The Mariners Have Sucked As We Head Into The All Star Break

Look for my post later this week:  Are The Mariners REALLY Going To Blow Their Playoff Spot To The A’s Again?

The Mariners are 3-8 in their last 11 games following that 8-game winning streak, which followed their 3-7 stretch against the Red Sox & Yankees.  I think we all understood why the M’s went 3-7 against two of the three best teams in all of baseball; but 3-8 against the Angels and Rockies?  I know those teams are okay, but they’re nowhere near as good as the Sox & Yanks!

The first half was punctuated by a 3-game sweep in Colorado over the weekend.  On Friday, it was an underwhelming spot-start by Christian Bergman.  The offense had it, but the pitching was terrible, and we lost 10-7.  Then, on Saturday, the pitching was okay – LeBlanc was far from spectacular though – but the hitters did nothing and we lost 4-1.  Finally, on Sunday, mediocrity across the board!  Leake had a quality start, but Nicasio gave up our 1-run lead, and Vincent allowed the Rockies to walk it off in the bottom of the 9th.  The hitters were once again terrible with RISP (3/11) and it was a 4-3 loss.

Tough breaks all around.  Yeah, you could say the Mariners are in desperate need of a half a week off.  You could also say I’m in desperate need of half a week off from the Mariners, so let’s enjoy ourselves, everyone!

I’ll be back on Friday to talk about the M’s & A’s, now 3 games separating one another from that second wild card spot.  Wouldn’t it be so Mariners to have such an awesome record and still find a way to miss out on the playoffs?

The Mariners Got Pounded By The Angels And Oh By The Way Paxton Injured His Back

Fucking great.

Before we all go jumping off of buildings, I’m gonna wait and see how this plays out.  Given the timing of this – with the All Star Break next week – it might not be the worst thing in the world.

Remember last year, when the Mariners were sort of barely clinging to contention for the second wild card spot, and going into the All Star Break I was talking about how we needed – above all else – to maximize James Paxton the rest of the way?  He spent most of the month of May on the shelf, then had a really rocky month of June as he worked his way back to his usual dominance.  Well, it was paid off in July, when he went 6-0 and won the A.L. Pitcher of the Month award.  He had a 1.37 ERA and went at least 6 innings in all 6 of his starts.  I figured:  yes, get him as many starts as humanly possible between now and the end of the year (even if it meant having him pitch every 5th day regardless of off-days, and shuffling the rest of the rotation around him accordingly), and MAYBE the Mariners would be within reach of the wild card by the end of the year.

What happened?  He made 2 starts in August before going back on the DL, struggled through half of September, and had 1 more quality start the rest of the way (on October 1st, the final game of the season).  The Mariners finished under .500 and out of the playoffs, and his absence was one of a million reasons why this team underachieved.

Of course, that made one of the keys to this 2018 season to:  Keep Paxton Healthy.  His entire offseason program was centered around making all of his starts for the first time in his career.  He’s been the ace of this staff through the first half, but obviously it’s all coming to a head with this injury he suffered last night.

After biffing that series against the Rockies over the weekend, the M’s didn’t play their best baseball against the Angels in Anaheim.  In fact, in two of these games they might’ve played their very worst baseball of the season.

On Tuesday, Leake could only make it through 4 innings, giving up 7 runs (5 earned), and the bullpen allowed them to tack on a couple more to really put it away.  Anaheim’s starter left injured in the third, but we couldn’t take advantage of their bullpen and ended up losing 9-3.  Haniger had a good game – with a double, a homer, and 3 RBI – but everyone else was unremarkable at best.

The M’s didn’t completely shit the bed this series, as they notched a win on Wednesday behind Marco Gonzales’ 7 shutout innings, on 2 hits and 0 walks.  David Freitas of all people hit a homer (the first of his brief Major League career), and Nelson Cruz hit a 2-run single to put the M’s up 3-0.  The bullpen was able to keep it that way, with a scoreless inning apiece from Colome and Diaz (for hold #14 and save # 36, respectively).

