Is The Mariners’ Jake Fraley For Real?

The alternate title for this post was going to be, “Jake Fraley Is This Year’s Dylan Moore Of 2020”, but it’s not quite apples to apples. The sentiment is there: he’s a fringe player, thought to be nothing more than a bench bat/fourth outfielder, who has stepped his game up to the point where the Mariners MUST put him in the lineup everyday. Or face the consequences. Namely: my wrath.

Dylan Moore was just that prior to 2020. He was a nobody. Then, last year, he figured out how to generate more power from his bat; his slugging jumped from .389 in 2019 to .496 in 2020. Of course, last year was a pandemic year. On top of that, Moore was buried on the active roster by lesser players (mostly an injured Shed Long), so even though he was killing it, he only appeared in 38 of 60 games.

Not for nothing, but through the first half of 2021, Moore finds himself playing considerably worse than even his paltry 2019 season. The only aspect of Moore that’s better today is his defense, but you couldn’t be much worse defensively than Moore was in 2019 (especially in the first half of that season). I had much higher hopes for Moore heading into this year, based on his 2020. I thought he’d enacted some sort of Chris Taylor transformation, but apparently that’s not the case. In all likelihood, 2020 was a mirage.

That brings us to Jake Fraley. He was brought over after the 2018 season from the Rays in the Mike Zunino/Mallex Smith trade. Mallex Smith was a bust, and I don’t think anyone had any confidence in Fraley being anything more than a Quad-A type of player. His brief cups of coffee in 2019 and 2020 all but confirmed it. I figured, at best, he was a reserve outfielder who might be a defensive replacement late in games, or an emergency starter if enough guys got injured.

And yet, here we are in 2021, and Jake Fraley is tied with Ty France for second (among position players) on the Mariners in WAR (1.6) even though he’s only appeared in half the games of France. He’s among the best players on the team in on-base percentage (first among position players at .409), slugging (third among position players at .439), and OPS (first among position players at .848).

And, like Moore in 2020, Fraley has often found himself buried on the active roster behind inferior players. It’s really only since the end of May that Fraley has found himself in the lineup on a regular basis. And yet, he’s managed to produce!

A lot of the hype – especially early on – surrounded Fraley’s walk rate. It was off the charts! It continues to be his biggest asset, but he’s managed to add a little pop to his bat to balance things out. He’s also – like J.P. Crawford – finding himself in the middle of a lot of these Mariners rallies. He’ll find a way on base when we need someone, he’ll steal a bag for you, and he’ll come up with a clutch hit late in the game to win it. What more can you ask for from someone who consistently finds himself batting near the bottom of the lineup?

It’s difficult to see Fraley’s long-term viability on the Mariners, with guys like Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez soon-to-be patrolling the outfield on a regular basis, and also Kyle Lewis, whenever he gets his injury issues squared away. Fraley could be an excellent bridge guy to our Outfield of the Future, or he could supplant someone like Lewis (if we find the right trade for him), or he could be a trade chip himself! I would want Fraley to build up considerably more value before the Mariners deal him, but thankfully there’s still plenty of time for that.

Ironically, Jake Fraley is exactly the type of player who would thrive in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. If he’s able to keep it up through the rest of this season, maybe we send him back for another Rays player, who perhaps will soon be too expensive for them to retain. Fraley has team control through 2025, so he’ll continue to be a bargain for a little while yet.

It’s always fun seeing these guys who you never expect to turn into anything, become quality everyday players. Fraley is especially fun because he’s so involved in all of the best aspects of what this 2021 Mariners team has become. Scrappy, fast, playing above their overall talent level, finding ways to get it done that are maybe a little less conventional than the Three True Outcomes. In another time, Fraley might’ve been one of my all-time favorite players. As it is, I’m going to enjoy the ride for as long as he takes me on it.

