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 Had Some Trouble Against The Rockies

The Mariners lost the first two games of the weekend series against the Rockies, and it wasn’t even close.  Losing 7-1 and 5-1, only to win the finale 6-4 is a big reason why we’re only +17 in run differential in spite of the fact that we’re 23 games over .500.

Of course, in the two defeats, we had injuries to contend with.  Mike Zunino is on the DL, which makes an already-bad position a million times worse.  The Mariners have to be among the worst in all of baseball in offensive production from the catcher spot, where our mostly-everyday starter is hitting just .189.  It’s somehow this bad and Mike Marjama still decided to retire from the game of baseball, which is a mind-blowing revelation we just learned about recently.

Anyway, Mike Haniger was also out on Friday, when we lost 7-1.  Felix wasn’t great (lasting only 5 innings, giving up 3 runs), the bullpen was worse, and there you go.  A Denard Span solo homer was the only thing keeping us from being shut out.

We got Haniger back for Saturday, but had to sit Dee Gordon with a hip issue, and the bottom third of our order was John Andreoli, David Freitas, and Andrew Romine.  They absolutely lived up to expectations as the Mariners lost 5-1.  James Paxton was on the hill and the game was a 1-1 tie heading into the 7th inning; then after a 1-out walk and bloop single, he made a mistake with his cutter in the middle of the plate that was turned around for a 3-run home run.  They tacked on another run in the 9th, but that was really all they needed.  This time, it was a Jean Segura solo homer preventing us from being shut out.

We got Gordon back for Sunday and were back to mostly full strength.  Ryon Healy had a 2-run double and a 3-run homer to lead the charge, as Wade LeBlanc muscled through 6 innings (giving up 4 runs) and the bullpen locked it down to give him his 5th win of the season.  Edwin Diaz got his 35th save of the season.

This series was a classic example of how this team could be in trouble if we run into too many injuries down the stretch.  You could say that about every team, but I think it’s especially tenuous with this M’s team and how we’re winning ballgames.  We need everyone, working in perfect harmony, to account for all these close wins; take even one man out, and it starts to break down.

Also, this series was a classic example of the Rockies straight up murdering bad pitches.  It seemed like not a single mistake went by them.  I mean, shit, their backup catcher hit TWO triples on Friday!  That’s a .153 hitter!

We play them again next week, in Colorado, and then God willing that’ll be the last time we ever see this team, so whatever.  In the meantime, the M’s have a day off today, then it’s 6 more road games until the All Star Break.  Time to go down to Anaheim and further bury the Angels, then see what we can do against the Rockies.

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 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.

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!

The Mariners Are Going All The Fucking Way Baby Yeah!

I’m absolutely stunned by this Mariners team right now.  Nothing about this makes any sense, but I DON’T CARE!

Ever since Jackie Z & Co. unofficially (but sort of officially) abandoned the Youth Movement – starting in 2014, with the signing of Robinson Cano – we’ve been on an Every Other Year sort of track with this team.  In 2014, we were pretty good; we won 87 games and were a game out of the second wild card.  In 2015, with expectations pretty high, we sucked.  In 2016, we were pretty good again; we won 86 games this time and were 3 games out of the second wild card.  In 2017, with expectations pretty high again, we sucked again.  So, it’s 2018 now, and by that logic it’s time to be pretty good again!  I think we’re all in agreement – and have been since before the season started – that the Mariners would probably be in contention for a wild card spot, even in spite of the fact that they did nothing over the off-season to improve their rotation.  After the obvious divisional favorites, I figured the M’s would be one of the 4 or 5 best remaining teams to compete for those 2 wild card spots, and I figured they’d fall just short in the end.

I’ll reiterate – as I do every time I even APPROACH getting my hopes up – that this could all still happen.  Everything could still fall apart and/or another team or two could get insanely hot, and we could still fall just short in the end.

But, I mean, come on.

The Mariners are now 38-22.  For those that don’t feel like doing the math, that’s 16 games over .500!  Are you literally shitting me out of your ass right now?  Someone posted on Twitter that this is one of the four best starts for the M’s after 60 games in franchise history (alongside all those great teams from 2001-2003, that the second wild card team was created for).  At what point do we go from cautiously optimistic that this team can hold the Angels at bay for that second wild card spot (they are currently 5 games behind us) and start talking about the limitless possibilities that this team can achieve?

We’re 2 games ahead of the Astros for the division lead, after beating their asses by the score of 7-1 last night.  James Paxton got 2 outs into the 8th inning, giving up just 1 run.  We jumped all over Dallas Keuchel (scoring 4 in the first and 2 more in the second), making this one of the worst starts of his career, as he went 6.2 innings, giving up 7 runs on 7 hits, a walk, and only 3 strikeouts.  Seager hit a 3-run oppo-shot off the lefty, Zunino crushed a 2-run bomb against the glass, and Segura capped things off with a solo job in the fifth.

