Over the weekend, I wrote this. It was a Glass Half Full (or, really, just a Glass Full) imagining of how the Seattle Mariners might make the playoffs ahead of schedule. Of course, if you’re a Glass Half Empty guy like myself, “ahead of schedule” could be making the playoffs anytime in the next 20 years.
Today, ahead of Game 1 of 162, featuring Felix Hernandez against the Oakland Athletics, I’m writing the counter-argument. The Wario to Saturday’s Mario. The Darth Vader to Saturday’s Luke Skywalker. The Van Halen with Gary Cherone to Saturday’s Van Halen with Diamond David Lee Roth. Nobody wants to read about THESE Mariners when you could possibly have Saturday’s Mariners. But, the stark reality is, if I’m putting my Smart Money down on one or the other, I’m putting it down on the Mariners NOT making the playoffs. Because the Mariners making the playoffs is not the way the world works.
Let’s look at this realistically for a moment. Justin Smoak is who we thought he was. That’s going to be proven in this, his final season as a Mariner (or, at least, his final season as a Mariners starter). The guy can be Mr. March and Mr. September all he wants. But, he’s going to have to figure out a way to be Mr. April thru August too, if he’s going to make it. I know he’s young, and we like to shield the young from the rigorous pressures of the Major Leagues, but at some point you have to prove that you can HANDLE some of those pressures. You can’t be coddled forever! Mike Trout is young, and he seemed to handle those same pressures pretty fucking well. I’m not saying Smoak is on a similar talent level as Trout, but that’s neither here nor there. Emotionally speaking, Trout is in another league. Smoak is like an infant trying to cross the street in Frogger. How about we grow the fuck up and start doing our jobs, huh?
I’m not nearly as down on Jesus Montero as I am with Smoak. That’s probably because I haven’t been crushingly disappointed for quite as long. Still, for a guy who was the centerpiece of the offseason prior to last season, it’s a little disconcerting to know that he’s simply a stopgap solution to our catching needs. That is, until Mike Zunino arrives. Essentially, I don’t give a flying fuck what Montero does behind the plate this year. He could be the second coming of Rob Johnson for all I care. This dude needs to hit, plain and simple. The writing has never been more ON the wall: Jesus Montero is our future full-time DH. So, you know, I’d like to have a DH that hits .330 with 40 doubles and 30 homers. If that’s all right with you.
I do still believe in the protection theory, and I do think that Morales and Morse were admirable pick-ups this past offseason. But, how much can you expect, really? Every time I see a ball hit his way, I’m going to wonder if THIS is the moment where Morse hurts himself and goes on the shelf. I’m going to be an absolute trainwreck this first month of the season; it’s probably best I DON’T have cable. There is no way in Hell that Morse stays healthy all season (that goes double for Guti, but I’m getting ahead of myself). And when he is healthy, what have we got? MAYBE a guy who’ll hit .270 (but don’t be surprised if he hits .230, because Seattle). MAYBE a guy who will end up with 20-or-so home runs. MAYBE a guy who will play in 100-or-so games. Who’s going to make up that slack? Guys like Ibanez and Bay? Oh, great.
For the record, I think Ibanez is done. I think this will prove to be his final season EVER. Seattle is where old players go to die (Sexson, Vidro, Everett, Griffey, Wilkerson, Sweeney). Ibanez had a reasonably productive season last year in part-time duty. But, he still only hit .240. As for his 19 home runs, we’re still talking about the band box that is Yankees Stadium. 14 of those 19 were hit at home. Now, Safeco Field is his home. I would expect that average to be a whole lot worse and I would expect those power numbers to approach zero.
As for Jason Bay, I give him two months, tops. He’ll show why he was so expendable and so loathed in New York. I would anticipate the likes of Eric Thames back in a Mariners uniform before too long.
