The Mariners Extended Dipoto & Servais As They Try To Contend Down The Stretch

After just totally biffing it against the Royals, the Mariners played three winnable games against the Astros, winning two of them in shutout fashion.

The only loss was in the series opener on Monday, where we bafflingly blew it in the 8th by turning a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 loss. Chris Flexen didn’t have his greatest stuff, but still pitched into the sixth inning, giving up just 2 runs. Casey Sadler locked it down through the 7th, giving us just enough time to take that all-too-brief lead in the bottom of the sixth.

The Astros scored their first two runs in the 1st inning, making the Flexen performance even more impressive. Jose Marmolejos – back with the Mariners after going on the warpath with the Rainiers for much of the season – hit a solo homer in his first at bat to make it 2-1. That’s where it remained until Dylan Moore – pinch hitting for Marmolejos – jacked a 2-run homer to make everyone happy.

But, then Joe Smith was tasked with handling the 8th inning. I don’t totally get it. Was Drew Steckenrider simply unavailable? Did Scott Servais lose his mind? Either way, shaky defense and even shakier pitching meant Smith gave up three singles and two runs, before he was pulled for Yohan Ramirez to get the final two outs of the inning. The Mariners were toast from there.

Tuesday saw Yusei Kikuchi take the mound, desperately needing a quality start to help save his Mariners career. And, to his credit, he went out and dominated: 7 shutout innings, giving up 4 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 4. His fastball was lively, he threw it often, and he got ahead of hitters; when he’s able to do that, good things tend to result.

The game was, nevertheless, scoreless as we headed into the bottom of the eighth. Paul Sewald got the job done in the top half against the top of the lineup, setting the stage for Kendall Graveman, who was making his first appearance in Seattle since the infamous deadline deal.

Graveman still has electric stuff, but the Mariners put a tough challenge on him. J.P. Crawford led off the inning with a walk, Seager singled after a Haniger strikeout, and Ty France was hit on the forearm to load the bases. The table was set … for Abraham Toro of all people, the very centerpiece the Mariners got back in return in the Graveman deal.

Toro got in a 1-2 hole early, whiffing hard on Graveman’s sinkers. But, he finally started making contact – fouling off three pitches while working the count even – before unloading on a sinker in the inner-middle of the plate for a grand slam. It was glorious! I’m not going to say the Mariners won the trade in that single at-bat – lord knows this bullpen has been plenty fallible in Graveman’s absence – but I’ve been a fan of Toro since we got him, and that further cements in my mind the value he brings to this team, both this season and in the years to come.

It was Graveman’s first loss of the season – and it dented his ERA pretty good – but he’s still been wildly effective for the Astros since going over there. Just, you know, not against the Mariners. Against us, he’s gone 1.1 innings and given up 5 runs. Shit, maybe he WAS the world’s greatest teammate! He’s so good, he’s STILL helping us win ballgames!

If the 4-0 shutout was impressive, Wednesday’s 1-0 shutout was truly remarkable. Logan Gilbert – another starter who’s struggled over the last month – went 5 shutout innings, giving up 4 hits & 0 walks, while striking out 4. Again, lots of fastballs and he did a good job of staying ahead of hitters.

This game saw the return of Justus Sheffield, now a reliever since his return from the IL. I don’t know if that’s a permanent move, or if that’s even a role he’s well-suited for, but he got through his one inning unscathed to get the win. Because we scored our lone run in the bottom of the sixth, thanks to a Crawford single, walks by Haniger and France, and a sac fly to center off the bat of – you guessed it – Abraham Toro. It wasn’t a deep fly ball by any means, but with Crawford’s speed – and the sun wreaking havoc on the outfielder – it was long enough.

Then, it was shutdown time. Sadler did his job in the 7th. Steckenrider returned to get two outs in the 8th (before putting two runners on), which necessitated Paul Sewald going in there for the 4-out save. Which he managed heroicly, striking out three guys in the process (while only getting into a little trouble in the 9th before slamming the door shut).

It’s a bummer we didn’t manage to take all three games – because at this point in the season, we could’ve really used the boost – but winning this series was very impressive the way we did it. The Astros have the best offense in baseball, and we absolutely shut them down!

Before the game on Wednesday, it was announced that Jerry Dipoto was extended (and promoted to President of Baseball Operations). Essentially, he’s still the GM, and he still reports to the owner, John Stanton, but clearly this is a big endorsement of his rebuild. It was simultaneously announced that Scott Servais was also extended to continue managing the ballclub; the terms for their contracts were not disclosed, so it’s unknown how long they’re under contract for.

I don’t really know of anyone who thinks Servais is a bad manager. Quite the contrary, I think most of us are really impressed with how hard he gets his guys to play for him, even when they’re lacking in talent compared to some of the elite teams around baseball. We might get blown out here and there – that’s going to happen – but we tend to be IN most of these games at the very least, and as far as the last two seasons are concerned, winning much more of them than anyone would’ve predicted.

I like Servais. I don’t have a lot of regard for managers in baseball in general; I think, for the most part, these teams sort of manage themselves. They get too much of the blame when things go wrong, and probably an appropriate amount of the credit when things go right. But, you can really see how Servais has built the culture here. It’s different than it was under Lloyd McClendon, Don Wakamatsu, Eric Wedge, and on and on dating back to the glory days of Lou Piniella. Honestly, Servais might be the best manager in all of baseball right now, and I’ve been saying for a while: I’d LOVE to see what he does with a team that’s as talented as the Astros or Dodgers or Yankees.

And, for what it’s worth, I do think Servais makes a high percentage of the correct calls when it comes to sticking with a pitcher vs. pulling him for a fresh arm. I mean, that probably has a lot to do with the analytics department, but it’s a credit to Servais that he actually follows the numbers and not just his fucking gut (*cough* Lloyd McClendon *cough*).

As for Dipoto, he’s MUCH more divisive. Fans seem to either love him and lap up the Kool Aid like the thirsty sheep that they are; or fans seem to hate him and want to ride him out of town on a rail.

I’m in the middle. If I had my druthers, we would’ve backed up the Brinks truck to Theo Epstein’s house and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse YEARS ago. But, obviously, that’s never happening. We hired Dipoto after the 2015 season, and while his moves have been hit-or-miss, I think there’s a lot unexplained from his tenure. He inherited an aging roster that was still trying to break the playoff drought. How much did ownership hamper him when it comes to tearing it all down back then and rebuilding immediately? I would argue they meddled quite a bit, with guys like Felix, Cruz, Cano, and Seager playing at the tops of their games.

It wasn’t until after the 2018 season – when we won 89 games, but again fell well short of making the playoffs – that we FINALLY committed to a real, official rebuild. I would say, by and large, Dipoto’s moves before that point were largely disappointing and underwhelming. Again, how much was he hampered by ownership, who likely limited his spending? I would argue quite a bit, with Felix’s dying contract, Seager’s bloated deal, and Cano’s albatross hanging around our neck.

