Key To The Mariners’ Chances Going Forward

The biggest key to the Mariners’ success to date in 2018 is the starting rotation staying healthy (for the most part) and vastly improving after the month of April (where just about everyone was either adequate or terrible, up to and including James Paxton).  I would argue that even the injury to Erasmo Ramirez was a blessing in disguise, as Wade LeBlanc has made a name for himself with this opportunity.  But, with Paxton, Gonzales, and Leake all overcoming rough starts to the season, turning into reliable and often dominant pieces to this puzzle (alongside LeBlanc’s baffling greatness from Day 1), the Mariners have been able to weather a lot of storms and build up a record that all but guarantees a playoff spot in October.

The biggest hit to the Mariners’ chances going forward is NOT the loss of Robbie Cano for all those games (plus the playoffs) but rather the depth of the Mariners’ bullpen (or lack thereof).

It’s truly remarkable what the Mariners are doing with this scotch taped-together bullpen.  Phelps went down in Spring Training; he was supposed to be an 8th inning type guy (who could also go multiple innings in a pinch).  Scrabble was so terrible at doing his one job (getting lefties out) that he was DFA’d.  Juan Nicasio hasn’t been nearly the dominant force we thought he’d be when we signed him to that big 2-year deal (and is currently on the DL).  Nick Vincent had a rough start to the season and is also currently on the DL (having just had a setback with his groin injury).  Dan Altavilla has had multiple DL stints this year and might be out for a very long time with his arm injury.  Casey Lawrence – while tearing it up in Tacoma as a starter right now – got off to a rough start and had to be sent down after 4 appearances.  Ryan Cook was hot when he returned from the DL, but has been hit around in 3 of his last 4 appearances.  Alex Colome has closer-type stuff, but he’s been far from perfect since coming over from the Rays (especially AGAINST those very Rays).

And yet, if you didn’t get into specifics and just asked me, “How’s Seattle’s bullpen doing this year?”  I’d likely tell you, “Pretty great!”

Edwin Diaz is taking the league by storm in his third year in the bigs.  James Pazos – in his second year on the Mariners – has been outstanding.  Chasen Bradford came out of nowhere to be a reliable back-of-the-bullpen guy to eat a lot of innings for us.  And even those guys who’ve had their struggles from time to time – Nicasio, Vincent, and Colome in particular – have also been successful in a lot of high leverage situations.

With a number of those guys on the DL (hopefully Nicasio & Vincent will be back soon), though, it’s hard not to be concerned about the future.  There are a lot of high leverage innings left this season!  With the way this team plays, with all the close games, it seems like there’s zero margin for error every single night!  Sure, a lot of the guys are young and healthy now, but will they succumb to over-use?

The good thing is, I don’t believe for a minute that the Mariners are finished making moves to improve the big league club.  We have a number of quality starters down in Tacoma, in the event we need long relief help or spot starts.  Nick Rumbelow is another guy who figured big in the Mariners’ bullpen plans before he got hurt; he’s coming back from injury and getting his feet wet in Tacoma as we speak.  Also, it usually doesn’t take a whole lot in trade to get a quality reliever back before the deadline, and with plenty of teams tanking this season, the supply should be pretty significant.

Either way, though, if you told me the Mariners would have to roll with a playoff bullpen consisting of Diaz, Colome, Nicasio, Vincent, Pazos, Bradford, Cook, and Elias, I’d be okay with that.  Two dominant closer types, two solid 8th inning guys behind them, two solid 6th/7th inning guys who can shut down rallies and go multiple innings if need be, along with a wildcard in Cook (who has 8th inning stuff, he just needs to work on his command a little bit) and a spot-starter/long-reliever in Elias … I just don’t know how you improve upon that a whole lot.  Obviously, a lot can happen between now and October.  Guys can get injured, guys can lose their stuff or their confidence, but for the most part that’s a reliable bullpen group.

What most concerns me is what happens if a lot of guys get injured, and we have to start replacing too many of these pieces.  As we’ve seen this year with the bullpen, last year with the rotation, and on and on and on, injuries can mount in a hurry.  We lose Diaz, we’re pretty much shit out of luck.  We lose too many of our 8th inning guys, same deal.  We already use Diaz too much as it is; I don’t want to see him in there for too many save opportunities where he has to get more than 3 outs.  At least not until we’re actually IN the playoffs.

The rotation and the solid hitting will carry us to where we want to go, but to do any significant damage once we get into the post-season, it’s going to rest precariously on the all-important bullpen arms.  I hope they’re up to the challenge.

Trout Keeps Hitting Homers & The Mariners Keep Winning Ballgames

Look, all I’m saying is MAYBE Ryan Cook isn’t the guy you want on the mound to face Mike Trout.  Also, MAYBE just walk Mike Trout’s fuckin’ ass every single time he steps up to the plate, because this shit is getting ridiculous.  He’s in Barry Bonds In His Prime Minus All The Steroids Allegedly territory, where at this point as long as it doesn’t mean the go-ahead run comes in, I’d walk Trout with the bases fucking loaded!

And even then … I mean, do you have another set of at-bats coming up?  Maybe walking in that go-ahead run is better than the alternative of him clearing the bases?

