The Mariners Are Such A Fucking Bummer

I have no real reason to write about the Mariners for a second consecutive day. They didn’t even play a game last night! But, from a Seattle sports perspective, there isn’t anything worse that could have happened to us in 2022, and so I feel compelled to wallow.

I … don’t have a healthy relationship with sports.

The Kraken were one of the worst teams in all of hockey, and they didn’t even get rewarded with a top 3 draft pick in the lottery. The Husky football team is in full rebuild mode, and figures to be spinning its tires for the foreseeable future. The Husky basketball team is coming off of a somewhat-entertaining season, but also appears to be heading into a rebuild mode sooner rather than later. The Seahawks, obviously, just traded their franchise quarterback and figure to be boringly mediocre (at best) in the upcoming season. And, of course, we haven’t had an NBA team in 14 years.

All we had to sustain us in 2022 were the Mariners. Coming off of a 90-win season, with lots of exciting young prospects and promising young vets, even if a step-back was mathematically likely (for all the reasons we’ve discussed ad nauseam), you still had to figure there’d be enough magic in that old silk hat they found to at least compete for one of the umpteen wild card spots.

And yet, here we are. 10 games under .500, three weeks into June, with 94 fucking games remaining, and no sign of there being any improvement on the horizon.

Sigh.

SIGH.

sigh …

On June 21st a year ago, we were 38-36. Obviously, we were a little ahead of the pace we’re on now because that season started on time. But, even when you factor in where we were 68 games into the 2021 season, we were only 2 games under .500 (33-35), and that just feels like a tremendously huge advantage over where we’re at now (29-39). It’s four games. But, it’s so much more than four games.

This has to do with HOW the Mariners are winning and losing. Last year, the Mariners made a habit out of getting blown out on occasion, while winning the majority of close games, to ultimately be one of the funnest teams in all of baseball. This year, it feels like the opposite, even though that’s not totally true. I will say this, though: the 2021 Mariners were 11-28 in blowouts (games decided by 5+ runs); the 2022 Mariners are 8-7 in said affairs. Our run differential in blowouts is actually +10 this year, while it was -135 in 2021. And, when you figure overall our run differential is -19 on the season, that means in all games decided by 4 runs or fewer, we’re getting crushed. If we’re 8-7 in blowouts, then we’re 21-32 in games decided by 4 or less. And, not for nothing, but when you figure we’re 12-11 in 1-run games, that means in games decided by 2, 3, or 4 runs, we’re 9-21.

Well over half of our games are entirely winnable. And we’re finding ways to lose them more often than not.

Same Old Mariners, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.

I want to sit here and cry out to the heavens, “Why is this happening?!” But, the answer is obvious: it’s the hitting, stupid! And yet, the 2021 Mariners were arguably a worse hitting team. To wit:

  • 2022: .232/.315/.374/.689; 24th in BA, 15th in OBP, 25th in SLG, 21st in OPS
  • 2021: .226/.303/.385/.688; last in BA, 28th in OBP, 26th in SLG, 27th in OPS

You figure the 2021 numbers were over a whole entire season, while the 2022 Mariners are likely to improve if for no other reason than the weather will be warmer going forward (to say nothing of the guys they’re likely to get back from injury later in the year). Also, it’s hard to see the OBP numbers dropping considerably (barring injury), while again the slugging should improve over where it stands today.

When you tack on how vastly superior our starting rotation is this year compared to last, it truly boggles the mind! We had significant innings going to the up-and-down nightmares of Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, and Yusei Kikuchi, not to mention a rookie in Logan Gilbert, and a very down first half from Marco Gonzales. This year, we’ve got Gilbert pitching like a true ace, significant improvement from Gonzales, and significant improvement out of our back-end with Kirby (to say nothing of the potential of a bounce-back from Robbie Ray, who’s starting to mix things up and pitch better of late).

It really boils down to that infuriating fucking bullpen. In 2021, they were a wrecking crew; this year, they’re a disaster zone. All other things (hitting and starting rotation) not just being equal, but improved, and yet here we are.

