Mariners Fire Sale! Everything Must Go!

I’ve had sort of mixed emotions about the first two big deals on this list (that I linked to, if you want to read about my feelings).  I think they were definitely necessary moves the Mariners needed to make, to shake things up and boost our farm system, but ultimately I wonder if we got enough back in return.  A starting catcher (who’s also a defensive wizard) for a centerfielder who probably won’t be here for more than a year or two before we get tired of yet another slap-hitting singles artist FEELS like pennies on the dollar.  Then, giving up a potential Ace starting pitcher for a mixed bag of minor league talent – again, while bolstering our terrible minor league teams – FEELS like yet more pennies on the dollar.  Now, of course, both of those guys (all three, if you want to include Heredia) come with their own risks.  Paxton and his injury issues, and Zunino with his woeful hitting issues, could submarine their respective new teams.  Or, they could figure it out/catch a little luck, and be superstars we gave up on too soon.

Before we get to the next slate of deals, I’ll talk about the minor moves the M’s made.  For starters, it seems odd that we’d dump Herrmann when we were already looking to trade Zunino, and the fact that the Astros made a play on him is doubly concerning.  In the end, probably no big thing, and he’s probably not a guy you’d want to guarantee a 40-man roster spot at this point in his career, so whatever.

Not going to arbitration on either Erasmo or Nick Vincent is probably a net gain.  I’m on the record as not having a whole lot of belief in Erasmo.  I think, for what he brings, he shouldn’t cost you very much in salary, so if he gets that elsewhere, more power to him.  And, while I like Vincent as much as the next guy, he was due a significant raise, and given his age and his declining abilities in 2018, that’s money poorly spent for the direction this team is going in.  I’m okay without either of them going forward, as I particularly think Vincent’s best days are behind him, and he’s going to get WAY too much money from another team.

The M’s offered Elias arbitration, and I think that’s cool, but I would’ve been cool if we didn’t as well.  I don’t think he’s in the longterm plans, but you do need to fill out a 25-man roster.  As a reliever/swing starter, there’s some value there.  He was good in 2018, and it’s just as likely he’ll be terrible in 2019, in which case that helps us on our quest to get a higher draft pick.

Finally, Casey Lawrence asked for his release so he can go pitch overseas.  I wish him the best, but again, no great loss.  He was mostly AAA fodder with occasional underwhelming call-ups.

***

Okay, now to the big deals!  Let’s start with the appetizer.

There was all this talk about the above-referenced blockbuster deal with the Mets, but before we were finished obsessing over that one, Jerry Dipoto snuck in a sneaky-good deal with the White Sox.  Alex Colome was another guy with some value who was not in our longterm plans.  He’s still got closing ability, he did pretty okay in 2018, so that value was probably not going up considerably.  Better to strike now rather than at midseason, when he could suck (or get injured) in the first half and see his value drop to zero.

On top of that, we get a starting-calibre catcher in return!  Omar “Don’t Call Me Navarez” Narvaez is a bat-first, lefty-hitting catcher who can take a walk and hit for a decent average.  He lacks Zunino’s power, but he’s improved in that area over the last year.  Where he stinks, unfortunately, is every aspect of his defense, as he rates as one of the very worst in the league.  Pitch-framing, throwing out runners, blocking pitches in the dirt, you name it, he sucks at it.  So, that’s going to be a drastic change of pace.  He’s essentially the Anti-Zunino, so if you REALLY hated Zunino, you’re REALLY gonna love this guy.

We’ll see if he can pick it up defensively, but I feel like that’s something you either have or you don’t, and you don’t really develop it if you lack it in the first place.  I hope I’m wrong, but I feel like he’s NOT the Catcher of the Future, not unless we find more pitchers who are able to miss more bats (without diving balls between and betwixt his legs).

Regardless, if you can get a starting catcher with multiple years of team control for a reliever on the final year of his contract, that’s a deal you make 10 times out of 10.

So, that solves the Zunino-sized hole at our catcher spot.

***

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s dig into the main course:  the Mets deal.

Robinson Cano has 5 years and $120 million left on his deal.  He’s old, but he’s still pretty effective; if I had to guess I’d say he has at least 2-3 more years left playing at his current level of productivity.  There’s always the chance that he’ll start his decline sooner rather than later – particularly on defense – but he’s too naturally talented to be a total black hole at the plate.  That having been said, as his legs go, it’ll end up being either singles, homers, or strikeouts, so unless he beefs up his homer totals, I can’t see him hitting a significant number of doubles from here on out.  With Nelson Cruz seemingly out of the picture, it looked like Cano was a natural to start to transition to his eventual destination as this team’s primary DH.  But, the M’s obviously had other plans.

