The Mariners Somehow Won Their Opening Weekend Series!

Actually, that’s not such a remarkable feat, but you try writing thousands of quasi-unique blog post titles and see what you come up with.

After staying at the game past 11pm, and then not getting home until around midnight last Thursday, I didn’t have it in me to watch the entirety of Friday night’s game. I’m such a bad fan! I’m such an old man! Kill me now!

What I did see, however, was an impressive outing by Yusei Kikuchi (who swapped places with Paxton in the rotation for … reasons), who went 6 innings, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and 1 walk while striking out 10! Unfortunately, all three of his runs came on 2 homers, and he ended up with a no decision for his troubles.

This feels like a pretty standard 6-3 loss for the Mariners in 2021: pretty good starting pitching, not so great hitting (only 6 hits all game), and a dud performance from the bullpen (highlighted by Drew Steckenrider’s 3 runs in 0.2 innings of relief). Once the game was given away like that, I toddled off to bed. But, I still say this one was promising, for Kikuchi’s improved command alone. If he can keep that up all year, we might be onto something!

I’ll admit, I didn’t have high hopes for the rubber match on Saturday (the rare Sunday off-day is throwing me for a loop, I have to admit), with Chris Flexen making his Mariners debut. I was also outside working with my friends in their backyard gravel pit, so I managed to miss all but the very end of this one. Which is too bad, because it looks like I missed a pretty good Flexen outing! 5 innings of shutout ball, on 4 hits & 2 walks, with 6 strikeouts. We were told ahead of time that he might be limited in how long he could go, so all things considered that’s pretty amazing!

The bullpen behind him was also pretty fantastic! I would assume the combination – in some order – of Kendall Graveman, Anthony Misiewicz, and closer Rafael Montero will be in play for the vast majority of games where the Mariners hold a lead late. These are the guys Scott Servais is going to rely on until they prove they can’t handle it. Graveman went 2 shutout innings, striking out 5. Misiewicz appeared to struggle, but got two outs in the eighth. And Montero came through with the 4-out save after blowing one on Opening Night. All in all, as solid a 4-0 victory as you’ll see.

It’s obviously too early to draw any grand conclusions from three games. I don’t think the Giants are overburdened with quality pitching, so while it’s nice that the M’s hitters did as well as they did, we could very well be in for lean times ahead. Only three American League teams – who have played in just three games – have more team strikeouts so far. And, again, that’s with the Giants not having good pitching whatsoever.

The vaunted White Sox come to town for three starting tonight, before we hit the road for Minnesota and Baltimore. It would be nice to steal as many wins over the next ten days as possible, considering how difficult the schedule gets in the back-half of this month, and on into May.

2021 Mariners Preview Extravaganza: We Have A Rest Of The Team

Yesterday, I wrote about the starting rotation. Today – the day of the Mariners’ first game of the season – I’ll be writing about everything else.

If you’ve been following along all offseason, I’ve already written about most of these guys. But, now we have an official roster, so let’s run through it.

We’re pretty set with the infield:

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Dylan Moore (2B)
  • Evan White (1B)
  • Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)

All healthy, present, and accounted for! All of them, of course, come with question marks. Does Seager have anything left in the late-career resurgence tank? Can Crawford build on his Gold Glove campaign to be a more consistent (and somewhat more powerful) hitter? Was 2020 a mirage for Moore? Will White EVER hit, period? And, is the catcher position as strong as I expect it to be? How many of these guys – if any – will be longterm solutions at their respective positions? I gotta believe that the Next Great Mariners Team has at least a few of these guys playing roles; they can’t ALL still be in the minors or other organizations!

One guy we don’t have to worry about is:

This guy can hit! No notes! Also, since I believe in him so strongly, watch him struggle mightily. This is the way.

The outfield is my favorite part of this team, now and especially in the future. With Kyle Lewis starting on the 10-Day IL, it’s a little underwhelming at the moment, but obviously the M’s have to play it super safe with our 2020 Rookie of the Year.

  • Mitch Haniger (RF)
  • Jake Fraley (CF)
  • Taylor Trammell (LF)
  • Sam Haggerty (INF/OF)
  • Jose Marmolejos (INF/OF)

The story of camp has been Trammell making the Opening Day roster. Not just as an injury replacement to the injured Lewis, but as a legitimate starting left fielder for this team. He’s another one of those great guys we traded for from the Padres last year when we sent them Austin Nola – making us three for three of guys coming over in return making the team in 2021, with France and Torrens – whose prospect stock has fluctuated wildly over the course of his minor league career. But, he appears to be putting it all together now at just the right time: ahead of Kelenic and Rodriguez. This glut of highly-touted outfielders will only make things that much easier for the M’s as they fill out the rest of the roster to try to build a championship ballclub. Of everyone on this 26-man roster, Trammell is the one I’m most excited about.

And Haniger is the one I’m most curious about. He’s had a long road back to full health; at one point in his career he was one of the top 25-or-so players in the American League. It wouldn’t shock me to see him right back in that area; it also wouldn’t shock me to see him totally shit the bed. He no longer seems to be the future of the franchise, but he’s currently the present, and will have every opportunity to rebuild his value in the game of baseball.

Fraley and the rest are just guys. Placeholders until our young superstars return from injury and/or get called up from the minors.

The obvious wildcard on the Mariners is the bullpen:

  • Rafael Montero
  • Kendall Graveman
  • Nick Margevicius
  • Anthony Misiewicz
  • Keynan Middleton
  • Casey Sadler
  • Will Vest
  • Drew Steckenrider

Oof. Like I said, I have avoided learning too much about the bullpen; I’d rather watch them with my own eyes and draw my own conclusions. But, to get me started, I guess I’ll look up some info and regurgitate it here, for my own benefit if nothing else.

The Mariners traded for Rafael Montero from the Rangers in the offseason. He had 8 saves for a terrible Rangers team last year, and I guess figures to be our closer out of the gate? He doesn’t have a ton of Major League experience, but maybe he’s put it all together. We’ll see. He’s not a bad buy-low candidate, at least in the short term.

