The Mariners Salvaged One Against The Astros

Which means, of course, they lost three.

I hate the fucking Astros, so we’re just going to breeze through this 4-game series, so we can get to another team – the Angels – that I absolutely despise.

The Mariners lost 5-2 on Monday. Justus Sheffield wasn’t all that good, the bullpen kept the score as is, but the offense didn’t do much of anything.

The Mariners lost 2-0 on Tuesday. This one about broke me. Marco Gonzales was pretty great, giving up 2 runs in 6 innings, but clearly the offense totally shit the bed (two hits, both by Kyle Seager).

You’d THINK the game where the Mariners blew a 5-2 lead, losing 7-5, would have been the one to break me. But, by Wednesday, I was already broken, and so I was fully expecting this result. That’s a whopping 4 blown saves by Rafael Montero in the first month of the season, so I think it’s safe to say he’s not really our closer anymore. Great game by Luis Torrens in this one (2 for 4 with 2 runs and 3 RBI), but the offense as a whole is still underwhelming. Against a team like the Astros, you can’t just STOP scoring runs after the fifth inning and not expect to have the victory stolen from you once in a while.

The 1-0 victory on Thursday was pretty exciting! Yusei Kikuchi had a no-hitter going for a while, ultimately finishing with 7 shutout innings, giving up 1 hit and 2 walks, while striking out 7. Easily the best game of his Major League career. Taylor Trammell had the lone run – a solo homer – and the bullpen was able to put the game away (with Graveman getting his third save of the season).

The offense: IT’S A PROBLEM! It’s fucking hard to watch, for starters. I like a good pitcher’s duel as much as the next guy, but I don’t have a ton of confidence in our pitchers either, so those low-scoring games for both sides feel more flukey when the Mariners are holding the other team down.

And, on top of it all, Marco Gonzales went on the IL with forearm pain. Great. That’s three of our starters down. Why couldn’t these injuries have happened in May or June? Ostensibly when reinforcements from the minors are better prepared to make the jump!

That’s all I got. I’m happy to not see the Astros again for a while, after seven games in the first month. July 26th is the next time we have to see them again. God, what a wonderful respite! Maybe some of our guys will fucking learn how to fucking hit by then.

2021 Mariners Preview Extravaganza: We Have A Rest Of The Team

Yesterday, I wrote about the starting rotation. Today – the day of the Mariners’ first game of the season – I’ll be writing about everything else.

If you’ve been following along all offseason, I’ve already written about most of these guys. But, now we have an official roster, so let’s run through it.

We’re pretty set with the infield:

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Dylan Moore (2B)
  • Evan White (1B)
  • Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)

All healthy, present, and accounted for! All of them, of course, come with question marks. Does Seager have anything left in the late-career resurgence tank? Can Crawford build on his Gold Glove campaign to be a more consistent (and somewhat more powerful) hitter? Was 2020 a mirage for Moore? Will White EVER hit, period? And, is the catcher position as strong as I expect it to be? How many of these guys – if any – will be longterm solutions at their respective positions? I gotta believe that the Next Great Mariners Team has at least a few of these guys playing roles; they can’t ALL still be in the minors or other organizations!

One guy we don’t have to worry about is:

This guy can hit! No notes! Also, since I believe in him so strongly, watch him struggle mightily. This is the way.

The outfield is my favorite part of this team, now and especially in the future. With Kyle Lewis starting on the 10-Day IL, it’s a little underwhelming at the moment, but obviously the M’s have to play it super safe with our 2020 Rookie of the Year.

  • Mitch Haniger (RF)
  • Jake Fraley (CF)
  • Taylor Trammell (LF)
  • Sam Haggerty (INF/OF)
  • Jose Marmolejos (INF/OF)

The story of camp has been Trammell making the Opening Day roster. Not just as an injury replacement to the injured Lewis, but as a legitimate starting left fielder for this team. He’s another one of those great guys we traded for from the Padres last year when we sent them Austin Nola – making us three for three of guys coming over in return making the team in 2021, with France and Torrens – whose prospect stock has fluctuated wildly over the course of his minor league career. But, he appears to be putting it all together now at just the right time: ahead of Kelenic and Rodriguez. This glut of highly-touted outfielders will only make things that much easier for the M’s as they fill out the rest of the roster to try to build a championship ballclub. Of everyone on this 26-man roster, Trammell is the one I’m most excited about.

And Haniger is the one I’m most curious about. He’s had a long road back to full health; at one point in his career he was one of the top 25-or-so players in the American League. It wouldn’t shock me to see him right back in that area; it also wouldn’t shock me to see him totally shit the bed. He no longer seems to be the future of the franchise, but he’s currently the present, and will have every opportunity to rebuild his value in the game of baseball.

Fraley and the rest are just guys. Placeholders until our young superstars return from injury and/or get called up from the minors.

The obvious wildcard on the Mariners is the bullpen:

  • Rafael Montero
  • Kendall Graveman
  • Nick Margevicius
  • Anthony Misiewicz
  • Keynan Middleton
  • Casey Sadler
  • Will Vest
  • Drew Steckenrider

Oof. Like I said, I have avoided learning too much about the bullpen; I’d rather watch them with my own eyes and draw my own conclusions. But, to get me started, I guess I’ll look up some info and regurgitate it here, for my own benefit if nothing else.

The Mariners traded for Rafael Montero from the Rangers in the offseason. He had 8 saves for a terrible Rangers team last year, and I guess figures to be our closer out of the gate? He doesn’t have a ton of Major League experience, but maybe he’s put it all together. We’ll see. He’s not a bad buy-low candidate, at least in the short term.