So, what changed in a year?  Obviously, the PED suspension.  I’m trying to get a handle on if it’s a concern of a second suspension (and a yearlong ban), or if it’s just his attitude/personality and how it might clash with the new/younger direction this team is looking to make.  He’s obviously a big character on this team, and commands a lot of respect wherever he goes, and maybe the Mariners just want the players to learn from a different voice.  I mean, Cano is an All Star, so you can obviously learn a ton from a guy who built himself up from nothing.  But, there are the usual concerns about his hussle and his passion for the game.  I dunno.  I don’t know if we’ll ever get the real dirt about why the Mariners wanted out from under this deal.  I would assume the concern lies in the fact that he probably NEEDS the PEDs to keep up with his usual All Star level, and without them, his decline will start earlier.

With the $24 million per year contract, we obviously were never going to trade him by himself.  Unfortunately, the only real carrot we could dangle to get him out of here was our all-world closer Edwin Diaz.

I’ve been on record from the very beginning as saying this team should deal Diaz, and if I had it my way, we would’ve traded JUST him to the highest bidder, and gotten a REAL prospect windfall in return.  Honestly, I don’t believe he has it in him to stay at that level for very long.  I think with the way he throws the ball, he’s destined to sustain a serious arm injury, maybe even as soon as 2019.  It wouldn’t shock me in the SLIGHTEST to see him tear something and be out for a year.  I think, regardless of whether he injures his arm or not, he’s destined to lose velo on his fastball sooner rather than later – certainly well before he’s set to hit free agency – and with that I think his value as a closer will plummet.  This is, without question, Edwin Diaz at the peak of his value, and we were never going to have a better opportunity to replenish our minor leagues.

If it were up to me, and the Mariners are just hellbent on ridding this culture of Robinson Cano, then I would’ve just cut him and paid him his remaining salary, while trading Diaz for the highest bounty possible.  But, obviously, it’s not my money, so that’s easy for me to say.

That scenario just isn’t realistic.  I don’t see the harm in forcing him to exclusively DH (while maybe spot starting at second in an emergency), and riding out the remaining years of his contract.  Was he really so poisonous to this culture?  Would his presence alone have set us back so much?

Now, obviously, there’s the fringe benefit of making the Mariners worse by getting rid of him now.  Like I said, Cano can still play, and I bet he’ll be pretty solid for the Mets in 2019.  If our goal is to bottom out, then obviously you don’t want a guy in your lineup doing POSITIVE things like hitting for a high average, lots of extra-base hits, and lots of RBI.  So, that’s something.

In return, we take on some high-priced/low-performing contracts from the Mets.  Jay Bruce is set to earn $26 million over the next two years.  He’s a corner outfielder and I can’t imagine his defense is worth a damn.  Maybe he starts in left; maybe he platoons with Gamel (though, they both bat lefty, so that seems unlikely); maybe the M’s find a way to flip him to another team!  He was okay in 2017, but really had a bad 2018.  He does have some pop in his bat, and he’ll be 32 next year, so maybe we run him out as the DH?  Feels like the best way to preserve his legs and keep him away from anything related to defense.

Anthony Swarzak is on the hook for $8 million in 2019; he’s a veteran reliever who also had a good 2017, then bottomed out in 2018.

If we just talk about money, that’s $21 million for Bruce & Swarzak in 2019, and $13 for Bruce in 2020; that totals $34 million out of Cano’s remaining $120 million.  On top of that, the M’s chipped in an extra $20 million, meaning we ended up saving a total of $66 million going forward (not counting the remaining guys in the deal).  That’s not an insignificant number, especially when you hope that by the time 2021 rolls around, this team will be in a position to contend again.  That’s just the time when Cano should start to suck and Diaz should be recovering from a shoulder surgery!

As for the prospects, your guess is as good as mine.  Kelenic was the 6th overall selection in the 2018 draft.  He’s an 18-year old outfielder with all the tools; he just needs to develop them.  He would be the prize of this deal.  Again, if you can trade a reliever for a starting-calibre outfielder, you make that trade 10 times out of 10.  The question is:  do you trust this organization to develop him the right way?

Dunn is a 19th overall draft pick from 2016 and was the Mets’ highest pitching prospect.  He was in AA last year, so he appears to be on the right track.

Bautista is a reliever who can apparently throw 100 miles per hour.  Obviously, he has command problems, but we have a couple years to work out those kinks before hopefully he’ll stick in our Major League bullpen (or get flipped for still more prospects, if the ol’ rebuild hasn’t gone according to plan).

For what the Mariners were trying to do – acquire top-flight prospects while shedding some money and ridding the clubhouse of a possible cancer – this is probably as good as it gets.  If the outfielder pans out, it’s a terrific deal.  If he doesn’t, and the starter converts to relief, and the reliever flames out, then this could’ve busted SUPER HARD.

***

And, for dessert, I bring you the Jean Segura deal.

