this year, he had 2 errors and was sent away almost immediately afterward.  He ended up predictably doing nothing for the Dodgers (after his leadoff triple with them right after the trade), so no big loss.  Mike Freeman had some memorable plate appearances (particularly in that Anaheim series during Griffey weekend), and should be around to compete for the backup infielder spot next year.

3/17/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Steve Johnson to a minor league contract.

8/6/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded LHP Pat Venditte to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL (2B Tim Lopes).

11/6/15 – Seattle Mariners claimed LF Daniel Robertson off waivers from Los Angeles Angels.

1/12/16 – Los Angeles Dodgers traded RHP Joe Wieland to Seattle Mariners for SS Erick Mejia.

These last deals aren’t really even worth mentioning, but I stuck them down here at the bottom anyway.  Steve Johnson appeared in 16 games, almost exclusively as the very last man in the bullpen.  When it became readily apparent he was a waste of space, we cut him loose in mid-June.  Pat Venditte is the switch-pitcher we brought in, who got his cup of coffee with us in September, almost exclusively in blowout situations.  I don’t know if he’ll ever be much more than a novelty.  Robertson appeared in 9 games, and for the life of me, I can’t remember a thing about any of ’em.  Apparently, they took place in July.  He obviously didn’t make much of an impression, as he didn’t return in September with the rest of the call-ups.  Finally, Joe Wieland appeared in one game, making a spot start on August 12th against the A’s.  He gave up 6 runs in 5 innings, as we lost 6-3.  We ended up trading him to the Braves in September, rendering him as little more than a trivia question answer, and not even an interesting one.

***

So, all in all, how would I rate Jerry Dipoto’s first year on the job?  I’d say of all the moves I listed above, about half of them were good and half of them were bad.  I would say the trades were particularly bad (including the Trumbo, Lind, 1st Miley, and Karns deals) with only the Leonys Martin deal having a real positive impact.  He was able to find a lot of value towards the back-end of the roster, particularly the bullpen, as the season went along, and he was smart to fill the roster with veterans, considering the closing competitive windows of our aging stars.  Ultimately, the Mariners improved by 10 games in his first year, so that’s certainly a feather in his cap.  But, I think a lot of that was achieved by players already here.  Cano having a bounce-back year, Seager improving, Zunino improving, Paxton making more of an impact, and so on and so forth.

What Dipoto needs to do now is find a way to fill some of these holes that are still dogging us.  First base, short stop, corner outfield.  He needs to find cost-effective ways to bolster our pitching staff.  And, let’s face it, he needs a little luck to go his way.  This team is close.  So very close to making the post-season and breaking this streak.  But, at the same time, it’s also pretty damn close from bottoming out yet again.  Is Dipoto the man for the job?  Time will tell, but I’m going to reserve any enthusiasm I have for the man until I see some actual results on the field.

It’s playoffs or bust, Jerry!  You’ll get a “good job” out of me when I see some rings on the fingers of these players.

***

Important Mariners Transactions for the 2016 Season

  • 10/19/15 – Seattle Mariners claimed Cody Martin off waivers from Oakland Athletics.
  • 11/5/15 – Seattle Mariners traded SS Brad Miller, 1B Logan Morrison and RHP Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay Rays for RHP Nathan Karns, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser and CF Boog Powell.
  • 11/6/15 – Seattle Mariners claimed LF Daniel Robertson off waivers from Los Angeles Angels.
  • 11/11/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RF Franklin Gutierrez.
  • 11/12/15 – San Diego Padres traded RHP Joaquin Benoit to Seattle Mariners for RHP Enyel De Los Santos and SS Nelson Ward.
  • 11/16/15 – Texas Rangers traded CF Leonys Martin and RHP Anthony Bass to Seattle Mariners for RHP Tom Wilhelmsen, CF James Jones and PTBNL (3B Patrick Kivlehan).
  • 11/20/15 – Seattle Mariners traded CF Ramon Flores to Milwaukee Brewers for 2B Luis Sardinas.
  • 11/23/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent C Chris Iannetta.
  • 12/2/15 – Baltimore Orioles traded C Steve Clevenger to Seattle Mariners for RF Mark Trumbo and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser.
  • 12/2/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Justin De Fratus.
  • 12/3/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent LF Norichika Aoki.
  • 12/7/15 – Boston Red Sox traded RHP Jonathan Aro and LHP Wade Miley to Seattle Mariners for RHP Carson Smith and LHP Roenis Elias.
  • 12/8/15 – Oakland Athletics traded RHP Evan Scribner to Seattle Mariners for RHP Trey Cochran-Gill.
  • 12/9/15 – Milwaukee Brewers traded 1B Adam Lind to Seattle Mariners for RHP Carlos Herrera, RHP Daniel Missaki and RHP Freddy Peralta.
  • 12/14/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Steve Cishek.
  • 12/18/15 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Hisashi Iwakuma.
  • 1/7/16 – Seattle Mariners released RHP Anthony Bass.
  • 1/12/16 – Los Angeles Dodgers traded RHP Joe Wieland to Seattle Mariners for SS Erick Mejia.
  • 2/3/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent 1B Dae-Ho Lee to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.
  • 2/9/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Joel Peralta to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.
  • 3/1/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent CF Guillermo Heredia.
  • 3/17/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent RHP Steve Johnson to a minor league contract.
  • 3/28/16 – Toronto Blue Jays claimed 1B Jesus Montero off waivers from Seattle Mariners.
  • 3/30/16 – San Diego Padres traded RHP Nick Vincent to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL.
  • 5/29/16 – Texas Rangers traded 3B Patrick Kivlehan to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL (RHP Justin De Fratus).
  • 6/2/16 – Seattle Mariners designated RHP Joel Peralta for assignment.
  • 6/17/16 – Seattle Mariners designated RHP Steve Johnson for assignment.
  • 6/19/16 – Seattle Mariners traded SS Chris Taylor to Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Zach Lee.
  • 6/22/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded LHP Wade LeBlanc to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL.
  • 6/22/16 – Seattle Mariners signed free agent Tom Wilhelmsen.
  • 7/20/16 – Seattle Mariners traded RHP Jordan Pries and LHP Mike Montgomery to Chicago Cubs for 1B Dan Vogelbach and RHP Paul Blackburn.
  • 7/26/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded RHP Drew Storen and cash to Seattle Mariners for RHP Joaquin Benoit.
  • 7/31/16 – Seattle Mariners traded LHP Wade Miley to Baltimore Orioles for LHP Ariel Miranda.
  • 8/1/16 – Seattle Mariners designated 3B Patrick Kivlehan for assignment.
  • 8/1/16 – Seattle Mariners claimed 1B Mike Freeman off waivers from Arizona Diamondbacks.
  • 8/6/16 – Toronto Blue Jays traded LHP Pat Venditte to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL (2B Tim Lopes).
  • 8/6/16 – Pittsburgh Pirates traded RHP Arquimedes Caminero to Seattle Mariners for PTBNL and Future Considerations (LHP Jake Brentz and RHP Pedro Vasquez).
  • 8/15/16 – Seattle Mariners sent Daniel Robertson outright to Tacoma Rainiers.
  • 8/15/16 – Seattle Mariners traded 2B Luis Sardinas to San Diego Padres for Player To Be Named Later.
  • 8/31/16 – New York Yankees traded RF Ben Gamel to Seattle Mariners for RHP Jio Orozco and RHP Juan De Paula.
  • 9/13/16 Seattle Mariners traded LHP Wade LeBlanc to Pittsburgh Pirates for PTBNL.
  • 9/14/16 Seattle Mariners traded RHP Joe Wieland to Atlanta Braves for PTBNL.