I contend that SINCE the end of the 2018 season, Dipoto has been largely on fire with his trades, his under-the-radar dart-throw free agent signings, and his draft picks. In that time, he turned around a farm system that was one of the worst – if not THE worst – in all of baseball, into one of the best this year (including one publication ranking us #1 overall). The trade of Cano & Edwin Diaz for Jarred Kelenic (and others) is the big draw. But, he also pulled off the Austin Nola deal (for Ty France and Luis Torrens) and the aforementioned Graveman deal for Toro.

It hasn’t worked out perfectly since then. The Mariners really bottomed out in 2019, for instance. But, we played much better in a COVID-shortened 2020 season. And, this year, we find ourselves firmly in contention for a wild card spot with a month left to play.

You can argue that many of the young position players are failing to make the leap from AAA to the Major Leagues, but if that’s Dipoto’s fault, then it’s also on all the scouts and pundits who continue to laud these players as among the most talented of all the prospects coming up in the last two years. They’re still young-enough in their careers to turn things around. Plus, there are more prospects where they came from if they do, indeed, fail at this level.

On top of which, the Mariners have cheaped out long enough. It sounds like after having this year to analyze the guys we’ve got, the purse strings are going to be loosened, allowing us to go out and make some splashy free agent deals. Between that, and the trades we can make by having one of the best farm systems in baseball, as long as we don’t fuck things up COMPLETELY, we should be watching the Seattle Mariners in the post-season sooner rather than later.

So, no, I’m not a Jerry Dipoto hater. But, I’m also not drinking the Kool Aid completely either. He still needs to finish the job. Lots of teams throughout baseball have been in the position we’re in now. VERY few actually manage to morph into World Series champions, let alone enjoy the kind of sustained success you see out of teams like the Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox.

I’ll fully believe it when I see it. Don’t do what the Mariners always do: get swindled in trades for mediocre veterans who come here and shit the bed. DO do what good teams do: ship off shaky prospects for quality starters, and let’s go win us a fucking World Series title!

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.

Best Mariners Promotional Give-Aways 2019

I don’t do this every season, but apparently I did it last year around this time, so why not run it back again?

This part of the year always finds me with a lot of dread. The baseball season is too damn long and there’s never enough time away from it to properly miss it. As such, I can NEVER bring myself to actually look forward to the start of a new season. It’s more of a reluctant acceptance as Spring Training rears its ugly head and the baseball superfans in the area try their damnedest to get our juices flowing.

This year more than others of late has me searching high and low for a reason to give a damn. Unlike 2018 or 2017, there’s no promise of contention in 2019. Not that we had any delusions of playing for a divisional title with the Astros being the ASTROS!, but even the minimal charge of a wild card appears to be out of the question before we’ve even stepped onto any sort of baseball field. “Contending” for this team would be the flukiest of flukes.

But, as a Mariners fan, that doesn’t mean I get to pack up my fandom and go home. I can’t bury my head in the sand; I have to sit here and watch this team, hoping and praying that we see enough improvement out of our young players to at least grasp at some straws heading into 2020.

This isn’t a post about that. Rather, it’s a post looking at some of the cool free shit the Mariners are set to give us with the purchase of a ticket. This is by no means a comprehensive list. I’m not going through each and every give-away; just the ones that interest me. Even then, it’s not comprehensive, as I’m sure there are ones that I may have missed; and there will be impromptu give-aways that happen during the season that may not even be a glimmer in the eyes of the promotions department. Without further ado …

3/28 – Opening Day Magnetic Schedule. I try to go to this one every year, because it’s Opening Day and because I love magnets on my fridge.

4/12 – Mariners Hoodie. There’s no pic yet, but I like hoodies, so I could see this being something worth going out for.

4/26 – Fanny Pack. I went to the game last year that featured a fanny pack, but they were all out by the time I got to the stadium. When I saw one, they looked kinda chintzy, so I’m not going to say this is a Must Have or anything. But, I wouldn’t throw it out of bed if I got one.

4/27 – Mitch Haniger Bobblehead. I recently bought the guy’s jersey, mostly because I really like the style of the new Spring Training jerseys, and the only other player they had was Ichiro, so I took a chance on the guy with higher upside going forward over the sure thing from a bygone era; as such, I guess I better become a big Haniger fan and hope he makes a bunch of All Star Games for the Mariners.

5/17 – Trucker Hat. Again, probably not a Must Have, but I like hats. Unfortunately, my head is gigantic, so I don’t fit into very many adjustable caps. Fingers crossed, if this one crosses my path.

5/18 – Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Bobblehead. The Mariners didn’t retain very many good, popular players of old, so it’s slim pickins in the bobblehead department. By my count, there’s going to be 4 such nights in 2019, and two of them are Hall of Famers. I’ve already got three Griffey bobbleheads, so I’m not going out of my way to get this one, but I bet it’ll be cool looking.

6/21 – Lou-Au Hawaiian Shirt. This is the first give-away I’m really stoked on. I HAVE TO HAVE THIS SHIRT! I will do whatever it takes to get there early and wear this with pride.

6/22 – Seattle Pilots Throwback Cap. I love me some throwback hats, but as I noted with the Trucker Hat game, adjustable caps don’t love me. This might be a scenario where I end up buying a fitted version of this hat when it’s released in stores.

7/4 – Patriotic Tank Top. If there’s anything I love more than baseball hats, it’s sleeveless shirts. I could do without the “patriotic” part of it, but again, I bet it looks damn cool. If only I’d gone to the patriotic cowboy hat game last year, I’m sure the combo would be fantastic!

7/19 – Mariners Growler. Here’s the second MUST HAVE give-away for me. I’m going to this, I’m getting the growler, and I’m going to use it every chance I get!

7/21 – Edgar Martinez Hall of Fame Placcard. It’s a Sunday game, so the odds of me going to this are pretty low (unless I opt to stay in Seattle that weekend and make a weekend of it). But, it’s Edgar, so how can it be wrong?

8/9 – Edgar HOF Bobblehead. Welcome to Edgar Martinez Hall of Fame Weekend #2! I want to say they had a full weekend for Edgar when they retired his number last year, but I could be wrong. Maybe I’m mixing it up with the Griffey Hall of Fame Weekend. Either way, this is the first of three straight days of Edgar give-aways. No way this one will top his Light Bat Bobblehead, so I dunno.

8/10 – Edgar HOF Plaque. They did the same thing for Griffey, so this might be a cool one to pair with that one. This is also slated to be the game of the on-field ceremony, so if you have to pick one to go to this weekend, this would be it.

8/11 – Edgar Street Sign. Then again, if you’re basing your decision on the coolest Edgar give-away, I think having a replica street sign might be the way to go. It would definitely be MY preferred choice, and if there’s ever a reason to go to a Sunday Mariners game, this would be it.