Getting back to Morales, I think he is a legitimately good hitter. He might be the best hitter on this team. But, I still have to wonder how playing in Seattle is going to affect him. I highly doubt he WANTS to be here. He’s a professional, so he’s not going to make a big fuss. But, to anyone who is holding out hope that he might choose to sign an extension with the Mariners, I would say, “Just put that idea to bed.” No way. No way in HELL he comes back to Seattle. If he’s not traded at the deadline, then we are essentially resigning ourselves to getting nothing for the man as he walks at the end of the season. And oh by the way, I would expect his numbers to take a drop as well. He’s in Seattle now. “When in Rome,” as they say.
Kyle Seager was a nice little story in 2012, but my concern is this: what if that’s as good as it gets? Dustin Ackley was a less-nice story in 2012, but again my concern is the same. I think if you put these guys in Colorado, they might be All Stars. But, in Seattle, I have to wonder.
As for Michael Saunders, I have a sinking suspicion that he’s going to revert back to his old ways. Not hitting that outside pitch. Striking out too much. With a batting average around .200. Everyone will make a big deal about him being in the leadoff spot being too great a challenge. The team will bounce him up and down the lineup. And by season’s end, he would have been benched long ago, but of course we’ll need him to cover center field because GUTI!
Chone Figgins was a disappointment because we all had these great expectations of him being a pest at or near the top of our lineup. He ended up being one of those old players who comes to Seattle to die. Franklin Gutierrez is a disappointment because of similar expectations. But, he’s not a bad player. His skills haven’t diminished! At least, I don’t THINK they have. Then again, what would I know? I haven’t seen him play an extended stretch of pain-free baseball in quite some time. Guti isn’t old, but he’s a player who has come to Seattle, where he might LITERALLY die. Someone find the old witch who cursed him and drive a stake through her cold, black heart.
I actually kind of think Brendan Ryan is due for a rebound at the plate. Unfortunately, I also kind of think Brendan Ryan is due for a serious injury that keeps him out for a few months.
Which is something I never did get into over the weekend. Injuries. Everyone gets ’em! And you never anticipate ’em when you’re trying to predict what’s going to happen in a given season. You can look at an older team and say, “Hey, these guys will probably hurt themselves!” But, we’re not fortune tellers. Someone (or some ones) on the Mariners will get hurt. It’ll set the team back. And their replacements will be terrible. Or, they’ll get hurt, not tell anyone, try to play through the pain, and be WORSE than the already-terrible replacements. So, there’s that.
In 2013, it’ll be Felix and hope for four days of rain. OK, maybe it won’t be that bad, but still, there’s a lot to dislike. Saunders will be decent at times, and he will be awful at times. Iwakuma will be good at times, and kinda bad at times. Beavan will start the season pretty well, but by June or July he will be down in Tacoma where he belongs. Maurer is the ultimate wild card, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s demoted within the next four weeks (or just as soon as Erasmo Ramirez is ready). I think Maurer will eventually return, but who knows how this will shake his confidence?
Here’s the thing, though. If the Mariners DID make the playoffs, how could anyone POSSIBLY trust this pitching staff? Yeah, we’ve got Felix, but any team we’d play in the post-season has their own version of Felix too! And they will be pitching against the Mariners, which means his numbers will likely be BETTER than Felix’s! Shit, the Mariners had Randy Johnson in 1997 leading the charge, and he wasn’t enough to even get us to a fifth game in the first round! I wouldn’t exactly say it was his fault; but, then again, I wouldn’t say he was throwing any 1-hitters either.
Felix is great. He’s my favorite all-time Mariner for a reason. But, he’s not perfect. A theoretical 2013 Mariners playoff team will have relied on his arm for 230+ innings ahead of any playoff game. It wouldn’t shock me in the least to see him be mortal against a team like the Tigers or Yankees. Especially when they have Verlander and Sabathia, who (especially Sabathia) have tended to dominate the M’s.
