Mariners Wore Their Big Boy Pants, Beat Up Marlins

As I noted on Twitter last night, the Mariners’ hitting with runners in scoring position has gone up 40 points in the last two days.  Shocking, right?  They should change the sport’s name from Baseball to Regression To The Mean.

All it took was going 8 for 19 with RISP to bump it up from .157 to .197.  They still have a way to go to get back to league average, so it’s probably reasonable to expect many more fine offensive days to come.

I fully understand that nobody who’s anybody really cares about batting average with RISP as a stat, because they see it as just hitting.  Good hitters are going to be better with RISP than bad hitters, and it all evens out in the end.  But, I think it’s important.  We talk all the time about pitchers – particularly relievers – in high-leverage situations.  Well, what’s a batter walking to the plate with a runner on second or third base if not a high-leverage situation?

The fact of the matter is, every hitter has the same goal:  get on base.  Take what the pitcher gives you and work a walk, bloop a single, line a double, or destroy a homer.  But, there are always variables.  What’s the score?  A guy is apt to try a little harder in a 0-0 game than he is in a 10-0 game, regardless of whether his team is winning or losing.  Is a runner on base?  Well, that’s an RBI opportunity!  Say what you will about baseball players, but they love batting runners in.  Is that runner on second or third base?  Well, shoot, then all the batter needs to do is hit a single into the outfield to get him home!  Your approach changes depending on the situation.  And, factoring in game score, time of the year, whether your team is in contention for the playoffs or not, the pressure is ramped up.

On the flipside, the pitcher doesn’t want to give up those runners in scoring position!  They’re trying to preserve their ERAs!  So, they’re going to bear down, so to speak.  They’re going to focus a little bit harder on making good pitches to get the batter to do what they want them to do.

And, since the name of the game is to score more runs than your opponent, I’d say hitting with RISP is a pretty important aspect to the game of baseball.  So, I think keeping track of the day-to-day on this thing brings value.  If nothing else, I hope to gain a little more understanding about the game I’ve been following for so long.

Last night, the Mariners came to play from the jump.  Dyson walked to lead off and Cano ended up bringing him home with a 2-run moon shot to right-center.  Cruz followed that up with a blast of his own to make it 3-0.  Thankfully, the Mariners were able to add on, with two more runs in the fourth and one more in the fifth.

In the fourth, Martin got a single and stole second, before advancing to third on a poor pick-off move by the pitcher.  From there, Dyson hit a double down the line the other way, then proceeded to score on a double by Cano that was very close to being his second homer of the night.

In the fifth, Taylor Motter joined the party with a towering homer to left field in the upper deck.  Good golly Miss Molly is this kid fun to watch.

On the pitching side of things, Ariel Miranda had his best outing of the season.  He was perfect into the fourth inning, got into a little bit of a jam with 2 outs in the sixth (giving up back-to-back singles), but got out of it and made it through seven scoreless innings, with 5 strikeouts and 0 walks, on only 4 hits.  Outstanding!

It’s too early to get too excited about Miranda’s performance last night, particularly after his first two underwhelming starts.  But, he’ll be one to watch going forward.  With Smyly injured, with Iwakuma hit or miss, and with Gallardo not likely to impress too much, it’ll be important for Miranda to pick up some of the slack.  For what it’s worth, he looked as good as I’ve ever seen him last night.  Fastball touched 95, he was locating well, and for the most part he kept his off-speed stuff down in the zone.  The key is to do that every time, or most every time.  Up next for him is a game in Oakland; they don’t strike me as an offensive juggernaut.

Nick Vincent and Evan Scribner each got an inning of work.  They were the only two bullpen guys not to appear on Sunday, so that’s fine.  Scribner gave up a hard-luck homer the opposite way in the 9th.  I thought his stuff looked good, I just thought the guy hit a quality pitch out of the park.

I hope the offense continues its hot streak tonight, with Gallardo on the mound.  I’ll never know what to expect from him, but hopefully he’s able to get on track a little bit.

Mariners Posted Impressive Comeback Win To Sweep Rangers

This game had it all!  By which I mean it had a lot of things.  For instance, it had speed at the top of the lineup manufacturing a run in the bottom of the first.

It had Hisashi Iwakuma absolutely fall apart after a nondescript first inning, giving up 6 runs while recording just the 9 outs.  110 more innings to go before Iwakuma’s 2018 option vests and we’re going to have to pay him upwards of $15 million next year.

I don’t hate the guy by any means, but I do think that he’s A) overpaid, and B) overrated.  I know I harp on this a lot, but if I don’t explain myself, it just looks like I have an irrational hatred of Japanese people or something.  He’s OKAY.  But, he’s pretty far removed from his best season in 2013, and even that year looks like an anomaly compared to every other year he’s been in the Major Leagues.  I get the feeling that people expect him to be great every time out, when in reality he’s good maybe half the time, and bad the other half.  As I sarcastically noted on Twitter yesterday, he was long overdue for a bad game considering he’d already given us two pretty okay starts in the first week.

What’s even more galling is that he’d yet to throw more than 90 pitches in either of his first two starts, then he had the off-day on Thursday, then he was pushed back a start so we could split up Paxton and Miranda (which, I don’t know why we didn’t do that to start the season, but whatever), so he had two extra days to rest up and still couldn’t give us much of anything against a fairly mediocre Rangers team.  Unless you want to say his timing was thrown off with the extra days in between starts, but he strikes me as a guy who needs that sort of careful handling to make it through the season.

Anyway, if I can get off my soapbox for a moment, there we were, down 6-1 heading into the bottom of the third inning.  This game had the feel of I want to say almost every single Sunday game from last year:  just a humdrum defeat where no one really shows up to play.  And then, in the bottom of the third, the two leadoff guys got on and Haniger muscled out a 3-run homer to left-center to put the Mariners right back in the game!