He’s fucking Superman, what can you say?  I hate him.  I wish he was on any other team outside of the A.L. West (in which point, I’d probably love him).  He’s like Griffey in his prime, minus all the personality.  The fact that he isn’t the biggest superstar on the planet is ridiculous, because I’d venture to say he’s better at baseball than any other guy is better than everyone else in any other sport (aside from LeBron, of course).

Or, I dunno.  Maybe he’s just this great against the Mariners, and he’s a little more mortal against the rest of the league.  31 homers is the most against any team he’s faced in his career; 81 RBI is the second most against any team behind the 86 he’s hit in against the Rangers; 9 triples (tied for the most; again with the Rangers); 93 runs are again the second most (Rangers, 103).  I guess Texas has a claim in this argument.  Also, Trout’s 117 career strikeouts against the Mariners are the most against any team, but I would argue the lion’s share of those came against Felix in his prime.

Anyway, that’s all preamble to say Trout had 2 more homers last night, after having hit 2 homers on Monday.  He’s already at 23 homers on the season, and 5 of them have come against the Mariners.  Also, his slash line in 5 games is .636/.680/1.545; so if it feels like Mike Trout has fucking obliterated the Seattle Mariners this season, take whatever you’re feeling and quadruple it.

I should point out that the Angels have lost both of those games, so if we’re going to beat the Angels every time Mike Trout hits 2 homers in a game, then sign me up!

On Monday, Wade LeBlanc gave up back-to-back solo homers in the first and didn’t look to be long for this world.  He managed to gut his way through 5 innings, keeping them to just those 2 runs, and allowing the Mariners to overtake them.  Nelson Cruz matched Trout homer for homer, hitting a game-tying 2-run bomb in the bottom of the first, then a go-ahead solo homer in the fourth.  Ryon Healy hit the game-winning 2-run home run in the fourth as well, and the Mariners were able to hold onto a 5-3 victory.  Ryan Cook gave up the second Trout homer in this one, spoiler alert.

Aside from that, the bullpen was rock solid on Monday, going 4 innings and giving up just the 1 run.  Bradford and Pazos both took care of business, and Edwin Diaz got his 24th save of the season, no problem.

On Tuesday, Mike Leake’s only blemish was a solo homer to Trout in the fifth.  He went 6 innings, giving up that 1 run on only 4 hits and 3 walks, with 4 strikeouts.  Both Haniger AND Healy hit 2 homers apiece to pace Trout in this one, which is pretty cool.  It’s been a while since the Mariners brought their big boy sticks to the ballpark.  Haniger hit a solo homer in the first to take the lead; then a 2-run homer in the bottom of the fifth to RE-take the lead.  Healy’s homers were both of the solo variety (in the sixth & eighth), and Segura tacked on an RBI double in the seventh.  Trout’s 2-run homer (again, off of Cook) made it a 1-run game temporarily, but we put them away late by the score of 6-3.

Again, aside from Cook, the bullpen was great.  Pazos got us out of the 7th, Colome took care of business in the 8th, and Diaz got his 25th save of the season … oddly enough by striking Trout out swinging.

This obviously puts the Mariners in a better position.  We were 1-2 against the Angels heading into this series; after today, we can be no worse than .500 against them.  We’re 0.5 games up on the Astros for the division, and a whopping 6.5 games up on the Angels for the second wild card.

I know I made a lot of noise about how difficult June was looking, but with Tampa shitting the bed, and now the Angels losing a lot of important players to injury, the nagging doubter in my brain wants to poo-poo what the Mariners are doing.  But, this shit is seriously impressive any way you slice it.  If we’re all going to boil this season down to how the Mariners play against the Red Sox and Yankees, then feel free to be my guest.  I mean, odds are we’ll have to play one of those teams in the wild card game, and the other of those teams in the ALDS (if we get that far), so we better figure out a way to either beat them or avoid them.  All I’m trying to say is that this is pretty fun, and let’s keep the ball rolling!

The Mariners Lost Two In A Row To The Rangers? Sure, Why Not?

This is baseball, the good times weren’t going to last forever.  Still, the Rangers?

The pitching had been on this unbelievable, unsustainable roll, pretty much since the last time we played the Rangers two weeks ago.  Remember that 2-game series, coming off of that hard-luck road trip that had us make a layover in Minnesota on the way back?  We came back to win the first game 9-8, then fell apart the next day, losing 5-1.  Ever since that series – up through Monday – the most runs the Mariners gave up in the ensuing 11 games was 4.  That has since changed the last two days.

Felix struggled in his latest start, on Tuesday, giving up 5 runs in 5 innings.  It might’ve been 2 runs in 5 innings, but he was brought out to start the 6th and promptly loaded the bases without getting an out.  With a little better play from the bullpen – or our catcher – we might’ve salvaged some of those runs.  Instead, Pazos allowed them all to score.  We were able to tie it up in the 8th, but Edwin Diaz fell apart in the 9th and that was that.  A 9-5 loss.  Not a problem.  Diaz is usually great, he’s been criminally over-worked, and these games happen from time to time.

Besides, we had James Paxton all lined up to go last night!  He’s essentially got the Pitcher of the Month award all locked up!  We got this!

