George Kirby’s Debut Can’t Paper Over How Terrible The Mariners Have Been Lately

Making the Sunday finale your only victory of a four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays is annoying in so many ways. By the time you get to that game, you’re so fucking sick and tired of the Mariners’ bullshit, you can barely muster the energy to watch. However, it’s a joyous occasion nevertheless, and sends you off into a new week with a better taste in your mouth. Nevermind the fact that for three days prior, they’ve been shovelling shit into your mouth; that last spoonful of sugar makes things seem like they’ll be okay.

Of course, it wasn’t just three days of shit, just three days of shit courtesy of the Rays. Prior to that, we were swept in three games by the Astros. If you want to take it back even further, it’s been shit in 10 out of 11 games prior to Sunday. I’d say we got our fill.

On a semi-related tangent, this is why the Mariners have been so reluctant to extend Mitch Haniger. We needed him desperately for this stretch, and where has he been? Sure, it’s terrible luck that he got COVID (although, I mean, if he’s not vaxed against it, then I don’t know if I feel sorry for him in that regard) and backed that up almost immediately by spraining an ankle, but this is the sort of hard-luck shit he’s had to deal with for most of his career. He has supremely terrible injury luck! So did Franklin Gutierrez and a million other guys throughout the history of this game. If you can’t count on someone to be on the field almost everyday, then what’s the point in signing them to a long-term extension?

I don’t want to get into the minutiae of this Rays series; in the grand scheme of things, who cares? We officially went 2-5 against them this season, so that’s a playoff tiebreaker we won’t have, if it comes to that. On Thursday, Robbie Ray had “One Bad Inning”, which is an excuse I’ve always hated, dating back to the Jeff Fassero days. You can have one bad inning out of seven innings pitched until the cows come home, but if you give up 4 runs in that inning, and lose 4-3, then I’m sorry, but you didn’t have a good game that day.

We had a chance to break this streak on Friday, but Paul Sewald had a rare blown save/loss by giving up a 3-run homer in the ninth. I was in attendance on Saturday, but even that wasn’t enough good luck to turn things around, as Diego Castillo had a total meltdown (5 runs, including a grand slam, without registering an out).

The saving grace (sort of) was that Kirby start on Sunday. He looked every bit the elite, ace-type prospect everyone’s said he is, by going 6 shutout innings, giving up 4 hits and 0 walks, while striking out 7. He touched the upper 90’s with his fastball and averaged in the mid-90’s. His breaking stuff was pretty nasty. He saw a lot of full counts – from what I saw, on the little TV, while re-watching the first season of Stranger Things on the big TV – but was able to challenge hitters and keep them off-balance.

Even then, the M’s did everything they could to try and lose it, not scoring until the bottom of the ninth. After the Rays finally scored in the top of the eighth, it looked like the Mariners would lose 1-0. Then, Mr. Clutch, Abraham Toro, pulled a solo homer into the right field stands to tie it up. Paul Sewald got back on the horse to keep the Rays off the board in the tenth, giving Ty France a chance to win it with a single in the bottom half. An exciting, 2-1 extra innings victory is a helluva way to end the six-game losing streak, but I’m still going to bitch about those losses for a while.

The Mariners are 13-16. They’re still hitting like shit up and down the lineup. Ty France can’t do everything. J.P. Crawford came up with back spasms in Saturday’s game (in a stupidly futile attempt to dive into first base, most likely), so he’s day-to-day. No word on Haniger’s return, but I’m sure he’s going to keep making it worse instead of letting it heal on its own. Kyle Lewis is in Tacoma trying to work his way back, but I’m not holding my breath. That Ken Giles signing – a 2-year deal, knowing the entire first year would be lost to injury – sure looks idiotic now that he’s on the 60-day IL and is looking like he’ll miss both fucking years.

Oh, and in all of their infinite wisdom, the Mariners have decided to not only send Matt Brash to Tacoma, but have converted him to a reliever in hopes that he’ll be able to return to the Major Leagues this season in time to help us with our playoff run. This is a topic for a separate post, because I have a lot to say on this particular issue. Spoiler alert: the Mariners are idiots probably.

And, just in case anyone was wondering about potential help coming from the minors, in case this Kirby experiement also goes tits up and we need a veteran starter to eat innings, I wouldn’t count on it. Nick Margevicius just got cut for extreme incompetence, Justus Sheffield is also getting rocked in Tacoma, and you’re better off not looking at the stats of the other guys we have starting down there. It turns out, the PCL is a total wasteland in every single respect (hitting is too easy – making the jump from AAA to the Majors extremely difficult – and pitching is almost impossible to do well).

It’s May in Seattle, which means it’s time to lose all faith in the Mariners. Right on schedule!

The Mariners’ Rotation Is Holding Up Remarkably Well So Far

Yeah yeah yeah, I know it’s early. We are 2 and one-fifths of the way through the rotation not even two full weeks into the season. But, that’s sort of the point of today’s argument, because this early in the season is when you really have to worry about a starting rotation holding up.

We’re right out of Spring Training. Rosters are slightly expanded for this very reason: pitchers’ arms aren’t built up yet. Pitch counts are relatively low as a result. And, should they run into too many travails, starts can be cut short, resulting in over-taxing of the bullpen.

2021 was kind of the Worst Case Scenario in this regard. We lost James Paxton early in his very first start. We lost backup starter Nick Margevicius not long after. We had to suffer through numerous full-on bullpen days because we were trying to run a 6-man rotation out there to limit innings and keep guys fresh, without sufficent healthy backup options to roll with (saying nothing of other starts being cut short due to early-season ineffectiveness).

The bullpen was gassed, and it necessitated multiple back-and-forth moves between Tacoma and Seattle just to keep this pitching staff afloat. But, we haven’t had that problem this year.

The worst start we’ve had so far was Marco Gonzales’ 2.0 innings in Minnesota. The next-shortest stint was a 4.1 affair by Flexen, also in Minnesota. Everyone else has gone at least 5.0 innings per start, including rookie Matt Brash, who is reported to be on a VERY strict pitch count for this season.

I think that’s pretty remarkable. Maybe I have low standards in this regard, but it’s clearly showing in our bullpen’s performance thus far. We have a bullpen ERA under 3 and the only blown save on our ledger is a game we came back and won.

