Who Is The Second-Best Reliever On The Mariners Right Now?

We all know Andres Munoz is the first-best reliever on the Mariners; it goes without saying, it’s so obvious. I don’t know where the Mariners would be right now without Munoz, but they’d be considerably worse-off. Maybe even at or below .500.

But, who’s #2? It’s kind of a bummer of a question, because the real answer is the second-best Mariners reliver is on the IL at the moment. It’s probably Matt Brash (if he isn’t actually #1), followed by Gregory Santos. Two of our top three relievers are out of commission, and it’s kind of a steep decline from there.

It’s not fatal, though. This is still a good bullpen. And it has the potential to be great, if Santos comes back, and if we trade for someone like Paul Sewald. But, I think Scott Servais and the Analytics Department do a good job of papering over the bald spots of this group, that might otherwise be in weaker hands if we were just managing this bullpen with our guts, or conventional wisdom.

If you’ve watched the Mariners this year, you know that after Munoz (or, rather, before Munoz, if it’s the 8th inning or earlier), we tend to see Ryne Stanek. He’s the designated #2 in this bullpen. But, is he actually the second-best reliever? Probably not. He has the most experience in high-leverage situations, but I wouldn’t say he’s the #2 guy I trust the most to get me out of a jam, or to bridge that gap to Munoz. Sure, he throws the ball hard – often touching triple digits – but it’s awfully straight and hittable. I would also say his splitter or whatever he throws to get outs isn’t what was advertised. 11 of his 27 appearances has been for less than 1 full inning, often because he’s getting himself into jams that other guys (likely Munoz, for a 4-out or 5-out save) have to get him out of. He has a 4.38 ERA at the moment, and it feels like it could be a lot worse.

Through the first month, I would’ve said Gabe Speier was the second-best reliever (with his sub-1 ERA), but his month of May was pretty atrocious, and now he’s on the IL, so wipe that away.

There’s something to be said for Tyson Miller, who had a nice start to his season as well, but we let him go and now he’s kicking ass for the Cubs.

Tayler Saucedo has good-looking numbers, and has had a few big moments this year (including finishing off the 10th inning in Kansas City for his third save of the season), but for the most part I wouldn’t say he’s coming up in the highest-leverage situations. He’s a nice lefty, but I’m not ready to put him in that upper tier just yet.

There’s a number of journeymen relievers we’ve brought in here, who’ve had varying degrees of success, in spite of finding themselves sort of up and down between the Majors and minors. Austin Voth is probably the best story of the bunch, in that he’s managed to not only stick with the Mariners all year, but is doing pretty well for himself. In the early part of the season, it seemed like he was more of a mop-up artist, but he’s slowly, but surely, finding his way into bigger spots. I still wouldn’t put him in the top two, though.

One very interesting name is Mike Baumann, who we recently picked up from the Orioles. I found it extremely intriguing when I heard on the radio last week that the Mariners’ hitters vouched for him, as he was a tough at-bat for those who’ve faced him. Even though he’s been very good for the Mariners so far, I don’t know if I’m there with him just yet. He seems to have another fastball with not a ton of movement, and without a very distinct off-speed pitch. I’m still on a wait & see approach with him.

Who I think is probably the actual second-best reliever is also the guy I would’ve been least likely to believe to be the second-best reliever heading into the season, and that’s Trent Thornton.

Now, that doesn’t mean I think he’s great or anything. I would still place him firmly in a tier or two below Andres Munoz. I couldn’t possibly tell you how he had a 2.08 ERA with the Mariners last year (after coming here from Toronto in a mid-season trade), except to say his FIP was actually 4.72, which leads me to believe his defense largely saved his bacon, and/or he left a bunch of runners on base only for other guys to pull him out of the fire. Either way, I was largely unimpressed with Thornton last year, and came into 2024 wondering why he was still on the team.

Yet, this year, as things have shaken out, he did very well in low-leverage situations, to the point where he started earning more opportunities in close games that we could actually win! Now, it hasn’t always worked out; he has a 3.62 ERA, after all. But, his FIP is actually 2.86, meaning he should actually have better numbers than he does!

Ultimately, I think Thornton and Baumann are pretty close to the same guys, and maybe even throw Stanek in that bunch. I don’t think any of them have done enough to earn the 8th inning on a regular basis. But, they’re right there, good enough to maybe get a 7th inning every now and again, or to be put into tie games or games where we’re not losing by much and want to just keep it close to see if our offense scores late.

But, if we had to rely on those three guys exclusively in the biggest situations? I think it would be a disaster waiting to happen.

A bullpen is a fragile ecosystem. Guys need to have their roles sussed out. Ideally, we’re able to keep Munoz upright and dominating all year. Ideally, Santos will make his comeback at mid-season and take some of the load off of Stanek and Thornton. Ideally, Logan Evans will get called up at some point and become the next Matt Brash. Even if he does, it won’t start off that way; he’s going to have to earn his high-leverage spots. But, if by season’s end, we can put some space between Munoz and the Stanek/Thornton/Baumann triumvirate, I think we’ll have a nice little unit we can go to war with come playoff time.

In the interim, maybe Thornton keeps getting the job done. Maybe he’s the next Justin Topa. If nothing else, he’s another feather in the cap of this organization’s uncanny ability to get the most out of average-looking guys in the bullpen. Where were these coaches back in the 90’s, when the bullpen was – without question – our biggest Achilles heel?

How Are Certain Ex-Mariners Doing After Two Months?

If you were following along in mid-April, you might’ve caught wind that certain ex-Mariners – guys we traded away, or otherwise didn’t retain for whatever reason – started off the season quite hot.

If you’re still following along today, you might be aware that certain current-Mariners that we brought in to replace those ex-Mariners aren’t doing so hot. Mitch Garver stinks, Jorge Polanco is hurt (and a total disappointment in every way), Luis Urias is so bad he’s in Tacoma right now, Mitch Haniger is playing more like a 43 year old than a 33 year old, Gregory Santos still hasn’t thrown a meaningful pitch in a Mariners uniform. It makes one wonder – two-plus months into the season – did we make a series of calamitous mistakes? Should we have held onto the players we once had?

So, let’s go around the horn, and see if those certain ex-Mariners are still tearing things up, or if they’ve come back down to Earth.

Let’s start with Jarred Kelenic, because why not? Once touted as The Future of the Mariners’ organization, he’s trying to rebuild his career down in Atlanta. I would say he’s doing okay, but definitely reverting closer to career norms. .268 batting average, .717 OPS, not quite a starter, but appears to be the left-handed platoon partner he’s destined to be. Seems like he’s more or less what he was last year, which is leaps and bounds better than he was in his first two seasons in the bigs, but obviously a far cry from the superstar we all hoped he’d be. If you pit him against Luke Raley, I’d say the Mariners have the better platoon bat. But, it’s still early, and this could be a neck-and-neck race for years.

How’s Eugenio Suarez doing down in Arizona? Well, after a torrid first week-to-ten-days, he’s kind of fallen off a cliff. He’s still an everyday third baseman, but his -0.1 WAR isn’t a pleasant number to look at. He has 4 homers in almost 60 games – which, to be honest, is also what Julio has – and he’s batting .205 with a .582 OPS. Considering the player Josh Rojas has been so far this season, this has honestly worked out exceedingly well for the Mariners.

Sticking with Arizona, how about Paul Sewald? Well, he missed the first month and change with an injury, but since he returned on May 7th, he has 5 saves and has given up 1 run in 8.1 innings across 9 appearances. So far in his tenure with the Diamondbacks, he looks like the same ol’ Paul Sewald we knew and loved with the Mariners. It’s too early to say for sure who’s winning that trade, but at the moment Ryan Bliss is just starting to get his feet wet at the Major League level (having gotten his first hit last Saturday), Dominic Canzone has some decent power numbers, but otherwise is who we thought he was, and we’re clinging to Josh Rojas being on this hot pace, which seems destined to cool considerably sooner rather than later. Would I rather have the Sure Thing reliever or the three question marks? Tough to say, but with Dylan Moore eating into third base with Urias down in Tacoma, I’d probably rather have the stud reliever (especially with Brash out for the year, and Santos likely down until the All Star Break, at best).