Graveman we all know. He was here last year, signed to be a starter after missing a lot of time with injuries. He ended up with a neck issue that somehow allows him to throw very hard in short bursts as a reliever, but hampers him too much to go too many innings in a row. I don’t understand this one iota (mostly, I don’t understand why he doesn’t just have some surgical procedure to fix it and return 100% healthy), but whatever. He’s generally pretty good for an inning most of the time, so that makes him a quality set-up candidate in my mind.

Margevicius was neck-and-neck with Justin Dunn for the sixth starter job. He will be one of the long men in the bullpen to eat up innings and keep us in ballgames when a starter falters. He’ll also be the first man to join the rotation if there’s an injury (and there will be an injury). He’s fine, I like him in this role a great deal. He’s also one of just two lefties in the ‘pen, so there should be no shortage of work for him this season.

Misiewicz is presumably our top lefty reliever. We drafted him in 2015 and he made his debut last year. He was pretty good, I think! I dunno, we’ll see I guess.

Keynan “Don’t Call Me Kenyan” Middleton was a free agent signing who played for the Angels’ organization the last four years. His 2020 looked pretty atrocious. The three years prior look better, just as long as you don’t go sniffing around his FIP too hard. He might be just a guy. A cheap guy, but a guy nevertheless. He’s still young enough to put it all together, but don’t hold your breath.

Sadler is a veteran we claimed from the Cubs last year, who has bounced around multiple organizations. He’s someone else with big Just A Guy energy.

Will Vest is a Rule 5 guy we poached from the Tigers this offseason. He will be making his Major League debut this year, which will be somewhat fun! Other than that, I dunno. He’s the Rule 5 guy, that’s the nugget I’m going to keep in my brain and promptly forget as soon as he makes it into an actual game.

Drew Steckenrider sounds like one of those names I always fuck up when it comes to those Lookout Landing Sporcle quizzes asking you to name all the Mariners’ pitchers from a particular season. He came over from the Marlins organization on a minor league deal and was apparently one of the last guys to make the team. He’s another one I’m not holding my breath about.

***

The world is our oyster here! The Mariners could be a Bottom Five team, but I really don’t think that will be the case. There’s a lot of young talent in the organization just waiting to break through. There’s a TON of athleticism. There’s promise bursting at the seams. This is a team that WANTS to be great, that has just enough leadership at just the right spots – including the coaching staff – to potentially make it happen. We could be looking at a team that hangs around and FINALLY becomes the one to break the playoff drought!

Or, you know, it could be another year with another mediocre record.

But, the hope is that the young guys will improve. That’s really all that matters. 2020 was a roaring success because we saw improvement from the guys we needed to see improvement from. 2021 needs to be more of the same. Winning and losing isn’t quite as irrelevant as it was last year, but that’s not the ultimate agenda quite yet. The experience of winning isn’t quite as important as the experience of just playing at this level, but there is a lot of value there. That’s why I won’t be as maniacal as in years past when it comes to getting a high draft pick for next season.

Do what you’re going to do, Mariners!

My prediction is that the M’s easily surpass the 72.5 win total that Vegas has them at. But, ultimately I don’t see us getting one of those Wild Card spots. Instead, we’ll probably be drafting in the teens next year.

I’m reserving all predictions beyond that. I’m not making ANY specific player predictions, because so much can happen. Injuries, regression, breakouts, it’s all on the table. My only hope is that I don’t exit this season feeling worse about the Mariners than I do right now. Right now, I’m full of optimism! So, let’s just work in service of that and try to make 2022 and beyond really special!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mariners Have Been Smoked Out Of Seattle; Things Are Clearly Going Great Right Now

We got that doubleheader in against the A’s on Monday – in far-less than ideal conditions, smokewise – but with the air quality failing to improve, MLB made the probably-smart decision to move the 2-game series against the Giants to San Francisco, where I guess things have improved dramatically since the last time we played them (on September 9th) and the sky made it look like they were on Mars. That pushed things back to where our Tuesday/Wednesday do-si-do this week became a Wednesday/Thursday whathaveyou, which necessitated a flip-flopping of my Seahawks preview post and this Mariners post-series post, so what I’m REALLY getting at is this whole thing is a huge inconvenience to me above everyone else!

I am, of course, kidding. The smoke in the Pacific Northwest continues to be a huge dumpster fire to the point that even our 3-game home series against the Padres had to be moved to San Diego this weekend. Between these five games, and the additional make-up game against the A’s that’s already been tacked onto our season-ending series in Oakland, that’s at least six home games the Mariners will have had to play on the road this year. So, on top of being a rebuilding team that has improbably found itself on the fringe of playoff contention in spite of trades shedding the roster of a couple of our best guys, we’re saddled with a 24/36 home/road split. If we figure out some way to make the post-season with all of this going against us, then truly there is a higher power who is improbably a Mariners fan (to whom I would like to ask: WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN THE LAST 20 YEARS?!).

Anyhoozle, the Mariners were just beaten two more times by the Giants, so I’m pretty glad to be the fuck away from THAT team for a while.

Wednesday’s 9-3 defeat was pretty demoralizing. Ljay Newsome – fresh off of a shortened start when he was hit in the pitching hand by a line drive – was clearly rusty, giving up 5 runs in 3 innings. Erik Swanson was recently called back up – fresh off of either being demoted for sucking, or maybe an injury, I forget/don’t care – and clearly hasn’t learned how to pitch since he was with the Mariners last, giving up 3 more runs (2 earned) in 1/3 of an inning. There was some okay bullpen work beyond that, but the damage was done. Kyle Lewis had a couple hits in this one, but he’s been pretty cold of late, with his batting average dipping below .300. I hope his Rookie of the Year chances aren’t in jeopardy!

