The Mariners Dominated The A’s, Barely Got The Sweep

There’s something exciting about a sweep. They don’t come easy, even against the very worst teams. And, I think it’s safe to say, the A’s are indeed one of those very worst teams.

That’s why you kind of have to temper that excitement a little bit. Wake me up when the Mariners do it against a good team, you know? Even a mediocre team would be more impressive than something like this. The A’s are a small handful of very good players away from being a glorified AAA squad.

On top of that, it feels like a fluke that we got the sweep at all. The first two wins were about as impressive as it gets – 8-2 and 9-0 – but this afternoon’s nailbiter was idiotic as all get-out.

Marco Gonzales looked exceptional on Tuesday, going 7 innings, giving up 2 runs (both in his 7th inning of work, after the M’s had amassed a 7-0 lead). That was his eighth quality start on the season, fourth out of his last five games, and sixth out of his last eight. This one was noteworthy for how efficient he was (only 2 strikeouts, but also only 1 walk and 7 hits given up), with 17 ground ball outs (easily a season high). The game was also noteworthy in it being Ken Giles’ first game back in the big leagues since his 2020 injury that required Tommy John surgery. He’ll be brought back slowly to start, but so far he looked pretty good.

We’ll remember this game as the one where we had back-to-back-to-back homers by J-Rod, Winker, and Suarez. France and J-Rod both had 3 hits apiece, Winker had two extra-base hits, Upton had an RBI single, Trammell had a solo homer, and Cal Raleigh got on base every plate apperance.

Wednesday’s game featured 6 shutout innings from George Kirby (5 hits, 1 walk, and 6 strikeouts). Winker, Crawford, J-Rod, and Trammell all had multi-hit games. Raleigh and Winker each had homers. And, we got to empty our bench (for the most part) with this game being a laugher by the end of the fifth inning.

Which brings us to this afternoon. Yet another quality start, this time by Robbie Ray (6 innings, 1 run on 4 hits & 2 walks, with 6 strikeouts). The A’s manufactured a run in the bottom of the first with two outs, then there was nothing but zeroes until the ninth inning. The Mariners are on some crazy streak of games where the starters have pitched at least 6 innings while giving up 3 runs or less, it’s really been fun (and would be a lot more fun if we didn’t have so many of these types of games where the offense can’t do a damn thing).

I don’t know how you explain this one. In the top of the ninth, Moore and Winker walked, with a J-Rod pop-out and a Suarez strikeout mixed in. Then, Kevin Padlo walked to load the bases. A wild pitch by the second reliever in the inning pushed home the tying run. Then, a second wild pitch – on ball 4 to Toro – scored the go-ahead run.

And, that was it. 4 walks and 2 wild pitches = 2-1 victory. Diego Castillo got the win, Paul Sewald got the save, bingo, bango, bongo.

Of course, we can’t have anything nice without something disasterous also happening. In this case, Ty France was trying to make a play defensively at first base and the runner ran into him, causing him to possibly hyperextend his elbow. It’s either going to keep him out for a few days or a few months, with probably no in-between.

In other words, if you haven’t already written the season off, then I’d go ahead and get your quill and inkwell ready. It was announced today that Tom Murphy is having season-ending surgery on his shoulder. That’s not the worst news in the world, but if you were counting on help from him sometime this season, think again. With Haniger out for at least another month, and Lewis out for God knows how long, a significant Ty France injury is the last nail in the coffin. We don’t even have a healthy Evan White to throw into the mix! Not that he’d be worth a damn at the plate, or even come CLOSE to making up for the loss of France’s bat. I guess what I’m getting at is: get ready for a lot more Dylan Moore!

I just hope this injury to France doesn’t keep him out for any of the 2023 season. More and more, it’s looking like we’re (at least) another year away from playoff contention. Even that comes into serious doubt if we don’t get France back for a full season next year.

The 2022 Mariners Are A Complete Disaster

This past (long) weekend gave the Mariners every opportunity to make up some ground in a crowded field of wild card hopefuls, against one of the teams in direct competition. A team that’s in our division no less. Indeed, a team that had been in SUCH a freefall that they lost a crazy number of games in a row and fired their highly-touted manager.

The rare five-game series. Thanks to MLB dragging their feet to get the CBA done, necessitating the regular season to start a week late, we apparently have a number of pre-scheduled doubleheaders throughout the year to help make up for lost time. I actually really enjoy doubleheaders, and wish they’d do this more often. But, I also wish they’d give teams more off-days throughout the year as a compromise, and that’s probably not happening anytime soon.

Anyway, we got a glimpse at how the Angels and Mariners match up against one another. Two teams – on paper – that appear to be pretty close to one another. Yet, here we are – four days later – and it’s the Angels who won 4 of 5. Now, we sit and wait, wondering if the Mariners will be the next team to fire their manager after a particularly miserable stretch.

It’s not 14 losses in a row, but this homestand saw the Mariners go 3-8. That’s after the little blip of hope we saw with the M’s winning 4 consecutive series, to ever-so-slightly turn things around. I guess that was just a mirage. I feel like these are the true Mariners we saw over the last 11 games (again, all at home), where we were shut out a whopping 4 fucking times.

I’ll say this: shit-can the hitting coach and do it immediately. What a fucking joke. That’s 10 fucking shutouts in 68 fucking games. 15% of all Mariners outcomes are a shutout loss! That’s asinine! A fucking lamp post would be a better hitting coach!

Of course, that might not be the only head that needs to roll in this situation. I mean, how many times do you need to watch Mike Trout beat you (I count four in this last series alone) before you understand he needs to be pitched around? I don’t care who else they have in that lineup; it’s literally Mike Trout killing us every fucking time! Scott Servais, ultimately, is the best manager we’ve had since Lou Piniella (and, I would argue, Sweet Lou wouldn’t fare NEARLY as well with the guys we’ve had in Servais’ tenure, given his management style), and I don’t believe he should be let go. But, it’s hard to watch him bungle every important Trout at-bat by allowing our pitchers to continuously miss down in the strike zone (where he hits them long and far).

The real culprit is twofold: the players our front office is bringing in, and the development of said players at the minor league level. All of that lands at the feet of Jerry Dipoto. But, of course, he’s got all the power at this point, so I don’t know what you do there. You can’t really keep Servais and punt Dipoto. All you can do is clean house, and hope the next regime doesn’t have their heads up their own asses.

It would be one thing if it looked like the “future core” of this organization looked like it was developing at an appropriate pace. Even the silver lining of a Julio Rodriguez is something I’m going to reserve judgment for until season’s end. I want to see the full year – all the ups and downs – before I call him a raving success. He could go in the tank and then what are we talking about? A good month or two? Isn’t that what we’ve seen from just about every other highly-touted prospect who’s come through here?

This is the worst hitting lineup since 2010, bar none. Nothing about it makes any sense. And nothing I’ve seen from these guys gives me ANY hope for the immediate future. Even if we write off 2022 – as I expected would probably be the case, heading into this season – what do we have to look forward to in 2023 and beyond? One good hitter, maybe (Julio) and one good pitcher (Gilbert). Take a look at the Angels (Trout and Ohtani) to see what that gets you. Julio and Gilbert by themselves aren’t going to do it all.