I Don’t Know Why I Stayed Up To Watch All Of That Mariners Game Last Night

You want the short answer?  I knew Ariel Miranda was getting his first Major League start and I wanted like hell for him to do well.  We’d just shipped off Wade Miley – who, in his first start with the Orioles, went 5 innings, giving up 4 runs in a loss – and I’d made that big to do about Good Riddance and all that jazz.  This year has been such a shitshow with the pitching, I’m DESPERATE for any possibility that a new guy might help turn things around.

Also, not for nothing, but I realize we’re just starting to get into Looking Forward To Next Year mode – even if I’m being dragged there kicking and screaming – and I’d like to have some reasons for optimism.  I NEED a good pitching staff, or else I get all wonky!

Well, Ariel Miranda acquitted himself just fine last night.  6 innings, 2 runs, spreading out 8 hits and a walk, with 5 strikeouts.  He got himself into a little trouble here and there, but was able to pitch around it.  I thought he hit his spots pretty well, for the most part.  He seemed pretty fearless out there, and pretty natural at the same time.  He might get sent right back down to Tacoma in a minute, what with Taijuan Walker’s return, but let’s be real here:  no one expects this rotation to stay intact for the next two weeks, let alone the rest of the season.  We will most definitely see Ariel Miranda again.  And I hope we get a lot more of what we saw last night, because that’s a guy I can go to war with.

Unfortunately, as has been the case more and more of late, the hitting let us down last night.  The Mariners should win every game they hold an opponent to 2 runs in regulation.  But, it wasn’t to be.  Robbie – after being our hero on Tuesday – totally shit the bed last night.  Cruz wasn’t good for anything more than a couple of walks.  Seager was 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position.  Zunino was only good for a couple of walks (a lot of walks by Mariners hitters last night, which makes the end result particularly galling, as we’re NEVER this patient at the plate).  The only middle-of-the-order hitter to do ANYTHING last night was Dae-ho Lee, with the RBI single in the 5th to tie the game.  He’s so good at getting that runner in by knocking a single the other way; he’s NOT just a power guy!  That’s what we love about Dae-ho so much!

The rest of the lineup wasn’t much better, to be fair.  Leonys Martin is in a BIGTIME slump right now.  Guillermo Heredia is NOT a leadoff hitter, and I wish Servais would stop doing that.  Shawn O’Malley had a solo homer – and 3 hits on the day – but he’s also not a starting-calibre short stop, which was on full display in the top of the 11th, when his diving stab at a single through the infield cost the Mariners a run and ultimately the game.  A competent defensive short stop at the very least is able to keep that ball in the infield, with a good chance of actually making the play and getting the out at first.  This team seriously needs Ketel Marte back in the lineup.  Because he’s leaps and bounds better than O’Malley defensively, and because we need to see if the kid has what it takes to be our everyday short stop next year and beyond.

I mean, seriously, who gets mono in this day and age?!

Short story long, I’ve gotta give it up for the bullpen last night.  They really worked their asses off to keep that game tied as long as it was.  I thought Miranda was pulled at exactly the right time:  he made it through 6, and even though he’d only thrown 80 pitches, he was starting to get hit hard, and it’s better to preserve the kid’s confidence going forward than try to squeeze another inning out of him and giving up the lead in the process.  I like Storen in that spot right now, I thought Nuno was in there the exact right amount, and I even agree with having Wilhelmsen in there for the 4 outs.  No one was egregiously over-used, but with Diaz unavailable (having pitched in 4 days out of the last 5), you had to get a little extra somewhere.  I started the 10th inning wondering just what in the hell the Mariners were thinking by not bringing Blake Parker up sooner – as it looked like he’d been kicking all ass in Tacoma – but by the end of the 10th, I was having visions of Joel Peralta, and understood it probably wasn’t the organization being prejudiced against guys named Blake.  By the time we got to the 11th, and Cody Martin was the last man standing, you kinda knew time was growing short.  I just hoped he wouldn’t IMMEDIATELY give up the go-ahead run, but maybe buy us an inning or two before falling apart.

Oh well, I guess.  Can’t win ’em all, I suppose.  We’ll get ’em next time and whatnot.  The sun’ll come out tomorrow and whathaveyou.

Big Griffey Hall of Fame Weekend starts tonight.  I’m going to all three games, so I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say come Monday.

All Star Week Finale: Mariners Shit Stains

I TOLD YOU I’D SHOOT, BUT YOU DIDN’T BELIEVE ME!  WHY DIDN’T YOU BELIEVE ME?

Yesterday, I hit upon the good things we’ve seen in this Mariners season.  Today:  the rest.