Graveman we all know. He was here last year, signed to be a starter after missing a lot of time with injuries. He ended up with a neck issue that somehow allows him to throw very hard in short bursts as a reliever, but hampers him too much to go too many innings in a row. I don’t understand this one iota (mostly, I don’t understand why he doesn’t just have some surgical procedure to fix it and return 100% healthy), but whatever. He’s generally pretty good for an inning most of the time, so that makes him a quality set-up candidate in my mind.

Margevicius was neck-and-neck with Justin Dunn for the sixth starter job. He will be one of the long men in the bullpen to eat up innings and keep us in ballgames when a starter falters. He’ll also be the first man to join the rotation if there’s an injury (and there will be an injury). He’s fine, I like him in this role a great deal. He’s also one of just two lefties in the ‘pen, so there should be no shortage of work for him this season.

Misiewicz is presumably our top lefty reliever. We drafted him in 2015 and he made his debut last year. He was pretty good, I think! I dunno, we’ll see I guess.

Keynan “Don’t Call Me Kenyan” Middleton was a free agent signing who played for the Angels’ organization the last four years. His 2020 looked pretty atrocious. The three years prior look better, just as long as you don’t go sniffing around his FIP too hard. He might be just a guy. A cheap guy, but a guy nevertheless. He’s still young enough to put it all together, but don’t hold your breath.

Sadler is a veteran we claimed from the Cubs last year, who has bounced around multiple organizations. He’s someone else with big Just A Guy energy.

Will Vest is a Rule 5 guy we poached from the Tigers this offseason. He will be making his Major League debut this year, which will be somewhat fun! Other than that, I dunno. He’s the Rule 5 guy, that’s the nugget I’m going to keep in my brain and promptly forget as soon as he makes it into an actual game.

Drew Steckenrider sounds like one of those names I always fuck up when it comes to those Lookout Landing Sporcle quizzes asking you to name all the Mariners’ pitchers from a particular season. He came over from the Marlins organization on a minor league deal and was apparently one of the last guys to make the team. He’s another one I’m not holding my breath about.

***

The world is our oyster here! The Mariners could be a Bottom Five team, but I really don’t think that will be the case. There’s a lot of young talent in the organization just waiting to break through. There’s a TON of athleticism. There’s promise bursting at the seams. This is a team that WANTS to be great, that has just enough leadership at just the right spots – including the coaching staff – to potentially make it happen. We could be looking at a team that hangs around and FINALLY becomes the one to break the playoff drought!

Or, you know, it could be another year with another mediocre record.

But, the hope is that the young guys will improve. That’s really all that matters. 2020 was a roaring success because we saw improvement from the guys we needed to see improvement from. 2021 needs to be more of the same. Winning and losing isn’t quite as irrelevant as it was last year, but that’s not the ultimate agenda quite yet. The experience of winning isn’t quite as important as the experience of just playing at this level, but there is a lot of value there. That’s why I won’t be as maniacal as in years past when it comes to getting a high draft pick for next season.

Do what you’re going to do, Mariners!

My prediction is that the M’s easily surpass the 72.5 win total that Vegas has them at. But, ultimately I don’t see us getting one of those Wild Card spots. Instead, we’ll probably be drafting in the teens next year.

I’m reserving all predictions beyond that. I’m not making ANY specific player predictions, because so much can happen. Injuries, regression, breakouts, it’s all on the table. My only hope is that I don’t exit this season feeling worse about the Mariners than I do right now. Right now, I’m full of optimism! So, let’s just work in service of that and try to make 2022 and beyond really special!

The Mariners Are Stacked At Catcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2020 Mariners Are Giving People A Lot Of Hope For 2021

The best-case scenario for the 2020 Mariners would’ve been going 60-0 with the players we had on our original roster (without calling up any of our prized prospects), followed by a rampage through the playoffs and our first (of many) World Series titles; my second and third wishes – for the record, if there are any lamp-imprisoned genies out there reading this – would be a billion tax-free American dollars given to me through no criminal means, and my very own Perpetual Orgasm Machine that I’m able to plug into Matrix-style for my own nonstop indulgence.

Since we obviously didn’t reach that apex of baseball achievement, I’d have to say the 2020 Mariners season was a qualified success! I’ll rate it a 7 out of 10 batting doughnuts (you don’t rate baseball success on a scale of batting doughnuts?). Based on expectations as a long-suffering Mariners fan, though, I’d have to bump it up to an 8 out of 10.

There was every reason to expect the worst this year. Key guys getting injured. Potential stars failing to develop. Botched trades. Useless free agent signings. Listless or negative clubhouse chemistry compounded exponentially as losses mounted. The Mariners have been in some form of rebuild since plummeting back to Earth in 2004. You can say they’ve never really torn the franchise down to the studs until this time around – and I’m inclined to agree with you – but there’s also no one right way to rebuild a franchise. As it turns out, hindsight being what it is, we know that all the ways we’ve tried it over the last 16 years have been utter failures, largely due to the reasons listed at the top of this paragraph; we’ve seen it all and then some!

So, to have the relative success this team was able to achieve is pretty remarkable. For the first time in a VERY long time, there is reason for actual hope. This feels real! Not based on a mountain of lies and unsustainably-lucky performances. We finished 27-33, and even with the playoffs expanded to eight teams per league, we still failed to get there. Honestly, I think that’s great! We didn’t overachieve! Because let’s face it, the last time there was this much hype around a bad, yet-hopefully-rebuilding Mariners squad, we did overachieve (in 2007 and again in 2009) and were crushingly disappointed (in 2008 and again in 2010).