Jesse Winker gets a lot of shit – and rightly so – for playing so far below his expectations. He was just signed through the remaining two Arbitration years, I believe, heading into this Angels series. What was our reward? 1 hit in 10 at-bats. Nice job, Jerry.

Thankfully, we’re out from under Adam Frazier after this year. He went 3 for 13 against the Angels, all singles. No RBI. Only one of them resulting in a run scored by Frazier.

Abraham Toro is getting WAY too much playing time out of necessity, thanks to injuries. He was the big prize in our deadline deal last year, that at the time was widely praised by all who took notice. He went 2 for 14 against the Angels, both harmless singles.

I could go on and on, but let’s finish with Justin Upton. His career is clearly washed, but we brought him in as a hail mary (again, thanks to injuries). He stunk in Tacoma – and probably didn’t get enough time to acclimate to even AAA-level pitching, to say nothing of what we’ve got in the Majors – but was called up during the series against the Angels because that’s the team that cut him earlier this year. So, why not hopefully capitalize on some revenge factor, right? Well, he went 1 for 10 with a harmless double. Yay. Another .100 hitter to throw onto the pile.

This is Jerry Dipoto’s organization. He’s built it from the ground up. He brought in all the players from outside the organization, he’s responsible for who we’ve drafted, and the buck stops with him when it comes to the minor league coaching that “develops” those guys. Who have we developed? It’s obnoxiously rare that anyone’s hit thanks to our system. Who has flailed? I mean, how much time do you got? Jared Kelenic – a can’t-miss prospect if there ever was one – is currently a complete mess. That’s on Jerry and his team. He’s proven in the past he doesn’t have what it takes (see: his tenure with the underachieving Angels), and he’s proving again that he is who we thought he was.

Ultimately, the more we hear about free agents who don’t want to come here, the more it’s clear that they’re not just rejecting Seattle. They’re specifically rejecting Jerry Dipoto and his Mariners.

The bloom isn’t just off the rose at this point. It’s withered and burned to ash. What will ownership do to rectify things? And, more importantly, how many more decades are we going to have to wait until the Mariners make the playoffs again?

The Mariners Were Punchless Against The Red Sox

I seem to be getting pretty lucky in the timing of my vacations. Every time I leave town for a long weekend, that’s when the Mariners unleash their most inept and frustrating performances.

Last Friday, Marco Gonzales slogged through 4.1 innings, giving up 2 runs, but throwing a massive amount of pitches just to get through the first inning. We might’ve improbably won this game thanks to a mostly-strong performance out of the bullpen, except Andres Munoz continued his run of looking simultaneously dominant and hittable. A guy who throws 100 with veritable ease shouldn’t throw so many fucking MEATBALLS that get destroyed, but here we are. Hence the 5+ ERA. He has an 11.4 K/9 which is good, but he’s giving up an .806 OPS; it’s a bizarre case.

Of course, giving up 4 runs shouldn’t be an insurmountable chore against the Red Sox, but on this night it was. Winker had a 2-run homer in the fifth to tie it up, and Raleigh had an RBI single late to make it close, but that was that.

We salvaged the game on Saturday thanks to a rally in the bottom of the 9th, after Sewald gave up a go-ahead run in the top half of the inning. Yet another glitchy performance from a guy who was absolutely dominant last year (related: Drew Steckenrider was recently DFA’d and then brought back to Tacoma on a minor league deal, to give you an indication of how the 2021 relievers are doing in 2022).

Every so often, you see glimpses of this Mariners offense attempting to break out of their season-long slump. Games like this one, where almost everyone contributed in some positive way. Crawford, Julio, Suarez, and Toro all had multiple hits. But, these games inevitably are the exception and not the rule.

We couldn’t keep the series win train rolling on Sunday though, with a 2-0 dud to close out the series. Robbie Ray was phenomenal – thanks to increased usage of his 2-seam fastball – going 7 shutout innings, giving up just 3 hits and a walk, while striking out 4. The game was all tied up at 0-0 heading into the 8th, when again, Sewald took the brunt of the damage. Of course, by all accounts, the batter hit a crazy pitch off the plate for a 2-run bomb, but that’s the way it’s been going for Sewald this year.

You need to score runs to win ballgames though, and Luis Torrens was all that prevented this one from being a Red Sox no-hitter. One hit. That’s it. So many fucking shit-terrible hitters in this lineup, it’s harkening back to those 2010 Mariners in terms of guys we’re going to look back and exclaim, “THEY were on this team?! Jesus Christ.”

Also, Jarred Kelenic has been striking out and hitting bombs and that’s pretty much it in Tacoma. Kyle Lewis has the world’s stickiest concussion. Mitch Haniger is a walking rehab stint (except, with that ankle, I doubt he’s walking very well). Evan White is a fucking ghost. And there aren’t any other position players close to making the jump to the Major Leagues anytime soon.

Were you wondering how Justin Upton is doing down in AAA, hoping that he might be some sort of savior? How does a slash line of .175/.267/.375 make you feel? That’s across 10 games and 40 at bats, where he’s racked up 17 strikeouts against only 4 extra base hits.

It’s bleak, man. Jesse Winker rightly was benched last night, and hopefully lost his spot atop the lineup. Adam Frazier is just doing nothing. Abraham Toro has one great game out of every ten. Cal Raleigh’s power numbers have improved, while everything else is bad as fuck. Taylor Trammell – after a hot start – has already cooled off considerably (no surprise there). And we’re stuck giving Dylan Moore and Sam Haggerty more playing time than they deserve, which is NOT what you want to see.

The Mariners Fell Apart While I Was In A Mexican Paradise

I mean, to be fair, the Mariners were already in a pretty bad place before I left, but I believe they only won one out of five games while I was travelling.

I didn’t write about the Blue Jays or the Red Sox series, since I was flying out Wednesday morning and didn’t get home until last night, but suffice it to say I have no interest in rehashing them game by game. For those two series, the M’s went 1-6. For the road trip, the M’s went 3-7 (somehow winning 2 of 3 against the best team they played, the Mets). For the month of May, the M’s are 6-15. And since our season’s peak – when we were 11-6 way back on April 26th – the M’s have gone a miserable 6-19.

The season is falling apart. Smartasses like to point to how bad the M’s were in the month of May last year – when we still ended up winning 90 games – but you can’t deny this feels different (especially since last year’s Mariners squad were able to salvage a 13-15 record in the month of May after their short dark stretch). Mitch Haniger is out until July. Jared Kelenic is in Tacoma and his future in the organization feels very tenuous at this point (the interview last week with Jason A. Churchill on the Mitch Unfiltered podcast paints a particularly bleak picture where Kelenic might spend most of the year in Tacoma before maybe getting called back up in September … unless the Mariners totally fall apart and have no excuse but to promote him and try to salvage his career here). Kyle Lewis looks like he’s on the cusp of returning, but it looks like his knees are so ravaged he’ll never be a full time outfielder, and may not even be a part time outfielder (he might have to DH exclusively if he wants to stay healthy enough to contribute most every day). Matt Brash has already been demoted and turned into a reliever. Cal Raleigh is only up here because Tom Murphy is injured (and he just re-aggravated his condition, making his return to the big club TBD). Ken Giles is God knows where. Jesse Winker is still playing at a sub-replacement level, as is Luis Torrens. We just signed Justin Upton and sent him to our extended spring training, after he’d been on the market the entire season thanks to the Angels DFA’ing him; he’s been terrible for three straight years now, so this seems like a futile desperation move (albeit one that comes with no risk whatsoever).