This could all change at a moment’s notice, of course, but I think it’s a pretty good sign. In the not-too-distant future, our Major League roster is going to shrink a little bit, and we’ll be limited in the number of pitchers we can keep up here. Not wearing guys out in the most fragile part of the season should hopefully work wonders towards keeping this staff in good working order.

Beyond that, though, the starters have looked good in games! Our team ERA is 3.03, so it’s not like the bullpen is doing everything. Robbie Ray had one rough start in Chicago in that crazy rain game, but otherwise has looked every bit the ace. Matt Brash has been a revelation, and looks like he’ll be a valuable big league pitcher for many years to come. Logan Gilbert has quietly been a monster. Marco bounced back with a VERY impressive outing in our home opener against a very good Astros lineup. And, Chris Flexen looks just as steady as he was last year. Considering Marco and Flexen are our 3/4 pitchers, I think that speaks very well of the talent in this pitching staff.

I’m cautiously optimistic, because the better the pitching staff does now, the better our team should be as a whole. Clearly, we’ve needed the pitching to get off to a good start. Now that the offense has started to come around since we returned home, it’s starting to look like things might be okay. The last thing we need is to go into a deep hole with our record. 6-5, with a +8 run differential isn’t shabby in the least. I’ll take it! That’s something to build on, for sure.

What The Hell Are The Mariners Doing For A Fifth Starter?

I’m a little concerned, everyone. After the Winker trade, I heard the Mariners were mostly done making moves, at least when it came to adding to the offense. But, I fully expected there to be more moves to be made for pitching. Starting pitching, especially, but you obviously wouldn’t throw another reliever out of bed for eating crackers.

With Casey Sadler going down for the year (underrated VERY important piece to our bullpen’s success last year, and an all-around bummer of an injury considering how much fun he was to watch), the signing of Sergio Romo is a nice little pick-me-up for that bullpen (even though his second half in 2021 was far worse than his first half), but that doesn’t explain the total lack of activity when it comes to the rotation.

I generally like the first four starters the Mariners are planning to roll out:

  • Robbie Ray
  • Chris Flexen
  • Marco Gonzales
  • Logan Gilbert

Nice mix of veteran and youth, nice mix of hard throwing and off-speed savvy, all guys either in their primes or approaching their primes (with no one over the hill).

But, if you look at the rest of the 40-man roster, it’s a shitload of relievers! I see only two, maybe three, starting prospects in that particular bunch:

  • Justus Sheffield
  • Matt Brash
  • Nick Margevicius

Sheffield stinks. He’s washed up. Because he’s cheap, you can conceive of him in a long reliever type of role in the bullpen – making spot starts here and there – but he gets hit too damn hard to be a reliable presence in the rotation. Margevicius is a slightly less-bad version of Sheffield, in that he doesn’t get hit quite as hard, but is still otherwise a pitch-to-contact lefty with little-to-no strikeout ability. The only reason I’m not as down on him is because he spent most of 2021 injured, but shit, I don’t even know if he’s healthy now or not! He might not even be an option.

Then, there’s Brash, a promising young prospect who has never pitched above the AA level. I think we all love his stuff and his potential, but are we really going into this year just handing him a rotation spot out of Spring Training? I think most of us would prefer to give him a softer landing in Tacoma, just in case there are any kinks to work out. But, that would necessitate having a better option in a Mariners uniform for that fifth starter job, and I don’t know if that person exists at the moment.

Another option – off of the 40-man roster – includes George Kirby, an even better-looking prospect who also has never pitched above the AA level. Brash and Kirby look far-and-away to be our best options, but that’s a harrowing thought going into a year where expectations are for the Mariners to finally make it back to the playoffs.

We like Logan Gilbert a lot too, but remember all of his growing pains last year? Prior to September (when he started figuring things out), he averaged 1 start per month of 6 or more innings. It takes a lot of kid glove treatment to get a rookie through his first Major League season without totally obliterating his confidence.

Also, remember last year when we clung to the 6-man rotation for longer than was practical, necessitating many multiple Bullpen Days? Are we going back to this plan, at least to start the season, in an effort to build up rotation arms so they can pitch deeper into ballgames? Because as it is, we don’t even have a great 5th starter option; now we might be thinking of going with a 6th even-worse option?

This is a fiasco! I don’t understand why we haven’t made a move outside the organization to bring in another starter. What are we waiting for?! I’m more or less fine with the accumulation of offensive talent Dipoto has brought in, but he has severely neglected the rotation.

Bringing in another starter isn’t going to “block” one of these prospects. Injuries – especially to pitchers – happen all the fucking time! I’d like to have a little more certainty – not to mention a little more depth – heading into this all-important season. Because, what happens when we go into April with the guys we have now, and THEN the injuries start mounting? What kind of filler nonsense are we going to have to watch until our good arms come off the IL?

This is my nightmare. Welcome to Mariners fandom, for anyone who’s new.

Ranking The Trustworthiness Of The Mariners, Part 1: The Pitchers

Look, we’re in the throes of the dead part of the year. It might not be quite so dead if the Supersonics were still around, or if the Kraken were worth a damn, but here we are: grasping at straws, writing about the upcoming baseball season during a lockout with no end in sight. Worst of all: this post is almost certainly going to be out of date and moot as soon as a new CBA is signed and the Mariners can start shuffling their roster around. Weeee!

At the moment, the Mariners have 21 pitchers on their 40-man roster. As is common knowledge, even though the hypothetical regular season is just over a month away, the Mariners’ roster is anything but finalized. I would not expect the following 21 pitchers to all be on this 40-man roster on March 31st; moves will be made, and some of the people I talk about will cease to matter. At least, when it comes to Mariners fans like me.

I split up the 21 pitchers into three categories: Yes, No, and Maybe? It just so happened that each category had an equal seven members, so let’s go through them, starting with the least trustworthy pitcher and work our way up to number 1.

I suppose I should set some groundrules and define what I mean by “trustworthy”, but why don’t we get to that as the post goes along. There’s already been too much preamble, as far as I’m concerned (but I’ll be damned if I’m going to censor myself!).