Our general managers in those eras made what now feels like panic moves, to bolster a house of cards and see if we could parlay unlikely success into a return to meaningful, post-season baseball. And, we ended up losing over 100 games in response both times, falling apart under the weight of too-high expectations.

That isn’t to say the Mariners should stand pat going into 2021; just stick to the plan. The plan all along was to strip away the rotting, dead wood, give our young prospects an opportunity to flourish, and then add on complementary, quality veterans to slingshot into the stratosphere. While a 60-game, COVID-shortened season isn’t the ideal form of development for our young guys, it’s better than nothing. And, you can argue they flourished all the same.

The M’s are in desperate need for young, cheap, homegrown stars (not necessarily draft picks or international free agent signings, but really anyone acquired to work their way through our minor league system). Kyle Seager was really the last one to stick in any sort of meaningful way, and he obviously has a ceiling to his level of production; before him you’re probably looking at King Felix. That’s NOT a lot of stars over the last 15 years, which makes the futility all the more understandable.

With the crop of youngsters we have on the team now, and the guys in the upper levels of the minors (who figure to be called up pretty early on in the 2021 season), there are a considerable number of candidates who could be stars for this team. That’s so exciting!

As a change of pace, I’m going to rank the top Mariners I’m most excited about, with a little blurb for each.

