Key To The Mariners’ Chances Going Forward

The biggest key to the Mariners’ success to date in 2018 is the starting rotation staying healthy (for the most part) and vastly improving after the month of April (where just about everyone was either adequate or terrible, up to and including James Paxton).  I would argue that even the injury to Erasmo Ramirez was a blessing in disguise, as Wade LeBlanc has made a name for himself with this opportunity.  But, with Paxton, Gonzales, and Leake all overcoming rough starts to the season, turning into reliable and often dominant pieces to this puzzle (alongside LeBlanc’s baffling greatness from Day 1), the Mariners have been able to weather a lot of storms and build up a record that all but guarantees a playoff spot in October.

The biggest hit to the Mariners’ chances going forward is NOT the loss of Robbie Cano for all those games (plus the playoffs) but rather the depth of the Mariners’ bullpen (or lack thereof).

It’s truly remarkable what the Mariners are doing with this scotch taped-together bullpen.  Phelps went down in Spring Training; he was supposed to be an 8th inning type guy (who could also go multiple innings in a pinch).  Scrabble was so terrible at doing his one job (getting lefties out) that he was DFA’d.  Juan Nicasio hasn’t been nearly the dominant force we thought he’d be when we signed him to that big 2-year deal (and is currently on the DL).  Nick Vincent had a rough start to the season and is also currently on the DL (having just had a setback with his groin injury).  Dan Altavilla has had multiple DL stints this year and might be out for a very long time with his arm injury.  Casey Lawrence – while tearing it up in Tacoma as a starter right now – got off to a rough start and had to be sent down after 4 appearances.  Ryan Cook was hot when he returned from the DL, but has been hit around in 3 of his last 4 appearances.  Alex Colome has closer-type stuff, but he’s been far from perfect since coming over from the Rays (especially AGAINST those very Rays).

And yet, if you didn’t get into specifics and just asked me, “How’s Seattle’s bullpen doing this year?”  I’d likely tell you, “Pretty great!”

Edwin Diaz is taking the league by storm in his third year in the bigs.  James Pazos – in his second year on the Mariners – has been outstanding.  Chasen Bradford came out of nowhere to be a reliable back-of-the-bullpen guy to eat a lot of innings for us.  And even those guys who’ve had their struggles from time to time – Nicasio, Vincent, and Colome in particular – have also been successful in a lot of high leverage situations.

With a number of those guys on the DL (hopefully Nicasio & Vincent will be back soon), though, it’s hard not to be concerned about the future.  There are a lot of high leverage innings left this season!  With the way this team plays, with all the close games, it seems like there’s zero margin for error every single night!  Sure, a lot of the guys are young and healthy now, but will they succumb to over-use?

The good thing is, I don’t believe for a minute that the Mariners are finished making moves to improve the big league club.  We have a number of quality starters down in Tacoma, in the event we need long relief help or spot starts.  Nick Rumbelow is another guy who figured big in the Mariners’ bullpen plans before he got hurt; he’s coming back from injury and getting his feet wet in Tacoma as we speak.  Also, it usually doesn’t take a whole lot in trade to get a quality reliever back before the deadline, and with plenty of teams tanking this season, the supply should be pretty significant.

Either way, though, if you told me the Mariners would have to roll with a playoff bullpen consisting of Diaz, Colome, Nicasio, Vincent, Pazos, Bradford, Cook, and Elias, I’d be okay with that.  Two dominant closer types, two solid 8th inning guys behind them, two solid 6th/7th inning guys who can shut down rallies and go multiple innings if need be, along with a wildcard in Cook (who has 8th inning stuff, he just needs to work on his command a little bit) and a spot-starter/long-reliever in Elias … I just don’t know how you improve upon that a whole lot.  Obviously, a lot can happen between now and October.  Guys can get injured, guys can lose their stuff or their confidence, but for the most part that’s a reliable bullpen group.

What most concerns me is what happens if a lot of guys get injured, and we have to start replacing too many of these pieces.  As we’ve seen this year with the bullpen, last year with the rotation, and on and on and on, injuries can mount in a hurry.  We lose Diaz, we’re pretty much shit out of luck.  We lose too many of our 8th inning guys, same deal.  We already use Diaz too much as it is; I don’t want to see him in there for too many save opportunities where he has to get more than 3 outs.  At least not until we’re actually IN the playoffs.

The rotation and the solid hitting will carry us to where we want to go, but to do any significant damage once we get into the post-season, it’s going to rest precariously on the all-important bullpen arms.  I hope they’re up to the challenge.

Fuck You Angels! The Mariners Got The Sweep

When I was a kid, I gave much more of a shit about baseball rivalries than I do now.  I hated the Yankees, obviously.  I disliked the Rangers quite a bit (especially when they signed A-Rod).  In the early 2000’s, I REALLY hated the Athletics, because even though the Mariners won 90+ games from 2000-2003, the A’s were the reason why we only made the playoffs twice (in spite of a couple 93-win campaigns).  In recent years, I guess I hate the Astros, but I don’t even know if they qualify as a rivalry, from my fan’s perspective.  It’s more of a looming dread whenever I see HOU coming up on the little pocket calendar I have hanging up at my desk.  When the switch flipped and Houston became HOUSTON, it’s been utter annihilation (and even before they were good, they still won an annoying amount of times).  Besides, this is really the first year where the Mariners and Astros have been on the same level, record-wise.  They may indeed grow to become my most hated baseball enemy when the season’s over.

