The Mariners Brought Back James Paxton!

For athletes not named Felix Hernandez (my one and only), it’s usually Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind whenever someone leaves the Seattle orbit. To be fair, with fantasy football what it is, it’s relatively easy to keep tabs on ex-Huskies who have moved on to better things; and I always enjoy whenever the Husky basketball Twitter feed updates me on all the goings on of our pro Dawgs. But, I’m rarely going out of my way to keep tabs on players once they’ve left the Seattle area.

The Mariners traded James Paxton to the Yankees after the 2018 season, for Justus Sheffield and others. I knew at the time that he didn’t have a lot of club control left, but I couldn’t have pinpointed with any certainty when that contract was set to expire. He went to the Yankees with high expectations, and even though his numbers ended up being relatively in line with past performance (maybe just a tick worse, but negligible overall), and even though he started a career-high 29 games, he obviously fell short of those expectations. If we’re being honest, though, it’s almost impossible to meet expectations when it comes to the Yankees; if you’re not leading them to a World Series, then you’re probably falling short in some way.

Regardless, 2020 was as close to a disaster as it gets. Even in a pandemic-shortened year, Paxton’s season was further cut short due to injuries, and he managed only five starts. Before the season even started, he had surgery on his back that would’ve cost him 3-4 months, then his recurring forearm issue returned and that was that. The Yankees apparently just let him walk, rather than extend him any further offers.

I guess we know which team won THAT trade!

When I heard Paxton was still a free agent a month into 2021, those whispers that he might prefer a return to Seattle became a lot more interesting. There has, of course, been a lot of lobbying from a segment of the fanbase for the Mariners to “spend money”, if not to win now, at least to put us into a better position to win in 2022, when some of the highly-touted prospects start showing up. Even though this is only a one year deal, it makes a lot of sense to bring Paxton back now, to see what he has left in the tank.

It’s a one year deal for $8.5 million. I’m told there are incentives tied to the number of starts (or maybe just appearances) he makes: $750,000 for 10 starts, and another $750,000 if he makes it to 20 (max value of $10 million, in other words). That seems like a pretty achievable goal; he could spend a good chunk of the season on the Injured List and still make it to 20 starts no problem.

I like the move because I like James Paxton. When he’s healthy, there aren’t many left-handed pitchers who are more dominant. He’ll be 32 years old this year, and as we all know, durability isn’t his strong suit, so I don’t know if it’ll ever be wise to trust him with a huge-money, multi-year contract. But, at this point – even if he makes it through 2021 unscathed (which, the smart money says he’ll be at least a LITTLE scathed eventually, based on history) – I don’t think there’s enough trust in him to guarantee anything more than a 3-year deal at best. So, if he’s great again, and the Mariners like what they see, another extension a year from now shouldn’t break the bank.

Plus, get this: he actually LIKES Seattle! Who knew THAT was possible?! I’m used to professional Seattle teams having to over-pay to bring in quality free agents; it’s rare for this to be an ideal landing spot for an incoming player.

The bottom line is, it’s a win-win for both parties. Paxton gets a low-pressure environment to showcase his abilities, and the Mariners get a relatively cheap starter to throw onto the pile. It works to both parties’ advantage that we’re rolling back the six-man rotation as well. Obviously, it seems like this is the best way to maximize Paxton without over-working his arm, while still giving the Mariners an opportunity to build up the arms of some of our younger prospects.

Ultimately, I think it boils down to this: no one was super-excited about Chris Flexen. I think we can all agree – for a team like the Mariners, in the middle of a rebuild – the Flexen signing is a relatively smart one. But, he’s still a big question mark when it comes to being a Major League starter. Considering all the other big question marks we have in this rotation, it’s only natural to want to bolster this part of the roster.

So, what are we looking at now? Not a bad little rotation, all things considered:

  • Marco Gonzales
  • James Paxton
  • Yusei Kikuchi
  • Justus Sheffield
  • Chris Flexen
  • Justin Dunn

Even though Paxton is more of your prototypical Ace-type starter, there’s no way he’s taking over Marco’s spot in the rotation, which is probably for the best if you think about it. That further takes the pressure off of Paxton – he can be just one of the guys – and obviously doesn’t create a rift on the team, considering Marco is one of the main leaders on the roster. Also, since Paxton’s fastball is so much faster than Marco’s, it makes more sense for him to go after, that way whenever we face the same team, they won’t be all geared up to crush Marco’s softer stuff (what that means for the guy who ultimately has to follow Paxton is, of course, troublesome, but that’s neither here nor there).