At that point, Servais went with the quick hook of Iwakuma, since he clearly didn’t have anything resembling “it”, and for once the bullpen was up to the task.

Recent call-up Evan Marshall went 2.1 perfect innings to bridge us over to the late-inning relief guys.  He was a quality reliever for Arizona in 2014, then hit the skids the last two seasons before being released.  He doesn’t look like anything special when you watch him, but he throws a lot of quality strikes and is obviously capable of going multiple innings in a pinch.  I don’t know necessarily where he stands with the ballclub once Cishek is ready to return from his rehab assignment, but assuming everyone stays healthy, and no one really falls apart with their mechanics (I’m looking at you, Altavilla), I’d have to think Marshall is the odd man out.  But, assuming he still has options, it’s nice to know we can count on him should the need arise for a long man out of the ‘pen.

James Pazos came in to strikeout the last two guys in the 6th inning, before walking the leadoff batter in the 7th.  Tony Zych made his 2017 debut by inducing a fly-out before giving up a single.  Scrabble was able to shut down that threat, as well as get the first two outs of the 8th (not without walking a batter).  That’s when Dan Altavilla came in and loaded the bases on back-to-back walks.

I should point out that the Mariners had tied the game by this point.  Cole Hamels got through five innings with a 6-4 lead, and for the third consecutive start to open the season, he watched his bullpen gag away the victory.  In the bottom of the sixth, Seager doubled to lead off, and Valencia of all people doubled him home.  Then, in the bottom of the seventh, Guillermo Heredia hit quite the crowd-pleasing solo homer to left to tie it at 6.  I couldn’t be happier for the kid, who had this look of pure joy as he hit it, and again as he was greeted at the dugout with a big bear hug by Cano.  The fact that he’s contributing and playing well in the early going is really awesome, both for him and the team, as we wait for the middle of the order to really get cooking.

So, when Altavilla looked like he was going to tear all that apart in the next half-inning, it was pretty demoralizing.  And yet, he finally got some pitches to enter the strike zone, which ultimately led to Elvis Andrus striking out on something low and in to end the threat.  Sighs of relief all around.

It would be short lived, though, as Edwin Diaz came in for the ninth inning and gave up a lead-off, go-ahead homer to put the M’s down 7-6.  All of that for NOTHING!  And, on just a terrible sequence of pitches, as he started off Nomar Mazara with a 2-0 count before grooving a fastball middle-in that Mazara was able to cheat on because he was expecting fastball all the way.  You hate to pull the Closer In Non-Save Situations card, but that was a real doozy.  Diaz was able to get through the rest of the inning unscathed, but the damage appeared to be done.

Until the Rangers brought in closer Sam Dyson (who might find this is his only mention on my website, with the way he’s going of late).  Dyson had been a pretty great closer for the Rangers last year, saving 38 games.  He’s actually been a solid reliever since 2014, so it’s not like we’re talking about a flash in the pan here.  But, in his first 6 appearances this season (including yesterday), he’s had 3 blown saves and another outright loss, with an ERA of 27.00.  It’s my understanding that he won’t be closing games for Texas for a while, which is too bad, but I’ll gladly take it because it means the Mariners overcame a 7-6 deficit in the ninth inning yesterday.

Jarrod Dyson pinch hit for Chooch and reached on an infield single.  He then proceeded to steal second base before we even had to bunt (God, I love Dyson’s speed!).  Leonys Martin then bunted him over to third, and was safe at first thanks to perfect bunt placement and poor pitcher defense.  Mike Freeman then pinch hit for Heredia, to give us another lefty hitter.  Martin stole second on his own, which led the Rangers to walk Freeman to load the bases and set up a play at any base.  This brought up Mitch Haniger, who worked one of the most impressive walks you’re ever going to see in a situation like that.  Tie game, no outs, with the heart of the order coming up.  SURELY we wouldn’t bungle this opportunity, would we?

Well, for starters, don’t call me Shirley (this joke really doesn’t work in print, but I’ll be damned if that’s ever stopped me from using it), but also the middle of the order has been pretty fucking far from intimidating this year.  Cano, Cruz and Seager have a combined 2 homers in the first two weeks.  I know it’s not all about homers with these guys, but they’re the same hitters who knocked out 112 dingers just last year.  Cano has one more extra base hit (4) than he does times he’s grounded into a double play (3).  Same with Cruz (3 extra base hits, 2 double plays).  So, you know, it absolutely wasn’t a given that the Mariners would come through in that situation.

Indeed, with the infield pulled in, Cano hit a fielder’s choice to the second baseman to keep the bases loaded and the game tied.  With one out, the Rangers opted to play back for the double play, and boy did it look like Cruz would oblige!  He hit a sharp grounder to short that Andrus just couldn’t get a handle on, resulting in everyone being safe and ending the game 8-7 for the good guys.  But, damn, if he comes up with that ball, and is able to flip it to second, I think there’s a really solid chance they’re able to double up Cruz at first.  It would’ve been a bang-bang play at the very least, with CB Bucknor of all people bungling things up on that end of the field.

(Bucknor who, not for nothing, ejected Scott Servais earlier in the game for arguing about his idiocy at first base, as it seemed he defered to the Rangers’ first baseman on making a fair/foul call, but that’s neither here nor there).

I’ll tell you what, this was just what the doctor ordered for the Mariners.  Like I said yesterday, the series win was nice, but this really needed to be a sweep.  Now, the Mariners are finally out of the cellar in the A.L. West (5-8, a half game up on the Rangers, who had to have felt pretty good about themselves coming into this series).  A quick look of the standings sees the A’s at 5-7 and the Angels at 6-7.  The Astros, at 8-4, are the only team with a winning record, in other words.