The Mariners Bounced Back The Opposite Way, Lost A Series To The Athletics

The 6-5 victory on Monday sealed off five wins in a row, and a stretch of 7 wins in 8 games: relatively impressive after the 6 losses in a row that preceeded it. Granted, the bullpen gagged away our 4-2 lead late in the game, blowing a would-be victory for Logan Gilbert – who was impressive over 6 innings, giving up just 2 runs on 5 hits and a walk, with 5 strikeouts, on 80 pitches – but we were able to prevail in extras thanks to some clutch hitting and a rabid sacrifice fly by Tom Murphy.

My friends and I went to the game on Tuesday thinking we had this game pegged. Marco Gonzales was making his return from the IL and wasn’t projected to go very far, since he hadn’t made any tune-up starts in the minor leagues. This one had all the feel of a game that might get out of hand early, with the bullpen carrying the mail like it usually does to keep things interesting to the end.

Instead, Marco was great! He threw 50 pitches, made it through 4 innings, and gave up only 1 run on 2 hits. It was, indeed, the bullpen that was shot, giving up the other 11 runs that turned this game into a rout, particularly with a 6-run seventh inning. We left the game not long after that debacle.

Wednesday’s rubber match was a total nightmare. I watched for almost three innings, but the A’s put up a 5-spot in the third and I knew it was over from there. I don’t know a ton about the Athletics and their players, but I know Sean Manaea fucking owns our asses. One run would’ve been too much, as this ended in a 6-0 complete game shutout for the man. Chris Flexen was able to gamely make it through 6 innings, just giving up those 5 runs, so it was nice of him to spare the bullpen a little bit (as Justin Dunn is going to miss his next start, which means we’re in for yet another bullpen day coming up).

It’s actually kind of crazy how many Mariners are hitting the IL this year. I have little frame of reference how they compare to the rest of MLB, or how they compare to normal seasons in the recent past, but it feels like a lot. It feels somewhat abnormal. Some of these would have happened in any ol’ season – I’m looking at Ty France getting hit by a pitch, and Kyle Lewis’ bum knee – but there has to be a non-zero number of injuries that we can attribute to COVID-19 and the cockadoodie 2020 season with only 60 games and no minor leagues. Guys whose bodies … for lack of a better phrase are out of baseball shape. So they’re getting these strains that they might not otherwise.

Of course, this could also just be a byproduct of the game today. Today’s player probably needs more regular off-days than they’re getting. Teams are unwilling or unable to roster full benches – because they’re using every extra spot on their bullpens – and obviously that’s for good reason, given how many of these injuries are happening to pitchers. When you’re a team like the Mariners – trying to run a 6-man rotation out there, partially in hopes of reducing some of the wear-and-tear, even though we no longer employ more than 6 viable starting pitchers at the Major League level – this rash of injuries becomes more pronounced. When fans are forced to watch many multiple bullpen days because the organization fucked around in the offseason putting all their chips in on James Paxton, there’s an injury trickle-down effect when that very bullpen that’s been carrying this team gets overworked. All in the name of this theory that a 6-man rotation is supposed to cut down on injuries.

IT’S NOT WORKING, MARINERS! All it’s doing is costing you games and the livelihood of your relievers that you’re running through a fucking meat-grinder.

In theory, in an ideal world where the Mariners have an unlimited source of quality starting pitchers, a 6-man rotation might be a good idea. But, in reality, almost no team has 6 good-to-great starters. They BARELY have 5, with the depth being of the sub-replacement level variety. There’s a reason why teams in the playoffs scale back to three starters, maybe four at the most. Obviously, you can’t do that over the course of a full 162-game season, but it’s pretty apparent you also can’t stretch it out to 6 without throwing away some games.

Those games start to add up when you’re hovering around .500 and ostensibly in contention for a postseason berth.

The Mariners Still Have A Few Tricks Up Their Sleeves, Swept The Rangers

I spent the better part of Memorial Day weekend camping, with very limited access to Twitter or anything else. As a result, I missed the festivities, so let’s go through this 4-game series against the Rangers together, shall we?

