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!

2021 Mariners Preview Extravaganza: We Have A Starting Rotation

I don’t know if the official 26-man roster has been set yet, but I do know we have the 6-man rotation good to go. So, I’ll start there. I’ll forego the bullpen because I don’t know those men, nor do I care to know those men. Tomorrow, I’ll look to talk about the everyday players and then we’ll get this pig in gear!

  1. Marco Gonzales (L)
  2. James Paxton (L)
  3. Chris Flexen (R)
  4. Justus Sheffield (L)
  5. Yusei Kikuchi (L)
  6. Justin Dunn (R)

The next man up – at least until Logan Gilbert gets his initial call-up – figures to be lefty Nick Margevicius. So, a lot of familiar faces there.

Once the M’s signed Paxton, this is pretty much the group we expected all along, even if the order after the top two is a little surprising. I think you can really toss all four of the bottom guys (five if you count Margevicius) into a hat and pick them out at random. Is Flexen really the #3 guy? Or, is he just projected to be the most-reliable right-handed starter and Scott Servais wanted to break up the four lefties? My hunch is it’s the latter.

When healthy, I’ll ride or die with Gonzales and Paxton all day every day; I think that’s as solid a 1-2 punch as you’ll find. Especially with Paxton as your #2? When he’s going strong, he’s as dominant as they come! If things break right with this team, these two guys should have tremendous winning percentages when it’s all said and done.

Neither, of course, were particularly amazing in Spring Training; Gonzales had a pretty high ERA and Paxton only made two official starts (with, presumably, lots of games in back-alleys to fill out his pitch counts). But, these are tried and true veterans who only need to get the work in; they have nothing to prove in these games. I expect big things.

Flexen has always been an interesting case, as he’s largely either an unknown in America, or a terrible pitcher. He salvaged his career in Asia, and obviously is hoping he can carry that over back in the Major Leagues, but this is all Wait & See for me. He had five starts in Spring Training, and pretty pedestrian numbers, but his last two starts totalled 8 innings of 5-hit, shutout ball. So, at least he’s hot heading into the regular season.

Justus Sheffield impressed the hell out of me in 2020. He’s another one with pretty shabby Spring Training numbers, but his last two starts totalled 8.2 innings of 6-hit, 2-run ball. He’s not the proven veteran that Gonzales and Paxton are, so I don’t know if we can totally write off his performance in those four official games. I would still expect an up-and-down season, hopefully with more ups than downs. A full Mariners turnaround and/or a playoff-bound 2021 season likely requires Sheffield to be better than he was in 2020, and to continue to improve as time goes on. I’ll be rooting like crazy for this to happen, even though I have my nagging doubts.

Seeing Yusei Kikuchi as the #5 starter is pretty abysmal, all things considered. There’s no way the Mariners signed him to all of that money to be their fifth starter. Kikuchi had three official starts in Spring Training and his numbers were solid. He continues to make steady progress, but I don’t know if he’s making ENOUGH progress to be a guy that will stick around beyond 2021. At this point, I’d say my prediction is that he’ll continue to scuffle and won’t be here in 2022 under his existing contract, if at all. BUT, of any one of these bottom four guys who might put it all together, I think Kikuchi has the highest ceiling in 2021 (if not necessarily beyond). He has the stuff! The fastball works. If the command locks in, the American League better watch out, because Kikuchi could be pretty special.

I was happy to see Justin Dunn make the rotation in the 6-spot, because obviously he has a much higher ceiling than Margevicius. He’s apparently in tremendous shape and has added a few MPH to his fastball. He’s still young, he’s still raw, but he battled like crazy in 2020 and I’m hopeful another year in the Bigs will work wonders for his development. Like the rest of these bottom four guys, I expect ups and downs. Like Sheffield (and, really, everyone, I suppose), here’s to more ups than downs.