Of course, if you want to go by Win/Loss record, Marco and Flexen are a combined 10 games under .500, which is the exact number of games the TEAM is under .500, but that’s neither here nor there. That ignores the vast number of inherited runners the bullpen has allowed to score (the same guys, mind you, who were stranding at an impressive rate in 2021).

The thing is, again, this is what we expected. Of everyone, the bullpen was the most likely to regress, because they were playing out of their minds last year. What we needed to happen – what we were banking on, for the 2022 Mariners to be similarly entertaining – was for the other elements to be improved enough to make up the difference. We needed the hitting to put us in a position to afford the bullpen some slip-ups here and there. I think we’re getting as much as could be hoped for out of the rotation, but I suppose if they were playing out of their minds to a similar extent that the 2021 bullpen was playing at, we’d probably be happier than we are now.

But, I’m sticking with the offense narrative, because it’s just a nightmare to watch on a nightly basis.

And yet, when you toggle back and forth, you see a lot of similarities – and even improvements – when you compare the 2022 offense to the 2021 incarnation. Ty France is even better this year! He had a 4.2 WAR in 2021; he’s already at a 3.0 WAR not even halfway through 2022. J.P. Crawford is better: a 3.8 WAR in 2021, already a 2.6 WAR in 2022. Eugenio Suarez is a step up from Kyle Seager (1.6 WAR vs. Kyle’s 2.0 over all of last year). And Julio is more than making up for the loss of Mitch Haniger (1.9 WAR vs. Mitch’s 2.9 over all of last year). Cal Raleigh is improved over where he was a year ago (0.9 WAR vs. -0.5 WAR), as is Kelenic (0.0 WAR vs. -1.7 WAR) by simply not being here.

But, there are three massive black holes who are getting a lion’s share of games, and just giving us NOTHING in return. Adam Frazier is a -0.1 WAR player (he’s been anywhere from a 1.8 WAR to a 4.0 WAR player, save the COVID season). Jesse Winker is a -0.5 WAR player (he was good for a 2.7 WAR season last year). And Abraham Toro is a -0.3 WAR player (he was good for 1.7 WAR last year, including 0.9 WAR in a comparable number of games with the Mariners post-trade). Those three guys all by themselves have added up to lose us a full game, which isn’t easy to do only 68 games into the season. They’re not the only duds, of course. Luis Torrens is -0.4 WAR (he was 1.0 WAR last year, largely as a DH). And the dregs of our roster depth have all been below replacement-level.

This is what happens when guys like Haniger, Tom Murphy, and Kyle Lewis can’t stay healthy. This is what happens when a young stud you were counting on – Jared Kelenic – is so abysmal, he has to be sent to Tacoma to keep from further embarrassing himself.

This is what happens when you put the kind of pressure on an organization – to Win Now – because it’s beyond time to start winning some fucking ballgames and getting back to the playoffs, and you don’t fill out the roster with capable players to step up in times of crisis.

You know what’s bumming me out the most? I’d gladly accept a 29-39 record if it meant Kelenic took a step forward from his promising September last year. I’d be elated with a losing record if Matt Brash was kicking ass in the rotation. I’d be thrilled if Raleigh did more than strike out and hit dingers. I’d be elated if other guys who figure to be part of our future: Winker, Toro, and Suarez, for instance, could be counted on for a better collective batting average. Suarez gets a pass for kind of being who we thought he’d be – especially when Winker and Frazier have shit the bed so thoroughly – but it’s not like he’s an All Star or anything. Maybe if Suarez was hitting a 40+ home run clip, but at this rate he’ll be lucky to see 30 (he’ll probably finish in the mid-to-high 20’s).

There’s just little-to-no hope. Not compared to last year. Last year, we still had Kelenic as a viable option to bust out. We had Toro as a competent super sub type of player. We had Torrens giving us a quality professional at bat throughout the second half of the season. And we had Mitch Haniger playing at a Comeback Player of the Year type of level, with the potential to stick around beyond 2022 as a steady veteran presence in the middle of our lineup.