Thursday’s 6-4 defeat was demoralizing in a completely different way. After five innings, the Mariners held a 4-1 lead (scoring all of our runs in the second, as we chased the Giants’ starter from the game), but proceeded to slowly, but surely, give it all away. Nick Margevicius was spectacular through five, but he couldn’t get a single out in the sixth inning, and two more runs were allowed in the process. Things were still in okay shape, with Kendall Graveman coming in for the seventh inning. But, he just didn’t have it in this one, giving up three more runs while getting only two outs. It’s been a while since we’ve had a prolonged slump from our bullpen, but we appear to be in the throes of one right now, and it’s not much fun.

Our only chance to make the playoffs seems to be as the A.L. West’s second place team, as the Wild Card looks to be out of reach. The Cheating Astros were working with us on that goal by losing a bunch of games, but they have the easiest remaining schedule in all of baseball the rest of the way, while I believe the Mariners have one of the hardest. We currently sit three games behind Houston, which is really four games, because they own the tiebreaker in the head-to-head matchup already.

It’s not looking likely that we break the streak, is my point. As I mentioned, we have three more games down in San Diego over the weekend. If we can somehow get through that without losing any more ground on the Astros, then we have a three-game set against Houston that we SHOULD be able to play in Seattle next week! If we hold serve in San Diego, and sweep the Astros next week, that would put us in a dead heat; from there we’d have four games down in Oakland to try to make up one game’s worth of ground against Houston to overtake them.

I apologize if you wasted your time reading the previous paragraph, because none of that is EVER going to happen. My hunch is: we’ll continue to spiral this weekend, and be officially eliminated at home in Seattle next week, making our final series in Oakland totally meaningless.

Which brings us back to draft positioning! We’re 22-28 right now. That puts us squarely in the 10th spot in the draft next year. I don’t want to alarm you, but given our difficult schedule, we have a VERY legitimate opportunity to leapfrog anywhere from 4 to 8 teams. To get to the #2 overall draft position, we’re only four games separated from the Texas Rangers! Obviously, they’re terrible, but you never know!

The floor is the limit, everyone!

Alas, The Mariners Have No More Games Against The Inept Rangers Left To Play

The Mariners finished the 10-game season set against the Rangers with an 8-2 record, thanks to the 4-game sweep over Labor Day weekend. Ever since the disasterous Rangers/Astros/Dodgers road trip where we went 2-8, the Mariners have won 11 out of 14, and were quite close to winning two more in that stretch! That brings us up to a 19-22 record, good for third in the A.L. West and, not for nothing, but also DANGEROUSLY close to actual playoff contention!

No joke, we’re closer to second place in the division (2 games) than we are fourth place (2.5 games), and don’t forget that the top two teams in every division advance to the playoffs (plus two wild card teams per conference).

Now, of course, let’s not go crazy. The Rangers are BAD. But, what I think is pretty entertaining is the fact that the Mariners … might not be bad? I’m also highly amused that we’re in the midst of a 6-game winning streak and this is mostly AFTER the Mariners made all of their trade deadline deals. Sure, losing Taijuan Walker and Austin Nola doesn’t help, but everyone else seems to be addition by subtraction. Let’s look back fondly at the last four days, before reality comes crashing down again as we head to San Francisco to play the Giants over the next couple days.

After our series against the A’s was COVID-ed out, you’d be reasonable in thinking the M’s might be a little rusty or otherwise lacking in focus. But, Yusei Kikuchi brought his lunch pail in this one, going 6 innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits (0 walks) with 7 strikeouts. It was a highly-effective performance (against, again, a bad Rangers offense). Dylan Moore, back from the IL, has been on fire; he had 2 hits in this one. Evan White also had 2 hits (including a double) and 2 walks, knocking in 2. And J.P. Crawford mashed a 3-run home run to salt this one away late. The Mariners were up 6-1 going into the ninth inning, when the Rangers made it marginally interesting, but they still lost by three runs.

The quality pitching continued for the Mariners on Saturday, as Justus Sheffield went 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits & 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts. Dylan Moore had another hit in this one. Newcomer Ty France has had a solid start to his Mariners career, with two hits of his own (he has 4 hits and 4 RBI since coming over in the trade with San Diego). There were lots of clutch hits up and down the lineup, though, as the M’s were 5 for 12 with runners in scoring position. Also of note is that Yohan Ramirez notched his second save of his young Major League career, locking down a 5-3 victory.

Justin Dunn couldn’t let the Quality Start train fall off the tracks; on Sunday he managed 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks, with 4 strikeouts, after really struggling through the first two innings. This was a game where the offense did just enough in nailing a 4-3 win. Kyle Seager led the way with 2 hits (including a 2-run home run in the first), and Kyle Lewis had a solo bomb. Kendall Graveman made his second appearance of the weekend in this one, since returning from the IL. He’ll be a bullpen guy the rest of the way due to a neck injury that’s preventing him from getting deep into games. He also just might be a bullpen guy forever, because he seems perfectly suited for this role. He can touch 99 miles per hour with his fastball, he has tons of movement on his pitches, and he’s an unflappable veteran who should be good in these pressure-packed moments. Honestly, I’d love to see him as our 7th or 8th inning guy exclusively next year.

Finally, on Labor Day, Marco Gonzales continues to be master of his domain (I’m using that phrase correctly, right? He doesn’t jack off?). He’s also a really great baseball pitcher! 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits (0 walks) with 7 strikeouts. He is just a marvel to watch out there. I figured he could turn himself into a decent #3 or MAYBE a #2 if he really worked at his craft, but he is legitimately a borderline ace right now. At this point, I’m surprised when he’s NOT going at least 7 innings and giving up 2 runs or less. Certainly, in three of his last four starts, he’s gone 23 innings and given up just 4 runs. His ERA now sits at 3.02 and he’s worked his way up to a 5-2 record on the season. The only blemish in this 8-4 victory came in the ninth inning, when Aaron Fletcher was handed a soft landing of sorts with a 6-run lead. He got one out while giving up a run and leaving the bases loaded. Yohan Ramirez had to enter in this improbable save-situation and try not to give up the farm. He got a quick out on a sacrifice fly, walked the bases loaded again, but got the final batter to foul out to end it, picking up his third career save in the process. Big moment for the kid!