The first game was last Thursday, which I probably saw at least some of, but for the life of me can’t remember. It was a 5-0 victory. Chris Flexen had 7 shutout innings. Oh, that’s right, Tom Murphy and *checks notes* Jacob Nottingham both had homers. I definitely saw those. Also Jack Mayfield had a 2-RBI double and Mitch Haniger closed it out with an RBI single. Pretty impressive victory all around, but also these are the Rangers, and that’s what you’re supposed to do to the Rangers.

On Friday, the M’s won 3-2 behind some phenomenal bullpen work. Justus Sheffield was just good enough (5 innings, 2 runs), but far from great. Erik Swanson came through in the clutch with the 4-out save, though he promptly was placed on the IL this weekend with a groin strain, so hopefully that won’t linger too long. Kyle Lewis had a 2-run homer and Ty France continued his hit parade since returning from the IL.

Saturday was another 3-2 Mariners victory, this time behind a solid outing from Justin Dunn (5.2 innings, 1 run, 2 hits, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts). J.P. Crawford and Mitch Haniger both homered, and replacement catcher Jose Godoy knocked in the first run of the game on a single.

For the Sunday finale, the Mariners gave themselves a little extra insurance in a 4-2 victory. Yusei Kikuchi continued his great season, with 6.2 innings of 2-run ball. Ty France and Kyle Seager both had multi-hit games (including a late solo homer for Seager) to lead the way offensively.

This was a pretty impressive little series for the Mariners. They pulled themselves back to .500 on the season, which is nice to see after that long drought in mid-May. I know it’s only the Rangers, but the Tigers were only the Tigers and look at what happened there.

We’re still not getting a ton from the offense, obviously, and you wonder how the pitching staff is going to hold up – particularly the bullpen – with so many injuries and so many high-leverage situations to have to pitch through. The bottom of the lineup doesn’t figure to improve all that much, and there really doesn’t look like much offensive help on the horizon. It would be nice if Jarred Kelenic started hitting sooner rather than later; I think it was reasonable to expect him to struggle for the first couple weeks or so, but not THIS much, and not for THIS long. We’re through three weeks now, and I’ll NEVER understand why he was put first in the batting order from day one.

I’ll be curious to see what the next four months bring, because clearly things aren’t going quite as planned. The winning is nice and everything, but we seem to be relying largely upon veterans and guys who might not necessarily figure into the team’s long-term plans. Haniger, Seager, and France are still producing the bulk of the offense. Kelenic is struggling, Crawford is streaky, and White is still on the IL (with Kyle Lewis joining him, it would seem). I like what we’re seeing from Kikuchi, Flexen, and Dunn (for the most part), but Sheffield remains a mystery.

All in all, a pretty odd first couple months of the season.

The Mariners Bounced Back With A Series Win In Oakland

The six-game losing streak really took it out of me, fanwise. To be fair, the three-game losing streak to just the Tigers caused the most damage, since that was probably the last time I watched a full game. I missed the entire Padres series, then the first two games of this past Athletics series, before dipping my toe back in those Mariners waters. So, of course, I missed the two victories, while the bad taste in my mouth remains.

Yusei Kikuchi had another solid outing on Monday, going 6 innings, giving up just 1 run. He might’ve gone longer, but had some sort of back issue that prevented him from going any further, but it shouldn’t keep him from his next start, which is nice. Kikuchi has EASILY been our most reliable starter this season, which is great to see since this is his big option year. 7 of his 9 starts have officially been Quality Starts (at least 6 innings, with 3 runs or fewer given up), and if he keeps this up, he will easily earn the remainder of his contract from the Mariners.

This game featured homers by Kyle Lewis and Jarred Kelenic, as well as doubles by Mitch Haniger, J.P. Crawford, and the return of Ty France. Of course, the bottom third of the lineup is a complete wasteland of nobodies not even worth mentioning here, but at least there are 6 hitters now who I don’t totally loathe. The M’s won 4-2, as the bullpen (minus Graveman, who is another one of those COVID casualties) managed to lock it down. Erik Swanson in particular is more dominant than I’ve ever seen him; he got out of an 8th inning jam by striking out the side.

