No One On The Mariners Implodes Quite Like Juan Nicasio

You can’t win ’em all.  You certainly can’t win ’em all against the likes of the Astros.  I often talk about how we can’t have nice things, and sweeping the Astros is pretty much the nicest thing you can have (even if it’s just a 2-game series), so there was just no way.

And yet, there we were.  We scrimped and we saved and we scratched and we clawed against a guy who has owned our asses for years, Lance McCullers (including last night, he’s 6-2 with a sub-3 ERA in his career in 11 games), to get a 4-3 lead heading into the bottom of the 7th.  Wade LeBlanc didn’t really have it (again, against one of the best teams in the league) and was pulled after 4 innings.  But, the vast majority of the bullpen was able to keep the Astros from scoring.

Except for Juan Nicasio, who came in to start the 7th inning and got exactly 0 outs while giving up 4 hits and 4 runs (3 earned) in 4 at bats.

It was all right there.  This is what the team was built around.  Get a lead heading into the 7th inning.  Then, for the final 9 outs, we go Nicasio-Colome-Diaz, bingo bango bongo.  The problem is, it doesn’t work very well if even one of those guys doesn’t have it.

Now, on the bright side, those guys HAVE had it for most of the season.  Nicasio had 8 consecutive scoreless appearances leading into last night.  In 30 appearances on the season, Nicasio has put up a zero in 20 of them.  Not elite, but pretty good.  Not, I don’t think, what the Mariners thought they were getting when they signed him to a 2-year, $17 million contract before the season (that’s a lot of money for a guy to only be effective 2/3 of the time), but that’s how it goes sometimes.  The M’s paid Scrabble $11 million over 2 years just to get left handers out and he couldn’t even do THAT; sometimes shit goes tits up and you just have to eat it.

The point is, Nicasio has flashed dominance this season, but he’s pretty fucking far from what he was even a season ago, when he had a sub-3 ERA and a 2.0 WAR (in 2018 he’s a plus-5 ERA and a -0.5 WAR).  Yeah, 2/3 of the time he’s putting up zeroes, but he’s got 3 blown saves and 3 losses so far and we’re not even halfway through the season.  Maybe he’s being over-used, but he’s also getting paid like a guy who’s supposed to appear in 70+ games.

And yeah, when he blows up, it’s pretty spectacular.  This is already the second time he’s given up 4 runs in less than an inning of work.  He has two other games where he’s given up 2 runs in an inning.  He’s had five games where he’s given up 3 or more hits in an inning or less.  I guess the good thing you can say is that he doesn’t walk guys (only 2 on the season in 28.2 innings of work) and he settled down on his homer problem (4 on the season, but only 1 after mid-April).  Nevertheless, he’s lobbing in some meatballs that are getting hit on the reg, and if he doesn’t find a way to miss more bats, it’s going to be difficult to trust him going forward.

The Mariners Have Played Some Baseball Games Since I Last Wrote About Them

Sorry folks, I’ve been busy on another (secret) writing project that has absolutely nothing to do with Seattle sports.  And, while it’s been a refreshing change of pace (that I still don’t know what I’m going to do with yet), it’s taken a lot of my attention away from this blog.  But, you know, considering the malaise that is the Seattle Mariners, with the impending bummer of a season from the Seahawks (that many fans are still fighting against tooth and nail, as if the only problem last year was a poor kicking game and shaky offensive line – and as if those problems have been dramatically improved in the subsequent months since that team unceremoniously finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs for the first time since Tarvaris Jackson was running the show), it’s not like I’ve been all that inspired to bloviate on the local sporting landscape.

Since the last time I wrote about the Mariners, we kicked off a 7-game homestand with a weekend series against the A’s.  The A’s aren’t very good.  You could say the same thing about the Mariners (both teams have underwhelming pitching staffs and get by on their offense), but the A’s also haven’t had the misfortune of playing the Astros yet (more on that in a minute) and they still have a worse record than the M’s, so take that for what it is.  The Mariners had 2 great offensive days and took the first two games of the series; then dropped the Sunday finale as Sean Manaea out-duelled King Felix to the tune of a 2-1 heartbreaker.  No matter, the good guys still won the series, but that lack of offense would be a harbinger of things to come.

