The Mariners Split With The Mighty Dodgers

The 4-3 Mariners victory on Monday was one of the best baseball games you’ll see all year. Just how you can tell this past weekend was the best weather we’ll see in the Puget Sound area all year, sometimes you know: that’s as good as it gets. Oh sure, there will be warmer days, but it tends to tip over into that Too Hot realm, or Too Smoky, or whatever the fuck. Western Washington has about three perfect spring days every year and then it either goes Full Summer or reverts back to Cloudy With A Chance Of Drizzling Rain. It’s fine. We like it here. Stay away, nothing to see in the Pacific Northwest!

Right off the bat (!) you have to talk about the level of competition. The Dodgers are the reigning World Series champs, and a pretty popular pick to go back and win it all again. They have far-and-away the highest payroll in the Major Leagues and by-and-large those players are worth every penny. I know in baseball anything can happen and it’s a weird game and all that, but to hang with a team like the Dodgers is pretty impressive. They have a +38 run differential after three weeks of the season, and the Mariners played them even!

I wanted so badly to give up on that Monday game. Their starter, Dustin May, looked impressive. Live fastball, lots of movement, lots of sturdy breaking pitches; he indeed racked up 8 strikeouts in just 5 innings. I just assumed the Mariners’ hitters would be overwhelmed and we’d lose in a rout.

Instead, Jose Marmolejos screamed a low line-drive homer into right field to take a 2-0 lead in the first, and then Taylor Trammell walloped a solo shot into left-center to take a 3-0 lead in the second. Corey Seager got two runs back with a massive homer in the third, but then Trammell lined a double into the right field corner to make it 4-2.

This team just doesn’t quit! Nothing is too big for these guys. Even when Justus Sheffield faltered in the sixth (he went 5.2, giving up 3 runs on 4 hits & 3 walks with 6 strikeouts), and the bullpen had to hold onto a one-run lead the rest of the way, they stepped up and did the job against maybe the best offensive lineup in the game today! 3.1 innings of shutout ball, including five VERY impressive outs by Kendall Graveman to get the game to the ninth for Rafael Montero (who racked up his third save in this one).

It was nice to see Trammell have success. It’s obviously been tough for the kid to make the leap from AA to the Bigs, with a weird 2020 “season” mixed in, and his numbers obviously aren’t blowing anyone away. But, he’s getting his hacks in. Don’t think it was lost on me that he had this 2 for 3 night with 2 RBI in the game immediately preceeding Kyle Lewis’ return from the IL. His playing time could legitimately be compromised going forward, so he’s once again going to have to earn his way onto the field. Because if he doesn’t produce, there are players on this active roster who will (as well as the looming Jarred Kelenic off in the middle-distance).

I have to return to Marmolejos, because MAN does he have a knack for coming up big in important spots! He’s not an everyday player. He might, one day, turn into a nice everyday DH candidate. But, as a fourth outfielder and a power bat from the left side of the plate, I think he’s solid. I like him! I’m a fan. I’m a fan of his name, I’m a fan of the whole vibe.

At this point – with the way things have been going early – I almost expected the Mariners to sweep the two-game series yesterday afternoon. Indeed, we hung around and made it interesting to the very end, but ultimately we lost 1-0 for the second time this homestand.

Marco Gonzales went 7 pretty impressive innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits & 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts. But, their guy – Julio Urias – went 7 even MORE impressive innings, giving up 1 hit and 1 walk, with 11 strikeouts. That was it; aside from a few walks given up by the respective bullpens, that was the offense in this one. A Corey Seager RBI single in the third. I picked up on some warning track outs for a few of the M’s bats late in the game, but nothing that ever seriously threatened to leave the yard.

The pitching has been great to see, especially the turnaround from Marco (which we all probably assumed was coming, but you still can’t help but be alarmed by how poor he looked in his first couple of outings). But, obviously the hitting is a little … awful. The Mariners can’t count on this incredible run of cluster luck continuing forever. But, what’s going in their favor is that a lot of guys aren’t hitting anywhere close to what the backs of their baseball cards would suggest. There is positive regression on the horizon as well. It won’t be all Haniger, France, and Seager all the time. And, that doesn’t even factor in the return of Kyle Lewis and the coronation of Kelenic.

To be 11-7 and in a tie for first in the A.L. West at this point is pretty impressive and fun! Now, we finally get a well-deserved off-day before a 4-game series in Boston, followed by a 4-game series in Houston. It doesn’t get ANY easier, in other words. If the season were going to get away from us, this might be the road trip to kick off the losing streak.

What’s Happening Here? The Mariners Won The Series Over The Astros

This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. Even in those recent seasons where the Mariners have mostly contended for a playoff spot, we never had results like this.

Oh sure, we’ve seen 5-2 type road trips, especially in the month of April it would seem. What happens afterward? Invariably, we return home to face the fucking Astros. The hype train starts chugging along in the leadup to that Friday night game, with everyone thinking, “If we can keep this going against the divisional favorite, we might really have something this season!” And THEN what happens? The Astros fucking smack us down and we return to the depths of our own despair, tails between our legs, resigned to another year of mediocrity.