Obviously, I have no idea the actual order of the rotation; that won’t be made clear until we get into Spring Training. But, those are the guys likeliest to qualify for the rotation, so barring any surprises, I think we’re pretty set. It wouldn’t shock me to see Flexen moved up in the rotation, just to break things up, since the way I have it would mean four consecutive left-handed starters in a row, but again, we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.

I like the top two guys a lot! The next two, I have relatively high hopes for; and the last two are total wild cards.

This being baseball, I wouldn’t expect the rotation to remain static. There will be injuries. There may be demotions. And, of course, there will be guys in the upper minors who are pounding on the door, just itching to make their marks.

The only question that remains between now and when the players report to camp is: will the Mariners make any more signings? Taijuan Walker is STILL a free agent, you know …

Let’s Be Patient, Mariners Fans

Look, I’m right there with you. I’ve been there with you the entire time (and by “entire time” I mean I jumped on the bandwagon in the late summer of 1995 like a lot of other people in the Pacific Northwest who weren’t necessarily baseball fans until there was a professional team around here actually worth watching). I’ve ENDURED losing season after losing season, mediocre season after mediocre season, and those handful of seasons where we came oh so close to breaking the playoff drought.

I started this fucking BLOG in large part due to the Mariners and their ineptitude! I needed an outlet for my rage, the M’s were my vessel, and Richie Sexson in 2008 was my inspiration. I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t furious with this organization; even in 2001 – in the midst of a 116-win season – I was pissing and moaning about all the moves the M’s didn’t make mid-season to push us over the hump!

I can’t say I’m the biggest Mariners fan, nor would I want to. I haven’t been around since the beginning. I have no idea what this team looked like in the 80’s, other than various blooper clips that have seeped into my subconscious over the years. But these last 20 years have FELT like a fucking lifetime in and of itself.

I. FEEL. YOUR. PAIN.

And, obviously, I have no skin in the game. I’m not paid by the Mariners. I’m not in the practice of writing puff pieces defending this team. Do I sometimes let my annoying homer side get the best of me, succumbing to rare bouts of optimism when things are going or looking good? Sure, who doesn’t? Why be a fan if there wasn’t some small sliver of hope that our team will one day win it all before our bones have turned to ash? The thing is, we have no choice but to talk ourselves into the next plan of action working! It’s not like we have any say in matters of personnel. Sometimes flukey shit happens. Sometimes the stars align.

Sports fandom is, like, 90% belief, 5% crushing disappointment, and 5% watching the games.

So, believe me when I say this: I don’t come to this argument lightly. But, it’s clearly in all of our best interests to be patient, let the rebuild play itself out, and let’s just see what happens.

I’m not saying you have to trust in Jerry Dipoto & Co. Remain skeptical! Why wouldn’t you? What have they done to earn your trust?

But, now is not time to jump the gun. In spite of the improvement we saw in a weird 2020 season, in spite of MLB increasing the number of playoff teams, in spite of all the glowing reports about our farm system: this team isn’t ready. It may “contend” in 2021 – in the same way that almost all American League teams will contend, if indeed 8 out of 15 teams continue to make it into the postseason – but this isn’t a legitimate championship squad just yet.

And, frankly, I know we’re all looking at 2022 as the goal for finally making the playoffs, but maybe we should be pumping the brakes on that too. You never know with young players how long it’s going to take for them to finally pop. It came out over the last week that the Mariners have five players ranked in the Top 100 Prospects per Baseball America, including two in the top five (Julio Rodriguez, 3; Jarred Kelenic, 4). Will all five of those guys pan out? Hell, will both of J-Rod and Kelenic pan out? I will believe it when I see it.

But, the important thing to remember is: you can’t see it if they’re not out there playing for you. You can’t go out there and sign an outfielder or two when you’ve already got Kyle Lewis (2020 Rookie of the Year) and Mitch Haniger (back from injury in 2021 and looking buffer than ever), on top of two prospects in the minor league top five!