The over/under for Mariners wins is 72.5 (72-90/73-89). That’s a pretty low bar for this team to clear. If it does, I think we’ll have to lean on the rotation to … just keep us in games. That’s largely what they did in 2020. Nothing TOO flashy, just some solid 5-6 innings of 3-4 run ball. The hitting will be there sometimes and will fail us sometimes (but, I think it’ll be there more often than not); the bullpen PROBABLY won’t blow it every single time.

For this team to exceed expectations and actually contend for a playoff spot, I think the rotation will have to be better than just solid. They’ll have to go long stretches of carrying this team. Of not putting too much on the shoulders of the bullpen, as it tries to sort itself out. It COULD be capable of that, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I think this rotation is good enough to get us to 76-80 wins, with the team constructed around it as such. The real wild card is what we have in the upper minors, how quickly they can develop, and how hot they start their Major League careers.

The Mariners are going to have to ride their youngsters if they’re going to wildly exceed expectations. Fingers crossed!

Chris Flexen Is A Guy The Mariners Might Be Counting On (and Some Thoughts On The Six-Man Rotation)

The six-man rotation for the 2020 season felt like a great way to give our guys some semblance of experience this year, while at the same time protecting them during a wonky situation where we had a long break, then the ramp-up to Spring Training, then another long break, then a quick ramp-up, followed by a 60-game season. Pitching baseballs for a living under normal circumstances is quite taxing, but this had the potential for real leaguewide disaster!

The six-man rotation also offered the Mariners an opportunity to get a good sample size from numerous starters. Going in, we had two guys who were deserving locks to crack the rotation (Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi), two guys who were coming off of devastating injuries and multiple years away from the game (Taijuan Walker and Kendall Graveman), and two rookies who had never (to my knowledge) cracked an Opening Day starting rotation (Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn). That’s four unproven guys, plus a number of minor leaguers (including Nick Margevicius and Ljay Newsome) who we would end up throwing in there when Walker was traded and Graveman went down with another injury (and ultimately landed in a bullpen role). As the M’s are in the middle of a full rebuild, it was necessary to get a good look at as many different guys as possible. Hence, the six-man rotation was born.

But, now we’re talking about carrying over the six-man rotation into 2021, when things are (hopefully) returning back to normal. Part of that has to do with protecting the guys (we don’t know how their arms will respond, going from pitching so few innings in a year, to a full 162-game season), part of that has to do with the Mariners still being smack-dab in the middle of a full rebuild (though ideally closer to being contenders than having to scrap it all and start over), but an interesting wrinkle is that part of the decision might reside in this is just where the game of baseball is headed. The Mariners MIGHT be on the ground floor of revolutionizing the sport in a major way. That’s kind of exciting!

The thing is, it’s going to be difficult to quantify whether or not this is an effective way to run a pitching staff. We likely won’t know until we’ve had multiple seasons of data on injuries and effectiveness; it would also be helpful if other teams joined in on our quest to normalize the six-man rotation, to give us all even more data on the matter (but, that also might take away our competitive advantage, if indeed this will be the new normal). The thing is, professional sports are inherently risk-averse. If the Mariners come out and shit the bed in 2021, they might be inclined to blame it on the six-man rotation (particularly if our starters struggle in spite of the extra rest they’re getting between starts), and then the concept will likely die.

I’m always in favor of trying new things in sports. It gets back to that competitive advantage notion. When you reach the highest levels of your sport, everyone has the same information. Every team has an analytics department. Teams have the smartest minds working as hard as possible, all in an effort to get the SLIGHTEST edge over their opponents. To the point where it feels more like luck than anything else when a team has sustained success.

It’s jarring when a pro team does anything remarkably outside of the ordinary. Teams in recent years have dabbled with the “Opener” – a relief pitcher starting a baseball game, pitching one or two innings (to get out the opposing team’s very best batters) before the actual starter comes in and goes the next 5-7 innings while hopefully seeing the top of the order fewer times in that particular game (because the stats say the more times a batter gets to go up against the same pitcher in a game, the more success they’ll have as the game goes along). There have been decidedly mixed results on how the Opener has worked out, but I think consensus is trending toward the direction that it’s a flop. Too many of these relief pitchers starting games are getting pounded and putting their teams in big holes (which leads me to wonder, with the top of the order properly warmed up against a fireballer like that, are they having more success against the softer-tossing starting pitchers who follow them out there?). But, hey, you can’t gain a competitive advantage without breaking some eggs!