Now, what do we got? Haniger can’t stick around beyond this year, not if we know what’s good for us. We get two more years of a shitty Winker. We have Kelenic languishing in Tacoma. We have a boom or bust guy in Raleigh.

On the plus side, we’ve got J-Rod, Crawford, and Ty France. And a whole lotta prospects too far down in the minors to make any sort of imprint on the Major League ballclub in the near future. Our holes to fill in 2023 and beyond include second base, and left and right field (that’s if you’re okay with mediocrity at third, catcher, and a revolving Rest Day at DH). That’s not even getting to the pitching staff, which will probably need someone to improve over Flexen, and whatever we end up doing with this fakakta bullpen.

Every year, it’s one step forward and four steps back. Every year, it’s too many holes to fill on a mediocre roster and not enough resources to even come close to making this team good. Ever year, it takes the absolute perfect collection of moves, and that almost never happens in the game of baseball. Every team deals with injuries. Every team deals with acquisitions who are total busts. But, the Mariners thoroughly and completely lack the depth to compensate for such fuck-ups. As a result, we’re given yet another team that fails to make the post-season. We’re told once again to wait until next year. We’re fed a line of horse shit and asked to believe in the process. Just when our hopes are their highest, SURPRISE, the team is fucking shitty once again!

It’s not even July. Which means the weather isn’t even nice around here. Not that the greater Seattle area is pleasant even when the weather IS nice (in those small handful of days between the perma-overcast fall/winter/spring and the summer wildfires that send a blanket of smoke to cover the entire Pacific Northwest). It’s overcrowded, with too much traffic, and chock full of fucking assholes with their heads up their fucking asses. We could always say – even if Seattle was Sports Hell – the rest of it was nice. Not anymore. Everything fucking sucks here now, especially the sports.

Thanks Mariners. I know you tried your best. And that’s what’s so utterly depressing about all of this.

The Mariners Made A Blockbuster Trade For Jesse Winker & Eugenio Suarez

Boy do Mariners fans and baseball pundits love this deal for the M’s! That makes me nervous more than anything. Being a Mariners fan is like being an abused animal who is now living with a loving, caring family; even shows of affection draw flinches of apprehension.

  • Mariners get: Jesse Winker (OF), Eugenio Suarez (3B)
  • Reds get: Justin Dunn (SP), Jake Fraley (OF), Brandon Williamson (SP), PTBNL

What’s to like if you’re a Mariners fan?

Well, Winker looks like a true stud. He’s a left-handed corner outfielder who will be 28 years old this season. He was an All Star last year, hitting .305/.394/.556, with 24 homers. Apparently he crushes right-handed pitching, but also really struggles against lefties. Early word is, he’ll be in there against righties predominantly, but will also get a shot at hitting lefties. I don’t know how long that leash will be, but I guess a lot depends on what other moves the Mariners make. You figure Haniger (if he’s still here) will be an everyday bat in a mixture of RF and DH. You figure Kelenic is an everyday outfielder. With Julio expected to make the leap to the Majors at some point, something’s gotta give!

I think you also don’t mind the cost. Justin Dunn has potential as a starter, but the odds are against him sticking there long term. His value plummets once he’s converted to a reliever, especially since he doesn’t project to be a closer. His stuff is interesting, but the Mariners have so many more highly touted pitching prospects that it feels like if he was going to stick here, he would’ve had to have pitched better than he has over the last two seasons. I also wonder what his injury situation will be long term, with the way he throws. Might be a candidate for multiple arm/shoulder surgeries.

Jake Fraley was never going to make it here long term. He strikes me as – at best – a bench outfield bat who plays solid defense, but otherwise hits pretty anemically. He MIGHT be able to carve out a nice career – in a quiet city like Cincinnati (where winning expectations are low) – as a cheap N.L. outfielder, but I’m not holding my breath. The odds that he busts out a la Chris Taylor seem mighty low.

What’s to worry about if you’re a Mariners fan?