It’s that point, in every season, where hope is dashed. Emphatically. You can set your watch to it! My friends and I texted all about it. We ultimately decided to forego gambling against the Mariners on Friday because every time we’ve ever been this sure about an outcome, we’ve lost miserably.

For a while there, it looked like a bit of a missed opportunity. After four scoreless innings, the Astros put up three runs in the 5th. Just to tease us, the M’s got two back in the 6th, only to watch the Astros get two more in the top of the 7th to make it 5-2. At that point, I don’t know if there was a Mariners fan alive who would’ve been delusional to expect a comeback.

Yet! The Miracle Mariners are starting to make some of us into believers! Two runs in the bottom of the 7th made it 5-4. An Evan White solo homer in the 8th tied it up. And, I shit you not, a ground-rule single in the bottom of the 9th walked it off!

Get the fuck out of here! What are we seeing?!

Well, admittedly, we’re seeing a depleted Astros squad that was missing four prominent players due to some sort of COVID-related issue. But, even without those guys, the Astros are still plenty good, so I’ll take a win over them any way I can get it.

Yusei Kikuchi had another impressive-looking start going, only to have his numbers look not-so-hot in the end: 7 innings, 5 runs. It seemed to me that he was dealing through the first four no-hit innings by featuring his live fastball. Then, he went away from it, featuring some iffy breaking pitches that the Astros were able to handle. Maybe it was to conserve his pitch count (he finished with 91 over those 7 innings), but I wish he’d put Aledmys Diaz away with the hard stuff before he hit that 2-run single, even if he ended the game at a sub-90 pitch count. Those two runs were nearly the final nail in the coffin.

That being said, the top of this lineup is ridiculous. Haniger, France, and Seager combined to go 6 for 12, with 5 RBI and 2 runs scored. That’s a beautiful thing! You obviously can’t expect that to remain the entire season, but in the early going this team is going to have to rely on those guys to carry the mail, until Kyle Lewis returns from injury (this week, hopefully) and Jarred Kelenic gets the call-up.

When the top of your lineup is dealing like that, anything you get from the other six guys is gravy. White and Crawford have struggled, but at times they’ve flashed as well. I hope that tips to where they flash more than they don’t. Tom Murphy coming around with his bat will be huge too; I’m not as worried about him as I am the younger guys.

As for the Saturday game, I missed it entirely. I mean, it’s hard to blame me, blink and you would’ve missed it! 1-0 defeats are VERY rare in today’s game, and while it sucks to be on the losing end, there are still positive take-aways for the Mariners.

Chris Flexen went six innings, spreading out 10 hits while somehow limiting the damage to just the 1 run. Insane! I don’t know if that’s sustainable, but it’s nice to see a gutty performance like that. The bullpen as well continued to keep it on lockdown, which makes it all the more disappointing that the hitters couldn’t get one over on Zack Greinke (who went 8 shutout innings, striking out 6, on just 91 pitches).

Again, if this were one of those Mariners teams of years past, the rubber match probably would’ve been a lost cause. But, instead if was an emphatic 7-2 victory!

This one could’ve gone haywire in a hurry. Nick Margevicius had to be pulled during the first at-bat of the fifth inning, with … arm fatigue? Is that a thing? Anyway, he’s supposedly going to make his next start, so that’s neither here nor there. He went just the four innings, giving up 2 runs (1 earned), and the M’s were temporarily down 2-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth.

That’s when the offense came alive, with a 2-run triple by Haniger (that was almost caught for a heartbreaking out in deep centerfield) and a 2-run homer by France (who else?). Haniger and France added on in the 7th, with back-to-back RBI doubles to give the game its final score.

The bullpen has been on fire lately, with the best ERA in baseball over the last week and change. I especially liked how Servais stuck with Rafael Montero in the highest-leverage situation in the 8th, even though the M’s had just tacked on two more runs. The 3-4-5 hitters were coming up, and even though we had a 5-run lead, that’s just the type of scenario where you could see a team like the Astros start to mount a comeback. Better to put them away right then and there, to give Steckenrider a soft landing in the 9th.

The Mariners are 10-6, everyone! The Mariners were in first place heading into this series, and the Mariners are still in first place today! Who saw that coming?

The Mariners Toppled The Twins

Last Thursday’s 10-2 drubbing of the Mariners by the hot Twins bats feels like a decade ago. We shouldn’t forget about it, though, because that’s the second start in as many outings for Marco Gonzales where he looked decidedly un-ace-like. After giving up 3 walks and 3 homers on Opening Day, Marco gave up two of each to the Twins. His ERA now sits at over 10, and while it’s not time yet to completely panic, there’s a version of Marco out there in the Multiverse who REALLY breaks bad, and this is the start of it all.

I don’t think that’s the Marco of our universe, though. But, I’m not throwing that out with the bathwater, either. I pause because it’s the very start of the season, after an unusually-short 2020 season. His command/control is clearly off, and it just might take him a little bit to get it going again. I hope that’s it, and that he rights the ship in a hurry.