Look, I know it’s dumb to dream of the playoffs now, especially when the Astros still get to play the Rangers a whopping seven times, but I just think it’s remarkable that we’re in this position at all. The starting pitching – particularly from the younger guys, but really across the board – has been better than I ever could’ve imagined. The bullpen has been a struggle to watch, but I would argue our very worst offenders (save Aaron Fletcher, for now) are off the team and out of the organization entirely.

What has obviously impressed me the most has been the hitting. The everyday players. Kyle Lewis has cooled off considerably since his red-hot start, but he’s still finding ways to contribute and should be a leading Rookie of the Year candidate. Kyle Seager has been flat-out fun to watch! He’s the kind of guy you love to have leading a new crop of youngsters, as he goes about his business the way you hope EVERY player on your team would. J.P. Crawford is still streaky as all get-out, and hasn’t quite mastered the power element of his bat, but his ability to get on base hasn’t wavered all year; with his defensive ability up the middle, I’ll take it. Evan White is still digging himself out of a pretty deep hole to start his Major League career, but he’s been MUCH improved over the last 2-3 weeks. He doesn’t look lost at the plate, and his power is insane when he’s able to connect.

The real fun has come from the fringes. Austin Nola obviously turned himself into an All Star and was traded for a bounty. Dylan Moore appears to be right on his tail, hitting .293/.369/.565 with 7 doubles and 6 homers; that’s supposed to be your utility outfielder! He was this scrawny-looking Quad-A guy last year who was barely hitting over .200 across 113 games! Then, there was Sam Haggerty (before he just went on the IL), who came out of nowhere to hit like a maniac. And even Jose Marmolejos has been red-hot since being called back up from the minors! His defense isn’t any sort of sight to behold, but he’s more than making up for it with his power bat!

The point is, I expected the offense to struggle a lot more than they have this year. Of course, there’s still about three weeks left to go, so anything can happen.

Counterpoint: there’s still about three weeks left to go, so anything can happen! We have ten games against National League opponents (who don’t get to see us too often, and therefore aren’t used to beating up on us like the American League has). We have three games – at home – against the Astros (our rivals for one of those playoff spots), and six games against the A’s (who are leading the division at the moment, but are long overdue for a cool-off period).

If the Mariners are worthy of making the playoffs, they’ll figure out how to overcome this two-game deficit. If they’re not, then it wasn’t meant to be. Either way, it won’t change my excitement level for 2021 one iota. Better days are ahead, my friends! I can feel it!

The Rockies Are Really Good At Baseball; The Mariners, Not So Much

I didn’t have a lot of high expectations for the Mariners in this series, so the fact that we won one of three feels pretty remarkable to me.

Friday night’s game started off well enough. Yusei Kikuchi got off to a strong start after last week’s fantastic performance against the A’s. He had a little bit of a hiccup in the third inning to give up two runs, but that came from a lot of flukey hits. He was otherwise rolling along until the sixth inning, when he ran into some serious trouble that he was unable to pitch his way out of. As that dribbler rolled just out of reach of the short stop – leading to two more runs scoring – I officially checked out of this game.

At that point, the Mariners were only down 4-1 – and, indeed, were only an Austin Nola 2-run home run the next inning from being down just one run – but with this bullpen, no narrow deficit is safe from turning into a full-blown blow-out. Remember last week when I praised a few of the better-performing bullpen guys? The stink of my jinx is in mid-season form, as those guys will be a theme in today’s write-up!

Starting with this very game. Through seven innings, we were down 5-3. Then, in walked (You Don’t Mess With The) Yohan Ramirez, who proceeded to give up three more runs in the eighth inning to put this game away. To his credit, he was able to finish the game out – throwing over 50 pitches in the process – but that performance took a nasty bite out of his otherwise sterling E.R.A.

Seager, Nola, and Mallex Smith each had two hits apiece in this one, otherwise the bats were pretty quiet (particularly with runners in scoring position, in which we were only 2/10).

Speaking of quiet bats, welcome to my breakdown! On Saturday, the Mariners could only muster a single, solitary hit in the 5-0 shutout. I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t watch a minute of this game (I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob), so I’m just going off of the box score here. Kendall Graveman was placed on the IL with his neck issue, and to my knowledge there’s really no indication that he’ll be returning to the team anytime soon. Nick Margevicius got the spot-start in his place, putting in 3.1 innings of shutout work before giving way to the rest of the bullpen. That would include the aforementioned (from last week) Joey Gerber, another recipient of the Steven Jinx; he gave up 3 runs in 1.1 innings. Taylor Guilbeau and Matt Magill, however, managed to avoid the jinx at least through the weekend; they pitched a combined 2.1 shutout innings in this one.

J.P. Crawford had the lone single in this one, but not until the sixth inning. Must’ve been a tough one to sweat out for fans, but as I predicted before the season, I don’t think this will be the last we’ve seen of this team’s offensive woes; there will be plenty of chances to watch this offense try to get out from under a no-hitter.

The Mariners put it all together on Sunday afternoon. If you’d asked me going into the weekend which one I’d prefer the M’s win, I would’ve gone with this one. Justus Sheffield took the hill and easily tossed the greatest performance in his Major League career: 6 innings, 0 runs, 4 hits, 0 walks, 7 strikeouts on just 91 pitches. The slider was snapping all day, the Rockies’ hitters were off-balance throughout, and while the fastball still wasn’t where I want it, there was enough movement and command of his pitches to make it all work. Keeping that offense off the scoreboard is impressive any way you slice it!

Dan Altavilla singlehandedly made this thing interesting in the eighth inning (as the commenter in my last post pointed out, both Dans on this team – Altavilla and Vogelbach – suck; we’re a long way away from the likes of Dan Wilson!), turning a 5-0 lead into a 5-3 nailbiter. But, Taylor Williams did his job, getting the 4-out save to salvage Sheffield’s first career victory.