The big risk is Williamson, one of our plethora of pitching prospects. He’s only just touched the AA level as of last year, but his strikeout numbers are off the charts. He should make the jump to the Majors either this year or next year at the latest – assuming he stays healthy – and from there we’ll see what he is. Will he be an elite, front-end of the rotation starter? Will he struggle with effectiveness and/or injury? Will he be converted to a reliever at some point? Time will tell; that’s the risk of trading quality prospects, you just never know until it’s too late. But, considering he’s not one of our highest-rated prospects, I’m happy with this sort of risk.

This was sort of sprung on us late, but a Player To Be Named Later was added into the mix, who reportedly is someone the Reds really like, and might help them even out this deal. As it was initially reported (those three so-so Mariners for those two good-to-great Reds), it felt too good to be true, and it turns out it was. We’re told the PTBNL isn’t in the Top 20 or so Mariners prospects, which is good. But, now we have a lot to worry about in the coming days/weeks.

I don’t think anyone is super-jazzed about Suarez. Sure, there’s a ton of right-handed power in that bat. But, he’s also hitting under .200 the last two seasons and is striking out in damn near 30% of all plate appearances in that span. But, he’s averaging over 30 homers in his last five full seasons (not counting the COVID-shortened 2020), with no discernable injury issues.

At first blush, Suarez seemed like a throw-in, or a salary dump by the Reds. But, clearly, with a contract that runs through 2024 (with a club option for 2025), it would appear he’s the everyday third baseman until further notice. People are trying to promote his hot final month of 2021 as reason for hope, but I dunno. He could be washed up; that wouldn’t shock me in the slightest. Extreme pull hitters who’ve been swallowed up by the shift in recent years shouldn’t try to resuscitate their careers in T-Mobile Park.

Finally, I would say it’s a bit of a bummer that we’re only guaranteed two years of Winker’s services. He’s making $7 million this year; 2023 will be his final arb year (which you assume will see him earning a nice raise, if he stays healthy and continues to produce at the level he’s been at). Depending on who that PTBNL is, we could be paying a lot for just two years of a guy, while being saddled with an albatross.

The major downside of this deal is that the PTBNL is a quality prospect, Williamson pans out in a big way, Dunn is a viable starter for many years to come, and Fraley is a fringe N.L. outfielder. The major downside also includes Suarez being finished as a net-positive Major League third baseman, and Winker is just a good platoon bat in the outfield.

The major upside is that Winker is an All Star who helps lead us in the middle of our lineup, Suarez returns to his 2018 form as a right-handed masher capable of 40+ homers, and all the players we sent away were never going to do anything for us anyway.

My expectation is: we’ll be happy with Winker, we’ll be oft-frustrated with Suarez. Dunn will flame out, Fraley will be Just Another Guy, and Williamson will be a good-not-great starter in the next three years (I have no opinion on the PTBNL until that name is released). So, yeah, cautiously optimistic. Like, 51% optimistic, 49% pessimistic. Which is the best the Mariners can hope for from me until they start proving on the field that they’re actual winners, and not just paper champions.

Ranking The Trustworthiness Of The Mariners, Part 1: The Pitchers

Look, we’re in the throes of the dead part of the year. It might not be quite so dead if the Supersonics were still around, or if the Kraken were worth a damn, but here we are: grasping at straws, writing about the upcoming baseball season during a lockout with no end in sight. Worst of all: this post is almost certainly going to be out of date and moot as soon as a new CBA is signed and the Mariners can start shuffling their roster around. Weeee!

At the moment, the Mariners have 21 pitchers on their 40-man roster. As is common knowledge, even though the hypothetical regular season is just over a month away, the Mariners’ roster is anything but finalized. I would not expect the following 21 pitchers to all be on this 40-man roster on March 31st; moves will be made, and some of the people I talk about will cease to matter. At least, when it comes to Mariners fans like me.

I split up the 21 pitchers into three categories: Yes, No, and Maybe? It just so happened that each category had an equal seven members, so let’s go through them, starting with the least trustworthy pitcher and work our way up to number 1.