Next up, we have Teoscar Hernandez with the Dodgers. The Dodgers are a great team, in first place in the N.L. West, with such superstars as Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman. Yet, it’s Teoscar who is leading the Dodgers with 38 RBI. It’s Teoscar who’s 2nd on the team in homers with 12 (two behind Shohei). It’s Teoscar with the .790 OPS, who would be killing all qualified Mariners hitters with that figure (and even leading most non-qualified Mariners, or all the ones who’ve appeared in more than 5 games). Oh sure, he has 76 strikeouts, but tell me that wouldn’t fit in with Cal and Julio (both over 70). He’s got a 1.3 WAR at the moment, which would only be behind Cal and Moore. You’re telling me that’s not worth $20 million? You’re telling me you’d rather have Garver over Teoscar as your DH? If things keep up like this, I can only call the move to not retain Teoscar (while paying the same amount to Garver, albeit over 2 seasons, which is arguably worse because it means we have to suffer his ineptitude for more than just 2024) a total disaster, and one that ultimately might cost us a real shot at contending for a World Series.

Hey, does anyone remember Jose Caballero? We traded him to the Rays for Luke Raley straight up, which is an interesting conundrum for me, because I’m on record as liking Raley over Kelenic. BUT, if you’re asking me if I would rather have Kelenic and Caballero, or Raley and Polanco’s Rotting Corpse … yeah, I think the Mariners would be better off with the former. Caballero is mostly an everyday player at short stop for the Rays – as opposed to sort of a replacement second baseman for the Mariners last year – and he’s having an even better 2024 than he was in limited duty in 2023. He’s 4 hits off of his season total from a year ago, in about half the games; he’s already got 20 stolen bases (after getting 26 last year); he’s got a higher batting average and slugging percentage, though his OBP has taken a dip, giving him a fairly comparable OPS. All in all, I’d say he’s a slightly better version of himself from a year ago, playing a more difficult defensive position. Meanwhile, Polanco is a fucking decomposing mummy shuffling out there with tattered rags and rigor mortis. If Raley wasn’t raking as much as he’s been, I’d be more upset. But, this one hurts a lot more than I thought it would, I’m not gonna lie to you.

I’d like to visit with the San Francisco Giants for a bit, because they have a number of former Mariners and would-be Mariners, if certain fans had it their way. Tom Murphy is there, and finds himself on the 60-Day IL. In other words, the least-surprising development of all time. In spite of his being injured – and being remarkably terrible when he was healthy – I’d say it’s still a wash between him and Seby Zavala.

Then, there’s Robbie Ray, who still hasn’t returned from his injury sustained in the first game of 2023. However, he’s getting close to throwing in extended Spring Training or whatever, so it does indeed look like he’s poised for a second half return, if all goes well over the next month. That being said, would I rather have him for half a season over the rotation we’ve got currently? No way.

And, I thought – for shits and giggles – I’d throw Blake Snell into the mix. Blake Snell: the 2-time Cy Young Award winner. Blake Snell: who signed a 2-year, $62 million contract with the Giants very late into the offseason. Blake Snell: the Seattle resident who very desperately wanted to sign with the Mariners (and who many Mariners fans wanted as well). Well, in 6 games, he’s 0-3 with a 9.51 ERA and a -1.1 WAR. He got a late start to the season, then got hurt for a month, and overall has been pretty abysmal. Is this just a Year From Hell situation? Or is he – at age 31 – not necessarily worth $31 million per year? Again, I would 1,000% rather have the Mariners’ rotation that we have currently.

There’s also Marco Gonzales with the Pirates, who I alluded to in this post, who was having a decent start to the season until he got hurt. There’s Isaiah Campbell with the Red Sox, who’s appeared in 7 games, then got hurt, and looks no better than he was last year (and might be worse). And there’s Justin Topa, who finds himself on the 60-day IL with the Twins, and doesn’t figure to start throwing again for another month.

All in all, I would say the majority of the Mariners who got away were let go for a good reason. Nevertheless, there’s a few moves here and there that we might live to regret.

2024 Seattle Mariners Preview Extravaganza Part I: Run Prevention

It’s interesting how opinions can shift. Just two months ago, I was ranting and raving about the F-grade the Mariners deserved for this offseason (not necessarily the grade Jerry Dipoto & Co. earned, but the organization as a whole, starting first & foremost with ownership). Since then, it should be pointed out, three very important personnel moves were made. We traded for Jorge Polanco to shore up second base. We traded for Gregory Santos to shore up the back-end of our bullpen. Then, we signed Ryne Stanek after it became clear Santos (and Brash) wouldn’t be healthy enough to break camp with the Mariners out of Spring Training. You’re talking about some much-needed depth, and you’re also talking about – when healthy – a team that should at least hang around.

On top of those moves, the other thing that’s happened in the subsequent two months since I wrote that post is that the Mariners have had their entire Spring Training session. We have some more information than we did before. Even though we’re all loathe to talk positively about numbers, you can’t help but feel at least a little warm and fuzzy about hitters mashing the ball, and the stuff from your pitchers starting to come around.

I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve done a complete 180 on this team. But, between the additional moves, the exhibition performance, all the pundits and analytics being more bullish than bearish on this team, and the general optimism of spring and the new season directly before us, it’s hard not to have that … whatever the opposite is of cloud your thinking. Clear? Sunny up? They’ve gone and sunnied up my disposition – without my consent, I might add – and I’m not sure how to reconcile those feelings from two months ago.

You know what I hate? Being everyone’s “dark horse”. You know what else I hate? Being suckered into this fucking team, only for them to fall flat on their asses.

So, I’m trying to shut all that noise out and just focus on what my brain tells me. For starters, I have to give the usual caveat: all of this prognostication assumes we have an average amount of health (or better). Every team deals with injuries. Even the very best teams have to endure stretches where it feels like the baseball gods are whooping them with the ugly stick. The Rangers last year – World Series champions – had a spell in the second half where it looked like they might fall apart. But, they picked themselves up, steamrolled through the playoffs, and the rest was history. But, obviously, everyone remembers the 1996 Mariners, where Randy Johnson was lost for most of the year, and we also lost a good month from Ken Griffey Jr. Teams can’t endure the loss of their two best players for extended stretches and still hope to compete. If the 2024 Mariners lose Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez, no one is going to sit there and say, “Well, that’s just an average amount of baseball injuries.” It’s debilitating!

With that out of the way, let’s get going here. Since all I want to talk about is the hitting, we’re going to save that for Part II tomorrow. Right now, let’s get into the pitching and (a little bit on the) defense (at the end).

Baseball is tricky. You can’t sit there and say, “So and so is the most important guy on this team, and without him playing great, we have no chance.” It’s not football with the quarterback position. It’s not basketball with whoever your superstar is. Baseball is too much of a team sport. Yes, you need your stars to play well, but one guy can’t do it all. If that were the case, Mike Trout would be a champion countless times over.

You can’t even pin it all on a single pitcher, though I’ll contend until my dying breath that there’s nothing quite like an ace to dominate (particularly down the stretch of a pennant race). But, with the 2024 Mariners, we’re not even close to talking about them being contenders without this pitching staff, and especially this starting rotation. They’re the straw that stirs the drink. The most important aspect of this team, by far.