Dylan Moore continued his improbable hot power streak with a 2-run homer in the first inning. And a number of Mariners cobbled together enough offense on a double-error, a sacrifice fly, and three singles, to play add-on to the tune of three runs in the seventh. As indicated above, we would need every bit of those runs to preserve this victory.

The Mariners sit at 6-11 and still somehow not in last place yet. Maybe that’ll change as we hit the road to take on the Texas Rangers today. Three more games before we get our first off-day, so that’s exciting! I’m sure the fellas will enjoy a bit of a rest in the Texas heat in the middle of August!

Getting back to Dylan Moore for a sec, it’s pretty outstanding how well he’s been playing! If you’d compared his chances to Tim Lopes after that first week, I think most people would’ve been a lot higher on Lopes (who has, predictably, cooled off considerably in the ensuing weeks). These types of players – who get projected as bench types, or fourth outfielders – rarely are able to pull themselves out of that stigma; it sucks them under like quicksand. The best they can hope for is a change in their swing to stick, a change that affords them more loft on their flyballs (ideally resulting in more extra-base hits). Moore, for now anyway, is showing signs of exactly that. That’s 4 doubles and 3 homers in 11 games, without a really significant increase in strikeouts. And these aren’t cheapies, either! He’s got opposite-field power for a (relatively) little guy! With his quality defense – and ability to employ that quality defense at a variety of positions on the field – that makes him an extremely valuable asset that this team can ill afford to leave out of their lineups.

Speaking of which, it’s interesting to see how the lineup has developed over the first two weeks. J.P. Crawford has taken over the leadoff spot. Dylan Moore seems tailor-made for the 2-hole. Kyles Lewis & Seager round out the heart of the lineup. Beyond that, it’s a free-for-all, but there’s a lot to like about the top of the order so far!

Even though Vogelbach and Evan White both have TERRIBLE offensive numbers to date, it really feels like night and day when you watch them work. White, at least, seems like he has some idea of what he’s doing; I would argue he’s been criminally unlucky on some of these balls being hit right at guys. Vogey, on the other hand, seems like his only objective when he steps to the plate is to get a walk. For a guy his size, and with his lack of speed, that’s just a travesty! As someone who has no value as a defender, he needs to be MASSIVELY more aggressive at the plate. On-base percentage is great for smaller guys who can steal bases, but it doesn’t really do a lot for us when Vogey can only go station-to-station. I would take a serious uptick in strikeouts if it meant he got his power numbers where they should be. This isn’t a matter of opposing pitchers pitching around him; he’s getting ahead in counts – which is great – but then when it’s 3-0 or 3-1, he’s taking big, fat, juicy meatballs when he SHOULD be depositing them into the outfield stands!

I’m worried about Vogey, is my point. The writing is on the wall, and it’s screaming out in giant letters: YOU’RE NOT LONG FOR THIS TEAM!

The Mariners Lost A Series (frowny face)

I feel like, when we look back on the 2020 Mariners season, we’re all going to remember what it felt like when they were 4-4 and it was the high point of the season. This is like the horrific 2019 Mariners starting 13-2 before finishing the season on a 55-92 streak!

We’re on an 0-3 streak right now, following an 11-1 dismantling. In spite of what is already an absurd -25 run differential after 11 games (tied for worst in all of baseball with the Diamondbacks, who have somehow done it in 10 games), that was a very winnable series against the A’s that we just biffed.

The first game, we obviously did win, 5-3. Taijuan Walker – much like Marco Gonzales the night previously – bounced back in a big way after his first start, going 7 shutout innings, allowing only 1 hit and 2 walks, while striking out 8. The bullpen tried their hardest to blow it (mostly the absolutely worthless Bryan Shaw who gave up 3 runs in his lone inning of work), but we were able to hang on.

The next day, would you look at that! Yusei Kikuchi ALSO had a bounce-back start! 6 shutout innings, giving up just 3 hits and a walk, while striking out 9; it might’ve been his best-ever start in a Mariners uniform. This time, we were clinging to a 2-0 lead, and the bullpen DID manage to blow it. Adding extra insult to injury, the offense had plenty of chances to win it in regulation – including a juicy bases loaded situation in the bottom of the ninth, with only one out – but going 1/7 with runners in scoring position doomed us. The new extra innings rule (where they start each team out with a runner on second base, because who wants to see more exciting extra innings baseball when we can get it over with as quickly as possible after wasting 3+ hours on boring regulation baseball?) bit us in the ass here, as Dan Altavilla (who still hasn’t quite figured it out after 10,000 years shuttling between the major and minor leagues) grooved a pitch that was hit for a double. That was a tough 3-2 loss to swallow.

In case you weren’t annoyed enough by this motherfucking bullpen, Kendall Graveman pitched pretty heroically in his start, getting into the fifth inning without allowing any runs while dealing with a neck injury. He got two outs while running into some trouble in that fifth, and with his pitch count nearing 100 – a lot to ask for a guy who has missed two years due to injury, who is also currently embroiled in a new injury – so we brought out a reliever to try to keep the A’s from scoring. We were clinging to a 1-0 lead at the time, so this was the ballgame. And, of course, whoever it was (because, seriously, I refuse to learn the names of individuals who won’t matter this time next year) promptly gave up a 3-run home run. I mean, you can lament the lack of offense in this one all you want (again, we were 1/7 with runners in scoring position), but those were the only runs the A’s scored all day, as we again lost by a 3-2 score.

Yesterday, I thought we had a solid shot at salvaging the split. Justus Sheffield was cruising through four shutout innings! Then, in the fifth, he loaded up the bases with only one out, got a CLUTCH strikeout to make things easier on himself, but couldn’t quite get the final out of the inning (instead, giving up a 2-run single to end his day). In walked … Bryan Shaw. I’m assuming the Soon-To-Be-DFA’d Bryan Shaw, because seriously, what the shit?! Why are we employing worthless veterans who have CLEARLY lost any and all ability to throw a baseball? Not only did he give up the two runners he inherited – a trend with these relievers that’s probably the most galling thing to have to sit through (I’d rather watch the starters try to pitch out of these jams!) – but he gave up FOUR MORE runs before finally getting his lone out of the ballgame.