Based on that game, you’d be right to worry about … well, everything! But, then Yusei Kikuchi stepped onto the mound and spun 6 innings of 2-run ball to keep us in it! His only blemish was a 2-run homer by Nelson Cruz (on a pretty good pitch on the outside of the zone, hit the other way over a very high wall), and can you blame him for being mashed by one of the best in the game today? I’m always surprised when Nellie makes an out!

This was a nice little coming-out series for Taylor Trammell, who had his first Major League homer in this one. Haniger also had a solo blast that contributed to the Mariners’ temporary lead. Kyle Seager would also come up big in this series, hitting a go-ahead RBI in the eighth inning before Rafael Montero blew his second save of the season in the bottom of the eighth (why he was in there so early is anyone’s guess; I refuse to research this insignificant detail). Ultimately, Haniger hit the winning sacrifice fly in the tenth to help put this one away. Sadler, Graveman (who also got the win), and Middleton (who ended up with the save) all did their jobs with a scoreless inning of bullpen work each. Lots of help up and down the lineup in this one; it seems like this team – more than most – is going to need the whole “Team Effort” thing to be a big part of their victories this season, at least until the superstars separate themselves. All in all, a nice 4-3 victory for the M’s.

The rubber match on Sunday looked like as big of a lost cause as I’ve seen. I tuned in specifically to see Chris Flexen – because I missed his first start with the M’s – and it was an interesting one! He was in a nasty little jam in the first, but got out of it while giving up only the one run. It looked like he might cruise for a while after that, but the third inning happened with lots of unlucky balls finding grass they shouldn’t have (including a pretty harmful error to help things along). Flexen limited the damage to three more runs (two earned), only to pretty much fall apart in the fifth. In all, he went the five innings, giving up six runs (five earned), while throwing only 84 pitches.

The Mariners were down 6-0 at that point, and I officially switched over to watch The Masters, so I missed the four runs the Mariners scored in the top of the sixth. Including a homer by Seager, and a 3-run blast by Trammell! Once I saw what was happening on Twitter, I switched it back, and was rewarded by a pretty entertaining little comeback!

The Mariners got one more back in the seventh, and it was a 6-5 game until the ninth, when Kyle Seager stepped to the plate with two on, jacking his second homer of the game. The bullpen was truly remarkable in this one. Will Vest went two scoreless, Drew Steckenrider pitched a scoreless eighth to earn his first victory, and Rafael Montero bounced back with his second save of the season, with an easy 9-pitch affair.

It was reasonable to think – before this past weekend – that Trammell might be on a fast track to Tacoma for a long-ish stint in AAA, but hopefully he’s starting to turn a corner. Hopefully success begets success. He’s still sitting with a sub-.200 batting average, so obviously there’s work to be done. But, now pitchers know they’re going to have to be reasonably careful with him. At the very least, I’d love to see what he looks like when Kyle Lewis reclaims his spot in the middle of the order. If nothing else, our outfield coverage should be insane!

Also, props to Kyle Seager for his output so far this season. This is the guy I was hoping to see, as it may be his final year with the team that drafted him.

Wins like these are important to teams like this. That attitude of never saying die or whatever is a pretty big deal when it comes to Scott Servais-managed Mariners squads, which is why I’m really rooting for him to make it through this rebuild unscathed. I do think Servais is one of the good ones; if managers do anything other than decide when to take out pitchers and be scapegoats for underperforming teams, I think they can help breed a culture, and I like the culture he’s breeding here. Given what the Mariners have had to endure in all the years since Lou Piniella was here, it’s HARD to turn around a culture like the one that had set in!

That’s all I got. Four more in Baltimore starting today. They’re pretty bad, the Mariners should be somewhat better, so you’d hope another series win is in the cards, as we get to the real meat of the April schedule coming up.

The Mariners Won One Against The White Sox

If you ever want to know where the Mariners are in their rebuild, it’s helpful to see how they play against the very best teams in baseball. I would put the White Sox up there among them, and at least at this point in the rebuild, the M’s were outclassed.

The game on Monday was a brutal 6-0 shutout. Justus Sheffield looked pretty good through three innings, but the wheels started to come off in the fourth, and he was done after five, having given up 6 runs, 4 earned. I would say that performance was as expected for a guy making his first start of the season, against a team that absolutely mashes left-handed pitching.

The real drag was from the lineup, who managed only three hits on the day (two of them by Haniger). We struck out 15 fucking times against only 4 walks; that’s as pathetic as it gets. Take a picture of what the outfield looks like right now (sans Haniger), as it can ONLY improve from here with call-ups and guys returning from injury. Jake Fraley, Sam Haggerty, and Taylor Trammell don’t appear to be Major League players (yet? maybe ever?). Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, and Julio Rodriguez can’t get here soon enough.

The only positive in this one was the four innings of shutout ball by the bullpen. Don’t get used to that, though.