9/14 – Unknown Bobblehead. We don’t have a player picked for this one yet, so ostensibly it’s being reserved for whoever’s having the best season not named Mitch Haniger. Dee Gordon is an obvious choice, if he bounces back. Felix is an old standby, of course, if he has any magic left in the tank. If by the grace of God Ichiro is still on the team, that’s another one. Maybe the Mariners reach into the wayback machine for someone like Buhner, or Randy, or Moyer, or one of the countless feel-good players of yore. If we’re looking at pitchers, you could do worse than Marco Gonzales. I dunno, if the whole team is terrible, maybe we get one for the Moose? The possibilities are limitless!

9/27 – Mariners Team Poster. This hardly feels essential, but you never know. We’d be getting in on the ground floor of some potentially important future M’s, so it might be a cool document to tack on your bedroom wall.

9/28 – Oktoberfest. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, these are a lock as one of the best give-aways every year. Don’t miss out, because it’s a helluva deal!

Mount Rushmore: Seattle Head Coaches/Managers

Yesterday:  Seattle Sports Announcers

It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports.  I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me.  But, a blogger’s job is never done!  Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam.  Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.

We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right?  Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of Stand-Up Comedians?  Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Dave Attell, Chris Rock, Tig Notaro, and Dave Chappelle, but ask me another day and I might give you four completely different names.

Today, I’m going to delve into the head coaches and managers of the various local sports teams.

In spite of the fact that Seattle is far from Titletown, U.S.A., this was actually a pretty difficult exercise.  Ironically, because there were TOO MANY good coaches to choose from!  I’ll tell you right now, this one is bound to be my most controversial Mount Rushmore of the week, but IDGAF.  Come at me, broseph!

For starters, right or wrong, I’ve put OVERWHELMING emphasis on those head coaches who led their respective teams to championships.  I mean, it’s obscene, which is why I’m going to start this post with my Honorable Mentions, and I’m going to lead off those Honorable Mentions with probably the most glaring omission (but hear me out):  Lou Piniella.

Look, I love Sweet Lou as much as the next guy, and if I were simply ranking managers of the Seattle Mariners, he’s obviously at the top of the list.  And, while much of this isn’t his fault, I would argue he’s not entirely blameless for the fact that the Mariners only made it to the playoffs 4 times in his 10-year career.  And in those 4 years, they failed to get past the American League Championship Series (often never really making it much of a challenge).  Those teams were absolutely LOADED with talent!  Are you kidding me?  Not even a single World Series appearance in the bunch?  I know, the organizational management of those teams was severely lacking; they bungled a bunch of trades, mishandled two of our greatest players (Griffey and Randy) to the point that both wanted out of the organization, and refused to pony up the cash to keep the best player on the planet – Alex Rodriguez – when he became a free agent.  That having been said, I’ve never really had much respect for baseball managers; what do they do besides write a lineup and make bullpen decisions?  Manage player egos?  Ooo!  Big whup!  Head coaches in other sports do that too, and they do a lot of other stuff that has more of an impact.  Naw, I’m not buying baseball and I’m not buying Lou Piniella.  If Mount Rushmore had 5 people on it, I probably STILL wouldn’t have him on it!

Because that leads me to my next omission:  Mike Holmgren.

At least he took the Seahawks to a Super Bowl!  I would argue both he and Piniella have to be credited with changing the culture of losing for their respective Seattle-based teams, but they JUST didn’t quite get it done when it mattered most.  There were some extenuating circumstances with Super Bowl XL and the officiating that I won’t get into here, but alas, Holmgren just misses the cut.

Some other Honorable Mentions include, in no particular order:  Chuck Knox (very underrated as the leader of the Seahawks in the 80s); Nate McMillan (doing a lot with a little in a mis-managed Sonics organization, particularly in the Howard Schultz years); Gil Dobie, Enoch Bagshaw, Hec Edmundson, Tippy Dye, Marv Harshman, and some of those other old-timer Husky football and basketball coaches (who are obviously WAY before my time); Jim Lambright (who somehow held the Huskies together after sanctions and an acrimonious split with Don James); and Lorenzo Romar (whose ignominious end to his tenure should do nothing to tarnish what was a tremendous achievement for Husky basketball).

So, without further ado, I present my Mount Rushmore of Seattle-based head coaches.

At the top of the list was the easiest pick of them all:  Don James.

The Dawgfather.  Head coach of the University of Washington football team, from 1975-1992.  He’s the closest thing we had to a Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Steve Spurrier, or Joe Paterno (without all the child rape).  He led the Huskies to a National Championship in 1991 and was poised to continue to do so for years to come if not for the Lack of Institutional Control scandal that ultimately led to him resigning in protest for the unfair sanctions on the team.  Also, not for nothing, but the Huskies were robbed of a second National Championship in 1984 (to a bum BYU team who played a cupcake of a schedule), but that’s another post for another time.

Don James was the G.O.A.T.  We can only hope and pray Chris Petersen someday ascends to that level.

Next on my list, I’ve gone with Pete Carroll.

Like I said, championships are a premium to me when it comes to my Mount Rushmore of Head Coaches, and Big Balls Pete has one, with another Super Bowl appearance to boot.  He’s 17 wins away from being the winningest Seahawks coach of all time, which should go down in 2 years, tops.  After a couple of 7-9 rebuilding seasons, he’s won no less than 11 games every year (including playoffs).  Overall, he has 4 division titles in 7 years, 6 playoff appearances in 7 years, at least 1 playoff victory every time they’ve made the post-season, and with John Schneider (who certainly belongs on the Mount Rushmore of local GMs) built one of the best rosters in the history of the NFL, in the 2013 Seahawks.  He could retire right now and I don’t think there will be another local head coach that will bump him off my Mount Rushmore in my lifetime.

Third on my list:  Lenny Wilkens.

Oh yeah, here it comes.  I told you, titles baby!  Lenny took over as a player-coach for the Sonics in 1969 before being fired in 1972.  When he returned to the Sonics as just a head coach in 1977, he took a good team and led it to greatness.  Those Sonics teams went to back-to-back NBA Finals against the Washington Bullets in 1978 and 1979, winning it all the second time around.  The Sonics ultimately went another direction starting in the 1985/1986 season, but he still sits at #2 all time in franchise history winning percentage (keeping in mind, of course, that the Sonics died in 2008, and whatever record the head coaches of that team in OKC may have amassed has no bearing on the Seattle Supersonics).

Finally, the fourth name on my Mount Rushmore:  George Karl.