But, for now, I think I hate the Angels the most.  Granted, they’re clearly the better franchise.  They’ve actually WON a World Series, for instance.  They’ve been to the playoffs 10 times to our 4; they’ve consistently been more of a winning team in general (and haven’t had those bottom-out years like the Mariners have).  Nevertheless, with the Astros way up there, I’ve always seen the Angels as more of our peers.  Whenever you find the Mariners contending for a wild card spot, the Angels always seem to be right there with us.  Also, from 2010 onward, the Angels only have the 1 playoff appearance, so it’s not like they’ve been super awesome of late.  And, they’ve had a number of players I couldn’t help but despise, from Mike Trout to Jered Weaver to (retroactively) Chone Figgins to John Lackey to Troy Glaus to Tim Salmon to Chuck Finley.  The only Angels player I ever really liked was Vlad, because he was fucking amazing and I secretly never forgave the Mariners for not making a bigger push to sign him when he was a free agent after 2003.  Can you even imagine?  That would’ve been so much fun!

Anyway, the Mariners just swept the Angels yesterday in the 3-game series, and I couldn’t be happier.

I didn’t hold out a ton of hope in yesterday’s game, even when the Angels’ starter was pulled after 2 innings with an injury.  Marco Gonzales really wasn’t as sharp as he’d been of late, only lasting 5 innings, giving up 3 runs.  We knew ahead of time that Edwin Diaz wasn’t going to be available, after pitching 3 games in a row, and in 4 games in 5 days.  That slotted the bullpen all kinds of wonky, and accordingly the bullpen wasn’t as sharp as it had been of late either.  Newcomer Mike Morin – in just his 2nd appearance since being called up from Tacoma – gave up a run on a triple and a sac fly.  Chasen Bradford – who has been all kinds of good this year – gave up 2 solo homers in the 7th to put us behind by 2 runs.  And, there we were, late in the game, facing the prospects of losing for just the third time in the month of June.

That’s when the offense went back to work.  Gamel and Zunino had RBIs in the 2nd to stake the Mariners to a 2-0 lead.  Then, after an RBI by Trout (who somehow didn’t homer in this one, though he did have two hits and two intentional walks), Nelson Cruz hit a 2-run bomb (which is his 5th in the last 5 games) to put the M’s up 4-1.  In the 7th, after Bradford gagged up the homers, Segura hit a guy in on a double; followed by Healy solo homering in the 8th to re-tie the game; ultimately setting the stage for a bottom of the 9th showdown (thanks to a couple scoreless innings out of eventual winner Roenis Elias).

With one out, Segura on at first, Mitch Haniger took a mistake by the Angels pitcher and deposited it into the left field stands for his second walk-off home run of the season.  Not for nothing, but that’s his 16th homer of the season (tying his mark of 2017) and his 52nd RBI (surpassing what he did in 2017, in 29 fewer games).  Can you imagine what it’ll be like if he can stay healthy all year?  He truly is deserving of a slot on the All Star team.

The Mariners are still 0.5 games ahead of the Astros, but are now 7.5 games ahead of the Angels, which is just the best.

Now, we’ve got a 4-game series against the Red Sox.  I hope you like a lot of annoying Boston fans, because they’re coming out in force!  The good news is Chris Sale pitched yesterday, so we lucked into avoiding one of the best lefties in the game.  The bad news is the rest of their rotation is also really fucking good.  And, James Paxton is saddled with Friday’s “Fireworks Night” game, which I believe the Mariners have lost every fucking time they’ve done it.  Here’s to hoping for a little of that old Felix magic tonight as he squares off against David Price.  This series could get REAL dicey in a hurry.

The Mariners Won 3 of 4 Against The Rays

And 6 of 7 in the season series!

The game on Thursday saw the Rays creep back into it late before the Mariners slammed the door.  How would the rest of the weekend look?

Pretty much as expected, all things considered.  Marco Gonzales took the hill on Friday and continued this streak of greatness he’s been on.  He advanced his career high in innings pitched – this time going 7.1 innings of 2-run ball – before giving way to the bullpen.  We put up 4 runs thanks to some solid small ball.  Daniel Vogelbach returned – and had an RBI single – as the Mariners had to put Nicasio and Altavilla on the DL (Nicasio with a minor knee issue; Altavilla with what looks to be a serious arm thing that might keep him out for an extended period of time).  Jean Segura had another hit to bring his average to .340, second in the American League at the time.  And, Mitch Haniger drove in the other two runs as he continued his push to be an All Star.  Alex Colome got one out in the 8th, but ended up allowing the Rays to once again pull within 1 run, necessitating Edwin Diaz needing to get a 4-out save.  He did his job to get his 22nd save on the season.

Saturday was a rematch of the previous week’s duel of Felix vs. Snell; this time, it was a collosal bummer.  Felix struggled through 3 innings, giving up 6 runs; and while Roenis Elias was able to limit the damage in his 4 innings of work, giving up just 1 run, the offense couldn’t quite chip away at the deficit (going 0 or 11 with RISP).  So, we lost by a score of 7-3.  Newcomer Mike Morin joined the relief corps; he hasn’t had a good season at the Major League level since 2014, but he ended up striking out 2 in his scoreless inning of work, so we’ll see how he does in Nicasio’s absence.  He obviously won’t be thrust into an 8th inning role, but that’s neither here nor there.

The Mariners bounced right back on Sunday.  James Paxton struggled a bit (for him), but still went 7 innings, giving up 3 runs and striking out 10.  Pazos let a runner get on in his 0.1 innings of work, who would eventually come around to score with Alex Colome on the mound (he would let all three victories get to within 1 run, just to make things interesting against his old club).  Nevertheless, Edwin Diaz got his 23rd save of the season, thanks to some suspect baserunning from the Rays, making the final, baffling out at home plate.  Cruz, Zunino, and Seager all homered to account for the 5 runs the M’s scored.