The last really successful organization that found an edge against the rest of the league was the Oakland A’s around the turn of the century. They were the first team to really adopt the concepts of Bill James and other prominent analytical baseball minds to their advantage. They were a roaring success, though weren’t quite able to translate that into World Series titles (all they did was infuriatingly make it so the Mariners were denied two more opportunities to make the postseason, in 2002 and 2003, the last two truly great M’s teams).

It’s hard for me to say that a six-man rotation will be on par with what the A’s were doing, but I do believe it has significantly more value than the Opener.

For starters (!), the Mariners really don’t have an elite rotation. Marco Gonzales continues to shatter my expectations, but I also wouldn’t put him on par with the best of the best ace starters in the game today. Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn also impressed me a lot in their rookie campaigns, but they too have clear ceilings that aren’t at that ace level. Yusei Kikuchi has been a disappointment through two years, but it’s still too early to give up on him as he transitions from Japan to America. Margevicius and Newsome are not likely to be long-term rotation guys, as we have younger pitchers we will be looking to promote either in 2021 or 2022 at the latest. Graveman, as I mentioned, is now a bullpen guy going forward, due to his chronic neck issue that he apparently refuses to have surgery on, yet doesn’t prevent him from throwing really hard for an inning or two every other day. Taijuan Walker could always be re-signed if the price is right, but for now the Mariners have gone in another direction.

I had never heard of Chris Flexen before word came down that the Mariners signed him to a 2-year, $7 million deal. This obviously has the feel of another one of those buy-low Jerry Dipoto deals where he’s trying to squeeze out significant value from a candidate to have a bounce-back in his career. Except, in this case, Flexen was NEVER good … until he went over to the Korea Baseball Organization for the 2020 season. He had a lot of success over there in his 21 games started. Strikeouts were up, walks were down, it was everything you could ask for. With the caveat that the level of competition is obviously not where it is in the Major Leagues. It sounds like he was able to take advantage of their aggressive style of play in getting hitters to swing at his stuff outside of the strike zone. So, it’s hard to say if his stuff will translate back to the U.S.

The upside is: there is precedent for someone to go to the KBO and come back and pitch well. Also, the money is quite nice. $7 million over two years is nothing in MLB terms (even in the wake of a pandemic-related financial collapse). If he turns into a useful starter, then he’s an absolute bargain! And, if he stinks, then hey, no sweat off our noses.

Probably best not to expect too much out of Flexen, but feel free to leave yourself open to believing that he might keep the good times rolling. My hunch is he’ll look good out of the gate, then the league will start to adjust to what he’s doing out there, and then we’ll know if he’s worth a damn or not. If he can adjust to how the batters adjust to him, then we might have something. But, if he can’t figure it out, then it was a nice idea that just didn’t pan out (but maybe he can still be a useful bullpen guy for a while).

I think we were all hoping for a little more out of free agency when it came to bolstering the rotation, but if this is indeed truly it, then I think I’ll be slightly disappointed. Yes, the Mariners have a lot of highly-rated prospects working their way through the minor leagues in the next two years, but not ALL of them are going to pan out, for one reason or another. Remember “The Big Four” of Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Brandon Maurer? Hultzen never pitched in the Majors with the Mariners due to injuries, Walker had middling success until he was traded away, and Maurer eventually had to convert to a bullpen role and hasn’t pitched since 2018. Paxton was the only guy who panned out, and he still had his share of injuries throughout his career, ultimately getting traded to the Yankees for Sheffield when we started our rebuild.

Nothing is a given, is my point. And, if we’re truly going to go forward with this six-man rotation, it seems like there should be plenty of room for a guy like Flexen, as well as a free agent with more substance. We’ll see if the Mariners think the same way as I do or not.