Meanwhile, as I pointed out, the Mariners are in a freefall and can’t catch a break. They can’t even luck into a win here and there! We’ve apparently used up all of our Fun Differential in that magical 2021 season (you remember, the one that – yet again – saw us miss the playoffs) and have none left over for future seasons. Now there’s just Gun In Mouth Differential, and it’s going through the roof!

In this young season, we’ve already been shutout 6 times; we were shutout 8 times in all of 2021. We’re 10 games out of first place at the moment; the most we were out of first place in all of 2021 was 9 games. And, we don’t even get the relief of having an off-day after the massacre that was an extra-innings defeat at the hands of the Red Sox yesterday. We have to fly across the country to return home and face the A’s, another bottom-feeder, but that doesn’t matter at this point. We don’t get a rest day until Thursday; what’s our reward following that? Another fucking series against the Astros, who are red hot and have reclaimed their rightful spot in first place in the A.L. West.

I don’t know what to tell you. Normally, I’d say football season starts in a few months, but what’s the point? All we can do is root for the Seahawks (and Broncos) to lose as many games as possible, which means even our victories are going to be annoying. Husky football is rebuilding. Husky basketball looks like it’s about to be in shambles again. The NBA still hasn’t announced the return of the Supersonics. And the Kraken seem to be going nowhere fast.

Seattle is Sports Hell once again! Boy do I love when I can tie it all back to the name of the blog. It really makes the space come alive!

The Mariners Lost The Series To The Angels

This was kind of a big deal:  the first series of the year against REALLY your primary rival for the Wild Card.  You figure there are three teams in the A.L. East who are vying for two spots – a division winner and that other Wild Card spot – you figure there’s only one team coming out of the A.L. Central (unless one of the sub-Indians teams goes on a real hot streak), you figure the Astros are eventually going to separate themselves as the clearcut winner of the A.L. West, and it’s going to be a 2-team race for 1 spot between the Mariners and Angels.  If that all proves true, and we figure the Mariners are going to struggle mightily against the Astros, and beat up on most of the lesser teams around baseball, then the measure of the 2018 season is going to come down to how we play against the Angels.  This was, as I said, the first look at how we’d fare against them, and honestly it wasn’t pretty.

Shohei Ohtani was always going to dominate the Mariners.  If you’ve followed the Mariners for any period of time, that was completely obvious to you, because why wouldn’t he?  It’s a guy we all wanted, a guy we thought might want to come here throughout the courtship, and a guy who ultimately not only spurned us, but spurned us for a division rival.  This was – while not a 1 to 1 complete match – A-Rod going to the Rangers all over again.  This was every major prospect we traded away.  This was every guy who stunk for the Mariners and ended up being amazing somewhere else the very next year.  All of that, all rolled into one guy who’s both an amazing hitter and a guy who can throw upwards of 100 miles per hour, while having just the most devastating off-speed pitches in baseball.  There was never a chance he WOULDN’T kick our asses, in spite of some early-season struggles with command or whatever.  That was never going to come into play; he was always going to throw 6+ innings and quite frankly we were LUCKY to get the 2 runs off of him that we got.  I wrote off that Sunday game as a loss the second I saw confirmation he was going to be the starter.  The fact that we lost 8-2 is very disappointing, but I won’t say I was surprised by the number of runs we gave up either.  Felix just isn’t going to be very good against the better offenses of this league, so when the guys aren’t hitting for him, those games are going to be pretty ugly more often than not.

I was much more disappointed in the 5-0 drubbing on Friday.  Mike Leake didn’t look like anything special and the offense was just overwhelmed.  Midway through the game on Saturday – when the Mariners were losing 1-0 and looking similarly overwhelmed offensively – I thought there was a legitimate chance (with Ohtani going the next day) that the Mariners would not only be swept at home, but completely SHUT OUT in a 3-game series, which would have to be up there all-time on the futility list.

I was at the game on Friday and ended up leaving early, which was the appropriate thing to do.  I got my Han Seago bobblehead, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a bobblehead, so I’m happy.  I was also at the game on Saturday, and thank Christ the Mariners started piling on some runs, because I would’ve been pretty distraught if I would’ve paid to watch two demoralizing defeats in a row.

It was 90’s Night on Saturday, and while we got there too late (or went in through the wrong entrance) to get the James Paxton Fanny Pack that I wanted, it’s probably for the best.  Do I really need one more Mariners thing I’m never going to use?  That’s awkward to display?  No thanks.  Losing out on the bobblehead would’ve been far worse.

Anyway, they played like it was the 1990s, as the Mariners hit a bunch (winning 9-8 in 11 innings) and got some really shoddy pitching (particularly from the bullpen, as our top two guys did everything in their power to give this one away).  I had a feeling before the start of the game that it would be high scoring, and even predicted there’d be more than 12 combined runs scored, but I never could’ve imagined the way it happened.  For starters, as I said before, it was 1-0 into the sixth inning.  The Angels hit a 3-run jack to ensure Marco Gonzales wouldn’t survive a 6-inning start totally unscathed.  Down 4-0, that’s when the Mariners embarked upon the big comeback.  There were 2 runs in the bottom of the sixth, then another 4 more in the eighth to take a 2-run lead into the ninth.  That’s when all hell broke loose.

With two outs, Mike Trout hit a double off of Edwin Diaz, and with two strikes, Justin Upton hit a game-tying 2-run home run for Diaz’s first blown save of the year.  Juan Nicasio came in for the 10th and gave up a go-ahead run, followed by the Mariners tying it up in the bottom half of the inning on a single and a throwing error.  Newcomer Erik Goeddel gave up another go-ahead run in the 11th, but this time the Mariners were able to walk it off thanks to an RBI double by Seager and a game-winning single by Healy.

It was one of the more improbable victories you’re ever going to see, and if there’s ANY reason for optimism based on this series, that’s what you’d point to:  this team’s fight.  This team’s elite hitting.  But, overall, the starting pitching was pretty miserable all three games, and the bullpen has proven over this past week that you’re not going to be able to rely upon them 100% of the time.  They’ve shown cracks.  There’s still only 2 guys you can REALLY count upon, and even those guys aren’t perfect.  The more they struggle, the more this team is going to struggle, and the less likely this team will break the playoff drought.

The Mariners went 1-2 against the Angels in this series, and they were MUCH closer to being 0-3 than they were 2-1.  If that continues throughout the season, and we end up somewhere around 6-13 or so against them, that’s ultimately going to be the deciding factor in whether we reach the Wild Card or not.  Anything worse than 9-10 against the Angels is a guaranteed No Playoffs For The Mariners; anything around .500 and we have a shot if we get lucky; anything 11-8 or better and I’ll go on record as saying that’s good enough to get the Mariners in.

So, the question is:  can they do that?  Based on what I saw this weekend, I don’t think so.  Based on what these teams are right now, on paper, if nothing significantly changes, I don’t think the Mariners will be better than the Angels, and I ultimately believe they’ll be maybe 2-3 games out of the Wild Card when the season ends.  Take that or what it’s worth.  It’s still early, there’s a lot that can happen.  I’ll say this:  I don’t think the Angels are DRAMATICALLY better than the Mariners.  I think they’ll have their ups & downs just like we will; they’ll have series where they look like crap too.  But, in the head-to-head matchups, I don’t think we match up well with them, and I think that’s ultimately what’s going to torpedo this season.

