A Bummer Of A Mariners Series In Houston Could’ve Been Worse

We didn’t get swept! That’s something, anyway. Of course, losing the two games the way we lost them was pretty demoralizing, and it took us 11 innings to get that lone win, but I’ll take what I can get.

The Mariners lost 12-3 on Friday, giving up all of those runs in the first five innings. Yusei Kikuchi had easily his worst game of the season, 2.2 innings, giving up 7 runs. It’s a shame for him that he didn’t get to appear in the All Star Game this year, because I don’t know if he’ll ever get a chance again. Through July 1st – just before he was named to the All Star team – he was 6-3 and had a 3.18 ERA. Since then, he’s had two Quality Starts out of eight. His last two appearances in particular have been pretty brutal. We’re in the stretch run here! We need to win every game we can possibly win! He failed to go five innings against the Blue Jays, then couldn’t even make it through three against the Astros (his overall record has fallen to 7-7). The Mariners have a HUGE decision to make on Kikuchi after this season, whether or not they pick up his remaining option years. Before the All Star Break, I would’ve said it’s a no-brainier to keep him around. But, if he continues to lay eggs the rest of this season, I don’t think it’s smart to sign on for more at that salary. If he can’t handle THIS pressure, what makes you think he’d handle the pressure of being on a team in an actual pennant race (which is our stated goal) in the next 2-3 years?

Kikuchi wasn’t the only bad thing about Friday’s game. Wyatt Mills (a guy presumably only up here to eat innings in these very types of situations) gave up 3 runs in 1.1 innings of work (he has an ERA over 10 in his 10 appearances). Erik Swanson continued his slide by giving up another 2 runs in his 1 inning of work (looking much more like the Erik Swanson we’ve been used to the last couple years). The only pitching bright spot on Friday was Yohan Ramirez’s two innings of shutout ball, striking out 4.

The offense didn’t stand a chance, obviously. Ty France had 3 hits (including a solo homer). Kyle Seager had a solo homer, and Abraham Toro had an RBI single.

If you thought 12-3 was bad, wait until you get a load of 15-1!

Logan Gilbert had to wear this one. 4.2 innings, 9 runs on 8 hits (including 2 homers) and a walk, with 5 strikeouts. Obviously, he’s in a very different point of his Major League career than Kikuchi, but he’s nevertheless been just as up-and-down in his rookie campaign. He just needs to work, to refine his breaking pitches, and to get used to the talent at this level. I think he’ll be fine, but it would be encouraging for him to take a step or two in his development over the next few weeks. We need him to be a foundational starter for this team in 2022 and beyond.

Thankfully, we were able to save the rest of the bullpen by calling up Robert Dugger and getting him to mop up the remaining 3.1 innings. He, nevertheless, gave up 6 more runs and was immediately DFA’d before Sunday’s game.

The only run for the Mariners came on a Haniger solo homer in the sixth.

For all of the pointlessness of the first two games, Sunday’s was quite a thriller!

Houston got two runs off of Tyler Anderson in the second inning, but that was it, as Anderson went 5.1 innings to at least give us a chance. The bullpen was pretty lights out from there. Joe Smith closed out the sixth. Anthony Misiewicz got four outs in a nice comeback for him. Steckenrider got five outs, and Paul Sewald had the greatest inning of relief I’ve seen all year! More on that in a moment.

The Astros starter, Framber Valdez, went 7 shutout innings, giving up only 3 hits and a walk, striking out 6. This one looked grim, especially with Kendall Graveman taking the hill in the 8th. BUT, we scratched a run off of the ex-Mariner to make the game 2-1 in the ninth inning. It’s only the second run he’s given up since we traded him over there at the deadline, but the first time he actually contributed to an Astros loss. That run meant a lot when Ty France hit the game-tying solo homer in the ninth to eventually send this game to extras.

The M’s botched their chance in the 10th, as Torrens – the ghost runner – got taken out at third base on a running error with the ball being hit to the short stop. Cal Raleigh’s double managed to get Fraley to third, but would’ve scored Torrens had he done his job. J.P. Crawford struck out to end the threat, in spite of some questionable umpiring that went his way.