We now sit atop the A.L. West with the Houston Astros (1 game better in the loss column, 1 game worse in the win column), 4.5 games up on the Angels, who come to town for a 3-game series starting tonight.  They just saw their prized offseason acquisition – Shohei Ohtani – go on the DL (with a chance he might need Tommy John surgery and not return until the 2020 season), so things are going pretty poorly down in Anaheim.  With the Mariners flying high – and Felix not set to start until the Boston series – now is the perfect time to pounce on our greatest rivals for that 2nd wild card spot (while hopefully keeping the Astros at bay for the division).  It’s sad that we have to start dreading every Felix start, but that’s apparently the world in which we live.

We’re officially entering the teeth of the schedule:  3 vs. the Angels, 3 vs. the Yankees, and 7 vs. the Red Sox (4 at home before an East Coast road trip next week).  After some cupcakes, we’ll face the Angels 6 more times before the All Star Break, so it’s time for the Mariners to play their very best!

Mike Leake Is Killing It For The Mariners

The Mariners have been on such a tremendous run of pitching, they actually needed to shoehorn Alex Colome into this game regardless of the score.  Pretty much the only way he wasn’t going to see action was if the Mariners had a comfortable-enough lead, and the starter was cruising along at a low-enough pitch count to go the complete game.

Mike Leake damn near made it.

I want to say he was in the low 90’s as far as pitches go when he came out to start the bottom of the 9th inning – the Mariners holding a comfortable-enough 5-1 lead – so the margin for error was pretty thin.  But, he’d had a number of single-digit innings with the ol’ pitch count, so as long as he didn’t allow a base runner – or run into a couple of super-long at-bats – it looked like he was going to get the chance to finish it.  Unfortunately, Anticlimax Alert:  Leake gave up a leadoff double and was promptly yanked.  That’s where things got interesting.

The M’s almost made a mockery of Tampa’s “opener” last night – loading the bases with 1 out on a single and a couple walks – but he was able to wiggle out of the jam.  Nevertheless, while their gambit may have theoretically paid off (the M’s used up their top 6 batters in that scoreless first inning, before the ostensible “starter” came in at the top of the 2nd), we were still able to get to him early and often.  We scored three runs in that very 2nd inning (the bottom of our lineup getting two of the hits to turn it over to Dee Gordon & Co.), punctuated by a Mitch Haniger 2-run single.  We got our fourth run off of a Denard Span solo homer (his second in as many days).  Span has a slash line of .290/.333/.516 in 9 games since coming over to Seattle against a slash line of .238/.364/.385 with Tampa earlier this year.  I once again commend Jerry Dipoto for buying low on a solid veteran who was bound to push his production back up towards his career norms.  Finally, the Mariners concluded their scoring with a solo homer by Haniger in the 5th.  Before that double in the ninth (that would eventually come around to score; spoiler alert), Mike Leake had only given up a solo homer in his first 8 innings of work.  Not too shabby.

With a runner on second base and no outs, Alex Colome got the first two batters in quick order.  Then, he had a hard-luck HBP (with the guy seriously ON TOP of the plate), a single up the middle, and a bases-loaded 3-run double to make the game 5-4.  Edwin Diaz started to warm up at this point – as presumably Colome would be given one more opportunity to try to get out of this thing alive – and as chance would have it, we wouldn’t need him.  Colome got the final guy to ground out to third (on a really excellent play by Seager, who has been playing better defense than his Gold Glove season of 2014 and is VERY deserving of his second such award) and crisis was officially averted (as the Mariners got to add a cheapo 1-run victory to their ledger).

But, let’s go back to Mike Leake for a moment.  I was pretty disgruntled with him early in the season.  He came over at the end of August, 2017, and had one of the more memorable Septembers I’ve ever seen from a trade acquisition, going 3-1 in 5 starts, with all 5 seeing him pitch at least into the 6th inning, while giving up 3 runs or less.  It was enough to lead a lot of fans to expect really great things out of him in 2018 (in spite of the fact that his career numbers are more or less just okay, but not in that elite realm we saw out of him for a month).

Leake proceeded to prove my skepticism right in the early going of 2018.  He had 2 quality starts out of 6 in April, with 2 really awful starts (lowlighted by a game where he couldn’t even get through 4 innings, while giving up 8 runs), and the only reason he had a winning record at all (with his 6.48 ERA) was due to some outstanding run support (40 runs in those 6 games, while averaging 8.75 runs in the 4 games the Mariners won when he started).

He’s been considerably better since the calendar flipped to May (and now June).  In 7 games, he’s thrown 5 quality starts, going at least 7 innings four times, and 8 innings twice.  He’s also dropped his ERA two full points, down to 4.46, while pitching into the 6th inning all 7 times, and being super economical with his pitch counts.  Quite frankly, this run he’s been on is BETTER than what we saw out of him last September, which I really didn’t think was likely or all that possible.

Leake – along with Gonzales and LeBlanc – has been one of the better surprises for me this season, as the Mariners now stand at 39-23, still a game up (two in the loss column) on the Astros.

Three more to go against the Rays.  Aside from Felix vs. Blake Snell Part 2, we should be favored in the others.  I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see another Mariners sweep (and a 7-0 season series against the Rays, which is insane).

The Mariners Swept The Rays, Are In First Place

This is the latest the Mariners have been in first place in the A.L. West since 2003?  Am I reading that right?

This is … utter insanity.  I keep waiting for these guys to fall apart and this team keeps proving me wrong!  We’ve seen good stretches of Mariners baseball before; in each of the last 4 years, for instance, we’ve flirted with the concept of contention.  Maybe the M’s have a great week or two, maybe they have an outstanding road trip or something and head home to face a division rival for a huge weekend series, and what happens next?  They fall apart.  And, it’s not necessarily always against the likes of the Astros!  This team has been on some runs and were set to face some sub-.500 competition and they would STILL find ways to lose to those teams, and derail all the progress they’d made scratching and clawing to get to that point!