It Was Absolutely Okay For Jarrod Dyson To Bunt To Break Up The Perfect Game

Don’t come in here with your macho headgames; this is baseball – ostensibly a kid’s game – there are no points for winning or losing with honor.  To put it another way, you’re no more or less of a man for bunting to get on base as you are clubbing a ball into the outfield.

The unwritten rules of baseball are among the stupidest things in all of sports.  Chief among them is this concept that you shouldn’t try to bunt to break up a perfect game or a no-hitter.  And I’m not buying this whole “grey area” that people are trying to amend to this thing.  What’s the difference between the first batter of a game bunting for a base hit, followed by the pitcher getting 27 consecutive outs, and the last batter of a game bunting for a base hit to break up a perfecto?

The job of a hitter in baseball is to help in the facilitation of scoring runs, by any means necessary.  Obviously, in a close game, people feel it’s perhaps more justified to bunt to break up the no-no than if it were, say, 10-0 in the bottom of the ninth.  But, you know what?  This isn’t Brett Favre giving Michael Strahan a record-breaking sack; as the opposing hitter, you don’t have to lay down and die just so someone else can make history.  If speed is a big part of your game – the way you make your LIVING, by the way – then obviously the bunt is always going to be on the table.  And, if the opposing defense is going to give you this HUGE opening in front of first base – with Miguel Cabrera playing insanely deep against someone known to bunt from time to time – then it’s absolutely your right to do so.  First inning, sixth inning, or last inning.  Having someone throw a perfect game on you in your own stadium?  That’s embarrassing!  Way more embarrassing than the temporary “shame” of bunting to get a hit; even if it’s 10-0 in the bottom of the ninth.

Last night, Justin Verlander was rolling.  He’s usually been really good against the Mariners throughout his career, but this was another level.  16 guys put down to start off the game; 6 of the first 9 hitters struck out and 9 of the first 15.  Good life on his fastball, good movement on his breaking pitches, outstanding command.  It really did look like it was going to take a miracle just to get a guy on base.  I’ll admit, I almost went to bed after the fourth or fifth inning.  I turned the game off, I picked up a book to do some pre-bedtime reading, and right before I considered shuffling off to bed, I checked Twitter.

By this point, the Mariners were down 4-0.  James Paxton looked moderately better than he did last time, but by no means his usual dominant self from before the injury.  With the way Verlander was going, there was just no way this Mariners team could come back!

But, I checked Twitter maybe 30 seconds after the bunt, and immediately flipped over to the game.  I saw Zunino walk, I saw Segura bloop a single in no man’s land that the short stop somehow overran, I saw Gamel continue his torrid June with an RBI single to center, and I saw Robbie Cano strike out.

For what it’s worth, that was a great Cano at bat, but an even-better Verlander sequence.  That strike three was, as Aaron Goldsmith described, vicious.  Unhittable.  But, I also saw a Cano in that at bat who looked remarkably dialed in.  He was JUUUUST missing, but his timing was getting awfully close.  Close enough that it would only be a matter of time before he started making a huge impact offensively.

That put the M’s at two outs in the inning, though, with only 1 run to show for their rally.  Forget the bunt, forget the perfect game and all that, the Mariners had an opportunity here!  But, they couldn’t let having men on second and third – with the heart of their lineup at the plate – go by without scoring more than just the 1 run.  Thankfully, Nelson Cruz got ahold of a curveball and roped it into left field.  To my horror, it looked like Justin Upton might come up with the diving catch to rip our collective guts out, but he came up empty and the Mariners got to within 4-3, with three full innings left to play (and knocked Verlander out of the game in the process).

Mitch Haniger – dropped to 7th in the lineup, with the return of Jean Segura from the DL (the Mariners opted to keep Ben Gamel’s .350+ batting average in the 2-hole, at least against righties, and at least for the time being) – led off the seventh with solo blast to tie the game.  With the Tigers’ bullpen sucking all ass around town, this thing felt attainable!  They got a couple quick outs, but then the rally train started chugging down the tracks again.

Segura walked and Gamel singled to set the table for Cano.  Yep, that Cano.  The one who, quite frankly, hasn’t been all that good lately.  Coming into the game, he had all of 2 extra-base hits in the month of June, and I don’t know if he’s been all that right since he went on the DL back in May.  Obviously, he’s getting his hits, and he’s playing through some pain, and you commend him for that, but he hasn’t been that dynamic superstar we’ve seen him be, at least for the last few weeks.

But, he was due, and he made good on that by lining a double into the gap in right-center field to score Segura and Gamel and give the Mariners an improbable 2-run lead.  Cruz would subsequently single in Cano to give the M’s a 3-run cushion, and the damage was done.

Of course, I don’t know if the Mariners would’ve been able to salvage this game without some excellent bullpen work.  Tony Zych came into the game in relief of Paxton, with 1 out and 2 on.  They’d JUST scored two runs to give them their 4-run lead.  But, Zych not only shut them down, he went another inning on top of it without giving up a run.  Then, after finally getting a day off the night before, Nick Vincent kept the Tigers off the scoreboard in the eighth.  And, in a somewhat questionable move, Scott Servais opted to throw Edwin Diaz out there for a fourth consecutive day.  He looked a little wild, and grooved a solo homer to Ian Kinsler; things got really interesting when Cabrera walked to the plate with a runner on first in a 7-5 ballgame.  Cabrera is always an MVP-type threat – even if he’s not having that sort of season this year – but that’s not what really terrified me.  I was worried what would happen if Cabrera simply singled or walked or otherwise got on base for J.D. Martinez, because HE’S the real killer on that team right now.

Honestly, if Cabrera would’ve gotten on base, I would’ve chosen to walk Martinez.  If I’m being REALLY honest?  I might have intentionally walked both of those guys to load the bases for Justin Upton; but I guess that’s why they don’t pay me the big bucks to manage a Major League Baseball team (yes, THAT is the reason).

Instead, Diaz worked ahead in the count to Cabrera, and got him to roll over on one to short stop to end the game.

I’m not gonna lie to you, that game was one for the ages.  An Instant Classic, at least from a Mariners perspective.  I have no idea what it’ll all mean in the grand scheme of things, but isn’t it funny how it took all of that for the Mariners to get back to .500 again, this time at 37-37?

Isn’t it ALSO funny that in today’s slot in the rotation, we were due to start Yovani Gallardo?  Our WORST starting pitcher?

Well, it’s like Dipoto and Company knew I’d be freaking out today, because we’ve got moves!

The first, I’ve already alluded to:  Jean Segura returned, with Tyler Smith going back to Tacoma.  Thanks for the memories Smith, but your services will no longer be required.

The second was an absolute shocker:  hotshot prospect Andrew Moore was called up, with Christian Bergman being sent down (and Tyler Cloyd being DFA’d to make room on the 40-man).  I talked about it yesterday, and it looks like the Mariners and I were simpatico on the whole Bergman vs. Gaviglio argument, because Gaviglio keeps his spot in the rotation (set to start this Saturday) at least until Iwakuma returns from his rehab assignment.

