The 2020 Mariners Are Giving People A Lot Of Hope For 2021

The best-case scenario for the 2020 Mariners would’ve been going 60-0 with the players we had on our original roster (without calling up any of our prized prospects), followed by a rampage through the playoffs and our first (of many) World Series titles; my second and third wishes – for the record, if there are any lamp-imprisoned genies out there reading this – would be a billion tax-free American dollars given to me through no criminal means, and my very own Perpetual Orgasm Machine that I’m able to plug into Matrix-style for my own nonstop indulgence.

Since we obviously didn’t reach that apex of baseball achievement, I’d have to say the 2020 Mariners season was a qualified success! I’ll rate it a 7 out of 10 batting doughnuts (you don’t rate baseball success on a scale of batting doughnuts?). Based on expectations as a long-suffering Mariners fan, though, I’d have to bump it up to an 8 out of 10.

There was every reason to expect the worst this year. Key guys getting injured. Potential stars failing to develop. Botched trades. Useless free agent signings. Listless or negative clubhouse chemistry compounded exponentially as losses mounted. The Mariners have been in some form of rebuild since plummeting back to Earth in 2004. You can say they’ve never really torn the franchise down to the studs until this time around – and I’m inclined to agree with you – but there’s also no one right way to rebuild a franchise. As it turns out, hindsight being what it is, we know that all the ways we’ve tried it over the last 16 years have been utter failures, largely due to the reasons listed at the top of this paragraph; we’ve seen it all and then some!

So, to have the relative success this team was able to achieve is pretty remarkable. For the first time in a VERY long time, there is reason for actual hope. This feels real! Not based on a mountain of lies and unsustainably-lucky performances. We finished 27-33, and even with the playoffs expanded to eight teams per league, we still failed to get there. Honestly, I think that’s great! We didn’t overachieve! Because let’s face it, the last time there was this much hype around a bad, yet-hopefully-rebuilding Mariners squad, we did overachieve (in 2007 and again in 2009) and were crushingly disappointed (in 2008 and again in 2010).

Our general managers in those eras made what now feels like panic moves, to bolster a house of cards and see if we could parlay unlikely success into a return to meaningful, post-season baseball. And, we ended up losing over 100 games in response both times, falling apart under the weight of too-high expectations.

That isn’t to say the Mariners should stand pat going into 2021; just stick to the plan. The plan all along was to strip away the rotting, dead wood, give our young prospects an opportunity to flourish, and then add on complementary, quality veterans to slingshot into the stratosphere. While a 60-game, COVID-shortened season isn’t the ideal form of development for our young guys, it’s better than nothing. And, you can argue they flourished all the same.

The M’s are in desperate need for young, cheap, homegrown stars (not necessarily draft picks or international free agent signings, but really anyone acquired to work their way through our minor league system). Kyle Seager was really the last one to stick in any sort of meaningful way, and he obviously has a ceiling to his level of production; before him you’re probably looking at King Felix. That’s NOT a lot of stars over the last 15 years, which makes the futility all the more understandable.

With the crop of youngsters we have on the team now, and the guys in the upper levels of the minors (who figure to be called up pretty early on in the 2021 season), there are a considerable number of candidates who could be stars for this team. That’s so exciting!

As a change of pace, I’m going to rank the top Mariners I’m most excited about, with a little blurb for each.