That led us into last night’s game, with a chance to win the series and feel a lot better about things heading into Colorado this weekend.  But, Paxton apparently never felt right even in his warmups, and just prayed that his back would loosen up during the game.  It didn’t, and he was pulled 2 outs into the first inning.  We were up against Anaheim’s best pitcher, and our bullpen couldn’t keep us anywhere even remotely in it (behind a 4-run inning from the completely inept Nick Rumbelow, who spent most of the year on the DL, and was mystifyingly called up after a short stint in Tacoma – THREE GAMES – even though he really has no Major League success of which to speak whatsoever!  Why are we moving Heaven and Earth to get this guy to the bigs when it’s clear he needs a lot more seasoning in AAA?).

(I mean, Rumbelow has made 8 appearances – all defeats – and has given up at least 1 run in 5 of those games!  How much more do you need to see out of this guy?  You’re telling me there’s absolutely NO ONE ELSE down in Tacoma who can take this guy’s spot?  It’s not like he’s out of options, so what the fuck?).

Anyway, getting back, the M’s lost last night 11-2.  We put Andrew Romine in there to pitch the bottom of the 8th because it got so out of hand (he gave up 2 runs, yet still managed to get Trout & Pujols out, which is something he’ll have to tell the ol’ grandkids one day).  It was ugly, to say the least (I’m glad I slept through this entire series, to be honest).

Aside from being super proud of my boy Marco (and, SUPER DUPER proud of my fellow M’s fans for voting Jean Segura into the All Star Game this week), it hasn’t been so hot for the Mariners of late.  That’s 5 losses in 8 games, following our 8-game winning streak, following our 3-7 stretch against the Red Sox & Yankees.  A real rollercoaster; the All Star Break can’t come soon e-fucking-nough.

3 more games.  Felix is on the DL for the break, Paxton looks like he’ll join him there; Zunino has been keeping the shelf nice and warm with his own issues.  This isn’t trending in the right direction.  All of these guys need to come back fast, and not just so we can put a bunch of other guys down; the rest of the team absolutely needs to stay healthy as well.

The A’s have won a million games in a row and are now only 5 games behind us for that second wild card spot.  We’re a full 3 games behind the Astros for the division.  And, even though it’s essentially meaningless, our run differential is all the way down to +5.  We’re 22 games over .500 and just 5 runs over .500!  Do you know how insane that is?  It’s insane, just in case you forgot.

We’ve got Christian Bergman going tonight.  He has 1 start this year with Seattle, where he went 7 shutout innings (in a game we somehow lost 5-1) before being sent right back down to AAA.  He’s been pretty good, but far from amazing, in Tacoma, so while I like him as a spot starter type, I’m pretty lukewarm on the idea of him making many multiple starts for the Mariners this year.

So, get well soon James Paxton!  And, when you do come back, don’t suck balls for a month like you did last year!

The Mariners Took 2 Of 3 Against The Angels

Seemingly on the ropes, the Angels brought back Shohei Ohtani just to DH this series, but it wasn’t enough.  Turns out the Angels don’t do a whole lot when Mike Trout isn’t hitting .600 against the Mariners.

I was at the game on the 3rd, sitting in a suite, drinking all I could drink and eating a fair amount to boot.  As I was rightly hammered, I don’t remember a whole lot about this game.  Other than the sweet beer can tower we built out of 16-ouncers:

This took three men and a lot of heart …

Wade LeBlanc signed his extension before the game, which was a bit of good news.  I was all ready for him to fall on his face against the Angels, allowing me to make an endless string of “perfect timing” jokes, but the dude’s a stud and this signing is looking better and better all the time.  7 innings, 1 run on 3 hits & 1 walk with 4 strikeouts.  The M’s built up a 3-run lead in the first and a Nelson Cruz homer late was all we needed.  Edwin Diaz got his 33rd save and we won the game 4-1.

I watched the game on the 4th from home, slightly hungover, but not too damaged.  Mike Leake didn’t really have it in this one and we were 2/12 with RISP.  Lots of mistakes in this one cost us the sweep, but that’s okay.  Angels took it 7-4.