Andrew Moore was a second round pick in 2015, and one of the top prospects in the Mariners’ farm system.  He apparently throws in the low-90s, but has great command of the strike zone, doesn’t walk many guys, and has excelled at every level.  In his first professional season, he dominated in Everett.  In 2016, he split time between high-A ball and AA.  Then, this year, he appeared in 6 games in AA before being promoted to AAA.  He appeared in 8 games in Tacoma and now he’s here.  Not only is he here, but his Major League career is getting STARTED.  He’s not up for a spot start, or to help out in the bullpen in long relief like most of these jokers we’ve brought up from Tacoma; Andrew Moore is getting the start TONIGHT, in place of one Yovani Gallardo.

SQUEE!!!

Sorry, not sorry, but once I realized he last started for Tacoma last Thursday, I was able to put 2+2 together and come to the hypothesis that he was going to take Gallardo’s job.  Bergman goes to Tacoma, because apparently he was always going to go to Tacoma regardless, but if my hypothesis holds true, the Mariners will hold onto Gallardo through tonight’s game – in case Moore’s jitters get the better of him and he’s overwhelmed by the Tigers – and then they’ll DFA him when they officially bring Felix back onto the roster.

In other words, unless something crazy happens, we officially have one more day with Yovani Gallardo in our lives.

And I know what you’re thinking, sour grapes and all.  Normally, I don’t root for people to lose their jobs, but he’ll be fine.  He’s a fucking multi-millionaire who will DEFINITELY get another shot with some other team.  So, don’t cry for Gallardo; it’s what’s best for everyone.

I mean, this has to be what’s happening, right?  They’ve already officially named Gaviglio the starter for Saturday; I don’t think they’re just going to change their minds and send him down when Felix returns on Friday.  The only other move is to keep Gallardo in the bullpen and send someone like Altavilla down to continue to work on his game.  At this point, I’d say it’s 50/50 between those two things, but I’ll say this:  if Gallardo’s main problem has been giving up too many runs early in games (18 of the 54 runs he’s given up this year – or a full 33% – have been in the first innings of his starts; he’s got a first inning ERA of nearly 11!), what makes you think we can trust him in a relief role?  As a reliever, you have to be able to shut guys down RIGHT AWAY!  There isn’t time to have one big inning, settle into a game, and make it up by throwing 4-5 shutout innings after that.

So, I dunno.  All I know is I’m going to the game tonight with my brochachos and I have the good fortune of witnessing Andrew Moore’s Major League debut and NOT Yovani Gallardo’s final start in a Mariners uniform.  Yep, I’m pretty pumped.

The Mariners Played Past Midnight, Rewarded The Insane Who Stayed Up So Late

I’m not gonna lie to you, it wasn’t looking good last night.  Wade LeBlanc just didn’t have it (certainly a byproduct of the Tigers absolutely destroying soft-tossing left-handed pitching), barely made it through 5 innings while giving up 4 runs, and the offense was sputtering.  Down 3-0, I tuned into the horror show that was the fourth inning.  Cano doubled to lead off the inning and Cruz tripled him in (any competent outfielder would’ve caught that ball for an out, but that’s neither here nor there) to get one back.  With no outs, Dae-ho Lee and Kyle Seager both proceeded to fly out to center, neither of which were deep enough to allow Cruz to tag up (apparently, although it sure seemed like he could’ve scored on Lee’s ball).  Once we officially Iannetta’d up that scoring opportunity, stranding Cruz at third base, I wouldn’t have blamed myself or any of you for changing the channel or just going to bed extra early.  Gotta get that beauty sleep for the Guns N’ Roses show on Friday!

I did, indeed, dip in and out of the game, thanks to various distractions.  I was down a mid-90s Aphex Twin worm hole on YouTube when Kyle Seager bashed his game-tying 3-run home run in the bottom of the 8th, but I was more or less glued to the TV from the 9th inning on.  Every strike out!  Every man left on base!  Every time a guy swung for the fences instead of just trying to get on base and string some hits together!  I was there!  On my couch!  Ready to drop this game like a bad habit at the first sign of danger!

The bullpen, to its credit, was phenomenal.  I can’t keep track of all the roster moves this team has made over the last couple months, so I really don’t know who’s injured, who’s in Tacoma, who’s been picked up by other teams, and apparently how many people we actually have in our bullpen at the moment!  Somewhere in there, in between the trade for Arquimedes Caminero (2 scoreless last night), and the return of Nick Vincent from the DL (1 scoreless, in his first action since June 26th), the Mariners were working with a 6-man bullpen as of yesterday.  That will surely change today – since all 6 of them pitched last night, 1-2 innings each – but all 6 of those guys need to be commended for throwing a combined 9 shutout innings.  Most remarkable of all was probably Tom Wilhelmsen in the 14th, who allowed the bases to be loaded with only 1 out, before somehow getting out of the inning unscathed.  It would be foolish to expect every single member of the bullpen to be ON in the same game, but to see him fight back and get out of trouble was a nice little boost in the 11pm hour.

I won’t lump Ariel Miranda in with the rest of the bullpen, because he was actually slotted to be Friday’s starter in Oakland.  He may still start that day anyway, as yesterday was a regular bullpen day for him, but he sure as shit wasn’t sharp last night.  It might be a coincidence that the Tigers scored all of their runs against the only left-handed pitchers we opted to use Hi Vidal Nuno!, but they seemed to blast Miranda with relative ease, leading me to think they probably hit lefties pretty well over in Detroit.  Granted, Victor Martinez – who hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the 15th – hits everyone well, from both sides of the plate.  But, the next batter had a sharp single to center, followed by 2 line outs to help Miranda get out of the inning.  The fact that Miranda gave up only the one run was probably the best case scenario.

Which brought us to the bottom of the 15th.  The Tigers, in all of that insanity, managed to preserve their closer all that way!  Francisco Rodriguez is a longtime veteran with 418 career saves.  And, by the numbers, it looks like he’s having another rock solid season this year, with 32 saves against only (now) 3 blown saves (after last night’s game).  But, SPOILER ALERT:  the Mariners apparently handle this guy pretty well (I was going to look for the exact numbers, but Baseball Reference is shitting the bed on his splits page right now).  No matter, because last night is all that I care about.  And, in the bottom of the 15th, with one out, Cruz walked, Lind dropped a single into right field (a byproduct of the outfielders playing so deep to “take away the double”), and Seager went the other way with a single-turned-double thanks to an outfield bobble.

THAT, right there, is exactly what I was looking for.  They don’t all have to be walk-off home runs!  Them shits is hard to hit!  But, get you some walks and some singles going, and now you’ve got the pitcher in trouble.  Now, you’ve got the pitcher throwing many multiple pressure pitches.  And, if you find the right guy on the right day, it’s only a matter of time before he succumbs to the pressure and gives you something good to hit.  In this scenario, of course, you have to look at that pitch to Seager – fat, juicy, right in the middle of the plate.  The fact that he went the other way with it – when everyone expects him to pull the ball at all times – was the cherry on top.