  1. Jarred Kelenic – We did it! We kept him in the minors for the entirety of the 2020 season! That buys us an extra year of club control, and if we keep him down there for the first month or so in 2021, that’ll earn us one MORE year. This is important, see, because he’s far and away the best prospect we’ve had in the organization since King Felix, the best position player prospect we’ve had since Adam Jones, and probably the best position player prospect who we’re not going to foolishly trade away since Alex Rodriguez! If it all breaks as it should, his floor should be as a perennial All Star, with his ceiling being an MVP-calibre superstar.
  2. Kyle Lewis – Our should-be Rookie of the Year, he’s really exceeded expectations both in his 2019 cup of coffee and his 2020 surge forward. Of course, in both instances, we saw some struggles; his final month of this season was a pretty collosal nightmare from a batting average perspective. But, he remained a tough out – with a resepctable on-base percentage throughout – and took a huge leap in his defense, in locking down the everyday centerfield job. You never root for someone to do poorly, of course, but I don’t think his end to the season was a bad thing. He’s not a finished product, that’s clear. That’s also really exciting, because we know what the floor is (and that’s a really good player); we have no idea what the ceiling is, though, which allows us to dream as big as we want!
  3. Evan White – On paper, his rookie season wasn’t all that good, but there are still promising signs of things to come. For starters, he’s already among the best defensive first basemen in baseball. That’s going to paper over a lot of things for someone who slashed only .179/.253/.352. Anecdotally, though, I think we all saw some good improvement with his approach at the plate. In 54 games, he hit 7 doubles and 8 homers; extrapolate that out for nearly a full season and you’re looking at a 20/20 player. As a rookie? I’ll take that. This was good, pain-free experience for a still-developing prospect; I know I’ve said this a lot over the years, but I really believe he’s only going to get better from here. When he makes contact, the ball really explodes off his bat! This isn’t a Justin Smoak/Warning Track Power sort of swing; he’s got some pop that will play at this level! He just needs to improve his eye at the plate and his contact rate; everything else will work itself out in the years ahead.
  4. Marco Gonzales – What a stud. Just an absolute horse for this team. Someone to lead a new generation of exciting pitchers both with his outstanding on-field performance and his in-clubhouse guidance. I’ll be honest, I forgot we already extended him through 2025, but now that I confirmed it (and at a pretty reasonable salary to boot), I’m even more thrilled! When the M’s originally acquired him from the Cardinals in 2017, I thought we were getting just another ho-hum, soft-tossing lefty who at best would translate to a #5 starter, but more likely fizzle out of baseball entirely. Boy am I happy to be so wrong! He has gotten better every year he’s been here, to the point where you can legitimately have him in the Cy Young conversation! I thought his 2018/2019 level of production was his peak – a 4 ERA type of guy who might give you 175-200 innings and keep you in most games – but what he was in 2020 was a legitimate … ALMOST ace. He’s so close! If he can do what he did this season over 30+ starts next year, then I’ll absolutely give him that mantle for as long as he’s still in Seattle.
  5. Mitch Haniger – Don’t think I forgot about you! You know what’s exciting? Having an All Star locked and loaded and ready to go (hopefully) in 2021. He’s still young, he’s still at the Arbitration level for two more seasons, he’s STARVING to be back on the diamond and among the greats in this league again (so you know motivation won’t be an issue), and he’s still talented in all the ways you want in a right fielder. Sure, he might be a little rusty at first, but he hasn’t irrevocably declined; he’s just had nagging, freak injuries. Injuries, mind you, that should fully heal and shouldn’t hamper his ability going forward. I’m under the assumption that – before too long – he’ll return to his 2018 level, where he was a 6-WAR type of player. This further helps matters because, while the Mariners do have a considerable glut in outfield talent, they don’t necessarily have to call them all up right away. We’ve got Haniger here to soften the blow! Also, with the DH spot up for grabs, if we do end up extending Haniger beyond 2022, he can always transition there and prolong his career that way.
  6. J.P. Crawford – Before the final series of the season – where he raised his batting average nearly 30 points in four games – I think there was a lot of consternation about Crawford’s 2020 season. To that I would say: this is the same guy who was hitting nearly .400 through July 31st; he’s streaky! In great and maddening ways! If you offered me .259/.335/.343 out of him every year, with the quality defense he plays at short stop, I think I’d take that and be happy. I don’t think anyone loves the idea of him being this team’s leadoff hitter – though, he was pretty great at working counts and looking at a lot of pitches this year – but as a bottom-of-the-order type of guy with plus-defense? Yes please! But, more importantly, he’s young enough that there’s still plenty of potential for him to get better as he gets used to playing at this level. I think he’s fine, and I’m happy to continue rooting for him.
  7. Justus Sheffield – There was a lot of concern for him as I’ve noted before, the bloom had come off the rose a little bit (even though he only just turned 24 this year). He was always going to start this season in the Majors and be given every opportunity to work his way through any growing pains. I think he came out of it wildly successful given my pre-season expectations! Six of his ten starts were of the quality variety, and I’d argue it would’ve been seven of ten had the manager left him in there longer in his final appearance of the season (there was no reason to push him, since we weren’t playing for anything, but he had plenty left in the tank). The fastball isn’t great, but his slider is phenomenal, and I thought his command improved tremendously from where it was in 2019. When we traded James Paxton to get him, we’d hoped we were getting a future ace; I don’t think that’s in the cards here. But, he can be a quality #2 or an elite #3 in a great rotation if he continues to progress.
  8. Ty France – He’s not the biggest name we got in the Austin Nola deal, but he’s the most Major League-ready bat, which is just what this team needs. The question remains: where does he belong? Is he a DH until Kyle Seager moves on? Does he take over at third base after that? Do we try to transition him over to second base? Do we shoehorn him into left field until Kelenic gets called up? Or, is he simply trade bait for someone else who has a more established defensive fit for this team? What I’m excited about is the fact that his production at the plate didn’t falter one bit in going from San Diego to Seattle. You never know what you’re going to get when you trade for someone; sometimes the transition causes them to press and try to do too much (leading to mistakes). His bat plays anywhere in the 2-6 range in the lineup – depending on who you’ve got around him – and it should continue to be productive as long as he’s here (under team control through the 2025 season).
  9. Dylan Moore – He’s your frontrunner for the starting second baseman job next year, but he too can play all over the field if you need him. This is VERY impressive for someone who appeared to be nothing more than a utility guy (at best) or a Quad-A level talent (at worst). We’ve seen TONS of Dylan Moore types who never took the next step into being an everyday starter, which is why his story is so special. He came into this season and really set all of our expectations on fire! His defense has DRASTICALLY improved since the beginning of 2019, and now his bat – particularly his power numbers – has taken that leap as well. He’s yet another diamond in the rough this team was able to pluck from obscurity who should be a valuable player on the roster, as well as a valuable trade chip if we need him to be.
  10. Tom Murphy / Luis Torrens – Let’s just lump both of our prospective catchers in here. This has long been a troubled position for the Mariners (as an organization with LOTS of trouble spots they’ve failed to properly fill over the years, that’s really saying something). It’s so reassuring that we not only have this spot 100% locked down in 2021, but for many years to come (with prospect Cal Raleigh knocking on the door of the Majors, who figures to be our regular starting catcher as soon as 2022 or 2023). Murphy, of course, spent 2020 injured, but he should return at full health (and to his quality 2019 form). This, fortunately, afforded us ample opportunity to get a good, long look at Torrens, who also came over from San Diego, and was really reliable in all facets of the catching game for the M’s.
  11. Justin Dunn – Our other big rookie starter getting a “full” season’s worth of experience didn’t have quite as promising of a year as Sheffield. He too has a rather disappointing fastball, but makes up for it with tons of movement. Which means that he didn’t give up very many hits (or even a ton of hard-hit balls), but he walked a bunch of dudes (31 in just over 45 innings). You wonder, if he is able to harness things and stay within the strike zone more, if that’ll translate to giving up more hits and extra-base hits. BUT, if he’s able to put it ALL together, he could be a really special guy. As it is, this was just a year to get his feet wet, and he did that, while staying healthy throughout. He’s worked his arm up, accounting for four quality starts out of ten, and now it’s time to take what he’s learned this year and advance things in 2021 and beyond. Once again – with Sheffield – he’ll be given every opportunity to walk out of Spring Training with a starting rotation job, which means he has a significant head start over the younger guys we’ve drafted in recent years, who are champing at the bit to make their marks in the Major Leagues.
  12. Yohan Ramirez – The bullpen was an unmitigated disaster in 2020, but Ramirez – the Rule 5 guy we got from the Cheating Astros’ organization – managed to not only stay up all year, but be probably our best overall reliever, as well as the guy most poised to be our Closer of the Future. He made 16 appearances, got 3 saves, and had the best ERA on the team (of guys who finished the season on the 25-man roster). He had 26 strikeouts in 20.2 innings, so he’s got electric stuff; but he also had 20 walks in that span, which means he’s yet to fully harness it. Bullpen is such a crapshoot, and we’ve probably got 20 guys right behind him who all have potential to be at least competent, so I don’t know if it makes a ton of sense to go crazy here. I’m just happy we came out of this season with ONE guy I like!