No: The Least-Trustworthy Mariners Pitchers Of 2022

#21 – Juan Then

Then is an interesting starting pitching prospect who needed to be added to the 40-man roster, lest we risk losing him to the Rule 5 draft that happened some time ago. He’s yet to pitch above A-ball. Prior to the pandemic, he looked like he might be a quick riser through the minor leagues, but his 2021 wasn’t great. There’s absolutely no way he’ll pitch for the Major League ballclub this year, and odds are he’ll never play a game in Seattle as a member of the Mariners. My guess is he is trade fodder for a team looking to shed salary and build up their farm system.

#20 – Aaron Fletcher

He’s a lefty reliever who’s had a couple brief cups of coffee with the M’s in 2020 and 2021 and has a pro ERA over 12. He SUUUUUCKS. He’s young enough to turn things around, and the M’s don’t have a ton of lefty bullpen options at their disposal, but nothing I’ve seen as of yet leads me to believe he’s ready for the rigors of the Majors.

#19 – Justus Sheffield

He was once projected as a possible #1 or #2 starter, now there’s talk of him being shifted to a permanent bullpen role. He had a decently-effective 10-start 2020 season (with zero pressure), but his 2021 was a disaster. He started 15 games, struggled pretty much throughout, went on the Injured List (even though it was dubious that he was actually injured in any meaningful way), returned as a bullpen arm, and continued to struggle. I think he’s toast. He’s got no life on his fastball, and he can’t get by on nothing but sliders, because by and large his slider is only effective when it’s out of the zone, and if you see it coming, as a batter it’s easy to lay off of it.

#18 – Matt Brash

He’s another guy with no Major League experience, yet the unknown factor puts him above both Sheffield and Fletcher. He skyrocketed through the minors – spending much of 2021 in AA – before getting called up to Seattle late last year. He never did get into a game, but there was rampant speculation he was set to start one of our final games. He’ll almost certainly get called up to Seattle at some point this year, but it’s always best to temper expectations with someone so inexperienced. Nevertheless, I would expect some ups to come with the requisite downs, which already puts him ahead of the curve compared to the three guys behind him.

#17 – Wyatt Mills

He had a pretty brief cup of coffee in Seattle last year, but his numbers in Tacoma were pretty great. I would expect him to take a step forward in 2022. I don’t remember a lot about him, but for the Rainiers he had 51 strikeouts in 28.2 innings, so I’m assuming his fastball is pretty elite. Get it under control and you’ve got something.

#16 – Joey Gerber

There’s a pretty significant caveat here: I kinda/sorta trust him IF he’s healthy. But, he missed all of 2021 with injury, so that’s why you find him in the bottom third in terms of trustworthiness. Nevertheless, in 2020 he was one of our better relievers, so we know the stuff is there. Can he get it all back? That remains to be seen. I expect him to start his 2022 in Tacoma (assuming he’s off the IL and throwing again), eventually working his way back up to Seattle as need arises.

#15 – Justin Dunn

I kinda think I have more confidence in Dunn than I should. He often gets lumped in with Sheffield, as both are working their way through the organization at a similar pace. Dunn also had a solid – if unspectacular – 2020 season. Unlike Sheffield, Dunn actually flashed some improvement in 2021. Now, granted, Dunn was still effectively wild – walking a ton of guys, while not necessarily giving up a lot of hits – but his FIP went down almost two full points, and his strikeout rate improved. He seemed to be in better physical shape in 2021, and that translated to an improved fastball. Command has always been his bugaboo, but you’d think experience would help him rein that in a little bit. Unfortunately, his 2021 was cut short due to injury; his final appearance came in mid-June. He kept trying to return, but repeatedly suffered setbacks. It doesn’t appear he had surgery on his shoulder, so we’ll see if he was able to fully recover with conservative care. We’ll also see if he gets any more chances to start, or if the team moves him to the bullpen full time. Lots of questions here.

Maybe?: The Medium-Trustworthy Mariners Pitchers Of 2022

#14 – Erik Swanson

Swanson came over in the Sheffield deal and I’ll admit, I wrote him off after his 2020 season. He was another starter, but he got demoted to the bullpen a year prior to Sheffield. As it turns out, though, that was the best thing for him. Swanson was a middle-tier reliever in a VERY good 2021 M’s bullpen, providing solid numbers throughout his 33 appearances. There are times he’ll get knocked around, but he flashed a live fastball and kept us in a lot of games a lesser reliever might’ve let get out of hand. Still, if there’s a negative regression candidate, I think Swanson is our guy; I could see his ERA balloon back up over 5 or 6 runs relatively easy. His secondary pitches aren’t super thrilling; until he builds them up, he’s going to continue being overly reliant on his fastball, which is hittable for Major League batters.

#13 – Andres Munoz

He got in one game at the very end of 2021, pitching 0.2 scoreless innings. The good news is: he recovered from his injury. The bad news is: he’s had almost two full years off. His fastball is electric, but he’s probably a guy we don’t want to push too hard in the early going. He’ll have every opportunity to win a bullpen job in Spring Training though, and the sky is the limit on his potential. But, I’d like to see him do it a few weeks before I start buying in 100%.

#12 – Yohan Ramirez

Ramirez is another guy with a live fastball, but plenty of control/command issues. Nevertheless, he came up HUGE in some high-pressure spots in 2021. He also shit the bed pretty spectacularly in equal numbers, so the potential is there, the health is there, but the limitations are pretty stark. Thankfully, there are plenty of right-handed bullpen options ahead of him, so we don’t NEED him right away.

#11 – Ken Giles

We signed Giles prior to the 2021 season knowing full well he was injured and would be missing the entire year. But, we signed him specifically so he could be a significant bullpen piece in 2022; this was the plan all along. He’s a veteran with plenty of closing experience, and was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2019. Another heater guy, he should slide in quite nicely with our returning bullpen guys. We don’t need him to be a closer, but it’s nice knowing he’s there in case the others aren’t quite as good as they were last year. The risk, of course, is that Giles has had two years off, essentially. Will he last the duration? Or, is he just a walking injury waiting to happen?

#10 – Diego Castillo

I’m probably lower on Castillo than I have any right to be, but this is a guy whose ERA numbers have always outperformed his FIP numbers. He also was decidedly worse last year with the Mariners than he was with the Rays (prior to our trading for him). Not that he was terrible with the M’s, but every appearance felt like a rollercoaster (askew hat tip to Fernando Rodney). I don’t trust him! I know he’s pretty good, but for the life of me I don’t trust him. Part of trust is knowing what to expect ahead of time, and I feel like I never know if we’re going to see the Good Diego Castillo or the Bad Diego Castillo.