The MVP of the game probably goes to Justin Upton on that bobble of Seager’s hit.  If he doesn’t botch-toe that thing, I highly doubt Lind gets to third base.  It’s impossible to know what would’ve happened had he come up with it cleanly, but in this hypothetical scenario, it’s likely Zunino doesn’t get the game winning hit, and he’s followed by Leonys Martin who struck out a whopping 5 times in 6 official at bats (what comes after Golden Sombrero, btw?).  BUT, thanks to Upton, Lind DID get to third base, and all it took was a Zunino sac fly to center – this time, thankfully, deep enough to test the dude’s arm – to bring home the winning run and let us all go to bed early (Wednesday morning).  Shit, if it weren’t for Upton, they might still be playing baseball and I might literally be dead by my own hands!

As I noted above, today the Mariners are certain to make a move for bullpen help.  It’s also the final game in the series, with King Felix on the mound.  I’m sure he’s going to INTEND to bring his A-Game, and try to go at least 8 innings tonight, but he’s been a little dodgy since his return from the DL, so I don’t think it’s something we can depend upon.  However, if he does return to form, tonight would be the perfect time.  Save the bullpen, with an off-day/travel day tomorrow, followed by 20 games in a row.  They’re all important, they’re all must-win, but winning tonight would be extra special.

Still: Kam Chancellor Is A Seattle Seahawk

There are levels of fanfare with any given sports team transaction.  At the top of the list is signing a superstar, best-at-his-position free agent right at the beginning of his prime.  That’s, you know, if you’re a good team or on the cusp of being a good team already.  Otherwise, you’ll take just a half a notch below that level, which is:  having the #1 pick and drafting the next Peyton Manning.

New players are usually going to trump existing players on the excitement factor.  When people think about the most recent Mariners off-season, they think of Mike Morse, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, and Jason Bay.  They also think about the ones that got away like Justin Upton, Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Mike Napoli and the like.  Then, after being reminded about it, they remember that one Felix Hernandez was re-signed to a long extension.  He’s the best player on the team!  And his extension is almost an afterthought!

Now, recall that Iwakuma was also signed to an extension.  Mind. Blown.

When you’re a fan of a good team, or just a regular team with good players, you tend to want to lock up your guys.  The guys who make the team good; especially if they’re draft picks.  You’re invested!  You’re invested because Seattle is all they’ve ever known, because you’ve been watching them for a few years, and because you like to rub it in the faces of everyone else.  Oh yeah, WE drafted this Pro Bowler in the 5th round, because we’re smarter than you!  And by the way, YOU can’t have him!

It’s a little more satisfying when you’re talking about Felix Hernandez, and you’re thumbing your nose at the New York Yankees, but there’s not really a New York Yankees equivalent in the NFL.  Nevertheless, these are the good times.  This is a good thing that happened, and it often goes overlooked when taken in the big picture.

When people think about this offseason for the Seahawks, they’re going to think of Percy Harvin, our defensive line free agents, Antoine Winfield, trading away Matt Flynn, and maybe at the end of it all they’ll remember, “That’s right, we also re-signed Kam to a 4-year extension!”

Even though, arguably, this is the most important deal of them all.  Most people would point to Percy Harvin, but I’m not so sure.  Yeah, Harvin’s deal was more costly.  It got more press.  But, in the long run, there’s a lot to like about the Kam deal.

It’s vital to take care of your guys.  We’ve got a SHITLOAD of guys on this team to extend in the next few years.  Locking down Kam at a reasonable rate now not only sets a nice precedent (guys seeing other guys being taken care of, they’re more apt to expect a similar conclusion), but it sets a reasonable rate.  We didn’t just sell the farm to extend Kam; we brought him back for $17 million guaranteed, spread out over the next five years.  Which, I’m sure if worse came to worse, we could restructure in three.

It just feels … right.  Don’t you feel a little more at ease than you did at this time yesterday?  Getting guys extended before they hit the open market is one of my favorite things in sports.  Right up there with building your football team through the offensive and defensive lines.  I’m so satisfied right now, I think I could use a cigarette!

The 2013 Seattle Mariners Will Not Make The Playoffs (Obviously)

Over the weekend, I wrote this.  It was a Glass Half Full (or, really, just a Glass Full) imagining of how the Seattle Mariners might make the playoffs ahead of schedule.  Of course, if you’re a Glass Half Empty guy like myself, “ahead of schedule” could be making the playoffs anytime in the next 20 years.

Today, ahead of Game 1 of 162, featuring Felix Hernandez against the Oakland Athletics, I’m writing the counter-argument.  The Wario to Saturday’s Mario.  The Darth Vader to Saturday’s Luke Skywalker.  The Van Halen with Gary Cherone to Saturday’s Van Halen with Diamond David Lee Roth.  Nobody wants to read about THESE Mariners when you could possibly have Saturday’s Mariners.  But, the stark reality is, if I’m putting my Smart Money down on one or the other, I’m putting it down on the Mariners NOT making the playoffs.  Because the Mariners making the playoffs is not the way the world works.

Let’s look at this realistically for a moment.  Justin Smoak is who we thought he was.  That’s going to be proven in this, his final season as a Mariner (or, at least, his final season as a Mariners starter).  The guy can be Mr. March and Mr. September all he wants.  But, he’s going to have to figure out a way to be Mr. April thru August too, if he’s going to make it.  I know he’s young, and we like to shield the young from the rigorous pressures of the Major Leagues, but at some point you have to prove that you can HANDLE some of those pressures.  You can’t be coddled forever!  Mike Trout is young, and he seemed to handle those same pressures pretty fucking well.  I’m not saying Smoak is on a similar talent level as Trout, but that’s neither here nor there.  Emotionally speaking, Trout is in another league.  Smoak is like an infant trying to cross the street in Frogger.  How about we grow the fuck up and start doing our jobs, huh?

I’m not nearly as down on Jesus Montero as I am with Smoak.  That’s probably because I haven’t been crushingly disappointed for quite as long.  Still, for a guy who was the centerpiece of the offseason prior to last season, it’s a little disconcerting to know that he’s simply a stopgap solution to our catching needs.  That is, until Mike Zunino arrives.  Essentially, I don’t give a flying fuck what Montero does behind the plate this year.  He could be the second coming of Rob Johnson for all I care.  This dude needs to hit, plain and simple.  The writing has never been more ON the wall:  Jesus Montero is our future full-time DH.  So, you know, I’d like to have a DH that hits .330 with 40 doubles and 30 homers.  If that’s all right with you.

I do still believe in the protection theory, and I do think that Morales and Morse were admirable pick-ups this past offseason.  But, how much can you expect, really?  Every time I see a ball hit his way, I’m going to wonder if THIS is the moment where Morse hurts himself and goes on the shelf.  I’m going to be an absolute trainwreck this first month of the season; it’s probably best I DON’T have cable.  There is no way in Hell that Morse stays healthy all season (that goes double for Guti, but I’m getting ahead of myself).  And when he is healthy, what have we got?  MAYBE a guy who’ll hit .270 (but don’t be surprised if he hits .230, because Seattle).  MAYBE a guy who will end up with 20-or-so home runs.  MAYBE a guy who will play in 100-or-so games.  Who’s going to make up that slack?  Guys like Ibanez and Bay?  Oh, great.