I could go on and on; there are a few pitchers in the minors I’m pretty excited about, but I know almost nothing about them, and I don’t know what exactly they were able to accomplish in Tacoma this year, without any real games happening (and facing the same Mariners prospects over and over). Many of them won’t be ready until 2022 at the earliest, and even the guys who are on the cusp will still likely have to start 2021 in the minors just to prove they’re ready to be called up.

But, if you just look at the guys I talked about here, 2021 looks like it could be quite fun. By midseason, Kelenic, Lewis, and Haniger could be our outfielders. Seager, Crawford, Moore, White, and Murphy/Torrens could be our infield, with Ty France as our DH (and any number of good-looking bench/utility guys behind them, like Jose Marmolejos, Sam Haggerty, Tim Lopes, and Shed Long). What do you think about this lineup?

  1. Dylan Moore (2B)
  2. Mitch Haniger (RF)
  3. Kyle Lewis (CF)
  4. Kyle Seager (3B)
  5. Ty France (DH)
  6. Evan White (1B)
  7. Jarred Kelenic (LF)
  8. Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)
  9. J.P. Crawford (SS)

Obviously, of course, Kelenic will eventually ascend toward the 2-4 range in the lineup, but as a rookie? Let’s give him a soft landing, at least until he’s worked through his inevitable struggles.

That’s a fun lineup, though, right?! Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais are already talking about the 2021 team contending for the playoffs – which is a good year (at least) earlier than most projections had us heading into this season – and that has to be a considerable reason why. Those guys can hit, defend, steal bases, get on base; everything you want! That’s a viable Major League everyday roster that can win a lot of ballgames.

On the pitching side of things, it’s a little more iffy. It sounds like we’re going to continue with a 6-man rotation, with four of the slots going to Marco, Justus Sheffield, Yusei Kikuchi, and Justin Dunn. Figure that Nick Margevicius and Ljay Newsome will compete for a fifth spot (with the other likely heading to the bullpen as a long reliever), and a sixth spot going to a free agent (maybe bring back Taijuan Walker, who was KILLING it in Toronto after we traded him; it’s a bummer that it doesn’t look like he got a chance to pitch in the playoffs, before they lost to the Rays). With all the money the Mariners have to spend, I have to imagine that whoever we sign in free agency will be of high quality. So, if you figure he’s at least on Marco’s level, that’s two high-quality starters at the top of the rotation, with two promising young guys in Sheffield & Dunn, and Kikuchi who will hopefully figure it out at some point (considering his pedigree in the Japanese league). Also, not for nothing, but Margevicius and Newsome both threw lots of strikes and consistently kept the M’s in ballgames, so I have no problem with either one of them.

It’s not a dominant rotation, but as long as guys don’t regress too bad, you can win a lot with them.

The bullpen is another matter, of course. You figure the M’s will also look to free agency here to shore it up, but I won’t be holding my breath. The variance from season to season when it comes to relievers makes them too unpredictable to project. It’s going to take a lot of luck – in finding the right guys, as well as helping our homegrown guys improve in their development – but if the Mariners somehow hit the lottery with their bullpen configuration, then 2021 could very well be the year we end the streak.

It could be the first year since 2001 that we make the post-season!

(it would also help if MLB kept the playoff format as is, with eight teams per league advancing, but that’s neither here nor there).

As I mentioned, every time I’ve left a season allowing myself to dream big about the future, the Mariners have fallen on their faces. This time DOES feel different, though. The foundation doesn’t seem like it’s being held together by 15 year old duct tape, with a leaking roof and spiders crawling all over the basement. The veterans are still in their primes, the young guys look poised to develop early, and if we can just catch a fucking BREAK for once, maybe there will be cause for real, legitimate celebration in 2021!

Or, you know, maybe everything falls apart again, the front office all gets fired after making all these promises of contention, panic moves – made in hopes to save their jobs – all bite us horrifically in the ass, and we’re left to do this all over again in another 5-10 years.

When I put it that way, when do the Seattle Kraken start playing?

In Spite Of Everything, The Mariners Have Made Things Interesting

To be fair, the Houston Cheatin’ Astros have also made things interesting (by losing more than expected), but that’s neither here nor there.

1.5 games is all that separates the Seattle Mariners from an end to the playoff drought that dates back nearly 20 years. 2001 was the last time we made the post-season, making us the most suffering franchise in all of the four biggest North American sports. I wonder if that’s changed? Like, if you ranked the top ten biggest North American sports, would we be the losingest among ALL sports?! I mean, at some point we have to be the worst, and I think I would’ve heard about an organization that’s somehow been more inept than the Mariners.

Anyway, if you thought this 60-game season was a sprint, get ready, because we’ve got 12 games between today and September 27th; 12 games to try and overtake the Astros. I don’t think we can do it, but it’s 2020: crazier things have happened.

The series against the Diamondbacks over the weekend didn’t start off as fabulously as I’d hoped, with a 4-3 defeat. Yusei Kikuchi battled his way through 6 innings, giving up all 4 runs by the third before settling down. Dylan Moore hit a solo homer in the third, Jose Marmolejos hit an RBI single in the seventh, and Ty France hit a solo homer in the eighth, but otherwise the offense just couldn’t get going and we ultimately ran out of innings.

It was doubly unfortunate because the M’s went on to win the next two games, both with a score of 7-3.

Determined to get off to a hotter start on Saturday, we were up 5-0 after the second inning. Justus Sheffield quietly dominated in this one, going 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 5 hits & 3 walks, with 7 strikeouts. Marmolejos and France both busted out multi-hit games (including homers for each), as did Luis Torrens and Phillip Ervin (sans the homers).

Sunday’s victory felt a little costly, as Justin Dunn was all over the place in his 2-inning start. He threw 66 pitches and while there was some good there (1 hit, only 1 run given up, and 5 of his 6 outs were strikeouts) the bad (5 walks) was too much to bear. The Mariners required seven pitchers in total to get through this one, which wouldn’t have been so bad if we had a scheduled off-day coming up (don’t get me wrong, we DID have one of those, but the A’s had to go and get COVID right before our previous series with them, and MLB was forced to schedule a doubleheader on Monday to help make up for it).