Do you want to go out and sign a starting pitcher or two, to help fill out your rotation? Why would you do that when you have Logan Gilbert (35) and Emerson Hancock (57) in your farm system? Gilbert is ready to jump to the Major Leagues THIS season! Hancock is still a couple years away, but that’s about when you’d expect this team to start contending for real. There are also countless pitching prospects outside of the top 100 (remember, the Mariners have been going HARD in the draft on pitching the last few years); I’m not saying all of these guys will pan out, but one or two might! That’s on top of Justus Sheffield, who took a major step forward in his development in 2020, and Justin Dunn, who is just getting started and nevertheless showed real improvement in his first full season.

All of these guys are young and inexperienced. You want to see what you have, so you know who to keep and who to later flip for other players who can come in here and help this team win at the Major League level.

It doesn’t hurt the Mariners one bit to be regarded as having one of the very best farm systems in all of baseball. Only a small handful of teams have as many as five players in Baseball America’s Top 100, and the M’s are one of them! That reputation is only going to be an asset going forward when the guys we know are rockstars are at the Major League level and producing in a major way. Other teams will see that and wonder who else we’re hiding in the basement of this organization. You didn’t hear it from me, but it rubs the lotion on its skin.

In a way, I do see the other side of the argument. There’s nothing stopping the Mariners from signing a bigtime free agent now, because if the young core is as good as advertised, that free agent will still be around when the Mariners are good again. But, you’re making a lot of assumptions there. Are you signing a guy that will block one of that young core (specifically a position player)? Well, that’s a non-starter for me. There is time later for that, if whatever position of need can’t be filled internally. Are you talking about bringing in a stud starting pitcher? Well, those guys get hurt all the time! Bringing in a great guy for 2021 doesn’t do us any good if the team around him is still young and mediocre. And, if he’s hurt in 2022 or 2023 when this team IS good, then again, that does nothing for us. Also, are any of the free agents out there worth a damn? Are there any true Ace starters on the market? There doesn’t appear to be, to me anyway. On top of injury concerns, there’s aging and regression to worry about (when, again, there will be a whole new crop of free agents in 2022 and again in 2023).

And, if you’re talking about trading guys from our farm system to bring in a younger superstar, again that’s a non-starter for me. Because you know who teams are going to ask for in return? Your very best prospects. Those guys in the Baseball America Top 100. I want to see those guys HERE! And just because other teams are able to trade Not Their Best Prospects to get guys like Blake Snell, doesn’t mean the Mariners would also make that happen to their benefit. The Padres had been building their farm system for years in the lead-up to the Snell deal! The M’s don’t have nearly that sparkling of a reputation as drafters and developers. The Padres also, not for nothing, have a proven young core that made a run in the playoffs in 2020; they were more ready to make that kind of a deal. The Mariners have done jack shit for 20 years; they are not ready.

So, let’s hold our horses here. The only other argument I can make is this: even if the M’s splurged on free agents, and sold their farm for other Major League-ready players, there’s still a great chance that we wouldn’t see this team even make the playoffs. The Mariners have been half-assing rebuilds for the last 20 years; panicking now to try to break a drought would be more of the same. For what? So maybe they can get a wild card spot?

If you’re a Mariners fan, that should not be your priority. We’ve had it too hard for too long. The amount of karma we’ve built up in our suffering should be ENORMOUS. We are due for not just a playoff team, but a real, honest-to-goodness World Series champion! And, there’s no way we’re going to get there by throwing good money after aging free agents, and mortgaging our farm system for unwanted cast-offs from other teams.

We’re only going to reach the promised land by developing our own young talent, promoting them when they’re ready, and wishing on a star that they all hit big at the same time. This is the model. Once those guys are ready, THEN you start throwing money at free agents to complete the puzzle. Once you recognize where the minimal amount of holes are on your roster – because the vast majority of those holes have been filled in-house – then it’s so much easier to get over the final hump.

For now, kick your feet up, sit back, and enjoy the process. I know the 76ers turned “the process” into a four-letter word, but you know, sometimes it goes the other way too. To paraphrase the great Fred Durst, you gotta have faith.