#9 – Anthony Misiewicz

Now, with Misiewicz, there’s a guy you can set your watch to! He’s the top lefty reliever in the bullpen, so right away not a lot is expected of him. Even with the rule changes to how relievers are used, more often than not you can get away with having him throw less than a full inning. That’s when he’s at his best. Trying to stretch him into multiple innings is when you’re looking at disaster. However, given his youth, and the volatile nature of relievers, I’ve got a gut feeling that he’s due for some positive regression. Having said that, bank on this being my worst take of this post; putting him anywhere near the Top 10 is probably foolish, but I yam who I yam.

#8 – Nick Margevicius

Here’s another guy who I have to say at the top: IF he’s healthy. I like him, though. As a long reliever, I think he’s effective. He’s a nice guy to have in the bullpen if a starter struggles or gets hurt. He’s nice lefty insurance in case our other bullpen lefties struggle. All in all, he can do a lot of things that help a ballclub. More often than not, he’ll keep you in ballgames. That’s all I ask from a guy like this. Granted, his terrible career numbers are his biggest detriment (and the reason why he isn’t in the good category), but he’s still pretty young.

Yes: The Most-Trustworthy Mariners Pitchers Of 2022

#7 – Logan Gilbert

I should say at the onset that I’m VERY high on these top 7 pitchers. So, just because Gilbert falls in at #7 doesn’t mean I’m questioning him. I’m just being a little overly cautious. He was a rookie in 2021 and I think it’s safe to say he out-performed expectations. Most importantly: he improved as the season went along, becoming one of our very best starters by season’s end. That’s tremendous for someone so young; he should be a mainstay in the rotation for many years to come. He might not be an Ace, but he’s a solid #2 or #3, right now. All that’s left is to be consistently great, throughout the year. There will still be occasional bumps in the road in 2022, but they should be fewer and further between; that’s exciting.

#6 – Marco Gonzales

Marco was on a steady upward trajectory through 2020 before regressing a bit in 2021. I will say that he was throwing better at season’s end, and it’s likely he was dealing with a lot of injury issues throughout the season, but some of his poor starts were just disconcerting enough to sour me on him a tad. A tad! I still think for what he is, he’s good for this organization. Marco will still keep the M’s in ballgames more often than not. He’s just not, you know, an Ace. Thankfully, we no longer need him to be. As a #3 or #4 starter, I think he’s just fine.

#5 – Chris Flexen

This might be a little low for someone who was unquestionably the best Mariners starter of 2021, but a lot of the projections have Flexen as a significant negative regression candidate. It did seem like he wiggled off the hook quite a bit last year, and he might not be so lucky a second time around. The flipside to that argument is: he figured out how to be a starting pitcher over in South Korea and now he’s a completely different animal. That’s what I’m hoping for – that’s why I still have him in my Top 5 – but I’m allowing for there to be more bad outings out of him in 2022. That doesn’t mean he’ll totally faceplant; I still expect him to keep us in games by and large.

#4 – Paul Sewald

Now, HERE is probably my second-most laughable ranking of this post. Sewald was hands down the best pitcher in the organization last year. But, he was almost unsustainably elite last year, and I have a hard time believing he’s going to continue being That Guy going forward. Don’t get me wrong, he was one of my favorite Mariners last year. But, you could see him start to get touched up towards the end of the season, and that strikes me as very ominous. I hope I’m wrong!

#3 – Robbie Ray

If there’s anyone destined to rip our hearts out, it’s the guy who has parlayed one elite pitching season into a big-money, long-term deal. He had one previous All Star year in 2017, but his 2021 Cy Young season is why he’s here. The pressure is on, because not only is he our Ace, but he’s joining an up-and-coming roster with increased expectations. I’m heading into this year with love in my heart, confident that his stuff will continue to lead the way. But, in the back of my mind, there are dark, sinister thoughts of the albatross he could morph into, from the very onset. The Mariners have a long and fucked history of free agent starting pitchers coming in here and stinking straight away. I hope he’s not another notch on our bedpost.

#2 – Drew Steckenrider

It’s a total mindfuck to have my top two most-trustworthy pitchers be two other righty relievers not named Paul Sewald, but I don’t know what to tell you. I like Steckenrider. I don’t think he’s a closer, though he has that experience. I thought Scott Servais used him perfectly last year, pitching him based on matchups. Sometimes he was our closer, but sometimes he came into the game in the 7th or 8th innings. He’s just a steady, hard-throwing righty who produced crazy-effective results.

#1 – Casey Sadler

Have you seen his numbers?! Sub-1 ERA. Has a fastball in the upper 90’s, yet his best pitch is his slider; I love everything about his repertoire! He’s decidedly not a closer – and there’s no reason to expect that to change – but as a guy you mix and match with, I think no one is better on this team. The best thing about the bullpen in 2021 was how there weren’t really any super egos. The guys settled into their roles, but nothing was set in stone. They went into games on an as-needed basis, and absolutely dominated. It gives me hope for 2022, even though I know in my mind the likelihood of negative regression hitting all of these guys collectively.

The Mariners Split A 4-Game Series Against The Red Sox

It’s interesting to think about what a 13-9 start for the Mariners means. The strength of schedule has been fucking crazy. Boston is first in the A.L. East. The White Sox are second in the Central; the Twins should end up better than their record indicates right now. The Astros are obviously slumping and will be much better than their sub-.500 record when it’s all said and done. And the Dodgers and Giants are the top two teams in the N.L. West. So, to have this winning record, and only be a game behind the scorching-hot A’s is pretty outstanding!

But, it’s also incredibly early. And maybe the bullpen has been unsustainably hot. And the clutch late-game heroics have been unsustainably … existing. This could all be randomness that just so happens to be taking place against very good teams (and the Orioles).

Or, if you want to look on the bright side – something I’ve been trying to do a little more of lately, in spite of the blog’s name – maybe the Mariners are actually good, and they’ll REALLY start to rack up the W’s when we get to the part of the schedule where we can feast on the dregs of the game! Wouldn’t that be something?!