I didn’t have high hopes for this 2-game set yesterday. BUT, we had Marco Gonzales going for us in Game 1. If there was ever a time for one of his patented, dominating seven-inning starts, this would’ve been the one (recall all doubleheader games have been reduced to seven innings this year, which in hindsight was a brilliant call by the league, because there have been approximately one billion doubleheaders so far, across all of baseball, thanks to all the various COVID outbreaks). My hopes waned considerably once Oakland took a 5-0 lead in the fourth inning. Marco was a trooper in this one, and it looked like he might’ve had to wear an even worse outing just to save the team (because we decided to have a Bullpen Start in Game 2), however he also settled down and limited the damage to just those five runs, over a six-inning start.

Things started to get interesting in Game 1 in the bottom of the fourth. Luis Torrens hit a solo homer to make it 5-1. Then, in the fifth, Jose Marmolejos hit a solo homer, followed by a Kyle Lewis two-run home run, closing the gap to 5-4. THEN, in the sixth, Tim Lopes – recalled specifically for this doubleheader, and inserted into the starting lineup as the designated hitter – hit his third double of the game to tie it at 5-5! What followed was only slightly anticlimactic, but the bases were loaded on walks from that point on, and Kyle Lewis ended up walking in the go-ahead run to make it 6-5. From there, Yoshihisa Hirano had no trouble locking down the seventh for his second save of the season.

At that point, we were playing with house money. And, if sports gambling were legal here (or easy to come by), I had the perfect wager. The Taylor Family Farm would’ve been doubling in size if I had my way! Because there was NO way the Mariners were winning the second game of that doubleheader. Not with a Bullpen Start. Not a chance.

I was right, the Mariners lost 9-0, though it was interesting for about two innings. The A’s gave our “starter” all sorts of fits in the first, but with the bases loaded and two outs, Kyle Lewis saved our bacon (temporarily) by jumping as high as I’ve seen anyone jump to rob the other team from a Grand Slam. It was absolutely phenomenal, and gave everyone visions of a young Ken Griffey Jr. robbing a home run in one of his early seasons on the team. This kid is SPECIAL, I’m telling you, and if he’s not the Rookie of the Year this year, I’m going to be very upset.

The only way the Mariners were going to win this one is if it was one of those oddball 10-9 affairs. Instead, the offense mustered all of two hits, as the A’s starter ended up going the distance. Ehh, it happens.

Nothing changes the fact that we are, again, 1.5 games behind the Astros. Of course, I think I read somewhere that the first tiebreaker is record in head-to-head matchups, which the Mariners have already lost even though we have three more games against them. So, in reality, it’s like we’re 2.5 games behind the Astros. We can’t just tie them in record and play it out, we have to be one game better by the end of the season.

Still, no one expected that! Our over/under was 24.5 wins; we need to go 3-9 the rest of the way to hit the over! What were my thoughts on the matter heading into the season? NEVER YOU MIND!

Okay, so listen, I need to win some money and I need to win it fast. The Taylor Family Farm is once again in trouble! No, I don’t know why I do these things! Clearly, I have a problem with gambling! Just float me some cash for a week, you know I’m good for it!

Alas, The Mariners Have No More Games Against The Inept Rangers Left To Play

The Mariners finished the 10-game season set against the Rangers with an 8-2 record, thanks to the 4-game sweep over Labor Day weekend. Ever since the disasterous Rangers/Astros/Dodgers road trip where we went 2-8, the Mariners have won 11 out of 14, and were quite close to winning two more in that stretch! That brings us up to a 19-22 record, good for third in the A.L. West and, not for nothing, but also DANGEROUSLY close to actual playoff contention!

No joke, we’re closer to second place in the division (2 games) than we are fourth place (2.5 games), and don’t forget that the top two teams in every division advance to the playoffs (plus two wild card teams per conference).

Now, of course, let’s not go crazy. The Rangers are BAD. But, what I think is pretty entertaining is the fact that the Mariners … might not be bad? I’m also highly amused that we’re in the midst of a 6-game winning streak and this is mostly AFTER the Mariners made all of their trade deadline deals. Sure, losing Taijuan Walker and Austin Nola doesn’t help, but everyone else seems to be addition by subtraction. Let’s look back fondly at the last four days, before reality comes crashing down again as we head to San Francisco to play the Giants over the next couple days.

After our series against the A’s was COVID-ed out, you’d be reasonable in thinking the M’s might be a little rusty or otherwise lacking in focus. But, Yusei Kikuchi brought his lunch pail in this one, going 6 innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits (0 walks) with 7 strikeouts. It was a highly-effective performance (against, again, a bad Rangers offense). Dylan Moore, back from the IL, has been on fire; he had 2 hits in this one. Evan White also had 2 hits (including a double) and 2 walks, knocking in 2. And J.P. Crawford mashed a 3-run home run to salt this one away late. The Mariners were up 6-1 going into the ninth inning, when the Rangers made it marginally interesting, but they still lost by three runs.

The quality pitching continued for the Mariners on Saturday, as Justus Sheffield went 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits & 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts. Dylan Moore had another hit in this one. Newcomer Ty France has had a solid start to his Mariners career, with two hits of his own (he has 4 hits and 4 RBI since coming over in the trade with San Diego). There were lots of clutch hits up and down the lineup, though, as the M’s were 5 for 12 with runners in scoring position. Also of note is that Yohan Ramirez notched his second save of his young Major League career, locking down a 5-3 victory.

Justin Dunn couldn’t let the Quality Start train fall off the tracks; on Sunday he managed 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks, with 4 strikeouts, after really struggling through the first two innings. This was a game where the offense did just enough in nailing a 4-3 win. Kyle Seager led the way with 2 hits (including a 2-run home run in the first), and Kyle Lewis had a solo bomb. Kendall Graveman made his second appearance of the weekend in this one, since returning from the IL. He’ll be a bullpen guy the rest of the way due to a neck injury that’s preventing him from getting deep into games. He also just might be a bullpen guy forever, because he seems perfectly suited for this role. He can touch 99 miles per hour with his fastball, he has tons of movement on his pitches, and he’s an unflappable veteran who should be good in these pressure-packed moments. Honestly, I’d love to see him as our 7th or 8th inning guy exclusively next year.