Following that set, the Mariners hosted the Astros for 4 games, and things got off to a dynamic start with James Paxton flashing his ace stuff through six innings.  He out-pitched Dallas Keuchel of all people (who seemingly always owns the M’s), who went the distance but surrendered 2 runs in a game that finished 2-1.  Paxton gave up a leadoff homer to George Springer to kick off the game (because of course), but cruised the rest of the way, and the usual bullpen suspects kept the Astros off the board through the final three innings.  It was an impressive game any way you slice it, and you might forgive Mariners fans for being a little excited (or a little cocky) heading into the other three games of the series.

But … did you guys see who was starting those other three games?  The Astros had Lance McCullers Jr., Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton all lined up.  The Mariners?  Ariel Miranda, Mike Leake (who, yeah, okay, he’s been pretty good so far in his Mariners career), and Marco Gonzales.  I’m sorry, but it’s no contest.  The Mariners won the one game they did because their ace showed up and the bullpen didn’t blow it, but they were SO CLOSE to getting swept, and quite frankly I’m shocked they weren’t.

As I tweeted before the series, the Mariners just aren’t in the Astros’ league.  They’re not in the Astros’ universe for Christ’s sake!  I don’t even think they’re playing the same sport!  We play them 15 more times this year, and barring about a million Astros injuries (particularly to their pitching staff), I wouldn’t even expect the Mariners to play at a .250 pace.  Winning 25% of the games we play against the Astros would be a miracle, and if you offered it to me right now, I’d gladly take it and avoid the actual drubbing we’ll inevitably have to sit through.  The only saving grace for me was that these games were played on Monday through Thursday, either too late for me to stay up and watch, or during the hours I was at work, so I didn’t have to watch or listen to a minute of that nonsense.

The Mariners have since hit the road for 10 games, starting with a weekend series in Texas.  Friday’s game was super fun.  King Felix looked like his old self through the first two times around the order.  But, with one out in the sixth, the Rangers started to knock him around until he was knocked out of the game entirely.  Scrabble came in and shit the bed, so Felix ended up giving up 2 runs.  Down 2-1 at this point, things looked a little bleak, but the bats finally came alive.  Mitch Haniger hit a bomb in the 8th to tie it, and the rest of the team nearly batted around in the 9th, scoring 4 runs on a number of clutch hits.  The bullpen was lights out after Scrabble left the game in disgrace, and we won 6-2.

That was followed by last night’s barnburner.  James Paxton was pretty terrible throughout, leaving after 4 innings, giving up 5 runs, with the M’s losing 5-3.  It was 6-4 in the top of the 7th when the Mariners’ bats came alive once again, putting up a 5-spot, including a 2-run double by Segura, and homers by Cano and Haniger.  With Juan Nicasio unavailable, and with Scrabble once again faltering in his 1/3 inning of work, Edwin Diaz – having just pitched the night before in a non-save situation – had to come in for the 4-out save.  He got out of the 8th unscathed, but the 9th was a real adventure.  A walk and a single had runners on the corners before the first out of the inning (on a strikeout).  From there, Diaz really lost command of his stuff, as both fastball and slider were running off the plate to the right.  A groundout scored the runner from third, and back-to-back walks loaded the bases with 2 outs and 0 mound visits remaining.  Fortunately, Diaz was able to muster just enough (either command or blind stinking luck) to generate a harmless fly ball to left to close it out for his league-leading 8th save of the year.  9-7 final.

There’s a day game today before the Mariners go to Chicago to play the White Sox.  Then, it’s off to Cleveland to close out our season series with the Indians (in the first month of the season no less!).

Just to kind of put a bow on things, I’ll say this:  The Mariners are 11-8 and in third place in the A.L. West.  The Astros have reclaimed their rightful spot atop the division, with the Angels (falling just a little since their torrid start) a half game back.  Again, barring significant injury woes, this is where I’d expect these teams to finish the season.