The 2020 Mariners Are Giving People A Lot Of Hope For 2021

The best-case scenario for the 2020 Mariners would’ve been going 60-0 with the players we had on our original roster (without calling up any of our prized prospects), followed by a rampage through the playoffs and our first (of many) World Series titles; my second and third wishes – for the record, if there are any lamp-imprisoned genies out there reading this – would be a billion tax-free American dollars given to me through no criminal means, and my very own Perpetual Orgasm Machine that I’m able to plug into Matrix-style for my own nonstop indulgence.

Since we obviously didn’t reach that apex of baseball achievement, I’d have to say the 2020 Mariners season was a qualified success! I’ll rate it a 7 out of 10 batting doughnuts (you don’t rate baseball success on a scale of batting doughnuts?). Based on expectations as a long-suffering Mariners fan, though, I’d have to bump it up to an 8 out of 10.

There was every reason to expect the worst this year. Key guys getting injured. Potential stars failing to develop. Botched trades. Useless free agent signings. Listless or negative clubhouse chemistry compounded exponentially as losses mounted. The Mariners have been in some form of rebuild since plummeting back to Earth in 2004. You can say they’ve never really torn the franchise down to the studs until this time around – and I’m inclined to agree with you – but there’s also no one right way to rebuild a franchise. As it turns out, hindsight being what it is, we know that all the ways we’ve tried it over the last 16 years have been utter failures, largely due to the reasons listed at the top of this paragraph; we’ve seen it all and then some!

So, to have the relative success this team was able to achieve is pretty remarkable. For the first time in a VERY long time, there is reason for actual hope. This feels real! Not based on a mountain of lies and unsustainably-lucky performances. We finished 27-33, and even with the playoffs expanded to eight teams per league, we still failed to get there. Honestly, I think that’s great! We didn’t overachieve! Because let’s face it, the last time there was this much hype around a bad, yet-hopefully-rebuilding Mariners squad, we did overachieve (in 2007 and again in 2009) and were crushingly disappointed (in 2008 and again in 2010).

Our general managers in those eras made what now feels like panic moves, to bolster a house of cards and see if we could parlay unlikely success into a return to meaningful, post-season baseball. And, we ended up losing over 100 games in response both times, falling apart under the weight of too-high expectations.

That isn’t to say the Mariners should stand pat going into 2021; just stick to the plan. The plan all along was to strip away the rotting, dead wood, give our young prospects an opportunity to flourish, and then add on complementary, quality veterans to slingshot into the stratosphere. While a 60-game, COVID-shortened season isn’t the ideal form of development for our young guys, it’s better than nothing. And, you can argue they flourished all the same.

The M’s are in desperate need for young, cheap, homegrown stars (not necessarily draft picks or international free agent signings, but really anyone acquired to work their way through our minor league system). Kyle Seager was really the last one to stick in any sort of meaningful way, and he obviously has a ceiling to his level of production; before him you’re probably looking at King Felix. That’s NOT a lot of stars over the last 15 years, which makes the futility all the more understandable.

With the crop of youngsters we have on the team now, and the guys in the upper levels of the minors (who figure to be called up pretty early on in the 2021 season), there are a considerable number of candidates who could be stars for this team. That’s so exciting!

As a change of pace, I’m going to rank the top Mariners I’m most excited about, with a little blurb for each.