This one … REALLY makes me mad.  For starters, we traded for him prior to 2017 in what was at the time a CLEAR victory for the Mariners.  For Taijuan Walker (who doesn’t look like he’ll come close to being the ace we thought he could be), we got an All Star short stop and an All Star outfielder in the primes of their careers.  He started off strong in 2017, so we signed him MID-SEASON to a 5-year extension when we could’ve easily let him play it out through 2018 and seen what we had in him.

But, we liked him enough, so fine, 5-year extension.  He was officially part of our future.  And they didn’t realize until halfway through 2018 that he’s a headcase???  That he’s kind of soft and kind of a clubhouse cancer and we’re now bound and determined to do whatever it takes to be rid of him?

Look, I get the spirit of the rebuild, I really do!  But, this is an All Star player – particularly with the bat – on a very REASONABLE contract; he should be worth more than this!

Segura is due $14.25 million per year for the next 4 years.  In that time, he’ll almost certainly be worth that figure, if not be an outright bargain.  But, whatever, we save that money and we ostensibly get worse at the short stop position in 2019 (again, so we can tank and get that higher draft pick).  Then, there’s Juan Nicasio’s $9 million for 2019.  He, of course, sucked a fat one in 2018, but that could obviously flip entirely the very next year, because that’s how it is with relievers; randomness abounds!  Nevertheless, that’s a lot for an 8th inning reliever who may or may not be finished.  James Pazos has a nothing salary, which is most galling, because he’s both young and good!  Why couldn’t HE fetch a pretty penny on the open market?  Why the need to throw him into the mix?

Particularly when Carlos Santana is coming our way?!  He’s a first baseman (or a DH, depending on what else we do with that first base spot) who’s owed a combined $35 million over the next two years ($500,000 of that is a buyout for 2021, because you figure there’s no way in hell this team is going to pay a 35 year old first baseman another $17.5 million when they don’t have to).  Santana – like all these other useless veterans we’re getting back in these deals – was great in 2017 and stunk in 2018.  So, NOT GREAT, JERRY!

The prize in this deal, I guess, is J.P. Crawford, who will be a 24-year old glove-first/no-bat short stop in 2019.  If we can develop the bat into something halfway decent, then maybe that’s an upgrade in the end.  But, that’s obviously no guarantee.

And, that’s it.  A new short stop and a savings of another $31 million.  On the plus side, all these massive contracts expire after 2019 or 2020, so RIGHT ON TRACK FOR 2021 YOU GUYS!

As always, it’s hard to judge anything until you see the rest of the offseason moves.  But, you figure the biggest deals have been made (unless the team goes full boar and unloads Haniger for another bevy of prospects), and now it’s time for the rest of the roster moves to fill in around these guys.  But, on a surface level, it’s hard to get too excited, when so many variables are in play.

The Mariners Are Why Seattle Is Sports Hell

It’s hard for me to believe that the Mariners are just in a slump, because with their run differential (-19), it feels like they’re just playing to expectations at this point, and really this is who they are.  They’re a team that loses 3/4 to the God-awful Toronto Blue Jays, at home, with their Canadian fans totally overwhelming our home fans in attendance.

The annual fucking embarrassment is over, so that’s the good news.  But, we’re living in Hell right now, in case you didn’t know.  Seattle sucks again, and the Mariners are the primary culprit.

On Thursday, Felix did the bare minimum (5 innings, 2 runs) and Juan Nicasio blew it in the 7th, giving up 2 runs in less than an inning.  He’s since been dumped on the DL with a knee issue, and I hope it’s for the rest of the fucking year, because he’s a fucking worthless pile of shit and is actively killing this team.  The final score was 7-3.

It was somehow even worse on Friday, as Marco gave up 4 runs in 7 innings, and the offense just did absolute jack shit.  A late-game meltdown was essentially meaningless as we lost 7-2.

And, LOOK AT THAT, it got even worse on Saturday.  Paxton went 7 innings, giving up 3 runs, but we lost 5-1 as it appears no one in our bullpen could get anyone out this series.

We somehow salvaged a win on Sunday even though Sam Gaviglio was going for Toronto and essentially equalled Mike Leake’s production through his rotation turn.  It was 3-3 heading into the bottom of the 7th before Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager blew it open.  We got the game to Edwin Diaz who was able to shut ’em down for his 41st save in a 6-3 win.

This team is just a garbage fire right now, and it’s about to get a whole lot messier as we head out on a road trip through the A.L. West.  Texas, then 4 in Houston, then Oakland, with no days off (only to come home to the Dodgers and Astros again).

Oh yeah, by the way, we’re now 2.5 games behind Oakland for the second Wild Card spot.  Neat.  They say the best time to visit Sports Hell is in the summer, when the weather is nice, the people are content, and the baseball team is sucking a non-stop train of dicks.

The Mariners Have Lots Of New Relievers

I talked a little bit yesterday about Sam Tuivailala, the righty from the Cardinals who struggles against lefties.  Well, yesterday afternoon, the Mariners brought in a couple more guys.