Tuesday’s game was a miserable 10-4 blowout, where both Paxton and Fraley left injured. Paxton’s injury seems particularly bad, as he’s reportedly seeking a second opinion. Fraley: who cares? Margevicius never should’ve appeared in this series – being a soft-tossing lefty – and was roped around accordingly. The rest of the bullpen behind him didn’t do the team any favors either, as everyone after Paxton combined to give up 9 of the 10 runs.

As for the hitters, Haniger and Ty France were good! Tom Murphy was productive in his at-bats at DH. Everyone else was pretty mediocre.

Yesterday’s game was a relatively impressive 8-4 victory for the M’s! I’ll be honest, that was a tough one to see coming, and in retrospect seems even less likely!

Justin Dunn has improved velocity on his fastball, but was otherwise up to his old tricks in this one: allowing one hit while walking EIGHT! Ye gods. He failed to get through the fifth inning. BUT, the hitters brought their lunch pails in this one, scoring three off of old buddy Dallas Keuchel, then five more against some hapless reliever who got knocked around something fierce.

Kyle Seager started pulling his weight in this one, with three hits and three RBI. But, seven Mariners in total had hits, most of them in a 7-run sixth inning.

The bullpen went 4.1 innings, giving up just 1 run, with Will Vest getting his first career Major League win. All in all, a lot to like about this one game at least. If the series as a whole is a barometer of where the Mariners are in their rebuild, it’s encouraging to have a performance like this one to at least give us some hope.

Now, the Mariners are off on their first road trip of the season, with a weird three-game series against the Twins (with a random Friday off-day). I don’t understand why MLB didn’t schedule this with another off-day on Sunday; if you’re SO worried about there being a rainout, why not front-load the games so you have a better opportunity to get the entire series in? Sure, the Twins’ home-opener is secure, but what happens if there’s a rain storm on Saturday or Sunday? We’re fucked into making a repeat trip to Minnesota later in the season! Fucking idiots; schedule smarter!

The Mariners Somehow Won On Opening Day!

I don’t go to every Opening Day Mariners game, but I’ve been to quite a bit. After last year – when zero people got to see the game in person – my friends and I made an extra-special effort to get into this one. There were 9,000 tickets available – a robust 25% or so of the maximum capacity (actually, now that I do the math … on a 48,000-seat stadium … something doesn’t add up here) – and of course they sold out immediately. Naturally, many of the people who snapped them up promptly sold them on the secondary market, because everything is broken in the world.

Never mind your got-damn politics! This is a sports blog, you hear?!

Anyway, my three best pod-mates and myself were able to snag four seats in the 300 level for around $110 (including fees) apiece. That ain’t bad. You don’t look into getting Mariners tickets for Opening Day to find a good deal, you pay what you pay and you get your buns inside!

But first, a little pre-game festivities. Let’s see, Hooverville was closed. Henry’s shut down. Pyramid is no more. Elysian is down. The Triangle Pub is in the big triangle in the sky. Jimmy’s is out of commission. I mean, if you were looking for a bar that survived the pandemic, GOOD LUCK! My friends and I have always been partial to Sluggers, and they didn’t disappoint. But, even at whatever capacity they’re allowing inside bars and restaurants now, you still have to get there pretty early in the day to find a seat.

I will say that Gantry Public House looks VERY promising. They were at capacity when we got there, but they have outdoor seating and open-air indoor seating. Much smaller than Pyramid, but probably the best available as far as drinking outdoors prior to a game is concerned. As an aside, I’ll never understand why Pyramid failed. How did they not rake in money hand over fist on all the dates they had baseball, football, and soccer games? That should have been more than enough to give them the cushion they needed to survive the pandemic, but what do I know?

Anyway, we had a few beers in Sluggers, waiting for our entire party to arrive from their respective places of employment, then we headed into the stadium around 6:30pm or so. In spite of the early arrival, making it to our seats on time for the first pitch looked a little dicey.

It seems impossible for there to be only 9,000 fans in attendance (or, considerably less, depending on how many tickets were unable to be re-sold on the secondary market) and yet the lines for concessions were insanely long. Yet, there we were, waiting in endless lines (some lines – like those that sold IPA-type beers that my friends like – were considerably more endless than others). I was able to buy and eat two hot dogs, as well as a bottle of water and a Coors Light in half the time it took my friends to get their beer order in, which is less than ideal. Also, some lines went nowhere! If a concession worker opted to go on his break … there wasn’t anyone else to pick up the slack? So, you’re just waiting there for 15+ minutes, or until someone says, “Yeah, he went on break, there’s no one working this register.”

Also, this was less of a problem, but more of a warning: T-Mobile Park is apparently 100% cashless now. So, have working plastic in order if you want to buy anything.

You know what’s super-nice about being in a stadium on Opening Day with ~9,000 of your closest Mariners-rooting friends? Not having to stand up every two minutes to let people out of your row! I’ve enjoyed socially distanced baseball games since before it was cool! Also, I think the longest I ever had to wait to use the bathroom was MAYBE a minute? I was in and out every time I needed to pee! This: I could get used to.

