The 2021 Seattle Mariners State Of The Young Guys

I promised to get around to talking about the young guys, and here I am delivering on that promise!

As I noted previously, there’s reason for both optimism and pessimism surrounding the immediate future of the Seattle Mariners. If we glom onto the negative, you’ve got an unsustainable offensive model where the team sucks at hitting, except for very specific points in any given ballgame where the team comes together to score JUST enough to win by a run or two. Otherwise, we’re looking at severe blowout losses that throw our run differential out of whack. Furthermore, the people doing most of the hitting are veterans, while many of the young guys struggled mightily.

I’m going to try to look on the bright side with this post, but you know me. Some of that negativity is bound to creep in.

I’ll start with a point I made in Tuesday’s post: J.P. Crawford and Ty France are far from old fogeys. Just because they’ve been around the bigs for a few years doesn’t mean they’re past their primes or anything; Crawford will be 27 in January and France is 27 now. We control Crawford through 2024 and France through 2025; I don’t care about any years beyond those right now, if I’m being honest. The “Win Forever” concept is a nice idea in theory, but let’s just get to the initial “Win” part before we start talking in terms of multiple years or decades down the line.

I would argue there’s a lot to like about the way Jarred Kelenic finished his season. Sure, his rookie season was miserable for the vast majority of it – finishing with a -1.7 WAR in 93 games – but his September/October were leaps and bounds better than the rest of his year. It can be easy to discount a late-season surge like that, but this wasn’t a guy getting a cup of coffee at the end of a losing year. This was a guy who worked through his initial struggles – largely at the Major League level – and found a breakthrough after a lot of trial and error. It doesn’t mean he’s necessarily going to start 2022 on fire and be an All Star the rest of his career, but it doesn’t rule it out either. Regardless, I would expect a huge improvement in his overall numbers next year; I don’t think we have much to worry about when it comes to Kelenic. We know, if nothing else, he’s going to continue to put in the work to be one of the greats.

I also want to talk about Logan Gilbert up top, as another young stud who should be a mainstay for a good, long while. On the whole, he made 24 starts, had a 1.0 WAR and was up and down with his production at the Major League level. But, he also saved his best and most consistent work for the final month of the season; only one game out of the final six featured him giving up more than 2 runs (and that was 4 runs against the Angels, in 5.1 innings of work). He ended up being one of our better pitchers down the stretch, in a playoff chase, which is very encouraging for his career going forward. He’s got the kind of stuff that can be dominant at the Major League level, so I’m very much looking forward to what he has to offer next year and beyond.

In the next tier down, I’d like to talk about a few guys who showed some promise, but also might end up flaming out.

There’s a lot to like about what Abraham Toro did as a Mariner, and I’ll staunchly defend that trade with the Astros anytime and anyplace. Even if he never makes it as a consistent, reliable everyday player, the idea was sound. All you can ask from your GM is to make good decisions based on the information he has available at the time, and then hope for the best that the players he brings in pan out. Toro will be 25 in December and we control him through 2025; that’s easily worth a reliever rental in my book.

On top of which, Toro made an immediate impact as soon as we acquired him! His first month on the team was outstanding, culminating in a game-winning Grand Slam against Kendall Graveman on August 31st. He scratched the surface of being a .270 hitter in that time, but did falter pretty severely down the stretch. His slash line was overall better as a Mariner than it was as an Astro, but there was a little bit of a dip in his slugging. He finished the year – across both teams – with 11 homers in 95 games, which is okay, but not amazing. He might have more left to unleash upon the game of baseball, but it kinda looks like he’s dependant upon his batting average to provide offensive value, so if his BABIP slumps, he’s going to be a pretty miserable hitter (aren’t we all?).

In a vacuum, there are two openings across the infield – at second and third base – and one of those spots needs to be filled by a quality, proven veteran who’s a middle-of-the-order type hitter. I’m okay with Toro getting one of the other spots as we head into 2022, but he’s going to need to produce more than he did in 2021 if he wants to stick around long term.

I’d also like to throw Cal Raleigh into this bin, even though he had a worse year than anyone I’ve mentioned so far. It’s hard out there for most any rookie at the Major League level; the jump from the minors is extreme and will quickly weed out those who don’t belong. I would argue it’s the hardest of all for rookie catchers, who not only have to worry about their own hitting and defense, but they have to lead an entire team full of pitchers through every ballgame they’re in.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you Raleigh will be fine. He might be a total bust! The Mariners have been calling up catchers for years now, and I’ve spent all this time expecting one of them to pan out; none of them did. Mike Zunino was as sure a bet as you’ll see as a catcher and he still managed to strike out a bazillion times. Only this year did he pull it all together as an All Star who hit 33 homers – with the Rays – and that was with a whopping .216 batting average with 132 strikeouts in 109 games. I think we all were hoping Raleigh would be better than Zunino, but I have my doubts.

A lot will be learned next year. Like Kelenic, Raleigh is an extremely hard worker and a natural leader behind the plate. If he’s able to flush his .180/.223/.309 slash line, maybe he can make strides towards being a viable starter going forward.

I’ll say a little bit about Fraley, Torrens, and Bauers: I think they’re okay, but I don’t think any of them are starters. Torrens is a likely trade candidate – since he can catch and play first base – and Fraley feels like a reserve/fourth outfielder on a good team. Bauers has all the tools – and apparently puts on a great batting practice show with his bat – but he’s yet to really put it all together; it felt like a lot of his hits were lucky bloops and dribblers that narrowly evaded opposing gloves.