We got veteran righty Adam Warren from the Yankees for some international slot money.  He looks like he’s pretty solid (and definitely great against right-handed bats).  And, we got lefty Zach Duke from the Twins for Chase De Jong and some other guy Ryan Costello.

While Tuivailala is a cost-control guy we’ve got for a few years, both Warren and Duke are veterans on the final years of their deals.  If they’re bad, then whatever, we took a shot.  If they’re good, I can’t imagine it would cost a whole helluva lot to retain them for 2019.

I’m still waiting to get a good idea of how the bullpen is going to look when the dust settles.  I wonder if Roenis Elias goes back to Tacoma for a spell.  Maybe a struggling guy or two goes on the DL to get right.  Maybe a struggling guy or two gets DFA’d for being a suck-ass (looking at you, Nicasio).

So, does this push us over the top?  Ehh, I dunno.  Still feels like the return of Cano is the big help on the horizon, but it couldn’t hurt to add to your bullpen, as it’s generally the most important group on the team (particularly down the stretch).  I guess we’ll see.  The Mariners didn’t give up a whole lot (unless Seth Elledge turns into a stud in a year or two) to get these three guys, and they have the potential to be significantly better over these final two months.

But, don’t get me wrong, these aren’t HUGE huge deals.  Edwin Diaz is still your closer, Alex Colome is still your 8th inning guy.  These are arms to help us through the 6th and 7th innings, ideally with lots of mixing-and-matching going on.  Figure some of these games are going to drag out quite a bit with the increased in-inning pitching changes.

The Mariners Have Sucked As We Head Into The All Star Break

Look for my post later this week:  Are The Mariners REALLY Going To Blow Their Playoff Spot To The A’s Again?

The Mariners are 3-8 in their last 11 games following that 8-game winning streak, which followed their 3-7 stretch against the Red Sox & Yankees.  I think we all understood why the M’s went 3-7 against two of the three best teams in all of baseball; but 3-8 against the Angels and Rockies?  I know those teams are okay, but they’re nowhere near as good as the Sox & Yanks!

The first half was punctuated by a 3-game sweep in Colorado over the weekend.  On Friday, it was an underwhelming spot-start by Christian Bergman.  The offense had it, but the pitching was terrible, and we lost 10-7.  Then, on Saturday, the pitching was okay – LeBlanc was far from spectacular though – but the hitters did nothing and we lost 4-1.  Finally, on Sunday, mediocrity across the board!  Leake had a quality start, but Nicasio gave up our 1-run lead, and Vincent allowed the Rockies to walk it off in the bottom of the 9th.  The hitters were once again terrible with RISP (3/11) and it was a 4-3 loss.

Tough breaks all around.  Yeah, you could say the Mariners are in desperate need of a half a week off.  You could also say I’m in desperate need of half a week off from the Mariners, so let’s enjoy ourselves, everyone!

I’ll be back on Friday to talk about the M’s & A’s, now 3 games separating one another from that second wild card spot.  Wouldn’t it be so Mariners to have such an awesome record and still find a way to miss out on the playoffs?

Call The Mariners The Sandman Because They’re Sweeping Fools Off The Stage Left & Right!

Back-to-back sweeps for ya boys!  7 wins in 7 days!  REFUSE TO LOSE MOTHERFUCKERS!!!

After taking care of business over the course of 4 days in Baltimore, the Mariners returned home to take care of business against the similarly underwhelming Kansas City Royals.

On Friday, we saw the first career complete game out of Marco Gonzales, who came JUST short of getting the shutout, but in the end won handily 4-1 (without the need for our Reliever of the Month of June (and April), Edwin Diaz).

We followed that up with a hearty 6-4 victory on Turn Ahead The Clock Night, where Felix battled a tight back to go 5 innings while giving up just the 3-run homer in the first.  We promptly scored all of our runs in the first three innings of the game, and got mostly solid relief (aside from an unearned run allowed in the Nicasio 7th); Diaz ended up with his 31st save of the season in this one.

Then, on Sunday (featuring James Paxton pitching on his own bobblehead game), we wrapped up the season series with the Royals (winning 5 of 6) with a dominant outing by our ace, who went 8 innings of shutout ball, striking out 11 (while giving up just 2 hits and 2 walks).  Diaz closed out the 1-0 victory for his 32nd save of the season, and the wins just keep on rolling for this charmed ballclub.

I was there on Saturday, sitting on the front edge of the King’s Court (section 146, row 29, seat 1).  I went for the free hat (which doesn’t fit my giant head, so I’ll be giving it away; which is okay because I bought a fitted version of the “2027” hat anyway), I went for the free shirt (a matching maroon King’s Court tee, with sparkly silver lettering that rubbed off on my Husky hoodie), but more than anything I went for the futuristic King’s Court card that I’ve currently got hanging up in my home office.  God damn do the Mariners know how to do promotions up right!