Chris Flexen Is A Guy The Mariners Might Be Counting On (and Some Thoughts On The Six-Man Rotation)

The six-man rotation for the 2020 season felt like a great way to give our guys some semblance of experience this year, while at the same time protecting them during a wonky situation where we had a long break, then the ramp-up to Spring Training, then another long break, then a quick ramp-up, followed by a 60-game season. Pitching baseballs for a living under normal circumstances is quite taxing, but this had the potential for real leaguewide disaster!

The six-man rotation also offered the Mariners an opportunity to get a good sample size from numerous starters. Going in, we had two guys who were deserving locks to crack the rotation (Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi), two guys who were coming off of devastating injuries and multiple years away from the game (Taijuan Walker and Kendall Graveman), and two rookies who had never (to my knowledge) cracked an Opening Day starting rotation (Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn). That’s four unproven guys, plus a number of minor leaguers (including Nick Margevicius and Ljay Newsome) who we would end up throwing in there when Walker was traded and Graveman went down with another injury (and ultimately landed in a bullpen role). As the M’s are in the middle of a full rebuild, it was necessary to get a good look at as many different guys as possible. Hence, the six-man rotation was born.

But, now we’re talking about carrying over the six-man rotation into 2021, when things are (hopefully) returning back to normal. Part of that has to do with protecting the guys (we don’t know how their arms will respond, going from pitching so few innings in a year, to a full 162-game season), part of that has to do with the Mariners still being smack-dab in the middle of a full rebuild (though ideally closer to being contenders than having to scrap it all and start over), but an interesting wrinkle is that part of the decision might reside in this is just where the game of baseball is headed. The Mariners MIGHT be on the ground floor of revolutionizing the sport in a major way. That’s kind of exciting!

The thing is, it’s going to be difficult to quantify whether or not this is an effective way to run a pitching staff. We likely won’t know until we’ve had multiple seasons of data on injuries and effectiveness; it would also be helpful if other teams joined in on our quest to normalize the six-man rotation, to give us all even more data on the matter (but, that also might take away our competitive advantage, if indeed this will be the new normal). The thing is, professional sports are inherently risk-averse. If the Mariners come out and shit the bed in 2021, they might be inclined to blame it on the six-man rotation (particularly if our starters struggle in spite of the extra rest they’re getting between starts), and then the concept will likely die.

I’m always in favor of trying new things in sports. It gets back to that competitive advantage notion. When you reach the highest levels of your sport, everyone has the same information. Every team has an analytics department. Teams have the smartest minds working as hard as possible, all in an effort to get the SLIGHTEST edge over their opponents. To the point where it feels more like luck than anything else when a team has sustained success.

It’s jarring when a pro team does anything remarkably outside of the ordinary. Teams in recent years have dabbled with the “Opener” – a relief pitcher starting a baseball game, pitching one or two innings (to get out the opposing team’s very best batters) before the actual starter comes in and goes the next 5-7 innings while hopefully seeing the top of the order fewer times in that particular game (because the stats say the more times a batter gets to go up against the same pitcher in a game, the more success they’ll have as the game goes along). There have been decidedly mixed results on how the Opener has worked out, but I think consensus is trending toward the direction that it’s a flop. Too many of these relief pitchers starting games are getting pounded and putting their teams in big holes (which leads me to wonder, with the top of the order properly warmed up against a fireballer like that, are they having more success against the softer-tossing starting pitchers who follow them out there?). But, hey, you can’t gain a competitive advantage without breaking some eggs!

The last really successful organization that found an edge against the rest of the league was the Oakland A’s around the turn of the century. They were the first team to really adopt the concepts of Bill James and other prominent analytical baseball minds to their advantage. They were a roaring success, though weren’t quite able to translate that into World Series titles (all they did was infuriatingly make it so the Mariners were denied two more opportunities to make the postseason, in 2002 and 2003, the last two truly great M’s teams).

It’s hard for me to say that a six-man rotation will be on par with what the A’s were doing, but I do believe it has significantly more value than the Opener.