Like yesterday, let’s start on the hitting side.  Nori Aoki is the obvious huge disappointment, as he entered this season on the heels of not only a fruitful career in Japan, but a solid and productive 4-year MLB career as he bounced around from the Brewers to the Royals to the Giants.  I mean, like clockwork, the guy was batting in the .280’s every season, with solid on-base numbers, minimal power, and enough defense to make the whole package pretty enticing.  This year, however, his power has gone completely in the toilet, and his batting average is 40 points lower than normal.  His stolen base output has declined every year since coming to America, and this year is no exception, as he has 4 stolen bases against 7 caught stealing.  His left field defense is suspect at best, and his centerfield defense was a God damn neverending sewage-eating contest.  It’s been so bad for Aoki this year that he was sent down to Tacoma (where, to his credit, he’s regained some of his old form at the plate, albeit in only 11 games), which all points to one thing:  age.  He’s 34 years old, and it’s very reasonable to boil all this down to him just being on the downslope of his career.  Don’t take it hard, Aoki, plenty of players even better than you have come to Seattle in their twilight years only to die the True Death.

Adam Lind is my other everyday player (or quasi-everyday) catching some shade today, although I have a hard time really disliking the guy.  He seems like a really cool dude, and I like him as a player a helluva lot more than I did Smoak, LoMo, or Montero.  I do still think he’s got a bit of a turnaround in him this year, but I’m not sure that belief is entirely based in reality.  Lind had a pretty awful April, playing most every day.  He started to pick it up in May, but then he went right back in the toilet in June, so I dunno.  As noted yesterday, Dae-ho Lee is rightly eating into Lind’s playing time, as the team is trusting Lee more and more against right-handed pitching.  Should Lee continue to prove he’s capable of playing and producing on an everyday basis, we could be looking at a situation where Lind is relegated to backup status (getting occasional starts against righties, and/or when the team opts to put Cruz in the outfield and play Lee & Lind at the same time).  It’s just a bummer, because I figured Lind, of anyone we brought in this year, would be a guy you could count upon to play to his career norms.

***

And that’s it!  I’m moving on to the pitchers, because they’ve been a neverending source of rage and agita in my life this season.

Right at the top of the list – indeed, the most disappointing development of the entire 2016 Mariners season – has been the health of Felix Hernandez.  I mean, he’s far and away my favorite player on this team, and far and away my favorite local athlete playing today (he also sits on my local Mount Rushmore next to Gary Payton, Steve Largent, and Edgar Martinez, but that’s neither here nor there).  Going into any Mariners season, my worst nightmare has always been if King Felix gets injured.  By and large, over the previous ten seasons, I’ve mostly managed to dodge that harsh reality, but this year, both myself and the team has been cock-slapped by his absence.  This year’s team has EASILY had the best lineup of hitters we’ve had ’round these parts since Felix has become a Major Leaguer.  And, at least through the first couple months, this team as a whole looked like it had the best chance to make the post-season in the same span.  As a die-hard Mariners fan, all we’ve wanted to see over the last decade was Felix Hernandez pitching in the post-season.  To reward him for his baffling loyalty to this organization, and prove to the world that he made the right decision (or, at the very least, to show that it wasn’t all for naught).  The panic in all of our hearts has always been, “WE NEED TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS WHILE FELIX IS STILL IN HIS PRIME!  WE’RE WASTING HIS MOTHERFUCKING PRIME, YOU GUYS!”  So, to have him go down with this calf injury, when – 1. we have the best team around him we’ve ever had, and 2. our pitching depth is as poor as it’s ever been, and ergo he’s never been more needed – is truly a cosmic Fuck You to every Mariners fan still foolish enough to follow this team.

I didn’t mean to push this section into a second paragraph, but here’s my point:  where would the Mariners be if Felix had never gotten injured?  He went down on May 27th.  We’ve gone 17-25 ever since.  In the starts that he missed (counting every five days, assuming no rotation shuffling), the Mariners have gone 3-5, including Paxton’s initial disaster of a start on June 1st, a mediocre Miley start on July 9th, and a few hard-luck defeats where the offense didn’t necessarily show up (or, commonly known as your average Felix start).  A healthy Felix would conservatively get you two more wins in that stretch, with a very reasonable possibility of him pitching a shutout in there and squeezing out a third.  But, a healthy Felix also slots out some of the shakier pitchers who have made appearances in the rotation.  Maybe a healthy Felix – combined with Paxton’s resurgence down in Tacoma – bumps Karns out of the rotation sooner.  Maybe it prevents Adrian Sampson’s call-up (and subsequent arm injury that cost him his season).  Maybe we don’t have a potentially-useless LeBlanc to kick around.  MAYBE, it allows us to DL Taijuan Walker sooner – which I’m on record as saying we should have done in the first place – because we’re not so obsessed about our awful pitching depth.  There are endless What If’s out there, all surrounding the injury of our Ace.

But, it also bears mentioning that even when Felix was healthy this season, he didn’t look quite right.  Dating back to last year, Felix has been prone to getting knocked around a little bit in some starts.  His velocity is way down (even more than usual), and his command hasn’t quite been there.  Was the injury causing that?  Is it the natural effect of aging (he may only be 30 years old, but he’s got a billion miles on his pitching arm right now)?  It’s something to watch, as he makes his rehab starts ahead of an expected return to the Majors next Wednesday.  Please be healthy and good again, Felix!  We need you more than ever before!

***

I devoted more of this post than I’d anticipated on King Felix, so let me run through the rest of the pitching disappointments as quickly as possible.

Wade Miley – Fuck You!

Joel Peralta – Good Fucking Riddance!

Wade Miley – Fuck You Again, I can’t wait until this team cuts your ass!

Joaquin Benoit – Over-priced, spent time on the DL, has been garbage since his return.  Not the 8th inning enforcer we traded for.

Nathan Karns – 5 & Dive specialist we haven’t seen since Erik Bedard.  Not a long-term solution to our rotation woes.

Hisashi Iwakuma – A .500, middle-of-the-road pitcher who might be an okay 3rd or 4th starter, but is past his prime and no longer a viable #2.

James Paxton – Has the stuff to be an ace, but for some reason always gets killed by dribblers, dinks, and dunks (and poor defense).

Taijuan Walker – This injured foot has killed what was once a promising season in his development; a chronic set-back that likely won’t resolve until after the season ends.

Tony Zych – Probably this team’s 2nd best reliever (after Diaz), whose injury issues will cost him almost the entire season.

Charlie Furbush – Has been out the whole year, is set to return soon, but will probably be terrible.