Tuesday featured another mediocre start by Logan Gilbert, who has yet to get beyond the 4th inning or throw more than 80 pitches in any of his three starts. He can’t seem to avoid giving up a big inning or two in each of his appearances, and the team is obviously unwilling to push it by having him try to pitch through trouble the third time through the order. Technically, this was his best start, as he only gave up 2 runs in 4 innings, while striking out 4, walking 0, and giving up only 4 hits. But, obviously, that’s a low bar to clear. The bullpen once again showed up in a big way, giving up just 1 more run over the remaining 5 innings.

The M’s scratched out their runs on 11 hits, with Kelenic, Crawford, and France all having multi-hit games. It’s nice to see France healthy and Kelenic finally have some success at the plate. He’ll be hitting over .200 in no time at this rate!

The afternoon get-away game on Wednesday was a 6-3 defeat, and hopefully the final bullpen day for a while. Robert Dugger gave up 5 runs in 3.1 innings, and that’s obviously not going to fly. He just didn’t have it, but we had to stick with him just to eat up a few innings. It sounds like Marco Gonzales will be back in the next turn of the rotation, so that’s a bit of happy news.

This game was particularly brutal because it looked like so many other Mariners defeats, in that we didn’t put up any runs until the 8th inning. It is what it is, though. This offense is rarely going to be competent.

The Mariners’ Hitting Is Fucking Atrocious

Welp, the Mariners were no-hit. Again. They have a team batting average of .198 on the season, easily dead last in all of baseball (that’s including worse than the entire National League, which regularly has pitchers bat where a Designated Hitter would be more appropriate). They have an on-base percentage of .279 on the season, easily dead last in all of baseball (that’s in spite of the fact that their organizational motto is to Control The Zone or Dominate The Zone or whatever the fuck is supposed to boil down to: swing at pitches inside the strike zone, don’t swing at pitches outside the strike zone). They have an OPS of .639 (dead last in all of baseball), they’re 22nd in runs scored, they’re tied for 8th in most times striking out, I’m sure I could go on and on, but I don’t have the time nor the patience to get into the weeds of all the advanced analytics.

The long and the short of it is what’s right there in the headline: the offense is fucking atrocious.

Sam Haggerty is practically an everyday player at this point, thanks to the litany of injuries the M’s have suffered; he’s hitting .185.

Jarred Kelenic isn’t yet the savior we kinda sorta expected him to be right out of the gate; he’s 5 for 28 to start his Major League career.

Luis Torrens was supposed to be one-half of a dynamic catching duo that was supposed to be the LEAST of our worries. He’s hitting .178 and was just demoted to the Rainiers because not only does he stink with the bat, but he’s also among the worst with his glove. Tom Murphy, meanwhile, is somehow even more God-awful at the plate, hitting .130, but he’s too much of a veteran to send to the minors.

Dylan Moore was just put on the IL; he was starting to come around, and yet his start was so poor he’s only hitting .168.

Taylor Trammell was demoted when we called up Kelenic; he’s been tearing the cover off the ball in Tacoma, but he was only hitting .157 in Seattle.

Evan White is on the IL for God knows how long; his miserable start to 2021 saw him hitting .144.

Jose Marmolejos was just DFA’d because he SUUUUUUCKS at literally everything; he was hitting .139.

Jake Fraley is on a rehab assignment for his IL stint; he was hitting a cool .100 in his 5 games to start the season.

And those are just the guys hitting UNDER .200. Not counting the recent call-ups who aren’t even worth mentioning because the expectations for these players are less than nothing.