Oh, is it too early to Standings Watch?  A thousand times no!

(although, maybe don’t look too hard at the Wild Card standings for a while.  At least until the Mariners are able to climb back to .500)

The Miami Marlins come in for three, before the M’s head out on a 10-game road trip (4 in Oakland, 3 in Detroit, and 3 in Cleveland).  Over/under on weather-related postponements is set at 2.5, and I’m inclined to bet the over.

James Paxton Is The Greatest Pitcher Alive

8 innings of 2-hit, 1-walk shutout ball to throw on the pile.  21 innings of 8-hit, 4-walk shutout ball to start the season.  9 more strikeouts to give him 22 on the season.

As Childish Gambino said, “Don’t be mad because I’m doing me better than you’re doing you.”

This was quite the enjoyable game.  Paxton was dealing, but really there was good pitching on both sides, outside of one half inning, where the Mariners scored all five of their runs in winning this thing 5-0.

One out into the bottom of the sixth, Mitch Haniger got it going with a single to left.  He’s got that batting average WAY up, check the slash line:  .292/.393/.542.  Cano got on via an error by the short stop, and Cruz walked to load ’em up.  That brought up Seager, whose power numbers are still lacking, but everything else is starting to climb up to respectability.  He mashed a single into right to score two runs, which knocked out the Rangers’ starter.  Taylor Motter stepped to the plate, flowing mane of hair rustling ever so gently under his batting helmet.  Earlier this week, he had that 3-double game against the Astros and followed it up the very next night with another double and a homer.  Well, he wasn’t able to get any extra-base hits off of Texas on Friday (just a run of the mill single, frowny-face), but I’ll be damned if he didn’t get right back on the horse with a 3-run homer to put the nail in the coffin!

Taylor Motter is hitting .333.  He’s getting on base at a near-.400 clip.  But, his slugging is – get this – .810!  I didn’t realize, when we acquired this utility infielder from the Rays, that we’d be getting the second coming of Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds, but when you’re talking about an .810 slugging percentage, those are the two guys who have ever done that over a full season!  Now listen, obviously I have no delusions of this guy slugging .810 for us all year, that would be clinically insane.  But, what this blog post presupposes is … maybe he will?

The rest of the Mariners didn’t do much of anything else last night, but I don’t care about that.  All I want is all of Haniger’s and Motter’s at bats run on a loop, forever and ever.

I will say that we got a good 9th inning out of Nick Vincent.  Credit where it’s due, he shut the Rangers down before they could even THINK of mounting a comeback.

On the flipside, the M’s went 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position.  I’m starting to keep a log of everyone’s totals in this category because this team is driving me fucking crazy, and I’ve got some hard data for you.  The Mariners as a team are hitting .157 on the year with RISP.  If you figure league average is somewhere around .250, obviously the Mariners have a ways to go just to get back up to average.  Given the track record of the players we know about, and given how special guys like Haniger and Motter have been in the early going, you’d expect our average with RISP will go up in a hurry, and good times will be right around the corner.

Well, we’ll see.  It’s interesting that the M’s are struggling with RISP even in their wins.  In the 4 wins, the Mariners are hitting 9 for 44 with RISP (.205), which means in the losses, you can really point to a lack of clutch hitting, as their average with RISP falls to .125, with the majority of our losses coming to the Astros, ergo the Astros are skewing our numbers in a big way.

You won’t be surprised at who is sucking our collective wills to live the most in this category.  Valencia is 1 for 10, Martin is 0 for 11, and Zunino is a whopping 1 for 15!  It might shock you that Cruz is also up there, at 2 for 13, which is unacceptable for a cleanup hitter.  But, truth be told, no one is great.  Cano has had the most opportunities and he’s only hitting .250, so pretty much everyone can get a lot more clutch for this team, if it expects to go to the playoffs.

Winning a series is nice.  First series win of the season is under our belt, just 12 games into the season.  But, this feels like it needs to be a sweep, so go out there this afternoon and get the job done!

The Mariners Shut Out The Astros In Their Home Opener

I know I’m not the first person to think of this, but there were a couple of moments that stood out to me in yesterday’s Home Opener at Safeco Field.  The first was in the bottom of the fourth, when the heart of the order loaded the bases with nobody out, the game still scoreless.  Valencia and Martin proceeded to strike out, and Zunino flew out to end the inning with no runners scoring.  I was a little distracted at the time, because this woman in our section was being loud and generally annoying almost everyone else around her (to my perverse delight), but suddenly I heard the fans start to boo, and I perked up even further.  YES!  BOO!  That’s what you do when you see something you don’t like, you boo the shit out of it!  And Mariners, we don’t particularly like you right now, so we’re going to boo YOU!

From the safety of the 200-level seats …

Seattle fans in general, and Mariners fans in particular, don’t get a whole lot of credit for being all that savvy or even interested in what’s going on down on the field (and, believe me, I’m harping on the fans more than anyone to get their shit together).  But, to see the home fans boo the hometown team on Opening Day was a real eye-opener.  Granted, this isn’t the first time we’ve booed the Mariners before, but usually it takes more sustained ineptitude before they draw that type of ire from us.  CERTAINLY, we would never boo our team on Opening Day!

And yet, here we were, on the heels of a 1-6 road trip to kick off the season, where the offense struggled to do much of anything in all but one of those games, giving it to this hapless bunch on Day 1.  We expect better from you, Mariners, and if you don’t start delivering, you’re damn well going to hear it from us!

I’ll admit, I’ve never been prouder of a group of fans.  Yesterday was a banner day.