I suppose I should set some groundrules and define what I mean by “trustworthy”, but why don’t we get to that as the post goes along. There’s already been too much preamble, as far as I’m concerned (but I’ll be damned if I’m going to censor myself!).

No: The Least-Trustworthy Mariners Pitchers Of 2022

#21 – Juan Then

Then is an interesting starting pitching prospect who needed to be added to the 40-man roster, lest we risk losing him to the Rule 5 draft that happened some time ago. He’s yet to pitch above A-ball. Prior to the pandemic, he looked like he might be a quick riser through the minor leagues, but his 2021 wasn’t great. There’s absolutely no way he’ll pitch for the Major League ballclub this year, and odds are he’ll never play a game in Seattle as a member of the Mariners. My guess is he is trade fodder for a team looking to shed salary and build up their farm system.

#20 – Aaron Fletcher

He’s a lefty reliever who’s had a couple brief cups of coffee with the M’s in 2020 and 2021 and has a pro ERA over 12. He SUUUUUCKS. He’s young enough to turn things around, and the M’s don’t have a ton of lefty bullpen options at their disposal, but nothing I’ve seen as of yet leads me to believe he’s ready for the rigors of the Majors.

#19 – Justus Sheffield

He was once projected as a possible #1 or #2 starter, now there’s talk of him being shifted to a permanent bullpen role. He had a decently-effective 10-start 2020 season (with zero pressure), but his 2021 was a disaster. He started 15 games, struggled pretty much throughout, went on the Injured List (even though it was dubious that he was actually injured in any meaningful way), returned as a bullpen arm, and continued to struggle. I think he’s toast. He’s got no life on his fastball, and he can’t get by on nothing but sliders, because by and large his slider is only effective when it’s out of the zone, and if you see it coming, as a batter it’s easy to lay off of it.

#18 – Matt Brash

He’s another guy with no Major League experience, yet the unknown factor puts him above both Sheffield and Fletcher. He skyrocketed through the minors – spending much of 2021 in AA – before getting called up to Seattle late last year. He never did get into a game, but there was rampant speculation he was set to start one of our final games. He’ll almost certainly get called up to Seattle at some point this year, but it’s always best to temper expectations with someone so inexperienced. Nevertheless, I would expect some ups to come with the requisite downs, which already puts him ahead of the curve compared to the three guys behind him.

#17 – Wyatt Mills

He had a pretty brief cup of coffee in Seattle last year, but his numbers in Tacoma were pretty great. I would expect him to take a step forward in 2022. I don’t remember a lot about him, but for the Rainiers he had 51 strikeouts in 28.2 innings, so I’m assuming his fastball is pretty elite. Get it under control and you’ve got something.

#16 – Joey Gerber

There’s a pretty significant caveat here: I kinda/sorta trust him IF he’s healthy. But, he missed all of 2021 with injury, so that’s why you find him in the bottom third in terms of trustworthiness. Nevertheless, in 2020 he was one of our better relievers, so we know the stuff is there. Can he get it all back? That remains to be seen. I expect him to start his 2022 in Tacoma (assuming he’s off the IL and throwing again), eventually working his way back up to Seattle as need arises.

#15 – Justin Dunn

I kinda think I have more confidence in Dunn than I should. He often gets lumped in with Sheffield, as both are working their way through the organization at a similar pace. Dunn also had a solid – if unspectacular – 2020 season. Unlike Sheffield, Dunn actually flashed some improvement in 2021. Now, granted, Dunn was still effectively wild – walking a ton of guys, while not necessarily giving up a lot of hits – but his FIP went down almost two full points, and his strikeout rate improved. He seemed to be in better physical shape in 2021, and that translated to an improved fastball. Command has always been his bugaboo, but you’d think experience would help him rein that in a little bit. Unfortunately, his 2021 was cut short due to injury; his final appearance came in mid-June. He kept trying to return, but repeatedly suffered setbacks. It doesn’t appear he had surgery on his shoulder, so we’ll see if he was able to fully recover with conservative care. We’ll also see if he gets any more chances to start, or if the team moves him to the bullpen full time. Lots of questions here.