The Mariners AREN’T terrible, so don’t get me wrong on that.  This team, with this amazing offense, should beat up on a lot of mediocre teams around the game of baseball.  They should also compete with some of the better teams, or the teams at their Wild Card-ish level.  But, against the truly ELITE teams?  The Astros?  The Red Sox?  Maybe the Angels?  I would expect the Mariners to continue to struggle.

Best (realistic) case scenario for the Mariners is that they get dominated by the Astros and Red Sox (and any other team that really distances themselves from the middle of the pack), while they play around .500 ball against the Angels.  Worst case scenario involves the Mariners getting bombarded by the Astros AND Angels, because that’s a combined 38 games in their schedule.  If they can play the Angels tough half the time, though, they should be in line to steal that second Wild Card spot (again, assuming the worst doesn’t happen again like last year).  But, they’ll have no shot if they’ve got two huge whales in their own division making them the Little Brother getting blasted with noogies all the live long day.

Bad Bullpen/Bullpen Tanks Mariners

Again, I didn’t watch a minute of this game.  Again, I really don’t care.

Andrew Moore pitched 6 innings of 2-run ball.  He hung a curve that was destroyed for a 2-run homer, but other than that he was fine, and he left the game with a 3-2 lead.  Somehow, the Mariners actually chased Lance McCullers in the sixth inning and things probably looked pretty good.  Then, Scrabble came in and stunk again, Nick Vincent appears to be in a slump now, and in a tie game in the top of the ninth, Edwin Diaz gagged away a 2-run homer to lose it.

The Mariners were predictably swept by the Astros this week, but not quite in the way I imagined.  We had a legitimate chance to win all three of those games, but the bullpen fucked it all away in all three games.  For a team that’s built this season on the back of its record in 1-run games (and close games in general), this is not the way you stay in contention.

Thankfully, the Mariners get an off-day today before trying to right the ship against the Angels this weekend.  A 3-game sweep would pull us into a tied record, so let’s shoot for the moon, huh M’s?  At a whopping 3.5 games out of the second Wild Card, with a whopping 6 teams standing in our way, just “winning series” isn’t going to be enough.  Sweeping series needs to be the new motto, starting tomorrow.

Mike Leake’s Mariners Debut Goes Swimmingly

I’ll admit I had my doubts.  After the trade was made, going into the game yesterday, during and after the first inning, doubts were swirling!  While Mike Leake isn’t like every other Quad-A, flyballer Jerry Dipoto has brought into this organization, he was still a different kind of Meh.

Then, single-single-RBI double happened to lead off the game, and HERE WE GO AGAIN!  You could’ve cooked an egg on my forehead.  I mean, holy hell, what does this team have to do to get some competent fucking pitching in here?

Thank God he settled down.  After staking the A’s to a 2-0 lead in the first, he shut them out over the next six innings – OH YOU HEARD THAT RIGHT – he went seven innings, giving up just the two runs in getting his first Mariners victory!

I don’t know if it was his brilliance, or the A’s just being the A’s, but he only walked 1 and struck out 7, while inducing them into 2 double plays.  Honestly, it was refreshing more than anything.

As for the Mariners’ offense, I wouldn’t say they’re cured, but they got a rare win while scoring fewer than 4 runs, so that’s something.  A Mike Zunino opposite-field homer got the scoring started, followed by a Mitch Haniger RBI single (back in the 2-hole, plating Jean Segura), followed by a Kyle Seager sac fly to score Haniger, all scored in the third inning.

With Leake out of the game, Scrabble and Vincent shared the eighth, and Diaz had no trouble getting his 31st save of the season.

We’re officially into September, and with it the call-ups.  Jarrod Dyson returned from the DL and got a start last night.  Reliever Shae Simmons – who spent the better part of the last two months in the minors as he worked his way back from injury – was called up for the first time since we got him from the Braves.  Familiar faces Dan Altavilla and Andrew Moore are returning, both headed to the bullpen, where they’ll find Marco Gonzales – who was officially taken out of the rotation with the trade for Leake.  Also newcomer Ryan Garton – who we got from the Rays for nothing – will get a shot to help out in the ‘pen.  Finally, recently acquired catcher Mike Marjama will be the team’s third catcher for the month, because that’s apparently a thing that teams do.