Yeah, except we didn’t.  Paxton had a rough go of it in the 5th inning and apparently expended all the energy the manager was willing to allow him to expend.  We nevertheless handed a 2-run lead to the bullpen and asked them to get the final 12 outs.  They were unable to do this without gagging the game away.

Another passed ball by Zunino (the second in two games; perhaps he too is criminally over-worked) led to an unearned run allowed by Altavilla in the 6th.  The Mariners were able to get that run back in the bottom half, so all was well as we headed into the later innings.  Yet, in the 7th, Ryan Cook allowed two runners to get into scoring position, and Scrabble came in to fuck everything up like he always does (when is it going to be time to dump his ass?  Because I don’t think he’s ever going to figure it out).  He gave up a game-tying single, then walked the bases loaded before Juan Nicasio gave up the go-behind runs.  We got one back in the bottom of the 9th, but it wasn’t meant to be.  We lost this one 7-6.

There’s one game left in the month, and one game left in this Rangers series.  It would be nice to get the split.  It would also be nice if the offense just pounded the Rangers into submission.  And, it’ll be nicest of all to have Dee Gordon back at second base instead of the black hole we’ve had there in his absence.

The Mariners Traded For Alex Colome & Denard Span

Win now!  That’s the obvious message, implied in the trade made today as well as said directly by manager Scott Servais.

Incoming:  reliever Alex Colome and outfielder Denard Span
Outgoing:  starter Andrew Moore and starter Tommy Romero

Colome has been one of the best closers in all of baseball the last 2+ seasons.  The Mariners already have an elite closer in Edwin Diaz, so Colome figures to slot into that 8th inning role, bumping back Juan Nicasio and Nick Vincent.  Colome is also, obviously, closer insurance in case Diaz falls apart or needs a break because he’s gone too many days in a row.  He’s also got 2 more arb years left on him, so it’s not just a 2018 rental.

(not for nothing, but that also means we can flip Colome at any time, if this thing falls apart)

Span is an aging veteran outfielder who gets on base a lot and that’s about it.  Not a lot of power, not a lot of speed, not a lot of great defensive ability, but he walks a lot I guess.  I dunno, I’m not super jazzed about the addition.  He’s over-priced – so it’s a bit of a salary dump for the Rays – but they did give us a little over $4 million in return, which just so happens to be the cost of buying out his contract after this season.  He would otherwise be set to make $12 million in 2019, and there’s just no fucking way that’s going to happen.

Span is apparently going to take over for Ben Gamel, which feels somewhat appropriate given Gamel’s struggles since the All Star Break last year.  The hope being that Span gets hot and his batting average creeps up to his career average (.282).  He’s hitting .238 right now, so if he does approach his career average, that could be quite the boost to this team.  He’s 34 years old though, so maybe don’t count on it.

I love the deal.  I worry that Colome might be somewhat disgruntled taking a backseat to another closer, but he’s apparently saying all the right things, so I’ll reserve any judgment until I see him in action.  If he kicks ass, then this could be a HUGE boost to this bullpen.  You have to figure Nicasio isn’t going to suck forever, and with Vincent working his magic, and Pazos and Cook being potentially dependable fireballers, we could be looking at one of the top bullpens in the American League.

I also don’t mind the loss of Andrew Moore.  He’s another in a long line of soft-tossing starters we’ve cultivated in our farm system and I just don’t think he’s going to be anything special.  He certainly wasn’t going to help us this year, and he probably wasn’t much of a long-term viable rotation option.  He could prove me wrong, but right now I’m not broken up about it.  As for the other guy, he’s still in A-ball, so whatever.

The Mariners Are 9 Games Over .500 Somehow!

Alternate title:  A’s 1st Inning > M’s Rest Of The Game

So, yeah, Felix has a real problem getting out of the first inning unscathed.  It was already annoying when he was just giving up homers to the leadoff batter of the game; now it’s getting ridiculous!

Against the A’s – who benefited from my jinxing the King by saying he absolutely owns them in his career – Felix was given a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, and proceeded to give up 4 hits and a walk en route to allowing 4 runs.  That’s obviously very, very bad.  The rest of the game, however, he only gave up 1 hit and 0 walks en route to allowing 0 runs through the 6th inning before giving way to the bullpen.  He’s got it in him!  That shadow of greatness is still there, and it still spills over into games!  But, all too often he’s a mess with his command, and he gets killed for it.

With this new trend of the Rays having “Openers” start their games, pitching to the first 3-6 batters before the ostensible “starting” pitcher comes in for the next however many innings (allowing teams to go after the best hitters of opposing teams in the first inning, where they generally do a lot of damage), I see there have been calls for Felix to participate in something like this.  For starters, I highly doubt this would ever happen (though, I do think it COULD be good for him).  I think there’s something to the notion that a pitcher warms up in the bullpen before games, then sits down in the dugout for a spell (longer when on the road), and cools off before he has to come back out to start the game.  If Felix went straight from the bullpen, warming up, into the game at the start of the second inning, it might lead to better performances.  But, can we guarantee that’s the reason for his poor command (which I would think has more to do with mechanics than focus, though I guess you could say he needs to focus more on his mechanics, but whatever).