As they say on Star Trek, “Nanu Nanu” …

I was really nervous after that first inning.  I’m usually good luck for King Felix when I go to his games.  I’ve been to a bunch (back when the M’s were terrible – which was always – I’d hold out and try to ONLY go to games where he was starting) and I can’t remember any specific games where he’s looked bad (though I’m sure there must be one or two) while I’ve been in attendance.  I was there on Opening Night when he looked like vintage Felix; I was there in that showdown against the Rays and Blake Snell, when he had his best game of the season (8 innings, 1 run, 7 strikeouts).  I was there on his Supreme Court Night – the game after his perfecto – when the whole stadium was the King’s Court and he pitched into the 8th, giving up just 1 run.  And, my very first King’s Court experience was earlier that same year, which was one of his very best performances in his career (and another game where he easily could’ve been perfect, if not for a few lucky hits), when he shut out the Rangers on 3 hits, 0 walks, with 12 strikeouts.  I’ve yet to ever experience a more fun time at the ballpark, and I was at the game in 1997 when we clinched the division title.

Anyway, I feel bad when the King struggles, so I was happy to see him settle down.  I hoped he could get through the 6th for the quality start, but apparently he was dealing with a tight back, so it’s commendable that he was able to get through five and get the W.

Sitting on the front edge of the King’s Court has its advantages.  Primarily, you don’t have a bunch of signs in your face, so you can still see all the action when it gets down to 2 strikes.  But, conversely, the people around me weren’t all that rowdy or into it, so it felt weird to keep throwing my arms up when we got to 2 strikes.  I was fully prepared to be on my feet at the drop of a hat, but with no one else around me joining in, I mostly kept seated (that is, when I wasn’t being pestered every two minutes by the people in my row who kept wanting to get out in the middle of every fucking inning).  Plus, it seemed like every time I started chanting for the strikeout, the dude at bat would get a hit, so clearly I was jinxing The King and presumed to keep quiet after the first (my plan worked like a charm, so who’s the crazy person now?).

I’d anticipated being sick and tired of being surrounded by idiots for Sunday’s Paxton Bobblehead game, so I planned ahead:  I bought a seat in section 339, in the very last row, in the very center of said row.  When I purchased the ticket, there wasn’t another filled seat for many rows around me; that held firm when I went to the game on Sunday.  I got there early, got my bobblehead, and settled in for what turned out to be a pleasant game.  Unfortunately, for some reason I felt like shit.  I didn’t drink the day before, yet I somehow felt super tired and hungover, with my ears still ringing (presumably from all the cheering the night before).  So, I only lasted 3 innings before packing it in.  In the end, the game only lasted maybe 2 hours, so I probably could’ve toughed it out had I known what was in store.  Nevertheless, I doubt that’ll be the last time I see Paxton pitch.

I’m all set to go to the game tomorrow as well, so that’ll be 3 consecutive home games for me, for the first time since the Griffey Hall of Fame Weekend.  Will there be Mariners fatigue?  Not if 12 beers have anything to say about it!

The Mariners Sucked Against The Yankees & Red Sox

1-5 in their first 6 games of this road trip.  Swept by the Yankees, then a pretty bad series against the Sox.

In the finale against the Yankees, Paxton gave up 4 runs in the first and we lost 4-3.  We did about as well as can be hoped against Luis Severino – scoring all 3 in 5.2 innings of work – but couldn’t touch their bullpen.

Then, on Friday, we had a rematch of that crazy Wade LeBlanc game against Boston, only this time it was just as crazy the opposite way.  The knuckleballer gave up 10 runs in 3.1 innings, as the M’s just teed off on him.  But, LeBlanc didn’t have anything either, giving up 6 runs in 4.2 innings of work.  Nevertheless, we held a lead of 4-0 and immediately gave it up in the bottom of the first; then, we built up a 10-5 lead before the bullpen sucked its way to a 14-10 defeat.  Vincent and Nicasio were the main culprits of ineptitude.

On Saturday, Mike Leake dominated with 8 shutout innings and Edwin Diaz got touched up a little bit as he hadn’t pitched in a week.  We still won 7-2.

We lost the season series on Sunday, as Marco Gonzales didn’t have it and Chris Sale ABSOLUTELY had it.  We lost 5-0 to get the fuck out of there.

It’s obviously a bummer, but not a shock that the Mariners lost to these teams in this fashion.  Now, we go to Baltimore for a 4-game set to try to somewhat salvage the road trip.  Winning all 4 would make us 5-5 for the trip, but that’s obviously not how you want to do it.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t throw a 5-5 road trip out of bed for eating crackers at this point.

I’m on vacation this week, so posting will be sporadic at best.  Go M’s, I guess.