I don’t think you’re going to find a more talented one through five in Major League Baseball – nor one with a higher upside – than the one the Mariners are going to throw out there this seaason. Luis Castillo and George Kirby, right now, are among the best starters in all of baseball, and Logan Gilbert isn’t too far behind. And the pure, raw stuff of Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, and Emerson Hancock (who is slotting into Woo’s spot while he starts the season on the IL with a little bit of arm inflammation) makes them more than the ideal 4 & 5 starters. There’s the kind of potential that we just saw in the first couple of seasons with Kirby and Gilbert! Now, obviously, that’s no guarantee they’re going to turn into bona fide All Stars, but if the worst thing you can say is that the guys projected to be in the back of your rotation – with mid-to-high 90’s fastballs with tons of movement and some promising off-speed pitches – are going to get hit around every now and then, that’s a pretty great problem to have.

Do you know how many teams have absolute bums in the back-end of their rotation? Do you know how many teams are relying on soft-tossing journeymen a la Marco Gonzales to simply eat up innings? Meanwhile, the Mariners have nothing but power arms fisting their way through opposing lineups; it’s outstanding!

Obviously, the knock against the rotation is the lack of depth. But, what team doesn’t have that problem? With Hancock, I’ve already listed six guys who we like. The top three guys are better than most other teams have in their ace spots; and the bottom three guys are better than most every other team’s back-end. If those other teams suffer rotation injuries, I can only imagine the drop-off in quality!

The fact of the matter is, the Mariners are uniquely positioned to withstand the injury bug every now and then. Obviously, it would be ideal if we can get through the next couple months without losing any more starters – to give our bullpen an opportunity to heal up. But, with our home stadium, with our marine layer, and eventually when we get our bullpen figured out, I don’t have a big problem ceding a few outings to a Quad-A starter every now and then. Let him five & dive and hope your offense is up to the task to win a squeaker.

Now, that bullpen does come with some questions. I think we’re all in agreement that when our studs get healthy, a top four (in whatever order you choose) of Santos, Brash, Stanek, and Munoz, is as good as it gets. Again, in all of Major League Baseball. At that point, it almost doesn’t matter who else you put out there. Saucedo and Speier are reliable-enough. Trent Thornton could conceivably be due for a bounce-back, after having a full offseason in our throwing program. And, I’m sure there are plenty of under-the-rader arms in our organization who are poised to be the next Justin Topa or Paul Sewald. Until this unit lets me down, I have to believe we have what it takes to get the job done in the bullpen.

If this team is going to get back to the playoffs, it’s going to be on the arms to get the job done. For as good as they are, it would be helpful if the defense could pick things up behind them, but we’ll see.

By all accounts, we’re going to take a serious step back defensively. Which is kind of shocking, if I’m honest. I always remember Mitch Haniger being better than average. Has he really taken such a dive with age and injury? If he has, that’s a problem, because we’re clearly not as good in left field with the loss of Kelenic. I don’t even know if Luke Raley is competent out there! We might be on the hook for Super Utility Dylan Moore more than we’d like (that is, if he’s not covering for third base).

Speaking of which, is Luis Urias the worst defensive third baseman in baseball? We’ll find out! He sure as shit seems to be worse than Suarez. And I don’t know if Rojas or Moore are much better. Also, what are we going to get out of Polanco at second?

Seems like the potential for a lot of holes. That being said, I don’t care how old Haniger is, there’s no WAY he’s worse than Teoscar Hernandez. We still have Julio and J.P. And our catching figures to be among the best in baseball as well (or, at the very least, the most underrated).

I don’t know if we can count on this defense to carry us. But, as long as it isn’t a total hindrance, then the run prevention half of this team should be among the best in the American League. Certainly good enough to get us to the post-season.

Now, will the hitting do its part? Check back tomorrow (and the rest of this regular season) to find out!

Matt Brash Is Very Important To What The Mariners Are Trying To Do In 2024

It can be easy to take the bullpen for granted. That’s funny to say as a Mariners fan dating back to 1995, when so many of those teams in the mid-to-late 90’s were totally and completely derailed by a faulty bullpen. But lately? There’s some kind of secret sauce in the organization with the way we’re coaching these guys up. Every year, there’s a smattering of dominant back-end relievers, with another heaping spoonful of guys who come from out of nowhere to give us quality innings. This team has been the epitome of buying low and getting the most out of reclamation projects.

It rarely seems to work anywhere else on the team, but in the bullpen, it’s everything. And, as we know, an elite bullpen can paper over a lot of holes. See: Fun Differential.

How have we been taking the 2024 bullpen for granted? Well, simply put, we have a tremendous top three guys in our bullpen with Andres Munoz, Matt Brash, and Gregory Santos. That’s a 7-8-9 (in whatever order you choose) that can rival the very best in baseball, when they’re going good. Then, when you factor in this team’s penchant for finding diamonds in the rough, it’s just a matter of figuring out who they are in Spring Training, and rolling them out as if they belonged up here all along. Maybe it’s some holdovers from last year, like Speier or Saucedo; maybe it’s newcomers like Carlos Vargas or Jackson Kowar; maybe it’s some youngster from the minors I’ve never heard of! Whoever it is, this team will identify them, and we’ll be just fine.

That’s the assumption, anyway. You’ve still gotta go out and play the games. The guys still have to perform. But, it becomes exponentially more difficult if we have to do all of this without Matt Brash.

Pitchers in general are tough to rely on, healthwise. That seems to go double for hard-throwing pitchers, and quadruple for high-effort guys like Brash and Munoz, with funky arm angles and biting sliders. And when it comes to a baseball team, it’s hard to pin your hopes too much on any one single player. Even someone like Julio … he’s still just one of nine guys in a lineup; one of 26 guys on an active roster. Julio could homer in every single at bat and it’s still no guarantee you’re going to win enough games to be great. A lot of other things have to go right.

But, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Matt Brash is this team’s most important reliever. He might not be the guy in the ninth inning racking up the saves every time, but he’s the guy we tend to go to when we need our most important outs of the ballgame. He’s the guy taking on the very best opposing hitters, in the toughest situations (guys on base, less than two outs, likely needing a strikeout or a double play to get out of a jam), when the game is at its most perilous point.

Last year, he led the pitching staff in appearances with 78, and he led all relievers in innings pitched with 70.2. He also, not for nothing, led all relievers in strikeouts with 107, and holds with 24. I should point out, in fairness, that Justin Topa was right there at number two in a lot of these categories (75 appearances, 69.0 innings, 23 holds), but that also speaks to Brash’s importance, since Topa is no longer with the team.

Part of the reason why Brash was so over-utilized is due to Munoz spending some time on the IL, and Sewald getting dealt at the deadline. Brash and Topa were really our most consistent relievers throughout the entire season. Part of me expects a bit of a bounce-back from Munoz (though, I’m most certainly NOT taking him for granted), which would be a big boost, especially in the early part of the regular season.

The good news about this Matt Brash injury stuff is that the MRI came back okay. It’s not perfect; he has “elbow inflammation” and as such has been shut down in the early part of Spring Training. He’s apparently not surgical at this time, however that leads me to wonder if he’s just trying to gut through it, and eventually this year his arm is going to succumb. Either way, reports indicate Brash won’t be ready for the start of the regular season, as the team is going to be overly cautious (as they should be).

This is obviously a relief compared to what everyone was speculating about earlier this week. Tommy John was being thrown around with impunity. I’m not holding my breath though, because I feel like we’re one wrong move away from it being a reality. I hope I’m wrong! I hope he makes it back to the ballclub by mid-to-late April and can go full tilt the rest of the season. But, if he’s shut down, that’s going to be AWFUL for this team.

I don’t even want to think about it. There’s always some piece of devastating news that happens before the season even gets going. Figures it had to be Matt Brash. On the level of importance to this team’s success, I’d put the starting rotation and a few select position players (Julio, Cal, J.P.) ahead of him, but Brash is right there in the Top 10 for sure. Here’s to hoping we avoid a nightmare scenario!