There aren’t a lot of promising young pitchers at the Major League level, but I’ll talk about a couple of relievers here. Yohan Ramirez took what seemed like a significant step forward in 2021 over his 2020 season. In 2020, he was mostly put into losing games and blowouts; in 2021, that largely continued, but he was also put into some high-leverage situations and came out okay! The team is trying to harness his stuff, as he’s got a great splitter to strike guys out, but he can be wild at times and get behind in the count. I’m curious to see if he can continue to get better.

Andres Munoz is a guy who can throw triple-digits; he got the shortest cup of coffee at the end of the year, playing in Game 162. But, he’ll be 23 in January, and we control him through 2025, so hopefully he can parlay that confidence boost into a great Spring Training.

There are, of course, young pitchers in the minors we’ve still got to look forward to; I’ll save my breath on them until we know what the 2022 roster looks like, as I expect to see multiple veteran starters brought in to round out the rotation (though our bullpen looks largely set with in-house guys).

You can’t talk about the young guys with promise without throwing 2020 Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis into the mix. He was injured for most of 2021 – the same knee he tore back as an A-ball player – and his long-term prospects appear to be dwindling. It’s not great that he tried to rehab the knee without surgery, only to have a late-season setback that cost him the rest of the year. It’s going to be super frustrating if he does need surgery, causing him to miss 2022 as well.

There’s no denying his talent when he’s healthy, but Kyle Lewis gets tossed onto the Maybe Pile when it comes to talking about future mainstays on the Mariners.

Which is more than you can say about guys like Evan White, Justus Sheffield, and Justin Dunn. I don’t know what the fuck is going to happen there. White sucked in 2020 as a rookie, then played in only 30 games before going down with a hip injury that required season-ending surgery. In those 30 games, he also sucked. His defense is, of course, elite, but at this point so is France’s. White’s bat just doesn’t play at this level, even a little bit. He’s got power, but misses balls too consistently. And he’s not even a cost-effective prospect since we signed him to that 6-year, $24 million deal before he even played a single Major League game! He made a combined $2.6 million for his last two worthless seasons, is set to earn $1.4 million in 2022, then that figure jumps to $3 million in 2023 and $7 million and $8 million in 2024 and 2025. What do you do with that? If France sniped his job at first base, do you try to trade White? What do you get for a guy with that kind of contract, who can’t hit? Do you try to move him to a different defensive position; make him a super-sub?

As for Sheffield and Dunn, I’ve lost all faith in them ever panning out. They just don’t have the stuff to be good or consistent at this level.

Thankfully, as I mentioned, there are lots of prospects in the minor leagues to pull from in the next year or two. The State of the Young Guys is pretty strong for the Mariners, with one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. Here’s to hoping we trade away the duds and manage to hang onto the superstars!

The 2021 Seattle Mariners State Of The Union

We just wrapped up a wildly entertaining and overachieving season by the Seattle Mariners. They won 90 games for the first time since 2003 and fell just two games short of the playoffs. We’re in the thick of a full-on rebuild, but it’s the fun part of the rebuild: where things turn from being a perennial loser to hopefully a perennial winner. If things go according to plan, the 2022 Mariners should make the postseason for the first time since 2001 – breaking the longest drought in all of the major North American sports – and the 2023 Mariners should start contending for American League pennants and World Series championships.

There’s also a Glass Half Empty outlook to this whole thing. Because this is Seattle, and these are the Mariners, so of course we have every reason to believe it’ll all go to shit like everything else in our sports universe.

Let’s start with the hitting: the Mariners were dead-last in the American League with a .226 batting average. We were second-to-last with a .303 on-base percentage and .385 slugging percentage. That’s all good for a second-to-last OPS of .688; we were one of only two teams (the Texas Rangers, at the exceedingly UNFUN portion of a rebuild, where they’re legitimately one of the worst squads in all of baseball) with an OPS under .700. And, as far as pitching goes, we were very much middle-of-the-road across the board.

We were 90-72, but ninth in the American League with a -51 run differential. Our Pythagorean win/loss record indicates we should’ve been 76-86 (per Baseball Reference). So, how do you make sense of a season like this? Well, the M’s were 11-28 in blowouts (games decided by 5 or more runs), but we were 33-19 in 1-run games.

It boils down to the starters being good enough to keep us in most ballgames, our manager pulling the right strings regarding when to take them out of harm’s way, and a bullpen that, in part, was one of the best units in the league. And, our hitters being among the most clutch I’ve ever seen. They didn’t hit much, but when they did, they made those opportunities count! Often late in games, to either come from behind, or break a tie to win it in thrilling fashion.

So, where do we attribute the Mariners’ success and ultimate failure?

Well, for the highlights, look no further than J.P. Crawford, Ty France, Mitch Haniger, and Kyle Seager, on the hitting side of things. They had an inordinate amount of impact on just how well the Mariners performed this season. It’s not even close; the drop-off after those four guys is insane. You don’t LOVE to see something like that, because Seager is gone next year, and Haniger only has one year of Arbitration left before he might walk in free agency.

What you want to see is the young guys stepping up and assuming huge roles; I’ll discuss these guys in a separate post, but suffice it to say, they weren’t quite up to the task just yet.

But, Crawford and France are still pretty young, with lots of team control remaining. They’re not nothing!

If you think about the Mariners in 2-3 year chunks, then we’ve got at least those two guys in the fold and producing at a high level. We can always extend Haniger after next year, or if we don’t, that means we likely have someone else of a high calibre who can fill his shoes (Julio Rodriguez, for instance).

In the meantime, as I’ll get into another time, it’s far from doom-and-gloom with the young guys. Plus, it’s not like we’re going to rest on our laurels with the guys in the farm system. We’ll bring in veterans in free agency and trades to fill out the lineup, and make up for the loss of Seager.