The main problem with this, as I see it, is if he still comes out (in the second inning or whatever) with poor command, it doesn’t matter a whole lot if he’s facing the top of the lineup or the bottom, he’s still likely to get shelled like he’s been this season.  Also, what happens if the Opener has a bad night and HE gets shelled?  Then you’ve not only wasted a quality reliever, but you’ve put your team and your starting pitcher in a hole!

Maybe it’s like the shift.  Maybe over time, the numbers would show that it’s a net gain over the course of a season.  All I know is that right now, these 2018 Mariners don’t have a whole helluva lot of quality relievers.  Edwin Diaz is your closer, so he’s out.  Do you trust Juan Nicasio or Nick Vincent to be your Opener?  Maybe if Ryan Cook continues to pan out, but he’s coming off a serious injury and the team is trying to work him back slowly.  Altavilla?  Pazos?  I dunno.  I like the idea, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it implemented on a trial basis, but I just don’t know if it would work for this team.

Felix just needs to get better out of the gate, that’s all I know.  I mean, shit man, he’s rocking an ERA of 5.58!  I know he’s not the quote/unquote Ace anymore, but you wouldn’t even tolerate that type of production out of your FIFTH starter!

Not for nothing, but it’s also a shame the offense couldn’t drag their asses over the 4-run mark.  I mean, for fuck’s sake, the A’s were rolling out a bullpen day!  And we can’t get more than 3 guys home?  Not that the lineup did you a ton of favors.  Romine at second, Freitas behind the plate … I’ll say this, we need one of Nelson Cruz’s patented crazy hot streaks in the worst way right now.  You know what I’m talking about; where he hits like 8 homers in 10 games or something.  That dude needs to eat his Wheaties like NOW!

The team gets a nice 10-game homestand starting tonight, as odds would have it, against some dregs of the American League.  Three with the Twins, four with the Rangers, and three more with the Rays.  Maybe for that Rays series, the Mariners should bat the bottom of their lineup first, and make sure they take a lot of pitches or foul a lot of pitches off to make sure their Openers are wasted before the top of our lineup comes out the next inning.  You think that would happen, if Openers become a thing?  Instead of batting at the top of the order, you put your best hitters at 4-5-6?  I’m utterly fascinated by this concept, can you tell?

Good: The Mariners Won The Season Series Against The Tigers

The Tigers aren’t good, man.  They’re just not.  And yet, we came out of Detroit a week ago having lost 2 of 3, followed by losing the opener to this home series over the weekend to make it 3 of 4.  It just looked dismal at that point, and you had to wonder if all the injuries and suspensions and shaky pitching had finally caught up to this team.  Let’s face it, playoff teams win season series against inferior opponents like Detroit; whereas Mariners teams – that inevitably always fall short of the playoffs – find ways to lose these series to inferior opponents like Detroit.

I mean, this is a team that’s actively tanking 2018 to try to build a better ballclub in 2019 and beyond!  The Mariners, conversely, have been building to this year for a while now, and are pretty actively trying to go for it all, farm system be damned!  With two franchises going so clearly in opposite directions right now, it couldn’t be any more demoralizing to lose a bunch of games to this team.

Before we get to the Tigers, I should point out that the Mariners split their 2-game set against the Rangers.  Honestly, with all the travel, the make-up game, and the weird scheduling times, I’m more impressed that the Mariners avoided a sweep at all.  We came back to win that 9-8 thriller on Tuesday, only to shit the bed on Wednesday afternoon, but who can get mad about that?  Sure, the Rangers are crap, but circumstances, man.

It was that Thursday loss to the Tigers, though, that really got to me.  Marco Gonzales did his thing (and might’ve even gotten through that sixth inning had Kyle Seager not made a run-scoring error), and in spite of the run, we were still up 2-1 headed into the eighth inning.  With Juan Nicasio being held back to work on his stuff, Nick Vincent came in off of quite a roll, only to blow it.  Will anyone ever take command of the 8th this year?

I was at a comedy show on Friday, so I missed this one, but things looked pretty dire heading into the 7th, down 4-0.  Thankfully, turnabout is fair play, and the M’s put on a 5-spot in the bottom of the 7th to take the lead, with Nicasio and Diaz able to hold the fort for the save.

Saturday was just a marvelous night all the way around.  James Paxton got his second career complete game (the first being his no-hitter a few games back) as the Mariners won 7-2.  He struck out 8 while giving up just a walk and 3 hits; I could’ve done without the 117 pitches – particularly with the game so well in hand – but we’ll see if that matters or not.  I know Paxton is a big, strong animal and everything, but if he goes on the DL in a week, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.  I mean, maybe it’s a nice morale boost or whatever, but we were beating them by 5 runs; seemed unnecessary to throw an extra 20 pitches on his arm just to get that 9th inning.  It’s not like the bullpen was massively overworked or anything; you still had a guy warming up just in case someone got on base!

That brought us to Sunday, where Francisco Liriano damn near no-hit us.  As it was, he went 8, giving up just 1 hit and 3 walks, before he gave way to the team’s closer, up by a comfortable 2-0 margin.  The Mariners once again saw Wade LeBlanc pitch into the sixth inning, giving up both of those runs, and got clean bullpen work from newly called-up Ryan Cook, as well as Pazos, Altavilla, Nicasio, Diaz, and Vincent.  With one out and Segura on second, Mitch Haniger stepped up in the 3-hole and belted a massive game-tying homer to ultimately send this game into extras.  Then, in the 11th, Dee Gordon singled, swiped second, and was hit in by Segura to send the fans home happy.