Finally, on Labor Day, Marco Gonzales continues to be master of his domain (I’m using that phrase correctly, right? He doesn’t jack off?). He’s also a really great baseball pitcher! 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits (0 walks) with 7 strikeouts. He is just a marvel to watch out there. I figured he could turn himself into a decent #3 or MAYBE a #2 if he really worked at his craft, but he is legitimately a borderline ace right now. At this point, I’m surprised when he’s NOT going at least 7 innings and giving up 2 runs or less. Certainly, in three of his last four starts, he’s gone 23 innings and given up just 4 runs. His ERA now sits at 3.02 and he’s worked his way up to a 5-2 record on the season. The only blemish in this 8-4 victory came in the ninth inning, when Aaron Fletcher was handed a soft landing of sorts with a 6-run lead. He got one out while giving up a run and leaving the bases loaded. Yohan Ramirez had to enter in this improbable save-situation and try not to give up the farm. He got a quick out on a sacrifice fly, walked the bases loaded again, but got the final batter to foul out to end it, picking up his third career save in the process. Big moment for the kid!

Look, I know it’s dumb to dream of the playoffs now, especially when the Astros still get to play the Rangers a whopping seven times, but I just think it’s remarkable that we’re in this position at all. The starting pitching – particularly from the younger guys, but really across the board – has been better than I ever could’ve imagined. The bullpen has been a struggle to watch, but I would argue our very worst offenders (save Aaron Fletcher, for now) are off the team and out of the organization entirely.

What has obviously impressed me the most has been the hitting. The everyday players. Kyle Lewis has cooled off considerably since his red-hot start, but he’s still finding ways to contribute and should be a leading Rookie of the Year candidate. Kyle Seager has been flat-out fun to watch! He’s the kind of guy you love to have leading a new crop of youngsters, as he goes about his business the way you hope EVERY player on your team would. J.P. Crawford is still streaky as all get-out, and hasn’t quite mastered the power element of his bat, but his ability to get on base hasn’t wavered all year; with his defensive ability up the middle, I’ll take it. Evan White is still digging himself out of a pretty deep hole to start his Major League career, but he’s been MUCH improved over the last 2-3 weeks. He doesn’t look lost at the plate, and his power is insane when he’s able to connect.

The real fun has come from the fringes. Austin Nola obviously turned himself into an All Star and was traded for a bounty. Dylan Moore appears to be right on his tail, hitting .293/.369/.565 with 7 doubles and 6 homers; that’s supposed to be your utility outfielder! He was this scrawny-looking Quad-A guy last year who was barely hitting over .200 across 113 games! Then, there was Sam Haggerty (before he just went on the IL), who came out of nowhere to hit like a maniac. And even Jose Marmolejos has been red-hot since being called back up from the minors! His defense isn’t any sort of sight to behold, but he’s more than making up for it with his power bat!

The point is, I expected the offense to struggle a lot more than they have this year. Of course, there’s still about three weeks left to go, so anything can happen.

Counterpoint: there’s still about three weeks left to go, so anything can happen! We have ten games against National League opponents (who don’t get to see us too often, and therefore aren’t used to beating up on us like the American League has). We have three games – at home – against the Astros (our rivals for one of those playoff spots), and six games against the A’s (who are leading the division at the moment, but are long overdue for a cool-off period).

If the Mariners are worthy of making the playoffs, they’ll figure out how to overcome this two-game deficit. If they’re not, then it wasn’t meant to be. Either way, it won’t change my excitement level for 2021 one iota. Better days are ahead, my friends! I can feel it!

The Mariners Split With The Angels The Hard Way

Well, the good news is: we never have to play the Angels again in 2020.

There is no bad news.

It’s not all that dire, actually; I just don’t like them very much. The Mariners split the weekend 4-game series, and they split the 10-game season series; considering seven of those games were down in Anaheim (because MLB’s scheduling is dumb), that’s actually kind of impressive (of course, considering the Angels might be even worse than the Mariners, that’s also whatever the opposite of “impressive” is; Google says “unimpressive” might be the word I’m looking for there).

Game 1 of this series was pretty rough on the ol’ offense. Nick Margevicius spun another relative gem – 6 innings, 2 runs – but the bullpen gave up a late solo homer to Guess Who* and our ninth inning comeback fell one run short. Seager and Crawford had doubles in this one; Lopes and Swingin’ Sam Haggerty had the RBI.

* – Mike Trout, of course

Game 2 was a miserable affair I was more than happy to have missed (winning all of $10 playing poker against my family). A 16-3 laugher where Justus Sheffield didn’t quite have it (4.2 innings, 6 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks, with 6 strikeouts) and Tim Lopes got to pitch an inning of mop-up duty. Shed Long hit a homer – to prove he doesn’t JUST make outs all the time – and Austin Nola got his last walk in a Mariners uniform.

Games 3 and 4 were a couple of thrilling 2-1 victories for the good guys! I truly loved every minute of these!

Justin Dunn (in Game 3) followed up his 6 innings of 1-hit, 0-run ball by producing yet another line of 6 innings of 1-hit, 0-run ball! This time with 3 extra walks, but with the same 6 strikeouts! Kyle Lewis provided a solo homer in the top of the seventh to put Dunn in line for another win, but that was immediately coughed back up by the bullpen. The score stayed that way into the top of the 10th inning, when Tim Lopes hit automatic baserunner Kyle Lewis in from second base to take the lead, which Yohan Ramirez locked down for his first career Major League save.

I’ll admit, I’m not really a fan of starting a guy off at second base when we get to extra innings, but it’s new and different, so that makes it interesting (at least for now). At some point, I feel like that novelty is going to wear off and it’s going to stop feeling like legitimate baseball. You should need more than a bloop single to win an extra-innings game. I dunno, maybe that’s just a sign I’m getting old. You kids today with your “participation trophies” and your “baseball games that no longer go 18 innings once in a blue moon”.

Game 4 might’ve been my absolute favorite game of the season. Marco Gonzales had a complete game 4-hitter, with 1 walk and 8 strikeouts! He was absolutely marvelous! There were a couple of unlucky, broken-bat singles in the ninth inning to make it interesting, but then Guess Who* came to bat nursing a 3-strikeout game. He promptly hit a line drive right at Kyle Seager, who was able to double off the runner at second base for two outs. From there, the game was well in hand. He only needed 102 pitches in this gem! GOD I MISS COMPLETE GAMES!

Jose Marmolejos continued his red hot road trip with the go-ahead homer in the sixth inning; prior to that, Joe Odom (current starting catcher until the guy from the Padres gets cleared to play) knocked in Jake Fraley to get the scoring started for the Mariners.