Hell, when the Astros were the worst team in baseball – before all their prospects hit it big – we’d STILL lose to their fucking asses at least half the time!

What’s the difference this time?  The Mariners are still beating all the teams they’re supposed to beat.  They’re beating the Twins, and the Royals, and the Tigers, and the Blue Jays, and the White Sox, and the Athletics, and the Rangers, and the Indians.  Coming into this series, the Rays were one game over .500; they were a scrappy group of battlers who might’ve been JUST the thorn in our side to – as I mentioned – derail all of the progress we’ve made lately.  And yet, what happened?  We beat them in all three games by a combined 4 runs!

On Friday, we saw another Mike Leake gem:  7 innings, 2 runs, 6 hits, 0 walks, 8 strikeouts.  Colome got us to the 9th with a 1-run lead, but unfortunately Diaz had his 3rd blown save of the season to send it to extras.  We eventually won it in the bottom of the 13th (after 2 scoreless innings from Roenis Elias, who was called up to replace the DFA’d Scrabble; I’ll be happy to not have to talk about that guy ever again) on a Mitch Haniger solo homer to center.

On Saturday, we saw the continuing emergence of Marco Gonzales, who went 6.2 innings of 1-run ball, with 5 hits, 2 walks, and 6 strikeouts.  He continues to be so impressive; I love it!  Cruz, Seager, and Healy accounted for the 3 runs, and the bullpen was perfect (with Diaz getting his 20th save of the season).

On Sunday, we saw the return of Dominant King Felix:  8 innings of 1-run ball, with 5 hits, 1 walk, and 7 strikeouts.  I say dominant even though it wasn’t Felix at his peak; it wasn’t Perfect Game Felix or anything.  But, even when Felix was a Cy Young guy, he had games like this:  he’d dance around a couple jams here and there, but he’d go deep into the ballgame nevertheless, keeping the team in it.  Indeed, it was so much like a Classic King Felix game that the Mariners didn’t score any runs until the 8th inning!  It was 1-0 for the longest time, because the Rays’ Blake Snell absolutely murdered us through 6 innings, striking out 12 (including the first 7 of the game, to tie the A.L. record, and 8 of the first 9 through the lineup), walking 0, and giving up only 2 weak singles.  We were fortunate to foul off a bunch of pitches and otherwise get his pitch count high so they had to pull him early.  We finally scratched a couple runs across in the bottom of the 8th thanks to some elite small ball from the likes of Span and Gordon, and Diaz was able to make it hold up with his 21st save of the season.

As for the Felix show yesterday, I’ll say this:  I was thrilled for him.  He REALLY needed that.  Now, it’s the Rays, and their lineup looks like one of the more impotent ones in the American League (at least from what I’ve seen of it), but with the way Felix had been going, that didn’t matter.  He would’ve struggled against AAA hitting; so hopefully it’s something mechanical they were able to work out.  He gets a rematch against the Rays (and the same opponent in Snell) this week, so hopefully it goes the same as before.

We’re now 37-22; the Astros are 37-24.  The Yankees are still a ridiculous 37-17, but they don’t matter at the moment; they’re the Astros’ problem!  Because WE own the division right now!  And, not for nothing, but we’re 5.5 games over the Angels, which is a lot of breathing room (but I’ll always accept a little more).

Of course, we have a 2-game set in Houston starting tomorrow, so this very well could be a short-term division lead.  They have the best rotation in all of baseball; but we have Paxton and LeBlanc going, our two hottest pitchers!  If anyone is going to keep us in these games, it’s those guys!

Now that I’ve said that, watch us get blown out and swept.  But, today’s an off-day; WE CAN’T LOSE TODAY (knock on wood)!

How Did The Mariners Get So Damn Good?

Or, at least, so damn lucky?

The last time I wrote about the Mariners, it was to comment on the big trade for Colome and Span.  The time immediately before that was to comment on the loss to the A’s.  It sort of felt like the beginning of maybe a little down period for the M’s – because, with all the injuries and whatnot, how could they possibly continue to keep winning?  And yet, in spite of my obvious negativity, the Mariners bucked the odds and went right back to winning!

They beat the Twins in all three games over the weekend – some sweet revenge over that stupid make-up game – then they took the first game over the Rangers.  Three 1-run victories and a 2-run victory; I’m telling you, either we’re witnessing the hottest stretch of the season for this pitching staff, or I’m going to have to admit that they’re a lot better than I originally thought!

On Friday, we were all treated to a James Paxton Special:  7 innings, 1 run, 3 hits, 0 walks, 11 strikeouts.  Nick Vincent held down the 8th and Edwin Diaz got his 18th save of the season, as the Mariners won 2-1.  It was a game where the offense was really held in check, but Cruz and Haniger were able to knock home a couple guys from second base.

On Saturday, we were all treated to a Wade LeBlanc Special:  6 innings, 2 runs, 4 hits, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts in 77 pitches.  There was a little hiccup with the bullpen – after the offense was able to overcome a 2-run deficit with a 3-run bottom of the 6th on homers from Segura and Cruz – as Vincent and Pazos combined to allow the tying run.  However, the rest of those guys got us through the 12th (anchored by Juan Nicasio’s scoreless 2 innings with 5 strikeouts), when Mike Zunino – with 2 outs – jacked a homer to left to walk it off.

On Sunday, we were all treated to a Mike Leake Special:  8 innings, 1 run, 4 hits, 0 walks, 2 strikeouts in 86 pitches.  Newcomer Alex Colome got his first save in a Mariners uniform (allowing the team to rest Edwin Diaz) as we won 3-1.  The M’s were down 1-0 early, then Seager tied it with a solo homer in the 4th, followed by Healy knocking in the winning runs in the 8th with a double.  Combined, both pitchers threw less than 100 pitches, which is kind of insane in this day and age.