Tom Wilhelmsen – Has returned, has been okay in his first few appearances, but the other shoe is right here, just waiting to drop.

Fernando Rodney – A HUGE Fuck You!  Pitches like dogshit last year for the Mariners, gets demoted, gets released, then comes back this year to have his very best-ever season?  What the fuck?!  Eat all the dicks, you turd!

Steve Cishek – For making me long for the days of the Fernando Rodney Experience.  Whereas Rodney’s appearances were always a slow bleed for 30 minutes, followed by complete disaster; Cishek just stabs you in the gut, then comes back two days later to jam his thumb into your festering wound.

Who Are The Real Mariners?

I use this logic a lot when I’m describing a team:  good teams find a way to win close games.  Conversely, bad teams find ways to lose those games.  In the first two months, by and large, the Mariners were finding ways to win those 50/50 games they would’ve lost in years past.  In June, where we’re halfway through and the Mariners are already 4-9, the Mariners are finding every way imaginable to lose the games they were just winning a few weeks ago!

Last night, the Mariners did everything right.  They jumped all over a good pitcher early, locking in a 5-2 lead before Walker fell apart and had to be pulled due to an achilles injury.  Still, it was 5-4 heading into the 7th inning, and you know what?  That should be enough.  The bullpen has one fucking job.  Each guy in that bullpen, ALL they have to do, is get somewhere between 1-3 batters out when you’re at that point in the game.  Generally:  one guy pitches the 7th, one guy pitches the 8th, and Cishek comes in to close it out in the 9th.

HOW FUCKING HARD IS IT TO GET THREE HITTERS OUT?

A one run lead heading into the 7th should just be a victory for your team, period.  If you can’t hold that down, then you have no business playing in this league.

But, fine, you know what?  The Mariners did this bullpen a huge favor by tacking on TWO MORE runs in the top of the 7th!  So, a 1-run lead became what should’ve been an insurmountable 3-run lead, and at this point you’re just TRYING to give away baseball games if you blow a 3-run lead with three innings to go!

So, in trots Nick Vincent, he of the 87 mph fastball that lopes gently across the plate; it’s a wonder how he’s not hit harder more often.  He, of course, gave up a hit and a walk before allowing the game-tying 3-run homer, and it was all academic at that point.  Mike Montgomery came in and proceeded to suck the dick of everyone in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, and what was once a sure-thing victory turned into yet another demoralizing defeat.

Did you know the Mariners are winless in the last five games decided by 1 run?  That, of course, is dating back to the series with the Twins, where all this misery started in the first place.  So, what is it?  Who are the REAL Mariners?  Was it the team rocking and rolling through most of the first two months of the season?  Is that team just hitting a rough patch?  Or, are THESE the real Mariners?  And THESE Mariners just happened to have been playing an unsustainably-good brand of baseball for the first 8 weeks of the season?

I’m afraid I’m out of answers on this one.  Trying to figure out the Seattle Mariners makes my head hurt.

Again, I hate to be a broken record, but I have no problem whatsoever with the hitting.  Granted, the Mariners were 3 for 14 with runners in scoring position last night … BUT THEY SCORED SEVEN FUCKING RUNS!  I don’t give a SHIT how they score them; if they’re consistently averaging over 5 runs per game, they’re doing their jobs!  If they score SEVEN runs in a game, they should damn well win that motherfucking game!  So, shove your devil’s advocate argument up your fucking asshole, because I’m not buying it!

This is all on the pitching, which is – for the record – the part of the team that was most overhauled in the offseason.  I’ll praise Jerry Dipoto until the cows come home for the way he invigorated the lineup and our defensive presence; but by the same token, you have to criticize him a little bit for the way the pitching was handled.

If you even want to call Iwakuma a “positive” presence on this team, then I’ll give you that, but you’ve got to give ME the fact that Dipoto was lucky to have him fall in his lap.  Iwakuma was all but a Dodger until they backed out of the deal, at which point suddenly Mariners ownership found a few extra sheckles to give him a deal.  But, I wouldn’t say that was Dipoto working his Dipoto Magic.

Wade Miley has been a disaster to this point.  That’s not to say he won’t turn it around, but halfway into June, Miley sucks.  To get him, we gave up a young, cheap starter with lots of club control (Roenis Elias, who by the way, we’ll be seeing start against us when we hit Boston this weekend) and a potentially-elite reliever in Carson Smith, who is awesome when healthy (and also cheap, with lots of club control), but obviously hasn’t been this year.

I’m not actually mad at the Karns deal at all.  I’ll give Dipoto a pass on this one, considering he got Karns by trading away a lot of our garbage from the previous regime (Brad Miller, LoMo, and Danny Farquhar).  Karns still has upside, and/or could be trade bait for someone better in the short term.

That takes us to the bullpen, which was largely overhauled.  A couple of guys haven’t even pitched for us yet, so their injury-plagued seasons are on Dipoto.  Benoit missed a bunch of time, and hasn’t been the lockdown set-up man we all thought he was going to be (he also has a ridiculous salary to boot).  Peralta was a disaster who we kept around for as long as we did due to injuries to other guys.  Cishek has 3 losses and 4 blown saves on his record already.  Nick Vincent has looked okay, but he’s probably not fit for the advanced bullpen role he’s been thrust into.  Am I missing anyone?  I guess Steve Johnson is a thing, and not a very good thing at that.

I dunno.  We’re talking about a lot of guys who are coming off of down years.  The Mariners under Jackie Z were largely predicated on bringing in guys on value deals, who were good TWO years ago, but struggled the year prior, thus why they were so cheap to bring in to begin with.  I hate that line of thinking, even if it’s probably best applied to the bullpen, whose wonky nature will see guys dominate one year, then look like total and complete ass the next year, while largely throwing the same exact stuff (see Benoit, for instance; or see Fernando Rodney in San Diego, who has STILL not given up an earned run, after sucking all ass around town for the Mariners last year).

Are these good Mariners having a bad run, or bad Mariners finally showing their true colors?  I suspect the answer is somewhere in between.  These are the Mariners.  Sometimes they’re going to look like world-beaters, sometimes they’re going to look like the worst team in baseball.  They’re a whole lot closer to being a .500 team than anyone wants to believe, especially considering exactly 3 weeks ago, we were 10 games OVER .500.

I hate sports.