As for the starting pitching side of things, who doesn’t love what Chris Flexen did as a bargain-basement signing? He led the starters in innings pitched, WAR, ERA, and wins, and he did it with sustainable stuff that should continue to play as a solid #2 or #3 starter. Marco Gonzales continued to do Marco Gonzales things. And, Logan Gilbert had a strong first season, seeming to improve as the year went on (more on him later).

The downside is, that’s pretty much it. James Paxton got injured on day one. Yusei Kikuchi likely pitched his way off the team (losing a 4-year, $66 million option in the process), though he could always exercise a 1-year player option for $13 million (but, that seems unlikely, as you’d think someone else would fork over more guaranteed dollars and try to fix his issues). Justus Sheffield was one of the biggest disappointments on the team and his future is very much in doubt. Justin Dunn lost half his season to injury, but wasn’t all that effective in the half he was healthy. Tyler Anderson was a competent back-of-the-rotation starter we acquired at the trade deadline, but he’ll be a free agent this offseason and will be looking for a significant raise.

I would argue the Mariners need at least two starters, and it’s debatable as to whether or not the young guys in our farm system are ready yet. If we’re trying to make the playoffs in 2022, entrusting two more rotation spots to rookies seems like a bad idea. But, we have to do better than Sheffield and Dunn, so they better figure something out.

The bullpen was the biggest pleasant surprise on the team. Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, and Casey Sadler were all lights out! Diego Castillo was fine, though it’s hard to want to trust him in the highest-leverage situations. Kendall Graveman was excellent when he was here, and he netted us a nice little return in Abraham Toro; plus we could always sign him again this offseason if we wanted!

The thing is, we have team control with all of those guys (save Graveman), and I haven’t even gotten to the younger guys who I’ll talk about later. Nor did I mention Ken Giles, who missed this year with injury, but is signed through the 2022 season and is slated to return and be a big part of this group! The bullpen went from being arguably this team’s biggest weakness heading into the 2021 season, to being arguably its biggest strength heading into 2022. That’s HUGE (with the usual caveat being: bullpens are notoriously volatile from year-to-year, so they could all shit the bed as well).

So, what’s the state of the union as we exit 2021 and head into 2022?

I know the marketing materials would tell us it’s all looking up, and I’m buying right into the rose-colored glasses this organization is trying to peddle, but I think they’re right! I like the looks of things for the Mariners in the coming years. I’m not going to sit here and guarantee a playoff spot in 2022; I could easily see this team taking a step backwards.

Odds are, the 2022 Mariners won’t be quite so lucky in 1-run games. Odds are, the 2022 Mariners won’t hit quite so well in the clutch. Odds are, the 2022 Mariners will continue to suffer injuries to key guys (anyone remember Kyle Lewis?).

The thing is, we could see all of that; we could even see the 2022 Mariners end up as a sub-.500 ballclub in the overall standings! That having been said, we could see all of that while the team itself continues to grow and get better. Maybe we start out slow, losing games we expected to win, but in the process we get to watch more young guys make their Major League debuts. We get to see other young guys continue to blossom into Major Leaguers and All Stars. Maybe 2022 is the final step-back before things all skyrocket in 2023 and beyond.

The point is, there will be more bumps in the road. Things never EVER go according to plan. But, that doesn’t mean the overall outlook isn’t high. Just don’t put too much pressure on the year right in front of us. It might take two years, and that’s okay.

But, if we’re not in the playoffs by 2023, there should be hell to pay. Because how do you fuck up an organization with a farm system this stacked? Well, if anyone can fuck it up, you know the Mariners can!

The Mariners Somehow Did Not Sweep The Rangers

I was so thoroughly annoyed by Tuesday’s extra-innings loss to the Rangers, I couldn’t even enjoy the subsequent two wins. We should’ve HAD THAT GAME!

For starters, the amount of struggling we did in this series is insane. The Rangers are hands down one of the worst teams in baseball. They might be, pound for pound, the worst team of the 30 at the moment. And yet, every game in this series was decided by 2 runs or less. Every step of the way was a gargantuan fucking challenge.

The last thing I want to do is rehash the 5-4 defeat, but it has to be done because it’s the perfect incapsulation of how much the M’s played down to the talent level of their opponent. The Rangers jumped out to a 1-0 lead off of Logan Gilbert thanks to a solo homer in the second. He settled down pretty good – finishing 6 innings, giving up just 2 runs on 5 hits, while striking out 5 and walking 0 – but ended up with a no decision. Haniger and Seager hit back-to-back solo bombs in the fourth; the Rangers hit an RBI double in the fifth to give the game its score at that point.

It was tied heading into the ninth, when Paul Sewald got jumped for a solo bomb to potentially cost us the game. We were facing the Rangers’ closer in the bottom half down a run, and already I was super pissed off.

But, then a little of that late-game Mariners magic returned! Bauers and Kelenic walked, and Raleigh singled to load the bases (after a couple of laughably bad attempts to bunt the runners over) for Jake Fraley … who also walked to tie the game at 3-3. With no outs. And the top of the order coming up.

HOW DO YOU LOSE?! The closer is wild as fuck, he’s decidedly being left in there to take his lumps even though he clearly doesn’t have it, and we had J.P. Crawford, Mitch Haniger, and Kyle Seager up. ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS HIT A LAZY FLY BALL TO THE OUTFIELD! Or work a walk, or take one off the shoulder, or get a fucking ball to roll through the pulled-in infield.

Just flabbergasting. J.P. Crawford – who has been so good in these situations, and especially when he just needs to make contact – struck out swinging. By this point, the Rangers’ closer seemed to gather his control, as he pretty easily struck out Haniger swinging as well. Then came Seager, who gave us the lazy fly ball we needed, two outs too late.