To make room on the 40-man roster, subtractions had to be made.  David Phelps was put back on the DL, to no one’s surprise.  Christian Bergman was outrighted to the Rainiers, which I guess ends his season with us.  And, in the most shocking news, Sam Gaviglio was waived – and immediately claimed by the Royals.  That’s slightly disappointing, if only because he’s clearly better than both Marco Gonzales and Andrew Moore, though I guess those guys are younger with more club control.  It’s been real, Sam Gaviglio!  You were the Charlie Brown of this rotation, under-appreciated and the constant butt of our jokes, but always there and always … I dunno, existing I guess.

I don’t know if all these moves will put the Mariners back into contention (now 3.5 games back of the second Wild Card), but I do know this:  it won’t matter one iota.  Because the Astros did what everyone else was too chickenshit to accomplish:  they traded for Justin Verlander.  So, you know, go ahead and pencil in the Astros and Dodgers into the World Series now, because it’ll be a doozy!

Also, not for nothing, but the M’s better sweep the A’s this weekend, because have you seen the starters the Astros are going to throw at us Monday thru Wednesday?  How about Dallas Keuchel, Justin Verlander (in his Astros debut), and Lance McCullers?  I’m going to do myself a huge favor and not watch any of those fucking games.

Mariners Win A Crazy One In Houston

When I turned this game off to go to bed, it was already pretty nutty.  Nick Vincent was on the mound to start the bottom of the eighth as the Mariners regained the lead, at this point 7-6.  Ariel Miranda had a decent start going through the first five innings of the game, giving up 2 runs through that point, and the rest of the Mariners did sufficient damage to knock out Lance McCullers in the top of the fifth, as we put up a 3-run lead on the board.

Then, after two quick outs in the sixth, Miranda fell apart, culminating with the game-tying 2-run home run by Carlos Beltran.  At that point, it started to feel like a normal Astros/Mariners game.  Oh sure, they were toying around with us, letting us feel some semblance of comfort with such a lead; then those alligator jaws snapped shut right on our dicks!  This line of thinking was further cemented when James Pazos had to relieve Miranda – still with two quick outs in the sixth – and proceeded to load the bases, necessitating another pitching change in the inning.  Tony Zych walked in the go-ahead run before getting out of the jam, and that was that.  Clap your hands and walk away, the Mariners were done for!

But, then something funny happened.  And it continued to happen.  Starting with the top of the seventh, Nelson Cruz homered to left to tie the game.  Then, in the top of the eighth, Mike Zunino homered to left to give the Mariners their 1-run lead!  Then, Nick Vincent took over and it all started to feel a lot better as I hit the sack.  Surely our best reliever this season would keep the game in check!

You know, I can hardly blame the guy.  It’s been a weird start to the second half; four days, four games where the Mariners have had a narrow lead in need of saving, four appearances by the likes of Nick Vincent.  Three singles and a strikeout before the sac fly (off of Steve Cishek, who had to come in to mop up) tied the game, ultimately sending it to extras.  That’s a lot of work for someone like Vincent; hell, he’s on pace to obliterate his season highs for appearances and innings pitched!

This has been one seriously overworked bullpen coming out of the break, and one that – by and large – has gotten the job done.  Even Yovani Gallardo – who kicked off the bottom of the ninth, hoping to keep the game tied – managed to do his job (though, with a LOT of help from the defense of Jean Segura).  Segura had probably two of the best defensive plays I’ve ever seen out of him in this game, including a dive in the hole and throw to first base from his knees.  Between that, his two hits, and his run scored, there’s a good argument he was your player of the game.