The Mariners Broke Their Mini Losing Streak

Of 4 games.  Was damn near 6 games, if we never manufactured the greatest comeback in franchise history last Thursday.

For those of you who don’t mind a little standings-watching in early June, the Mariners have dug themselves quite a hole, as they trail the Rangers by 4 games (for the record, if you DO mind a little standings-watching, go fuck yourselves; seriously, what’s the big fucking deal if I check the standings every now and then?).  Obviously, it’s not the end of the world, and there’s a lot of baseball left to play, but it’s crazy how hot the Rangers have been lately (and ohbytheway, they’re going to be in town for another weekend series starting Friday; WILL THE MARINERS BE SWEPT AGAIN?  Stay tuned).

As the old saying goes, a really long journey starts with a first step!  And that first step for the Mariners was getting off the schneid.  They did it in a somewhat improbable way, in that Wade Miley was at the helm of a solid pitching performance!  Seven innings of 4-hit, shutout ball was just what the doctor ordered, as the Mariners – behind Nelson Cruz’s two homers – chased Cleveland’s starter in the fourth inning.  From there, it was cruise control to the finish and a 7-1 victory.

Aside from the Miley start he so desperately needed to work his way back to respectability, I didn’t find a whole lot about last night’s game very interesting.

Monday’s game, however, is another story.

Granted, Monday’s game was a 3-1 loss for the good guys, as the offense just never could get going.  But, the story here was all about the pitching.

James Paxton took the mound for his second start in the Majors this season.  He didn’t disappoint.  He went 6 innings, holding Cleveland to 5 hits and 1 walk, while giving up 3 runs (1 earned) and striking out a whopping TEN batters.  If Chris Iannetta would’ve come down with the throw at the plate – tagging out the runner who ended up scoring – which by all accounts was right on the money and a catch he should’ve made, odds are that game is a lot different.  At the very least, you can make an argument that Paxton gets a no decision instead of a loss; at best, who knows if he gives up that solo homer the next inning?  Maybe he would’ve gotten a shutout victory!

Nevertheless, Paxton’s performance was absolutely legendary.  It has, quite honestly, forced me to re-think my whole stance on his very existence!  This is a James Paxton the likes of which I’ve never seen before, and I’ve been watching him pitch off and on since 2013!  He’s always been big, and he’s always been a lefty, and when he’s been healthy, he’s been a promising potential piece of some brilliant future Mariners team.  But, of course, he’s never been able to stay healthy – and maybe that’ll continue.  All I know is, while he’s been good, he’s never been anything special.

Paxton has always had an okay fastball.  I couldn’t tell you where he would average in the past, it’s been so long since I’ve seen the Paxton Of Old; but it feels like he was usually somewhere around 93 mph.  That’s an okay fastball.  Not great, not elite, but better than the finesse schlubs like Miley and Joe Saunders and the like.  Paxton’s issue has always been with his control, working those edges of the strike zone, staying away from the middle of the plate.

But, this year?  Shit, he’s topping out at 100 mph!  Where the FUCK did THIS come from?  And, I’m not just talking about him hitting triple digits in the first inning, before getting tired and settling into the 95 mph range.  I mean he’s in there, over 100 pitches, still hitting 100 on the radar gun!  With a nasty slider or curve or whatever to keep hitters off-balance.

I mean, are you JOKING me?  As I said before, now I have to re-think everything!  Going into this year, and even through the first couple months of the season, when Paxton was toiling away in Tacoma, working on his velocity and his command, I had him pegged as prime trade bait.  Should the Mariners be in contention at the trade deadline – which it looks like they will be – James Paxton (packaged with another guy or two, perhaps, from the lower minors) could be flipped for another team’s 2-month rental.  Whatever this year’s version of David Price is, the ace starting pitcher on the last year of his rookie deal, who will be a difference-maker for a quality team in the post-season that needs an extra little push.

But NOW?  After seeing THIS?  I mean, obviously, it’s only two starts (of him throwing 100 mph heat), but if this is the new normal for James Paxton, are we better off keeping him, inserting him into the starting rotation for good, and riding him to post-season glory?

Before, Paxton always projected – at least, in my eyes – as topping out as a quality #2 starter.  But, with this type of stuff, the sky is the limit.  Tall lefty, throwing 100 mph, with a biting slider:  that’s ace material.  That’s Randy Johnson material.  That’s the second coming of The Big Unit, with Mr. Snappy’s command being all the difference between him being a solid mid-rotation pitcher and him being the other ace this team needs (when Felix comes back healthy, of course).

If he keeps this up, this is truly a gift from the gods.  If he works out, first of all, I don’t see how you send him back to Tacoma.  Either you ride with a 6-man rotation, or you make a tough call on Walker or Karns (with the way Walker’s been pitching over the last month, that call might not be so tough if it continues).  But, if this works out, and we get ace production from this unlikeliest of sources, then if we do need to make a deal at the deadline, it won’t necessarily have to be for a starting pitcher!  We can use that to shore up the bullpen, or bolster some of our hitting depth, or fix some other hole that comes up at the time.

Oh yeah, and don’t think I’m sitting here sleeping on Edwin Diaz.

In the very same game where Paxton was as dominant as he was, Edwin Diaz made his Major League debut.  Previously a minor league, AA starting pitcher with issues (mainly that he doesn’t have a quality third pitch to get lefties out on a consistent basis), the Mariners – earlier this very season – converted him to a reliever (because relievers are better able to get away with only having two quality pitches, especially when one of them is the fastball Diaz is sporting).  After making essentially five starts, Diaz had all of 11 appearances where he went 2 innings or less (“relief” appearances, for all intents and purposes).  In those appearances, he pitched a total of 13.2 innings, giving up 2 runs (1 earned), 7 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 19.

That was, apparently, all that mattered for the Mariners.  To be fair, the M’s have been struggling with that final bullpen spot.  Joel Peralta turned back into a pumpkin, and we’ve seen guys like Mayckol Guaipe, Cody Martin, and Steve Johnson all occupy that spot, with varying results.  While Johnson is still on the roster, he’s not a guy you want to count upon in high-leverage situations.  Tony Zych had a setback recently and doesn’t appear to be close to returning.  So, essentially, the Mariners have been relying on a 5-man bullpen, and those guys were getting seriously over-worked.  If we’re content with Steve Johnson being the last man in the bullpen (to be used during blowouts and as a last resort in extra innings situations), the team desperately needed another quality arm it could mix into the rotation in the 7th and 8th innings.  Enter Edwin Diaz.