Erik Swanson came in for the 10th, and was catching too much of the heart of the plate; the Rangers scored both the ghost runner AND an actual runner to take a 5-3 lead. The Mariners immediately singled in the ghost runner in their first AB of the bottom half of the inning, but Toro grounded into a double play to pretty much end the threat.

I gave up on the series from there. I also, not for nothing, am washing my hands of this Toronto series this weekend for other reasons, but even if I were totally free, I think I’d find something else to do with my time.

So, I missed the thrilling 2-1 come-from-behind, walk-off win on Wednesday. But, read that again. Why in the hell are we only scoring two runs against this pitching staff? Why are we down a run to them in the first place? Why do we need a heroic bottom-of-the-ninth walk-off situation to win it? Kudos to our pitching staff, I guess. But anti-kudos to the hitters, who have REALLY been shit in the month of August.

Tyler Anderson went 5.1 innings, giving up 1 run. I like how we’re controlling him, and pulling him before any late damage can be done. I also like how he’s giving us ALMOST-quality starts every time out; this is what we weren’t getting from all those bullpen days. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn are ready to return.

The bullpen was lights out from there. Joe Smith continued his scoreless streak since the trade from Houston. Casey Sadler continued his phenomenal run since returning from the IL. Diego Castillo looked sharp in his 8th inning. And Drew Steckenrider continued being one of the most improbably-effective relievers on this team! He ended up earning his fourth win of the season for his troubles.

The Rangers jumped out to an early 1-0 lead before Kelenic, in the sixth, walked in a run. That was it until the ninth, when Kelenic led off with a double. One out later, Fraley hit an infield single to move him to third, for Luis Torrens who also singled him home (though it sounds like it might’ve been a double under normal circumstances).

Even though yesterday’s Day Game was another close affair, it was actually a breath of fresh air, with the M’s prevailing 3-1. That’s because Marco Gonzales turned in easily his best game of the season, getting the complete game, giving up 2 hits, walking 1, and striking out 9. THIS is the #1 starter we’ve been waiting for all year! Now, if he can just do it against an actual Major League Baseball team, we’ll be all set.

Again, we had to come back from an early 1-0 deficit. Kelenic hit a sac fly, and Crawford and Fraley both hit solo bombs.

It’s nice to see Kelenic’s average get up to .150. That, obviously, is a terrible number for a hitter to have, but it’s 50 points higher than it was not too long ago. Unless he bats 1.000 the rest of the way, he’s not going to end this season with a good-looking average. But, as long as he finishes the last couple months strong, I think that’s something he can really build upon heading into next year.

Even though there’s a lot to like about getting this series win, it’s a missed opportunity. You have to sweep a team as bad as the Rangers, especially at home, especially when it’s the bottom of the ninth, with the bases loaded, and no one is out.

It still makes my blood boil.

I mean, you do realize you’re in a wild card chase, right? I know you all were exasperated with the front office after the trade of Graveman, but that doesn’t mean you just give up!

You know how the Mariners can win me back? Sweep the Blue Jays this weekend. Take them out behind the woodshed and leapfrog them in one fell swoop. The Mariners are 2 games behind the Blue Jays (who are, themselves, 2.5 games out of the last wild card spot). This is our opportunity to eliminate them as a threat and set our sights to ending this playoff drought.

I guess, if I had to settle for a mere series win, that would be okay too, though it would obviously still leave us a game behind them. But, losing this series is NOT an option.

The Mariners Stop Winning Series, Losing To The Yankees

The Yankees are a right-handed laden lineup who also happen to crush left-handed pitching, so this was always going to be a poor matchup for the Mariners. Just kidding, it’s actually Clay Bennett’s fault (anytime I can join in on Clay Bennett bashing, you’re damn right I’m going to jump on the bandwagon!).

Justus Sheffield continued on his Suck Hard World Tour Tuesday night with yet another miserable outing. He made it 1.2 innings, giving up 6 runs in the process, en route to an eventual 12-1 thrashing. It’s no surprise he landed on the IL with a “strained forearm and/or oblique”. I mean, I guess there’s probably something legit there, because I’m pretty sure we still have options for him to go down to Tacoma (to be fair, I don’t totally understand all the ins and outs of baseball options), but it still seems shady when he recently said he wasn’t hurt. I dunno.

I don’t have a lot to report about this game, as Sheffield starts aren’t exactly Must See TV. I wish I had gambled against the Mariners in this one. I also wish the Mariners had literally any other starting pitching options to put in his place, but it seems like whoever we go with will be sub-replacement level. And I don’t trust for one second that Justin Dunn will be healthy enough to return and finish the season.

Wednesday’s game was another rocky road, with Yusei Kikuchi (another lefty) getting bashed for 5 runs in his first two innings of work. He was able to settle down and put up three scoreless innings after that, but the damage was done. Not really the outing the only Mariners All Star wanted to put out into the world before the break. The bullpen, however, continued to shut things down from there, just long enough for the Mariners to make a 5-1 start into a 5-4 close loss. But, the back-end of that Yankees bullpen is almost always totally savage, and they had no problem getting through the final two innings.

Yesterday’s game was absolutely remarkable! We 1-hit the Yankees in a 4-0 victory. Logan Gilbert gave up the only hit – a double – but went 7 innings, walking 0 and striking out 8. It was the most dominant outing by a Mariners starter since Felix’s perfect game. Seager, Moore, and Haniger homered in all the runs.

With the Angels in town for three games this weekend, that concludes the first half of the baseball season. Next week, I’ll post about some Mariners highlights; don’t think I’m not looking forward to writing at length about how great Logan Gilbert has been lately!