The Mariners currently sit 15-22 and in third place in the A.L. West (VERY comfortably behind the top two teams). That record is good for 8th in the draft order for next season. On the one hand, getting swept by the Angels would’ve put us in the driver’s seat for one of the top draft spots, but on the other hand: how embarrassing that would’ve been!

In COVID news, I guess someone on the Athletics caught it? So, that means at least the first two games of the 3-game set that would’ve started tonight are postponed. If everything looks good, maybe we get a doubleheader in on Thursday. It’s pretty convenient that this is a homestand for the Mariners, so at least they can enjoy the break in the comfort of their own homes. The downside is, this is the last time Oakland was scheduled to come to Seattle, so if they’re ever going to make up that third game, they’ll have to do it on one of the teams’ mutual off-days in September:

  • Could be Monday the 14th; Seattle will return home the day before, though Oakland would have to hop from Texas (on Sunday) to Seattle (Monday) to play in Colorado on Tuesday
  • Could be Thursday the 17th; Seattle has a rare mid-homestand off-day, while Oakland would tack an extra day to their Texas/Colorado road trip before returning to Oakland for their game on Friday
  • Otherwise, MLB could unfairly add to the three games in Oakland the Mariners are set to play to close out the season, but I don’t think that’s very likely.

Here’s to hoping – for the teams’ sakes – that they’re able to at least get one of these games played on Thursday of this week. But, you know, better to be safe than sorry and all that.

These Damn-Fool Mariners Almost Swept The Padres Too!

Everything about this series was impressive, even the defeat!

After a harrowing stretch where the Mariners went 1-8, we damn near went 6-0; a funny thing for a terrible team to do when I’m over here talking about draft positioning in 2021.

We kicked things off on Tuesday with a rather satisfying 8-3 victory. Marco Gonzales wasn’t the sharpest I’ve ever seen, but he battled through five innings, giving up three runs on nine hits. Thankfully, the bullpen was able to shut it down from there.

The offense jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Marco gave up his runs to make things tight in the third inning. From there, though, the M’s were able to play add-on in the sixth and seventh innings to put it away. Austin Nola had three hits (including a homer), Evan White added three hits, and J.P. Crawford had a double and a homer to turn things around after a little slump. This was a fairly impressive victory against a really hot Padres team.

Then, on Wednesday, the Mariners decided to participate in the rash of pro sports boycotts this week over the latest high-profile police shooting (kind of sad that’s a sentence that gets to be written, but there you go). I’m dubious that Wednesday will be a day that goes down in history – as some people are writing – but I’m supportive of what they did anyway. It’s better than doing nothing, than ignoring the issue and hoping it goes away. I don’t know how much good it’ll end up doing in the grand scheme of things, but if it gets people talking and gets people focused on something important, I’m for it. I do think it would’ve been interesting – as someone on Twitter pointed out – what the reaction would’ve been if there were paying fans in the stands when these boycotts/walkouts happened. It’s one thing to postpone a game in an empty stadium/arena that will just be made up at a later date; it’s another for the franchises to have to issue refunds and to be face-to-face with thousands of potentially-angry fans who might not care about social issues when they’re trying to experience a ballgame.

Anyway, this meant that on Thursday, we got to experience our first doubleheader of the 2020 season! The COVID rules dictate that all doubleheaders are 7-inning affairs, which I don’t know why, but it tickles me to my core. My friend brought up a good point: in fantasy baseball, if you throw a 7-inning complete game shutout, does that count towards your CG/SHO stats? I’m sure it does, which is such delightful fantasy chaos I can’t even stand it! Of course, there wasn’t any worry about the Mariners doing that, so let’s hop to it.

In the first game, Taijuan Walker was supposed to start, but, well, you know … so instead Ljay Newsome was given the opportunity, and I’d say he made the most of it! You might recall he made his Major League debut against the Dodgers and spun three innings of relative gold against a pretty potent lineup. I would argue the Padres have just-as-potent of a lineup, and what do you know? More relative gold! 4 innings, 1 run on 3 hits and 0 walks, with 4 strikeouts. Work ended up distracting me from most of his outing, but I like what I hear about him so far anyway! He only threw 60 pitches, which leads me to believe the organization is still trying to build up his arm strength, on top of showing an abundance of caution for a guy who might be a legitimate member of this pitching staff (in some capacity) for many years to come.

After three shutout innings by both sides, the Mariners put a 3-spot on the board in the fourth inning. Evan White apparently strained his shoulder while diving for a ball earlier in the game and had to be pulled after his at-bat in the second inning. Jose Marmolejos – who was recently called up for this road trip – took over at first base and in his first AB crushed a 2-run homer the opposite way. Shed Long followed shortly after that with an RBI single to give the M’s a nice little cushion … that was wiped away completely in the bottom of the sixth thanks to Matt Magill.

Undaunted, the Mariners came out in the top of the seventh – the final inning of the game, remember – with a 4-run explosion! It was honestly one of the more impressive offensive displays I’ve seen out of this team! Sam Haggerty is a kid I’m liking more and more every time I see him; he got it started with an infield RBI single. Kyle Lewis followed with another infield RBI single, then Kyle Seager did the same damn thing! Austin Nola’s sacrifice fly made it 7-3 and gave us all the feeling that the game was put to bed.

Then, in walked Taylor Williams. The Taylor Williams Experience isn’t quite as entertaining as the Fernando Rodney Experience, but he’s just as much of a terrifying rollercoaster every time he steps on the mound! This was one of the more impressive blow-ups I’ve ever seen.

The TWE started off with two relatively quick outs! That’s part of what’s so insane about all of this. With a 4-run lead, the Padres were down to their final out of the game, and then things totally unravelled. A hit batter. A walk. A wild pitch. Another walk to load the bases. A single to score two. A passed ball to advance the runners. Another wild pitch to score one. A single to tie the game.

That last single was TWE’s 29th pitch of the inning, and here’s where things get interesting. Part of me expected – with a second game coming up in just minutes after the first – that Scott Servais would stick with TWE to at least close out the inning, lose or tie. If he gets the final out of the inning, then we’re going to extras regardless, and there are only so many bullpen guys to go around (on top of which, Yusei Kikuchi was to start the second game, and there’s no telling with him how many innings he’ll go in any given start). Instead, Servais made the curious choice to insert Dan Altavilla, Resident Buffed-Up Punching Bag. I’m a firm believer that neither Altavilla nor TWE will be part of the next Great Mariners Team if-and-when we ever see it come to fruition, but using both of these guys in such high-leverage situations – when they’ve proven time and again to be dangerous out there, if not outright inept – can only mean the team is (smartly) intentionally tanking as much as possible (without making it LOOK like they’re tanking) to get that higher draft pick that I keep harping on.