Sure, it was a Paxton start, and you generally expect to win these games when he’s healthy (and especially when he’s rolling like he’s been since the beginning of May), but would anyone have been shocked if we lost yesterday?  Keuchel traditionally kills us, as does the Astros’ offense.  Since the Astros joined the A.L. West – heading into yesterday’s game – we were 41-58 against them dating back to the beginning of the 2013 season (and remember, the first two years, the Astros were objectively one of the worst teams in baseball).  At this point, I’m just conditioned to losing to this team.  And not only did we win, we CRUSHED them!  This wasn’t one of those 1-0 jobs where Paxton is just out of his mind and we get a lucky run late; this was the Mariners stomping on their throats from the get-go and never letting up!

So, can we dream a little bit?  Let’s have just a little bit of fun before it all falls apart on us.

If the season ended today, the Mariners would be in the playoffs for the first time since 2001.  As divisional winners, we wouldn’t have to worry about a 1-game playoff.  It would be the Yankees against the Astros in that game, which is huge, because those are two VERY big threats, one of which will have to go down without facing the Mariners.

What happens next?  Well, the team with the best record in the American League plays the Wild Card winner.  That team figures to be the Red Sox, another VERY big threat.  So, again, two VERY big threats will be playing one another, without facing the Mariners.

Who would the Mariners play in the ALDS?  None other than the Cleveland Indians.  Remember that terrible A.L. Central?  Yeah, the Indians are 31-28 right now and look exceedingly mediocre (the second-best team in that division, not for nothing, is the Detroit Tigers at 29-33).  The Mariners are finished playing the Indians for the regular season, but we went 5-2 against them.  We actually have winning records against all the teams in that division, so you figure the ALDS is looking mighty good for us.

Beyond that, it’s just a 7-game ALCS standing between us and our first-ever World Series appearance.  A lot would have to go right for us to get there, but it doesn’t sound as impossible as it did just yesterday at this time.  And, since no one in the National League really impresses the hell out of you, who’s to say this year couldn’t be THE year?

I know that’s all nonsense, and there’s still PLENTY of time for things to go sideways, but this is fun, isn’t it?  It hasn’t been THIS fun since 2001.  Where now my expectation is that the Mariners will win on any given night, vs. the other way around.  And, to their credit, they’re finding ways to get it done on a regular basis.

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.

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.

Cano’s Gone & The Mariners Are Fucked

The one thing the Mariners had going for them was their elite lineup compensating for a suspect pitching staff.  Regardless of how good a lineup is, there are still going to be games where they just don’t have it – they suffer poor BABIP luck, they can’t hit with RISP, they just get dominated by a great pitcher at the top of his game – and somewhere in there lies the 2 losses to Detroit over the weekend.  Lots of balls hit right at guys, and lots of futility with men on base, unable to take advantage of struggling pitchers and knock them out of games.  The good thing about an elite Mariners lineup is that these types of games happen less and less often.  The bad thing about injuries to that elite Mariners lineup is that these types of games will happen more and more, and the pitching staff simply isn’t good enough to pick up the slack.

Robinson Cano has a broken bone in his hand.  He’s going to be out for many weeks as it heals.  Robinson Cano is one of our very best hitters.  He’s going to be replaced by a sub-replacement level hitter.  Saying nothing of the change in our defense, this is a complete disaster.  Andrew Romine has improved quite a lot since he spent the bulk of this season batting .000, but he’s a far cry from competent at the plate, and we’re set to see him most every day (that is, when we don’t see AAA call-up Gordon Beckham).

So, if Cano is out for the foreseeable future, and if the pitching stinks, what’s left?  Well, the rest of the hitters are going to have to pick up the slack in a big way.  I don’t know how much more Gordon, Segura, or Cruz can do.  Seager seems to be heating up, which is going to be crucial.  Haniger continues to plug away, but doesn’t quite look like he’s making that leap into superstardom like it appeared back in April.  Healy has obviously been remarkable since his return from the DL, but he’s going to be up and down all year, so I don’t think we can really depend on him.  The obvious sources of improved production reside at catcher and left field.  Mike Zunino needs to get his ass over .200 with the batting average, for starters, so a massive hot streak appears to be in order.  The other one is Ben Gamel, who’s done absolutely nothing all year since returning from the oblique injury.  Who didn’t see that coming a mile away?  Nevertheless, it’s been long enough.  He’s had his “spring training” period or whatever you want to call it; now it’s time to start returning to the form he showed in the first half of 2017.  Figure it the fuck out, Gamel!  You’re our only hope!

Regarding the series with the Tigers, I want to say this series was lost when Friday’s game rained out.  They predictably split the doubleheader on Saturday (losing the first game in frustrating fashion; busting out with the bats in the second), and they tried their damnedest to keep rallying in the Sunday finale, but could never secure a lead after the third inning, and Juan Nicasio is just the fucking worst.

I don’t want to say it’s all over, but then again I also don’t want to say I ever believed in this team in the first place.  I’d say the best case scenario is the Mariners will tread water until Cano comes back, but we’ll have plenty of other injuries to go around by the time that happens.  It’s been a pleasant few weeks since we had our offense back to full strength, and now it’s over.  Barring many more injuries, the Mariners will still “contend”, but we knew what we were getting into before the season even started.  The Mariners are going to Mariners all over themselves and finish around .500 by season’s end.  Even with Cano, our fate was always going to be on the outside looking in; now without Cano, figure that fate is more secure.