The game itself was … fine, until it got wildly fun in the later innings. We goosed our enjoyment level by betting the OVER of 7.5 total runs in the game. It looked like we might’ve needed the Giants to do everything in that regard, as the M’s were down 5-0 through six innings.

I’ll tell you my rationale for betting the over. It certainly wasn’t contingent upon the lineup the Mariners were throwing out there, with Kyle Lewis injured and whatnot. Last year, the rotation really struggled the first time through; and generally it seems to be pretty tough sledding for guys whose arms aren’t built up yet. Looking at the starter the Giants were pitting against us, it seemed like a quasi-no brainer.

Marco Gonzales did his part, giving up 5 runs in six innings. He really didn’t have it in this one, walking three and giving up three dingers. But, Kevin Gausman sure did! I couldn’t tell what his pitches were doing from our vantage point, but they must’ve been moving like crazy, because our batters were off-balance all night.

Thankfully, the Giants’ bullpen isn’t any better than ours, it would seem, as that fateful 8th inning not only gave my friends and I the over 7.5 in runs, but gave the Mariners a real opportunity to win this game!

The Mariners went into the inning down 6-1. A walk and two singles made it 6-2. Two more walks sandwiching a strikeout made it 6-3. With Dylan Moore standing at the plate, we checked on the live-betting; the Mariners were +525 to win the game at that moment. Several moments later – after considerable waffling on our parts, ultimately resulting in no bet being made, in spite of half of our party being on board (I was not one of them, sadly) – Moore shot a double down the right field line to score two more, making it 6-5 (and dropping the odds considerably for the M’s to win the game, where we ultimately snatched them up).

The Giants finally gave up a fielder’s choice/error to give the Mariners a 7-6 lead, so not only had we come all the way back, but we’d get a look at our brand new closer, Rafael Montero!

Montero – to the first batter he saw – got ahead 0-2 in the count on three off-speed pitches, only to give up a game-tying homer on a change-up on the outside corner of the plate (leaving it up in the zone, in spite of our pleas to bury it in the dirt). Montero was able to get out of the inning from there, but the damage was done. Extras would come into play on this day!

Anthony Misiewicz was able to work around the man on second base that MLB has decided is the new normal for extra innings games to get us into the bottom half unscathed. That ultimately earned him the victory, as the M’s walked the bases loaded with nobody out, only to walk in the winning run to anti-climactically send everyone home happy.

It also sent us home at around 11pm, which is LATE for me on a work night! So, you know, if this blog post is a little spastic, blame it on my lack of sleep. The Mariners are on pace for 162-0! Let’s dream the impossible dream, everyone!

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!

I Don’t Know If The Mariners Are High On Ty France, But I Am!

Ty France seems to be one of those players without a position. That seems to be a trend with a lot of quote/unquote third basemen who come up through the minors at that spot, especially when they’re more known for their bats than their gloves. Do natural third basemen even exist? Or are they just plus-sized second basemen or slow-footed short stops? You be the judge!

Ty France, apparently, is coming at it from another angle, as a slightly-more-athletic first baseman type. Like, imagine if Daniel Vogelbach was 2/3 of his actual size, but, you know, could still actually hit a baseball.

These types of supposedly-deficient defenders always intrigue me, because if his 2020 season was any indication, the bat is there! He slashed .305/.368/.468 in 43 games across two teams (coming over in the Austin Nola deal with the Padres), with not really much of a dropoff at all during the transition. Ideally, you probably want a little more than the 14 extra base hits in that span, but a high batting average and competent on-base percentage makes up for a lot of ills in the power game for me. I’d rather someone come from this type of floor, because you can tweak a swing to create more loft if need be; but that kind of eye for balls and strikes is much harder to teach by the time you get to the Major League level. Knowing when to swing and what to swing at is an art, and most baseball players fail miserably at it.

He’s also only 26 years old, with up to five seasons of team control (including arbitration years), and while he’s not proficient at any one position, he’s capable of filling in at just about any spot on the infield (and by that I mean first, second, or third base).

It’s hard to talk about Ty France without talking about Dylan Moore, because both of them look to factor heavily on this team in the early going of the 2021 season. Presumably, that puts Moore in left field (next to Kyle Lewis in center, and Mitch Haniger in right) and that puts France at second base (between Evan White at first and J.P. Crawford at short, with Kyle Seager at his trusty third base spot). While we know Moore can play anywhere, it’s unknown at this time if we can hide France in one of the corner outfield spots in a pinch, but given our history of left fielders, it wouldn’t shock me to see the team give it a go (it just depends on how much of a liability France is up the middle).

As I alluded to, France’s “natural” position is third base. One would hope, if Seager ends up leaving after this season, that France could slide in there and we won’t miss a beat. But, if France isn’t any good at third, you’d have to wonder about his ability to play second, where I would assume – even between a couple of Gold Glovers in White & Crawford – defensive range is more of an issue.