  1. Jarred Kelenic – We did it! We kept him in the minors for the entirety of the 2020 season! That buys us an extra year of club control, and if we keep him down there for the first month or so in 2021, that’ll earn us one MORE year. This is important, see, because he’s far and away the best prospect we’ve had in the organization since King Felix, the best position player prospect we’ve had since Adam Jones, and probably the best position player prospect who we’re not going to foolishly trade away since Alex Rodriguez! If it all breaks as it should, his floor should be as a perennial All Star, with his ceiling being an MVP-calibre superstar.
  2. Kyle Lewis – Our should-be Rookie of the Year, he’s really exceeded expectations both in his 2019 cup of coffee and his 2020 surge forward. Of course, in both instances, we saw some struggles; his final month of this season was a pretty collosal nightmare from a batting average perspective. But, he remained a tough out – with a resepctable on-base percentage throughout – and took a huge leap in his defense, in locking down the everyday centerfield job. You never root for someone to do poorly, of course, but I don’t think his end to the season was a bad thing. He’s not a finished product, that’s clear. That’s also really exciting, because we know what the floor is (and that’s a really good player); we have no idea what the ceiling is, though, which allows us to dream as big as we want!
  3. Evan White – On paper, his rookie season wasn’t all that good, but there are still promising signs of things to come. For starters, he’s already among the best defensive first basemen in baseball. That’s going to paper over a lot of things for someone who slashed only .179/.253/.352. Anecdotally, though, I think we all saw some good improvement with his approach at the plate. In 54 games, he hit 7 doubles and 8 homers; extrapolate that out for nearly a full season and you’re looking at a 20/20 player. As a rookie? I’ll take that. This was good, pain-free experience for a still-developing prospect; I know I’ve said this a lot over the years, but I really believe he’s only going to get better from here. When he makes contact, the ball really explodes off his bat! This isn’t a Justin Smoak/Warning Track Power sort of swing; he’s got some pop that will play at this level! He just needs to improve his eye at the plate and his contact rate; everything else will work itself out in the years ahead.
  4. Marco Gonzales – What a stud. Just an absolute horse for this team. Someone to lead a new generation of exciting pitchers both with his outstanding on-field performance and his in-clubhouse guidance. I’ll be honest, I forgot we already extended him through 2025, but now that I confirmed it (and at a pretty reasonable salary to boot), I’m even more thrilled! When the M’s originally acquired him from the Cardinals in 2017, I thought we were getting just another ho-hum, soft-tossing lefty who at best would translate to a #5 starter, but more likely fizzle out of baseball entirely. Boy am I happy to be so wrong! He has gotten better every year he’s been here, to the point where you can legitimately have him in the Cy Young conversation! I thought his 2018/2019 level of production was his peak – a 4 ERA type of guy who might give you 175-200 innings and keep you in most games – but what he was in 2020 was a legitimate … ALMOST ace. He’s so close! If he can do what he did this season over 30+ starts next year, then I’ll absolutely give him that mantle for as long as he’s still in Seattle.
  5. Mitch Haniger – Don’t think I forgot about you! You know what’s exciting? Having an All Star locked and loaded and ready to go (hopefully) in 2021. He’s still young, he’s still at the Arbitration level for two more seasons, he’s STARVING to be back on the diamond and among the greats in this league again (so you know motivation won’t be an issue), and he’s still talented in all the ways you want in a right fielder. Sure, he might be a little rusty at first, but he hasn’t irrevocably declined; he’s just had nagging, freak injuries. Injuries, mind you, that should fully heal and shouldn’t hamper his ability going forward. I’m under the assumption that – before too long – he’ll return to his 2018 level, where he was a 6-WAR type of player. This further helps matters because, while the Mariners do have a considerable glut in outfield talent, they don’t necessarily have to call them all up right away. We’ve got Haniger here to soften the blow! Also, with the DH spot up for grabs, if we do end up extending Haniger beyond 2022, he can always transition there and prolong his career that way.
  6. J.P. Crawford – Before the final series of the season – where he raised his batting average nearly 30 points in four games – I think there was a lot of consternation about Crawford’s 2020 season. To that I would say: this is the same guy who was hitting nearly .400 through July 31st; he’s streaky! In great and maddening ways! If you offered me .259/.335/.343 out of him every year, with the quality defense he plays at short stop, I think I’d take that and be happy. I don’t think anyone loves the idea of him being this team’s leadoff hitter – though, he was pretty great at working counts and looking at a lot of pitches this year – but as a bottom-of-the-order type of guy with plus-defense? Yes please! But, more importantly, he’s young enough that there’s still plenty of potential for him to get better as he gets used to playing at this level. I think he’s fine, and I’m happy to continue rooting for him.
  7. Justus Sheffield – There was a lot of concern for him as I’ve noted before, the bloom had come off the rose a little bit (even though he only just turned 24 this year). He was always going to start this season in the Majors and be given every opportunity to work his way through any growing pains. I think he came out of it wildly successful given my pre-season expectations! Six of his ten starts were of the quality variety, and I’d argue it would’ve been seven of ten had the manager left him in there longer in his final appearance of the season (there was no reason to push him, since we weren’t playing for anything, but he had plenty left in the tank). The fastball isn’t great, but his slider is phenomenal, and I thought his command improved tremendously from where it was in 2019. When we traded James Paxton to get him, we’d hoped we were getting a future ace; I don’t think that’s in the cards here. But, he can be a quality #2 or an elite #3 in a great rotation if he continues to progress.
  8. Ty France – He’s not the biggest name we got in the Austin Nola deal, but he’s the most Major League-ready bat, which is just what this team needs. The question remains: where does he belong? Is he a DH until Kyle Seager moves on? Does he take over at third base after that? Do we try to transition him over to second base? Do we shoehorn him into left field until Kelenic gets called up? Or, is he simply trade bait for someone else who has a more established defensive fit for this team? What I’m excited about is the fact that his production at the plate didn’t falter one bit in going from San Diego to Seattle. You never know what you’re going to get when you trade for someone; sometimes the transition causes them to press and try to do too much (leading to mistakes). His bat plays anywhere in the 2-6 range in the lineup – depending on who you’ve got around him – and it should continue to be productive as long as he’s here (under team control through the 2025 season).
  9. Dylan Moore – He’s your frontrunner for the starting second baseman job next year, but he too can play all over the field if you need him. This is VERY impressive for someone who appeared to be nothing more than a utility guy (at best) or a Quad-A level talent (at worst). We’ve seen TONS of Dylan Moore types who never took the next step into being an everyday starter, which is why his story is so special. He came into this season and really set all of our expectations on fire! His defense has DRASTICALLY improved since the beginning of 2019, and now his bat – particularly his power numbers – has taken that leap as well. He’s yet another diamond in the rough this team was able to pluck from obscurity who should be a valuable player on the roster, as well as a valuable trade chip if we need him to be.
  10. Tom Murphy / Luis Torrens – Let’s just lump both of our prospective catchers in here. This has long been a troubled position for the Mariners (as an organization with LOTS of trouble spots they’ve failed to properly fill over the years, that’s really saying something). It’s so reassuring that we not only have this spot 100% locked down in 2021, but for many years to come (with prospect Cal Raleigh knocking on the door of the Majors, who figures to be our regular starting catcher as soon as 2022 or 2023). Murphy, of course, spent 2020 injured, but he should return at full health (and to his quality 2019 form). This, fortunately, afforded us ample opportunity to get a good, long look at Torrens, who also came over from San Diego, and was really reliable in all facets of the catching game for the M’s.
  11. Justin Dunn – Our other big rookie starter getting a “full” season’s worth of experience didn’t have quite as promising of a year as Sheffield. He too has a rather disappointing fastball, but makes up for it with tons of movement. Which means that he didn’t give up very many hits (or even a ton of hard-hit balls), but he walked a bunch of dudes (31 in just over 45 innings). You wonder, if he is able to harness things and stay within the strike zone more, if that’ll translate to giving up more hits and extra-base hits. BUT, if he’s able to put it ALL together, he could be a really special guy. As it is, this was just a year to get his feet wet, and he did that, while staying healthy throughout. He’s worked his arm up, accounting for four quality starts out of ten, and now it’s time to take what he’s learned this year and advance things in 2021 and beyond. Once again – with Sheffield – he’ll be given every opportunity to walk out of Spring Training with a starting rotation job, which means he has a significant head start over the younger guys we’ve drafted in recent years, who are champing at the bit to make their marks in the Major Leagues.
  12. Yohan Ramirez – The bullpen was an unmitigated disaster in 2020, but Ramirez – the Rule 5 guy we got from the Cheating Astros’ organization – managed to not only stay up all year, but be probably our best overall reliever, as well as the guy most poised to be our Closer of the Future. He made 16 appearances, got 3 saves, and had the best ERA on the team (of guys who finished the season on the 25-man roster). He had 26 strikeouts in 20.2 innings, so he’s got electric stuff; but he also had 20 walks in that span, which means he’s yet to fully harness it. Bullpen is such a crapshoot, and we’ve probably got 20 guys right behind him who all have potential to be at least competent, so I don’t know if it makes a ton of sense to go crazy here. I’m just happy we came out of this season with ONE guy I like!