I’ll say this:  Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger have been absolutely carrying this team so far this year!  With Cano gone, and with Cruz being a magnet for opposing pitchers to hit on damn near a daily basis (as well as with Seager not doing a whole helluva lot at the plate, with Healy being his streaky self, and with the rest of the outfield being more Small Ball than Long Ball), it’s been a godsend to see Segura and Haniger develop into not just The Future, but The Present.  Could that Taijuan Walker trade have gone any better for the Mariners?

Now, here we are – with a Monday off-day – 27-19, in second place in the A.L. West (2 games behind the Astros and 1.5 games ahead of the Angels to lock into that second Wild Card spot.  I’m still not convinced this is a playoff team and probably never will be until it actually happens, but this is as good as I’ve ever felt about a Mariners team this late into the season for a long, long time.

Getting back to winning that season series against the Tigers, we’ve also won the season series against the Indians, and are 2-1 against the Twins, Royals, White Sox, and Blue Jays.  We’re 3-2 against the Rangers and 4-2 against the suddenly-surging A’s.  The only teams we have losing records against are the Angels (1-2) and the impossible Astros (1-3).

Obviously, the hitting is the story of the season.  Segura, Gordon, and Haniger are leading the way.  Cano was having a fantastic season until he got popped and broke his hand.  Zunino, Cruz, and Seager could be better, but are still providing the power this lineup needs.  Healy overcame a disaster of a start to be a dynamic force towards the bottom of the lineup.  Heredia has not shied away one little bit with his increased playing time.  All we need is for Gamel and our bench guys to pick it up just a tad and the offense should be able to weather the storm (for the most part) of losing Cano for 80 games.

I’ve been a little intrigued by the pitching of late, though.  Obviously, Felix and Leake have been pretty big disappointments, even based on my lowered expectations, but they’ve kind of been keeping us in games for the most part.  He never looks great, but Felix has only looked BAD a couple times; other than that, he has a bad inning here and there, but is usually able to limit the damage and hold it down until the offense can pick him up.  And, while I think most people expected Leake to be better heading into the season, he’s only a little bit worse than what I predicted, based on his overall experience in the MLB (and not just his last 2 amazing months of 2017).

On the flipside of things, James Paxton has been on the roll of all rolls in the month of May.  Wade LeBlanc continues to be on the run of his life (and absolutely should not be returned to the bullpen if/when Erasmo Ramirez gets healthy).  And even Marco Gonzales continues to be the most economical of starters that we have.  If he EVER figures out how to make it through the sixth inning without handing over the lead he’s been given – and God forbid starts working his magic into the seventh inning and beyond – I might actually be able to one day forgive this GM for trading away future superstar Tyler O’Neill.  That’s not even getting into Christian Bergman’s 7-inning 0-run start and Ariel Miranda’s 5-inning 1-run start.

As for the bullpen, that’s always going to be volatile.  Scrabble hasn’t been anything close to what we need from a lefty specialist.  Nicasio has had moments of greatness, but too many slip-ups for comfort from an 8th inning guy.  Vincent has been a little bit up and down (probably right on track, from my pre-season expectations).  But, Diaz has been extra-special, Pazos has been very stout, Altavilla’s been a little better than expected, and if Ryan Cook can hold it together, he could be a pretty big addition to this group.  Also, Chasen Bradford has been a nice innings eater and someone I didn’t even come close to expecting anything from.

All in all, I think the bullpen will have its bad moments (as they all do), but is overall better than I thought.  And, while the starters are far from elite (aside from Paxton), I’m coming away very impressed with this unit.  I’ll never be confident with these guys, but I think they’re managed very well.  If that continues, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility for this to be a Wild Card team in 2018.

Mariners Made Some Minor Moves, Brought In Another Catcher

This is the time of year where it’s easy to lose track of the Mariners’ wheelings and dealings, so I’m going to do my best to corral them in the occasional post (mostly so it’s easier for me to go back later and find them, when I do my longer Mariners-related preview posts).  So, without further ado, some stuff:

  • Exercised Seth Smith’s 2017 option for $7 million
  • Declined Chris Iannetta’s option
  • Waived Nori Aoki (picked up by Houston, ugh)
  • Furbush, Clevenger, and Ryan Cook declined assignments with Tacoma, became free agents
  • Claimed Dean Kiekhefer off waivers from St. Louis
  • Lind, Storen, Dae-ho Lee, and Guti also granted free agency
  • Trade Vidal Nuno to Dodgers for catcher Carlos Ruiz

So, mostly news about guys who probably won’t be back.  I can’t imagine, with the shitstorm on Twitter, that the Mariners will work that hard to bring back Steve Clevenger.  Furbush is still annihilated with injuries, so I don’t know what his deal is.  I guess he’ll continue to work his way back into pitching shape and then see if he can get a deal somewhere.  It’s not impossible for him to return to Seattle, but he’s going to have to prove he’s 100%, or else come back on a minor league, try-out deal.  Either way, can’t afford to keep those guys on our 40-man roster; better to have the open spots.  The Mariners actually need a quality left-handed reliever, not a guy who will spend the entirety of 2017 on the DL.