Sewald came in to pitch the 10th and immediately gave up a single to Altuve to put runners on the corners. We intentionally walked Michael Brantley to load ’em up and get a play at any base. Sewald struck out Correa looking (on yet another terrible call by the home plate ump) for the first out, then overpowered the next guy at the top of the zone to get another strikeout. That brought up Yuli Gurriel, a notorious Mariners killer. He wasn’t biting on the slider, but fouled off two high fastballs to make the count even. Sewald threw a perfect slider on the low-and-outside corner for what should’ve been strike three, but the umpire AGAIN blew the call. The count was full, with Gurriel fouling off the next two fastballs, before swinging through the last one – the 8th pitch of the at-bat – to end the inning. What a performance!

In the top of the 11th, Haniger walked before Ty France hit a single the opposite way to take a 3-2 lead. Kyle Seager promptly extended the lead to 6-2 with a 3-run home run, his 29th of the season (his career high is 30). It turns out, we needed all of these runs, because now we were getting back into the dregs of our bullpen.

Keynan Middleton started the bottom of the 11th, getting a first-pitch groundout to Seager. He then gave up a first-pitch single to the next guy to make it 6-3. The bases ended up loaded after the next two guys singled and walked respectively (the walk, of course, being helped greatly by a CLEAR strike being called Ball 4). Servais had to pull Middleton, who clearly didn’t have it. The only other alternative was Yohan Ramirez, who struck out Altuve on a nasty slider at the bottom of the zone. Michael Brantley – the leading hitter in the American League heading into the game – lined out to center to end it.

This was the first save of the season for Ramirez – the Rule 5 guy we took from the Astros prior to the 2020 season – and it’s nice to see him starting to develop into someone we might be able to trust in higher leverage situations. His problem has always been his control; he has a live fastball and a nasty slider. If he can rein it in a little bit, that’s another diamond in the rough reliever who could be good for us for a good, long time (or, at the very least, a nice little trade chip in the offseason).

Now, we’re off to Oakland for a quick 2-game series. We’re three games behind them in the standings, so it would be nice to get the series win here.

The Mariners Keep Winning Series, Defeating The White Sox

I was traveling over the weekend and therefore blissfully unaware of anything going on that was Mariners-related, or intense 100+ degree heat-related. I kept up with events, sort of, by following along on Twitter, but we all know that’s not the same thing as being actually informed.

We blew the doors off of the White Sox on Friday, winning 9-3. Yusei Kikuchi had another solid outing, going 5.2 innings and giving up only 1 run on 2 hits and 4 walks, striking out 6. Looks like he got into some trouble in that sixth inning, walking three guys in total, but we got out of it unscathed. Rafael Montero gave up a couple of harmless runs in the eighth, but otherwise the bullpen was dynamite.

Give it up for the offense in this one, as everyone had at least one hit, with Crawford, Haniger, Bauers, Torrens, and Moore all notching two hits. Everyone got on base at least twice in this one except for Murphy (who still managed to score 2 runs, so figure that one out). Luis Torrens hit two homers, with Jake Fraley also hitting a dinger.

Saturday’s game was rain-delayed and had to be completed on Sunday, which is unfortunate, as Logan Gilbert looked to be dealing through his two scoreless innings. The Mariners loaded up their lineup with lefty hitters to face Lance Lynn, only to be treated to a heavy dose of Dallas Keuchel come Sunday morning (he was originally set to start the actual Sunday game, but got bumped over to this one, as if he needed the soft landing). This one turned into a de facto Bullpen Day; thankfully the Mariners have a pretty great bullpen. Hector Santiago gave up one run in 2.1 innings of work (taking over for Gilbert to start the rest of the game on Sunday), before being pulled, and subsequently suspended for having sticky stuff in his glove. If he was cheating, bravo umpires. But, they still have to inspect the glove to confirm it was actually an illegal substance. I guess pine tar is okay? I dunno, I don’t pretend to understand what the rules are anymore. I also don’t know if this has been resolved yet, but if it has I apologize for even bringing it up. If the suspension holds, Santiago would be the first player in the Major Leagues to be suspended for the rule this year, which is interesting trivia.

Taylor Trammell had two homers, including the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth. Ty France also added a solo homer to help give us the 3-2 victory. Haniger also had two hits in this one, as it appears he’s pulling out of his recent offensive nosedive.