The other moment that stood out was in the very next inning, the bottom of the fifth.  Still scoreless, this time the Mariners loaded the bases with one out.  Nelson Cruz walked to the plate.  I want to say it happened in the middle of the at-bat, after a couple/few pitches had been thrown:  spontaneous cheering.  CHEERING!  Cheering BEFORE something good had happened!  We were one inning removed from collective booing to show our displeasure, but instead of sitting on our hands, waiting for the guys to earn our praise (or waiting for the next opportunity to boo the shit out of them once again), we – as fans – decided to be proactive, and help our fellow baseball superstar.

I tell you, I’ve NEVER seen anything like that from a Mariners crowd.  The only time I’ve ever seen us start to cheer is when something good happens, or when the jumbotron tells us to.  The closest I’ve ever seen is with the King’s Court, and the chanting whenever Felix gets to two strikes on a batter, but I don’t remember if that started out spontaneously among the fans in that section, or if it was something the organization started and thrust upon us.

Either way, here we were, cheering on Nelson Cruz as he stood at the plate.  We were one with the baseball player right there, and we knew he needed a little boost from the fans to get things going on offense.  And by gar, it WORKED!  Cruz hit a 2-run single up the middle, and Seager followed with a sac fly to make it 3-0 after five innings.

And at that point, I’d REALLY never been prouder of a group of fans.  It’s like we’re turning a corner or something!

Yesterday was a ton of fun.  But, it didn’t start out that way.  I took off work at 11am and went to the Mariners Team Store in Downtown Seattle to buy a new hat.  Every year, I buy a new ballcap to add to my collection.  Last year, I got the St. Patrick’s Day hat, and it brought us no luck.  This year, I got the Seattle Turks throwback hat (some interesting reading on the early Seattle baseball scene HERE and HERE).

Clean …

As soon as I walked out with my new purchase, it started to rain.  It continued to rain as I approached Sluggers, around 11:30am, and it was still raining when we walked out of Sluggers moments later, due to the fact that it was packed beyond belief.  We settled on The Lodge Sports Grille, which turned out to be pretty damn good.  Lots of beer on tap, excellent spicy popcorn shrimp, and the best part:  they actually had room for the three of us to sit and watch the various TVs on the walls.

We approached Safeco Field as soon as the introductions were starting.  If you thought the fireworks were loud in the stadium, you should stand outside of the left field entrance; they were absolutely deafening!  The lines getting into the stadium were untenable, so we piled into Jimmy’s On First to grab a couple more beers and wait out the nonsense.  Once it looked like it wouldn’t take an hour to get inside the stadium, we walked on over.  By then, thankfully, the rain mostly stopped.

We missed the intros.  We watched the first pitches (four guys throwing to four other guys) from Jimmy’s, as well as the first inning or two.  James Paxton looked REAL dominant, in going 7 innings of shutout ball, striking out 8.  Altavilla and Scribner locked down the 8th & 9th innings as we all made 6-run lead jokes after the blown save the day before.

Offensively, we came to play.  Mitch Haniger had a couple hits and an RBI, Cruz went 3 for 4 with 2 RBI, Seager had 2 hits and an RBI, Cano had a hit & 2 walks, and the bottom three in the order each had a hit apiece.  So, yeah, maybe it WAS all about the home cookin’.

The one downer was the hamstring injury to Jean Segura.  Here’s to hoping that won’t keep him out too long, or be detrimental to his performance going forward.  Get well soon, but also get FULLY well!

The Astros Are Better Than The Mariners At Baseball

If you learn one thing from this series, it’s that the Astros are destined for greatness and the Mariners are destined for something … less than.  You can tell me it’s early all you want, but this is a great Astros team, and they’re not even playing all that well right now!  Altuve has yet to do anything, the rest of their lineup has been spotty at best, and yet they’ve still been able to demolish the Mariners through three games, with the fourth coming tonight.  Just imagine what this team is going to look like when all elements are firing.

The enraging thing – the thing that’s bound to prove my point even further – is going to be when the Mariners sweep the Angels this weekend and everyone will say, “See!  Nothing to worry about!  It was just one series in early April!  These games CLEARLY don’t matter as much as the games in September!”  And for a while, people will relax, because it’ll look like the Mariners are back on track.  Except, here’s the thing:  I never said the Mariners are terrible; I just said that the Astros are really fucking good and there’s no way we’re going to top them this season, short of the Astros suffering a slew of key injuries while the Mariners from this day forward remain relatively healthy.

This series is the fork in our division-winning hopes.  The Mariners are simply worse than the Astros, and quite frankly they have been since the Astros joined the A.L. West.  Even when the Astros were fucking God awful, they were still better than the Mariners.  It is our cross to bear.

So, now we know, with 159 games to play, it’s Wild Card or Bust.  I just hope there aren’t many more teams like the Astros on the schedule to give us fits.  If we can’t figure out a way to win some divisional games – thank you Unbalanced Schedule – not even the Wild Card will be on the table.

Last night’s game might have changed my mind, had the Mariners scratched out the win, but instead it only reinforces my resolve that the Astros are the better team.  We had everything going for us in that game, and by “everything” I mean James Paxton.  He looked fucking phenomenal in throwing six shutout innings, while giving up 2 hits, walking 1, and striking out 5.  If he’d only been able to keep his pitch count under control, this really should’ve been a 7- or 8-inning performance.  But, it’s his first start of the season, so stopping him at 100 pitches is the right thing to do.

I’ll tell ya, though, Paxton was something else.  He was pounding the inside corner of the plate like I’ve never seen!   The Astros had, what I distinctly remember as an all-right handed lineup, and Paxton didn’t bat an eye!  He even managed to power through some of those unlucky Paxton-esque moments without allowing a run to score; like in the second inning, when a 1-out walk managed to reach third base on an out and a wild pitch; or when Springer reached on a strikeout in the dirt and advanced to third base on a double (he had to get through Altuve and Correa to get out of that jam unscathed!).  These are the kinds of minor inconveniences that – in the past – would somehow come around to destroy a Paxton start.  But, last night, he locked those shits down!