Not to pile on, but in case you were counting with Bryan Shaw, that’s four appearances. In his first inning of work with the team, he somehow managed to get three outs without giving up any runs. Here are his subsequent three appearances:

  • 1 inning, 3 runs
  • 1 inning, 3 runs
  • 0.1 innings, 4 runs

In 3.1 innings of “relief”, he has a 27.00 ERA. You could literally set the ball on a tee and the tee would have a better ERA. This is insane; cut this man immediately!

Kyle Lewis had at least one hit in the first ten games of the season, before seeing that streak snapped last night. Kyle Seager has taken over the RBI lead on the team with 11 (as well as the doubles lead with 5). J.P. Crawford is still hitting the ball well and getting on base at a remarkable clip. Everyone else, I’d say, really cooled off against this A’s pitching.

On deck, we have a 3-game set against the Angels, who at 3-7 are fighting us for last place, so this should be interesting. And, by “interesting” I mean, “What else is on?”

The Mariners Mariners’d Things Up Down In Houston

This season was always going to be a bit of a sideshow combined with a tire fire, but it was particularly cruel to have the Mariners go to Houston to start the season with a four-game series. You’d be hard-pressed to find two more polar opposites with the Astros at the top of the game today (probably trending downward, you’d have to figure, as their players acclimate to the difficulties of not being able to cheat as much) and the Mariners near the very bottom (certainly trending upward, because how much lower can things get?). Frankly, I was surprised the M’s even won ONE game this weekend!

The pitching – across the board – really failed the Mariners in this series. We more or less expected that out of the bullpen (and that’s more or less what we got from them, aside from the lone victory), but the starters also completely shit the bed! It’s like they TRIED to get as much of it on there as possible, clogging up their bowels with lots of meat and cheese, holding it in for a few extra days, then unleashing their stinky fury all over the place.

  • Marco Gonzales: 4.1 innings, 4 runs, 3 earned
  • Taijuan Walker: 3.1 innings, 5 runs
  • Yusei Kikuchi: 3.2 innings, 5 runs
  • Kendall Graveman: 4.0 innings, 7 runs, 6 earned

I would expect those guys to get better sooner rather than later, as their arms build back up and they’re not forced to go up against lineups as stacked as the Astros’. Clearly, these guys were on shortened pitch counts, as no one really had an opportunity to ramp up completely; but even if they were at mid-season strength, I would argue there wasn’t much point in extending their leashes in these games given how poorly they performed.

The numbers from the bullpen in this series are actually better than they looked (I would attribute that to their inability to save the starters’ ERAs by preventing inherited runners from scoring):

  • Game 1: 3.2 innings, 4 runs
  • Game 2: 4.2 innings, 2 runs
  • Game 3: 5.1 innings, 1 run
  • Game 4: 4.0 innings, 1 run

Those aren’t terrible, particularly against a team like Houston, but we’ll see how things look as the season progresses.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though! There were some real bright spots among the hitters!

Kyle Lewis continues to be a Mariners dreamboat. Six hits in the four games, including two homers, with four RBI and a slash line of .400/.500/.800. J.P. Crawford hit two triples and a double, Evan White banged out his first career Major League home run yesterday, Tim Lopes had a couple of doubles. The only guys who are REALLY struggling are Mallex Smith and Daniel Vogelbach, and I don’t think either of them figure into the Mariners’ long-term plans anyway.

I was also really impressed with veteran Kyle Seager, who jacked a homer and three doubles (including at least one to left-center). It’s cool that he’s off to a hot start, and it seems like he’s really a calming veteran presence on what is the very youngest team in the Major Leagues.

I will say the defense overall was pretty rough. Only two errors in the four games, but I think there was some generous scoring going on. There were a number of allegedly-difficult plays that we flat out missed, that good defensive teams would’ve had no problem converting. I won’t make a big deal about it – because in the overall outlook of this season, defense is probably the least of our concerns – but it’s nevertheless something to monitor as these games pile on.

Now we’re off to Anaheim (does the fun ever START?) before our home opener this weekend. These games will be mighty interesting. Anaheim was projected to be one of the divisional contenders, but they’ve also compiled a 1-3 record. The M’s will feature Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn tonight and tomorrow; believe you me, my eyeballs will be glued to the screen for their 3.2 innings of work apiece!

Can The Mariners Win Over 24.5 Games?

I saw a tweet yesterday that shows the Mariners are projected – by at least one Vegas-adjacent betting-type establishment – to win the (tied for) third fewest games in the Major Leagues this year. Only the Tigers and Orioles are projected to win less often (pretty bold prediction, since both of those teams also won the fewest games last year).

Couple points to note: as this guy tweeted out, the Mariners haven’t won fewer than 25 of their first 60 games since 2010 (the last time the M’s lost over 100 games in a season). And, as Divish would go on to respond, the Mariners from a season ago – who started out with a ridiculous 13-2 record – ended up 25-35 after 60 games.

So, let’s use that as a jumping-off point. I’ll be honest, my initial gut reaction was to say, “Of course the Mariners are going to win fewer than 24 games this year!” The above tweets gave me pause a little bit, until I remembered that while the M’s have been mediocre almost my whole life over the last decade, they really haven’t been horrendously BAD since 2010, so yeah, that checks out.

The 2019 Mariners – who finished 68-94 – were much closer to the horrendously bad end of the spectrum than they were mediocre. And, since then, they’ve lost two of their more productive full-time hitters (Omar Narvaez and Domingo Santana) and two of their better part-time hitters (Edwin Encarnacion – who was traded away halfway through last year – and Mitch Haniger – who is still dealing with his injured whathaveyous).