Like Paxton, Diaz also hits triple digits on the radar gun (topping out at 101 mph).  Unlike Paxton, Diaz has a lot of run on his fastball, making it remarkably more difficult to hit.  And, for a 22 year old kid making the leap from AA to the Majors, in his first-ever appearance, he had absolutely no trouble whatsoever locating the strike zone (10 of his 11 pitches were strikes).  He ended up striking out 1 batter in his first perfect inning, before returning to the dugout to a standing ovation from the home crowd.  All in all, not a bad start to a career.

As I said before, this could also be a gift from the gods.  I’ve said all along the Mariners needed another top-notch starter; and I think we’ve all been in agreement that the bullpen could use a little life injected into it.  With Diaz, maybe we’ve found that guy (yet again, saving us from later having to trade for that guy).  As Zych and Furbush get healthy, there will be a roster crunch, but that’s a GOOD problem to have.  No one ever complained about having too much quality depth.

The Greatest Comeback In Mariners History

About an hour into the game last night, I texted my brother, “God damn fucking worthless ass Miley …”

It couldn’t have been much later than the first inning, but of course we were already losing 4-1.  On the heels of the previous day’s meltdown with Paxton, Miley was trying to one-up him.  So, I did what I usually do when I’m confronted with a losing Mariners effort:  anything but watch more baseball.  In this particular case, it involved my continuing pursuit to catch up on The Americans (no spoilers!).

As I do, I tend to have a little A.D.D. when it comes to entertaining myself at the end of the day, so I was flipping in and out, occasionally checking in on the score of the game, when I saw it was 12-2, Padres.  Well!  All right then!  I guess I can go fuck myself, if I think there’s going to be any chance of a comeback!

When I returned to Twitter to check on the game, it was 12-7 and Robinson Cano had just been hit on the hand to load the bases.  To be honest, I was more concerned that we had just lost Cano to an injury, but when he stayed in the game and it looked like he’d be all right, I have to admit, the thought of a full-on comeback intrigued me.  5 runs in the final 3 innings?  That’s do-able, right?

If I’m being honest, had I stuck around and watched the whole first half of the game, and forced myself to endure beyond the 12-2 deficit, my hopes for a comeback would’ve been pretty bleak.  But, 12-7 is an entirely different animal!  12-7 is like 12-2 didn’t even happen!

But it did, and that’s what makes this game so amazing.

The top score is the previous "biggest comeback in franchise history"; the bottom score is from last night ...

The top score is the previous “biggest comeback in franchise history”; the bottom score is from last night …

I’ve mentioned it repeatedly, but I’ll say it again:  I’m one of those knobs who first became a fan of the Mariners in 1995, during the stretch run of awesomeness.  Almost right away, I went from not knowing much of anything about baseball, to trying to be the biggest super fan of them all.  Before the 1996 season, I joined the Mariners Fan Club, which I want to say came with free tickets to a game, a media guide (which I still have, btw, and it’s awesome), and a bunch of other crap, for what I want to say is a pretty reasonable price.  Essentially, for the price of tickets, you get all this other stuff, plus tickets.

My first-ever game that I saw in person was April 15, 1996, in the Kingdome, against the California Angels.  Did I have my dad buy me a scorecard so I could learn to keep score that day?  You bet I did!  Do I still have that scorecard somewhere in my dad’s house?  You’re damn right I better, or I’m gonna be pissed!

As you can see from the snippet of a box score I posted above, the Mariners started out that game down 9-1, before roaring all the way back to win 11-10.  It was, up until last night, the largest comeback win in Mariners history.  Someone named Paul Menhart started for the Mariners, went 3 innings and gave up 7 runs.  Edwin Hurtado followed him – just trying to eat up some innings – and gave up 3 runs over the next 3 innings.  Rafael Carmona went an inning to bridge it to Norm Charlton, our closer, who came in for the 8th inning.  Once the Mariners took the 1-run lead in the bottom of the 8th, Charlton came back out for the 9th to lock it down, with the crowd (including my dad and myself) going absolutely nuts.

Last night’s game, I shit you not, was WAY more impressive.  Not just because the Mariners were down an extra couple runs, but in the way we came back.  Let’s go back to that 7th inning, down 12-7, with the bases loaded and 1 out.  Nelson Cruz was at the plate and I want to say he saw somewhere around 11 pitches before finally striking out.  That was the ONLY time, all game, where the Mariners failed to get a hit with runners in scoring position.  They’d finish the game 11/12 in that category!  Now, you can complain about Cruz’s at bat all you want, but even though he didn’t score anyone, or take a walk like he probably could have, I want to say he really tired the pitcher out.  From there, with 2 outs now, this happened:

  • Seager 2-run single; 12-9
  • Lee 1-run single; 12-10
  • Iannetta 1-run single; 12-11
  • Romero 1-run single; 12-12
  • O’Malley 1-run single; 13-12
  • Aoki 1-run single; 14-12
  • Aoki stole second base
  • Guti 2-run single; 16-12
  • Cano ground out

I mean, isn’t that unbelievable?  To be perfectly honest, I would’ve settled for the 12-10 deficit after Lee’s at bat.  I thought, for sure, with the slump he’s been in over the last month, that Iannetta was the easiest of easy outs.  Then, when he somehow found a hole, I was DOUBLY sure Romero wouldn’t do anything.  After he also somehow found a hole, it just got silly.  O’Malley?  Sure, why not?  Aoki?  Whatever, dude, get some!  Guti?  Shut the front God damn door!  At that point, it was destiny.  The Mariners would do whatever it took to keep that average with runners in scoring position as high as possible, without actually being perfect.

From there, it was a simple game of hold-on.  Luckily, we had our best three pitchers in Vincent, Benoit, and Cishek, all lined up and ready to lock down the final three innings.  And, thanks to the unearned run allowed by Vincent, Cishek even got the save!

With Joel Peralta’s release earlier in the day, someone had to fill the gap in the bullpen.  When it comes to personnel on the 25-man roster, that spot went to Cody Martin, who was doing some starting down in Tacoma, but essentially was called up to be a warm body given all the poor outings we’ve gotten recently from our starting pitchers.  He actually came in last night and pitched a scoreless inning!  I didn’t see a lot of what he had to offer, but it looked pretty average to my untrained eye.