The Mariners Traded For Gregory Santos

After the last deal, for Jorge Polanco, the Mariners made a weak spot that much more flimsy by raiding from a bullpen that was already down Paul Sewald (as well as promising youngsters Isaiah Campbell, Penn Murfee, and Matt Festa, among others we’ve shipped off over the last couple seasons). The loss of Justin Topa meant that our third-best reliever (and maybe our first-most-consistent reliever) was gone. I mean, can you imagine what a bullpen would look like with Sewald, Brash, Munoz, AND Topa? Well, we had it for most of last damn year, and look at where it got us!

Well, over the weekend, the M’s made a trade with the White Sox. We gave them reliever Prelander Berroa, minor league outfielder Zach DeLoach, and a very nice 69th overall draft pick. In return, we get reliever Gregory Santos.

Berroa was a promising reliever prospect who pitched primarily in AA last year, while drinking a sip of coffee with the Mariners in two appearances. There’s some incredible stuff there, a blazing fastball, tons of strikeouts, but also a little iffy on the command. I find it extremely interesting that the Mariners – an organization prized for developing bullpen arms – would give up on a prospect like Berroa. Maybe they’re worried about his arm holding up, maybe they doubt his ability to rein in his command. Whatever it is, it feels like he was the most talented of The Pile we have on the 40-man roster today. Ultimately, the thinking is: Santos has it right now, whereas Berroa might still be another year away. And if you believe that this team is trying to win in 2024 (which I’m still not so sure they are), then obviously you like a Santos more than a Berroa.

With Santos, there’s lots of club control, and instead of being a huge maybe, the belief is that he’s a legitimate stud. My concern is his durability and his ability to generate strikeouts.

He appeared in 60 games in 2023, all with the White Sox. In 2022, he pitched in 37 games (mostly in the minors); in 2021, he pitched in 17 games (also mostly in the minors), and in 2020 he didn’t pitch at all due to COVID. So, it’s no wonder he landed on the IL late last year with arm problems; the hope is that it was just fatigue. But, the Mariners tend to be one of those teams that over-taxes their bullpen, so I don’t know if I’m jumping for joy.

As for his strikeouts, it’s not like he DOESN’T strike batters out. But, he’s not in the upper echelon of a Brash or Munoz. He averaged 9.0 stikeouts per nine innings last year; Munoz averaged 12.3 and Brash averaged a whopping 13.6! What’s interesting about Santos is that he has reverse platoon splits. As a right hander, he’s actually BETTER against lefties. It’s a sample size of one season, but still. Lower batting average, on-base, slugging. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is leaps and bounds better. While Brash and Munoz aren’t BAD against lefties, when they do struggle, it tends to be because lefties get to them. Santos might be a salve for this problem. We can mix-and-match a little more, if an opposing team has a run of lefties coming.

What sounds crazy to me is that Fangraphs or someone has projected Santos to be the best reliever in baseball in 2024. If that’s the case, then DAMN is this a good deal!

Obviously, we don’t know what Zach DeLoach is going to turn into (or Gabriel Gonzalez, for that matter, from the Polanco deal), but neither projected to be much of anything for the Mariners in 2024. DeLoach played all of last year in Tacoma, and was presumably their best and most consistent hitter, but was he ever going to crack our ever-growing chasm of Quad-A utility guys? I mean, shit, we already have Haggerty, Raley, Canzone, Marlowe, Moore, Trammell, and Clase. And that’s not even factoring in Julio and Haniger! Frankly, DeLoach going to the White Sox feels like the best thing for him. My guess is, as someone who’s already been traded multiple times, he’s not going to pan out at the Major League level. But, if he does, a place like Chicago, with low expectations and lots of opportunity for at bats, just might do the trick.

In a future post, I’m going to write about the bullpen. There’s still work to do, but I don’t know if that’s going to come from outside the organization. All those developmental coaches are going to have to earn their paychecks this spring!

The Mariners Traded For Jorge Polanco

Going to Minnesota, we have reliever Justin Topa, starter What’sHisButtFromTheGiants Anthony DeSclafani, outfield prospect Gabriel Gonzalez, and pitching prospect Darren Bowen.

Going to Seattle, we have Jorge Polanco, a 30 year old starting infielder (pegged to be our everyday second baseman) with one year left on his contract (and a club option for 2025).

DeSclafani is no big loss. I’m honestly relieved that I don’t have to watch him pitch for the Mariners. Seems like a guy better suited to be a back-of-the-rotation starter and NOT a long reliever like the M’s were going to use him as. I’m going to go out on a limb and say neither prospect will amount to much at the Major League level (because if either one of them do, then this trade absolutely murders the Mariners).

I would say the part that hurts the most is losing Justin Topa, who is going into the first of three arbitration years, and is earning just a million and a quarter dollars this season. He figured to be our third-best reliever behind Brash and Munoz, but I would argue – on the whole – he was more consistent and less blowup-prone than anyone in the pen in 2023. The Mariners were already in need of a pick-me-up or two out of the bullpen (as we’ve talked about ad nauseam, they’ve yet to even replace Paul Sewald, and now we’re talking about replacing Topa too), and now that job is even more important.

Quite frankly, the Mariners’ stance on this – that they can pick up any ol’ scrub off the scrap heap and turn them into ace relievers – is bordering on irresponsible hubris. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mariners’ biggest weakness in 2024 IS the bullpen (and we all know how little I think of the starting lineup, so that’s really saying something).

All that being said, it doesn’t feel like the worst deal I’ve ever seen. The money pretty much evens out (I think it was reported the M’s are sending money to the Twins to make it so). They get a couple of scratch-off lottery tickets to provide some longterm hope, and they get a valuable reliever to add to what I’m told is a strength for them. Plus, you know, the starter could be okay for them in that division (where the hitting is less fearsome than it is in the West). In turn, the Mariners get a VAST improvement over the likes of Josh Rojas, Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty, et al, when it comes to plugging one of their infield holes.

We already knew going into the season that second and third base would suck for this team. Now, what this deal presupposes is … maybe only one of those spots will suck?

I’m willing to go out on that limb that Jorge Polanco will be a valuable hitter for this team when he’s healthy. One guy I’ve never met on Formerly Twitter telling me so is good enough for me! But, there’s that caveat again, right? Polanco hasn’t played a full season since 2021. The last two years, it’s been knee and ankle injuries. Something like five or six stints on the IL. Sure as shit reminds me of one Mitch Haniger; how could it not? It was pretty much the first point bandied about in the analysis of this deal for the M’s.

If I choose to see the positive in this, it’s nice to see us fill a hole with a bona fide Major Leaguer, and not just another Quad-A nobody. If I choose to see the negative in this, then it’s just another coin flip with the usual questions we have when we bring in ANY new hitter:

  • Can he stay healthy?
  • Can he hit in Seattle, or will his bat be swallowed up in the marine layer?
  • Can he withstand the pressure of playing for a new team?
  • Will he enjoy living here, which is presumably very far away from wherever he considers home?
  • How close is he to falling off of an age-related production cliff?

You can plug those questions in about ANY of the guys we brought in this offseason – Mitch Garver, Luke Raley, Mitch Haniger, Luis Urias, Seby Zavala – as well as any of the guys we’ve brought in over the last few years, and get a wide variety of answers. Inevitably, some will hack it okay, some will become total garbage. And it’s not necessarily always the ones you think. I keep coming back to guys like Jesse Winker and Kolten Wong; we were supposed to be getting – at the very least – solid veterans who could give you professional at bats. What we got, was nothing.

As with all of this offseason’s moves, I’m not holding my breath. Quite frankly, I’m not moving off of my F grade for the Mariners; I still don’t think we’re any better than we were a year ago. If I’m being generous, the Polanco deal has the potential to now put this offense over the top compared to 2023. But, a shaky bullpen was made all the shakier with the loss of Topa. And now our rotation depth – which was razor thin before – is totally evaporated. Unless our top five starters manage to stay healthy for the full year – on top of key guys like Polanco and Haniger for our lineup – there’s a good chance we’re worse across the board. Hence the failing grade.