Worst case scenario has the Mariners playing France primarily as the team’s Designated Hitter. You would think, given our history with Edgar Martinez (and our complete inability to properly replace Gar since his retirement), that the Mariners – more than most – can appreciate what an elite DH can bring to the table. But, like most teams, we’re trying to live in the 21st Century, where the DH is more of a rotational job, to give guys days off from playing in the field every day. Which means that, in their mind, you probably don’t want to be saddled with France at DH more than 3-4 times per week, which means he will need to be at least an adequate fielder 2-3 times per week. If he’s completely inept, that’s a problem, as it drastically reduces your lineup versatility.

That’s why guys like France – more often than not – aren’t foundational pieces, but instead guys who bounce around in deals like the one we made last year. He has value – so long as he’s hitting – but rarely gets the opportunity to stick in any one place thanks to his mediocre glove.

I’m, nevertheless, quite high on him for the reasons I’ve stated. The Mariners also have one of the best infield coaches in the Major Leagues, so I would hope that he can mold France into something passable in the field. Because, if we can work that out, that’s a HUGE hole we don’t need to fill later.

If we’re looking to break the playoff drought in 2021 – at least a year ahead of schedule – then we’re going to need more consistency out of our everyday lineup. While the pitching is shaky, as we saw last year, our coaches were able to mitigate things by keeping close tabs on the starters in their individual starts (not leaving them out there to get out of jams too often in the third/fourth times through the lineup). Obviously, the bullpen needs to drastically improve, but given the natural volatility of even high-level relievers, sheer randomness could always come into play to help us out this season. But, we need the hitters to hit, and not go into super-long funks.

That means, of course, that our stars – Lewis, Haniger, and Seager – need to perform to their potential/abilities, and that means some of these diamonds in the rough that we’ve stumbled upon – Moore, our catchers, Crawford, White, and France – need to be more consistent, and help pick up the slack when others are struggling. I have no doubt that France’s bat can be a big pick-me-up for this team. But, he just needs to not be a total wasteland out in the field.

I believe he can do it! And I hope that Austin Nola deal continues to pay huge dividends for many years to come!

The Mariners Are Stacked At Catcher

This isn’t a super-interesting topic on the Mariners landscape, but it is pretty noteworthy, especially when you consider how long we’ve struggled to fill this spot.

The Mariners have not just one, but two perfectly cromulent catchers at the Major League level, in Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens. The Mariners traded for the veteran Murphy from the Giants heading into 2019, and that year he had his best season of his career! He was so good, the M’s felt comfortable trading away Omar Narvaez for basically nothing.

Of course, Murphy injured his foot and missed the entire 2020 season, but he’s healthy and back in the fold as this team’s co-starting catcher. That’s only happening because the Mariners traded for Torrens at the deadline last year (along with Ty France and another high-level prospect) in exchange for Austin Nola. I wouldn’t say Torrens put up Nola-like numbers when he came over, but he was very capable, both offensively and defensively!

The combination of Murphy and Torrens is putting a lot of Mariners fans at ease. Most spots on the everyday roster are locked in at this point – even though Spring Training has yet to commence – but they come with lots of questions and concerns. Even with someone like Kyle Lewis – who won the American League Rookie of the Year award – you have to wonder how he will put it all together over a full season, with all the ups and downs built into it. But, I’ll tell you this much: the least of my concerns heading into 2021 will be what the Mariners are able to do at catcher.

Not to say these guys are the best in baseball. Maybe as a unit, I would say there is little-to-no drop-off between whoever the “starter” ends up being and whoever his backup is (though, I do anticipate pretty close to a 50/50 split, as long as health isn’t a factor); but I don’t think either of these guys are bound to be All Stars or anything. They’re just capable, all-around catchers who should hit enough to help out, and shouldn’t be disasterous behind the plate.

You might think, “Well, that’s not sexy!” And you’d be right! But, at this point, all I’m looking for is run-of-the-mill, missionary-style, passionless married people intercourse from the catcher spot. I don’t need a Mike Zunino who’s a great receiver, but strikes out nine million times a season; nor do I need an Omar Narvaez, who hits like crazy but is among the worst defenders in the game. I just need dudes who can do both to the point where I’m not pulling my hair out whenever I look at them. In the same way in football, the very best long-snappers are ones you never have to think about (because, with a position like that, you’re only thinking about them when they fuck up), such is the catcher in baseball. Just do your job!

On top of the fact that both Murphy and Torrens are good players, they’re also not necessarily important for our future. Murphy has two more Arbitration years remaining, while Torrens has a whopping four more years of team control. These are bridge guys to the future, who is Cal Raleigh. Raleigh in his own right is someone we could see get a cup of coffee at the Major League level in 2021 (or maybe even a whole pot of coffee, if injuries worm their way into the picture). He’s one of the highest-touted prospects in our organization, and a consensus guy who should man that position for many years to come. By 2022, it’s not out of the question that he’d break Spring Training with the Mariners, and as soon as 2023 he could be firing on all cylinders if things go according to plan. That’s exciting!