I could go on and on; there are a few pitchers in the minors I’m pretty excited about, but I know almost nothing about them, and I don’t know what exactly they were able to accomplish in Tacoma this year, without any real games happening (and facing the same Mariners prospects over and over). Many of them won’t be ready until 2022 at the earliest, and even the guys who are on the cusp will still likely have to start 2021 in the minors just to prove they’re ready to be called up.

But, if you just look at the guys I talked about here, 2021 looks like it could be quite fun. By midseason, Kelenic, Lewis, and Haniger could be our outfielders. Seager, Crawford, Moore, White, and Murphy/Torrens could be our infield, with Ty France as our DH (and any number of good-looking bench/utility guys behind them, like Jose Marmolejos, Sam Haggerty, Tim Lopes, and Shed Long). What do you think about this lineup?

  1. Dylan Moore (2B)
  2. Mitch Haniger (RF)
  3. Kyle Lewis (CF)
  4. Kyle Seager (3B)
  5. Ty France (DH)
  6. Evan White (1B)
  7. Jarred Kelenic (LF)
  8. Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)
  9. J.P. Crawford (SS)

Obviously, of course, Kelenic will eventually ascend toward the 2-4 range in the lineup, but as a rookie? Let’s give him a soft landing, at least until he’s worked through his inevitable struggles.

That’s a fun lineup, though, right?! Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais are already talking about the 2021 team contending for the playoffs – which is a good year (at least) earlier than most projections had us heading into this season – and that has to be a considerable reason why. Those guys can hit, defend, steal bases, get on base; everything you want! That’s a viable Major League everyday roster that can win a lot of ballgames.

On the pitching side of things, it’s a little more iffy. It sounds like we’re going to continue with a 6-man rotation, with four of the slots going to Marco, Justus Sheffield, Yusei Kikuchi, and Justin Dunn. Figure that Nick Margevicius and Ljay Newsome will compete for a fifth spot (with the other likely heading to the bullpen as a long reliever), and a sixth spot going to a free agent (maybe bring back Taijuan Walker, who was KILLING it in Toronto after we traded him; it’s a bummer that it doesn’t look like he got a chance to pitch in the playoffs, before they lost to the Rays). With all the money the Mariners have to spend, I have to imagine that whoever we sign in free agency will be of high quality. So, if you figure he’s at least on Marco’s level, that’s two high-quality starters at the top of the rotation, with two promising young guys in Sheffield & Dunn, and Kikuchi who will hopefully figure it out at some point (considering his pedigree in the Japanese league). Also, not for nothing, but Margevicius and Newsome both threw lots of strikes and consistently kept the M’s in ballgames, so I have no problem with either one of them.

It’s not a dominant rotation, but as long as guys don’t regress too bad, you can win a lot with them.

The bullpen is another matter, of course. You figure the M’s will also look to free agency here to shore it up, but I won’t be holding my breath. The variance from season to season when it comes to relievers makes them too unpredictable to project. It’s going to take a lot of luck – in finding the right guys, as well as helping our homegrown guys improve in their development – but if the Mariners somehow hit the lottery with their bullpen configuration, then 2021 could very well be the year we end the streak.

It could be the first year since 2001 that we make the post-season!

(it would also help if MLB kept the playoff format as is, with eight teams per league advancing, but that’s neither here nor there).

As I mentioned, every time I’ve left a season allowing myself to dream big about the future, the Mariners have fallen on their faces. This time DOES feel different, though. The foundation doesn’t seem like it’s being held together by 15 year old duct tape, with a leaking roof and spiders crawling all over the basement. The veterans are still in their primes, the young guys look poised to develop early, and if we can just catch a fucking BREAK for once, maybe there will be cause for real, legitimate celebration in 2021!

Or, you know, maybe everything falls apart again, the front office all gets fired after making all these promises of contention, panic moves – made in hopes to save their jobs – all bite us horrifically in the ass, and we’re left to do this all over again in another 5-10 years.

When I put it that way, when do the Seattle Kraken start playing?

The Mariners Are Starting To Fade With That Weekend Series In San Diego

Let’s just pretend last night’s game against the Astros didn’t happen. Football season being what it is, it necessitates my writing about the Seahawks most Monday mornings. And I’ll be damned if I’m posting twice on the same day when I don’t have to!

So, imagine it’s yesterday morning when I’m writing this. The M’s are 23-30 and coming off of a series defeat to the Padres. The fact that we won once – and took the finale to extra innings – is impressive-enough, but with the Cheating Astros winning 2/3 over the weekend, they took an insurmountable 4-game lead heading into the Seattle series this week.

Friday’s 6-1 defeat was a bust any way you slice it. Yusei Kikuchi gave up 5 runs in 4 innings; his season hasn’t been ideal by any stretch of the imagination. In spite of decent bullpen work the rest of the way, the offense couldn’t generate more than three hits (one of them a solo homer by Evan White).

That made Saturday’s 4-1 victory all the more exciting, though. Legitimate cause for celebration – Justus Sheffield – tossed another gem, going 6 innings, giving up 1 run. He has been a true revelation this season! Kyle Lewis hit a solo homer (his 11th on the season) and two guys we brought in from the Padres in that Austin Nola deal – Ty France and Luis Torrens – combined for 4 hits and 3 RBI in this one. Nola, meanwhile, has shockingly been ice cold since going to San Diego, with only 10 hits in 49 at bats, for a slash line of .204/.316/.388, which has to be a disappointment for both him and his new team. Maybe the pressure is too much? Maybe it’s just a flukey cold streak. We’ll see. Anyway, this one got hairy in the ninth inning, with Yoshihisa Hirano loading the bases before getting out unscathed.