  1. Jarred Kelenic – We did it! We kept him in the minors for the entirety of the 2020 season! That buys us an extra year of club control, and if we keep him down there for the first month or so in 2021, that’ll earn us one MORE year. This is important, see, because he’s far and away the best prospect we’ve had in the organization since King Felix, the best position player prospect we’ve had since Adam Jones, and probably the best position player prospect who we’re not going to foolishly trade away since Alex Rodriguez! If it all breaks as it should, his floor should be as a perennial All Star, with his ceiling being an MVP-calibre superstar.
  2. Kyle Lewis – Our should-be Rookie of the Year, he’s really exceeded expectations both in his 2019 cup of coffee and his 2020 surge forward. Of course, in both instances, we saw some struggles; his final month of this season was a pretty collosal nightmare from a batting average perspective. But, he remained a tough out – with a resepctable on-base percentage throughout – and took a huge leap in his defense, in locking down the everyday centerfield job. You never root for someone to do poorly, of course, but I don’t think his end to the season was a bad thing. He’s not a finished product, that’s clear. That’s also really exciting, because we know what the floor is (and that’s a really good player); we have no idea what the ceiling is, though, which allows us to dream as big as we want!
  3. Evan White – On paper, his rookie season wasn’t all that good, but there are still promising signs of things to come. For starters, he’s already among the best defensive first basemen in baseball. That’s going to paper over a lot of things for someone who slashed only .179/.253/.352. Anecdotally, though, I think we all saw some good improvement with his approach at the plate. In 54 games, he hit 7 doubles and 8 homers; extrapolate that out for nearly a full season and you’re looking at a 20/20 player. As a rookie? I’ll take that. This was good, pain-free experience for a still-developing prospect; I know I’ve said this a lot over the years, but I really believe he’s only going to get better from here. When he makes contact, the ball really explodes off his bat! This isn’t a Justin Smoak/Warning Track Power sort of swing; he’s got some pop that will play at this level! He just needs to improve his eye at the plate and his contact rate; everything else will work itself out in the years ahead.
  4. Marco Gonzales – What a stud. Just an absolute horse for this team. Someone to lead a new generation of exciting pitchers both with his outstanding on-field performance and his in-clubhouse guidance. I’ll be honest, I forgot we already extended him through 2025, but now that I confirmed it (and at a pretty reasonable salary to boot), I’m even more thrilled! When the M’s originally acquired him from the Cardinals in 2017, I thought we were getting just another ho-hum, soft-tossing lefty who at best would translate to a #5 starter, but more likely fizzle out of baseball entirely. Boy am I happy to be so wrong! He has gotten better every year he’s been here, to the point where you can legitimately have him in the Cy Young conversation! I thought his 2018/2019 level of production was his peak – a 4 ERA type of guy who might give you 175-200 innings and keep you in most games – but what he was in 2020 was a legitimate … ALMOST ace. He’s so close! If he can do what he did this season over 30+ starts next year, then I’ll absolutely give him that mantle for as long as he’s still in Seattle.
  5. Mitch Haniger – Don’t think I forgot about you! You know what’s exciting? Having an All Star locked and loaded and ready to go (hopefully) in 2021. He’s still young, he’s still at the Arbitration level for two more seasons, he’s STARVING to be back on the diamond and among the greats in this league again (so you know motivation won’t be an issue), and he’s still talented in all the ways you want in a right fielder. Sure, he might be a little rusty at first, but he hasn’t irrevocably declined; he’s just had nagging, freak injuries. Injuries, mind you, that should fully heal and shouldn’t hamper his ability going forward. I’m under the assumption that – before too long – he’ll return to his 2018 level, where he was a 6-WAR type of player. This further helps matters because, while the Mariners do have a considerable glut in outfield talent, they don’t necessarily have to call them all up right away. We’ve got Haniger here to soften the blow! Also, with the DH spot up for grabs, if we do end up extending Haniger beyond 2022, he can always transition there and prolong his career that way.
  6. J.P. Crawford – Before the final series of the season – where he raised his batting average nearly 30 points in four games – I think there was a lot of consternation about Crawford’s 2020 season. To that I would say: this is the same guy who was hitting nearly .400 through July 31st; he’s streaky! In great and maddening ways! If you offered me .259/.335/.343 out of him every year, with the quality defense he plays at short stop, I think I’d take that and be happy. I don’t think anyone loves the idea of him being this team’s leadoff hitter – though, he was pretty great at working counts and looking at a lot of pitches this year – but as a bottom-of-the-order type of guy with plus-defense? Yes please! But, more importantly, he’s young enough that there’s still plenty of potential for him to get better as he gets used to playing at this level. I think he’s fine, and I’m happy to continue rooting for him.