Maybe?: The Medium-Trustworthy Mariners Pitchers Of 2022

#14 – Erik Swanson

Swanson came over in the Sheffield deal and I’ll admit, I wrote him off after his 2020 season. He was another starter, but he got demoted to the bullpen a year prior to Sheffield. As it turns out, though, that was the best thing for him. Swanson was a middle-tier reliever in a VERY good 2021 M’s bullpen, providing solid numbers throughout his 33 appearances. There are times he’ll get knocked around, but he flashed a live fastball and kept us in a lot of games a lesser reliever might’ve let get out of hand. Still, if there’s a negative regression candidate, I think Swanson is our guy; I could see his ERA balloon back up over 5 or 6 runs relatively easy. His secondary pitches aren’t super thrilling; until he builds them up, he’s going to continue being overly reliant on his fastball, which is hittable for Major League batters.

#13 – Andres Munoz

He got in one game at the very end of 2021, pitching 0.2 scoreless innings. The good news is: he recovered from his injury. The bad news is: he’s had almost two full years off. His fastball is electric, but he’s probably a guy we don’t want to push too hard in the early going. He’ll have every opportunity to win a bullpen job in Spring Training though, and the sky is the limit on his potential. But, I’d like to see him do it a few weeks before I start buying in 100%.

#12 – Yohan Ramirez

Ramirez is another guy with a live fastball, but plenty of control/command issues. Nevertheless, he came up HUGE in some high-pressure spots in 2021. He also shit the bed pretty spectacularly in equal numbers, so the potential is there, the health is there, but the limitations are pretty stark. Thankfully, there are plenty of right-handed bullpen options ahead of him, so we don’t NEED him right away.

#11 – Ken Giles

We signed Giles prior to the 2021 season knowing full well he was injured and would be missing the entire year. But, we signed him specifically so he could be a significant bullpen piece in 2022; this was the plan all along. He’s a veteran with plenty of closing experience, and was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2019. Another heater guy, he should slide in quite nicely with our returning bullpen guys. We don’t need him to be a closer, but it’s nice knowing he’s there in case the others aren’t quite as good as they were last year. The risk, of course, is that Giles has had two years off, essentially. Will he last the duration? Or, is he just a walking injury waiting to happen?

#10 – Diego Castillo

I’m probably lower on Castillo than I have any right to be, but this is a guy whose ERA numbers have always outperformed his FIP numbers. He also was decidedly worse last year with the Mariners than he was with the Rays (prior to our trading for him). Not that he was terrible with the M’s, but every appearance felt like a rollercoaster (askew hat tip to Fernando Rodney). I don’t trust him! I know he’s pretty good, but for the life of me I don’t trust him. Part of trust is knowing what to expect ahead of time, and I feel like I never know if we’re going to see the Good Diego Castillo or the Bad Diego Castillo.

#9 – Anthony Misiewicz

Now, with Misiewicz, there’s a guy you can set your watch to! He’s the top lefty reliever in the bullpen, so right away not a lot is expected of him. Even with the rule changes to how relievers are used, more often than not you can get away with having him throw less than a full inning. That’s when he’s at his best. Trying to stretch him into multiple innings is when you’re looking at disaster. However, given his youth, and the volatile nature of relievers, I’ve got a gut feeling that he’s due for some positive regression. Having said that, bank on this being my worst take of this post; putting him anywhere near the Top 10 is probably foolish, but I yam who I yam.

#8 – Nick Margevicius

Here’s another guy who I have to say at the top: IF he’s healthy. I like him, though. As a long reliever, I think he’s effective. He’s a nice guy to have in the bullpen if a starter struggles or gets hurt. He’s nice lefty insurance in case our other bullpen lefties struggle. All in all, he can do a lot of things that help a ballclub. More often than not, he’ll keep you in ballgames. That’s all I ask from a guy like this. Granted, his terrible career numbers are his biggest detriment (and the reason why he isn’t in the good category), but he’s still pretty young.