In the series and season finale against the White Sox, the Mariners lost 7-5, but four of our runs were scored after they had a 7-1 lead, in the final two innings of the game. So, it wasn’t THAT close. This was only a 7-inning game, since technically Sunday turned into a Doubleheader, and you have to wonder what might’ve been had we been gifted an extra two innings to play around with against that bullpen (with Keuchel going in the early game, the late game was a White Sox Bullpen Day). The Mariners needed a Bullpen Day of our own, as Marco Gonzales had to leave to be with his wife for the birth of their child. I’m not going to be one of those fans who gets mad at a dad wanting to be there in person, you know, BEING a dad.

Robert Dugger got the nod and … he’s not a Major Leaguer. It’s fine. He ate up almost three innings and gave up 3 runs (2 earned). Will Vest has good stuff, but at times has been unreliable; he gave up 2 runs in 1 inning in this one. Just when you think Rafael Montero is going to turn a corner (after his two extra innings performances against the Rays), here he is giving up another 2 runs in a third of an inning. That’s just too many runs for MOST offenses to overcome, let alone a Mariners offense that has been vastly improved over the last month, but still has its struggles. Haniger, again, had two hits (including a 3-run homer in the seventh), but otherwise offense was tough to come by in this one.

I’m pretty happy with another series win against a good team. The White Sox are in first place in the A.L. Central, and we managed to tie them in the season series 3-3. I’ll take that!

Now, we go to … Buffalo I guess? Where the Blue Jays play? I dunno. The Jays are very close in record to the Mariners (40-36 to our 41-38), and are also third place in their respective division. However, they are +65 in run differential, compared to our -43; they appear to be a MUCH better team than their record would give them credit for (while we remain in the bottom third of all Major League teams, vastly outplaying our level of talent). I would say this series would be a good test for us in where we are, but the truth of the matter is this isn’t a matchup of two similar teams. This is closer to us playing the White Sox, in that it would be equally-impressive if we were to go on the road and steal a series from them.

The So-So Mariners Split A Series Against The Angels

We kicked things off last Thursday with an impressive 6-2 victory, behind a gutty Justus Sheffield performance (2 runs in 5.2 innings), when he didn’t necessarily have his best stuff. Jake Fraley hit his first big league home run – a 3-run shot – and continued to add to his crazy-high on-base percentage with two more walks. Seager and Haniger also had a couple hits each (including a solo homer for Seager), and the bullpen totally shut things down in the end.

Friday’s game was a hard-luck 3-2 defeat. We were able to touch up Shohei Ohtani for a couple runs in his 6 innings of work (thanks to J.P. Crawford, who has been remarkable of late). Even though Taylor Trammell and Donovan Walton both had a couple hits each, there just wasn’t enough offense to go around. The Bullpen Day did its job and then some, with Robert Dugger giving up 2 runs in 2.1 innings, but there was only one run given up the rest of the way. The Mariners actually had the bases loaded with nobody out in the 8th, with the heart of the order coming up. We’ve been much better with runners in scoring position this season than we have with the bases empty – which seems more a byproduct of flukiness than anything – but it wasn’t to be on this night. Haniger fouled out, and Seager and France both struck out to end the threat.

Saturday’s game was a nightmare scenario (12-5 defeat) that thankfully wasn’t even worse. I would argue the Mariners had a very good chance to take this game, except Yusei Kikuchi – who had been pretty much cruising as usual to this point – took a line drive off of his knee in the bottom of the fifth with nobody out and had to come out of the game. This was on his 64th pitch of the game, so his arm was fresh enough to take him into the seventh or eighth. If that batter hits it anywhere else in the infield, we might’ve been looking at a double play and a quick end to that inning! Instead, he gave up 4 runs in 4 innings, and the overworked bullpen imploded from there, giving up 8 additional runs the rest of the way. The lone bright spot was the 5-run fourth inning for the Mariners, thanks in large part to a Jake Fraley grand slam. I don’t know how the Angels’ starter ended up going 7 full innings, but I guess other than that one inning, the Mariners rolled over like obedient puppy dogs (literally figuratively, with a 12:3 ground ball to fly ball ratio). The silver lining here is that Kikuchi responded well to treatment and might not miss a start, which is a relief considering how much agony he was in on the field when he had to be helped off.