On Monday, we were all treated to a Marco Gonzales Special:  6.2 innings, 1 run (0 earned), 4 hits, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts.  Pazos finished up the 7th on 2 pitches, Colome embraced his new 8th inning role without trouble, and Diaz got his 19th save.  Offensively, Cruz and Seager hit in a couple guys from second and that’s all we needed as the Mariners won 2-1.

I haven’t been tracking it – mostly because I wrote them off in the off-season – but the pitching staff has really been terrific.  I vaguely remember them struggling in the early going, but right now the Mariners are 5th in the American League in ERA (behind the obvious suspects:  Houston, Boston, Anaheim and New York).  Yeah, our run differential is pretty crappy, which points to a number of issues with this team; but without this pitching staff, we’d be looking at A LOT more losses.  If they pitched like I thought they’d pitch heading into the season, we might be talking about a 9-game or a 10-game losing streak right now.  Instead, the Mariners are 33-20, 1 game behind the Astros (tied in the loss column), and 1.5 games behind the Yankees for the top Wild Card spot.  Yes, that’s correct, we’re closer to the division lead than we are the top Wild Card spot!  How insane is that?

Three more games against the lowly Rangers to close out the month, then a weekend series against the Rays to close out this 10-game homestand.  Very important to keep this ball rolling, because June looks insanely difficult.  The 7 games against the Rays, 4 games against the Orioles on the road, and 2 games against the Royals are the easiest games of the bunch.  But, on the flipside, we face the Astros twice, the Red Sox 7 times, the Yankees 3 times, and the Angels 3 times.  So, we’ll get a good look at how good these Mariners really are.

The Mariners Are 10 Games Over .500 Somehow!

If this team doesn’t just impress the hell out of you with its grittiness, its guttiness, its chutzpah, its spunk, its tireless determination in the face of ridiculously long odds, then I don’t know what to tell you.

Now, obviously, it’s only May 24th.  Yes, the Mariners are 2.5 games ahead of the Angels for the second Wild Card spot, but there’s oh so many more games left to play.  Oh so many more Mariners left to injure with errant fastballs.  Oh so many more opportunities to disappoint this beleaguered fanbase.  And, believe me, I get all that.  If you don’t want to get your hopes up because you’ve been burned too many times, I’m right there with you.

That having been said, sometimes it’s okay to take a step back and live in the moment.  Too often, as fans, once a game ends, we immediately look to how it’s going to affect the future.  I mean, shit, minutes after the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, people were already talking about the possibilities for the 2014 season and the dynasty to come!  If you can’t sit there and just enjoy the moment of a Super Bowl victory, then there’s really no hope.

The future will always be there, a nagging force in the back of your mind, but maybe don’t dwell on it too much until things actually start to get shitty again.  If you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, don’t worry!  It’ll drop!  We’re riding high on a 5-game winning streak right now; I’m sure there’s a 5-game losing streak lurking somewhere over the horizon.  And, when that time comes (not if), go ahead and rip the team to shreds.

Now is the time for praise!

I can’t say enough good things about Marco Gonzales right now.  He’s been a source of massive frustration from the moment Jerry Dipoto traded Tyler O’Neill away to get him.  The fact that O’Neill’s been raking since joining the St. Louis Cardinals organization (this year, in his Major League debut, he’s hitting .333, with a 1.071 OPS, on the back of 3 homers, a double, and 7 RBI in only … 12 games (*stifles throwing up in my mouth*), is not a shock to me.  From what I’ve read, this kid is special.  His work ethic, his talent, his power, it’s going to play and play well, for a long time, at the Major League level.  He might not always be a .300 hitter, but then again he might!  I wouldn’t put it past him to overcome his limitations, whatever they may be!  Of all the players Dipoto has traded away to create this monster, the only one that hurt was O’Neill, and in the long run I’m still not convinced it’ll ever be anything close to an even swap.

So, yeah, the more good Marco Gonzales brings into our lives, the better.  And, I’d say so far this year, he’s been worth the spot in the starting rotation.  He had a really rough patch in mid-April, but he’s pitched into the 6th inning in each of his last 6 starts.  I know that’s not some amazing feat or anything, but given my pre-season expectations, it’s pretty good.  Now, that 6th inning tends to be the money inning for opposing batters to tee off on the youngster – in spite of the fact that he almost always heads into that inning in great shape, from a pitch count perspective.  Which leads me to wonder, is he tiring in this inning?  Does he not have the stamina to be a starting pitcher?  Considering he’s so much better in the first two innings of ballgames – compared to every other inning he pitches in – it would be prudent to wonder if the Mariners traded away a future All Star for a long reliever.

While last night’s game doesn’t provide a definitive answer in the slightest, he was able to go 7 shutout innings against the A’s, giving up only 2 hits and 2 walks, with 6 strikeouts.  It is, easily, his best performance in a Mariners uniform, and it’s also without question his best performance in his Major League career.  It lowered his ERA to 4.05, and it’s now the third game where he hasn’t given up an earned run.  This is all progress towards something useful!  Maybe even impressive!  He’s by no means a finished product, but we can build on this!  I find I’m growing more and more comfortable with him on the mound with each of these quality starts, which is probably the highest praise I can give.  Usually, when I make up my mind about someone, it sticks and I’ll trash them into next Tuesday if I don’t like them.  But, I’m coming around on this guy!  Gonzales!