I will say that – as with all the other trades this offseason – I mostly felt relief that we didn’t actually trade any of our young starters. But, that still isn’t going to move the needle enough for me to vastly change my outlook on this offseason.

Just once, I’d like to see the Mariners make a move that is universally lauded, rather than coming with a thousand caveats. Something tells me it ain’t gonna happen.

What The Mariners Need To Fix Heading Into 2024

Whenever you hear someone from the team talk about what went wrong with the 2023 Mariners, and what they need to do to get back to the playoffs in 2024, they make it sound like it’s just a small tweak here and there. I got into the positives of the 2023 squad, and yeah, there’s a lot of good pieces here. But, I would also say it’s not an insignificant undertaking!

I counted 12 positives, and that’s including Teoscar, who is not a guarantee to be back. He’ll likely be extended a qualifying offer, which everyone believes he will turn down. At which point, either you find a way to sign him as a free agent, or you have to go out and fill that spot in right field. Regardless, 12 is less than half of the Major League roster. Even if you add a few of those bullpen pieces to the mix, you’re still hovering around 50% of the team that could definitely use an upgrade. That’s hardly a small tweak here and there!

If we’re talking about reasons why the Mariners fell short this year, you have to start with Ty France and Eugenio Suarez. Ty has been a regular whipping boy this season, for good reason. He has drastically fallen off a cliff these last two years, to the point where he was barely above replacement level in 2023.

In 2021, I would’ve said Ty France was one of our most important players. His batting average has slipped 41 points, his on-base percentage has slipped 31 points, and his slugging has fallen a whopping 79 points. Its been a disaster, on top of which, his strikeouts are climbing. He’s doing nothing well, and even his defense – by the numbers – has fallen off. He somehow managed to avoid the IL, and he had a career high in HBP; that’s what he has to hang his hat on. He has 2 arb years remaining, and I’m not even sure we should give him that much. It might be better for everyone involved for him to just move on, except I don’t know what’s out there to fill in at that spot. It’s not like we can trust in Evan White. Free Agency sounds like a wasteland. We’ll probably have to fill that spot via trade, and so help me if we bring in another one of these Quad-A guys to try to hit in T-Mobile Park.

The only hope is that his year two arb number doesn’t increase much, and that he follows through with the program at Driveline (and it somehow manages to stick). I know they worked wonders for J.P., but I can’t imagine Ty France has been going out and doing nothing the past two offseasons; Driveline is no guarantee of future success.

Eugenio is a slightly different story. His batting average and on-base percentages year over year are pretty close to one another; it was just his power that took a bit of a dive (31 homers in 2022, 22 homers in 2023). That’s a little trickier to explain. His line drive percentage actually went up this year – which might speak to the uptick in doubles – but his fly ball percentage dropped. His pull percentage spiked, while his balls to center and right fell. His hard hit rate and ground ball percentages were both static, and his strikeout rate actually went down a tick (even though his overall strikeouts went up, mostly due to his playing in every single game). Is that just bat angle? Is that the way pitchers were throwing to him? Were they busting him up and in, and that reduced his effectiveness in getting the ball to leave the park?

He also just turned 32 years old, so we can’t necessarily rule that out. Either way, I don’t see him going anywhere. Or, let me put it this way: I don’t see both him AND France leaving (maybe one or the other). But, you can’t try to replace both of those guys plus Teoscar; that’s just too much to try to accomplish in one offseason.

There wasn’t a bigger (and better) story than Jarred Kelenic for the early part of the season. This was truly a make-or-break season for the youngster, and he seemed to take the biggest step forward of anyone in a Mariners uniform. The first couple months were outstanding! It’s too bad they were overshadowed by the rest of the team struggling as much as they did.

His first 53 games – through the end of May – saw him hit .277/.333/.513, with 14 doubles, a triple, and 10 homers. His final 52 games – June through the end of the year – saw him hit .226/.320/.316, with 11 doubles, a triple, and 1 homer.

So, what was that all about? How much did the stint on the IL for kicking a water cooler have to play into it? Well, considering he was struggling mightily leading up to it – hence his physical display of frustration – you can’t blame it ALL on the layoff. Did pitchers adjust to whatever adjustments he had made in the offseason? Probably. Was he ill-equipped to then adjust again? Sure seems like it. What does this mean for his Major League career going forward?

Well, I think it’s safe to say he salvaged some of his value, which is a plus. But, can you really go into next season with him as your everyday left fielder? Or even your most-days platoon left fielder? For what it’s worth, I don’t know if his splits necessarily dictate that he HAS to be a platoon guy. He had a slightly higher batting average and slugging percentage against lefties, and was actually luckier with BABIP against righties than lefties. So, I think he’s fine to be an everyday outfielder. I still think there’s room for him to grow as he continues getting comfortable at the Major League level. But, he goes in the tank for far too long to be considered dependable, and he doesn’t strike me as an All Star type player. He might luck into a hot half-season and get handed a spot one year. Overall, though, I think he’s destined to do whatever it is he’s going to do in another uniform. I believe this will be the offseason we package him to another team, in hopes to bring in a veteran we can count on.

The rest of the problem children include Jose Caballero, Mike Ford, Kolten Wong, Dylan Moore, Dominic Canzone, A.J. Pollock, Josh Rojas, Sam Haggerty, Cade Marlowe, Taylor Trammell, Cooper Hummel (remember him?), Tommy La Stella, and Brian O’Keefe. I can’t possibly devote an entire paragraph or series of paragraphs to these guys, because we’d be here all day. Suffice it to say, they’re all fringe Major Leaguers (at best), and were eating up WAY too many spots in our lineup for this offense to be even remotely effective. Some of them had decent stretches (Ford had 16 homers on the year, Caballero was an on-base machine for a while, Rojas and Marlowe had brief hot streaks), but on the whole, these are not the types of players you want to pin your hopes on.

On the pitching side of things, you have to begin with Robbie Ray and the fact that he only made the one start this year. Now, do we know if he would’ve been good this year? Remember how poorly the end of his 2022 season went. But, that could’ve been a fluke. The bottom line is that a guy you were expecting to eat up a significant chunk of quality innings wasn’t around for you. It accelerated the development of Miller and Woo – which in the end might’ve been a bonus – but you could see those guys start to wear down towards the end of the year. Would they have been fresher if we could’ve held them back a little longer? We’ll never know, but it sure seems likely.

Marco Gonzales only made it 10 starts this year, and continued his gradual downturn ever since 2020. We’re still stuck with him for one more year, and I find it hard to believe we’ll be able to find a trade partner for him. On the one hand, he’ll be healthy by the start of 2024, and you can’t have too much starting pitching; on the other hand, he’s useless as a member of the bullpen, and if he keeps Woo or Miller from starting for too long, it’s going to be enraging.

The biggest tragedy of this year might’ve been the injury to Emerson Hancock. We only got about two and a half starts out of him, but he looked fairly promising in his limited action. And it happened right around the time Bryan Woo was returning from his brief IL stint, when we were supposed to head into the dog days of summer with a 6-man rotation, to hopefully keep everyone fresh. How important was THAT in derailing our season? Who’s to say? It’s one more What If to throw onto a season full of ’em.

And we’ve already gone into the bullpen of it all. There were gods and clods, and the clods were pretty damn mediocre. Trading Sewald, so far, looks like a disaster. But, that’s one of those things you can’t measure in two months’ time. You have to look at it over the next 2-3 years and see where everyone lands. I’ll say this: I don’t have any confidence in Canzone or Rojas. But, I also think we’re right around the corner from Sewald turning into a pumpkin. In which case, it was all for naught, and very well might’ve been the single biggest factor in sinking our season.