You may take umbrage with Lenny Wilkens’ inclusion on my list, and that’s fine, I understand.  You may take umbrage with the fact that I have George Karl over the likes of Piniella and Holmgren, and again, that’s your right.  But, you know what?  George Karl won a shitload of games in Seattle!  He has the best winning percentage of a head coach by a million miles over the other professional teams’ coaches at .719.  He took the Sonics to the playoffs every year of his tenure, won 4 division titles in 7 seasons, had the Sonics in the 1-seed twice (best regular season record in the entire league once); led the franchise to two Western Conference Finals, and led the franchise to the NBA Finals once (against the best team of all time, the 95/96 Chicago Bulls).  AND, not for nothing, but took the Bulls to 6 games when they probably had no business getting past Game 4.

I could go on and on.  Maybe only the Pete Carroll Seahawks have had more talent than the George Karl Sonics, but for all his greatness, there was a lot of failing.  George Karl led the first #1 seed to lose in the first round in NBA history.  His Sonics teams squandered two Michael Jordan-less years when they were ripe for back-to-back championships (the Houston Rockets, instead, took advantage of that glitch in the matrix).  And, ultimately, George Karl was destined to be run out of here by poor personnel management by Wally Walker (featuring the obscene signing of Jim McIlvaine and the trading of Shawn Kemp for Vin Baker).

Nevertheless, those Sonics teams were beautiful and exciting and ultimately tragic.  They ignited a love affair with sports within me that burns like a thousand suns to this very day.  At a time when the Seahawks were mediocre, and before the Mariners were relevant, we had the Supersonics and nothing else mattered.  There may have been better teams out there in the 90s, but no team was as thrilling to watch on a nightly basis.  When they were on, they were unbeatable!  When they were off, they were combustable; that’s just the way it goes sometimes.  But, George Karl had his hands all over that team, and was the main reason why we were able to take the next step to elite status.  Ultimately, the biggest tragedy of all is that George Karl doesn’t have an NBA title to his credit; he might be the best head coach in NBA history not to have one.

Okay, there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to let me hear about it.

Cano, Cruz, Seager: An Appreciation

In football (and, I guess in all sports, but people seem to talk about it in football the most), the goal is to strike a healthy balance between offense and defense, between high-priced superstars and cost-effective elite youth, between a strong running game and an opportunistic passing attack on offense, as well as stout run defense and a lethal pass rush.  Of course, there have been teams that got by with a stark imbalance (usually a top defense and a meh offense), but even the teams who have won Super Bowls with high-flying offenses usually see an uptick in their defensive production, if only for that championship season.

The Mariners, for years, have been anything but balanced.  The pitching has usually been okay, but for the longest time, the hitting was non-existent.  In the Jackie Z “Rebuild On The Cheap Through Prospects” Era, the middle of our order was riddled with sick jokes.  Power hitters with no on-base abilities who struck out a ton, line drive hitters with warning track-power who struck out a ton, past-their-prime veterans who struck out a ton, injury-plagued veterans who couldn’t even stay off the DL long enough to strike out a ton, and so on and so forth.

It really wasn’t until we signed Robinson Cano in 2014, then paired him with Nelson Cruz in 2015, that we could say we had a middle-of-the-order we could be proud of.  But, there always seemed to be a straggler.  In 2014, Cano was top notch and Seager was Seager, but Kendrys Morales was a lump of crap, and all too many at bats were going to the likes of Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak.  In 2015, Cruz and his 44 homers were far and away our offensive MVP, and while Seager was still Seager, Cano was plagued with nagging injuries and had a forgettable first half of the season.  This three-piece didn’t really all put it together until 2016, but boy did they make beautiful music together!

Not since the trio of A-Rod, Griffey, and Edgar have the Mariners had a middle of the order this formidable.  Don’t take my word for it, though; take these numbers:

  • Cano – .298/.350/.533, 39 homers, 103 RBI
  • Cruz – .287/.360/.555, 43 homers, 105 RBI
  • Seager – .278/.359/.499, 30 homers, 99 RBI

I would like to point out, before we move on, that Seager would’ve had that 100th RBI had his line drive not hit the second base umpire in the last week of the season, as it most certainly would’ve scored the runner from second.

Anyway, as you can see, that’s a ton of production.  We were second in the league in homers, and 112 of our 223 (a hair over 50%) were from those three guys.  They missed a combined 12 games and led us to our best offensive season since the Lou Piniella days.

Cano had a career high in homers, which is particularly impressive coming off of his 2015, when we all wondered if he was beginning his decline a little earlier than scheduled.  He proved he’s still the superstar we signed up for, and even though his batting average dipped under .300 for just the third time since becoming an everyday player, the huge boost in his power numbers were most welcome on a team that stayed in contention throughout the season.  We’re 3 years into a 10-year contract; it’s comforting to believe we have at least a couple more high-level years to go with Cano before we face that inevitable decline.

Cruz has been something of a revelation since leaving the Rangers at the age of 33.  He’s always had impressive power, but lacked consistency.  Everyone figured he’d get a massive deal anyway, because this is baseball and GMs are dumb, but more teams than expected were turned off by his lack of defensive ability.  So, he signed a 1-year prove-it deal with Baltimore and turned out the best season of his career to date, with 40 homers and a 4.7 WAR over 159 games.  He parlayed that into finally getting that massive deal with the Mariners (4 years, $57 million) and somehow had an even BETTER season in 2015!  44 homers and a 5.2 WAR over 152 games (including a .302 batting average and .369 on-base percentage, which remain career highs with a minimum of 110 games played).  It was better than we could have possibly hoped for, considering he played half his games in Safeo Field (moved-in fences or no, it’s still a notoriously tough place to hit dingers).

It would’ve been pretty unrealistic to expect that upward trajectory to continue, and while it came to pass that Cruz’s numbers took a bit of a dip, it wasn’t the nosedive some of us feared.  He still hit over 40 homers and nearly pulled off a .290 batting average in earning another 4.7 WAR season.  Granted, he played a lot more DH than he did last year, but that’s not a bad thing.  Given his limitations in the field, he SHOULD be preserved by playing almost exclusively DH (outside of games in N.L. stadia).  Considering we’re halfway through his contract, and he’s still hitting as well as he did in Baltimore (combined with our tough luck with free agent acquisitions in the past), I feel like we’re playing with house money with Cruz.  Hell, his year THIS year could’ve been even better had he not been dealing with that wrist injury down the stretch!  Talk about a guy playing through the pain and producing at a high level!

Given what we’ve seen out of him over the first half of his contract, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect him to continue playing at a high level at least through the 2017 season.  One would hope, barring injury, that his decline doesn’t officially kick in until 2018 or beyond, but suffice it to say these declines can start at any time, and when they hit, it’s remarkable how fast a player can go from being at the top of his game to out of baseball entirely (see:  Sexson, Richie).