But, really, there were a ton of heroes in this one.  Kyle Seager hit the go-ahead homer in the tenth, followed immediately by the insurance homer from Danny Valencia to give the Mariners their eventual 9-7 victory.  Or, how about Edwin Diaz, who has also pitched in the last four games, getting his fourth save in four days to give him 17 on the season and put him in the Top 10 in the A.L.

There’s the aforementioned homers by Cruz and Zunino, or the earlier 2-run double by Zunino, or the earlier RBI double by Valencia, or the Seager bunt against the shift (who came around to score on that Valencia double to the left field corner), or the other Seager infield single that allowed Gamel to score from third.  And on and on and on.

All in all, it was a fantastic win, but it’s also not time to rest your laurels.  This win doesn’t mean much if we go out and lose the next two.  The last time we beat the Astros, it was at the end of a 6-game winning streak back in late June; the Mariners would go on to lose the next four (including two to the hapless Phillies) and 10 of their next 13, so you see how quickly this thing can turn on you.  The time to get back over .500 for good is NOW, so let’s do this thing!

In case you were wondering, for posterity, the Mariners are back to 2nd place in the A.L. West (15.5 games behind the Astros), and 1.5 games behind the Yankees for the second Wild Card.  Soak it in!  Just in case this is as good as it gets.

The Mariners Continue To Mariners Their Season

Well, I had my first mid-Mariners game nap of the season, so I guess we’re in full swing now!

What a fucking snooze this team is.  Jesus Christ.  I really appreciate the hitters showing up to play!  It’s nice to know everyone is taking this season so seriously, considering it’s very likely our last reasonable shot at making the playoffs for a while.  Or, to put it another way:  the Mariners aren’t likely to get any BETTER as their veterans age; not that it matters with the way everyone’s playing right now.

Hisashi Iwakuma, to his credit, kicked off his 2017 with a Quality Start:  6 innings, 2 solo homers, 3 walks, 4 hits, 2 strikeouts.  In 83 pitches, so as to not tire out his arm for the next start.  And the bullpen did their jobs!  A scoreless two innings for three more pitchers, as we make good use of this obscenely large bullpen.  Still haven’t been able to work the closer into a game though!  Might be nice to do that pretty soon here.

The offense had marginally more success than it did in Game 1; at least last night we scored AH run.  Sure, it was an infield single that scored a guy from third base, but I’m certain it’s only a matter of time before the Mariners hit the ball OUT of the infield for an RBI!

Cano continues to put good wood on the ball, showing just how much he loves playing in Houston.  He had a double, as did Mike Haniger for his first hit as a Mariner (scored our only run too).  Jarrod Dyson had a hustle-double in the 9th inning against their closer to make things interesting for a spell, but aside from Danny Valencia’s two hits, no one else did much of anything.

Today, I’m gonna break my shit list off in Nelson Cruz’s behind, because what kind of a start to the season is this?!  Three strikeouts in two games?  0 for 7, including 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position???  You’re supposed to be our motherfucking cleanup hitter, so why don’t you start cleaning up some of this shit?!  I mean, fuck me, we had a runner on third with less than two outs and you STRIKE OUT?  Then, the very next inning, we get a runner to second and you ground out to the short stop?  You’re BETTER than this, so start fucking playing like it!

Is it concerning to anyone that 4 of our 10 hits are of the infield variety?  Forget controlling the zone for a minute, how about let’s work on making solid contact with the baseball?  Lifting that shit up into the air and whatnot.

Also, with 19 strikeouts in two games, and 0 stolen bases, this isn’t the version of Mariners baseball that I was promised.  I want my money back, please.

We get to do this all over again tonight.  Let’s see if Leonys Martin can keep his streak of going 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts alive.  At what point do we drop him to the 9-hole, and then at what point do we take his ass out of the lineup altogether?

Because, the thing is, it’s one thing to be a good offense against the crap pitchers of the league, but if this offense is to be REALLY special, it’s got to get it done against the really good pitchers too.  What’s worse is, I don’t even know if Dallas Keuchel or Lance McCullers are even THAT good!  I mean, they’re pretty good, but not THIS overpowering, are they?