If you want to delve into the semi-productive disappointments, there’s Ty France – who hasn’t been the same since he took a fastball off of his forearm, and who currently finds himself on the IL – whose average has dipped to .229. There’s Kyle Lewis – whose first month of the season found him largely on the IL – who is hitting .239. There’s the inherently streaky J.P. Crawford who’s hitting a robust .247. Even our very best and most productive hitters – Kyle Seager and Mitch Haniger – are only hitting .224 and .256 respectively. Obviously, batting average isn’t really the best indicator of a hitter’s productivity, and can largely be dependant upon luck on balls hit in play. But, when the team is collectively hitting under .200, I don’t give a flying piece of shit what sabermetrics you give me. THESE GUYS ARE ALL OF THEM FUCKING TERRIBLE!

The Detroit Tigers have the third-worst record in all of baseball. They have the VERY worst run differential (-57) in all of baseball. And yet, they just came into Seattle and swept the Mariners in a 3-game series, including the aforementioned no-hitter (the second time the M’s have been no-hit this season, that’s a little over a quarter of the way completed). I will not be going game-by-game on this series, because what’s the fucking point? It was an unmitigated embarrassment from the top of the organization on down.

The Mariners should be fucking ashamed of what they’ve done. They should fire every coach who has ever even referenced the concept of hitting to these players. And that’s all I have to say.

The end of May is generally when I’m my most annoyed with the Seattle Mariners, because that’s usually when they’re exposed for the frauds that they are (if they haven’t been exposed beforehand). So, by most every season’s expectations, this is coming right on cue. Nevertheless, watching so many of the potential core players flounder like this is especially demoralizing (rendered even more hopeless as key guys suffer injuries to further skew our results to the negative). Thank Christ the weather is improving and I won’t have to give as much of a shit that we’re watching the return of the Same Old Mariners.

The Mariners Are Showing Their True Colors

Based on pre-season expectations, the Mariners were playing out of their minds through approximately a month of the 2021 season. That is decidedly not the case since a 13-8 start, as the Mariners have lost 11 of their last 16 games. You can make the argument that the level of competition has been tough throughout – it makes sense, for instance, that the Mariners would get swept in a 2-game series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers – but this losing skid has been a long time coming, and cracks are starting to show against even the poor teams (2-4 in six games against Baltimore and Texas should never happen).

It doesn’t appear to get remarkably easier, as the next few weeks are littered with series against quality teams (including the Indians, starting tonight), so we’re at a bit of a crossroads here with this year’s Mariners squad. The Mariners are under .500 for the first time since April 8th; will they right the ship – with the addition of Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert, effective today – or will they continue their long slide into obscurity?

The last two days were as demoralizing as it gets. There’s an argument to be made that the M’s should’ve won on Tuesday. Even though we were going up against an elite starting pitcher, we still touched him up for 4 runs on 3 homers, and in these types of games, you need to make that limited number of runs stick.

Indeed, behind a strong Yusei Kikuchi start, we held a 4-1 lead heading into the 7th, and a 4-3 lead heading into the 8th. It’s unfair to malign the bullpen too much, since they’ve carried this team in a lot of ways, but it was disappointing all around. I’m disappointed in Scott Servais for trying to squeeze an extra inning out of Kikuchi (he had gone 6 innings, giving up just the 1 run on around 90-or-so pitches before returning to start the 7th; he got one out but traded it for 2 additional runs in the process thanks to shaky bullpenning). I’m disappointed in the choice to go to Anthony Misiewicz – our primary left-handed bullpen arm – to follow a left-handed starter in Kikuchi, especially with runners on (he has not proven himself capable of regularly getting out of these types of jams unscathed in the past). If you’re going to go with Misiewicz, give him a clean inning to start with! I’m also disappointed in Misiewicz himself, who got off to a red-hot start this season before faltering in recent outings. I’m disappointed in Rafael Montero being just a Blown Save Machine for this team (his fifth in six weeks’ worth of baseball). I’m disappointed in the overall bullpen construction – where Kendall Graveman is the only actual quality reliever we have on the roster, and he can’t go 2 innings per save ever fucking time – because there really is no bridge guy to get us to the ninth. A lot of disappointment to spread around, all adds up to a 6-4 defeat that didn’t have to be.