(of course, that isn’t to say those types of things won’t ruin him in future starts, but this was an encouraging way to bring in the new season for a guy known for his inconsistency)

The Mariners managed to not only score a run with a hit out of the infield, but they hit their first homer of the season!  Jean Segura hit an opposite-field 2-run homer that was remarkable in the way it kept carrying.  For such a little guy, he has a surprising amount of power.  On top of that, it was the Mariners’ first lead of the season!

It didn’t last long.

As I noted above, Paxton was finished after six innings, but the Mariners went right to their best set-up man, Evan Scribner … who promptly gave up back-to-back hits and was pulled for Scrabble (our next-best set-up man), who did his job and got the first out of the 7th inning.  That brought us to Dan Altavilla (our third-best set-up man), who gave up a single to load the bases and a double to tie the ballgame.  He ended up getting out of the jam after that with the tie intact, but the blown save damage was done.

From there, it was a comedy of poor clutch hitting through the 12th inning.  Pazos was brought in, even though their entire lineup was right-handed.  He gave up two hits before being pulled.  Casey Fien cleaned up the mess without incident.  Then, Edwin Diaz got his first action of the season, and was forced to go two scoreless innings as we plowed into extras.  That brought us to Nick Vincent, who somehow pitched out of a Runner On Third With Less Than Two Outs jam (of his own creation) and ended up going two more scoreless innings.

At that point, the only reliever left was Chase De Jong.  The Mariners, in the 13th inning, managed to eke out a run on four consecutive walks with nobody out, but could not play add-on, and thus you know how this game concluded.  With a tenuous 3-2 lead, Chase De Jong – who was making his Major League debut, who has all of 1 appearance in AAA (i.e. who was – for all intents and purposes – making the leap from AA to the Majors) – got one quick out, walked the next batter, induced the following batter to foul out, and gave up an opposite-field single to Nori Aoki.

That was the game.  It wasn’t the subsequent 3-run homer by George Springer; it was letting that snake in the grass Aoki, in the 9-hole, weasel his way on base to turn the lineup over.  You get Aoki, you win the game, you get your first career save, and they’re showering you with the Champagne of Beers in the locker room.  Instead, you leave one out over the plate, it gets crushed, and you’re living in your own personal Hell.  Welcome to the Big Leagues, son.

(also, not for nothing, but does this happen if Dillon Overton’s wife doesn’t have that kid this week?  Is it too much to ask to get the C-section a week early?  Okay, I’m horrible, I’ll move on)

I mean, what can you say?  I can’t get angry at De Jong; that’s an impossible situation to enter into as your Major League debut!  Yeah, it’s his fault, but it’s not really his fault.  He probably shouldn’t even be up here in the first place.  In a perfect world, Drew Smyly is healthy and Ariel Miranda is the 8th man in the bullpen.  But, I can’t even blame our own bad luck, because this offense is SERIOUSLY shitting the bed like I haven’t seen since 2010.  Except it’s a million times worse, because whereas the 2010 M’s had shitty hitters, the 2017 M’s have really good ones!  And they’re doing JACK SHIT right now.

Take a look at the blown scoring opportunities in this game alone:

  • 1st Inning – Haniger at 2nd with 1 out; Cano strikes out, Cruz grounds out
  • 2nd Inning – Zunino doubles with 2 outs; Dyson pops it up to the short stop
  • 4th Inning – Cruz leadoff double; stranded at second
  • 7th Inning – Martin walked & stole 2nd with 1 out; stranded at second again
  • 12th Inning – Dyson singled & stole 2nd with 1 out; stranded
  • 13th Inning – 4 walks to lead off the inning & score the go-ahead run; Valencia fly out, Zunino strikeout, Dyson strikeout

That’s just unforgivable.  The pitching this series hasn’t been perfect – not like it needs to be, apparently – but it’s been BEYOND good enough.  It’s even more aggravating because you know the pitching isn’t going to stay this good over the long haul.  We’re fucking SQUANDERING games that we should be winning!  And don’t tell me it’s early, because a loss is a loss is a loss; they all count the same fucking way regardless of whether they’re in April or September, so fuck off with that nonsense.

0-3 as we head into the next two days with our worst two starters.  Oh, this should be fun.

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?

The Mariners Somehow Made Opening Day Feel Like The Dog Days Of August

What a God damned wretched experience last night was.  I saw my first-ever NCAA bracket contest championships wither and die along with Gonzaga’s dreams and the concept of good refereeing.  And, as an appetizer, I got to watch the Mariners stink up the joint for almost three hours.

For starters, what the hell happened to the Mariners opening up every season against the Oakland A’s?  While it rarely made for exciting baseball, you could at least count on a win for the good guys!  The last two years, we’ve opened up with games against Texas and Houston and have seen our Opening Day winning percentage suffer accordingly.

It seems particularly cruel to have the Mariners start in Houston of all places, where we traditionally play like warm, pureed garbage.  It’s like Major League Baseball wanted to deflate all of our hopes like so many New England Patriots footballs, before the season even truly started.

Dallas Keuchel looked like his usual, dominant self.  I’m always amazed when it’s pointed out that the Mariners actually HAVE had some success against that guy; I seem to only remember the times he’s absolutely murdered us.  The Mariners only had one opportunity to get to him, and a poor choice in our lineup’s construction saw to it we wouldn’t capitalize.