That was unfortunate, but the M’s bounced back with a 9-5 victory on Sunday to even the series. Logan Gilbert was really impressive for his second consecutive outing, going 5 innings, giving up 1 run, and getting his first Major League win. He struck out 7 (which is good), gave up only 2 hits (which is great), but did walk 4 guys (not so hot). We did stretch him out for 105 pitches (his previous high in a big league game had been 80), but that’s probably just as much out of necessity (the bullpen being shot) than wanting to build up his arm. This one could’ve gotten hairy, as the Mariners only had a 4-2 lead heading into the ninth, but we were able to add on 5 runs in the top half, to counter their 3 additional runs in the bottom. J.P. Crawford continued his hot streak with 2 hits, runs, and RBI. Fraley had another hit, walk, and RBI (on said walk). Donovan Walton had two more hits, including a solo homer, 2 RBI, and 3 runs scored. And Jarred Kelenic didn’t get any at-bats, as he’s mired in an 0-for-forever slump, with his batting average down to .096.

The road trip continues through the midwest this week – Detroit and Cleveland, so hopefully no weather SNAFUs – before another nice, long homestand.

The Mariners Bounced Back With A Series Win In Oakland

The six-game losing streak really took it out of me, fanwise. To be fair, the three-game losing streak to just the Tigers caused the most damage, since that was probably the last time I watched a full game. I missed the entire Padres series, then the first two games of this past Athletics series, before dipping my toe back in those Mariners waters. So, of course, I missed the two victories, while the bad taste in my mouth remains.

Yusei Kikuchi had another solid outing on Monday, going 6 innings, giving up just 1 run. He might’ve gone longer, but had some sort of back issue that prevented him from going any further, but it shouldn’t keep him from his next start, which is nice. Kikuchi has EASILY been our most reliable starter this season, which is great to see since this is his big option year. 7 of his 9 starts have officially been Quality Starts (at least 6 innings, with 3 runs or fewer given up), and if he keeps this up, he will easily earn the remainder of his contract from the Mariners.

This game featured homers by Kyle Lewis and Jarred Kelenic, as well as doubles by Mitch Haniger, J.P. Crawford, and the return of Ty France. Of course, the bottom third of the lineup is a complete wasteland of nobodies not even worth mentioning here, but at least there are 6 hitters now who I don’t totally loathe. The M’s won 4-2, as the bullpen (minus Graveman, who is another one of those COVID casualties) managed to lock it down. Erik Swanson in particular is more dominant than I’ve ever seen him; he got out of an 8th inning jam by striking out the side.

Tuesday featured another mediocre start by Logan Gilbert, who has yet to get beyond the 4th inning or throw more than 80 pitches in any of his three starts. He can’t seem to avoid giving up a big inning or two in each of his appearances, and the team is obviously unwilling to push it by having him try to pitch through trouble the third time through the order. Technically, this was his best start, as he only gave up 2 runs in 4 innings, while striking out 4, walking 0, and giving up only 4 hits. But, obviously, that’s a low bar to clear. The bullpen once again showed up in a big way, giving up just 1 more run over the remaining 5 innings.

The M’s scratched out their runs on 11 hits, with Kelenic, Crawford, and France all having multi-hit games. It’s nice to see France healthy and Kelenic finally have some success at the plate. He’ll be hitting over .200 in no time at this rate!

The afternoon get-away game on Wednesday was a 6-3 defeat, and hopefully the final bullpen day for a while. Robert Dugger gave up 5 runs in 3.1 innings, and that’s obviously not going to fly. He just didn’t have it, but we had to stick with him just to eat up a few innings. It sounds like Marco Gonzales will be back in the next turn of the rotation, so that’s a bit of happy news.

This game was particularly brutal because it looked like so many other Mariners defeats, in that we didn’t put up any runs until the 8th inning. It is what it is, though. This offense is rarely going to be competent.

The Mariners Traded For Dee Gordon

I don’t have a good space for this post, as the next day I anticipate having an opening will be next Thursday, which would make this beyond stale.  So, instead, I’m doubling up on a Friday.

The Mariners acquired Dee Gordon from the Miami Marlins!  In return, the Marlins get three minor leaguers.  If you thought, like I did, that the Mariners traded away all their minor leaguers, you’d be wrong.  Indeed, considering Gordon’s talent level, I’m shocked the Marlins were able to find three guys they liked from our farm system, but that’s neither here nor there.

It looks like the Marlins are in salary dump mode, which isn’t something new.  Dee Gordon is set to earn $37 million over the next three years, with 2021 being an option year ($14 million if he stays, $1 million if we buy him out; the option vests automatically if he has 600 plate appearances in 2020, or 1,200 across 2019-2020).