The finale yesterday was a 7-1 drubbing. We couldn’t really touch their starter, and Justin Dunn had another one of his … outings. If he ever puts it all together, he’ll be a Cy Young-calibre player. But, I’d say the odds of that happening are remote, because he just can’t get a handle on where his pitches end up. Once the Dodgers went up 2-0 in the fourth, the game felt over. With the way the offense has performed … all season? Dunn couldn’t even get more than one out in that fourth inning, which meant a lot of opportunity for a faltering bullpen to continue being a sieve.

I would imagine the hot streak that J.P. Crawford had been on is officially over. Mitch Haniger continues to plug away with his power numbers, but his batting average and on-base percentage are dipping considerably. Kyle Lewis hasn’t done a whole lot, Kyle Seager is giving us his usual output, and Ty France looks absolutely lost at the plate (while giving us very little in the field). Beyond that, Haggerty, Moore, Trammell (who was just today sent down to Tacoma, thank Christ), White, Marmolejos, and Murphy are all hitting under .200, with Torrens hitting a robust .208. It’s … pretty fucking bad.

That having been said, it’s SUPER FUN to see Kelenic and Gilbert get the call-up today! I can’t wait for tonight’s game. I know the team is looking forward to these guys possibly igniting things with the ballclub, but they should be more interested in how this will translate to the die hard fans like me. I would have 0.0% interest in watching tonight’s game – or any of the games this series against the Indians, who have one of the best pitching staffs in the American League – were it not for a couple of our young stars being here. This should fire up the fanbase as much as the team itself; I just hope that it translates to more wins for this team.

Because things are looking QUITE bleak otherwise.

The Mariners Blew A Series To The Rangers

I’ll be honest, man, I was out of commission the entire weekend. I don’t know if I saw more than a few minutes of the series while at a bar or restaurant. Dates, Mother’s Day, life!

The Mariners won 5-4 on Friday and the series was off to an expected start. Chris Flexen had a very Flexenesque outing: 6.1 innings, 4 runs on 10 hits and 1 walk, with 2 strikeouts. The bullpen shut it down, and the offense did just enough. J.P. Crawford has been hot of late (and earning an improved spot in the batting order as a result), Kyle Lewis has started to come on after returning from injury. Ty France is hopefully pulling himself out of the funk he’d been in for a few weeks.

The Mariners lost 9-8 on Saturday, which was the game we NEEDED to take. Unfortunately, we lost another fucking starter to injury, thanks to Ljay Newsome going on IL after an inning of work. The Bullpen Day approach to these sixth starts clearly leaves a lot to be desired; I don’t know why the Mariners are so married to this 6-man rotation when they BARELY have five competent starters when everyone’s healthy, but I don’t see how it can continue indefinitely.

The M’s had 11 hits in this one, but still were 3 for 11 with runners in scoring position. Half our runs scored via the homer, and that appears to be a trend with this team in general. If we’re not hitting homers, we’re not scoring, and if we’re not scoring, we’re not winning.

The finale was a 10-2 drubbing where Justus Sheffield shit the bed over 5 innings (7 runs, 5 earned). Between the three Mariners errors in this one, and the mistakes in the Saturday game, there was a lot of boneheadedness going on in this series that ultimately lost it for us. That’s not a super concern, but it’s unfortunate. If we miss the playoffs by a game or two, it’s a series like this one where we’ll look back and go: there’s one we should’ve had.

Yesterday’s off-day was well-earned. Now, we wrap up the road trip with two games in L.A. against the Dodgers, before returning home. Spoiler alert: Jarred Kelenic will get the call-up and first Major League start on Thursday, May 13th against the Cleveland Indians at T-Mobile Park. Will the Mariners have a losing record in the pre-Kelenic portion of their season? I can absolutely wait to find out!

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.