In the 4th inning, Cano, Cruz, and Valencia loaded the bases with two outs, on a single and a couple of walks.  I was okay with the lineup 1-6, with Valencia batting behind Seager in that 6-hole.  Where I have the problem is batting Leonys Martin 7th, ahead of Mike Zunino.  I understand the allure of having Zunino’s power so low in the lineup, combined with the desire to limit the pressure on him at the plate by having him near the bottom, but Leonys Martin is a hot fucking mess at the plate.  On top of that, he’s a lefty trying to do SOMETHING against the likes of Dallas Fucking Keuchel.  There’s something to be said for going lefty-righty-lefty in your lineup, but not with the 7-8-9 hitters!

We had the bases loaded with 2 outs and a left-handed hitter coming to the plate.  Martin, as is his wont, swung at the first pitch and grounded out to second base, because of course he did.  Now, imagine that same scenario with Zunino up there and the bases loaded!  Granted, he also went hitless yesterday, so maybe he too would’ve grounded out to end the inning.  But, I have a shitload more confidence in Zunino against Keuchel than I do Martin against Keuchel.  You should be stacking the lineup with as many right handed hitters in a row against a guy like Keuchel!  STOP FUCKING AROUND, SERVAIS!  This year is too fucking important for your shenanigans!

If it looks like I’m in Panicky Mariners Fan midseason form, that’s because this game had the feel of every midseason Mariners game you’ve ever seen in the last 10+ years.  Three hits, four walks, seven runners left on base, hitless with runners in scoring position; Felix struggling against the Astros, Felix leaving the game with a groin injury while trying to cover first base on a grounder to Valencia …

Speaking of which, I’m at the point now where I’m ready to let those go as infield hits, rather than have the King run to first base, because it seems like damn near EVERY FUCKING TIME he walks away from that play limping!

The only other scoring opportunity the Mariners saw was in the 8th inning, down 3-0, against reliever Luke Gregerson.  After two quick outs, Dyson and Segura got on base and advanced on a wild pitch.  With runners on 2nd & 3rd, Cano stepped up to the plate and worked the count in his favor.  He was one pitch away from working a walk to load the bases for Cruz, but he saw a pitch he liked and he roped it on a line to right field, right at the right fielder for the final out of the inning.  The Astros would bring in a fireballer to close it out and make almost all of the 9th inning batters look like idiots, and that was the end of it.

I’ll hop right into the random observations.

I thought Felix looked okay.  The first homer he gave up, to the first batter of the game, was a mistake plain and simple, right in the middle of the plate.  The other homer was hit on a good pitch, up and in, off the plate.  He didn’t walk anyone, and he struck out six guys, including Altuve twice!  Obviously, the groin issue is a concern, and will probably be something he has to deal with all season – until it finally forces him onto the DL – as I’m sure he’ll re-aggravate it every time he has to cover first base, so that sucks.  Short of that, I thought he had a couple more good innings left in him easy.

I think the Mariners, and the broadcast team in particular, are putting WAY too much pressure on Mitch Haniger.  Yeah, his Spring Training was fantastic, but he’s still someone who has yet to have any Major League success whatsoever.  Why don’t we let him get some at bats under his belt before we start calling him The Prize Of Our Offseason Acquisitions, or whatever the hell it was Dave Sims was trying to say last night.  Jesus Christ, if he isn’t the guy who mows down Spring Training only to turn back into a pumpkin come the regular season, I don’t know who is!

Good on Jean Segura for getting a couple hits!  He’s your real prize of the offseason, you mope!

It would be ideal for Jarrod Dyson to start getting hits off of lefties, so we can just leave him at the top of our lineup, push Martin down to 9th, and Haniger down to 7th or 8th, but I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen.

Nick Vincent struggled.  Get ready to say that a lot this year.

James Pazos looked good!  I hope he’s able to stick around for a while; I like what I saw.

I don’t know if I’m as excited about Casey Fien.  He looked all right, I guess, but boy is he coming off of a down year.  Also, not sure if I saw much of an out-pitch out of him, but then again, with how aggressive the Astros are, he only had to throw 8 pitches.

Three more games in this Houston series.  I feel like best case scenario is a 2-2 split.  I also feel like we might come out on the short end of that stick.

The Official 2017 Seattle Mariners Preview, Part I: The Hitters

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been doing these season preview posts, and I’ve been splitting them up between hitters and pitchers.  So, you know, why mess with what’s so obviously working?

Last year, the Mariners were third in runs scored in the American League.  They were fourth in hits, fifth in OBP, slugging, and OPS, and seventh in batting average.  They were remarkably low in doubles and triples, but were second in the league in homers.  All in all, they were clearly in the upper third in most batting categories, which makes them the best hitting Mariners team we’ve seen in quite some time.  So, you can see some of the moves already starting to work.  Cano had a bounce-back year, Cruz kept on chugging along, and Seager had his best season to date.  But, the fill-in pieces, guys like Martin, Smith, Aoki, Marte, and Lee all had nice years too.  It was really a pleasant surprise and one of the main reasons why the 2016 Mariners were so much fun to watch.

Now, the pitching was another story, and the ultimate reason why we failed yet again to make the playoffs, but that’s a story for tomorrow.

This year, the Mariners are poised to be even BETTER on offense.  Last year, the Mariners were a good 110 runs behind Boston for first; this year, the M’s might be able to bridge that gap!  It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see this Mariners team lead the league in runs scored, barring injury of course.  The moves they’ve made to bolster this offense has been nothing short of outstanding:

  • Traded Vidal Nuno for backup catcher Carlos Ruiz (opting to let Chris Iannetta walk)
  • Traded a minor league pitcher for Danny Valencia (opting to let Lind & Lee walk)
  • Traded Taijuan Walker & Ketel Marte for Jean Segura & Mitch Haniger (and a minor league reliever)
  • Traded Nate Karns for Jarrod Dyson (opting to trade Seth Smith for a starting pitcher)

Let’s break this down.  Starting at the top, we’re going into 2017 with a combo of Zunino and Ruiz at catcher, as opposed to Iannetta and Clevenger.  Iannetta, as you may recall, had a pretty good start to the season, but quickly settled into everyday mediocrity.  Clevenger was just plain underutilized before he got injured and was lost for the season.  By the time Zunino got his call-up, he was a man possessed, but eventually settled into some bad habits.  His batting average plummeted, though his on-base percentage was a breath of fresh air.  The hope is, his good habits start to outweigh his bad ones, and he’s able to eventually hit for something resembling a respectable average (to go along with all of his natural power, his natural ability to draw HBPs, and his newfound skill for drawing walks).  And, if he doesn’t, Carlos Ruiz is there to pick up some of the slack.  He figures to be an immediate upgrade over Iannetta, with the option to take over full time if needed.  This is a win all the way around, particularly considering we didn’t give up much to get him.