If you don’t know who Dee Gordon is, he was a starting second baseman for the Marlins, who happened to play at an All Star level in 2014 & 2015.  He also won a Gold Glove in 2015, as well as a Silver Slugger award and had the National League batting title.  He had a down season in 2016, thanks to an 80-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs (which is cause for concern, because I’m sure the next offense is way worse than 80 games), but he bounced back in a big way in 2017.

The hitting talent is there.  He doesn’t have much in the way of power, but in his last three full seasons he’s had over 20 doubles per year.  He’s also going to sprinkle in a good number of triples, because the dude is fast.  He’s one of the fastest players in the Major Leagues.  In his last three full seasons, he’s averaged over 60 stolen bases per year!  He’s going to get caught from time to time, but still, that’s insane.  He could probably stand to walk more, but if he hits the way he’s capable of hitting, on-base percentage shouldn’t be an issue.

The biggest issue, of course, is what I mentioned earlier:  he’s a second baseman!  Robinson Cano, is also, a second baseman.  Dee Gordon also has experience as a short stop.  But, Jean Segura is our short stop.  He just signed an extension in the middle of last season!  Cano and Segura aren’t going anywhere.  Ipso facto, the Mariners are making Dee Gordon convert to center field.  Where he’s never played an inning of Major League ball.

And he’s got about 4 months to get it down.

Not that I have a choice in the matter, but I’m okay with the whole thing.  My biggest concern is how well he does in his defensive conversion.  I’ve seen plenty of players get shuffled around to other positions while at the Major League level, and it rarely has gone well.  Usually, we’re talking about going from DH to first base, or catcher to first base, or first base to second base to outfield, or third base to corner outfield, and so on and so forth.  The defense gets worse, and the hitting also suffers.  If anything, it takes about a year to get acclimated, if they get acclimated at all!  So, I wouldn’t say I’m on the bandwagon just yet.

I do like the idea, though.  I mean, the guy is super fast, why WOULDN’T he at least be passable in center field?  It’ll probably take some time before he gets to be elite, but that should come with experience.  In the early going, how about he just makes the routine plays?  Between that, and his elite bat at the top of the lineup, I’ll take it.

Speaking of that lineup, here’s a possibility:

  1. Dee Gordon (CF)
  2. Jean Segura (SS)
  3. Robinson Cano (2B)
  4. Nelson Cruz (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Mitch Haniger (RF)
  7. Ryon Healy (1B)
  8. Mike Zunino (C)
  9. Ben Gamel (LF)

That’s pretty aces, from top to bottom.  Now, whether we still have Ben Gamel when the season starts, I guess we’ll see.  It’s probably a good sign that he’s featured in some of the promotional give-aways this season, but I guess they could always stop production on those.

Can’t have a trade without giving away some pieces.  The Mariners gave away Chris Torres (a low level minor league short stop prospect with a lot of upside), Nick Neidert (probably the top pitching prospect in the M’s system who projects as a mid-rotation starter with low velocity but good command and change-up), and Robert Dugger (a relief pitching prospect).  I don’t know if any of these guys will turn into anything, but that’s the risk, isn’t it?  You’ll probably see Neidert in a Major League uniform sooner rather than later (maybe even as early as this season, considering the tank job the Marlins are pulling), and if he becomes a quality starting pitcher, that one could sting.

To lessen that sting, the Mariners also got $1 million in International Slot Money.  Shohei Ohtani is a Japanese player who is both a quality starter and a quality hitter.  He has narrowed down his field of prospective teams to seven, one of which includes the Mariners.  Due to his very young age, he’s not entitled to the usual Free Agent money you’d see thrown around for posted Japanese players.  But, he’s determined to come to America, and right now is trying to figure out where he fits best.  The Mariners now have somewhere in the area of $3.5 million to offer him – which is the most among the seven remaining teams, by a small margin – but this was never really about money for Ohtani.  Although, I’m sure the Mariners are thinking that if all things are equal in that regard, it’ll come down to where Seattle ranks among his potential destinations.  The Mariners have a lot to offer, and many consider us to be the leaders of the pack, but I’m not gonna get my hopes up.  Easier that way.

Lots more moves to go this off-season.  One very important move could be coming in a matter of days.

UPDATE:  And the move has been made.  Shohei Ohtani to the Anaheim Angels.  Between them and the Astros, maybe think about cancelling Mariners baseball for the next 3-5 years.