Key To The Mariners’ Chances Going Forward

The biggest key to the Mariners’ success to date in 2018 is the starting rotation staying healthy (for the most part) and vastly improving after the month of April (where just about everyone was either adequate or terrible, up to and including James Paxton).  I would argue that even the injury to Erasmo Ramirez was a blessing in disguise, as Wade LeBlanc has made a name for himself with this opportunity.  But, with Paxton, Gonzales, and Leake all overcoming rough starts to the season, turning into reliable and often dominant pieces to this puzzle (alongside LeBlanc’s baffling greatness from Day 1), the Mariners have been able to weather a lot of storms and build up a record that all but guarantees a playoff spot in October.

The biggest hit to the Mariners’ chances going forward is NOT the loss of Robbie Cano for all those games (plus the playoffs) but rather the depth of the Mariners’ bullpen (or lack thereof).

It’s truly remarkable what the Mariners are doing with this scotch taped-together bullpen.  Phelps went down in Spring Training; he was supposed to be an 8th inning type guy (who could also go multiple innings in a pinch).  Scrabble was so terrible at doing his one job (getting lefties out) that he was DFA’d.  Juan Nicasio hasn’t been nearly the dominant force we thought he’d be when we signed him to that big 2-year deal (and is currently on the DL).  Nick Vincent had a rough start to the season and is also currently on the DL (having just had a setback with his groin injury).  Dan Altavilla has had multiple DL stints this year and might be out for a very long time with his arm injury.  Casey Lawrence – while tearing it up in Tacoma as a starter right now – got off to a rough start and had to be sent down after 4 appearances.  Ryan Cook was hot when he returned from the DL, but has been hit around in 3 of his last 4 appearances.  Alex Colome has closer-type stuff, but he’s been far from perfect since coming over from the Rays (especially AGAINST those very Rays).

And yet, if you didn’t get into specifics and just asked me, “How’s Seattle’s bullpen doing this year?”  I’d likely tell you, “Pretty great!”

Edwin Diaz is taking the league by storm in his third year in the bigs.  James Pazos – in his second year on the Mariners – has been outstanding.  Chasen Bradford came out of nowhere to be a reliable back-of-the-bullpen guy to eat a lot of innings for us.  And even those guys who’ve had their struggles from time to time – Nicasio, Vincent, and Colome in particular – have also been successful in a lot of high leverage situations.

With a number of those guys on the DL (hopefully Nicasio & Vincent will be back soon), though, it’s hard not to be concerned about the future.  There are a lot of high leverage innings left this season!  With the way this team plays, with all the close games, it seems like there’s zero margin for error every single night!  Sure, a lot of the guys are young and healthy now, but will they succumb to over-use?

The good thing is, I don’t believe for a minute that the Mariners are finished making moves to improve the big league club.  We have a number of quality starters down in Tacoma, in the event we need long relief help or spot starts.  Nick Rumbelow is another guy who figured big in the Mariners’ bullpen plans before he got hurt; he’s coming back from injury and getting his feet wet in Tacoma as we speak.  Also, it usually doesn’t take a whole lot in trade to get a quality reliever back before the deadline, and with plenty of teams tanking this season, the supply should be pretty significant.

Either way, though, if you told me the Mariners would have to roll with a playoff bullpen consisting of Diaz, Colome, Nicasio, Vincent, Pazos, Bradford, Cook, and Elias, I’d be okay with that.  Two dominant closer types, two solid 8th inning guys behind them, two solid 6th/7th inning guys who can shut down rallies and go multiple innings if need be, along with a wildcard in Cook (who has 8th inning stuff, he just needs to work on his command a little bit) and a spot-starter/long-reliever in Elias … I just don’t know how you improve upon that a whole lot.  Obviously, a lot can happen between now and October.  Guys can get injured, guys can lose their stuff or their confidence, but for the most part that’s a reliable bullpen group.

What most concerns me is what happens if a lot of guys get injured, and we have to start replacing too many of these pieces.  As we’ve seen this year with the bullpen, last year with the rotation, and on and on and on, injuries can mount in a hurry.  We lose Diaz, we’re pretty much shit out of luck.  We lose too many of our 8th inning guys, same deal.  We already use Diaz too much as it is; I don’t want to see him in there for too many save opportunities where he has to get more than 3 outs.  At least not until we’re actually IN the playoffs.

The rotation and the solid hitting will carry us to where we want to go, but to do any significant damage once we get into the post-season, it’s going to rest precariously on the all-important bullpen arms.  I hope they’re up to the challenge.

The Mariners Won 3 of 4 Against The Rays

And 6 of 7 in the season series!

The game on Thursday saw the Rays creep back into it late before the Mariners slammed the door.  How would the rest of the weekend look?