I mean, I’ll be honest: I keep waiting for the tide to turn and the Mariners to be exposed as the frauds they are … yet here we are, 22 games in, and still going strong! If you play around .500 against the good teams, and something like .667 against the bad teams, well, that’s a playoff team in all likelihood.

So, a 2-2 road set in the city of Boston is something akin to a 2-1 series against a shitty team.

Last Thursday, the Mariners were up to their usual tricks: erasing a 2-0 deficit in the sixth inning with an impressive rally (highlighted by a 2-run double by Ty France), then erasing a 3-2 deficit in the eighth with a J.P. Crawford double. Only to explode for a 4-spot in the tenth inning, featuring a clinching 3-run homer by Mitch Haniger to put it away.

Justin Dunn looked more in control in his 5 innings of work (2 runs on 6 hits and only 1 walk, with 5 strikeouts), and the bullpen was dominant from there (1 run on 2 hits and 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts).

The M’s couldn’t keep the good times going on Friday, but very nearly did pull yet another game out of their asses! Yusei Kikuchi didn’t have it, giving up 5 runs in less than 5 innings of work. The bullpen, however, kept us in it JUST enough to let things get interesting (minus an unearned run attributed to Ljay Newsome, who was otherwise solid). We were down 6-2 in the ninth inning before a 3-run homer by Kyle Seager made things interesting. But, just not enough offense in this one; 4/12 with runners in scoring position, with 9 left on base.

We bounced back in a huge way on Saturday behind a STRONG Chris Flexen start (7 innings, 1 run on 4 hits & 1 walk, with 7 strikeouts). The offense blew the doors off, with France, Seager, White, and Haggerty all contributing multi-hit games in the 8-2 victory. Can’t say enough good things about how Flexen has looked the first few times through the rotation. He is a VERY welcome surprise, after the dud of a bottle rocket that was the return of James Paxton.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t pull off the series victory on Sunday, as Nick Margevicius couldn’t get more than a single out and we had to go with a Bullpen Day. After being pulled prematurely in his previous start, Margevicius was put on the IL today with shoulder inflammation; we’ll see who takes his place (though Newsome figures to be a safe bet).

You’d think a Bullpen Day – with the way the bullpen has been going – might not be the worst idea. And, indeed, they were excellent, holding the Red Sox to 1 run over 7.2 innings. But, the damage was done with the 4-spot Margevicius gave up, as we lost 5-3. Again, the offense scuffled, going 2/11 with RISP and striking out 11 more times. That’s going to happen, as the offense isn’t elite after the first couple batters, and as we go up against top tier starters. Hopefully, things start to level off on both ends (where we’re not facing so many guys with Ace-like stuff, and our hitters regress to a more competent level of baseline).

Now, it’s four in Houston. So, maybe the swoon starts today? We’ll see! I’m still waiting.

What’s Happening Here? The Mariners Won The Series Over The Astros

This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. Even in those recent seasons where the Mariners have mostly contended for a playoff spot, we never had results like this.

Oh sure, we’ve seen 5-2 type road trips, especially in the month of April it would seem. What happens afterward? Invariably, we return home to face the fucking Astros. The hype train starts chugging along in the leadup to that Friday night game, with everyone thinking, “If we can keep this going against the divisional favorite, we might really have something this season!” And THEN what happens? The Astros fucking smack us down and we return to the depths of our own despair, tails between our legs, resigned to another year of mediocrity.

It’s that point, in every season, where hope is dashed. Emphatically. You can set your watch to it! My friends and I texted all about it. We ultimately decided to forego gambling against the Mariners on Friday because every time we’ve ever been this sure about an outcome, we’ve lost miserably.

For a while there, it looked like a bit of a missed opportunity. After four scoreless innings, the Astros put up three runs in the 5th. Just to tease us, the M’s got two back in the 6th, only to watch the Astros get two more in the top of the 7th to make it 5-2. At that point, I don’t know if there was a Mariners fan alive who would’ve been delusional to expect a comeback.

Yet! The Miracle Mariners are starting to make some of us into believers! Two runs in the bottom of the 7th made it 5-4. An Evan White solo homer in the 8th tied it up. And, I shit you not, a ground-rule single in the bottom of the 9th walked it off!

Get the fuck out of here! What are we seeing?!

Well, admittedly, we’re seeing a depleted Astros squad that was missing four prominent players due to some sort of COVID-related issue. But, even without those guys, the Astros are still plenty good, so I’ll take a win over them any way I can get it.

Yusei Kikuchi had another impressive-looking start going, only to have his numbers look not-so-hot in the end: 7 innings, 5 runs. It seemed to me that he was dealing through the first four no-hit innings by featuring his live fastball. Then, he went away from it, featuring some iffy breaking pitches that the Astros were able to handle. Maybe it was to conserve his pitch count (he finished with 91 over those 7 innings), but I wish he’d put Aledmys Diaz away with the hard stuff before he hit that 2-run single, even if he ended the game at a sub-90 pitch count. Those two runs were nearly the final nail in the coffin.

That being said, the top of this lineup is ridiculous. Haniger, France, and Seager combined to go 6 for 12, with 5 RBI and 2 runs scored. That’s a beautiful thing! You obviously can’t expect that to remain the entire season, but in the early going this team is going to have to rely on those guys to carry the mail, until Kyle Lewis returns from injury (this week, hopefully) and Jarred Kelenic gets the call-up.

When the top of your lineup is dealing like that, anything you get from the other six guys is gravy. White and Crawford have struggled, but at times they’ve flashed as well. I hope that tips to where they flash more than they don’t. Tom Murphy coming around with his bat will be huge too; I’m not as worried about him as I am the younger guys.

As for the Saturday game, I missed it entirely. I mean, it’s hard to blame me, blink and you would’ve missed it! 1-0 defeats are VERY rare in today’s game, and while it sucks to be on the losing end, there are still positive take-aways for the Mariners.

Chris Flexen went six innings, spreading out 10 hits while somehow limiting the damage to just the 1 run. Insane! I don’t know if that’s sustainable, but it’s nice to see a gutty performance like that. The bullpen as well continued to keep it on lockdown, which makes it all the more disappointing that the hitters couldn’t get one over on Zack Greinke (who went 8 shutout innings, striking out 6, on just 91 pitches).