That’s the current catching spot locked down, as well as high hopes for the very near future! For the first time since Dan Wilson, this won’t have to be a source of frustration! I can’t wait to never talk about this position again!

So, What Is A Dylan Moore?

I swear I was going to get around to doing a Dylan Moore post independent of this very interesting one by Lookout Landing. Really, if I had to give an overarching title to my series of Mariners-related posts lately, it would be: Things I Find Interesting About The Mariners In 2021. And, obviously, I find Dylan Moore VERY interesting!

He was drafted in 2015 by the Texas Rangers. He bounced around a couple of other organizations before signing as a free agent with the Mariners prior to the 2019 season. He was projected to be a utility guy who is capable of backing up at many spots: both corners of the outfield (center if you’re desperate), as well as every spot around the infield except catcher (he even pitched in one game when the Mariners were getting destroyed and needed someone to eat an inning). He made his Major League debut with the M’s in 2019 and was about what you’d expect someone like him to be: a bad hitter and a capable defender (when he even struggled with his glove early in that season, he truly looked like a lost cause; thankfully for him and the organization, he at least improved on that facet of his game before the season concluded).

It made sense to hang onto Moore heading into 2020, because why not? Depth and competition being what it is, you can never have enough cheap utility guys to help you out in a pinch. But, the Mariners also brought in a few other guys who did the same exact job, because why not? Moore in 2019 did absolutely nothing to guarantee his own job security.

With his defensive issues in the rearview, Moore went to work improving on his hitting (which you can read about in that LL piece above). What resulted was nothing short of breathtaking! Smallish sample and all of that, but Moore was absolutely one of the very best players on that team! Kyle Lewis got all the publicity – for obvious reasons – but day-in and day-out, there weren’t many people you could rely on more to come through for this team (especially once we traded Austin Nola away) than Dylan Moore.

He played so well that he went from a utility guy, to a utility guy you couldn’t take out of your lineup (once again, he played every defensive spot on the field except catcher), to a bona fide starter at second base once Shed Long went down. In fact, he played so well that heading into 2021, he’s already being pencilled into the lineup as your everyday second baseman (though, I could see him playing quite a bit in left field as well, until Jarred Kelenic gets the call-up).

It’s an exciting time to be a Dylan Moore! This year can make or break his entire professional baseball career! He’s 28 years old, he will be entering his first of three Arbitration years in 2022, he’s on a young, up-and-coming team and at least for the time being, he has the potential to be a big reason for its success. The Mariners clearly have this hole at second base that needs to be filled (to say nothing of third base once Kyle Seager moves on after this year), and unless Shed Long turns it on (being demoted to a utility role going forward), there really isn’t a lot in the pipeline. The Mariners could always make a big splash next year (maybe signing a high-priced short stop as a free agent, which could theoretically move J.P. Crawford to second base, as has been indicated by many scouts to be his future), but they also might not have to. Dylan Moore has his future in his hands; if he kills it in 2021, either the Mariners can keep him as their everyday second baseman for at least the next few years, or they can flip him for a great return of Major League talent and/or future prospects.

Considering the investment to bring Moore into the organization, I couldn’t be happier with what we’re witnessing! Assuming he stays healthy and his star keeps rising, it’s all gravy at this point!

Obviously, the downside is: he could turn back into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight. Or, you know, get hurt (which seems to happen quite a bit whenever I get excited about someone). As that LL post indicates, opposing pitchers could make his life miserable with off-speed stuff and render this whole fantasy moot. He was batting near the top of the lineup most of last year, and you’d think he’s destined to start out in the 2-hole this season; teams are fully aware of the Dylan Moore transformation. He will have to continue to work on his swing and make adjustments to the new tactics we all anticipate will be coming.

But, even getting to the point where he could hit a fastball with any regularity is a place I never expected we’d get to, so I don’t see why he couldn’t continue to improve and become a fully well-rounded hitter. Should that be the case, it’s yet another reason to be excited by the prospects of these 2021 Mariners.

What Do The Mariners Do If Mitch Haniger Is Great Again?

It can be easy to overlook the fact that Mitch Haniger is still on the Seattle Mariners. The guy last played in a baseball game on June 6, 2019. That’s when he formally went down with what has been described as an oblique injury (there was also something about a ruptured testicle that I seem to have blocked out of my memory, as those words – put together – tend to make me black out). These injuries are notoriously difficult to play sports with, and apparently quite difficult to overcome. In Haniger’s case, it required multiple surgeries, missing the rest of 2019 and all of 2020 (in spite of the fact that 2020’s season started late and only lasted 60 games).

Added to the “easy to overlook” factor in all of this is the excitement over our Rookie of the Year, Kyle Lewis, as well as hotshot prospects Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic (who are both poised to ascend to the Major Leagues either this season or next). You don’t even have to squint to envision an outfield of K-Lew, J-Rod, and J-Kel(?) in some order; if everything goes according to plan, that IS the future for the Mariners’ organization.