So, TL;DR, what do we need to fix? Well, we need to upgrade at either 1B or 3B. We need to fill RF with either Teoscar or Other. We need a bona fide fucking DH, because this horse shit we’ve been doing isn’t going to fly.

The Mariners are so full of shit with this DH thing, by the way. It was supposedly a means to give regular guys off-days, but how often was it used for that purpose, really? Suarez played at third damn near every day. France rarely went off first. J.P. never sits. Instead, that spot went to Teoscar on occasion (which was really a means to improve our outfield defense), Cal once in a while (when Murphy was healthy and able to back him up), and people like Ford, Pollock, Haggerty, Rojas, and the like. Lots of bullshit bench guys getting DH starts and doing nothing with them! Just sign a great hitter and park him there! Enough with this experiment that you’re not even using as you say you will!

Also, we need a proper second baseman, a proper backup catcher (who can stay healthy all year), and an outfielder or three (depending on what happens with Teoscar and Kelenic). Oh, and replenish the bullpen with at least one heavy duty arm (so it’s not just Brash, Topa, and Munoz and that’s it).

So, yeah, there’s a lot to do, and only one offseason to do it.

What We Can Be Happy About With This 2023 Mariners Season

I get it: being out of the playoffs is pretty irritating. This isn’t what we expected coming into the season; we were supposed to be a team on the rise and a team taking a step forward, after finally breaking the playoff drought in 2022. We had the core nucleus, we had the pitching, we just needed guys to play to expectations and we should’ve been all right. Did we do enough to get over the hump and become a division winner? No. We had a chance! Houston came down to Earth a little bit – which is something we definitely needed to happen for that to come to fruition – but we never expected Texas to be as good as they were, and that wrench ultimately ended our season.

Now, we have to move on. We have to look forward to next year. With a little bit of time to sit in our resentment, and reflect on what’s been done and what’s been said, now it’s time to rationally look back at what went right. We know what went wrong. The bottom of the order and the bench stunk. Many guys didn’t play to expectations. But, there were some positives as well, and we can’t just ignore them because we’re mad at the end result.

This organization isn’t going to blow everything up. The front office is staying intact. The manager and coaches are all being retained. There are guys under contract who likely aren’t going anywhere, and players with club control who still figure into our future plans. Unfortunately, we’re in a similar situation as the end of the 2022 season: needing to fill in around the margins. We didn’t get it right last offseason; we must get it right this offseason.

First and foremost, how do you not love what we got from J.P. Crawford? He came into 2023 as a legitimate fringe player. His 2022 season was arguably the worst of his Mariners career. He had terrible Spring Training numbers. He started out the year batting 9th, as everyone was calling on this team to upgrade at the short stop position. 2023 was as Make Or Break as it gets. And, to his credit, he put in the work last offseason at Driveline, he picked himself up, and he had the very best season of his career. He was a 5.0 WAR player; that’s leaps and bounds better than he’s ever been. He got his batting average back up to where it’s been in the past, he increased his on-base percentage quite a bit, and he slugged off the charts at .438. He hit 19 homers; 10 more than he’s hit in any other year! His 54 extra base hits were a career high. He pretty quickly found himself at the top of the batting order and never relinquished it, which I find most encouraging. That means he didn’t suffer a lot of prolonged, aggravating slumps. He was a guy we could always count on; for most of the year, he was the ONLY guy we could count on.

That’s a tremendous foundation on which to start. Short stop is secure for the foreseeable future. His defense seemed to bounce back a bit, he’s probably the best leader we could hope for among this player group, and where do you need to be strongest on a baseball field? Up the middle.

Which brings us to Julio. I can’t say it was a better season than 2022, but I do believe he took a step forward. Julio had a rough April in 2022, before going on a tear. In 2023, he REALLY struggled through June. Sophomore Slump was being bandied about. I think we all believed he’d pull out of it at some point, but I wasn’t sure he could get anywhere near where he was as a rookie.

Then, in July, he started picking it up. And that August, MY GOD. .429/.474/.724 slash line for the entire month; he was otherworldly! All of a sudden, he DID start to get back to where we all expected. But, then he cooled again in September. His slugging was still there, but everything else severely diminished. His WAR was 5.3 – tops on the team – but his entire slash line was a little bit worse compared to 2022. He had more doubles, homers, and stolen bases, but he also played in 23 more games.

All in all, I’m not worried about Julio. I think 2023 was a great learning experience for the young superstar. But, it wasn’t a wasted year for him, either. He didn’t have a learning experience while taking an extreme step back; he was still the best and most important player on this team, and I expect him to take these first two years and move forward as one of the best players in all of baseball.

Finishing with the Up The Middle motif, we have Cal Raleigh. Thank Christ for Cal Raleigh! This was his first full year. His first full year as the unquestioned #1 at catcher. And his first year where he wasn’t in jeopardy of being sent down to Tacoma to work on some things. He improved his batting average and on-base percentage, while taking a quiet step back in slugging. He had career highs in homers and doubles, but again, played in 145 games (compared to 119 in 2022). Where he REALLY took a step forward was with his defense; he was throwing dudes out left and right, really shutting down the run game of opposing offenses (in spite of the fact that this pitching staff isn’t always the greatest at holding runners).

I wouldn’t say Cal is a finished product either, though I don’t know if I would expect him to hit considerably above his .232 batting average. What matters is, like J.P., he didn’t suffer crazy lulls. He was pretty consistent all year. And, if you’re going to give me 30 homers from a catcher, I’m going to take that every time! Going forward, we don’t have to worry about Cal; he’s the guy. He’s going to be here for a good, long while. Hopefully, we can sign him to a long term extension sooner rather than later, because I think he’s going to be worth every penny. The concern lies in who his backup is going to be. Tom Murphy is a tremendous backup – when healthy – but he’s proven that we can’t count on him in that regard. We don’t want to blow Cal out with overuse, even though he’s a stud and wants to be out there every single day.

There’s a steep drop-off from there, as far as everyday players are concerned. I don’t want to get too into the weeds with Teoscar Hernandez – because I don’t know where he’s going to be next year – but I thought he did okay. He gave us almost what he showed he was in Toronto in 2022. Worse slash line, WAY too many strikeouts, but he was a 2.1 WAR player and that’s not nothing. He hit 26 homers and 29 doubles, while playing in 160 of 162 games. Yes, he had an abysmal start to his Mariners career, but he got it going as the season went along (and also enjoyed a torrid August), showing you what he’s capable of. I get the feeling it took him some time to figure out how to hit in this ballpark, but to his credit, he figured it out. He wasn’t a total waste of space like Jesse Winker and some of these other guys we’ve brought in. His overall numbers and production were pretty much what I would’ve expected out of a healthy Mitch Haniger, though I will say the defense was often a problem.

That’s all I got for the offense. On to the pitching.

Castillo, Gilbert, Kirby, excellent work, no notes! They had wonderful seasons. All 190+ innings pitched, all sub-4 ERAs, all with 179+ strikeouts, all with WHIPs 1.10 or lower. All 3.1 WAR pitchers or above. They obviously didn’t win as many games as we’d like (between 13-14), but that’s a reflection of the team as a whole. All had 18+ quality starts (out of 31-33 starts). It’s as ideal of a Top 3 in a starting rotation as you could hope for: all young, under contract/club control for years to come, and all elite in their own ways. On top of which, it was just Logan’s third Major League season, and Kirby’s second. The training wheels are off for all of these guys; we get to head into 2024 knowing that 3/5 of our rotation is not just set, but among the best in all of baseball. They continue to get better! They continue to introduce new pitches and find new ways to get batters out! Hell, I welcome the further influx of George Kirby knuckleballs! Bring it all on!

Now, were they all totally consistent all year long? No. Castillo and Kirby really came up short in that final week and a half. There were enough instances this season where their lines really left me scratching my head. But, that’s pretty nit-picky. On the whole, all three of these guys were tremendous, and I’m happy to go forward with them.