For the record, I think Ibanez is done.  I think this will prove to be his final season EVER.  Seattle is where old players go to die (Sexson, Vidro, Everett, Griffey, Wilkerson, Sweeney).  Ibanez had a reasonably productive season last year in part-time duty.  But, he still only hit .240.  As for his 19 home runs, we’re still talking about the band box that is Yankees Stadium.  14 of those 19 were hit at home.  Now, Safeco Field is his home.  I would expect that average to be a whole lot worse and I would expect those power numbers to approach zero.

As for Jason Bay, I give him two months, tops.  He’ll show why he was so expendable and so loathed in New York.  I would anticipate the likes of Eric Thames back in a Mariners uniform before too long.

Getting back to Morales, I think he is a legitimately good hitter.  He might be the best hitter on this team.  But, I still have to wonder how playing in Seattle is going to affect him.  I highly doubt he WANTS to be here.  He’s a professional, so he’s not going to make a big fuss.  But, to anyone who is holding out hope that he might choose to sign an extension with the Mariners, I would say, “Just put that idea to bed.”  No way.  No way in HELL he comes back to Seattle.  If he’s not traded at the deadline, then we are essentially resigning ourselves to getting nothing for the man as he walks at the end of the season.  And oh by the way, I would expect his numbers to take a drop as well.  He’s in Seattle now.  “When in Rome,” as they say.

Kyle Seager was a nice little story in 2012, but my concern is this:  what if that’s as good as it gets?  Dustin Ackley was a less-nice story in 2012, but again my concern is the same.  I think if you put these guys in Colorado, they might be All Stars.  But, in Seattle, I have to wonder.

As for Michael Saunders, I have a sinking suspicion that he’s going to revert back to his old ways.  Not hitting that outside pitch.  Striking out too much.  With a batting average around .200.  Everyone will make a big deal about him being in the leadoff spot being too great a challenge.  The team will bounce him up and down the lineup.  And by season’s end, he would have been benched long ago, but of course we’ll need him to cover center field because GUTI!

Chone Figgins was a disappointment because we all had these great expectations of him being a pest at or near the top of our lineup.  He ended up being one of those old players who comes to Seattle to die.  Franklin Gutierrez is a disappointment because of similar expectations.  But, he’s not a bad player.  His skills haven’t diminished!  At least, I don’t THINK they have.  Then again, what would I know?  I haven’t seen him play an extended stretch of pain-free baseball in quite some time.  Guti isn’t old, but he’s a player who has come to Seattle, where he might LITERALLY die.  Someone find the old witch who cursed him and drive a stake through her cold, black heart.

I actually kind of think Brendan Ryan is due for a rebound at the plate.  Unfortunately, I also kind of think Brendan Ryan is due for a serious injury that keeps him out for a few months.

Which is something I never did get into over the weekend.  Injuries.  Everyone gets ’em!  And you never anticipate ’em when you’re trying to predict what’s going to happen in a given season.  You can look at an older team and say, “Hey, these guys will probably hurt themselves!”  But, we’re not fortune tellers.  Someone (or some ones) on the Mariners will get hurt.  It’ll set the team back.  And their replacements will be terrible.  Or, they’ll get hurt, not tell anyone, try to play through the pain, and be WORSE than the already-terrible replacements.  So, there’s that.

***

In 2013, it’ll be Felix and hope for four days of rain.  OK, maybe it won’t be that bad, but still, there’s a lot to dislike.  Saunders will be decent at times, and he will be awful at times.  Iwakuma will be good at times, and kinda bad at times.  Beavan will start the season pretty well, but by June or July he will be down in Tacoma where he belongs.  Maurer is the ultimate wild card, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s demoted within the next four weeks (or just as soon as Erasmo Ramirez is ready).  I think Maurer will eventually return, but who knows how this will shake his confidence?

Here’s the thing, though.  If the Mariners DID make the playoffs, how could anyone POSSIBLY trust this pitching staff?  Yeah, we’ve got Felix, but any team we’d play in the post-season has their own version of Felix too!  And they will be pitching against the Mariners, which means his numbers will likely be BETTER than Felix’s!  Shit, the Mariners had Randy Johnson in 1997 leading the charge, and he wasn’t enough to even get us to a fifth game in the first round!  I wouldn’t exactly say it was his fault; but, then again, I wouldn’t say he was throwing any 1-hitters either.

Felix is great.  He’s my favorite all-time Mariner for a reason.  But, he’s not perfect.  A theoretical 2013 Mariners playoff team will have relied on his arm for 230+ innings ahead of any playoff game.  It wouldn’t shock me in the least to see him be mortal against a team like the Tigers or Yankees.  Especially when they have Verlander and Sabathia, who (especially Sabathia) have tended to dominate the M’s.

After Felix, your playoff rotation is fucked.  Like I alluded to over the weekend, if this team makes the playoffs, it will be because Brandon Maurer was our second-best pitcher.  It will be because he reached his potential (which is so much higher than the potential of Saunders, Iwakuma, Beavan, or Ramirez) and posted a ridiculous win/loss record.  But, at the same time, if he does that, he won’t be with us in the playoffs (because he’ll be shut down).  We’ll be stuck with cagey veterans like Saunders and Iwakuma.  They will get rocked.  We will likely be swept in the first round.

So, you know, it’s probably for the best that this team won’t make the playoffs.  Why suffer the embarrassment?

As for the bullpen, I do like it a lot.  From top to bottom, I think it can be one of the best in baseball.  But, Pryor could struggle with command.  Capps could struggle with command.  Luetge could get shelled.  Perez could get shelled.  From season to season, no numbers fluctuate so wildly as bullpen numbers.  You can be the same exact pitcher from season to season, with the same level of health and the same speed on your fastball.  But, for reasons unknown, you can dominate one year with a sub-2 ERA, and you can somewhat struggle the next, with a sub-5 ERA.  It’s insane.

As for the rest of the AL West, I do think the A’s are a flash in the pan.  I think the Rangers will hang in there for a possible Wild Card spot.  And, I think the Angels will run away with the division and win 100 games.  You know what else I think?  I think the rest of the division will feast upon the entrails of the Houston Astros (last night’s game against the Rangers notwithstanding), while I think the Mariners will actually manage a losing record against them.  Wouldn’t that be too perfect?  What’s one of the major storylines going into this season?  Everyone thinks the Mariners will have a better record than last year, and everyone thinks that’s because they get 19 games against the Astros.  Well, I’m here to tell you right now, the Mariners will go 9-10 against the Astros, and it’s going to be a dogfight to avoid last place in the division!

No.  No, I don’t really believe the Mariners will battle for 5th place.  In fact, I DO believe the Mariners will contend for some stretch of time this year and that they WILL end up over .500.  I think we’ll get to July 31st right in the middle of the fracas for a Wild Card spot and I think we will actually be BUYERS.  I really do.  Jackie Z has shown he’s willing to trade from a position of strength (starting pitching) to get what this team needs.  So, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another package of players a la the doomed Justin Upton deal going out for a big bat coming back in.  Or, shit, maybe the Mariners go out and get a veteran starting pitcher (not believing their young guys in Tacoma are ready for the leap).  These Mariners will ultimately fade in August (just in time for football season) and September will be entirely meaningless.

I’ve felt the way I feel right now prior to 2007 and 2009.  My outward expectations low, but inwardly thinking, “Hmm, maybe …”

When going into those seasons, my motto was, “Just keep it interesting.”  Just keep us all entertained through the summer.  I don’t need miracles!  I don’t necessarily need a playoff appearance.  Just … let me dream, beyond the month of May.  Give me good things to write about.  Make me wish I actually DID have cable TV.