Speaking of left-handed relievers, Vidal Nuno is gone!  I dunno, he was a guy we all liked for his versatility, but it turns out if you’re a crappy starter and a crappy reliever, the bottom line is you’re crappy.  We were able to swap him for another catcher, which looks like an awesome deal from a Mariners perspective.

Mike Zunino came back to the Majors in 2016 better than he was before, but he’s still not a finished product.  His defense is second to only a select few, as he was among the league leaders in defensive runs saved, while playing less than half the season in the Bigs.  With Ruiz’s bat – and competent on-base abilities – I wouldn’t mind seeing an equal timeshare between the two guys.  If they can stay healthy, we might be looking at not just replacement-level production out of the catcher position, but actually having it be a net-positive for this team!  Either way, it’s a VAST improvement over Chris Iannetta, which is all I can ask for.

Also speaking of left-handed relievers, this Kiekhefer guy is one of those!  He has all of 26 Major League appearances under his belt, all in 2016, and most of them pretty sub-par.  He’s sort of like a lefty version of Steve Cishek, only not as good.  He’ll destroy left-handed hitting, but he appears to struggle mightily against righties.  I guess you could argue he’s still pretty young, and for the most part looked better in September than he did earlier in the year (one 4-run appearance aside), but more than anything I think you peg him to be Spring Training fodder.  He’s on the 40-man roster, for now, but that’s not necessarily set in stone.  Whether he has options (I would assume he still does) is another issue.  If he pitches well in spring, either he makes the big league team, or he goes to Tacoma as insurance.  I guess we’ll see.

I think the writing was already on the wall when it came to Smith and Aoki.  The team likes Smith’s veteran leadership and steady (sometimes power) bat in the lineup over Aoki’s streakiness and slap-hittiness.  Aoki’s questionable defensive ability, and his poor base running, really did him in.  Nevertheless, I hate seeing him go to Houston, as I’m CONVINCED he’ll have a career year, even if he doesn’t play every day.

As for everyone else, we’ll wait and see.  I can’t imagine the market is too broad for Guti, so expect him back.  Dae-ho Lee might be less inclined to return, unless he’s guaranteed more playing time.  I have to think we’re going to look for a more permanent fix for our first base woes.  Drew Storen might be the toughest one to retain, as I can’t imagine the Mariners will want to break the bank for a right handed reliever who had a nice half-season with us, but is ultimately a hit-or-miss prospect going forward.  If he wants to come back on a relatively minor deal, fine, but I don’t think I’m paying more than $2-3 million for his services.

So far, so good.  The Mariners are better now than they were at the end of the 2016 season.  Let’s keep doing that and everything should be fine.

The Bullpen Was Too Much Miss, Not Enough Hit

Unless you take that phrase literally, in which case “miss”ing bats is a good thing and getting your balls “hit” is a bad thing, in which case I hate the title of this post already.

The amount of power a bullpen holds over the quality of your team’s baseball season is pretty obscene.  Granted, every area of a baseball team plays its part – hitting, defense, starting pitching, baserunning – so to get to a point where your bullpen can make or break your year means you need your starters to keep you in the game, you need your hitters to give you a lead, your defense needs to not give the other team extra outs, and you can’t take away outs from your own team by getting picked off or taking an extra base you shouldn’t have.

So, while the hitting for the Mariners wasn’t good for the longest time (mostly during the Jackie Z era), it didn’t really matter if our bullpens were good or not.

But, it’s a new day.  Our hitting is solid, our starters – for the most part – keep us in ballgames (even if they’re not particularly dominating), our defense is good enough (again, for the most part), and while our baserunning is pretty bad, it’s also a pretty small part of the game of baseball, all things considered.  A team like 2016’s Mariners had it all going for them, meaning the bullpen was the most important factor in deciding whether or not we’d make the playoffs.

And, as you can tell by our absence, obviously the bullpen wasn’t quite good enough.

For starters, the Mariners were 30-30 in 1-run games.  This is actually what one would expect.  If you’re significantly better, then it would stand to reason that you’re luckier, as these sorts of things tend to even out over time.  If you’re significantly worse, then it would stand to reason you’re unlucky.  So, we can throw luck right out the window as far as the Mariners are concerned.

The Rangers, on the other hand, were 36-11 in 1-run games, which is, like, an all-time crazy record for 1-run games.  Their dumb ass luck ran out though, when they got swept by the Blue Jays in the ALDS, going 0-1 in the playoffs in 1-run games.

Anyway, here are the records of the A.L. playoff teams in 1-run games:

  • Texas:  36-11
  • Cleveland:  28-21
  • Boston:  20-24
  • Toronto:  21-25
  • Baltimore:  21-16

So, as you can see, there’s a good mix.  Texas, Cleveland, and Baltimore were all over .500; Boston and Toronto were both a few games under.  What I noticed straight away is that the Mariners were involved in significantly MORE 1-run games than any of these teams.  37% of our games were decided by a single run.  Looking at it another way, 73% of our games (119) were decided by 4 runs or less.  So, we played a lot of close games.  I’d wager we were among the league leaders in close games.  As such, the performance of our bullpen meant a lot more than that of the rest of the American League.