The finale on Sunday was pretty bonkers, with both starters getting into the fifth inning without giving up any hits. The M’s actually managed to draw first blood in the bottom of the fifth with a single and a double to take a 1-0 lead. Justin Dunn didn’t give up a hit until he got two outs into the sixth inning, before a walk, a double, and 3-run homer ended his outing. The Mariners tied it in the eighth on a Dylan Moore 2-run bomb, which eventually got us into extras. With the dumb Start A Runner On Second Base rule in effect, the Padres scored in the top of the tenth and the Mariners did the same to make it 4-4 heading into the 11th. The Padres did significant damage this time around, scoring three runs to ultimately take the game, 7-4.

Again, heading into Monday, the Mariners and their 23-30 record were good for tenth in the draft order next year. Still well within shouting distance of a much better pick! How will we do against the Astros? I’m predicting three more defeats!

(Would you look at that?! After last night’s game, I’m already wrong in my prediction!)

In Spite Of Everything, The Mariners Have Made Things Interesting

To be fair, the Houston Cheatin’ Astros have also made things interesting (by losing more than expected), but that’s neither here nor there.

1.5 games is all that separates the Seattle Mariners from an end to the playoff drought that dates back nearly 20 years. 2001 was the last time we made the post-season, making us the most suffering franchise in all of the four biggest North American sports. I wonder if that’s changed? Like, if you ranked the top ten biggest North American sports, would we be the losingest among ALL sports?! I mean, at some point we have to be the worst, and I think I would’ve heard about an organization that’s somehow been more inept than the Mariners.

Anyway, if you thought this 60-game season was a sprint, get ready, because we’ve got 12 games between today and September 27th; 12 games to try and overtake the Astros. I don’t think we can do it, but it’s 2020: crazier things have happened.

The series against the Diamondbacks over the weekend didn’t start off as fabulously as I’d hoped, with a 4-3 defeat. Yusei Kikuchi battled his way through 6 innings, giving up all 4 runs by the third before settling down. Dylan Moore hit a solo homer in the third, Jose Marmolejos hit an RBI single in the seventh, and Ty France hit a solo homer in the eighth, but otherwise the offense just couldn’t get going and we ultimately ran out of innings.

It was doubly unfortunate because the M’s went on to win the next two games, both with a score of 7-3.

Determined to get off to a hotter start on Saturday, we were up 5-0 after the second inning. Justus Sheffield quietly dominated in this one, going 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 5 hits & 3 walks, with 7 strikeouts. Marmolejos and France both busted out multi-hit games (including homers for each), as did Luis Torrens and Phillip Ervin (sans the homers).

Sunday’s victory felt a little costly, as Justin Dunn was all over the place in his 2-inning start. He threw 66 pitches and while there was some good there (1 hit, only 1 run given up, and 5 of his 6 outs were strikeouts) the bad (5 walks) was too much to bear. The Mariners required seven pitchers in total to get through this one, which wouldn’t have been so bad if we had a scheduled off-day coming up (don’t get me wrong, we DID have one of those, but the A’s had to go and get COVID right before our previous series with them, and MLB was forced to schedule a doubleheader on Monday to help make up for it).

I didn’t have high hopes for this 2-game set yesterday. BUT, we had Marco Gonzales going for us in Game 1. If there was ever a time for one of his patented, dominating seven-inning starts, this would’ve been the one (recall all doubleheader games have been reduced to seven innings this year, which in hindsight was a brilliant call by the league, because there have been approximately one billion doubleheaders so far, across all of baseball, thanks to all the various COVID outbreaks). My hopes waned considerably once Oakland took a 5-0 lead in the fourth inning. Marco was a trooper in this one, and it looked like he might’ve had to wear an even worse outing just to save the team (because we decided to have a Bullpen Start in Game 2), however he also settled down and limited the damage to just those five runs, over a six-inning start.

Things started to get interesting in Game 1 in the bottom of the fourth. Luis Torrens hit a solo homer to make it 5-1. Then, in the fifth, Jose Marmolejos hit a solo homer, followed by a Kyle Lewis two-run home run, closing the gap to 5-4. THEN, in the sixth, Tim Lopes – recalled specifically for this doubleheader, and inserted into the starting lineup as the designated hitter – hit his third double of the game to tie it at 5-5! What followed was only slightly anticlimactic, but the bases were loaded on walks from that point on, and Kyle Lewis ended up walking in the go-ahead run to make it 6-5. From there, Yoshihisa Hirano had no trouble locking down the seventh for his second save of the season.

At that point, we were playing with house money. And, if sports gambling were legal here (or easy to come by), I had the perfect wager. The Taylor Family Farm would’ve been doubling in size if I had my way! Because there was NO way the Mariners were winning the second game of that doubleheader. Not with a Bullpen Start. Not a chance.

I was right, the Mariners lost 9-0, though it was interesting for about two innings. The A’s gave our “starter” all sorts of fits in the first, but with the bases loaded and two outs, Kyle Lewis saved our bacon (temporarily) by jumping as high as I’ve seen anyone jump to rob the other team from a Grand Slam. It was absolutely phenomenal, and gave everyone visions of a young Ken Griffey Jr. robbing a home run in one of his early seasons on the team. This kid is SPECIAL, I’m telling you, and if he’s not the Rookie of the Year this year, I’m going to be very upset.