On the pitching side of things – which was easily our biggest weakness in 2019 – we’re down many of our most productive veterans. Mike Leake was traded away last year, Tommy Milone (uhh, YEAH, look it up, he had the third-highest WAR among Mariners pitchers last year!) signed as a free agent with the Orioles, and Anthony Bass (fourth-highest WAR) was claimed by Toronto. With Wade LeBlanc also joining the Orioles, you could argue letting Felix move on to another organization was the best Addition By Subtraction move this team made (though you won’t hear that from me!).

What did we do to replace these veterans? Well, obviously, we’re stacking the roster with younger players! It’s what the Mariners – as a rebuilding team – are SUPPOSED to do! So, please, GET OFF MY ASS; I’m not complaining about any of this! I’m just writing words. And, in the context of this premise – Can the Mariners win over 24.5 games? – I’m going to contend that everything they’ve done to date points to the fact that no, they cannot.

Younger players are unpredictable … but you can pretty much predict what’s going to happen anyway. Look at me, I’m doing it right now! They’re going to struggle, because that’s what they do. They’re going to look great for a while, then they’re going to slump for a while; some might rebound and parlay that into success in 2021 and beyond, others will flame out and never make any positive impact for this organization.

As excited as I am for Kyle Lewis, Evan White, Austin Nola, and maybe J.P. Crawford (wait, I’m maybe excited about J.P. Crawford? What does that even mean?), I don’t think we can count on them to be anything close to consistent (except for “consistently bad” which is always on the table when you’re talking about the Mariners). And those guys (along with Kyle Seager, who showed he still has something left in the tank last year) are probably going to be the BEST guys on this team! Everyone else, I expect to be pretty mediocre at best, with a decent number of total flameouts headed our way.

I still expect the bullpen to be a disaster, with a good chance that it will be significantly worse than it was in 2019. The rotation could be interesting, though. Marco Gonzales should still be the best pitcher on this team (I would hope this is the last year we’re able to say that). Kendall Graveman – who is slotting to be the #4 starter as we head into the regular season this weekend – might be a legitimate stud if he can stay healthy! Taijuan Walker – our #2 guy at the moment – I’m less jazzed about, but his bulldog mentality should keep this team in plenty of games. I’m also starting to be really worried about Yusei Kikuchi, as I don’t believe he’s fully accepted his re-worked mechanics, and will start tinkering again at the first sign of trouble. Then, there’s Sheffield and Dunn, the young upstarts who will be getting their first legitimate shots at big league action. Like the younger hitting prospects, they too will struggle at times (and when they struggle, BOY will they struggle!).

All of that points to the smartest money being bet on the Mariners winning UNDER 24.5 games in 2020. And, that doesn’t even factor in the very real possibility that COVID-19 takes a significant turn for the worse and the league is forced to shut down. I don’t know what that does for betting purposes, but I think all of us nonbelievers would have a great claim to our winnings in that scenario. I mean, if the season were to be canceled prematurely … did they or did they not win fewer than the listed number of games that I shorted?

The 2020 Taylor Family Farm has never been in more secure hands! I’m betting the whole thing on the Mariners being the losers I know they can be! Don’t let me down, fellas!

The Mariners Have Their 60-Man Roster

It’s cool to be talking about baseball again. This time next month, we’ll be knee-deep in our delusion that “anything can happen in a 60-game season” and that “crazier things have happened”, so without further ado, why not get things kickstarted? Get ahead of this early, before key guys start succumbing to random injuries and we have to be reminded that – oh yeah – these are still the Mariners.

With all of the focus on the M’s replenishing their farm system’s starting pitching corps through the draft in the last few years, it’s easy to forget that there are some young, semi-interesting arms at the Major League level right now! Word on the street is, the Mariners will be going with a 6-man rotation in the early going. And I find all of these guys pretty compelling, for what they are, even if I have my doubts that few of them will still be around on the next hypothetical great Mariners team.

Marco Gonzales returns as your de facto Ace. Look, I’m on the record with my opinion about Marco: he’s fine. He’s nobody’s ace, but he’s likable, he works hard, he’s the kind of quality leader this team DESPERATELY needs right now (given most of our best veterans of recent years are on other teams now), and he has a drive to continue striving for greatness. You could make the argument that the best is yet to come and part of me believes that, because with experience he’s going to continue to get smarter and learn new tricks of the trade to get guys out. But, his stuff is what it is. He’s got a low-90’s fastball with an improving change up. He’s more pitch-to-contact than he is a bat-misser; more Jamie Moyer than Randy Johnson, in other words. That has value! Don’t get me wrong, but it also comes with a ceiling that’s not very exciting. Steadiness isn’t exciting. Reliability and dependability aren’t sexy. But, they’re important. Even as they fly under the radar, these qualities bring warm comfort to fans who know what they’re getting out of someone like Marco Gonzales every 5-6 days. They might not win you any championships, but they’ll keep you in the discussion.

It’s going to be a big year for Yusei Kikuchi. He got his feet wet last year as a 28 year old rookie from Japan and had the growing pains you might’ve expected. With the proper adjustments in place, we’re going to see if he can make it work as a Major Leaguer. This will, by no means, make or break his career with the Mariners, but it would be a nice stepping stone towards his all-important 2021 season. That will REALLY determine if he’s going to be here long term (as, following that, the M’s will have the option to extend him to a team-friendly deal for the next four years). Ideally, he’ll get a jumpstart on that by really putting together a solid two months of play.

Next up, we’ve got a couple of reclamation projects in Taijuan Walker and Kendall Graveman. Walker is only 27 years old, but somehow feels like an aging veteran! He’s on a $2 million deal to see if he can rebuild his value after two EXTREMELY injury-plagued seasons. It sounds like he’s still got a mid-90’s fastball, which always plays; at this point it’s just a matter of staying healthy. Graveman, similarly, is on a cheap deal in 2020; he’s also coming off of two EXTREMELY injury-plagued seasons of his own. He’s more of an off-speed specialist than Walker, but he nevertheless has a lot going for him IF he can stay healthy. You’d probably expect the Mariners to run a 6-man starting rotation regardless, considering how weird this year has been so far, but employing both Walker and Graveman further necessitates this cautious approach. Even if it’s foolish to expect both of them to make it the entire two months, the hope is that they can at least make it a few weeks, to give the rest of the rotation some time to stretch out their arms.