The Mariners were involved in 74 save opportunities this season; we converted 49 of them, for a save percentage of 66%.  The league average was only 68%, so that doesn’t put us too far behind the 8-ball.  But, how does that compare to the playoff teams?  Let’s take a look:

  • Texas:  56 of 73, 77%
  • Cleveland:  37 of 48, 77%
  • Boston:  43 of 61, 70%
  • Toronto:  43 of 65, 66%
  • Baltimore:  54 of 68, 79%

So, as you can see, 4/5 playoff teams had superior save percentages than the Mariners.  If we’d just saved 70% of our opportunites – 2% above league average, and right in line with the playoff teams – that’s 3 more wins you could add to our total, which just so happens to be the number of games the Mariners missed the playoffs by.

The story of the 2016 Mariners bullpen kicks right off with injuries.  Charlie Furbush was a guy we’d penciled in for a significant role, but he didn’t throw a single inning.  Ryan Cook was another guy we brought in, at least on a tryout basis, but he’s a guy who’d had success as recently as 2014, and was one of the better relievers out there in 2012 & 2013; he too never pitched an inning for us.  Then, there’s Evan Scribner, who didn’t throw his first Major League pitches until September, when it turned out he’s actually terrific!  So, right off the bat, we were at a disadvantage, meaning guys like Joel Peralta and Steve Johnson were getting extended looks early in the season.

Then, you have Tony Zych, who made the Major League roster out of Spring Training.  He had the best fastball on the team, and arguably the best “stuff” of any of our relievers.  He made it to 10 appearances before he got hurt and was lost for the year (for all intents and purposes; he came back in late August for a couple of innings, but had to be quickly shut down again).  And, of course, there was Joaquin Benoit, who got hurt in April, returned about a month later, but was not the rock we needed out of our 8th inning set up guy.  He ended up being traded to Toronto for Drew Storen, where the change of scenery did both of them good.

It’s really quite remarkable, not just how the bullpen ended up looking compared to how we pictured it at the beginning of 2016, but also how it evolved throughout the season.  On top of those other injuries, Storen, Wilhelmsen, Nick Vincent, and Steve Cishek all found themselves on the DL at one point or another.  When you factor in how the starters weren’t always (or even USUALLY) at their best, this bullpen was continuously taxed nine ways from Sunday, all the way until September, when we were finally allowed to expand our roster.

This, of course, affected how we shaped the rest of our roster the first five months of the season, bringing into question why Major League Baseball limits teams to 25-man rosters, when so much of the game is specialized by way of bullpens and platoons and pinch runners and defensive replacements.  It makes no sense, when you think about it, but that’s baseball for you.  It’s the “neither here nor there” of professional sports.

If you want to know how the bullpen was doing at a particular point in the season, just look at the schedule.  You don’t need to hunt for stats to figure out when this bullpen was rolling vs. when it was sucking my will to live.  In the month of May, for instance, it was on a nice little run (the Mariners just so happened to have gone 17-11 in May); in the month of June, they fell apart (the Mariners just so happened to have gone 10-18 in June).  They were great in early August, terrible in late August, and so on and so forth.  This was one of the streakiest Mariners teams in recent memory, and those streaks almost always coincided with how the bullpen was doing.  They’d go long stretches of scoreless baseball, followed by painful stretches of agonizing baseball.  And, in the end, it all added up to 3 too many blown saves.  Who were our culprits?

Well, the first name that comes to mind is Steve Cishek, who started the season as this team’s closer, but lost that job on August 1st, after yet another meltdown.  Of his 7 blown saves, the Mariners were only able to come back and win 1 of them.  He also cost us 3 other games when he came into the game tied and took it on the chin.  Immediately after ceding control of the closer’s job to Edwin Diaz, he went on the DL, only to return to be a masterful set up man.  He’s also under contract for next year, so bank on him being back.

Edwin Diaz was lights out through his first three months or so.  We started him off slowly, but he quickly earned higher leverage roles when it was readily apparent that he was striking out everybody he faced.  He blew three saves, but we were able to come back and win two of those games.  He took 3 other losses when he came into a tie situation, but two of those games were in his pre-closer days.  He did end up taking the loss in the season-deciding game on October 1st, but he was in his 3rd inning that day, and was clearly over-worked to that point.  Diaz will go into 2017 as the frontrunner for the closer role.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to manage his outings a little better.  He was on pace to make something like 74 appearances over the course of a full season, so maybe we can try to shave off 5-10 next year, since he’s still a growing boy and all.

When you take a look at the actual numbers for our bullpen, one name sticks out like a sore thumb:  Nick Vincent.  Even though he had a spell on the DL, he’s one of those constants you can point to on this team this year.  He was brought in just before the regular season, and almost immediately entered the regular rotation as one of our high-leverage pitchers.  What sticks out is that Nick Vincent of all people was involved in 9 save situations, and somehow managed to blow SIX of them!  One fewer than Steve Cishek, and double the number of blown saves of Edwin Diaz; what in the holy fuck?