For starters (!), the Mariners really don’t have an elite rotation. Marco Gonzales continues to shatter my expectations, but I also wouldn’t put him on par with the best of the best ace starters in the game today. Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn also impressed me a lot in their rookie campaigns, but they too have clear ceilings that aren’t at that ace level. Yusei Kikuchi has been a disappointment through two years, but it’s still too early to give up on him as he transitions from Japan to America. Margevicius and Newsome are not likely to be long-term rotation guys, as we have younger pitchers we will be looking to promote either in 2021 or 2022 at the latest. Graveman, as I mentioned, is now a bullpen guy going forward, due to his chronic neck issue that he apparently refuses to have surgery on, yet doesn’t prevent him from throwing really hard for an inning or two every other day. Taijuan Walker could always be re-signed if the price is right, but for now the Mariners have gone in another direction.

I had never heard of Chris Flexen before word came down that the Mariners signed him to a 2-year, $7 million deal. This obviously has the feel of another one of those buy-low Jerry Dipoto deals where he’s trying to squeeze out significant value from a candidate to have a bounce-back in his career. Except, in this case, Flexen was NEVER good … until he went over to the Korea Baseball Organization for the 2020 season. He had a lot of success over there in his 21 games started. Strikeouts were up, walks were down, it was everything you could ask for. With the caveat that the level of competition is obviously not where it is in the Major Leagues. It sounds like he was able to take advantage of their aggressive style of play in getting hitters to swing at his stuff outside of the strike zone. So, it’s hard to say if his stuff will translate back to the U.S.

The upside is: there is precedent for someone to go to the KBO and come back and pitch well. Also, the money is quite nice. $7 million over two years is nothing in MLB terms (even in the wake of a pandemic-related financial collapse). If he turns into a useful starter, then he’s an absolute bargain! And, if he stinks, then hey, no sweat off our noses.

Probably best not to expect too much out of Flexen, but feel free to leave yourself open to believing that he might keep the good times rolling. My hunch is he’ll look good out of the gate, then the league will start to adjust to what he’s doing out there, and then we’ll know if he’s worth a damn or not. If he can adjust to how the batters adjust to him, then we might have something. But, if he can’t figure it out, then it was a nice idea that just didn’t pan out (but maybe he can still be a useful bullpen guy for a while).

I think we were all hoping for a little more out of free agency when it came to bolstering the rotation, but if this is indeed truly it, then I think I’ll be slightly disappointed. Yes, the Mariners have a lot of highly-rated prospects working their way through the minor leagues in the next two years, but not ALL of them are going to pan out, for one reason or another. Remember “The Big Four” of Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Brandon Maurer? Hultzen never pitched in the Majors with the Mariners due to injuries, Walker had middling success until he was traded away, and Maurer eventually had to convert to a bullpen role and hasn’t pitched since 2018. Paxton was the only guy who panned out, and he still had his share of injuries throughout his career, ultimately getting traded to the Yankees for Sheffield when we started our rebuild.

Nothing is a given, is my point. And, if we’re truly going to go forward with this six-man rotation, it seems like there should be plenty of room for a guy like Flexen, as well as a free agent with more substance. We’ll see if the Mariners think the same way as I do or not.

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?

The Mariners Split The Final Four Games In Oakland To End Their Season

Last Thursday was an off-day for the Mariners. It was also the day we were officially eliminated from the playoffs, as both Toronto and Houston won to put us out of our misery. All that remained was four games against the Athletics, to hopefully improve our draft standing for next year.

Friday went perfectly according to plan! Yusei Kikuchi spun a 6-inning shutout gem, giving up 4 hits, walking 3, and striking out 5. It was one of his few gems this season – and, by extension, his entire MLB career – but he’s still a big figure in our starting rotation in 2021, so any signs of greatness will be warmly welcomed by me. Oddly enough, this game was tied at zero going into the tenth inning. The M’s scratched a run across on a passed ball, but we gave up three runs in the bottom half to walk it off. The offense managed all of five hits, two by J.P. Crawford, so whatever.

Saturday’s doubleheader was as annoying as it gets for someone who wanted the M’s to tank, as they won both games! The way they did it wasn’t too bad in the grand scheme of things, though.

Justus Sheffield ended his season with a 5-inning, 1-run start to lower his ERA to 3.58; not bad for a rookie we’re hoping will be a staple in our rotation for years to come! This game was tied at one going into extras (in this case, the 8th inning, as all doubleheaders are 7-inning games this year). The A’s had a chance to win it in regulation, but somehow blew it, and that’s when our offense came alive. Crawford had 3 more hits in this one, including the go-ahead RBI single in the eighth, to drastically improve his season numbers. The M’s ultimately prevailed 5-1 after Ty France and Kyle Seager played add-on.