Again, if this were one of those Mariners teams of years past, the rubber match probably would’ve been a lost cause. But, instead if was an emphatic 7-2 victory!

This one could’ve gone haywire in a hurry. Nick Margevicius had to be pulled during the first at-bat of the fifth inning, with … arm fatigue? Is that a thing? Anyway, he’s supposedly going to make his next start, so that’s neither here nor there. He went just the four innings, giving up 2 runs (1 earned), and the M’s were temporarily down 2-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth.

That’s when the offense came alive, with a 2-run triple by Haniger (that was almost caught for a heartbreaking out in deep centerfield) and a 2-run homer by France (who else?). Haniger and France added on in the 7th, with back-to-back RBI doubles to give the game its final score.

The bullpen has been on fire lately, with the best ERA in baseball over the last week and change. I especially liked how Servais stuck with Rafael Montero in the highest-leverage situation in the 8th, even though the M’s had just tacked on two more runs. The 3-4-5 hitters were coming up, and even though we had a 5-run lead, that’s just the type of scenario where you could see a team like the Astros start to mount a comeback. Better to put them away right then and there, to give Steckenrider a soft landing in the 9th.

The Mariners are 10-6, everyone! The Mariners were in first place heading into this series, and the Mariners are still in first place today! Who saw that coming?

The First Place Mariners Played A Couple Of Doubleheaders In Baltimore

And won three of four! Ain’t that some shit?!

If you thought I had zero interest in the M’s going back to Minnesota later this year for any rainout make-up games, I REALLY had no interest in them going back to Baltimore! There were somehow two rainouts – on Monday, and again on Wednesday – that necessitated two 7-inning doubleheaders (on Tuesday and Thursday, naturally). The largest margin of victory was two runs, in case you saw that I just told you the Mariners won three of four and thought it might have been some dominating week of baseball. It was fine, but these teams are a lot closer to one another in talent level – at least, at the moment – than you like to see.

The first game saw a solid outing out of Justus Sheffield – 6 innings, 2 runs, on 3 hits, 2 walks, with 5 strikeouts – and he would’ve got the win if it weren’t for the third blown save of the young season by Rafael Montero. Look, this is probably just who he is. I don’t think he’s going to be 50% saves, 50% blown saves for the entire season (I mean, obviously, if he keeps blowing them, he won’t be our closer anymore), but I do think he’s shaky and will continue to be so.

France, Murphy, and Haniger helped the Mariners build an early 3-0 lead in the first couple innings. Sheffield gave up a 2-run homer in the fifth, but was able to get through six innings with the lead intact. Montero actually got two quick outs before giving up a double and a single to tie it in the bottom of the seventh. From there, he was able to wiggle out of it to send the game into extras.

Kyle Seager was once again the late-game hero, doubling in the 8th to score Haniger from second to take the lead. From there, Graveman was able to lock it down for his first save of the season.

The second game was wild! Nick Margevicius got the start and was hampered severely by a third inning that saw him give up four unearned runs after the M’s had taken a 4-0 lead in the top half of the inning. Having expended so many pitches to get out of it, he was allowed to start the fourth, but let the first two batters get on before being pulled. They would come around to score, leaving the M’s trailing 6-4.

Sam Haggerty, though, heroically mashed a 2-run homer in the top of the seventh to tie it up! It looked like we might have a double-header replete with extra-innings games! But, sadly (!), after Sadler got two outs, he sort of fell apart and ended up gagging away the game in the bottom half of the inning.

Haniger had three more hits in this one, and Jose Marmolejos – filling in for a banged up Evan White at first base – hit a 3-run home run to stake us to that early lead. Players filling in and helping the team all throughout the roster, it’s wonderful to see!

After the second rainout of the series, the Mariners had to play two on getaway day (that’s two full 7-inning games, followed by an almost-immediate flight from Baltimore to Seattle to play the Astros later tonight; sounds brutal). Marco Gonzales got his third start of the season and promptly gave up a 2-run homer in the first. Here we go. BUT, he settled down nicely, not giving up a hit after the first, the rest of the way, in his five total innings of work. We’re far from ace-level pitching, but it was great to see him settle down like that and get the win.

Mitch Haniger had a 2-run home run in the fifth to tie it up, and J.P. Crawford hit a 2-run double to take the lead in the sixth. Rafael Montero came in for the bottom of the sixth inning – not because he’s lost his closer’s job, but because they want him in there for the highest-leverage situations – to face the heart of the lineup. He got through it while just giving up one harmless hit. Graveman came in for the seventh to get his second save of the series.

I fully expected the Mariners to lose the second game of the doubleheader, but Justin Dunn showed up in a major way! He had much better command, though he did walk two. His stuff was electric, though. He struck out 6 in five innings of work, while only giving up 2 hits and 1 run. Will Vest got the hold and Keynan Middleton locked down his second save of the season in pretty impressive fashion.

It was a 2-1 win, with solo homers by Dylan Moore and Mitch Haniger. Haniger, by the way, is slashing like crazy: .321/.333/.623. You’d like to see more from the on-base percentage, but it’s obviously still insanely early.

Anyway, as the title suggests, the Seattle Mariners – at 8-5 – are in first motherfucking place! How wild is that?! The Angels are right there at 7-5, and the Astros – who come to town severely depleted (thanks to COVID issues) – are 6-6. Also, there are still 149 games to play this season, so it’s really anyone’s race!

What do we make of this start so far? I don’t think the Mariners are elite yet, but I do think they could potentially be among the better of the rest. They’re clearly beating up on teams that are either bad or middle-of-the-road. Being middle-of-the-road themselves is, honestly, probably an upgrade over initial expectations. If they continue to do this, they WILL compete for a Wild Card spot (mostly by default, because there are so many wild card spots, but still).

But, they could also just be really, extremely lucky in these first two weeks. 6 of their 8 wins are by 2 runs or less. The Mariners are 6-1 in games decided by 2 runs or less; that feels extremely unsustainable, especially with Montero seeing the highest-leverage situations. The Mariners are also 3-0 in extra innings games; again, it’s unsustainable. The M’s have a -8 run differential, which is more indicative of a team that would be under .500 in record.