Sticking with the rotation, how do you not like what we got from Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo as rookies? They very much WERE under strict pitch counts and innings limits. They weren’t perfect, but they had ERAs of 4.32 and 4.21 respectively. They had K/9 rates of 8.2 and 9.5, which slots them quite nicely with our Top 3 listed above. Going into 2024, a rotation of just those five guys looks – on paper – to be outstanding!

We don’t know exactly what they are yet, though. They’re still very raw, very young, very inexperienced. I don’t know that they have a great command of their secondary/off-speed pitches. They were both fucking bananas against righties, but really had their struggles against lefties, and that has to get fixed if they expect to stay in the Major Leagues for the long haul.

  • Miller vs. Righties: 7.20 K/BB, .200/.234/.315, in 282 PA
  • Miller vs. Lefties: 2.94 K/BB, .303/.358/.558, in 255 PA
  • Woo vs. Righties: 7.25 K/BB, .179/.226/.268, in 191 PA
  • Woo vs. Lefties: 1.52 K/BB, .283/.389/.540, in 180 PA

That’s too stark of a difference. It’s a little Matt Brash-y. Excellent numbers for a reliever, but not so hot if you want to hack it as a starter.

With Marco Gonzales coming back for one more go-around – assuming we can’t find a trade partner for him – and with Robbie Ray still on the books for a tremendous amount of money (though, I was dismayed to hear he likely won’t be back until midseason, which means he probably won’t be back to normal until 2025), I think there’s a general sense among the fanbase that one of Miller or Woo won’t be here next year. That one will be traded to help bolster other areas of need. It makes sense, though it’s unfortunate. I can’t help but feel like it’s a case of We Can’t Have Nice Things. Just when we lock down the rotation as solidly as possible, we have to bust it up – YET AGAIN – to help out our feeble offense. I was surprised to hear that Woo is more liked than Miller, as far as the scouts and analytical people are concerned. That’s interesting, considering Miller passed the eye test a little bit more. He’s a little further along in his development, has more innings under his belt, and doesn’t have the injury history of Woo. But, whatever, I guess. Both guys looked awesome, and I hope we’re able to find a way to keep ’em around.

I can only go as far as Matt Brash, Justin Topa, and Andres Munoz with the bullpen. We had other nice-ish pieces – Gabe Speier, Tayler Saucedo, Isaiah Campbell all got an extended run, and looked decent as back-end of the bullpen kind of guys – Eduard Bazardo had good-looking stuff, Ty Adcock got a cup of coffee and looked decent, Prelander Berroa got a tiny cup of espresso and looked like a guy with tremendous upside, but I don’t know how much you can count on ANY of those guys. Especially when you consider, in 2022, we had the likes of Diego Castillo (who spent most of 2023 in Tacoma), Matt Festa (who had solid numbers in Tacoma, but isn’t even in the organization anymore), Penn Murfee (who got hurt, and isn’t expected to be healthy in time to start 2024), not to mention Paul Sewald (who famously was traded at the deadline). There’s so much flux with any bullpen, year to year, that it’s kind of pointless to project. If we get anything out of any of these lower tier guys in 2024, it’ll be gravy. I’m expecting nothing; I’m not even expecting they’ll be on the team.

You have to say Matt Brash was the best reliever on the team, especially after Sewald went to Arizona. There’s a lot to like here. 107 strikeouts was fifth on the team, behind our top four starters. 13.6 K/9 led the team. 3.06 ERA was very respectable. I wouldn’t say he gave us quite what we were expecting, but I think that’s because we were expecting the moon and the stars. Every report about his offseason was about how he might have the best slider of all time, in baseball history. Shit like that. As your #3 reliever behind Sewald and Munoz coming in? I think I expected something like a sub-1 ERA and maybe no more than 1 or 2 blown saves. Instead, you know, he was on the hook for 5 blown saves, and he got dinged with 4 losses. He had a somewhat rocky first couple months, but then improved over the rest of the season, and became the pitcher we all thought he’d be. He was the most reliable reliever we had by season’s end. And I think he improved enough – and worked on his pitch mix enough – to get even better in 2024.

Justin Topa came out of nowhere, as an older pre-arb player – to totally blow away expectations. Before 2023, he had played in no more than 7 games in any given season with the Brewers; this year he was in 75. He had an 8.0 K/9 rate, and had the best WAR of any Mariners reliever with 1.6 (over Brash’s 1.3). He wasn’t perfect – none of these guys were – but he was maybe the most consistently-good reliever we had, with no prolonged slumps. Every once in a while he didn’t have it, but you could say that about anyone; Topa didn’t cost us very many games, and was an incredible asset overall.

Andres Munoz, at least for me, barely qualifies for the theme of this post. But, he’s under contract through 2028 and isn’t going anywhere. He was fine. He wasn’t what he was in 2022, but an early-season injury took him out of commission for a good chunk of games. For as amazing as his stuff is, he was a little too inconsistent for me. As one of five regular relievers with 10+ K/9 (12.3), it’s clear his arm talent is pretty rare. But, his walk rate spiked, his K/BB rate dropped considerably (6.4 in 2022, 3.0 in 2023), and his splits vs. lefties and righties flip-flopped. He was better against lefties than righties in 2022; though still amazing against righties. But, while he was still strong against righties in 2023, he took a big dive against lefties, for whatever reason.

Ultimately, I’m not too worried. Though, I will say it’s concerning that he got hurt again. Remember, he missed all of 2020 and most of 2021 coming back from injury. He might just be a guy – with the way he throws – that he’s going to break down sooner than you’d hope. The M’s will want to take a good, hard look at this bullpen, and have more contingencies in place, so we’re not forced to rely on guys like Trent Thornton, Dominic Leone, Luke Weaver, and Juan Then types.

So, when you hear about the Mariners talking up their core guys, these are who they’re talking about. It’s a fine core! I like all these guys. But, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. There are guys who had really BAD 2023 seasons that need to be called out; we’ll get into that next time.

The Mariners Just Blew Their Season Once Again At The Hands Of The Astros

This Mariners season is swirling down a flushed toilet bowl like so many mushy turds enveloped in wadded up toilet paper and a soupçon of piss. What was once a massive fucking disappointment – and ever-so-briefly a crowning achievement – has returned to being what is this franchise’s destiny: The Same Ol’ Mariners.

With our season in our hands, we lost game one against the Astros 5-1. It wasn’t even as close as the score indicates. Justin Verlander – who we’ve had SOME success against a time or two – went out there and almost threw a complete game shutout. To combat that, we had our own ace, Luis Castillo, who was pretty fucking terrible when we needed him the most (6 innings, 5 runs).

With our backs against the wall, we won game two against the Astros 6-2. It was everything this team has been lacking all fucking month. George Kirby went 6 shutout innings. We jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the third, added on three more in the fifth, and got some timely insurance in the eighth thanks to a Ty France home run. Raise your hand if you can remember the previous time he hit a homer, because I sure as shit forgot!

But, this series was a microcosm of some VERY questionable decision-making by Scott Servais. First, he pulled Kirby at 84 pitches, even though we had a 5-0 lead. That’s back-to-back-to-back starts with his pitch count in the 80’s after the big stink with him complaining about going over 100 (and then immediately walking it back). Is this giving the baby his bottle? Or, was he legitimately tiring after 80? Servais put in Topa, and yanked him after three batters when it was obvious he didn’t have it (smart). But, then he proceeded to throw Brash out there for 2 innings, and roll with Munoz in the ninth even though it wasn’t a save situation. Odd.

What’s even worse has been his lineup construction lately. The Mariners don’t have an ideal roster of hitters, but Servais seems to be committed to this lefty/righty thing, and also going quickly to pinch hitters in the middle innings as soon as a different-handed reliever is brought in. This series showed us a perfect example of how this can go terribly.