Yes: The Most-Trustworthy Mariners Pitchers Of 2022

#7 – Logan Gilbert

I should say at the onset that I’m VERY high on these top 7 pitchers. So, just because Gilbert falls in at #7 doesn’t mean I’m questioning him. I’m just being a little overly cautious. He was a rookie in 2021 and I think it’s safe to say he out-performed expectations. Most importantly: he improved as the season went along, becoming one of our very best starters by season’s end. That’s tremendous for someone so young; he should be a mainstay in the rotation for many years to come. He might not be an Ace, but he’s a solid #2 or #3, right now. All that’s left is to be consistently great, throughout the year. There will still be occasional bumps in the road in 2022, but they should be fewer and further between; that’s exciting.

#6 – Marco Gonzales

Marco was on a steady upward trajectory through 2020 before regressing a bit in 2021. I will say that he was throwing better at season’s end, and it’s likely he was dealing with a lot of injury issues throughout the season, but some of his poor starts were just disconcerting enough to sour me on him a tad. A tad! I still think for what he is, he’s good for this organization. Marco will still keep the M’s in ballgames more often than not. He’s just not, you know, an Ace. Thankfully, we no longer need him to be. As a #3 or #4 starter, I think he’s just fine.

#5 – Chris Flexen

This might be a little low for someone who was unquestionably the best Mariners starter of 2021, but a lot of the projections have Flexen as a significant negative regression candidate. It did seem like he wiggled off the hook quite a bit last year, and he might not be so lucky a second time around. The flipside to that argument is: he figured out how to be a starting pitcher over in South Korea and now he’s a completely different animal. That’s what I’m hoping for – that’s why I still have him in my Top 5 – but I’m allowing for there to be more bad outings out of him in 2022. That doesn’t mean he’ll totally faceplant; I still expect him to keep us in games by and large.

#4 – Paul Sewald

Now, HERE is probably my second-most laughable ranking of this post. Sewald was hands down the best pitcher in the organization last year. But, he was almost unsustainably elite last year, and I have a hard time believing he’s going to continue being That Guy going forward. Don’t get me wrong, he was one of my favorite Mariners last year. But, you could see him start to get touched up towards the end of the season, and that strikes me as very ominous. I hope I’m wrong!

#3 – Robbie Ray

If there’s anyone destined to rip our hearts out, it’s the guy who has parlayed one elite pitching season into a big-money, long-term deal. He had one previous All Star year in 2017, but his 2021 Cy Young season is why he’s here. The pressure is on, because not only is he our Ace, but he’s joining an up-and-coming roster with increased expectations. I’m heading into this year with love in my heart, confident that his stuff will continue to lead the way. But, in the back of my mind, there are dark, sinister thoughts of the albatross he could morph into, from the very onset. The Mariners have a long and fucked history of free agent starting pitchers coming in here and stinking straight away. I hope he’s not another notch on our bedpost.

#2 – Drew Steckenrider

It’s a total mindfuck to have my top two most-trustworthy pitchers be two other righty relievers not named Paul Sewald, but I don’t know what to tell you. I like Steckenrider. I don’t think he’s a closer, though he has that experience. I thought Scott Servais used him perfectly last year, pitching him based on matchups. Sometimes he was our closer, but sometimes he came into the game in the 7th or 8th innings. He’s just a steady, hard-throwing righty who produced crazy-effective results.

#1 – Casey Sadler

Have you seen his numbers?! Sub-1 ERA. Has a fastball in the upper 90’s, yet his best pitch is his slider; I love everything about his repertoire! He’s decidedly not a closer – and there’s no reason to expect that to change – but as a guy you mix and match with, I think no one is better on this team. The best thing about the bullpen in 2021 was how there weren’t really any super egos. The guys settled into their roles, but nothing was set in stone. They went into games on an as-needed basis, and absolutely dominated. It gives me hope for 2022, even though I know in my mind the likelihood of negative regression hitting all of these guys collectively.

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.