Last night’s game was past my bedtime, but I hear nothing but good things from Marco Gonzales, who gutted out 6 innings of 1-run ball.  Guillermo Heredia had a couple doubles; Dee Gordon had a triple and a single (and a run, and an RBI, and a miraculous diving catch to save at least a run from scoring); and Chris Herrmann had his first homer in a Mariners uniform.  The bullpen was near perfect and Edwin Diaz got his 34th save of the year, as the M’s won again by the score of 4-1.

On the downside, Mike Zunino is on the DL with an ankle injury.  Considering he plays practically every day, maybe giving him a couple weeks to rest isn’t the worst thing in the world for his longevity late in the season.  Mitch Haniger was also scratched before the game, as he ran into a wall and has a bruised knee.  He’s not on the DL yet, as he’s only expected to miss a couple games, so let’s hope that’s the case.

The Mariners now have a 12-game lead over the Angels, who would need to go on a crazy hot streak to get back in contention.  This just doesn’t feel like their year (single sarcastic tear).  I suppose, for the time being, the A’s are our only competition for the second wild card spot, and they’re still a whopping 7.5 games back.

On the brighter side of things, we’re just 2 games back of the Yankees for the first wild card spot, and only 1.5 games behind Houston for the division lead.  Got a long way to go, but the Mariners are here to stay.

The Rockies come to town this weekend, then it’s a quick trip to Anaheim and Colorado, then it’s the All Star Break.  Let’s get ready to rumble and whatnot.

The Mariners Sucked Against The Yankees & Red Sox

1-5 in their first 6 games of this road trip.  Swept by the Yankees, then a pretty bad series against the Sox.

In the finale against the Yankees, Paxton gave up 4 runs in the first and we lost 4-3.  We did about as well as can be hoped against Luis Severino – scoring all 3 in 5.2 innings of work – but couldn’t touch their bullpen.

Then, on Friday, we had a rematch of that crazy Wade LeBlanc game against Boston, only this time it was just as crazy the opposite way.  The knuckleballer gave up 10 runs in 3.1 innings, as the M’s just teed off on him.  But, LeBlanc didn’t have anything either, giving up 6 runs in 4.2 innings of work.  Nevertheless, we held a lead of 4-0 and immediately gave it up in the bottom of the first; then, we built up a 10-5 lead before the bullpen sucked its way to a 14-10 defeat.  Vincent and Nicasio were the main culprits of ineptitude.

On Saturday, Mike Leake dominated with 8 shutout innings and Edwin Diaz got touched up a little bit as he hadn’t pitched in a week.  We still won 7-2.

We lost the season series on Sunday, as Marco Gonzales didn’t have it and Chris Sale ABSOLUTELY had it.  We lost 5-0 to get the fuck out of there.

It’s obviously a bummer, but not a shock that the Mariners lost to these teams in this fashion.  Now, we go to Baltimore for a 4-game set to try to somewhat salvage the road trip.  Winning all 4 would make us 5-5 for the trip, but that’s obviously not how you want to do it.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t throw a 5-5 road trip out of bed for eating crackers at this point.

I’m on vacation this week, so posting will be sporadic at best.  Go M’s, I guess.

The Mariners Split The Series With The Red Sox

All in all, I’d say that went pretty well.  We lost a close one in that good Felix game; we won one in exciting, high-scoring, come-from-behind fashion; we won a 1-0 nailbiter in that outstanding Wade LeBlanc game; and we got torched on get-away day.

That game on Friday was as exciting as it gets.  I think we all figured the best left-handed starter we’d see this weekend was going to be starting that night, but James Paxton didn’t have his usual stuff.  Also the defense – with its 3 errors that very easily could’ve been 4 or 5 – didn’t have its usual stuff either.  In an absolute disaster of a third inning, Paxton was only able to get one guy out before being pulled, having given up 6 runs (somehow 5 of which were earned).  Chasen Bradford limited the damage to just that, but the M’s found themselves – once with a 3-run lead – down 6-3.