Next, we’ve got Danny Valencia, who for now will be taking over for the combo of Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee.  Lind was a disappointment for the entirety of 2016, aside from a few clutch late-game heroics.  Lee started off the season as the best story of the year, but as he got more playing time and opposing pitchers got more of a book on him, his numbers declined in the second half, to the point where he had to face a stint in Tacoma to get his swing under control.  Valencia is in no way a perfect, polished player, but he’s been fantastic the last two seasons, particularly against lefties, but improving against righties.  Even if he regresses while starting every day, he should still be a big improvement over Lind and what Lee became in the second half last year.  If Valencia can just hold it together until Vogelbach works on his game in Tacoma and gets called back up, we should be in good shape at first base for the first time in forever.

The deal that everyone’s hoping puts the Mariners over the top is the one that brought in Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger for Walker and Marte.  Marte has already been demoted to Triple-A, meanwhile Segura looks FANTASTIC so far this spring.  He hits for average, he’s got some pop in his bat, he can steal bases; the Mariners might have the biggest upgrade at any position in the entire American League from 2016 to 2017 in their switch from Marte to Segura.  I can’t WAIT for the season to start and I get to watch this guy every day.  Meanwhile, Haniger hasn’t slowed down one iota this spring, as you could make the argument he’s been the best player on the team in the month of March.  I know that means nothing, and I depressingly await his reverting to a pumpkin once the calendar flips to April.  But, if by the grace of all that is holy he manages to be the “surprise” player all the coaches believe he’ll be, we could be talking about this Taijuan Walker trade as highway robbery in favor of the Mariners.  So, you know, remember I said that when both of the Mariners’ guys flop out while Walker wins his second Cy Young Award in a few years.

Rounding out the outfield, we’ve got Jarrod Dyson, who figures to get plenty of playing time in left field.  Between Dyson and Haniger – replacing the likes of Seth Smith and Aoki/Guti – we’re talking about a MASSIVE improvement in our outfield defense.  This is no small thing, particularly when you consider our pitching staff and all the flyballs they tend to give up.  Dyson also figures to be a top-of-the-lineup hitter when he’s in there, who can steal a billion bases for you, so all around speed is the name of the game.  Dyson and Segura will be the primary base-stealers for you, but then there’s Martin (who had 24 last year) as well as Haniger, Heredia, and whoever ends up being our utility infielder.  When you think about late game heroics, I think you’re going to find we’ll be less reliant on the 10th inning home run, and more reliant on pinch runners stealing second and scoring on a single.  This could be HUGE for our record in 1-run games, which tends to be average-to-awful.

So, yeah, the hitting looks good!  As long as the Big Three don’t take significant steps back, or miss significant time with injuries, we should be right around the top of the American League in most important batting categories.  Leaving us with the ultimate question:  will we have enough pitching to win enough ballgames to get a spot in the post-season?

I’ll look into that tomorrow, as well as give you my official predictions on the season.

Who Are Our Mariners Spring Training Darlings Thus Far?

Just a God damn black hole of sports nothingness going on.  REALLY need the NBA to come back to Seattle …

The fun part about Spring Training is seeing the guys whose numbers really explode from out of nowhere.  Going into the season, you know who the stars are going to be, and you know those guys mostly use the month of March to work on their timing and rounding into everyday playing shape.  But, for the younger, fringe guys, sometimes their careers depend upon what they’re able to show in this limited period of time.  It’s the difference between starting the season in Tacoma vs. Seattle, or the difference between staying in the Mariners’ organization vs. becoming eventual trade or DFA fodder down the road.  Have you done everything the coaches have asked of you?  Have those changes improved things?  Do you have what it takes to contribute to the Big League club?

For the 2017 Mariners, there are fewer open spots than ever before.  This team is mostly set at most of its positions.  There are some backup outfield and bullpen spots up for grabs, but that’s about it.

Of course, the worst part about Spring Training is seeing those guys whose numbers really explode from out of nowhere, and then seeing them turn back into pumpkins once the games start meaning something.  So, it’s important to remember that with Spring Training, it’s not just a small sample size, but an inflated sample at that.  Balls are easier to hit in that warm Arizona air.  Minor league pitchers show up with more regularity, and often are the ones throwing to those minor league hitters whose numbers are popping.

Yes, it’s important to show up in Spring Training, but it’s VASTLY more important to show up in the regular season.  So, let’s take a look at some of the guys who are kicking ass now, and hope beyond hope that they continue kicking ass in the future.

I think the names that are generating the most excitement thus far are Mitch Haniger and Guillermo Heredia.  Both are hitting well over .400, both have 6 extra-base hits, and both are coming up huge in the clutch to bat runners in.  Haniger has a little more upside in the power department, but Heredia has more upside in the speed department, so both have a lot of value.  They’re also getting a ton of playing time, considering they’re trying to win jobs in that crowded outfield.  We know Leonys Martin and Jarrod Dyson are locks, but that right field spot – when Nelson Cruz and Danny Valencia aren’t there – is up for grabs, and it might come down to the last day of Spring Training before that job is won.  It’s probably unrealistic to expect both of these guys to carry their numbers over into April – indeed, it’s WAY more likely that neither of them are worth a damn in the regular season – but if just one of them can do it, I’d be a very happy camper.