This was also, I want to say, the third 1-0 victory of the Mariners’ season.  We’re also a whopping 13-7 in 1-run games (and, not for nothing, but 4-0 in extra innings games).  You can thank the bullpen for a lot of that.  Juan Nicasio has seemed to gain some more trust from the skipper, as he pitched a scoreless 8th.  And, Edwin Diaz got his 17th save of the season to tie the league lead.

On the hitting side of things, Guillermo Heredia continues to be a great weapon for this team.  Ever since Cano and Dee Gordon went down, he’s been given starter’s playing time, and is making the most of it.  Since May 13th, he’s 9 for 20 with 3 doubles, 1 triple, 4 runs scored, and 3 RBI, go go along with 5 walks and only 5 strikeouts.  The offense overall has been predictably struggling – particularly over the last three games (all victories, I might add), where we’ve scored just 7 runs – and we were all wondering where the spark was gonna come from.  Well, I’ve noticed Heredia up in the 2-hole in the lineup recently, and he’s certainly been that spark so far.

I’ll close with a cool story yesterday.  Outfielder John Andreoli was called up (to replace Vogelbach Altavilla on the 25-man; not Jayson Werth as we all thought, who apparently was pulled from the prior night’s game with a minor injury) and got the start in place of Haniger.  He made his Major League debut, got his first Major League hit (and walk) and made a nice diving play in the field.  So, kudos to the young man.

It’s all going really well, and we get to celebrate Felix Day against the team he absolutely owns.  Relish it!  It won’t always be this good for the Mariners!

The Mariners Keep Losing Guys & Somehow Winning

I’m starting to think if we just murder the entire team and fill it with cast-offs and Rainiers, the Mariners might finally win the World Series!

(that was only for humor, please don’t murder the entire team)

We’re in the middle of the world’s best – yet dumbest – road trip:  three whole games, from Seattle to Oakland and back again.  Considering all the travel the M’s have had to do – to such exotic locales like Minnesota, Kansas City, Cleveland, Toronto, Detroit, Minnesota again, et cetera – it’s actually kind of cool they only have a couple of 2-hour flights to deal with this week.

Anyway, yesterday Dee Gordon went on the DL.  Over the weekend, Nelson Cruz was hit on the elbow and he was missing from last night’s game (hoping to play tonight, but we’ll see).  Then, during the game, Mitch Haniger was also hit by a pitch and had to leave.  It’s a forearm bruise and not a tumor fracture, so we’re all hoping he’ll be back soon; but nevertheless he’s set to miss a few days at least.  And, if all that wasn’t enough, as Jean Segura slid head-first into home to score the winning run, he bashed into the catcher and fucked up his shoulder, so HE could also be missing some time and/or be sent on the DL.  Ain’t that some fucked up shit?

39 year old Jayson Werth was pulled from last night’s Rainiers game, so he figures to play for Haniger for at least a few days.  He hasn’t exactly been tearing it up down in Tacoma – hitting .193 with 4 homers and 5 doubles in 24 games – but I guess you could say he’s been better of late – hitting 3 of those homers and 4 of those doubles since May 14th.  I don’t know how much faith I want to put into those numbers, but maybe it means he’s starting to get his timing back?  Not for nothing, but he really hasn’t been good since 2014, so just because you’ve heard of the name doesn’t mean you should get your hopes up.

As for last night’s game, what a hum-dinger!  (yeah, I didn’t watch it)

Mike Leake pitched around a couple of jams and got into the 7th inning having given up only the 2 runs.  Mike Zunino jacked a game-tying 2-run homer in the top of the 7th off of Trevor Cahill to eventually send this thing into extras.  Pazos and Vincent did their jobs (Vincent getting the win with his 1.1 innings of work), the aforementioned Segura scored from first on a Guillermo Heredia double, and Edwin Diaz had no trouble locking down his 16th save in the bottom of the 10th.  Just a gritty, grind-it-out, hardscrabble, come-from-behind Mariners-type victory!

Today, the A’s have a AAA call-up (who has apparently struggled mightily against the M’s) facing off with Marco Gonzales.  I’m loath to say this – because I know it’s going to bite me in the ass – but I actually feel sort of confident about tonight’s game!  There’s no quit in this team!  Of course, the prospect of having Andrew Romine and Gordon Beckham in the same lineup gives me the willies, so get well soon Jean Segura and Dee Gordon!

Good: The Mariners Won The Season Series Against The Tigers

The Tigers aren’t good, man.  They’re just not.  And yet, we came out of Detroit a week ago having lost 2 of 3, followed by losing the opener to this home series over the weekend to make it 3 of 4.  It just looked dismal at that point, and you had to wonder if all the injuries and suspensions and shaky pitching had finally caught up to this team.  Let’s face it, playoff teams win season series against inferior opponents like Detroit; whereas Mariners teams – that inevitably always fall short of the playoffs – find ways to lose these series to inferior opponents like Detroit.

I mean, this is a team that’s actively tanking 2018 to try to build a better ballclub in 2019 and beyond!  The Mariners, conversely, have been building to this year for a while now, and are pretty actively trying to go for it all, farm system be damned!  With two franchises going so clearly in opposite directions right now, it couldn’t be any more demoralizing to lose a bunch of games to this team.

Before we get to the Tigers, I should point out that the Mariners split their 2-game set against the Rangers.  Honestly, with all the travel, the make-up game, and the weird scheduling times, I’m more impressed that the Mariners avoided a sweep at all.  We came back to win that 9-8 thriller on Tuesday, only to shit the bed on Wednesday afternoon, but who can get mad about that?  Sure, the Rangers are crap, but circumstances, man.

It was that Thursday loss to the Tigers, though, that really got to me.  Marco Gonzales did his thing (and might’ve even gotten through that sixth inning had Kyle Seager not made a run-scoring error), and in spite of the run, we were still up 2-1 headed into the eighth inning.  With Juan Nicasio being held back to work on his stuff, Nick Vincent came in off of quite a roll, only to blow it.  Will anyone ever take command of the 8th this year?