There’s A LOT of noise in the first month of the season, so it’s obviously too early to start declaring trends. But, you know, 8-5 and in first place is fun! So, enjoy it you fucking nerd and quit trying to spot every dark cloud on the horizon!

The Mariners Won One Against The White Sox

If you ever want to know where the Mariners are in their rebuild, it’s helpful to see how they play against the very best teams in baseball. I would put the White Sox up there among them, and at least at this point in the rebuild, the M’s were outclassed.

The game on Monday was a brutal 6-0 shutout. Justus Sheffield looked pretty good through three innings, but the wheels started to come off in the fourth, and he was done after five, having given up 6 runs, 4 earned. I would say that performance was as expected for a guy making his first start of the season, against a team that absolutely mashes left-handed pitching.

The real drag was from the lineup, who managed only three hits on the day (two of them by Haniger). We struck out 15 fucking times against only 4 walks; that’s as pathetic as it gets. Take a picture of what the outfield looks like right now (sans Haniger), as it can ONLY improve from here with call-ups and guys returning from injury. Jake Fraley, Sam Haggerty, and Taylor Trammell don’t appear to be Major League players (yet? maybe ever?). Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, and Julio Rodriguez can’t get here soon enough.

The only positive in this one was the four innings of shutout ball by the bullpen. Don’t get used to that, though.

Tuesday’s game was a miserable 10-4 blowout, where both Paxton and Fraley left injured. Paxton’s injury seems particularly bad, as he’s reportedly seeking a second opinion. Fraley: who cares? Margevicius never should’ve appeared in this series – being a soft-tossing lefty – and was roped around accordingly. The rest of the bullpen behind him didn’t do the team any favors either, as everyone after Paxton combined to give up 9 of the 10 runs.

As for the hitters, Haniger and Ty France were good! Tom Murphy was productive in his at-bats at DH. Everyone else was pretty mediocre.

Yesterday’s game was a relatively impressive 8-4 victory for the M’s! I’ll be honest, that was a tough one to see coming, and in retrospect seems even less likely!

Justin Dunn has improved velocity on his fastball, but was otherwise up to his old tricks in this one: allowing one hit while walking EIGHT! Ye gods. He failed to get through the fifth inning. BUT, the hitters brought their lunch pails in this one, scoring three off of old buddy Dallas Keuchel, then five more against some hapless reliever who got knocked around something fierce.

Kyle Seager started pulling his weight in this one, with three hits and three RBI. But, seven Mariners in total had hits, most of them in a 7-run sixth inning.

The bullpen went 4.1 innings, giving up just 1 run, with Will Vest getting his first career Major League win. All in all, a lot to like about this one game at least. If the series as a whole is a barometer of where the Mariners are in their rebuild, it’s encouraging to have a performance like this one to at least give us some hope.

Now, the Mariners are off on their first road trip of the season, with a weird three-game series against the Twins (with a random Friday off-day). I don’t understand why MLB didn’t schedule this with another off-day on Sunday; if you’re SO worried about there being a rainout, why not front-load the games so you have a better opportunity to get the entire series in? Sure, the Twins’ home-opener is secure, but what happens if there’s a rain storm on Saturday or Sunday? We’re fucked into making a repeat trip to Minnesota later in the season! Fucking idiots; schedule smarter!

James Paxton Is Hurt Again

In his first start back, no less!

Before the game yesterday, I was trying to think of a couple storylines to write about the Mariners this morning. One, I think, is very much on the table, and I will get to it shortly. The other was going to compliment the bullpen a little bit, but that might be premature.

Regardless, they take a backseat to James Paxton throwing 24 pitches in anger last night before succumbing to elbow pain. Jesus Christ.

When you sign a guy in the prime of his life – if not, necessarily, the prime of his Major League Baseball career – you kind of expect … something. Even when you sign him to a 1-year, prove-it deal, after an injury-shortened 2020 season, you still figure there’s been plenty of time for him to recover and build himself up into a Best Shape Of His Life candidate. While you’re aware of the risk of another injury befalling this unlucky individual, you DEFINITELY don’t expect that injury to take place in the very first start, after an incident-free Spring Training!

I mean, I can’t even begin to tell you the level of relative despair I felt when I heard the announcers say that Scott Servais was coming out of the dugout in the second inning. I’m sure that’s nothing to the actual despair felt by Paxton and those close to him, but this really fucking sucks. Not just from a fan or a team perspective. Obviously, I want to see him pitch. He’s great when he’s healthy! He’s a fun guy to root for! And, not for nothing, but if he helps the Mariners win ballgames, maybe we can parlay that into ongoing affiliation with the team; or, conversely, if we want to take another stab at trading a veteran on a short deal for prospect(s) at the trade deadline this summer, all the better there too. But, even if nothing comes out of his second stint with the Mariners, and it fails to benefit us whatsoever, I was mostly hoping – for his sake – that he’d last the whole season and be able to resurrect things, to the extent that a pitcher with his injury history is able to do so. He really does deserve to have sustained success, and it’s not completely unheard of for guys in his position to have late-career flourishes.

It was announced today that he’s going on the 10-Day IL (as well as Jake Fraley, who apparently injured his hamstring while making a spectacular diving catch last night). Nick Margevicius – who had the ignominious honor to follow Paxton last night into a hornet’s nest of White Sox batters who crush left-handed pitching – will take the open spot in the rotation. That’s as big of a downgrade as you can get, I’d imagine, but it obviously won’t be as bad as it was last night in every start he makes.

Get well soon, Paxton! This season is A LOT more fun with you on the mound!

2021 Mariners Preview Extravaganza: We Have A Rest Of The Team

Yesterday, I wrote about the starting rotation. Today – the day of the Mariners’ first game of the season – I’ll be writing about everything else.

If you’ve been following along all offseason, I’ve already written about most of these guys. But, now we have an official roster, so let’s run through it.

We’re pretty set with the infield:

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Dylan Moore (2B)
  • Evan White (1B)
  • Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)

All healthy, present, and accounted for! All of them, of course, come with question marks. Does Seager have anything left in the late-career resurgence tank? Can Crawford build on his Gold Glove campaign to be a more consistent (and somewhat more powerful) hitter? Was 2020 a mirage for Moore? Will White EVER hit, period? And, is the catcher position as strong as I expect it to be? How many of these guys – if any – will be longterm solutions at their respective positions? I gotta believe that the Next Great Mariners Team has at least a few of these guys playing roles; they can’t ALL still be in the minors or other organizations!