That’s the way I feel about 2013.  I know that’s totally the kind of Seattle Loser Talk I normally condemn on this site, but the Mariners have broken me.  They have sucked my will to live for far too long, and I doubt there’s any coming back.  I’m a broken shell of a man whose innards have dried up and been replaced by sawdust.  Just entertain me.  Just make me forget the horror I’ve been forced to follow for most of the past decade.  That’s all I ask.  And it’s not a lot TO ask!

87-75.  That’s my number.  It’s actually kind of a high number, now that I think about all this ranting and raving I’ve been doing throughout the duration of this post, but that’s what I’m going with.  I think this bullpen will more than likely be the real deal – at least when it counts, in one-run games – and I think there will be just enough clutch hitting to make up for all the recent Mariners teams who have struggled with runners in scoring position.  It doesn’t make sense, but then again it doesn’t HAVE to make sense.  The Mariners will go 9-10 against the Astros, but they will still be in some form of contention for a Wild Card spot.  Because sometimes, that’s just the way it works.

And, really, it’s not all that far off from the 95 wins I predicted in my Fancy-Free post over the weekend.  So remember, as always, I’m a huge tool who has no idea what he’s talking about.

Brandon Maurer Cracks The Opening Week Starting Rotation

In short:  I’m for it.

Boom.  Post finished.

OK, not so fast.  I guess I’ll throw some weight behind this argument a little bit.  What we’re talking about here is a situation where there were two open spots in the rotation.  Originally, there were five guys realistically in the running:  Jon Garland, Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez, Jeremy Bonderman, and Brandon Maurer.  Coming into Spring Training, everyone believed Bonderman was one of the longest shots simply because he’s older, he’s coming off an injury, he hasn’t pitched in a while, and even when he WAS healthy, he wasn’t that good.  But, you know, you sign him to a minor league deal, you throw a pittance at him, you invite him to camp, and you see what he can do.

Garland, in my opinion, was the biggest lock of the group.  Granted, he too was coming off of a major injury and a major layoff from pitching, but he struck me as a guy who was a little farther along in his recovery (having almost pitched last season before shutting himself down as a precautionary measure) and he was a guy with a better track record of success.  Aside from this one injury, he’d had a nice career eating up innings and doing just enough on the field to make himself useful.

In between those two extremes, you had three younger guys of varying Major League experience (ranging from Some to None), all with minor league options.  You could make the argument for any of those guys to start the season in Tacoma.  Beavan could’ve used more time in the minors to work on his new delivery.  Ramirez could’ve used more time to work on his secondary pitches.  Maurer could’ve used more seasoning, especially considering he has never even pitched in triple-A (let alone the Majors).  Of the three, Beavan has the most experience in the Majors, but he also has the lowest upside.  Maurer has no experience, but he has the highest upside; so the argument for starting him in Tacoma is probably even stronger because you’d delay starting his service time and have an extra year’s worth of team control at a reasonable-to-cheap salary.

But, you know, say what you will about the Seattle Mariners:  they don’t run their organization worrying about things like “service time” and “team control”.  Which is weird, because I’ve been killing this team for YEARS now for being so tight-fisted with their money and throwing away season after season in the name of lowering payroll (under the guise of “rebuilding” and “doing things the right way”).  But, they did it with Michael Pineda in 2011 and they’re doing it now, in 2013, with Brandon Maurer.

That isn’t to say they’re rushing these guys to the Majors.  In 2011, the Mariners had alternatives to Pineda, just as this year they have had alternatives to Maurer.  However, the sticky situation with Garland opting out of his deal last week, combined with Ramirez’s arm strength issues, pretty much made this a no-brainer.  Yeah, Maurer has pitched amazingly this spring, but it feels to me that this is more out of default than it is because he stormed onto the scene a la Pineda.

In 2011, all anyone could talk about was Pineda’s stuff.  His extreme fastball and his wicked curve.  He was a dynamo and it would’ve been an absolute crime to leave him off of the Major League roster.  This year … I mean, I guess some people talk about Maurer’s stuff.  But, it’s more in conjunction with his poise, his command, and his depth of arsenal.  Guy’s got four pitches and he can throw them in any count AND THAT’S GREAT.  But, does he have a 98 mile per hour fastball and gigantic hands that make the baseball look like a golf ball?

What I’m getting at is:  there isn’t quite the buzz surrounding Maurer that there was when Pineda cracked the team.  More than anything, that probably dates back to hype and expectations.  People were talking about Pineda in Seattle when he was an infant.  Maurer’s hype has been mired behind The Big Three of Hultzen, Paxton, and Walker.  Maurer – through his play last year (where he pitched in 24 AA games and generated 117 strikeouts in 137.2 innings, earning Pitcher of the Year honors in the Southern League) – worked his way into fans reluctantly re-dubbing them The Big Four, but even then no one really took him as seriously as the other three (or even Pineda, for that matter, when he was Mariners property).  Think about how you felt when the Mariners were trying to trade for Justin Upton and reports were coming out that one of The Big Three was being offered.  You weren’t sitting there wringing your hands, worrying about losing Brandon Maurer to the Diamondbacks, were you?

But, who knows?  Maybe you SHOULD have been concerned.  Because here he is, at the top of the mountain as the dust settles on this starting rotation race.  And I, for one, can’t wait to see how it shakes out.  Like many of you, I’d rather see the young guy with the serious upside in the Majors over a guy like Garland or Bonderman – neither of whom have any future with this team.  Yeah, Maurer will be on a strict pitch limit (a la Pineda in 2011).  Yeah, if the Mariners find themselves in contention in September, we will all be talking about how the M’s are planning on shutting Maurer down pretty soon (a la Strasburg with the Nationals).  And yeah, if Maurer sticks, we’re talking about losing a year’s worth of team control.  But, in the long run, I think this is really going to be worth our while.

Get the kid’s feet wet now, when we’re still not realistically expected to challenge for anything in the American League.  Get him that rookie experience now, so when next year comes around and the Mariners are looking to do even MORE damage, we won’t have to worry about Maurer’s pitch counts as much.  We won’t have to worry about shutting him down after five months.  Obviously, we’ll still be bringing him along slowly on the innings pitched front, but it won’t be as severe.  If we find ourselves in contention in 2014, and Maurer is leading the charge, we won’t lose him for any playoff run.

I know this is a lot of Big Think coming from a guy who generally believes this team is going to suck balls (until they show me otherwise) for years and years to come.  But, for entertainment’s sake, I’m GLAD we didn’t retain the Kevin Millwood type.  I’m GLAD the rookie gets a chance to prove himself.  And if he goes out and does the job, maybe that’ll give this organization more confidence going into next year.  They’ll be able to trust OTHER rookies.  They won’t have to bother with the runaround of giving aging, washed-up veterans minor league deals with Spring Training invites.  They won’t have to be so concerned with a “veteran presence” and they can, instead, just go with the best players available – regardless of age or Major League experience.

There’s a lot riding on this kid’s shoulders.  But, based on his Spring Training (2 runs in 20 innings, with 6 walks and 22 strikeouts), he has certainly earned it.