The Mariners Keep Winning Series, Defeating The Blue Jays

Are the Mariners actually decent? This question was posed to me yesterday after the M’s took the series against the Blue Jays, 2 games out of 3. Sure, I think the Mariners are decent. But, “decent” and “good” are two different things. I think the Mariners will hover around .500 all year, but I also think there will be some ugly losing stretches we’ll have to endure, that ultimately prevent us from making the playoffs. When I close my eyes, I don’t see a playoff team. If I squint really hard, it’s possible. But, you have to wonder how much help is on the horizon.

There are still younger guys who will be called up and could make a difference in the second half of the season. Kelenic is out there, Cal Raleigh is bursting at the seams. But, where is the pitching coming from? With all of these off-days of late, we’ve temporarily abandoned the 6-man rotation, but you have to believe it’s returning after the All Star Break. The M’s don’t HAVE six healthy viable starters, with Justin Dunn on the shelf and presumably requiring an extended break to calm down his arm. On top of that, Justus Sheffield has been hot garbage over the last month, so we’re REALLY in need of two starters if we want to continue on these winning ways. And that assumes our existing starters manage to stay healthy the rest of the way, which you know will not happen.

Just enjoy the fucking ride. It’s been fun the last couple weeks, as the Mariners have gone 12-4 to lift their record to 43-39. That seems like an abnormally fortunate stretch of baseball for a team whose run differential is still -42.

I talked earlier in the week about how the Blue Jays’ record wasn’t indicative of their talent level, that they’re much better than you might think. Tuesday’s 9-3 drubbing proved that point quite nicely. Chris Flexen was okay (5 innings, 3 runs), but the bullpen totally shit the bed, with Rafael Montero and Will Vest giving up 3-run home runs in back-to-back innings. Ty France’s 3-run home run – to grace Flexen with the well-earned no decision – was the only offense to speak of.

Wednesday’s 9-7 Mariners victory was one of the more entertaining games of the season, marred by a brutal YouTube telecast (more Sarah Langs, less of … everyone else, please). I, of course, had zero faith in the M’s in this one, especially after what I witnessed the previous evening. Justus Sheffield didn’t disappoint, in that respect, giving up 4 runs in 4 innings. Frankly, he was lucky he didn’t get blown up more than he did!

The M’s jumped out to a 4-1 lead that was chipped away to a 4-4 tie after four innings. Highlights from that stretch included a Trammell RBI double and a Seager 2-run home run. Haniger hit a 2-run bomb in the fifth to make it 6-4, which dropped to 6-5 by the bottom half of the inning. That score held until the 8th when the Blue Jays hit a solo bomb to tie it. We made it to extras where, in the tenth, Dylan Moore hit a 3-run home run to put the game away (a harmless Blue Jays unearned run scored in the bottom half, but nothing after that).

6 innings and only 2 earned runs out of the bullpen in that one! On top of which, Crawford, Seager, and Moore all had multi-hit games (13 hits total for the Mariners). The only downside to this one was the money I definitely didn’t lose by betting against the Mariners, I don’t even know what you guys are talking about!

There was a lot to like about the rubber match, with another dominant Yusei Kikuchi performance right at the top. 7 innings, 1 run (5 hits, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts). Dude, we HAVE to pick up his option years. I mean, yeah, wait until the end of the season or whatever, but get this done. He has clearly turned a corner in his career, and if this is the type of pitcher we can expect going forward, he’ll be a bargain!

Homers by Fraley and Long, multi-hit games by Fraley, Haniger, and Seager. Just a great game all around for the Mariners.

That made it a 4-2 road trip, and now here we are: a 9-game homestand to close out the first half, starting with three against the Rangers this weekend. Don’t look now, but there’s buzz around this team. Maybe ill-placed buzz, but buzz nonetheless.

The Elite Mariners Exploded All Over The Mediocre Rays

A 4-game sweep over the erstwhile A.L. East-leading Tampa Bay Rays? Only in America!

What a fun and exciting series if you’re a Mariners fan. And really just totally unexpected. The enjoyment kicked off with a 6-5 come-from-behind victory on Thursday, where Justin Dunn managed only two innings before leaving with an injury to his throwing shoulder, the same shoulder that landed him in the IL just a couple weeks prior. It’s apparently non-surgical, but it is something that’s going to keep him on the shelf for a while, so that’s a bummer. It’s especially bad because Justus Sheffield has been sucking, and there really aren’t any high-profile prospects on the horizon to fill in. I guess the hope is that Dunn won’t have to stay on the IL again for TOO long, and there are enough off-days to get us to his return, but I have my doubts.

The bullpen didn’t totally have it in this one, as JT Chargois, Rafael Montero, and Anthony Misiewicz combined for 5 runs in 5 innings of work. But, somehow, there was JUST enough pitching in this one, to give the hitters time to mount the comeback. J.P. Crawford singled in a run in the third, Torrens and France homered in a combined three runs, Shed Long doubled in a run in the bottom of the 9th to tie it, and Kyle Seager singled in a run right after that to walk it off.

Friday’s game was an impressive 5-1 victory, for obviously different reasons. Yusei Kikuchi dominated once again, going 7 innings of 1-run ball, with 4 hits and 3 walks allowed, while striking out 6. He is just absolutely on a tear this season, and it’s wonderful to see. The offense got it all done early, taking a 4-1 lead after one inning, and tacking on the insurance run in the third. Crawford, Seager, France, Bauers, and Torrens all had multi-hit games, with Long and Haniger also chipping in on the fun.

