I don’t want to alarm anyone, or overlook all the awesome things the Mariners are doing as a team this year. But … this is just something to keep an eye on.
The unquestioned strength of the 2023 Mariners is its starting rotation. It’s interesting to think of what could’ve been had everyone stayed as healthy as they were in 2022, but there’s definitely an argument to be made that injuries to Robbie Ray and later Marco Gonzales actually made this rotation stronger.
We have no idea how Robbie would’ve responded after some late-season challenges last year; he is a former Cy Young Award winner, after all. There’s no reason why he couldn’t return to form. But, I think some skepticism is a little smart – and valid – and if you asked me who I would want right now to start an important game between Bryce Miller and a fully healthy Robbie Ray, I’d pick Miller and it’s not even close. As for Marco, he’s been on a clear downward trend since 2020; his stuff wasn’t even good enough to crack the playoff roster last year. Between an inexperienced and sometimes wild Woo or Gonzo, I think I’m taking Woo’s stuff and not looking back.
The thing is, while that’s fine in a hypothetical, in reality we’re talking about two rookie pitchers who have limits to how long they can pitch this season. They’re both skyrocketing beyond their career highs in innings. The short IL stint for Woo will help, but just think where we were a week ago. We were staring down the barrel of a 6-man rotation, with the addition of another impressive young arm in Emerson Hancock. An embarrassment of riches! Just as the offense is catching fire and pulling this team back into the playoff race. It was all so perfect.
It turns out, a little too perfect. Hancock’s last start got cut short after two innings, he came up lame with a shoulder issue, and now he not only finds himself on the IL, but the 60-day IL. His season is done. It speaks to a tragic long-term outlook – considering this is the third time he’s found himself with serious arm issues – and if you look at the way he throws a baseball, it just looks fucking painful. I imagine this won’t be his last time on the IL, and I’m seeing a bullpen role ultimately being his fate.
Okay, fine. Woo has returned and we’re back to our five best starters. We’ll see how it goes the rest of the way.
The thing that scares me is now we’re talking about the third season-ending injury to a valued starting pitcher. Four if you want to count Easton McGee (whose season was dashed after one spot start in Seattle), though I don’t know if I’d call him “valued”. Digging deeper into our depth, obviously Chris Flexen was a flop and was DFA’d. And, until this year, Taylor Dollard was an up-and-coming prospect who just got his feet wet in AAA before going down for the season after 3 starts. Who’s left? Darren McCaughan (of the 5.99 ERA in Tacoma, and underwhelming mop-up appearances with the Mariners) and Tommy Milone (of the 4.44 ERA in Tacoma, with two decent spot starts with the M’s spanning 9 total innings). That’s it. The cupboard is bare in AA; there aren’t any more flashy prospects waiting in the wings.
Now, I see that – as part of yesterday’s spate of roster moves – we picked up someone named Luke Weaver. He’s just flat out bad. He started all year for Cincinnati and sucked through and through with a near-7 ERA, averaging less than 5 innings per outing. It was pretty clear the Reds didn’t trust him, nor was he someone to be trusted, ultimately resulting in his release last week.
We’re told that he’s going to be a long reliever, and an occasional spot starter, and BOY HOWDY does that sound unappealing coming from him.
It’s weird that we’d choose Weaver over Milone or McCaughan, two guys in our system, whose stuff we’re familiar with. What do we know about Weaver? He’s got a good pitch mix, but just hasn’t unlocked his potential yet? He’s 30 years old! He is who we thought he was! Besides, is late August of a pennant chase the best time to build up a reclamation project? Can you even call someone a “reclamation project” if he’s never put together a full season of competence?
Here’s my concern: what if we lose another starter? That’s what I’m talking about when I say we’re on the brink. God forbid we lose one of our top three guys, but even if we lose Miller or Woo to injury, the dropoff is CONSIDERABLE. Again, the plus side is that it’s late August. A pisspoor fifth starter won’t ultimately be the reason we’d fail to miss the playoffs in that scenario. But, then again, the Mariners are where they’re at, and the margin for error is pretty thin. So, YEAH, a pisspoor fifth starter MIGHT ultimately be the reason we flame out! One bad game in the last week or two of the season might be the one game that costs us.
Hopefully, the offense is here to stay, and maybe they’d bail us out going forward. That’s what I have to cling to, anyway. The Rays have been bitten by the injury bug probably more than any contender, and yet they’ve still managed to stay in the thick of things. They’re an inspiration! Here’s to the Mariners being like the Rays (minus employing the alleged underage sexual assaulters).
Well, really, here’s to the Mariners not losing any more guys to injury. Let’s stay just the way we are from here on out!