The only way the Mariners were going to win this one is if it was one of those oddball 10-9 affairs. Instead, the offense mustered all of two hits, as the A’s starter ended up going the distance. Ehh, it happens.

Nothing changes the fact that we are, again, 1.5 games behind the Astros. Of course, I think I read somewhere that the first tiebreaker is record in head-to-head matchups, which the Mariners have already lost even though we have three more games against them. So, in reality, it’s like we’re 2.5 games behind the Astros. We can’t just tie them in record and play it out, we have to be one game better by the end of the season.

Still, no one expected that! Our over/under was 24.5 wins; we need to go 3-9 the rest of the way to hit the over! What were my thoughts on the matter heading into the season? NEVER YOU MIND!

Okay, so listen, I need to win some money and I need to win it fast. The Taylor Family Farm is once again in trouble! No, I don’t know why I do these things! Clearly, I have a problem with gambling! Just float me some cash for a week, you know I’m good for it!

The Mariners Giveth, The Mariners Taketh Away

It’s a common theme with Seattle Mariners fandom: the team does something unexpectedly exciting – like, say, a 6-game winning streak and winning 11 of 14 after being among the worst three teams in all of baseball for the entire season to date – to climb back into improbable playoff contention; what happens next WON’T shock you! They go to San Francisco and get swept in a 2-game series.

Both of these games started at 6:45pm and I know that’s actually earlier than a normal year – where most games start at 7:10pm – but, I mean, that’s late, right? They want us to stay up until all hours of the night to finish these games! I’m pretty sure I was asleep not long after these games started, so obviously I should be your go-to source on what happened.

Tuesday’s game sounds like it was a hard-luck 6-5 defeat. Ljay Newsome – who’s been quite good since being called up and thrust into the starting rotation – took a line drive off of his pitching hand and had to come out of the game. It sounds like he’s on track to make his next start, but he was limited to just four outs in this one, which meant we had to rely on Brady Lail to eat up some innings. He managed 2.2, but cost us 4 runs in the process, to gag away what was at one point a 5-1 lead.

Kyle Lewis, Ty France, Evan White, and Luis Torrens each had two hits apiece to lead the way, but it’s unfortunate that the offense couldn’t find a way to add any more runs after the third inning. The team was 2/10 with runners in scoring position, and that’s just not going to get the job done on most nights. After Lail was pulled from the game, the bullpen settled down, but still couldn’t help but give up a go-ahead solo homer in the seventh inning to seal the deal.

The less said about last night’s 10-1 defeat, the better. Nick Margevicius has been mostly good since he entered the rotation, but they eventually figured him out in this one. He went 4.2, giving up 7 runs. Some guy we just picked up went 1.1 and gave up the other three runs; after that, all we had left to wonder was if the M’s would score at all. Finally, a Seager sac fly in the eighth put us out of our misery, but it was too little, too late. The only bit of goodness in this one was Aaron Fletcher striking out the side in the seventh inning, only giving up one hit in the process. That’s something, anyway.

The Mariners get to enjoy one of their precious few off-days today before a 3-game set in Arizona over the weekend. It would be nice to use this series to re-set things for a fun finish. Of course, by the time we get to Sunday – and Seahawks football – will anyone give a shit anymore? Your guess is as good as mine!

The series sweep leaves the Mariners tied for 8th in draft order next year, in case you were wondering. With only 17 games to go in the season, this weekend – combined with the double-header against Oakland on Monday – should tell us quite a bit. If the Mariners can go 4-1 or better, then I believe there’s at least a legitimate chance we can make a push in the final two weeks. Even though the A’s are among the very best teams in all of baseball, I haven’t seen enough of them to be all that impressed. In the four games we’ve played against one another, the Mariners were IN three of those games (winning one and losing the others by one run each). Yeah, the A’s are good, but I don’t think we’re looking at automatic losses the rest of the way.

I dunno. I’ll be very interested in these next five games. Feels like a real inflection point in this season. Play well, and who knows? Play mediocre-to-poorly, and, well, I guess WE know, don’t we?

Blockbuster: The Mariners Traded Austin Nola & Duds For Prospects (and probably some duds too)

The San Diego Padres are making a move, ladies and germs. From what I can tell, this is the equivalent of pushing your chips out and declaring yourself All In. At the time of this writing, they’ve made four deals, and the trade deadline is still some hours away yet.

One of those deals was to acquire Sicilian Army Knife (seriously, according to Wikipedia anyway, the Nolas emigrated from Sicily) Austin Nola from the Mariners. Since the deal was padded out from there, here’s the nuts and bolts:

  • Padres acquire: Austin Nola, Austin Adams, and Dan Altavilla
  • Mariners acquire: Taylor Trammell, Andres Munoz, Luis Torrens, and Ty France

The rumors started swirling yesterday morning, when Nola was not-so-suspiciously out of the lineup (he had just played the night before, and catchers usually get day games off following night games), but the Mariners DID suspiciously call up a third catcher just in case. Of the players the Mariners might be willing to part with (in other words, the players NOT currently factored into the overall rebuild), Austin Nola had the most value of anyone. He’s currently in the prime of his career, he plays multiple positions well (catcher, first base, the corner outfield spots, maybe even a little third base in a pinch), and he’s still under club control for five more years beyond 2020 (meaning for the duration of his prime, he figures to be extremely cost-effective).

At that point, you have to wonder – as a Mariners fan – why we’d want to give away someone with so much value? If he’s so good, and he’s cheap for so long, isn’t that someone you try to build around?