Saturday was another thrilling 6-5 victory, this time in extras. The M’s jumped out to a 5-2 lead after two innings, before the Rays slowly chipped away at our lead over the rest of regulation. Logan Gilbert went 5.2 innings, giving up 4 of those runs on 6 hits, striking out 7. He ALMOST had a quality start in there, but couldn’t quite make it. We still had the lead into the 9th until Kendall Graveman – who hasn’t quite been as spotless since his COVID IL stint – gave up a tying homer. Rafael Montero pitched a clean 10th, though, and we won it in the bottom half on a first-pitch single.

J.P. Crawford hit a grand slam in that second inning to lead the way. Jake Bauers had the first RBI of the game on a single, and Mitch Haniger had the walk-off single to end it. Bauers has been red-hot since the Mariners signed him, and it would be utterly fascinating to see if he can keep this going for the rest of the season. He was once a highly-touted prospect, so it would make sense for him to eventually put it all together. Then again, it’s unprecedented for the Mariners to be the team to ever benefit from such a turnaround. Also, don’t look now, but Crawford’s 2021 season is insane! At the end of April, his slash line was .250/.313/.295; at the end of May, it was .246/.310/.328; and as of today, it is .281/.341/.404. How about THAT? I mean, we’re not even halfway through the season yet – so there’s plenty of time for those numbers to plummet – but this is highly encouraging! I don’t know if there were a lot of people banking on Crawford being such a huge piece to the rebuild, but it’s looking like – for the moment – he’s the best of the young bunch!

Sunday’s 6-2 victory might’ve been the best of the weekend. Marco Gonzales was stellar, going 6.1 innings, giving up just 2 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 6. His pitch count was good-enough (87) to allow him to at least finish the 7th, but we were actually losing 2-1 at the time of his departure, and it was clear Marco was starting to falter (having given up a run in back-to-back innings to close it out).

The Mariners got a 3rd inning homer from Luis Torrens to take a 1-0 lead, and a 7th inning homer from Ty France to re-tie the game at 2-2. Lockdown work from the bullpen got us to the 10th inning, where once again Rafael Montero pitched around the ghost runner on second base to keep the game tied heading into the bottom half. From there, it looked like the M’s might squander a golden opportunity. Dylan Moore bunted over the runner to third (reaching on the fielder’s choice as a result), and after a Bauers fielder’s choice that eliminated the runner at home, the M’s loaded the bases on a Torrens walk. With one out, Jake Fraley flied out to shallow left field, bringing up Shed Long, who hit a wall-scraper of a Grand Slam to initiate a party at home plate.

It’s been very cool to see Shed Long do a few things since returning from injury. After last year’s abomination – due almost exclusively to a leg injury that hampered him all season – he’s hitting much closer to his career norms. He has 10 hits and 10 RBI in 11 games, with 5 of those hits going for extra bases. We’re obviously talking about a small sample there, but it’s always more fun when our guys do good as opposed to when they do bad. Also, big shout-out to Torrens, who has been superb since he was called back up from Tacoma. We’re talking about another very small sample, but in five games this month – including three against the Rays – he’s hit 3 homers and 5 RBI. That’s obviously huge because Tom Murphy is still sucking at the plate. It’s even bigger for Torrens because Cal Raleigh has been going supernova down in Tacoma and it’s absurd at this point that he hasn’t been called up.

No Weak-Willed Motherfucker-Guy, but remember when I said the Mariners were stacked at catcher and thoroughly jinxed Murphy and Torrens in the process? Because I don’t remember that at all.

Anyway, there aren’t quite as many healthy regulars who are hitting under .200 at the moment. Murphy and Dylan Moore are probably the closest to getting over that hump, with Taylor Trammell probably needing more opportunities to adjust. Anyway, the hitting hasn’t been quite as atrocious this month, and that’s been nice.

Two games against the Rockies close out this homestand on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, we have a jaunty little 6-game road trip to close out an otherwise exciting month of June. We’re sitting at 38-36 at the moment, so it’s nice to be above .500 for the time being.

The Mariners Played The Indians For The Last Time

Haha! Fun with technicalities and team name changes.

This was a camping weekend for yours truly, so I only ended up watching maybe the last couple innings of the Sunday game. Turns out, I didn’t really miss much.

The Mariners lost 7-0 on Friday. A text from my friend came through that read, “At least the Mariners weren’t no hit. Minor win with that.” That was really all I needed to know. I think this was Justin Dunn’s first start back since the brief IL stint, and clearly he didn’t have anything, nor did anyone else on the team.

Saturday’s game was an unfortunate one that we probably should’ve had. A 4-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth? That’s a game you should win 10 times out of 10. The real shame of it all is that another great start by Yusei Kikuchi was wasted; he went 7 innings of shutout ball, giving up 3 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 6. Kendall Graveman – still working his way back from the COVID IL – gave up a solo homer in the 8th, but that’s still no excuse for Rafael Montero blowing the 9th the way he did. That’s his 6th blown save of the season and at this point I just don’t see how we salvage it with him. It’s one of two things with him: either this is a lost season and he’ll get it all back in 2022 (presumably with a new team), or he’s just finished as a Major League pitcher. The way he’s been throwing, I just can’t see him turning things around in 2021, and even if he does, it DEFINITELY won’t be with the Mariners. One of the biggest busts of the year, and that’s factoring in James Paxton getting injured in his very first start.

On top of everything, Saturday’s game was our first loss in extra innings. We salvaged things on Sunday, winning that one 6-2. Logan Gilbert had another great start, going 6.2 innings, giving up 1 run on 4 hits and 1 walk, striking out 6. The bullpen was lockdown from there, until two outs into the 9th inning, when Graveman had some trouble getting that 27th out. He eventually loaded the bases and wild pitched in a run before closing the door. Even with a 5-run lead, Scott Servais wasn’t taking any chances with this one. The aforementioned Graveman went on back-to-back days (throwing 33 pitches in this game alone), Kyle Seager went from DH to 3B for that 9th inning. Shed Long was removed from LF for Jake Fraley; Ty France went from 3B to 1B. He WOULD NOT tolerate another blown save, if he could help it! And yet, Graveman almost did so anyway, which would’ve been pretty hilarious, in a sick way.