After Felix, your playoff rotation is fucked. Like I alluded to over the weekend, if this team makes the playoffs, it will be because Brandon Maurer was our second-best pitcher. It will be because he reached his potential (which is so much higher than the potential of Saunders, Iwakuma, Beavan, or Ramirez) and posted a ridiculous win/loss record. But, at the same time, if he does that, he won’t be with us in the playoffs (because he’ll be shut down). We’ll be stuck with cagey veterans like Saunders and Iwakuma. They will get rocked. We will likely be swept in the first round.
So, you know, it’s probably for the best that this team won’t make the playoffs. Why suffer the embarrassment?
As for the bullpen, I do like it a lot. From top to bottom, I think it can be one of the best in baseball. But, Pryor could struggle with command. Capps could struggle with command. Luetge could get shelled. Perez could get shelled. From season to season, no numbers fluctuate so wildly as bullpen numbers. You can be the same exact pitcher from season to season, with the same level of health and the same speed on your fastball. But, for reasons unknown, you can dominate one year with a sub-2 ERA, and you can somewhat struggle the next, with a sub-5 ERA. It’s insane.
As for the rest of the AL West, I do think the A’s are a flash in the pan. I think the Rangers will hang in there for a possible Wild Card spot. And, I think the Angels will run away with the division and win 100 games. You know what else I think? I think the rest of the division will feast upon the entrails of the Houston Astros (last night’s game against the Rangers notwithstanding), while I think the Mariners will actually manage a losing record against them. Wouldn’t that be too perfect? What’s one of the major storylines going into this season? Everyone thinks the Mariners will have a better record than last year, and everyone thinks that’s because they get 19 games against the Astros. Well, I’m here to tell you right now, the Mariners will go 9-10 against the Astros, and it’s going to be a dogfight to avoid last place in the division!
No. No, I don’t really believe the Mariners will battle for 5th place. In fact, I DO believe the Mariners will contend for some stretch of time this year and that they WILL end up over .500. I think we’ll get to July 31st right in the middle of the fracas for a Wild Card spot and I think we will actually be BUYERS. I really do. Jackie Z has shown he’s willing to trade from a position of strength (starting pitching) to get what this team needs. So, I wouldn’t be surprised to see another package of players a la the doomed Justin Upton deal going out for a big bat coming back in. Or, shit, maybe the Mariners go out and get a veteran starting pitcher (not believing their young guys in Tacoma are ready for the leap). These Mariners will ultimately fade in August (just in time for football season) and September will be entirely meaningless.
I’ve felt the way I feel right now prior to 2007 and 2009. My outward expectations low, but inwardly thinking, “Hmm, maybe …”
When going into those seasons, my motto was, “Just keep it interesting.” Just keep us all entertained through the summer. I don’t need miracles! I don’t necessarily need a playoff appearance. Just … let me dream, beyond the month of May. Give me good things to write about. Make me wish I actually DID have cable TV.
That’s the way I feel about 2013. I know that’s totally the kind of Seattle Loser Talk I normally condemn on this site, but the Mariners have broken me. They have sucked my will to live for far too long, and I doubt there’s any coming back. I’m a broken shell of a man whose innards have dried up and been replaced by sawdust. Just entertain me. Just make me forget the horror I’ve been forced to follow for most of the past decade. That’s all I ask. And it’s not a lot TO ask!
87-75. That’s my number. It’s actually kind of a high number, now that I think about all this ranting and raving I’ve been doing throughout the duration of this post, but that’s what I’m going with. I think this bullpen will more than likely be the real deal – at least when it counts, in one-run games – and I think there will be just enough clutch hitting to make up for all the recent Mariners teams who have struggled with runners in scoring position. It doesn’t make sense, but then again it doesn’t HAVE to make sense. The Mariners will go 9-10 against the Astros, but they will still be in some form of contention for a Wild Card spot. Because sometimes, that’s just the way it works.
And, really, it’s not all that far off from the 95 wins I predicted in my Fancy-Free post over the weekend. So remember, as always, I’m a huge tool who has no idea what he’s talking about.