The real player I’m in awe of in 2016 is Kyle Seager.  I just don’t remember ever seeing a player like him before.  He consistently gets better with each passing season!  It’s incredible!  Usually those guys end up leaving Seattle, and finding their success with other teams.  There have certainly been Mariners players who have been better than Seager, but guys like A-Rod and Griffey were superstars as infants.  Edgar was already a pro hitter when he was still languishing in the minors.  Cano and Cruz obviously made their names elsewhere before cashing in here.  But, Seager is a true rarity.  A true find.  A homegrown stud at a difficult defensive position who was rewarded with a contract extension, and who continues to improve at his craft.  We’ve had Seager in Seattle for six years (five full seasons), and the best part of his game is that he could continue to improve for six more years!

He’s played in at least 155 games in every full year he’s been in the Majors.  Before 2016, he’d hit for an average of around .260 to .270.  He’s increased his homer production each and every year.  He’s got a gold glove under his belt.  He’s been an All Star.  But, this year, he took his hitting to a new level.  Yes, yes, the career highs in homers, RBI, and runs scored.  But, also career highs in average, on-base percentage, and slugging!  And, we’re talking considerable jumps:

  • .278 average, previous high of .268 in 2014
  • .359 on-base percentage, previous high of .338 in 2013
  • .499 slugging percentage, previous high of .454 in 2014
  • .858 OPS, previous high of .788 in 2014

This coincides with a smarter approach at the plate.  If you look at his spray charts this year compared to years past, you’ll see while he’s predominantly a pull hitter when it comes to homers, he’s much better at distributing batted balls evenly throughout the field.  Still a lot of ground-outs to the second baseman, but not nearly as pronounced as it was even two years ago.  If he can continue to improve in this regard, he might even be able to get teams to stop shifting so much when he comes to the plate.

I still contend there’s a .300 hitter lurking beneath the surface of Kyle Seager.  The more he works at hitting to all fields, the better his chances of cracking that barrier.  Of course, you take the good with the bad, and there are definite limitations to Seager’s game.  He’s got power, but not to all fields.  So, the trick is, maintaining that 20-30 homer power, while morphing into that .300 hitter I keep saying (every year) that we’re going to see one of these days.  It’ll happen, and when it does, I’m going to go hoarse from saying “I Told You So” so many times.

The best part of this 2016 Mariners team was its heart of the order.  These 3-4-5 hitters.  Even if they went through individual slumps, they weren’t long-lasting.  And, it seemed like there was never a point in the year where all of them were in a slump at the same time.  There was always one or two of these guys hitting to pick up the slack.  And, when all three were on at the same time, it was usually a bloodbath for the other team.  Now, whether that contributed to the hitters around them being better, or getting better pitches to hit, I couldn’t tell you.  I do know that we had 9 guys (including our fearsome Big Three) who had over 10 homers, which is pretty impressive.  I’m sure guys ahead of them (pitchers not wanting to walk guys ahead of Cano) and behind them (pitchers not wanting to give up more RBI, as there would most certainly be at least one guy on base by the time the 6-hole batter came up) saw better pitches to hit.  But, this was also a very veteran team, that by and large was able to work a count better than we’ve seen in over a decade.  So, it’s tough to say how the Big Three affected the rest of the lineup.

I just know what they were able to do, and it was the best we’ve seen ’round these parts in quite some time.

Ideally, we’ll get more of the same in 2017.  We’re probably going to need it, as I can’t imagine the pitching staff is going to drastically improve between now and then.  But, if they start to regress, at least we’ll have 2016.  It didn’t end in a post-season berth, but it was still an entertaining year of baseball thanks to these three guys.

Howard Lincoln Is Finally Gone!

I know, I know.  Can’t let emotions totally cloud the big picture.  If Howard Lincoln had never come into our lives – in a Seattle Mariners sense – there most likely would no longer BE a “Seattle Mariners” to kick around.  In 1992, while working for Nintendo, Howard Lincoln helped facilitate the sale of the Mariners from Jeff Smulyan (evil fuck, who wanted to move the Mariners to Florida, in the time before the Rays and Marlins existed) to an ownership group who wanted to keep the Mariners in Seattle (led, obviously, by the Nintendo corporation).

Part of me will always wonder if that was indeed a good thing.  I mean, shit, I didn’t become a Mariners fan until 1995!  If you’re telling me there’s an alternate universe where I never would’ve become a Mariners fan in the first place, and been saved 20+ years of heartbreak, I might sign up for that in a heartbeat!  Yeah, there have been some good memories sprinkled in there, but for the most part it’s been nothing but misery, with the last 10+ years nothing but stinking, puking misery.

Is it better to have lost and never loved?

Better question:  is there ANY chance the city learns its lesson by having the Mariners move to Florida in the early 1990s, and somehow scraps together to save the Sonics before they leave in 2008?  Because, if that’s even remotely true, then I’m buying a time machine and setting some shit into motion.  Butterfly Effects and whatnot …

I’m getting off-topic again.  This is about Howard Lincoln, and how happy we are that he’s leaving later this summer.  Retiring, to be accurate, so it’s not like he gets the public de-pantsing that he so richly deserves.  But, beggars can’t be choosers.

On September 27, 1999, Howard Lincoln was named Chairman and CEO of the Seattle Mariners.  I don’t have the foggiest idea what his role with the club was prior to that, but it stands to reason that he didn’t have nearly as much power as he would wield thereafter.  About a month later, on October 25, 1999, he hired Pat Gillick to be the team’s general manager, and from that point, the Mariners enjoyed their greatest regular season success, from 2000 through 2003.

After the 2003 season, Pat Gillick left for a less aggravating life.  While he was able to build a steady winner in Seattle, he was unable to make the moves when it counted, and make no mistake:  that was ALL on ownership.  That was ALL at the hand of Howard Lincoln.

Lincoln’s been a greedy old miser from day one.  The Mariners, even at their best, always felt they were spending “too much”.  Gillick was never fully given the resources needed to push this team into the World Champion realm, and for that, we have Howard Lincoln to thank.

Once Gillick left, the bottom completely dropped out of this organization in 2004, and from there, it’s been a long, painful run of baseball.  Whereas Gillick was reluctant to mortgage the farm, his successor did everything he could to give away all of our young talent for as many magic beans as other teams could throw in our faces.  Better to trade prospects for veterans than to add salary via free agency!  Then, when we crashed and burned in 2008 – after an endless string of baffling trade decisions from Bavasi got him fired – the focus of the organization shifted to “Build From Within”.  Or, you know, the exact opposite philosophy of our reigning GM.  We brought in Jackie Z – who we thought knew his head from his ass when it came to drafting – and shrunk payroll to almost nothing as we rushed our prospects to the Bigs, only to watch them fail time and time again.  AND YET, even though that failed miserably (save Kyle Seager), after a few years, the Mariners switched philosophies yet again!  Starting with Felix, and then Seager, and then Cano and Cruz, the Mariners tried to pad out what little home-grown talent they had with veteran free agents.  Ultimately, the organization cratered yet again in 2015, and it was time for yet another shakeup.