Then, Justin Dunn made his final start of the year, going 5 innings, giving up 3 runs. His rookie year wasn’t quite as promising as Sheffield’s, but I thought he got better as the season went along; either way, this was a great experience for the young pitcher to hopefully build upon. The offense really ran away with this one, as Crawford, Tim Lopes, Evan White, and Dee Strange-Gordon all had multi-hit games. Obviously, I’ll have more to say about a lot of these guys as I write my season wrap-up post(s) in the days/weeks ahead, but even though it hurt us in the draft standings, it was fun to see one more offensive explosion from a group that was pretty maligned this year. A 12-3 score made this one a laugher.

The finale was a game I didn’t see one second of, as it was on opposite the NFL, but with Marco Gonzales making his final start of the season, there was cause for concern that we’d end the season on a 3-game winning streak! He only managed 5 innings as well, giving up 2 runs, but the offense was nowhere to be found in this one (other than J.P. Crawford, who had two MORE hits, finishing the season on an absolute TEAR; 9/16 against the A’s alone, to raise his average from .229 to .255). We lost 6-2, no harm no foul.

The Mariners were 27-33 in 2020, good for 12th in the draft order next year. Our -49 run differential was 6th-worst across MLB, which is kind of infuriating, but I’m not going to cry about it too much. What’s worse is that – had we lost all four games this weekend – we would officially be drafting anywhere from 5th to 7th, depending on tie-breakers; I TOLD YOU WE WERE CLOSE! We did finish third in the A.L. West, a game ahead of the Angels, and two games behind Houston for the playoffs. That’s obviously much better than I expected heading into this season! But, of course, the Cheating Astros were much worse than I expected.

I’ll probably root for the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League; they seem like a young, fun bunch. As for the National League, how can you not like the San Diego Padres?! Of course, I don’t expect to actually WATCH any of these games, but every so often I’ll be reminded that playoff baseball is happening, and it’ll be nice to know from afar that these pleasant teams are doing well.

As for the Mariners, once again, there’s always next year. That always sounds more like a threat than some reason for solace, but what are you gonna do? I’ve made my bed; I’m a Mariners fan. Why I continue to keep re-making the same bed after they keep shitting in it every year, I have no idea. I guess I just like to suffer.

The Mariners Are Starting To Fade With That Weekend Series In San Diego

Let’s just pretend last night’s game against the Astros didn’t happen. Football season being what it is, it necessitates my writing about the Seahawks most Monday mornings. And I’ll be damned if I’m posting twice on the same day when I don’t have to!

So, imagine it’s yesterday morning when I’m writing this. The M’s are 23-30 and coming off of a series defeat to the Padres. The fact that we won once – and took the finale to extra innings – is impressive-enough, but with the Cheating Astros winning 2/3 over the weekend, they took an insurmountable 4-game lead heading into the Seattle series this week.

Friday’s 6-1 defeat was a bust any way you slice it. Yusei Kikuchi gave up 5 runs in 4 innings; his season hasn’t been ideal by any stretch of the imagination. In spite of decent bullpen work the rest of the way, the offense couldn’t generate more than three hits (one of them a solo homer by Evan White).

That made Saturday’s 4-1 victory all the more exciting, though. Legitimate cause for celebration – Justus Sheffield – tossed another gem, going 6 innings, giving up 1 run. He has been a true revelation this season! Kyle Lewis hit a solo homer (his 11th on the season) and two guys we brought in from the Padres in that Austin Nola deal – Ty France and Luis Torrens – combined for 4 hits and 3 RBI in this one. Nola, meanwhile, has shockingly been ice cold since going to San Diego, with only 10 hits in 49 at bats, for a slash line of .204/.316/.388, which has to be a disappointment for both him and his new team. Maybe the pressure is too much? Maybe it’s just a flukey cold streak. We’ll see. Anyway, this one got hairy in the ninth inning, with Yoshihisa Hirano loading the bases before getting out unscathed.