The Mariners went 4-6 on that road trip, losing two games in every city they visited. They’ve now earned a nice, long homestand for their trouble.

The Mariners Bounced Back The Opposite Way, Lost A Series To The Athletics

The 6-5 victory on Monday sealed off five wins in a row, and a stretch of 7 wins in 8 games: relatively impressive after the 6 losses in a row that preceeded it. Granted, the bullpen gagged away our 4-2 lead late in the game, blowing a would-be victory for Logan Gilbert – who was impressive over 6 innings, giving up just 2 runs on 5 hits and a walk, with 5 strikeouts, on 80 pitches – but we were able to prevail in extras thanks to some clutch hitting and a rabid sacrifice fly by Tom Murphy.

My friends and I went to the game on Tuesday thinking we had this game pegged. Marco Gonzales was making his return from the IL and wasn’t projected to go very far, since he hadn’t made any tune-up starts in the minor leagues. This one had all the feel of a game that might get out of hand early, with the bullpen carrying the mail like it usually does to keep things interesting to the end.

Instead, Marco was great! He threw 50 pitches, made it through 4 innings, and gave up only 1 run on 2 hits. It was, indeed, the bullpen that was shot, giving up the other 11 runs that turned this game into a rout, particularly with a 6-run seventh inning. We left the game not long after that debacle.

Wednesday’s rubber match was a total nightmare. I watched for almost three innings, but the A’s put up a 5-spot in the third and I knew it was over from there. I don’t know a ton about the Athletics and their players, but I know Sean Manaea fucking owns our asses. One run would’ve been too much, as this ended in a 6-0 complete game shutout for the man. Chris Flexen was able to gamely make it through 6 innings, just giving up those 5 runs, so it was nice of him to spare the bullpen a little bit (as Justin Dunn is going to miss his next start, which means we’re in for yet another bullpen day coming up).

It’s actually kind of crazy how many Mariners are hitting the IL this year. I have little frame of reference how they compare to the rest of MLB, or how they compare to normal seasons in the recent past, but it feels like a lot. It feels somewhat abnormal. Some of these would have happened in any ol’ season – I’m looking at Ty France getting hit by a pitch, and Kyle Lewis’ bum knee – but there has to be a non-zero number of injuries that we can attribute to COVID-19 and the cockadoodie 2020 season with only 60 games and no minor leagues. Guys whose bodies … for lack of a better phrase are out of baseball shape. So they’re getting these strains that they might not otherwise.

Of course, this could also just be a byproduct of the game today. Today’s player probably needs more regular off-days than they’re getting. Teams are unwilling or unable to roster full benches – because they’re using every extra spot on their bullpens – and obviously that’s for good reason, given how many of these injuries are happening to pitchers. When you’re a team like the Mariners – trying to run a 6-man rotation out there, partially in hopes of reducing some of the wear-and-tear, even though we no longer employ more than 6 viable starting pitchers at the Major League level – this rash of injuries becomes more pronounced. When fans are forced to watch many multiple bullpen days because the organization fucked around in the offseason putting all their chips in on James Paxton, there’s an injury trickle-down effect when that very bullpen that’s been carrying this team gets overworked. All in the name of this theory that a 6-man rotation is supposed to cut down on injuries.

IT’S NOT WORKING, MARINERS! All it’s doing is costing you games and the livelihood of your relievers that you’re running through a fucking meat-grinder.

In theory, in an ideal world where the Mariners have an unlimited source of quality starting pitchers, a 6-man rotation might be a good idea. But, in reality, almost no team has 6 good-to-great starters. They BARELY have 5, with the depth being of the sub-replacement level variety. There’s a reason why teams in the playoffs scale back to three starters, maybe four at the most. Obviously, you can’t do that over the course of a full 162-game season, but it’s pretty apparent you also can’t stretch it out to 6 without throwing away some games.

Those games start to add up when you’re hovering around .500 and ostensibly in contention for a postseason berth.

The Mariners Still Have A Few Tricks Up Their Sleeves, Swept The Rangers

I spent the better part of Memorial Day weekend camping, with very limited access to Twitter or anything else. As a result, I missed the festivities, so let’s go through this 4-game series against the Rangers together, shall we?

The first game was last Thursday, which I probably saw at least some of, but for the life of me can’t remember. It was a 5-0 victory. Chris Flexen had 7 shutout innings. Oh, that’s right, Tom Murphy and *checks notes* Jacob Nottingham both had homers. I definitely saw those. Also Jack Mayfield had a 2-RBI double and Mitch Haniger closed it out with an RBI single. Pretty impressive victory all around, but also these are the Rangers, and that’s what you’re supposed to do to the Rangers.

On Friday, the M’s won 3-2 behind some phenomenal bullpen work. Justus Sheffield was just good enough (5 innings, 2 runs), but far from great. Erik Swanson came through in the clutch with the 4-out save, though he promptly was placed on the IL this weekend with a groin strain, so hopefully that won’t linger too long. Kyle Lewis had a 2-run homer and Ty France continued his hit parade since returning from the IL.

Saturday was another 3-2 Mariners victory, this time behind a solid outing from Justin Dunn (5.2 innings, 1 run, 2 hits, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts). J.P. Crawford and Mitch Haniger both homered, and replacement catcher Jose Godoy knocked in the first run of the game on a single.