Well, he turns 31 years old in December. Asked and answered. If we don’t expect the Mariners to seriously contend until 2022 at the earliest – which will be Nola’s age-32 season – is it wise to expect he’ll still be as good when he’s entering his mid-30’s? It’s likely Nola’s trade value will never be higher than it is right this very minute. If his on-field production starts to decline, that value is going to plummet. So, it’s probably smarter to strike while the iron is hot. Nevertheless, when I started reading the rumors, I was adamant that the Mariners better get a king’s fucking ransom in return! We can’t keep trading quality players for pennies on the dollar if we’re ever going to turn this ship around!

And, to their credit, it sounds like the Mariners did just that!

Taylor Trammell is the big prize here. He’s a Top 100 prospect who, oddly enough, is also an outfielder. Including the two guys we have in the minors (until at least a month into the 2021 season) as well as Kyle Lewis, that gives the Mariners four very highly-coveted outfielders. Which, on the one hand, gives us insurance in case someone doesn’t pan out, while on the other hand gives us a valuable trade chip in the unlikely event that they ALL pan out.

Andres Munoz is a reliever who can throw triple digits with ease. At least, he could, until he required Tommy John surgery back in March. Pitchers usually return from this surgery intact, so that’s not much of a worry. He’s 21 years old and already has 22 games of Major League experience from 2019, when he showed that electric stuff (30 strikeouts in 23 innings, albeit with 11 walks and 10 runs given up). I know fans are going to want to immediately declare him the “Closer of the Future”, but let’s hold our horses a little bit. It’s fun to get excited over guys who throw as hard as he does, but these types of pitchers flame out just as easily as they succeed (and it’s pretty rare that any reliever is successful over a long career). I think the best we can hope for is that he puts together one or two magical years when all the stars seem to align for the Mariners; but, banking on him being any consistent presence over the next half decade or longer is simply unrealistic. That being said, his stuff is CLEARLY better than anyone else in the Mariners’ minor league system (saying nothing of the Major League roster, which is a dumpster fire).

Luis Torrens is a 24 year old catcher with moderate MLB experience, where the best he’s shown is promise. He should get a significant look the rest of this season. To his credit, he’s looked better in 2020 than he ever has at this level, and he’s young enough to still build himself into a viable Major League catcher. But, it’s clear the Mariners are banking on Cal Raleigh – currently on the Jarred Kelenic/Julio Rodriguez track – to be this team’s Catcher of the Future. At best, Torrens figures to be his backup, if he’s still around in a few years. In the meantime, he could be the bridge to Raleigh if everything breaks right for him.

It doesn’t sound like Torrens is much of a defender behind the plate. But, so far I’ve really liked the Mariners’ coaching staff when it comes to improving catcher defense. They’ve been able to turn Austin Nola into a star, they got the most out of Omar Narvaez (rated as among the very worst defensive catchers when we traded for him before last season), they turned Tom Murphy’s career around before his injury this year. It seems like they can work with someone like Torrens and build him into at least a league-average catcher.

Ty France is a 26 year old third baseman, who is in his second year in the bigs. Fans have taken that as a sign that Kyle Seager could be moved later today (seems unlikely, given his contract), but he really seems like just another prospect to throw onto the pile. His bat in the minor leagues was insane, but he struggled quite a bit in his Major League debut last year. He’s been better this year – in a small sample, of course – but obviously it’s too soon to make any sort of definitive statement about his development. Like Torrens, I would expect France will get a LONG look the rest of the way, either at DH or subbing in for Seager. Hopefully, his bat stays as hot as it’s been to this point of the season, as losing Nola is going to put a serious damper on this Mariners offense the rest of the way.

I also understand – thanks to U.S.S. Mariner – that France can also play second base, which could be significant because Shed Long looks … bad. Don’t get me wrong, physically he LOOKS cool as shit, but he can’t hit, he lost all his power it would seem, and his defense is nothing to write home about. Since there’s clearly an immediate hole at second base, and there figures to be a hole at third base in the next year or two, if France pans out with his bat, that’s a big worry off our collective plates.

On top of this, the Mariners were able to rid themselves of Dan Altavilla, who – as I’ve lambasted repeatedly this year (and in years prior) – has never been able to parlay his strong arm into Major League success (even more reason to caution against over-hyping Munoz). Austin Adams was a good reliever for the Mariners in 2019, but there’s a reason why I refused to learn any of these relievers’ names this year: none of them figure to be here when the Mariners are good again. Adams hasn’t pitched at all in 2020 because of his ACL surgery (which doesn’t figure to be a serious ailment for a pitcher, but nevertheless requires a buttload of rehab to come back from), which makes his inclusion in this deal all the more surprising. From what I recall, he’s been throwing … somewhere, and may in fact return to Major League action before the season ends. But, I mean, that’s a lot to ask from someone – to jump right into the fire like that – who hasn’t pitched an inning in anger since last September.

This is a pretty exciting deal for the Mariners, all things considered. This further bolsters our farm system and makes our current youth movement at the Major League level all the more interesting. It’s also an exciting deal for the Padres! I have no reason for any animosity towards them; they’re another franchise who hasn’t been good in a LONG time. It’s commendable for them to play for the championship right now, as opposed to playing it safe and seeing if their own guys can develop on their own. I don’t really have any other ponies in this race (particularly with King Felix sitting the season out), so yeah, I’ll root for the Padres! Go get ’em boys! May Austin Nola be the last piece to the championship puzzle!