Call me crazy! I know it sounds like those Flat Earth people who say that Australia isn’t a real place that exists, but I’m just saying that it’s AWFULLY fishy that Altavilla – of ALL people – is brought in to try and preserve the tie. Of course, he promptly gave up a single, followed by a 3-run home run, to allow the Padres to walk it off. Seven innings scored in total, to give them the 10-7 victory. Incredible!

Game Two kicked off, I dunno, 30-60 minutes later? I was reading a short story when the Mariners put up a whopping SIX runs in the top of the first; out of sight/out of mind indeed! Who was in the middle of it all? Jose Marmolejos! With a GRAND SLAM! Are you kidding?! I don’t know if the team expected him to play at all on this road trip – I think he was mostly here just as insurance – and yet he enters in the middle of game one and manages to hit a homer in each game of a doubleheader! This is, apparently, why we have insurance; who knew?!

Staked to such a seemingly-insurmountable lead, Yusei Kikuchi went out there and was fine. Like Marco earlier in the week, he went 5 innings, giving up 3 runs (on 7 hits and 0 walks), with 6 strikeouts. He threw only 81 pitches, and never seemed to be in any huge jams, so it was curious to not try to squeeze one more inning out of him (especially when the bullpen had just done what it did earlier in the day), but again *Guy Tapping Head Meme* Scott Servais knows you can’t have your bullpen blow a save if you don’t go to your bullpen!

With a 6-3 lead at our disposal, we went with Aaron Fletcher in the bottom of the sixth. In just his third Major League appearance, he REALLY looked like he was going to oblige in blowing this game! A walk, a walk, a strikeout (SEVERELY aided by the umpire not knowing what a “strike zone” was), and a single loaded the bases before Servais had no choice but to pull him in favor of Joey Gerber (you know, to keep up appearances … *WINK*). Gerber has been mostly great in his first season in the Majors; if I were a manager who was trying to actually win games, I might’ve considered using him over Altavilla in Game One, for instance, as he’s been pretty reliable. Anyway, depending on where your interests lie, he either DID or DIDN’T disappoint, when he threw one pitch and managed to get a double play to get out of the inning without giving up any runs.

From there, the M’s added two more runs to their ledger, thanks to yet another clutch Sam Haggerty RBI (a double this time, giving him two hits in the game and three hits on the day), followed by another clutch Austin Nola RBI (a single this time, which was his lone hit of the game – though he had two walks – but his second hit on the day – in addition to his third walk earlier). Veteran reliever Yoshihisa Hirano closed this 8-3 victory out without too much trouble, giving the Mariners quite an impressive series win (that was, again, one out away from a series sweep).

And guess what! Now, we go to Anaheim to play the last place Angels for four games! Not only are the Angels last in the A.L. West – with a 10-22 record – but they’ve got the very worst record in all of Major League Baseball! Unbelievable, right?

At 13-20, the Mariners currently hold the seventh draft pick (based on winning percentage), which is kinda crazy. There are also five teams with a worse run differential than our -31. We could easily explain-away the sweep against the Rangers as them just being terrible. But, this Padres series was a little eye-opening. Truth be told, I know I’m all about that high draft pick, but THIS is actually what we wanted to see from the 2020 Mariners. Start off in a huge hole, but over time, everyone (especially the young guys) gets better until this team starts to look somewhat competent out there. THEN, you parlay that into further improvement in 2021, with maybe a hot finish putting us in or near playoff contention, just in time for this team to truly be great in 2022 and beyond.

It would, of course, be idiotic for us to get our hopes up for this 2020 team, with just a month left to play. But, you know, talk to me in four days when we sweep the Angels and are sitting at a quite-respectable 17-20. At that point, I might just be dumb enough to believe anything!

Look, Guys, The Mariners Are Who We Thought They Were

I’ll tell you this much, the Angels aren’t good either! They might make the playoffs, since just about everyone will be in the hunt by the end of this crazy season. But, from what I’ve seen so far, I’m not impressed.

Justin Dunn didn’t have a good outing in the opener to this series, and I’m starting to wonder why he’s so highly regarded as a prospect. His fastball isn’t all that fast, he doesn’t appear to have command of any of his pitches, and while he’s got a lot of movement to them, not knowing where they’re going to end up is KIND OF a problem. With so-so stuff, you’d think the team is rushing along someone who could at least throw strikes on a regular basis, but that doesn’t appear to be in his repertoire. I’m not flushing him down the toilet just yet, but I think it’s time to SEVERELY downgrade my expectations on this kid. It’s fine, there are better prospects (hopefully) coming down the pike.

Anyway, he gave up a 3-spot in the first inning of this start. The fact that he managed to go three additional innings of shutout ball is irrelevant to me, as I don’t remember him really looking much more than competent in any of them. But, we didn’t really get much out of our hitting in this one either. Austin Nola had a couple of RBIs on two hits, Kyle Lewis added a double to his pile, and Dylan Moore hit a homer, but a 5-3 loss is a 5-3 loss.

The M’s won the second game of this series behind another strong start from Marco Gonzales. 7 innings of 3-run ball is something I will take every single time! The bullpen, of course, tried their damnedest to gag this one away – giving up 3 more runs in the 8th – but we shut it down in the 9th to preserve a 7-6 victory. Nola had 2 more doubles, Kyle Seager hit his 200th career home run, and Dylan Moore and Kyle Lewis each had multiple hits to breathe life into things.

I fully expected the Mariners to take this series in the rubber match, but Taijuan Walker had other ideas. After a masterful start last week, he tossed quite the clunker here. 3.2 innings of 4-run ball where he pretty much labored throughout. The bullpen did an okay job of limiting the damage, but this was a no-go from the get-go. Dylan Bundy of the Angels tossed a complete game, giving up just a solo home run to Daniel Vogelbach for his first dinger of the season. The offense was ice cold in this one, which is certainly to be expected out of a group this young; you’re going to see games like this (honestly, I would’ve expected them to be a more regular occurrence than what we’ve seen to this point; but, the season IS young).