As it turned out, filling Joel Peralta’s role as Giant Turd Sandwich in the bullpen somehow, mysteriously, fell to Mike Montgomery, who came in the game immediately after Miley, and gave up 3 runs of his own, on top of a few inherited runners Miley left him.  Suffice it to say, had Montgomery pitched like he’s pitched just about the entire season to this point, the game wouldn’t have been nearly as big of a Padres blow-out (and, indeed, may not have even qualified for the largest comeback in Mariners history).

Of course, the goat of the game falls on Miley himself, who – when he’s bad – is just the God damn worst.  When he’s good, he’s fine, but he’s never going to be overpowering, and he doesn’t seem to have it in him to limit the damage when his stuff isn’t particularly “on”.  He is, in essence, exactly who we thought he was coming into the season, and the offense is letting him off the hook by providing him with among the most run support in all of baseball.

Make no mistake, by season’s end, if we’re relying on Miley to be a third starter for this team, we’re in trouble.  He can be an okay innings-eater as a back-end of the rotation guy, but he is by no means someone I want to rely upon when the games start to really matter.

In closing, I’d like to – as briefly as I can – take you back to August 5, 2001.  The Mariners, in their greatest-ever season, where they would end up winning 116 games and tying the all-time record, had a 14-2 lead after the 5th inning, and proceeded to remove a bunch of starters to allow them to rest for half a game.  You can see, by and large, those bench guys who came in did next-to-nothing the rest of the way.  Meanwhile, Aaron Sele fell apart in the 7th, and a pretty good bullpen just totally shit the bed through the 9th.  At that point, with the game going to extras, it was only a matter of time.  Ichiro, Edgar, and Olerud were all pulled, but the team as a whole was just defeated.

It was, as a fan, one of my lowest points for a regular season game, in ANY sport.  To have the game so in control, and then watch helplessly as it’s chipped away, until finally you’re dead in the water and there’s nothing you can do but await the inevitable … I wouldn’t wish that on many people.  Last night, the game was decided in the 7th, and as Padres fans, you probably just sat there stunned for the final three innings, miserable and bitter.  In 2001, the misery lasted from the 7th through the 11th innings.  With each passing out, there was some hope of the Mariners ending the suffering, until finally it went to extras, and at that point, more outs were just delaying the inevitable.  Either way, it’s not a good feeling.

But, in a completely different way, nearly 15 years later, did we – as Softy noted on Twitter last night – exorcise those demons?  Well, technically, that was the last year the Mariners made the playoffs.  And, I’ll admit, even when we were in the thick of it against the Yankees that October, that defeat to the Indians was staunchly in the back of my mind the entire time.  Could last night’s game be the type of reverse-mojo THIS team needs?  A team that looks to finally break the string of seasons without a playoff berth?  A team that – should it break that string – might have what it takes to go all the way?  Unlike a certain 116-win team 15 years ago?

Look, I’m just asking questions here.  No harm in that, right?

King Felix Is On The DL, and I Just Want To Die!

Okay, so it’s only a calf strain, and it will (hopefully) only mean him missing a couple starts, but running into a bunch of DL stints all at the same time (Marte, Martin, now Felix) is NOT the type of cluster luck with which I want the Mariners to be associated!

In his place, James Paxton was called up from Tacoma, pulled down his pants, stood atop the toilet seat, and proceeded to wave his ass back and forth as he sprayed diarrhea everywhere EXCEPT inside the bowl.  I don’t want to say his first start back in the Majors last night (3.2 innings, 10 hits, 8 runs, 3 earned runs – thanks to his OWN throwing error in the first inning – 1 walk, 7 strikeouts, 2 bigtime home runs) is the reason my wife left me and my kids want nothing to do with me, but God damn it Claudia, stop telling little Boris and Jim-Jim their “real father” is in prison because it makes them feel better!

So, yeah, the Mariners got a taste of their own medicine a little bit last night.  After smashing the Padres on get-away day on Tuesday, 16-4; the Padres returned the favor to the tune of 14-6.  Aside from Paxton, I guess, having a case of the jitters(?) even though this isn’t his first rodeo in the Big Leagues, he had good velocity on his fastball to the bitter end, which isn’t nothing.  I hardly expect all of his starts to go this poorly, so it’ll be nice if he can maintain that velo, at least until we have a chance to trade him – with other prospects – in order to get that second ace starting pitcher we’ll likely need in the second half of the year.

Beyond Paxton, Joel Peralta provided us with his near-daily reminder that he’s not long for this team.  At this point, he’s trying to get people out with batting practice fastballs, and MF-ing Charlie Furbush and Tony Zych can’t return to full health soon e-fucking-nough.

On the flip, if Paxton hadn’t had a total first inning meltdown, we could’ve easily won last night’s game.  Cano jacked a 3-run homer in the top of the first to give us a brief lead.  Seager went 4 for 5 and is making the game of baseball look silly right now.  Guti, Lee, and Sardinas also had multi-hit games last night to improve their numbers.  On a normal night, 14 hits and 6 runs is more than enough to win you a game, so I wouldn’t read too much into last night, other than Get Well Soon, Felix.

After today, we won’t have San Diego to kick around for the rest of the year, so let’s make it count!  So, Wade Miley, can you do us all a favor and sack up this once?

The Mariners Were Flippin’ Awesome In May

17-11, following a 13-10 April, makes for the best two-month start to a Mariners season since 2003.

The M’s blew it out on the final day in May, winning 16-4, taking a series from the Padres, and somewhat mitigating the damage from being swept by the Twins over the weekend.

Iwakuma went 7 innings, giving up 4 runs, and it’s honestly remarkable he didn’t give up more, considering how long he was forced to wait in between innings through the first five of the day, when the Mariners scored the entirety of their runs.  1 in the first, 6 in the second, 3 in the third, 2 in the fourth, and 4 more in the fifth, as we bashed five homers, each with at least one runner on base.

Remember last year when the Mariners were pretty good at hitting homers, but the vast majority of them were solo jobs?  Now we’re good at them again, only this time we’re also good at getting on base (what a concept!) and really making those homers count.  You’ll note the Padres, yesterday, hit three homers of their own to account for all four of their runs.  That’s the difference between an offense that’ll get the job done, and the Padres.