I mean, shit man, when a guy like Howard Lincoln forces out the smartest baseball men this organization has ever known in Pat Gillick, and Lou Piniella the year before, isn’t that a red flag?  Doesn’t that tell you right there that Howard Lincoln doesn’t know shit about the game of baseball, and shouldn’t be in charge of a baseball organization?

Well, he shouldn’t be in charge if the goal of that organization is to WIN.  Which, obviously, was pretty low on the priorities list, regardless of what they’ll tell you in press conferences and interviews.  If your goal is to make MONEY, then by all means, Howard Lincoln is your guy.  He’ll rule the pocket book with an iron fist, turn Safeco Field into a Chuck E. Cheese playland, and spend all his free time pissing down our legs and telling us it’s raining.

Howard Lincoln has NO FUCKING CLUE how to run a world-class baseball team.  Plain and simple.  Is he better than the guy who’s trying to take the team and move it to Florida?  Yeah, sure, I guess.  But, that’s a pretty low fucking bar to clear!

And, I’m not saying you have to spend $300 million a year on payroll.  You don’t have to go hog wild and buy all the free agents every single offseason.  That’s not the point.  The St. Louis Cardinals don’t do that, and they’re probably the organization I respect the most in all of Major League Baseball!

No, see, the idea is to surround yourself with competent baseball professionals, and let them do what needs to be done.  Don’t constrict them with your constant meddling, don’t put the payroll on lockdown out of principle, don’t hire a new field manager every two fucking years, and don’t change your organizational philosophy every five fucking years!

  • If you have a good team, but they’re a piece or two away from being World Champions, give your GM an opportunity to make a deal at the deadline, even if it means picking up some extra salary
  • If you’re going to smartly and patiently build from within, then BE smart and BE patient!  Don’t rush them to the Major Leagues after a year in the minors
  • If you’re going to start making splashes in free agency, then make the right kinds of splashes, and try to find undervalued diamonds instead of falling all over the first big name you see
  • And, if your moves don’t pan out, maybe don’t keep forcing them out there time and time again expecting different results

Howard Lincoln, you’re a putz, and I’m glad you’ll be gone.  It’s time to stop running the Mariners like a corporation and to start running them like a baseball organization.  Bring in smart baseball people – at all levels, all the way down through the minors – and let them do their jobs.  Let the GM set the tone, and dictate how we’re going to be teaching and coaching our youngest players.  Be hands off, and be open to new ideas, because the baseball people know baseball, and the business people have no business meddling in their affairs.

There’s probably a lot I don’t know about Howard Lincoln and how he ran this team.  I wouldn’t be shocked if I’m slandering the man’s name throughout this piece with half-truths and outright fabrications.  But, you know what?  When you take a team from baseball’s elite, and drag them back down to the lowest lows (at times, even worse and more embarrassing than we were in the 70s & 80s), to the point where, as a fan, you almost WISH the ownership group would just sell them to another city, so you didn’t have to watch this bullshit anymore … when you’re that TERRIBLE at your job, you don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

And when you do everything in your power to block the Seattle Sonics from returning with a new arena, then I have to admit, this is only the SECOND-happiest moment of my life (as it relates to Howard Lincoln).  The #1 spot is reserved for when I can finally piss on that man’s grave.

The Seahawks Are One Of The Best Franchises In Football

When you think of the best teams – and the best-run organizations – in the NFL, you think of New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay; but Seattle doesn’t immediately come to mind.  If you’re in my age range (mid-30s), you probably still have the moniker of “America’s Team” seared into your consciousness when you think of the Dallas Cowboys.  You’d also probably liken the 49ers, Giants, and various others among the greats.  But the Seahawks?  Nah.  Tucked all the way up here?  Out of the limelight, what with East Coast Bias and whatnot, the Seahawks are middle-of-the-road at best.

Living with this team in the 1990s, “middle-of-the-road” was something to aspire to!  An 8-8 season was considered a success!  But, I think it’s time to come around a little bit.  I did some research (i.e. wasted a bunch of time working on a spreadsheet), and it turns out the Seahawks have been pretty damn great; not just recently, but dating back the last 13 seasons.

I know, it’s a VERY arbitrary starting point.  But, this is a Seattle-centric blog, and the 2003 season is quite significant for this franchise.

Mike Holmgren’s first season with the Seahawks was 1999; he’s generally credited (and rightfully so) with turning around this moribund franchise.  All the old-timers can cling to the mid-80s glory of the Seahawks, but let’s face it, by the time Holmgren was brought on, this team was a laughingstock, or at the very least a non-entity.  This little slice of nothingness up in the Pacific Northwest you didn’t really have an opinion about if you didn’t have to play us regularly (and even then, even teams within our own division had MUCH bigger rivalries with teams other than the Seahawks).  Even though Holmgren led the Seahawks to a division title and a playoff appearance in his first year, I’m reluctant to include that year, or the subsequent three seasons, as he was still mired with a lot of the previous regime’s players.

In 2003, though, everything started to come together.  Matt Hasselbeck was a proven, quality quarterback.  And, the rest of the team was talented enough to push us into perennial division-winner status, as we ripped off five straight NFC West titles.  The Holmgren era, by and large, gets short shrift when compared to the Pete Carroll era, for good reason.  These Seahawks teams, since 2012, have been VASTLY superior, and have had much more success than those Holmgren teams (especially in the playoffs, where it counts more).  But, if you lump these two eras together, you get a good look at what a quality franchise really looks like.

You’ll notice a theme when you look at the great franchises:  they tend to be defined by the head coaches.  The Holmgren Era, the Carroll Era, and so on.  But, really, what we’re talking about is quarterback eras.  The Hasselbeck Era, the Wilson Era.  As you can see from a lot of the crappy teams, quarterbacking is everything in the NFL.  Teams are lucky if they get ONE franchise quarterback in a generation; the Seahawks have had two, and that’s the biggest reason why the Seahawks have been among the greatest teams over the last 13 years.  It’s also why the Seahawks will continue to be great, as long as Russell Wilson sticks around.

From 2003 through 2015, the Seahawks have been the sixth-most successful franchise in the NFL, behind New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and Denver.  In that Google Spreadsheet I linked to, the left side divides the teams by division; the right side is listed by way of regular season record.  This is some PHENOMENAL company the Seahawks are keeping!  And, when you go down the list, you can see why these teams have had the success they’ve had.  Tom Brady & Bill Belichick; Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck (Indy hitting the lottery twice with those #1 overall picks); Ben Roethlisberger; a seamless transition from Favre to Rodgers.  The only semi-outlier is Denver, who has been blessed in recent seasons by the signing of Manning, and had some other playoff years with Jake Plummer of all people; but, the one thing I would point to is organizational stability.  They had Mike Shanahan for a bunch of those years, and John Elway has been a force as an executive since he took over.