Behind those guys, we’ve got the following utility players:  Boog Powell, Taylor Motter, Ben Gamel, Shawn O’Malley, and Mike Freeman.  Powell is another guy looking to make an impression in the outfield, but he’s at a significant disadvantage considering he’s technically still suspended for using steroids or some damn thing.  Fortunately for him, he’s hitting .500 as of this writing, and earning lots of commendations from the coaching staff.  I’d look for him to be an everyday player out of Tacoma when he comes off suspension, but he’s definitely a guy who could work his way to Seattle if he keeps at it.  Ben Gamel has really had a nondescript spring thus far, which doesn’t bode well considering how Heredia and Haniger have played.  What he’s got going for him is that he bats lefty, while Heredia and Haniger are both righties, but I don’t know if that’s going to be enough to keep him in Seattle on Opening Day.  He’ll need a big surge in production these next couple weeks.

Shawn O’Malley probably has the inside track for the utility infielder position, given that he’s probably the best defensive short stop of the bunch.  He’s certainly underwhelming from an offensive standpoint, with a complete and utter lack of power, but the fact that you can put him almost anywhere on the field is his biggest selling point.  I know less about Taylor Motter, but his Spring Training hitting numbers are certainly more promising.  While defense is important in a utility bench guy, if one of our infield starters has a significant injury that causes them to miss a lot of games, it wouldn’t shock me to see Motter usurp O’Malley as the guy who plays everyday.  And, then there’s Mike Freeman, who has already been outrighted to Tacoma.  Barring a trade, he’ll probably start there until Seattle has an injury need, in which case you could do a lot worse than Mike Freeman.

The final fringe guy I’ll talk about is Dan Vogelbach.  He’s obviously slated to be the left-handed platoon partner at first base, and thus far he’s done pretty well for himself while garnering the most at-bats of anyone.  It’s pretty obvious the Mariners want to give him as much work as possible, to ensure his defense is up to snuff, as well as to see if he can hit Major League pitching.  It’s a little concerning he only has 2 doubles and no homers to date, but from what I’m hearing he’s hitting to all fields, working counts, and getting on base with regularity.  It’s better than nothing (i.e. Logan Morrison).

I’ll close by talking about Leonys Martin a little bit.  He’s hitting a whopping .179 with no walks and 3 doubles to his name, which is somewhat concerning.  When you figure he’s slotted to be our everyday centerfielder, we’re going to need more than that at the plate.  Apparently, he’s been working on his swing, to cut down on strikeouts, and at least that looks like it’s working (only 3 K’s in 28 at-bats).  The saving grace for Martin is that while it’s true that you shouldn’t get too excited about really great Spring Training numbers, you also shouldn’t get too depressed about really poor Spring Training numbers.  As I said before, a lot of the veterans are just getting their work in, and don’t really flip the switch until April.  While Martin certainly falls in that veteran category, he’s still a guy who shouldn’t totally dismiss working on his offense, considering that’s the part of his game that needs the most work.

Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the pitching.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Leonys Martin

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

All I can tell you about Leonys Martin is that he’s a pleasant surprise.  The Mariners dealt for him before last season – losing nothing in the process – and he was one of those guys coming in after a down season looking for a bounce-back.  In 2013 and 2014, Martin looked like a potential superstar-in-waiting.  Maybe that’s over-stating things a bit, but his defensive ability has always been off the charts, and whenever he gives you anything on offense, he becomes one of the more valuable players on your team.

Which is why my enthusiasm was so tempered when he came here.  But, he really showed something!  His defense is as advertised – which is why it’s so exciting to think about an outfield with him, Jarrod Dyson, and Mitch Haniger.  What was really encouraging was how hot he came in out of the gate.  Through May he hit 9 of what would become 15 homers, a career high.  He was hitting for a good average, getting on base at a nice clip, and those power numbers – combined with his defensive ability – made him one of the most important players on the team!  Then, he pulled a hammy and missed a couple weeks.  When he returned, he wasn’t really the same.

He wasn’t a total washout, but his power was really sucked away, and his strikeout numbers spiked.  It’s hard to know what to think about those strikeout numbers, because he’s never had a season that bad in that area before.  Was he swinging for the fences too much due to that early-season success?  Was it just an anomaly?  Regardless, that’s something for him and Edgar to work on in Spring Training, as he returns today after testifying in some case involving Cuban baseball defectors.

As I’ve been saying all along, I’m pretty happy with how the offense is shaping up.  As such, we really don’t need a ton of production out of someone like Martin.  As long as he keeps playing that great defense, and keeps that batting average over .200, I should be happy.  Anything more is a nice little bonus.  Across the entire outfield, I’m not asking for a lot.  I’m not even asking for one guy to shock the world and take a huge step forward!  Mostly, I’d just like to see all three spots not be a black hole at the same time.  Maybe Martin can be successful in April and May, Dyson can get hot in June and July, and whoever’s in right field can take over in August and September.

What I’d really like, more than anything, is for these guys to stay healthy for as long as possible.  There aren’t a lot of places on this team where the Mariners have significant depth, but Outfield Defense is certainly one of them.  I’d REALLY like to see how this season plays out with all of those guys healthy and stealing runs from the other team on a consistent basis.  Just because we have upwards of 5 or 6 guys who are capable of filling the void in centerfield doesn’t mean I want to see them in there on a rotating basis!

Aside from health concerns, I’m ready.  Let’s do this!  Let’s get them out there and see what they can do together!