Seth Smith led the way with two of those homers, to go along with 3 runs and 4 RBI.  One of Seager’s three hits was a 3-run bomb (he’s since raised his average to .274 – remember when it was .159 at the end of April?  Neither do I).  Adam Lind also hit a 3-run bomb (and also raised his average to .259 – remember when it was .210 in the first week of May?  Neither do I).  And, Good Ol’ Guti rounds out the homer brigade with his 2-run ding-donger (.243 average remember when .176 neither I).

Most everyone on this team is hitting it and hitting it and hitting it well, with Ketel Marte just starting his rehab work in Tacoma, and Leonys Martin not much further behind.  We currently sit a half game behind Texas (tied in the loss column), and after this other 2-game series down in San Diego, we play the Rangers 6 times in 10 days.  We truly are the king of kings.

I don’t want to get too far into praising this team, because it appears likely the injury bug has struck again.  News last night has James Paxton joining the team on this road trip, and I don’t think that’s an indicator of Joel Peralta’s impending release.  Or, for that matter, Wade Miley’s.  With Felix set to start tonight, given the timing of this whole thing, I think it’s safe to wonder whether or not he’s truly dealing with some nagging injury (which people have been speculating about for the better part of the last two months, given his erratic fastball usage and its overall downgrade in velocity).  We’ll know more later today, followed by my nervous breakdown.  So, that’ll be fun.

What Going To Bed Before The 9th Inning Looks Like

It was all lining up against me.  The A’s were in town; they’ve been notoriously tough to beat in Safeco Field the last couple years for some reason (even though they’ve been largely terrible in general).  Jay Buhner was in the booth, riding a 1-40 streak when calling Mariners games.  We let another starter off the hook and then our bullpen largely prevented our own starter from getting the win it looked like he deserved through five innings.  Plus, it was already past 10pm, and I gotta wake up before 6am to go to work!

Yes, I’m weak.  But, I’ve seen the meager defeat go out with a whimper in the 9th inning far too many times.  True, Robinson Cano mashed a 2-run homer in the 8th to bring the game to within one run, but come on!  What were the odds the team would repeat that feat just one inning later?  With two outs.  In a 1-2 count …

Hell, this is why people tell you to never leave a game early.  I can’t argue with ’em!  People who stuck it out to the bitter end – people who left the TV on for another 20-30 minutes – were rewarded with the kinds of positive memories those of us who found out about the result this morning can only dream about.

That’s the difference with this team, compared to years past.  Count them out at your own risk.  I’ve seen this team come back from large deficits that would’ve been impossible for prior Mariners squads.  It’s one telltale sign – at least from an eyeball test perspective – that this team is for real.

It’s remarkably impressive the way Scott Servais’ moves are working out.  He hasn’t done a ton of tinkering with the batting lineup this year.  For the most part, he’s got a lefty-heavy and a righty-heavy lineup, where certain guys will move up or down in the lineup depending on which way they bat.  But, within those splits, there haven’t been any real major shakeups until this week, where Leonys Martin took over leadoff duties from Nori Aoki.  We’ve seen this in past seasons, and it generally deserves the world’s biggest eye roll.  “Going with the hot hand” in baseball is pretty pointless, because most good hot streaks last about a week, and then the player reverts to prior form; conversely, most cold streaks don’t last very long either, and it’s only a matter of time before a veteran will turn things around.

I mean, how many times have we seen Dustin Ackley, batting in the bottom third of the lineup, start to spray the ball around pretty good, followed by the manager moving him up to leadoff, followed by him not getting a hit for a week, followed by him moving back down to the bottom third of the lineup?

Oh, so you’re telling me Leonys Martin sprays the ball around on the road against the likes of the Orioles and Reds – in two very hitter-friendly ballparks – and now all of a sudden he’s worthy of batting in the leadoff spot?

But, shit man, I’ll be damned if he isn’t worthy!  Two hits on Monday, the game-winning 2-run homer last night, he’s striking the ball well, his power is showing no signs of reverting back to career norms, his confidence is through the roof, and I’m, like, one more hitting career being turned around for the better before I start a Church of Edgar Martinez and worship him as our lord and savior

(we’ll meet on Friday nights; if you don’t have your own Light Bat, one will be provided; B.Y.O. Bud Lights)

Servais isn’t all lineup shuffling either.  I think his bullpen usage has been outstanding.  While it takes most other managers at least a good, solid month of sucking before they move on from a trusted veteran arm, Servais has been on top of this thing!  Joel Peralta hadn’t looked superb when his numbers were great, but the team needed him in that 8th inning role, what with all the injuries.  Once his numbers started to reflect just how poorly he’d been throwing, it wasn’t more than a few outings before he was busted to the back-end of the bullpen, in favor of guys like Nick Vincent and Mike Montgomery.  Now, I know they weren’t perfect last night – Vincent, in relief of Karns in the 6th, gave up a couple of inherited runners; then Montgomery gave up a couple of Vincent’s runners in that same inning – but I think those moves were totally, 100% defensible.

Nick Vincent has the best K-rate of anyone in the bullpen worth a damn.  Karns was running into that third time through the order and gave up a couple of hard-hit balls; given his youth, I think it’s reasonable to doubt that he’d be able to get out of that jam.  When you need a strikeout, put in your best strikeout guy, in this case Vincent.  Now, it didn’t work out, but the move is justified.  And, while Montgomery was unable to get out of the 6th without giving up more damage, he ended up going another three innings of shutout ball to 1) get the win, and 2) save the bullpen from further usage.

Where would we be without Mike Montgomery right now?  To think, he was a guy on the bubble going into Spring Training, and very well may have been cut or traded had everyone been healthy!

The rest of the kudos will be spread around:

Seth Smith had a 3-hit day to bump his average back up to respectability.

Robbie Cano had a 3-RBI day to maintain his league lead.

Nelson Cruz had a timely and overlooked RBI single in the 3rd, when it looked like the Mariners might squander a scoring opportunity after putting the first two batters on base.

Nori Aoki had a couple of hits, including that double in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, to prolong the game and get it to the hero of the evening.  That’s one of those deals that also gets overlooked, but without that hit, we’re singing a different tune this morning.