I don’t really have a point beyond touting that the Seahawks are pretty great.  I often come across as a bit of a Debbie Downer, as a result of my sports upbringing and having all success ripped away from me as a fan.  I just think it’s time to appreciate how good this team has been for the majority of my adult life.  When you take it in across the big picture, the Seahawks are fucking awesome, and it’s about time the rest of the nation recognized.

With news of Ken Griffey Jr. being inducted into the Hall of Fame (with a record-setting percentage of votes), it’s given Mariners fans yet another opportunity to reflect on our mid-90s success.  You look at those teams and smile, especially given how bereft we’ve been of baseball prowess in recent years.  You can also look at those teams – with two hall of famers (Griffey and Randy), a should-be hall of famer in Edgar, and another should-be hall of famer in Sweet Lou – and smack yourself as hard as you can on the forehead:  HOW DID WE NOT WIN A WORLD SERIES WITH THOSE GUYS???

But, that’s baseball.  Really, that’s just sports.  Success is fleeting, championships are fucking hard, and the world is a meaningless flat circle.

With the thought of those Mariners teams in your mind, now think of these Seahawks.  From the Holmgren Era, we had a hall of famer in Walter Jones, who anchored one of the best O-Lines in recorded history.  From the Carroll Era, we’re looking at how many possible/probable hall of famers?  Let’s list them off:

  • Earl Thomas
  • Richard Sherman
  • Russell Wilson
  • Marshawn Lynch?
  • Bobby Wagner?
  • Kam Chancellor?
  • Doug Baldwin???

It’s getting a little lean down there at the bottom; I don’t know if any of those last three guys have a legitimate shot at the HOF (they’d probably have to have REALLY extended careers, which I don’t think is necessarily in the cards with the way big hitters like Wagner and Kam play the game; and I just don’t think Baldwin will have the raw receptions/yards numbers compared to other receivers – it’s just hard as a receiver in general in this pass-wacky day and age to crack the hall), but just having three Hall of Famers on your squad is remarkable in its own right (for what it’s worth, I do think all three of Earl, Richard, and Russell will end up making it, assuming their careers aren’t cut short in a hail of concussions).

We’re really fortunate, is what I’m getting at, to be fans of the Seahawks right now.  That’s not to say I’m satisfied, or ready to settle for what we’ve got.  As a fan, you always want more; it’s the nature of the beast.  But, as we head into Wild Card weekend, it’s cool to look back and reflect upon all the greatness we’ve seen.  Here’s to another 13 remarkable years!

Mariners Tidbit 26: Happy Felix Day Indeed!

I’ve been to some big/odd/random professional baseball games in my day.  My very first game ever was in 1996 against the California Angels, on April 15th.  The Mariners were down 9-1 in the top of the fourth inning and ended up coming back to win 11-10; at the time, it was the greatest Mariners comeback in franchise history.  A-Rod hit a homer out of the 9-hole, Norm Charlton pitched 2 innings to get the win.  It was an amazing game, just me and my dad (I think, I was 15 at the time, so who knows how good my memory is).

The most important game I ever went to was on September 23, 1997, against the Anaheim Angels.  The Mariners jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to an A-Rod single and a Jay Buhner 3-run bomb.  Randy Johnson was on the mound and would give up two more runs – three in total – over 8 innings.  In the ninth, Heathcliff Slocumb gave up a leadoff single as the Mariners clung to their 4-3 lead, then got a fly ball out and struck out the next two guys to lock down the save.  What made this game different is that it was the game that officially locked the Mariners in as A.L. West Champions.  Randy’s record went to 19-4 and we were going back to the playoffs for the second time (in franchise history) in three years.

In Cheney Stadium, in early August, 1998, I saw the first start for Freddy Garcia in a Rainiers uniform.  I was somehow graced with seats right behind the catcher thanks to a family member, and we were amazed at the kid as he spun 7 innings of 1-run gold.  The trading of Randy Johnson was universally panned (as it should have been), but no one could deny the Mariners got some talented prospects in return.

I also saw Ken Cloude’s first start in a Mariners uniform (August 9, 1997).  Now, you may be wondering why this is such a big deal; well, I’ll tell you.  It was a 5-2 defeat to James Baldwin and the Chicago White Sox, dropping the Mariners to merely 15-games over .500 (GOD, those were the days).  Ken Cloude was a prospect from the minors we were all hoping would settle down the back-end of the rotation (when guys like Bob Wolcott, Scott Sanders, and Dennis Martinez were failing terribly).  In the end, Cloude didn’t add up to much, and his Major League career was very short lived.

But, on August 9, 1997, he got the closest I’ve ever seen to a perfect game/no hitter (IN PERSON) in my entire life.  Ever since I first got into baseball – and specifically getting into keeping score while at a baseball game – it’s been my dream to one day keep score of a no hitter by a Mariners pitcher.  Oddly enough, the closest I’ve ever gotten in person was at a Rainiers game, as Derek Lowe (yeah, THAT Derek Lowe) pitched a no hitter into the 8th inning (but that’s neither here nor there).  Cloude ended up perfect through 5 innings (with the Mariners clinging to a 1-0 lead at the time).  He gave up a walk in the 6th, but still had a no hitter going into the 7th.  It’s unfortunate the Mariners couldn’t play add-on in this situation, as he gave up a single/walk/single to lead off the 7th.  Paul Spoljaric came in and gave up all three of Cloude’s runs that he inherited.  We went on to pull to within 3-2, but for some reason Lou left Bobby Ayala in there for 2.1 innings.  He was actually solid until the 9th, when he gave up a 2-run homer to seal it.

So, Ken Cloude is my high-water mark of pitching perfection.  Obviously, I’ve seen better-pitched games (any number of Randy Johnson and Felix Hernandez games will attest to that).  But, no one is touching Cloude for the 18 outs he got before giving up a hit.

Last night, I thought Felix might’ve had a shot.  To be fair, I ALWAYS think Felix has a shot at perfection, because Felix is perfect in every way.  But, as soon as he struck out the side in the top of the first without much fuss, I knew we were on to something.  He was perfect through 14 batters, until Trevor Plouffe knocked a solid single into right field.  So, the dream continues.  No perfect scorecard for me, but I’ll keep trying.

Doesn’t mean the game wasn’t a rousing success!  How about this:  both pitchers went the distance!  When was the last time we’ve seen that?  Phil Hughes was solid, but obviously not good enough as he gave up a monster bomb to Nelson Cruz in the second, and the first extra base hit of the year to LoMo in the form of a solo homer in the fifth.  The first homer would be all Felix needed, as he got the 9-inning shutout.  He was dynamic.  We’ve seen stuff like this from him before, but it seems to be so rare when he’s this economical.  He ended up with 102 pitches total.

A sight for sore eyes, I’ll say that much.  The day started out on kind of a bummer with Iwakuma going on the DL.  We’ll have to wait to see if he’s able to turn his career around; for the record, I STRONGLY doubt he’s had this issue with his trap muscle dating back to late last season.  But, if he did, and this is what’s caused the majority of his problems, then I say Get Well Soon.