That’s when recently recalled Rob Whalen entered the game to soak up some innings.  (oh shit, if we’d been playing Tampa, I could’ve said “soak up some Rays”!  But we’re all done playing the Rays this season!  I’ll have to save that gem for next year …).  Rob Whalen ended up going 4 scoreless innings to allow the M’s to chip away at that deficit.  Mitch Haniger hit one in in the fifth; Mike Zunino homered in the seventh.  That set the stage for the bottom of the eighth, down 6-5, runners on first and second with one out, and Denard Span pinch hitting for Guillermo Heredia.  He jerked a ball down the right field line for a 2-run double, as the Red Sox outfielder was playing WAY over in right-center for some reason.  With a 7-6 lead, Edwin Diaz came in to shut them down for his 26th save of the season.

If you thought THAT was unexpected, just wait until you get a load of Saturday’s game!  Wade LeBlanc vs. some knuckleballer, on the FOX game of the week!  I have to imagine they were a little underwhelmed with the matchup coming into it, but hot damn were they treated to a pitcher’s duel to end all pitcher’s duels!

To his credit, Steven Wright was pretty outstanding.  The knuckleballer went 7 innings, giving up just 1 run on 5 hits & 2 walks with 4 strikeouts.  As it turns out, though, Wade LeBlanc was remarkably better.  He went 7.2 innings of shutout ball, giving up just 2 hits while striking out 9!  My dad asked me what we could expect of LeBlanc before the game, and I said I’d be ecstatic if he gave up just a couple runs in 5 innings, but he really blew my projection out of the water!  It was as dominant a performance as I’ve seen this year, as he allowed a leadoff hit to start the game, and then nothing until – with two outs in the eighth – he allowed a single to end his night as he faced the minimum up to that point.  Honestly, that first hit he allowed was pretty bogus – as the ump didn’t have his strike zone quite figured out yet – and should’ve been a strikeout.  So, we were THAT CLOSE to perfection, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

The one run the Mariners scored was back in third on a single by Cruz, and somehow it held up.  Colome got out of the eighth unscathed, and Diaz worked the ninth for his 27th save of the season.  Easy peasy.

Sunday, I dunno, it got away from us.  Leake didn’t really have it, giving up a 5-spot in the third.  But, he managed to keep it to just that through six innings, so at least he saved the bullpen a little bit.  I think we were all under the impression – as the game went on – that the Mariners would mount a comeback eventually, but it was sort of the opposite.  The Red Sox played add-on, and the M’s really let a lot of opportunities get by them, going 3 for 12 with RISP.  There was, however, another 2.1 innings from Elias, who only gave up 1 run, so that trade is looking better and better.

Hard to be too upset by a 50/50 split, though.  If you offered that to me before the series started, I would’ve taken it in a heartbeat.  Now, the Mariners go on the road for a huge one:  the final east coast road trip of the (regular) season.  The downside to the weekend is that the Astros just completed a 10-0 road trip to take a 1.5 game lead in the division, which is just insane.  In case you thought the division was in the bag or something (unlikely, I know), it’s not.  We are a full 8 games up on the Angels though, so fuck them.

Thankfully, there’s an off-day today before the festivities start.  One last big test before we coast to the finish line.  Up first: the Yankees.  Our likely rivals in that 1-game Wild Card.  My stomach is all in knots just thinking about it.

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.

Trout Keeps Hitting Homers & The Mariners Keep Winning Ballgames

Look, all I’m saying is MAYBE Ryan Cook isn’t the guy you want on the mound to face Mike Trout.  Also, MAYBE just walk Mike Trout’s fuckin’ ass every single time he steps up to the plate, because this shit is getting ridiculous.  He’s in Barry Bonds In His Prime Minus All The Steroids Allegedly territory, where at this point as long as it doesn’t mean the go-ahead run comes in, I’d walk Trout with the bases fucking loaded!

And even then … I mean, do you have another set of at-bats coming up?  Maybe walking in that go-ahead run is better than the alternative of him clearing the bases?