  7. Justus Sheffield – There was a lot of concern for him as I’ve noted before, the bloom had come off the rose a little bit (even though he only just turned 24 this year). He was always going to start this season in the Majors and be given every opportunity to work his way through any growing pains. I think he came out of it wildly successful given my pre-season expectations! Six of his ten starts were of the quality variety, and I’d argue it would’ve been seven of ten had the manager left him in there longer in his final appearance of the season (there was no reason to push him, since we weren’t playing for anything, but he had plenty left in the tank). The fastball isn’t great, but his slider is phenomenal, and I thought his command improved tremendously from where it was in 2019. When we traded James Paxton to get him, we’d hoped we were getting a future ace; I don’t think that’s in the cards here. But, he can be a quality #2 or an elite #3 in a great rotation if he continues to progress.
  8. Ty France – He’s not the biggest name we got in the Austin Nola deal, but he’s the most Major League-ready bat, which is just what this team needs. The question remains: where does he belong? Is he a DH until Kyle Seager moves on? Does he take over at third base after that? Do we try to transition him over to second base? Do we shoehorn him into left field until Kelenic gets called up? Or, is he simply trade bait for someone else who has a more established defensive fit for this team? What I’m excited about is the fact that his production at the plate didn’t falter one bit in going from San Diego to Seattle. You never know what you’re going to get when you trade for someone; sometimes the transition causes them to press and try to do too much (leading to mistakes). His bat plays anywhere in the 2-6 range in the lineup – depending on who you’ve got around him – and it should continue to be productive as long as he’s here (under team control through the 2025 season).
  9. Dylan Moore – He’s your frontrunner for the starting second baseman job next year, but he too can play all over the field if you need him. This is VERY impressive for someone who appeared to be nothing more than a utility guy (at best) or a Quad-A level talent (at worst). We’ve seen TONS of Dylan Moore types who never took the next step into being an everyday starter, which is why his story is so special. He came into this season and really set all of our expectations on fire! His defense has DRASTICALLY improved since the beginning of 2019, and now his bat – particularly his power numbers – has taken that leap as well. He’s yet another diamond in the rough this team was able to pluck from obscurity who should be a valuable player on the roster, as well as a valuable trade chip if we need him to be.
  10. Tom Murphy / Luis Torrens – Let’s just lump both of our prospective catchers in here. This has long been a troubled position for the Mariners (as an organization with LOTS of trouble spots they’ve failed to properly fill over the years, that’s really saying something). It’s so reassuring that we not only have this spot 100% locked down in 2021, but for many years to come (with prospect Cal Raleigh knocking on the door of the Majors, who figures to be our regular starting catcher as soon as 2022 or 2023). Murphy, of course, spent 2020 injured, but he should return at full health (and to his quality 2019 form). This, fortunately, afforded us ample opportunity to get a good, long look at Torrens, who also came over from San Diego, and was really reliable in all facets of the catching game for the M’s.
  11. Justin Dunn – Our other big rookie starter getting a “full” season’s worth of experience didn’t have quite as promising of a year as Sheffield. He too has a rather disappointing fastball, but makes up for it with tons of movement. Which means that he didn’t give up very many hits (or even a ton of hard-hit balls), but he walked a bunch of dudes (31 in just over 45 innings). You wonder, if he is able to harness things and stay within the strike zone more, if that’ll translate to giving up more hits and extra-base hits. BUT, if he’s able to put it ALL together, he could be a really special guy. As it is, this was just a year to get his feet wet, and he did that, while staying healthy throughout. He’s worked his arm up, accounting for four quality starts out of ten, and now it’s time to take what he’s learned this year and advance things in 2021 and beyond. Once again – with Sheffield – he’ll be given every opportunity to walk out of Spring Training with a starting rotation job, which means he has a significant head start over the younger guys we’ve drafted in recent years, who are champing at the bit to make their marks in the Major Leagues.
  12. Yohan Ramirez – The bullpen was an unmitigated disaster in 2020, but Ramirez – the Rule 5 guy we got from the Cheating Astros’ organization – managed to not only stay up all year, but be probably our best overall reliever, as well as the guy most poised to be our Closer of the Future. He made 16 appearances, got 3 saves, and had the best ERA on the team (of guys who finished the season on the 25-man roster). He had 26 strikeouts in 20.2 innings, so he’s got electric stuff; but he also had 20 walks in that span, which means he’s yet to fully harness it. Bullpen is such a crapshoot, and we’ve probably got 20 guys right behind him who all have potential to be at least competent, so I don’t know if it makes a ton of sense to go crazy here. I’m just happy we came out of this season with ONE guy I like!