Pretty much as expected, all things considered.  Marco Gonzales took the hill on Friday and continued this streak of greatness he’s been on.  He advanced his career high in innings pitched – this time going 7.1 innings of 2-run ball – before giving way to the bullpen.  We put up 4 runs thanks to some solid small ball.  Daniel Vogelbach returned – and had an RBI single – as the Mariners had to put Nicasio and Altavilla on the DL (Nicasio with a minor knee issue; Altavilla with what looks to be a serious arm thing that might keep him out for an extended period of time).  Jean Segura had another hit to bring his average to .340, second in the American League at the time.  And, Mitch Haniger drove in the other two runs as he continued his push to be an All Star.  Alex Colome got one out in the 8th, but ended up allowing the Rays to once again pull within 1 run, necessitating Edwin Diaz needing to get a 4-out save.  He did his job to get his 22nd save on the season.

Saturday was a rematch of the previous week’s duel of Felix vs. Snell; this time, it was a collosal bummer.  Felix struggled through 3 innings, giving up 6 runs; and while Roenis Elias was able to limit the damage in his 4 innings of work, giving up just 1 run, the offense couldn’t quite chip away at the deficit (going 0 or 11 with RISP).  So, we lost by a score of 7-3.  Newcomer Mike Morin joined the relief corps; he hasn’t had a good season at the Major League level since 2014, but he ended up striking out 2 in his scoreless inning of work, so we’ll see how he does in Nicasio’s absence.  He obviously won’t be thrust into an 8th inning role, but that’s neither here nor there.

The Mariners bounced right back on Sunday.  James Paxton struggled a bit (for him), but still went 7 innings, giving up 3 runs and striking out 10.  Pazos let a runner get on in his 0.1 innings of work, who would eventually come around to score with Alex Colome on the mound (he would let all three victories get to within 1 run, just to make things interesting against his old club).  Nevertheless, Edwin Diaz got his 23rd save of the season, thanks to some suspect baserunning from the Rays, making the final, baffling out at home plate.  Cruz, Zunino, and Seager all homered to account for the 5 runs the M’s scored.

We now sit atop the A.L. West with the Houston Astros (1 game better in the loss column, 1 game worse in the win column), 4.5 games up on the Angels, who come to town for a 3-game series starting tonight.  They just saw their prized offseason acquisition – Shohei Ohtani – go on the DL (with a chance he might need Tommy John surgery and not return until the 2020 season), so things are going pretty poorly down in Anaheim.  With the Mariners flying high – and Felix not set to start until the Boston series – now is the perfect time to pounce on our greatest rivals for that 2nd wild card spot (while hopefully keeping the Astros at bay for the division).  It’s sad that we have to start dreading every Felix start, but that’s apparently the world in which we live.

We’re officially entering the teeth of the schedule:  3 vs. the Angels, 3 vs. the Yankees, and 7 vs. the Red Sox (4 at home before an East Coast road trip next week).  After some cupcakes, we’ll face the Angels 6 more times before the All Star Break, so it’s time for the Mariners to play their very best!

No One On The Mariners Implodes Quite Like Juan Nicasio

You can’t win ’em all.  You certainly can’t win ’em all against the likes of the Astros.  I often talk about how we can’t have nice things, and sweeping the Astros is pretty much the nicest thing you can have (even if it’s just a 2-game series), so there was just no way.

And yet, there we were.  We scrimped and we saved and we scratched and we clawed against a guy who has owned our asses for years, Lance McCullers (including last night, he’s 6-2 with a sub-3 ERA in his career in 11 games), to get a 4-3 lead heading into the bottom of the 7th.  Wade LeBlanc didn’t really have it (again, against one of the best teams in the league) and was pulled after 4 innings.  But, the vast majority of the bullpen was able to keep the Astros from scoring.

Except for Juan Nicasio, who came in to start the 7th inning and got exactly 0 outs while giving up 4 hits and 4 runs (3 earned) in 4 at bats.

It was all right there.  This is what the team was built around.  Get a lead heading into the 7th inning.  Then, for the final 9 outs, we go Nicasio-Colome-Diaz, bingo bango bongo.  The problem is, it doesn’t work very well if even one of those guys doesn’t have it.

Now, on the bright side, those guys HAVE had it for most of the season.  Nicasio had 8 consecutive scoreless appearances leading into last night.  In 30 appearances on the season, Nicasio has put up a zero in 20 of them.  Not elite, but pretty good.  Not, I don’t think, what the Mariners thought they were getting when they signed him to a 2-year, $17 million contract before the season (that’s a lot of money for a guy to only be effective 2/3 of the time), but that’s how it goes sometimes.  The M’s paid Scrabble $11 million over 2 years just to get left handers out and he couldn’t even do THAT; sometimes shit goes tits up and you just have to eat it.

The point is, Nicasio has flashed dominance this season, but he’s pretty fucking far from what he was even a season ago, when he had a sub-3 ERA and a 2.0 WAR (in 2018 he’s a plus-5 ERA and a -0.5 WAR).  Yeah, 2/3 of the time he’s putting up zeroes, but he’s got 3 blown saves and 3 losses so far and we’re not even halfway through the season.  Maybe he’s being over-used, but he’s also getting paid like a guy who’s supposed to appear in 70+ games.