The finale on Sunday was pretty bonkers, with both starters getting into the fifth inning without giving up any hits. The M’s actually managed to draw first blood in the bottom of the fifth with a single and a double to take a 1-0 lead. Justin Dunn didn’t give up a hit until he got two outs into the sixth inning, before a walk, a double, and 3-run homer ended his outing. The Mariners tied it in the eighth on a Dylan Moore 2-run bomb, which eventually got us into extras. With the dumb Start A Runner On Second Base rule in effect, the Padres scored in the top of the tenth and the Mariners did the same to make it 4-4 heading into the 11th. The Padres did significant damage this time around, scoring three runs to ultimately take the game, 7-4.

Again, heading into Monday, the Mariners and their 23-30 record were good for tenth in the draft order next year. Still well within shouting distance of a much better pick! How will we do against the Astros? I’m predicting three more defeats!

(Would you look at that?! After last night’s game, I’m already wrong in my prediction!)

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.

The Mariners Swept Someone, If You Can Believe It

I mean, it was the Texas Rangers, and their offense looks pretty abysmal – even by Mariners standards – but a series sweep is a series sweep!

I’ll be the first to admit: I only watched Sunday’s game. But, it sounds like there was a lot of good stuff to be mined from this weekend. Nick Margevicius got the start on Friday and was cruising along through four shutout innings, before giving up four runs in the next 1.1 innings. The bullpen was perfect the rest of the way though (including Taylor Williams’ fifth save) to seal the deal.

The offense was the story of this 7-4 victory. Kyle Lewis got on base three times and scored three runs (including a solo homer), Tim Lopes had a couple hits, and Braden Bishop checked in with a couple RBI. The damage was spread throughout the lineup, with seven Mariners getting hits and all nine Mariners managing to get on base at least once.

The Mariners absolutely exploded on Saturday, winning 10-1. Justus Sheffield had another quality start – going 6 innings, giving up 1 run on 6 hits and 1 walk, with 5 strikeouts. And, obviously, the bullpen worked its magic from there.

The offense was even MORE of the story in this one. Kyle Lewis was on base all five times (including going 3 for 3 at the plate), Austin Nola also checked in with 3 hits and 3 runs, and Evan White had a whale of a game! He had two hits – including a homer – and a whopping 6 RBI! It sounds like this one would’ve been a lot of fun to witness; it’s also games like these where I miss being in the stadium. That would’ve been just a total party from the opening pitch.

Yesterday’s game was actually a pretty thrilling little 4-1 victory! Justin Dunn had the best start of his young career! Of course, his last “best start of his career” was also against the Rangers a couple of weeks earlier. In that one, he went 6 innings, giving up 2 runs; yesterday afternoon, he went 6 innings, giving up 0 runs (while giving up only 1 hit and 1 walk, and striking out 6). He really had command of everything. The ball had phenomenal movement, he was getting ahead of hitters, and he did a great job of mixing up his pitches. I was wondering earlier in the season why he was such a highly-touted prospect, and it’s a game like this that’s really opened my eyes to the possibilities of what Justin Dunn can ultimately become. It’s still not the best fastball I’ve ever seen, but with the movement on all of his pitches, if he can command them, he could be really good!

All the scoring by the Mariners came off of the home run ball. Kyle Lewis and Austin Nola both had solo shots, and newcomer Sam Haggerty had a 2-run bomb. So far, Haggerty has had at least one hit in all five games he’s appeared in since making his Major League debut. He appears to be quite undersized – which makes sense, given his youth – but at the very least he seems to know what he’s doing in the very early going.

The sweep brings our record to 11-19, which is good for the fourth overall draft pick if the season ended today. We’re also now only the SECOND-worst run differential in all of baseball; the Rangers have fallen to the bottom! So, you know, take this sweep with a hefty grain of salt. The Angels appear to be the real deal as far as bad teams are concerned, because they leapfrogged us to the last place spot in the A.L. West.

Everything seems to be coming up Mariners lately, especially with an off-day today. But, be careful with that optimism, because tomorrow we start a 3-game road set against the red-hot Padres down in San Diego! They’re on a 7-game winning streak – having recently swept the state of Texas – and you might remember that brouhaha with Fernando Tatis Jr. last week. So, we’re walking into THAT hornet’s nest!

Look, just enjoy the pleasant weekend while you can, is all I’m saying.