Another reason to be thankful for the super-sized rotation is the uncertainty around two of our more mature young prospects: Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn. Sheffield was the cornerstone of the James Paxton deal with the Yankees and as soon as we got him it was like the value of a new car the minute you drive it off the lot. Such is the blessing and the curse of being a Yankees prospect: everyone overrates you … until the Yankees no longer want you, then you’re automatically damaged goods. On paper, Sheffield has the stuff that Aces are made of, but as someone who’s had issues with command as he’s raised through the minor leagues, people have started to question if he has that consistency you’re looking for. Considering he’s done everything you can ask of someone in the minors – on top of his 8 appearances in Seattle towards the end of last season – this was always going to be the first real look we had at Sheffield as a rotation piece. If anything, he might actually benefit from the season being shortened to two months, since there’s really very little pressure on his shoulders. The downside, of course, is that if he struggles, there’s less of an opportunity to turn around a slow start. Whereas, in a full season, if he’s bad in the first half (but turns it around in the second half), then at least you can make an argument there’s momentum as he heads into 2021. Let’s just cross our fingers and hope he kills it out of the gate; then he can start next year with his head held high.

As for Justin Dunn, he came over in the Cano/Diaz deal with the Mets. He often gets overshadowed by Jarred Kelenic (who looks to be a future superstar), but Dunn in his own right – if he pans out as a quality starter – could make that trade look even MORE lopsided in the Mariners’ favor than it already appears to be. We took it very cautious with him in his cup of coffee last year, employing him as one of those insufferable “openers” where he’d start the game, pitch an inning or two, and hand the ball off to the real starter of that particular game. That’s probably wise, since he has less minor league experience to speak of than Sheffield (particularly when you factor in he skipped the AAA level to get here). I’m going to be VERY curious to see what he does with a rotation slot this season, as his rapid ascent seems to have him on track as having an even higher ceiling than Sheffield! At this point, if one of these two guys pans out, that’s probably a huge victory for this organization. If both of them pitch well, then the sky just might be the limit.

As usual, I’m going to skip chatter about the bullpen, because I know not who these guys are (for the most part). Like last year, the bullpen figures to be the severe weak point of the Mariners, so don’t be shocked if you see more than your fair share of blown saves once again.

Let’s move on to the starting lineup. I’ll try to guess what that’s going to be, 1-9:

  1. Mallex Smith – CF
  2. Evan White – 1B
  3. Kyle Lewis – RF
  4. Kyle Seager – 3B
  5. Tom Murphy – C
  6. Dan Vogelbach – DH
  7. J.P. Crawford – SS
  8. Dee Gordon – 2B
  9. Jake Fraley/Braden Bishop – LF

I don’t have very strong convictions about this order, to be honest. Evan White feels like a 2-hole hitter. Kyle Lewis REALLY exploded in his September call-up last year. Seager and Murphy are your veteran middle-of-the-order guys for now. Vogey gets one more shot to lock down that DH spot and see if he has what it takes to hit consistently at the Major League level. The rest of these guys – Smith, Crawford, Gordon, Fraley, Bishop – I could see hitting anywhere in the bottom third or leadoff spot, depending on who’s hot and who’s pitching for the opposing team on any particular day. You also gotta figure Austin Nola will get plenty of play, both as our backup catcher, and as a utility player; he proved last year that his bat was too important to sit on a regular basis. Also, you figure Shed Long will see the field quite a bit as a Super Sub, all around the infield and corner outfield spots. With this year almost certainly being Gordon’s last in a Mariners uniform, if Long hits as we hope he does, he could take over the starting second baseman job come September (ideally, Gordon will start the year on fire and be traded by the end of August to a team who needs a quality leadoff hitter type).

The non-pitchers on the Mariners will be fun to watch, but they’re also going to be PAINFUL to endure. The combination of youth and lack of consistency will make for some exciting games where you’ll want to believe this team has what it takes, but then you’ll be smacked back down to Earth when you see this team get shut out on the regular. I would expect to see quite a bit of games where we’re being no-hit for an uncomfortable number of innings (and, I predict at least one time where we DO either get no-hit, or lord help us, have a perfect game put up on us).

I don’t have a lot to say about the prospects who figure to reside exclusively on the Taxi Squad, other than a pretty significant portion are there for development purposes only, and won’t play for the Mariners in 2020. As expected. Nevertheless, there are some in-betweeners who aren’t on the official 40-man roster, but who could see their numbers called if things shake out a certain way. So, I’ll talk about them as they come up. Rest assured, things never go according to plan in baseball. More than a few of the guys I’ve talked about above will fail to pan out for one reason or another. We just have to hope that SO MANY things don’t go wrong, to the point where we have to call up certain prospects a year or two before they’re ready (and before we’re ready to start counting their service time years).

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mitch Haniger, who will start the year on the 45-day Injured List. Of course, as soon as I buy the guy’s jersey, he immediately falls apart; but of course that’s monstrous for me to say, because we’re talking about the man’s livelihood here! He’s had a lot of freaky health problems over the last calendar year, with multiple surgeries to rectify whatever core issues he’s got going on. The hope is we’ll see him at some point in September. Unless, of course, he keeps trying to push himself too hard and suffers further injuries. I’d suggest for him to just take it easy and come back healthier in 2021, but at this point I don’t think he can afford to! His final two Arbitration years are 2021 & 2022; the Mariners need to know what they’ve got in this guy. Whether he’s our Right Fielder of the Future, or whether he’s trade bait to make him someone else’s injury risk. Because, not for nothing, but his replacements are coming. We have Kyle Lewis on the roster right now, with two VERY highly-rated prospects set to join the Mariners as early as next year (probably around mid-season). If Haniger is going to stave off his competition, he needs to put together at least a few weeks of competent play towards the end of this season, if nothing else to boost his confidence heading into an all-important 2021 campaign!