And yeah, when he blows up, it’s pretty spectacular.  This is already the second time he’s given up 4 runs in less than an inning of work.  He has two other games where he’s given up 2 runs in an inning.  He’s had five games where he’s given up 3 or more hits in an inning or less.  I guess the good thing you can say is that he doesn’t walk guys (only 2 on the season in 28.2 innings of work) and he settled down on his homer problem (4 on the season, but only 1 after mid-April).  Nevertheless, he’s lobbing in some meatballs that are getting hit on the reg, and if he doesn’t find a way to miss more bats, it’s going to be difficult to trust him going forward.

The Mariners Got The Victory They Needed

There’s been so many tight games this season, but particularly over the last couple weeks, with the offense missing guys like Dee Gordon, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, and others for various amounts of time.  The margin for error has been ridiculously thin, and we’ve seen some repercussions of that in this Rangers series as the bullpen finally cracked a couple times.  This team desperately needed a breakout from the offense and to cruise to a comfortable victory.  Last night, in a 6-1 win, the Mariners got just that.

On May 3rd, Wade LeBlanc entered the starting rotation for the Seattle Mariners, taking the spot that was briefly held by an injured Erasmo Ramirez.  Up until that day, LeBlanc was a long reliever for this club – who has been on the roster since opening day, but only got in 5 games in the month of April due to all the off days and the fact that the Mariners were involved in so many close, winning games.  So, he obviously has had to be stretched out a little bit this month (he was also quite under the weather last night, which accounts for his only lasting 5 innings on 84 pitches).  But, regardless, LeBlanc has been OUTSTANDING in the month of May (really, all season, but that’s neither here nor there).  He’s 1-0 (though the team is 5-1 in his starts) with a 1.72 ERA.  31.1 innings pitched, 6 runs given up, 25 hits, only 6 walks, with 23 strikeouts in those 6 games.

I mean, if it weren’t for Paxton’s 1.67 ERA, his 2 complete games, his no hitter, his 51 strikeouts (against only 9 walks) and 21 hits in 43 innings of work across his 6 games (again, he’s got to be a lock for American League Pitcher of the Month), we’d be talking about the best starter on this team!

Small sample?  Go fuck yourself!  Wade LeBlanc is magic and I won’t hear anything else!

Pazos, Nicasio, and Chasen Bradford nailed down the final four innings without incident, meaning we were able to save guys like Diaz and Colome for the weekend.  Again, just excellent pitching all around yesterday.

On the hitting side of things, Dee Gordon returned with a vengeance, with a leadoff triple and a run scored off of a very shallow pop up to right field.  Nelson Cruz banged a 2-run homer and later had a 3rd RBI to keep his momentum going in the right direction.  Segura was on base 3 times and scored 3 times; Healy had an RBI single; and Heredia and Span each had 2 hits as the bottom of the lineup looks remarkably improved with those two guys getting regular AB’s.  In 4 games with the Mariners so far, Span has 5 hits (including a double) and 3 runs scored.  I like Gamel as much as the next guy – and I concede he was looking better at the plate right before this trade went down – but overall he’s been terrible for almost a full year now, and he appears to be much better suited to being a team’s 4th outfielder rather than a starter.  How about that?  Everyone went into this season thinking it was Heredia that was destined to be a 4th outfielder (and that might very well be his overarching role when it’s all said and done), but right now Heredia looks like a dynamic weapon and a viable starting outfielder in this league if he can keep it up at the plate.

The Mariners ended up 18-11 in the month of May, which follows a 16-11 month of April.  We are 1 game behind the Astros in the A.L. West (tied in the loss column), and 4.5 games ahead of the Angels as we currently hold the 2nd Wild Card spot (3 full games behind the Yankees for the 1st Wild Card spot).

As I’ve noted before, the month of June looks a lot tougher.  The Rays are hanging around .500 (and we face them 7 times), and we also play the Astros, Angels, Red Sox, and Yankees this month.  In fact, we don’t play a team under .500 again until June 25th!  That’s 22 consecutive games against teams that are either IN the playoffs (if the season ended today) or fighting tooth and nail for the Wild Card spot (in other words, our direct opponents for possible post-season play).  On top of that, out of 28 games, only 12 are at home this month.  We make trips to Houston, Tampa (then back home), then we go out to New York, Boston, and Baltimore (before returning home again).  Make no mistake, everything about this month spells B-R-U-T-A-L.

The good news?  If we can avoid getaway-day rainouts that need to be made up at a later date, once we return from our East Coast road trip in Baltimore, We’ll never have to go any further east than the state of Texas the rest of the season.  The entire month of July, for instance, has us only going to Anaheim and Colorado!  In fact, all of our road trips after the month of June are against the A.L. West or the N.L. West.

Just got to get through this month.  If you offered it to me on a silver platter right now, I would absolutely accept a .500 record for the month of June.  If you gave me 14-14, SIGN ME UP!