In the meantime, I’m going to be day-dreaming of this Felix start for the rest of the weekend.

The Huskies Are Back, Baby! (Men’s Basketball Edition)

It’s been a while since the Huskies beat a ranked non-conference opponent.  In fact, you have to go all the way back to Tuesday, December 22, 2009, at home against Texas A&M.  You MIGHT remember that game as the one where that one guy (Derrick Roland) broke his leg in a freak accident under the basket, ending his college career.  You might remember that season as the last time the Huskies made the NCAA Tournament (but you’d be wrong; the Huskies made it to the Tourney in 2011 as well; though this was the last time the Huskies made it to the Sweet 16).

We’re talking FIVE years since the Huskies have had a victory as big as the one on Sunday night, against 13th ranked San Diego State.

Since that A&M game, we’ve played seven ranked non-conference opponents and have lost them all.  It’s the primary reason why we haven’t gone to the NCAA Tournament in so long (especially in 2011-2012, when we won the regular season conference title, but were bounced down to the NIT).  I’ll be honest, I’ve thought all along that this team is the best one we’ve had around here in a while, but when I heard about the Aztecs and how good they are on defense, I had my doubts.  I thought it’d be close, but I figured they’d have the horses to pull away.

So, imagine my surprise at the beatdown we laid on them Sunday!  We held them to 15 points in the first half, and 36 points overall.  It was truly remarkable and it’s put the Huskies back on the map in a big way!

Granted, it wasn’t the prettiest of games.  You don’t watch two teams play a basketball game, with neither being able to surpass 50 points, and say to yourself, “My, that was an enjoyable exhibition of athletic prowess!”  But, I would argue, this also wasn’t just a game full of wildly crazy shots being bricked up.  You saw a notoriously good defensive team in San Diego State go head to head with an underratedly good defensive team in Washington.  And, on this day, the Huskies came out on top.

I absolutely cannot say enough good things about Robert Upshaw.  This kid is a stud through and through.  He tacked on another 4 blocks to go with 7 rebounds and 7 points in an all-around dominant performance.  When the Huskies go to their 2-3 zone with him in the middle making life miserable for anyone who dares enter his airspace, it’s just lethal.  Robert Upshaw is where basketballs go to die.  I’m honestly giddy at this point, because we’ve NEVER had a big man with his height, his adeptness around the hoop, his athleticism, and his hands.  What’s more, he’s not a foul-out waiting to happen, he’s able to block shots to teammates (as opposed to the showy blocks out of bounds that tend to get the fans all excited, but ultimately don’t help your team quite as much), and he can hit the occasional free throw.  This here is a complete player who certainly has the ability to play in the NBA if he keeps progressing.

I can’t tell you how huge this is.  The Huskies have needed a quality big man for the last half decade, and now they’ve finally got him.  Right now, he’s not starting, but I wouldn’t expect that to hold forever.  Either way, with Kemp producing at a high level, it’s a good problem to have.  When they’re both on the floor at the same time, inside scoring is nearly impossible.  When just one of them is on the floor, you don’t really miss a beat.

In this early going, the Huskies are relying on their three bigs (lump Jarreau into the mix) and their starting back-court in Williams-Goss and Andrews.  In the game against the Aztecs, NWG and Andrews combined for 28 of 49 points, with each of them hitting critical threes at the most opportune times.  San Diego State never really had a chance to get back into this game, because whenever they even thought about going on a run, the Huskies had a response.

The offense is just plain better with NWG on the floor.  In this game, both he and Andrews played 36 of 40 minutes.  In the early going, Andrews is averaging a shade over 30 minutes per game and NWG is averaging even more, at a little over 34 minutes per.  They’re both amazing athletes who can probably handle the load, but you’d like to see those numbers come down just a little bit, if we want to keep them fresh for the long haul.  But, I can understand the over-reliance.  NWG is the engine.  The bench guys may develop into quality role players, but they’re going to need to build up experience and confidence.  Until they do that, we’re going to have to continue to lean heavily on the stars.

On the plus side, Mike Anderson is a quality role player right now.  He’s yet to really pour in the baskets, but he does enough of everything else to be one of those glue guys.  Hustles, plays solid defense, rebounds, can hit the occasional shot.  Then, we’ve got Donaven Dorsey and Quevyn Winters who – once they get acclimated to the game – have the potential to really rain down the shots from outside.  Once they get going, this Huskies team will be something special.

As for right now, we’ve got a 7-0 Huskies team that’s ranked 17th in the nation.  HOW ABOUT THAT???  In the eyes of the nation, we’re the third-best team in the Pac-12 behind #3 Arizona and #13 Utah.  This year couldn’t be going any better so far.

And, quite frankly, you won’t find many happier than myself.  I’ve been on the Romar bandwagon for the duration, even in these lean last couple of years when he wasn’t so popular.  When everyone was talking about getting rid of him.  Truth be told, Romar is my favorite head coach in any sport right now, and is probably on my own personal Mount Rushmore of Favorite Seattle Sports Head Coaches (with George Karl, Lou Piniella, and I gotta go with Pete Carroll over Holmgren because he actually brought us the championship).  No one deserves this success more than Romar, and I hope this is just the beginning of another epic run by the best Husky head coach in men’s basketball history.

Week 19 Random Mariners Thoughts

The Mariners lost one game in the last week, so OF COURSE it was the game where we inducted Lou into the Mariners Hall of Fame.  Have we EVER won these games where we’re honoring someone special?

Well, it got a little dicey there in the month of July, but here we are smack dab in the middle of August and we’ve won 5 of our last 6 and 8 of our last 12.  We play Toronto for three games, starting tonight, and then we go on a big ol’ road trip.

Right now, the Mariners are tied with Toronto, 1.5 games behind Kansas City of all teams for the second Wild Card.  The Yankees are right there behind us, 2.5 games back of KC.

Boy, that Chris Taylor guy looks like the real deal, huh?  The kid’s batting .400 with five doubles and spraying the ball to all fields!  Granted, it’s been 14 games, but still, it’s pretty impressive.

As for the other newcomers, I think I’m gonna like Austin Jackson, I think I’m going to be utterly disappointed in Chris Denorfia, and I still do honestly believe that Kendrys Morales will pull out of the nosedive that has been his 2014 season.

On the pitching side of things, we’re just mowing guys down left and right.  Not a whole lot new to say.  Felix is still going strong with his 15 consecutive games of going 7 innings or more and giving up 2 runs or less.  His ERA is down to 1.97 and the team’s ERA is down to 2.99.  We’re getting into mythic territory here, ladies and gentlemen.

The offense as a whole has been marginally better over the last week, though we still couldn’t get more than 1 run off of Hector Noesi, which is a fucking travesty.  Here’s to never playing the White Sox again this year.