That drops the Mariners to 5-9, leaving us in fourth place in the division, with the red-hot Rockies coming to town for a weekend series. This … might get ugly.

I’m still quite pleased with Kyle Lewis’ Rookie of the Year campaign. The resurgence of Kyle Seager has been really fun to watch as well. And, Dylan Moore’s six extra-base hits in nine games has been a revelation! Austin Nola has been a real find these last couple of seasons; he looks like a very good Major Leaguer that we plucked out of nowhere. I’m still cautiously optimistic with J.P. Crawford’s start, and I’m reserving judgment for now on Shed Long. It would be fun to see Vogey mash some more home runs, but otherwise I don’t know if he’s long for a Mariners uniform. Evan White’s defense is predictably laudable, but the offense has been a MASSIVE struggle through a couple weeks. That’ll pick up, but it might be a long rookie season for the kid.

I’ve been shitting on the bullpen all year, but there are some good-looking guys who should be commended. Joey Gerber was just called up and has looked great in his two appearances! Yohan Ramirez was a Rule 5 guy we claimed from the Astros and while rough, he looks very promising. Carl Edwards is a veteran, but he got the save in that Angels series and seems to be reliable. Taylor Guilbeau has only given up one run in three innings of work as a lefty. And Matt Magill – another veteran – might be having the best go of it out of the bullpen with four shutout innings of work (and looking much less wild than Ramirez in doing so).

So, you know, that’s something anyway. In roster news, the aforementioned Bryan Shaw was sent down to Tacoma, presumably to work on some … everything. And Summer Camp darling Jose Marmolejos was also sent down to bring the Major League roster to 28 players. He was pretty overwhelmed at the plate – and a walking herd of cats in the outfield – so this is for the best for him and the team. In better news, thanks to all of these idiot MLB teams contracting so much COVID, 28 is the set roster minimum for teams the rest of the season. We were set to have to reduce it to 26 in a couple weeks, but no longer. So, thanks Marlins! Dozens of players will earn Major League checks because of your incompetence!

The Mariners Won A Series!

No no no, not a World Series. Just a series. It’s fine, we’re keeping expectations REAL low around here.

I don’t like the Angels. I think they peaked with Angels in the Outfield and they’ve been going downhill ever since! I might still hate the A’s the most, and obviously the Astros came from out of nowhere seven years ago to join the American League and torment my very soul, but there’s something so distasteful about the Angels and I can’t put my finger on it.

Maybe it’s because I should hate them MORE? Because they’re from the Los Angeles area (to be fair, Anaheim IS a city in its own right, and where they actually play all of their home games, which is why I refuse to call them the L.A. Angels), have a buttload of money to throw around, have the best player in the game, yet still find ways to be mediocre (and even then, in their mediocrity, still manage to make the lives of Mariners fans a living hell). I dunno! All I know is that I really don’t like them, I relish when they fail, and I take a personal interest in them failing to the Seattle Mariners.

This week, the Angels lost two of three to one of the very worst teams (on paper) in the Major Leagues, and while I COULD be happier … I’m still pretty gosh darn happy!

As expected, we didn’t get a lot out of the rookie starting pitchers.

  • Justus Sheffield: 3 innings, 4 runs
  • Justin Dunn: 3 innings, 3 runs, 2 earned

Sheffield looked so-so through two scoreless innings before things started to unravel. I didn’t LOVE the lack of life on his fastball (it seemed to sit in the low-90’s, I’d like to see that anywhere from 95-98 if possible). He didn’t seem to have the worst command I’ve ever seen, but it was clear he was battling. In that sense, I was proud he made it through the third only giving up two runs. All things considered, I might’ve been tempted to not send him out to start the fourth inning (which he did, not registering an out while giving up two more baserunners who would go on to score when the next batter knocked one out of the park against our reliever), but with the first four games all being heavily reliant on our bullpen, I can see why we tried to get a little more out of our starter. This game was, nevertheless, a tough one to watch, as the Mariners lost 10-2.

Apparently there was some sort of fourth inning hex put upon our pitching staff through the first turn of the rotation, because Justin Dunn was cruising through three innings before starting to come apart! Thankfully, the bats came alive in this one. The Angels led 4-1 before the Mariners started doing some damage with a 5-spot in the sixth (punctuated by Dylan Moore’s 3-run homer; WELCOME TO THE PARTY, PAL!). The Angels re-took the lead in the bottom half, 7-6, before the Mariners piled ’em back on with three more runs over the next two innings to win it 10-7.

The story of the rubber match was Marco Gonzales bringing his A-game. He went 6.1 innings, giving up 2 unearned runs on 3 hits, 1 walk, and 1 error by our second baseman. Jose Marmolejos jacked a 3-run homer in the first, and the Mariners didn’t score again until adding five insurance runs in the top of the ninth. Which we apparently needed desperately! A 3-2 lead (which is what we would’ve had) could’ve been disasterous, as Dan Altavilla gave up three runs in the ninth. Crisis was averted, though, and the good guys won 8-5.

Just about all the young guys you want to see succeed are doing just that through the first week of the season. Kyle Lewis continues to rake, leading the team in hits, batting average, homers, total bases, and RBI. J.P. Crawford has come on strong, leading the team in on-base percentage and is still hitting the ball hard. Tim Lopes and to a lesser extent Dylan Moore (in just two games, both against the Angels) have impressed as guys we penciled in as reserves. Shed Long looks more and more comfortable in the leadoff spot every time I see him. The best thing is that no one really seems to be overwhelmed. As the youngest team in baseball, you’d expect guys to be playing tentatively, but for the most part they seem like they have good plans when they’re at the plate.

Now that we’re one full turn through the rotation, I would expect the starters to start (!) pitching better. Marco getting into the seventh inning was absolutely necessary; here’s hoping at least the rest of the veterans can do the same. That will take a load off of this bullpen that’s had to work overtime keeping this pitching staff afloat.

The Mariners are 3-4, heading home for the first time. That’s about as good as any of us could have expected. Not for nothing, but that’s only 0.5 games behind the first place A’s and Astros! And would you look at that, the A’s are in town for four games! How about it?

Let’s just hope there’s still baseball to be played by Monday. I’m already hearing a number of games have been or are being canceled due to COVID-19. That … is not ideal.