I was at a comedy show on Friday, so I missed this one, but things looked pretty dire heading into the 7th, down 4-0.  Thankfully, turnabout is fair play, and the M’s put on a 5-spot in the bottom of the 7th to take the lead, with Nicasio and Diaz able to hold the fort for the save.

Saturday was just a marvelous night all the way around.  James Paxton got his second career complete game (the first being his no-hitter a few games back) as the Mariners won 7-2.  He struck out 8 while giving up just a walk and 3 hits; I could’ve done without the 117 pitches – particularly with the game so well in hand – but we’ll see if that matters or not.  I know Paxton is a big, strong animal and everything, but if he goes on the DL in a week, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.  I mean, maybe it’s a nice morale boost or whatever, but we were beating them by 5 runs; seemed unnecessary to throw an extra 20 pitches on his arm just to get that 9th inning.  It’s not like the bullpen was massively overworked or anything; you still had a guy warming up just in case someone got on base!

That brought us to Sunday, where Francisco Liriano damn near no-hit us.  As it was, he went 8, giving up just 1 hit and 3 walks, before he gave way to the team’s closer, up by a comfortable 2-0 margin.  The Mariners once again saw Wade LeBlanc pitch into the sixth inning, giving up both of those runs, and got clean bullpen work from newly called-up Ryan Cook, as well as Pazos, Altavilla, Nicasio, Diaz, and Vincent.  With one out and Segura on second, Mitch Haniger stepped up in the 3-hole and belted a massive game-tying homer to ultimately send this game into extras.  Then, in the 11th, Dee Gordon singled, swiped second, and was hit in by Segura to send the fans home happy.

I’ll say this:  Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger have been absolutely carrying this team so far this year!  With Cano gone, and with Cruz being a magnet for opposing pitchers to hit on damn near a daily basis (as well as with Seager not doing a whole helluva lot at the plate, with Healy being his streaky self, and with the rest of the outfield being more Small Ball than Long Ball), it’s been a godsend to see Segura and Haniger develop into not just The Future, but The Present.  Could that Taijuan Walker trade have gone any better for the Mariners?

Now, here we are – with a Monday off-day – 27-19, in second place in the A.L. West (2 games behind the Astros and 1.5 games ahead of the Angels to lock into that second Wild Card spot.  I’m still not convinced this is a playoff team and probably never will be until it actually happens, but this is as good as I’ve ever felt about a Mariners team this late into the season for a long, long time.

Getting back to winning that season series against the Tigers, we’ve also won the season series against the Indians, and are 2-1 against the Twins, Royals, White Sox, and Blue Jays.  We’re 3-2 against the Rangers and 4-2 against the suddenly-surging A’s.  The only teams we have losing records against are the Angels (1-2) and the impossible Astros (1-3).

Obviously, the hitting is the story of the season.  Segura, Gordon, and Haniger are leading the way.  Cano was having a fantastic season until he got popped and broke his hand.  Zunino, Cruz, and Seager could be better, but are still providing the power this lineup needs.  Healy overcame a disaster of a start to be a dynamic force towards the bottom of the lineup.  Heredia has not shied away one little bit with his increased playing time.  All we need is for Gamel and our bench guys to pick it up just a tad and the offense should be able to weather the storm (for the most part) of losing Cano for 80 games.

I’ve been a little intrigued by the pitching of late, though.  Obviously, Felix and Leake have been pretty big disappointments, even based on my lowered expectations, but they’ve kind of been keeping us in games for the most part.  He never looks great, but Felix has only looked BAD a couple times; other than that, he has a bad inning here and there, but is usually able to limit the damage and hold it down until the offense can pick him up.  And, while I think most people expected Leake to be better heading into the season, he’s only a little bit worse than what I predicted, based on his overall experience in the MLB (and not just his last 2 amazing months of 2017).

On the flipside of things, James Paxton has been on the roll of all rolls in the month of May.  Wade LeBlanc continues to be on the run of his life (and absolutely should not be returned to the bullpen if/when Erasmo Ramirez gets healthy).  And even Marco Gonzales continues to be the most economical of starters that we have.  If he EVER figures out how to make it through the sixth inning without handing over the lead he’s been given – and God forbid starts working his magic into the seventh inning and beyond – I might actually be able to one day forgive this GM for trading away future superstar Tyler O’Neill.  That’s not even getting into Christian Bergman’s 7-inning 0-run start and Ariel Miranda’s 5-inning 1-run start.

As for the bullpen, that’s always going to be volatile.  Scrabble hasn’t been anything close to what we need from a lefty specialist.  Nicasio has had moments of greatness, but too many slip-ups for comfort from an 8th inning guy.  Vincent has been a little bit up and down (probably right on track, from my pre-season expectations).  But, Diaz has been extra-special, Pazos has been very stout, Altavilla’s been a little better than expected, and if Ryan Cook can hold it together, he could be a pretty big addition to this group.  Also, Chasen Bradford has been a nice innings eater and someone I didn’t even come close to expecting anything from.

All in all, I think the bullpen will have its bad moments (as they all do), but is overall better than I thought.  And, while the starters are far from elite (aside from Paxton), I’m coming away very impressed with this unit.  I’ll never be confident with these guys, but I think they’re managed very well.  If that continues, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility for this to be a Wild Card team in 2018.