He’s fucking Superman, what can you say?  I hate him.  I wish he was on any other team outside of the A.L. West (in which point, I’d probably love him).  He’s like Griffey in his prime, minus all the personality.  The fact that he isn’t the biggest superstar on the planet is ridiculous, because I’d venture to say he’s better at baseball than any other guy is better than everyone else in any other sport (aside from LeBron, of course).

Or, I dunno.  Maybe he’s just this great against the Mariners, and he’s a little more mortal against the rest of the league.  31 homers is the most against any team he’s faced in his career; 81 RBI is the second most against any team behind the 86 he’s hit in against the Rangers; 9 triples (tied for the most; again with the Rangers); 93 runs are again the second most (Rangers, 103).  I guess Texas has a claim in this argument.  Also, Trout’s 117 career strikeouts against the Mariners are the most against any team, but I would argue the lion’s share of those came against Felix in his prime.

Anyway, that’s all preamble to say Trout had 2 more homers last night, after having hit 2 homers on Monday.  He’s already at 23 homers on the season, and 5 of them have come against the Mariners.  Also, his slash line in 5 games is .636/.680/1.545; so if it feels like Mike Trout has fucking obliterated the Seattle Mariners this season, take whatever you’re feeling and quadruple it.

I should point out that the Angels have lost both of those games, so if we’re going to beat the Angels every time Mike Trout hits 2 homers in a game, then sign me up!

On Monday, Wade LeBlanc gave up back-to-back solo homers in the first and didn’t look to be long for this world.  He managed to gut his way through 5 innings, keeping them to just those 2 runs, and allowing the Mariners to overtake them.  Nelson Cruz matched Trout homer for homer, hitting a game-tying 2-run bomb in the bottom of the first, then a go-ahead solo homer in the fourth.  Ryon Healy hit the game-winning 2-run home run in the fourth as well, and the Mariners were able to hold onto a 5-3 victory.  Ryan Cook gave up the second Trout homer in this one, spoiler alert.

Aside from that, the bullpen was rock solid on Monday, going 4 innings and giving up just the 1 run.  Bradford and Pazos both took care of business, and Edwin Diaz got his 24th save of the season, no problem.

On Tuesday, Mike Leake’s only blemish was a solo homer to Trout in the fifth.  He went 6 innings, giving up that 1 run on only 4 hits and 3 walks, with 4 strikeouts.  Both Haniger AND Healy hit 2 homers apiece to pace Trout in this one, which is pretty cool.  It’s been a while since the Mariners brought their big boy sticks to the ballpark.  Haniger hit a solo homer in the first to take the lead; then a 2-run homer in the bottom of the fifth to RE-take the lead.  Healy’s homers were both of the solo variety (in the sixth & eighth), and Segura tacked on an RBI double in the seventh.  Trout’s 2-run homer (again, off of Cook) made it a 1-run game temporarily, but we put them away late by the score of 6-3.

Again, aside from Cook, the bullpen was great.  Pazos got us out of the 7th, Colome took care of business in the 8th, and Diaz got his 25th save of the season … oddly enough by striking Trout out swinging.

This obviously puts the Mariners in a better position.  We were 1-2 against the Angels heading into this series; after today, we can be no worse than .500 against them.  We’re 0.5 games up on the Astros for the division, and a whopping 6.5 games up on the Angels for the second wild card.

I know I made a lot of noise about how difficult June was looking, but with Tampa shitting the bed, and now the Angels losing a lot of important players to injury, the nagging doubter in my brain wants to poo-poo what the Mariners are doing.  But, this shit is seriously impressive any way you slice it.  If we’re all going to boil this season down to how the Mariners play against the Red Sox and Yankees, then feel free to be my guest.  I mean, odds are we’ll have to play one of those teams in the wild card game, and the other of those teams in the ALDS (if we get that far), so we better figure out a way to either beat them or avoid them.  All I’m trying to say is that this is pretty fun, and let’s keep the ball rolling!

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.