One guy we don’t have to worry about is:

This guy can hit! No notes! Also, since I believe in him so strongly, watch him struggle mightily. This is the way.

The outfield is my favorite part of this team, now and especially in the future. With Kyle Lewis starting on the 10-Day IL, it’s a little underwhelming at the moment, but obviously the M’s have to play it super safe with our 2020 Rookie of the Year.

  • Mitch Haniger (RF)
  • Jake Fraley (CF)
  • Taylor Trammell (LF)
  • Sam Haggerty (INF/OF)
  • Jose Marmolejos (INF/OF)

The story of camp has been Trammell making the Opening Day roster. Not just as an injury replacement to the injured Lewis, but as a legitimate starting left fielder for this team. He’s another one of those great guys we traded for from the Padres last year when we sent them Austin Nola – making us three for three of guys coming over in return making the team in 2021, with France and Torrens – whose prospect stock has fluctuated wildly over the course of his minor league career. But, he appears to be putting it all together now at just the right time: ahead of Kelenic and Rodriguez. This glut of highly-touted outfielders will only make things that much easier for the M’s as they fill out the rest of the roster to try to build a championship ballclub. Of everyone on this 26-man roster, Trammell is the one I’m most excited about.

And Haniger is the one I’m most curious about. He’s had a long road back to full health; at one point in his career he was one of the top 25-or-so players in the American League. It wouldn’t shock me to see him right back in that area; it also wouldn’t shock me to see him totally shit the bed. He no longer seems to be the future of the franchise, but he’s currently the present, and will have every opportunity to rebuild his value in the game of baseball.

Fraley and the rest are just guys. Placeholders until our young superstars return from injury and/or get called up from the minors.

The obvious wildcard on the Mariners is the bullpen:

  • Rafael Montero
  • Kendall Graveman
  • Nick Margevicius
  • Anthony Misiewicz
  • Keynan Middleton
  • Casey Sadler
  • Will Vest
  • Drew Steckenrider

Oof. Like I said, I have avoided learning too much about the bullpen; I’d rather watch them with my own eyes and draw my own conclusions. But, to get me started, I guess I’ll look up some info and regurgitate it here, for my own benefit if nothing else.

The Mariners traded for Rafael Montero from the Rangers in the offseason. He had 8 saves for a terrible Rangers team last year, and I guess figures to be our closer out of the gate? He doesn’t have a ton of Major League experience, but maybe he’s put it all together. We’ll see. He’s not a bad buy-low candidate, at least in the short term.

Graveman we all know. He was here last year, signed to be a starter after missing a lot of time with injuries. He ended up with a neck issue that somehow allows him to throw very hard in short bursts as a reliever, but hampers him too much to go too many innings in a row. I don’t understand this one iota (mostly, I don’t understand why he doesn’t just have some surgical procedure to fix it and return 100% healthy), but whatever. He’s generally pretty good for an inning most of the time, so that makes him a quality set-up candidate in my mind.

Margevicius was neck-and-neck with Justin Dunn for the sixth starter job. He will be one of the long men in the bullpen to eat up innings and keep us in ballgames when a starter falters. He’ll also be the first man to join the rotation if there’s an injury (and there will be an injury). He’s fine, I like him in this role a great deal. He’s also one of just two lefties in the ‘pen, so there should be no shortage of work for him this season.

Misiewicz is presumably our top lefty reliever. We drafted him in 2015 and he made his debut last year. He was pretty good, I think! I dunno, we’ll see I guess.

Keynan “Don’t Call Me Kenyan” Middleton was a free agent signing who played for the Angels’ organization the last four years. His 2020 looked pretty atrocious. The three years prior look better, just as long as you don’t go sniffing around his FIP too hard. He might be just a guy. A cheap guy, but a guy nevertheless. He’s still young enough to put it all together, but don’t hold your breath.

Sadler is a veteran we claimed from the Cubs last year, who has bounced around multiple organizations. He’s someone else with big Just A Guy energy.

Will Vest is a Rule 5 guy we poached from the Tigers this offseason. He will be making his Major League debut this year, which will be somewhat fun! Other than that, I dunno. He’s the Rule 5 guy, that’s the nugget I’m going to keep in my brain and promptly forget as soon as he makes it into an actual game.

Drew Steckenrider sounds like one of those names I always fuck up when it comes to those Lookout Landing Sporcle quizzes asking you to name all the Mariners’ pitchers from a particular season. He came over from the Marlins organization on a minor league deal and was apparently one of the last guys to make the team. He’s another one I’m not holding my breath about.

***

The world is our oyster here! The Mariners could be a Bottom Five team, but I really don’t think that will be the case. There’s a lot of young talent in the organization just waiting to break through. There’s a TON of athleticism. There’s promise bursting at the seams. This is a team that WANTS to be great, that has just enough leadership at just the right spots – including the coaching staff – to potentially make it happen. We could be looking at a team that hangs around and FINALLY becomes the one to break the playoff drought!

Or, you know, it could be another year with another mediocre record.

But, the hope is that the young guys will improve. That’s really all that matters. 2020 was a roaring success because we saw improvement from the guys we needed to see improvement from. 2021 needs to be more of the same. Winning and losing isn’t quite as irrelevant as it was last year, but that’s not the ultimate agenda quite yet. The experience of winning isn’t quite as important as the experience of just playing at this level, but there is a lot of value there. That’s why I won’t be as maniacal as in years past when it comes to getting a high draft pick for next season.

Do what you’re going to do, Mariners!

My prediction is that the M’s easily surpass the 72.5 win total that Vegas has them at. But, ultimately I don’t see us getting one of those Wild Card spots. Instead, we’ll probably be drafting in the teens next year.

I’m reserving all predictions beyond that. I’m not making ANY specific player predictions, because so much can happen. Injuries, regression, breakouts, it’s all on the table. My only hope is that I don’t exit this season feeling worse about the Mariners than I do right now. Right now, I’m full of optimism! So, let’s just work in service of that and try to make 2022 and beyond really special!