The Mariners Lost The Series To The Angels

This was kind of a big deal:  the first series of the year against REALLY your primary rival for the Wild Card.  You figure there are three teams in the A.L. East who are vying for two spots – a division winner and that other Wild Card spot – you figure there’s only one team coming out of the A.L. Central (unless one of the sub-Indians teams goes on a real hot streak), you figure the Astros are eventually going to separate themselves as the clearcut winner of the A.L. West, and it’s going to be a 2-team race for 1 spot between the Mariners and Angels.  If that all proves true, and we figure the Mariners are going to struggle mightily against the Astros, and beat up on most of the lesser teams around baseball, then the measure of the 2018 season is going to come down to how we play against the Angels.  This was, as I said, the first look at how we’d fare against them, and honestly it wasn’t pretty.

Shohei Ohtani was always going to dominate the Mariners.  If you’ve followed the Mariners for any period of time, that was completely obvious to you, because why wouldn’t he?  It’s a guy we all wanted, a guy we thought might want to come here throughout the courtship, and a guy who ultimately not only spurned us, but spurned us for a division rival.  This was – while not a 1 to 1 complete match – A-Rod going to the Rangers all over again.  This was every major prospect we traded away.  This was every guy who stunk for the Mariners and ended up being amazing somewhere else the very next year.  All of that, all rolled into one guy who’s both an amazing hitter and a guy who can throw upwards of 100 miles per hour, while having just the most devastating off-speed pitches in baseball.  There was never a chance he WOULDN’T kick our asses, in spite of some early-season struggles with command or whatever.  That was never going to come into play; he was always going to throw 6+ innings and quite frankly we were LUCKY to get the 2 runs off of him that we got.  I wrote off that Sunday game as a loss the second I saw confirmation he was going to be the starter.  The fact that we lost 8-2 is very disappointing, but I won’t say I was surprised by the number of runs we gave up either.  Felix just isn’t going to be very good against the better offenses of this league, so when the guys aren’t hitting for him, those games are going to be pretty ugly more often than not.

I was much more disappointed in the 5-0 drubbing on Friday.  Mike Leake didn’t look like anything special and the offense was just overwhelmed.  Midway through the game on Saturday – when the Mariners were losing 1-0 and looking similarly overwhelmed offensively – I thought there was a legitimate chance (with Ohtani going the next day) that the Mariners would not only be swept at home, but completely SHUT OUT in a 3-game series, which would have to be up there all-time on the futility list.

I was at the game on Friday and ended up leaving early, which was the appropriate thing to do.  I got my Han Seago bobblehead, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a bobblehead, so I’m happy.  I was also at the game on Saturday, and thank Christ the Mariners started piling on some runs, because I would’ve been pretty distraught if I would’ve paid to watch two demoralizing defeats in a row.

It was 90’s Night on Saturday, and while we got there too late (or went in through the wrong entrance) to get the James Paxton Fanny Pack that I wanted, it’s probably for the best.  Do I really need one more Mariners thing I’m never going to use?  That’s awkward to display?  No thanks.  Losing out on the bobblehead would’ve been far worse.

Anyway, they played like it was the 1990s, as the Mariners hit a bunch (winning 9-8 in 11 innings) and got some really shoddy pitching (particularly from the bullpen, as our top two guys did everything in their power to give this one away).  I had a feeling before the start of the game that it would be high scoring, and even predicted there’d be more than 12 combined runs scored, but I never could’ve imagined the way it happened.  For starters, as I said before, it was 1-0 into the sixth inning.  The Angels hit a 3-run jack to ensure Marco Gonzales wouldn’t survive a 6-inning start totally unscathed.  Down 4-0, that’s when the Mariners embarked upon the big comeback.  There were 2 runs in the bottom of the sixth, then another 4 more in the eighth to take a 2-run lead into the ninth.  That’s when all hell broke loose.

With two outs, Mike Trout hit a double off of Edwin Diaz, and with two strikes, Justin Upton hit a game-tying 2-run home run for Diaz’s first blown save of the year.  Juan Nicasio came in for the 10th and gave up a go-ahead run, followed by the Mariners tying it up in the bottom half of the inning on a single and a throwing error.  Newcomer Erik Goeddel gave up another go-ahead run in the 11th, but this time the Mariners were able to walk it off thanks to an RBI double by Seager and a game-winning single by Healy.

It was one of the more improbable victories you’re ever going to see, and if there’s ANY reason for optimism based on this series, that’s what you’d point to:  this team’s fight.  This team’s elite hitting.  But, overall, the starting pitching was pretty miserable all three games, and the bullpen has proven over this past week that you’re not going to be able to rely upon them 100% of the time.  They’ve shown cracks.  There’s still only 2 guys you can REALLY count upon, and even those guys aren’t perfect.  The more they struggle, the more this team is going to struggle, and the less likely this team will break the playoff drought.

The Mariners went 1-2 against the Angels in this series, and they were MUCH closer to being 0-3 than they were 2-1.  If that continues throughout the season, and we end up somewhere around 6-13 or so against them, that’s ultimately going to be the deciding factor in whether we reach the Wild Card or not.  Anything worse than 9-10 against the Angels is a guaranteed No Playoffs For The Mariners; anything around .500 and we have a shot if we get lucky; anything 11-8 or better and I’ll go on record as saying that’s good enough to get the Mariners in.

So, the question is:  can they do that?  Based on what I saw this weekend, I don’t think so.  Based on what these teams are right now, on paper, if nothing significantly changes, I don’t think the Mariners will be better than the Angels, and I ultimately believe they’ll be maybe 2-3 games out of the Wild Card when the season ends.  Take that or what it’s worth.  It’s still early, there’s a lot that can happen.  I’ll say this:  I don’t think the Angels are DRAMATICALLY better than the Mariners.  I think they’ll have their ups & downs just like we will; they’ll have series where they look like crap too.  But, in the head-to-head matchups, I don’t think we match up well with them, and I think that’s ultimately what’s going to torpedo this season.