And yet, there’s real potential for a “motherfuckers act like they forgot about Dre Mitch” situation here. As recently as 2018, Haniger was an All Star. He had a 6.2 WAR, with 26 homers and an OPS of .859. That was only his age 27 season; not only was he the “future” of the Mariners, he was the present and the FACE of the organization (especially with King Felix on his way out the following year). He’s 30 years old now, he’s completely healthy and recovered from all the medical shit, and apparently he is fucking jacked!

Obviously, the Mariners have him written down in pen as the Opening Day right fielder for 2021. If he returns to his 2018 level of production, he will easily be this team’s best player. He’s also in his second year of arbitration, with one more season of team control left.

So, what will happen with Mitch Haniger?

Well, there are options. We can let his deal play out, thank him for his time, and move on. In this scenario, that either means the Mariners are confident in the outfield I outlined above, or it means Haniger doesn’t return to his previous level of greatness (because of lack of production, or because he suffers another injury). If Haniger does manage to recapture that old magic, I don’t think this scenario is very likely, because how are you going to find opportunities for all three of those other outfielders to showcase their talents, when Haniger has a stranglehold on right field? And also, why would you let Haniger walk if he’s back to being great again?

Well, that leads me to another option: Mitch Haniger becomes this team’s regular DH. This also doesn’t seem very likely, because he’s too athletic to squander his talents just being a hitter. But, if he’s one of those injury-prone guys who can’t stay off the Injured List, that might ultimately be his destiny. Now, to get around the roster crunch, the Mariners could always rotate the outfielders, so everyone is getting a DH day throughout the week; that’s something I think they’ll do regardless, to try to keep everyone fresh. So, I’ll throw this idea on the Maybe Pile.

Another option is: the Mariners sign Haniger to an early extension. For this to become a reality, he would almost certainly have to get through 2021 completely unscathed from injury. That’s a tall order for literally any baseball player, but for someone as unlucky as him, it’s probably an impossibility. Nevertheless, if he’s once again a 6-WAR player, the M’s could always extend him – effectively buying out his 2022 arbitration year to get something of a discount – and then figure out the outfield crunch later. I’ll be honest, this is probably the least likely scenario of the bunch.

The option I’m most curious about is: the Mariners could trade Haniger. I highly doubt he will be traded during the season, but if he is, he would have to get off to an amazingly hot start. Right now, Mitch Haniger has almost no trade value. He’s only earning a little over $3 million, but for teams who don’t have access to his medicals – and who haven’t seen him play since 2019 – if you’re trading for Haniger, you’re trading for his potential. Is this recovery legit? Can he return to his 2018 production level? Teams don’t like to give up quality players or prospects for question marks; they want to know they’re getting someone who will help right away. In that case, it doesn’t make sense for the Mariners to trade him until he’s built up most of his previous value. He’ll never be as valuable as he was after the 2018 season – because at that time he had two more years of club control – but if he plays like an All Star in 2021, with another option year at a relatively reasonable price for 2022, that COULD be worth something to another team if we decide to trade him next offseason.

The only downside is, with one more year after this season on his contract, that’s still not enough value to get a top flight prospect. You’re probably only trading him to a team that’s already great and is near the luxury tax threshold (who also happens to need an outfielder). So, even this option isn’t the greatest for the Mariners; I wouldn’t go into any Haniger trade scenario very optimistic that we’re going to fleece some dimwitted general manager like we did in the Cano deal.

If I’m being realistic, my prediction is that Haniger returns this year and is just okay. I don’t necessarily believe he’ll suffer another devastating injury, but I could see him getting worn down by various bruises and strains, as all players must endure. I think the combination of the long gap in between playing the game of baseball, his tendency to press (to want to be great so badly that he tries to do too much at the plate), and some good old fashioned bad luck with BABIP will render his numbers relatively mediocre. I don’t believe even his best-case scenario will see him return to those 2018 heights; even if he’s good, though, I don’t think that will be enough to make him much of a trade candidate.

In that case, the Mariners might have their hand forced heading into the 2022 season. They might decide to trade him just to get SOME value out of him. Either that, or let him start the season in Seattle, in hopes that he’ll get off to a hot start and allow the organization to deal him at the deadline, to be some other contender’s rental for a few months.

I know we’re delving into a lot of hypotheticals here, but let’s say he’s just okay in 2021 and remains in Seattle in 2022; what happens if he IS great to start that season, but the Mariners themselves are also great and contending for the playoffs? Do we then let it ride with Haniger and see where he can lead us?

That’s kind of what I’m hoping for, among all the possibilities. I like Haniger! Shit, I bought his jersey after the 2018 season for Christ’s sake! I thought that was a safe choice, of someone who I believed would be a major part of this organization for many years to come. While I’m obviously seduced by an outfield of Lewis, Rodriguez, and Kelenic, I do hope there’s room for Haniger to stick around for another handful of seasons, because I believe he’s a real asset when he’s healthy.

But, that’s the key, isn’t it? That’s everything with him! I don’t know if he has what it takes to stay on the field consistently, and ultimately it’ll be his downfall with the Mariners’ organization if he’s not here beyond 2022.