For the Sunday finale, the Mariners gave themselves a little extra insurance in a 4-2 victory. Yusei Kikuchi continued his great season, with 6.2 innings of 2-run ball. Ty France and Kyle Seager both had multi-hit games (including a late solo homer for Seager) to lead the way offensively.

This was a pretty impressive little series for the Mariners. They pulled themselves back to .500 on the season, which is nice to see after that long drought in mid-May. I know it’s only the Rangers, but the Tigers were only the Tigers and look at what happened there.

We’re still not getting a ton from the offense, obviously, and you wonder how the pitching staff is going to hold up – particularly the bullpen – with so many injuries and so many high-leverage situations to have to pitch through. The bottom of the lineup doesn’t figure to improve all that much, and there really doesn’t look like much offensive help on the horizon. It would be nice if Jarred Kelenic started hitting sooner rather than later; I think it was reasonable to expect him to struggle for the first couple weeks or so, but not THIS much, and not for THIS long. We’re through three weeks now, and I’ll NEVER understand why he was put first in the batting order from day one.

I’ll be curious to see what the next four months bring, because clearly things aren’t going quite as planned. The winning is nice and everything, but we seem to be relying largely upon veterans and guys who might not necessarily figure into the team’s long-term plans. Haniger, Seager, and France are still producing the bulk of the offense. Kelenic is struggling, Crawford is streaky, and White is still on the IL (with Kyle Lewis joining him, it would seem). I like what we’re seeing from Kikuchi, Flexen, and Dunn (for the most part), but Sheffield remains a mystery.

All in all, a pretty odd first couple months of the season.

The Mariners Are Showing Their True Colors

Based on pre-season expectations, the Mariners were playing out of their minds through approximately a month of the 2021 season. That is decidedly not the case since a 13-8 start, as the Mariners have lost 11 of their last 16 games. You can make the argument that the level of competition has been tough throughout – it makes sense, for instance, that the Mariners would get swept in a 2-game series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers – but this losing skid has been a long time coming, and cracks are starting to show against even the poor teams (2-4 in six games against Baltimore and Texas should never happen).

It doesn’t appear to get remarkably easier, as the next few weeks are littered with series against quality teams (including the Indians, starting tonight), so we’re at a bit of a crossroads here with this year’s Mariners squad. The Mariners are under .500 for the first time since April 8th; will they right the ship – with the addition of Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert, effective today – or will they continue their long slide into obscurity?

The last two days were as demoralizing as it gets. There’s an argument to be made that the M’s should’ve won on Tuesday. Even though we were going up against an elite starting pitcher, we still touched him up for 4 runs on 3 homers, and in these types of games, you need to make that limited number of runs stick.

Indeed, behind a strong Yusei Kikuchi start, we held a 4-1 lead heading into the 7th, and a 4-3 lead heading into the 8th. It’s unfair to malign the bullpen too much, since they’ve carried this team in a lot of ways, but it was disappointing all around. I’m disappointed in Scott Servais for trying to squeeze an extra inning out of Kikuchi (he had gone 6 innings, giving up just the 1 run on around 90-or-so pitches before returning to start the 7th; he got one out but traded it for 2 additional runs in the process thanks to shaky bullpenning). I’m disappointed in the choice to go to Anthony Misiewicz – our primary left-handed bullpen arm – to follow a left-handed starter in Kikuchi, especially with runners on (he has not proven himself capable of regularly getting out of these types of jams unscathed in the past). If you’re going to go with Misiewicz, give him a clean inning to start with! I’m also disappointed in Misiewicz himself, who got off to a red-hot start this season before faltering in recent outings. I’m disappointed in Rafael Montero being just a Blown Save Machine for this team (his fifth in six weeks’ worth of baseball). I’m disappointed in the overall bullpen construction – where Kendall Graveman is the only actual quality reliever we have on the roster, and he can’t go 2 innings per save ever fucking time – because there really is no bridge guy to get us to the ninth. A lot of disappointment to spread around, all adds up to a 6-4 defeat that didn’t have to be.

The finale yesterday was a 7-1 drubbing. We couldn’t really touch their starter, and Justin Dunn had another one of his … outings. If he ever puts it all together, he’ll be a Cy Young-calibre player. But, I’d say the odds of that happening are remote, because he just can’t get a handle on where his pitches end up. Once the Dodgers went up 2-0 in the fourth, the game felt over. With the way the offense has performed … all season? Dunn couldn’t even get more than one out in that fourth inning, which meant a lot of opportunity for a faltering bullpen to continue being a sieve.

I would imagine the hot streak that J.P. Crawford had been on is officially over. Mitch Haniger continues to plug away with his power numbers, but his batting average and on-base percentage are dipping considerably. Kyle Lewis hasn’t done a whole lot, Kyle Seager is giving us his usual output, and Ty France looks absolutely lost at the plate (while giving us very little in the field). Beyond that, Haggerty, Moore, Trammell (who was just today sent down to Tacoma, thank Christ), White, Marmolejos, and Murphy are all hitting under .200, with Torrens hitting a robust .208. It’s … pretty fucking bad.

That having been said, it’s SUPER FUN to see Kelenic and Gilbert get the call-up today! I can’t wait for tonight’s game. I know the team is looking forward to these guys possibly igniting things with the ballclub, but they should be more interested in how this will translate to the die hard fans like me. I would have 0.0% interest in watching tonight’s game – or any of the games this series against the Indians, who have one of the best pitching staffs in the American League – were it not for a couple of our young stars being here. This should fire up the fanbase as much as the team itself; I just hope that it translates to more wins for this team.

Because things are looking QUITE bleak otherwise.