I could go on and on; there are a few pitchers in the minors I’m pretty excited about, but I know almost nothing about them, and I don’t know what exactly they were able to accomplish in Tacoma this year, without any real games happening (and facing the same Mariners prospects over and over). Many of them won’t be ready until 2022 at the earliest, and even the guys who are on the cusp will still likely have to start 2021 in the minors just to prove they’re ready to be called up.

But, if you just look at the guys I talked about here, 2021 looks like it could be quite fun. By midseason, Kelenic, Lewis, and Haniger could be our outfielders. Seager, Crawford, Moore, White, and Murphy/Torrens could be our infield, with Ty France as our DH (and any number of good-looking bench/utility guys behind them, like Jose Marmolejos, Sam Haggerty, Tim Lopes, and Shed Long). What do you think about this lineup?

  1. Dylan Moore (2B)
  2. Mitch Haniger (RF)
  3. Kyle Lewis (CF)
  4. Kyle Seager (3B)
  5. Ty France (DH)
  6. Evan White (1B)
  7. Jarred Kelenic (LF)
  8. Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)
  9. J.P. Crawford (SS)

Obviously, of course, Kelenic will eventually ascend toward the 2-4 range in the lineup, but as a rookie? Let’s give him a soft landing, at least until he’s worked through his inevitable struggles.

That’s a fun lineup, though, right?! Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais are already talking about the 2021 team contending for the playoffs – which is a good year (at least) earlier than most projections had us heading into this season – and that has to be a considerable reason why. Those guys can hit, defend, steal bases, get on base; everything you want! That’s a viable Major League everyday roster that can win a lot of ballgames.

On the pitching side of things, it’s a little more iffy. It sounds like we’re going to continue with a 6-man rotation, with four of the slots going to Marco, Justus Sheffield, Yusei Kikuchi, and Justin Dunn. Figure that Nick Margevicius and Ljay Newsome will compete for a fifth spot (with the other likely heading to the bullpen as a long reliever), and a sixth spot going to a free agent (maybe bring back Taijuan Walker, who was KILLING it in Toronto after we traded him; it’s a bummer that it doesn’t look like he got a chance to pitch in the playoffs, before they lost to the Rays). With all the money the Mariners have to spend, I have to imagine that whoever we sign in free agency will be of high quality. So, if you figure he’s at least on Marco’s level, that’s two high-quality starters at the top of the rotation, with two promising young guys in Sheffield & Dunn, and Kikuchi who will hopefully figure it out at some point (considering his pedigree in the Japanese league). Also, not for nothing, but Margevicius and Newsome both threw lots of strikes and consistently kept the M’s in ballgames, so I have no problem with either one of them.

It’s not a dominant rotation, but as long as guys don’t regress too bad, you can win a lot with them.

The bullpen is another matter, of course. You figure the M’s will also look to free agency here to shore it up, but I won’t be holding my breath. The variance from season to season when it comes to relievers makes them too unpredictable to project. It’s going to take a lot of luck – in finding the right guys, as well as helping our homegrown guys improve in their development – but if the Mariners somehow hit the lottery with their bullpen configuration, then 2021 could very well be the year we end the streak.

It could be the first year since 2001 that we make the post-season!

(it would also help if MLB kept the playoff format as is, with eight teams per league advancing, but that’s neither here nor there).