Tuesday probably featured our ideal lineup: J.P., Julio, Cal, Teo, Kelenic, Suarez, Ford (DH), France, and Rojas. We scored 6 runs, won a game, let’s go.

Wednesday featured a lefty by Houston, which meant this: J.P., Julio, Suarez, Teo, Moore, France, Cal, Haggerty, Caballero. We scored 3 runs, lost a game, fuck me.

I would’ve told you this team has no business playing Haggerty or Caballero ever again. I would’ve told you batting Ty France higher than 8th is a fool’s errand. I even would’ve told you that Dylan Moore was as cold as he’s ever been this month. I might have been wrong about Moore – since he hit two blistering balls in his first two at-bats – but what does Servais do? He pulls Moore for Kelenic after those two at-bats, even though there were plenty of other alternative people for Kelenic to pinch hit for (and even though Kelenic hasn’t done much more than walk and hit singles since his return from the IL). It’s goofy! I’ve always liked Servais and thought he made smart decisions; or, at least, decisions you could defend. But, I can’t defend this. Before, he always seemed to get the best out of his players. Now, he’s like an uncoordinated child tossed into the deep end of a pool, flailing as he tries to stay afloat.

Of course, what does it matter when Bryce Miller can’t get beyond the fourth inning, having given up a 4-spot on two massive homers. We got it to 4-3 in the bottom half of that inning, but they tacked on four more runs to make it an 8-3 final. Julio struck out four times, was taunted with homophobic slurs by their relief pitcher, causing the benches to empty. That’s about as exciting as this game got. Showing no heart or backbone whatsoever, the Mariners did nothing with that bit of fuel for the fire.

Now, we’re 4 games behind Texas with 4 games to go (against Texas). We can’t win the division, unless we come up with some fakakta 3-way tie with the Astros, which would require us to beat the Rangers 4 straight times. We’ve beaten the Rangers exactly 1 time this year, so that doesn’t seem extremely likely. And, now, our wild card chances are on life support. We’re 1.5 games behind the Astros, making tonight’s game a must-win just to get it to 1 game. But, we don’t have any control over our destiny. We need the Astros to lose at least once to the Diamondbacks (spoiler alert: they won’t), or we need the Blue Jays to lose at least twice to the Yankees/Rays. And, again, that’s the bare minimum, which would also necessitate us beating the Rangers four straight times, which is something we absolutely will not do.

Shit, we probably won’t win more than 1 game this weekend. What a terrible way for a season to go. This whole year – minus a month and change – has been fucking miserable. But also REALLY fucking predictable. Coming out of a magical 2022 season, expectations sky high, OF COURSE the Mariners are going to blow it in the most agonizing way possible. They’re going to get off to a terrible start, they’re going to go on a crazy run where they win the most games in any single month in franchise history, and just when our hopes are at their peak, they’re going to throw this fucking diarrhea festival in the month of September at us to totally crush our spirits. Taking it all the way down to the very last weekend, for maximum agony, while losing to two of the most loathesome teams on the planet.

Four more days. Soak it in. It’s almost over.

The Mariners Stopped The Bleeding With A Series Win Over The Angels

That 10-game road trip felt like a month, didn’t it? It’s a good thing literally all the good players on the Angels are hurt. But, even then … couldn’t get the sweep.

Monday’s 8-5 loss was as irritating as every other loss we’ve had recently. We took a 3-0 lead in the first, gave it all back by the fourth. The game remained tied at 3-3 until the ninth, when the Mariners had a chance to walk it off. Three straight sharp singles loaded the bases with nobody out and Kelenic coming to the plate. He promptly struck out. Dylan Moore grounded into a fielder’s choice with the infield pulled in. Then, Canzone rolled over to first base to send it to extras.

The Angels hit a 2-run bomb in the top of the 10th to take a lead, but miraculously, Julio tied it with a 2-run bomb of his own in the bottom half. But, then the wheels came off in the 11th, as the Angels added three more to put it out of reach. We ended 3/12 with RISP, and left with more questions than answers from a bullpen that’s been repeatedly failing us in the later innings. I don’t know what the analytics say, but anecdotally, this group has been ass in the highest-leverage situations (unlike in previous years, when maybe we were luckier than we should’ve been). More and more, I think we’re going to point to the loss of Paul Sewald as the reason why this team fails to go all the way. Canzone sure hasn’t done much, and Rojas has once again cooled off considerably after a hot streak.

Turning things around, the Mariners executed a much-needed 8-0 victory on Tuesday. Bryan Woo looked outstanding (5.2 innings of 4-hit ball with 8 strikeouts), and we managed to close it out with Eduard Bazardo eating up 2.1 innings, and Dominic Leone finishing the ninth. THIS is the role those two were meant to fill; unfortunately, games haven’t been this out-of-reach lately to utilize them properly.

We had great games from Julio and J.P., as well as much-needed sparks from Suarez, France, and Moore. There hasn’t been a lot of production of late from the bottom of our order. Guys like Haggerty, Ford, Canzone, Rojas, Caballero, and O’Keefe have all been balls for the better part of a month and a half. It would be nice if we can get a blistering streak out of someone like Moore to fill that void. Also, it was nice to see Luis Torrens return and hit a rather meaningless double late in the game. O’Keefe is NOT a Major Leaguer, and Tom Murphy isn’t coming back anytime soon (if ever). We can’t afford to play Cal literally every single game the rest of the way.

On Wednesday, we got back to basics with some good ol’ fashioned Mariners baseball, in a 3-2 victory where Castillo pitched another Quality Start (6 innings, 2 runs, 3 hits, 3 walks, 8 strikeouts), and the bullpen was nails from there (Topa, Brash, and Munoz locking it down). All of the scoring was completed by the end of the fifth inning, so it really was a lot of pressure pitching down the stretch. Good to see, after so much shakiness lately.

That caps off the Angels for 2023. We went 8-5, which is pretty appropriate. We’re 8-2 against the Astros, and 9-1 against Oakland, so let’s hope we can keep beating those teams. For what it’s worth, we’re 1-5 against Texas, making the seven times we see them in the last 10 games vitally important. Can we go 6-1 against them? Seems unlikely, but will be necessary if we hope to win the A.L. West.

We have this weekend series with the Dodgers coming up, before we close out against the remaining divisional opponents. We are 81-65, a half-game behind the Rangers (in the loss column), with them playing in Toronto today. We’re 1.5 games behind the Astros for the division (one in the loss column, two in the win column), and they’re off today as well.

We are currently one full game ahead of Toronto for the third wild card. The Blue Jays have lost three straight against the Rangers in this series, which is honestly pretty good for us, because they were on a massive hot streak before that (albeit, against a lot of the same bad teams we played in August). Toronto has 6 against the Yankees, 3 against the Red Sox (both have fallen WAY out of playoff contention), and 6 against the mighty Rays. We will be rooting heavily for the Rays over the next couple weeks.

So, that’s it. There are three teams all within a game and a half of one another for two wild card spots, and there are three teams all within a game and a half of the A.L. West. Win the west, earn a first round BYE, and you’re able to set your rotation and rest your overworked bullpen. Win the second wild card, and you “earn” a series against either the Rays or Orioles in their home stadium. Win the third wild card, and you get the privilege of facing the lowly Twins (who are currently 7.5 games up on the Guardians).

This is very stressful! I sure hope the Mariners do well!

I should point out – since it’s been a while where this has been a topic of conversation – that the Mariners have improved their record in 1-run games to 23-25. That is a mighty jump from where it was pre-August! We are, however, 6-13 in extra innings games, which has been an absurd drain on our emotions. Wouldn’t mind seeing that go in the positive direction asap.

Also, Paul Sewald Update: after a bad blown save early, he’s been pretty great. He had 8 consecutive scoreless appearances before his next blown save. He’s since gone 5 for 5 in save appearances in September. Right now, the Diamondbacks are tied for the third wild card spot (with two more teams right on their heels).