As I mentioned, every time I’ve left a season allowing myself to dream big about the future, the Mariners have fallen on their faces. This time DOES feel different, though. The foundation doesn’t seem like it’s being held together by 15 year old duct tape, with a leaking roof and spiders crawling all over the basement. The veterans are still in their primes, the young guys look poised to develop early, and if we can just catch a fucking BREAK for once, maybe there will be cause for real, legitimate celebration in 2021!

Or, you know, maybe everything falls apart again, the front office all gets fired after making all these promises of contention, panic moves – made in hopes to save their jobs – all bite us horrifically in the ass, and we’re left to do this all over again in another 5-10 years.

When I put it that way, when do the Seattle Kraken start playing?

The Mariners Are Clinging For Dear Life (But No, They’re Not Really)

If the Mariners beat the A’s four times in a row, and the Cheating Astros lose to the Rangers four times in a row, then you can say there’s a sliver of a chance. I’m just glad Houston didn’t get the opportunity to celebrate a playoff berth on our field.

There’s also still allegedly a chance at the Wild Card, if the Mariners win out and Toronto loses out. All told, according to ESPN, the Mariners currently have a 0.2% chance of making the playoffs. I’m not really a betting man – as you well know – but I’d have no problem putting up everything I own on the Mariners’ season concluding this Sunday.

It was a fun ride while it lasted, but like every year (except four) in the team’s history, it’s going to end without the playoffs.

Monday’s game was rather inspiring! We had a good ol’ fashioned pitcher’s duel, between Marco Gonzales and Lance McCullers. Nothing but zeroes through the first six and a half innings, before we put up four unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh, off of a Ty France double and an Evan White 3-run home run. As if that wasn’t enough of an insurmountable lead, Kyle Seager chipped in with a 2-RBI single in the eighth to really hammer this one home. Gonzo ended up throwing eight shutout innings, giving up 7 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 6. The shutout wasn’t meant to be, as Joey Gerber gave up a run in the ninth (we’re still waiting on that first shutout for this pitching staff), but I’ll take a 6-1 victory every single time.

What I got on Tuesday, instead, was a 6-1 defeat! Were you NOT paying attention?! Ljay Newsome battled through 4.1 innings of 1-run ball, but the bullpen is what it is, and sometimes that means it gives up 5 runs in 4.2 innings. Kyle Seager and J.P. Crawford had two hits apiece, but that was about it for the offense.

To get just our third victory against the Cheating Astros of the season – and our first 3-game series victory over them since 2018 – it required a massive team effort last night. Nick Margevicius was a champ, going 6 shutout innings (giving up 3 hits and 3 walks) while getting out of numerous jams along the way. I’ll be interested in what the team does with him next year. As a fifth starter, he seems like a pretty good fit. He might project more as a bullpen/long-relief/spot-starter type of guy though. We’ll see. Anyway, Kyle Lewis, Seager, and France all had two hits apiece, with Seager and France providing all the RBI in this one. We led 3-0 going into the ninth, before Yoshihisa Hirano scared the bejesus out of everyone. He gave up 2 runs in acquiring his fourth save of the season, but did just enough to preserve the 3-2 victory.

Our record is 25-31 now, which is actually a half game behind the Angels, who have gotten hot of late! We’re still tied for tenth in the draft order next year, with four games to go: an off-day today, followed by a Friday night game, a Saturday doubleheader, and a Sunday matinee, all down in Oakland. I’ll be honest, I hope we lose all four. We’ve done what we came to do, we got some guys some valuable experience, but now is the time to do some serious tanking. We can still pretty easily leap over about six teams to get a Top 5 draft pick! I think; I’ll be honest, I haven’t looked at every team’s schedule here to do the specific math.

I won’t sweat it too much, though. If the Mariners are going to rebound into a championship-calibre team, then the pieces we need to do that are already in the organization. I just think, you know, you can never have too many Top 5 draft picks, right? Right.

So, lose away, Mariners! You have my permission (not that you’ve needed it all these decades).