As I’ve said before, Vincent isn’t bad, but he’s also not a guy – in an ideal world – you want in there late in the game with a lead.  He’s a guy who should be used earlier in games, when the starter gets knocked out prematurely.  Or, put him in there in the 6th/7th innings, or in games where it’s close but we’re trailing.  I’m not saying he can’t handle the pressure of high-leverage, game-winning situations, but I’m VERY MUCH saying his stuff is weaksauce and I’m surprised guys didn’t smack him around more than they did.  Unfortunately, the 2016 Mariners bullpen was far from an ideal world, so he was counted upon more than he should’ve been.  It’s one of the reasons why he hit the DL in the first place; he simply wasn’t used to pitching that much, and his body couldn’t take it!

His semi-saving grace is that only 3 of his 6 blown saves led to losses.  But, again, he accounted for 4 other defeats in tie-game situations.  Of our pitchers who were exclusively relievers, who threw a minimum of 20 innings this year, Vincent was one of only two who had a negative Win Probability Added, leading me to believe that it’s pretty difficult for a reliever to GET a negative rating for this stat over the course of a full (or even PARTIAL) season.

For what it’s worth, Vidal Nuno is the other reliever to have a negative WPA.  I was about to dismiss his numbers though, as he seemed to be used mostly in mop-up duties, but apparently he appeared in the 4th most high leverage situations of guys in our bullpen at 16.  The only people to appear in more high leverage games were Vincent (24), Diaz (26) and Cishek (37).  Diaz had a whopping 1.9 WPA (meaning he alone was worth nearly 2 wins by himself), and Cishek actually had a respectable 0.7 WPA (or he was worth nearly 1 win by himself).

Most of the guys had their ups and downs, but I’d like to point out a few of the good ones.  Drew Storen was actually pretty great, especially considering Toronto was THIS CLOSE to DFA’ing his ass before they traded him to us for Benoit.  Tom Wilhelmsen, same deal (especially considering his stint in Texas, when he was worth -0.9 WPA in 21 games before they did DFA his ass).  Mike Montgomery was also one of the good ones, which is why it’s so unfortunate that he was traded away to the Cubs mid-season.  He’s a pretty rock solid reliever, and he’s good for the occasional spot start, which in my book makes him invaluable, but in the Mariners’ book makes him worth Dan Vogelbach.  Scribner, as I said before, had the all-world September; and Arquimedes Caminero has some lethal stuff, if only he can harness it.

Going into 2017, there’s a lot to like about this unit.  We’re, unfortunately, going to be without Charlie Furbush again, as he needed surgery that would keep him out ANOTHER year, but hopefully with certain guys returning, we can solidify this part of our team and not have to worry about it so much.

Guys I like:

  • Edwin Diaz
  • Steve Cishek
  • Evan Scribner
  • Tony Zych

If we can get these guys back and keep them healthy, that’s as good a foundation to a bullpen as can be.

Guys I like, sort of:

  • Drew Storen
  • Nick Vincent
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Vidal Nuno

Storen isn’t under contract, so the team would have to go out and re-sign him, but I think for the right price, that could be a nice little move for this team.  The rest of these guys, I could take or leave.  I don’t totally trust any of them in high leverage situations, so I’d PREFER they stick to 6th/7th innings, or in extras; but, I also wouldn’t be devastated if the team traded them away or otherwise got rid of them.

Guys I find interesting:

  • Arquimedes Caminero
  • Dan Altavilla

Caminero I talked about before.  Altavilla is another one of these guys (like Diaz) where the Mariners brought him up straight from AA.  He was called up late in the season for the team to get a look at him, and only 3 of his 15 appearances were in high leverage situations, but he showed good stuff, and if he carries that over into Spring Training, I could easily see him making this roster.  If he proves he’s got what it takes to do well in those high leverage situations, he could find himself quickly climbing into the Guys I Like category.

All the other bullpen guys on the roster feel like Spring Training fodder and little more.  The team is in desperate need of a quality left-handed reliever, so I’d expect them to make a move in that regard in the not-too-distant future.  My way-too-early prediction for next season has our bullpen looking like this:

  • Diaz – closer
  • Cishek
  • Scribner
  • Zych
  • Vincent
  • Altavilla
  • Random Lefty Not Currently In The Organization

Depending on the lefty, that strikes me as a bullpen we can work with!  Again, assuming they’re utilized properly.

Is Help Really On The Horizon For The Mariners?

I feel like the narrative for the 2016 Mariners is about to be established, and it’s totally fucking fraudulent.

At the end of May, the Mariners were in first place and headed into a key stretch of season.  Then, Ketel Marte and Leonys Martin went down in the same week, and the Mariners totally bungled that key stretch of season.  They both returned as soon as their 15-day DL stints were up, but that was just the beginning.  In what has become a nightmare scenario, the Mariners have seen King Felix, Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker, Nick Vincent, Joaquin Benoit, Steve Clevenger, Tony Zych, and Adrian Sampson all hit the DL this year (on top of such “mainstays” as Charlie Furbush, Jesus Sucre, Ryan Cook, and Evan Scribner all starting the year on the DL).  While losing these guys certainly hasn’t helped the cause of remaining in post-season contention, I feel like the argument is about to shift to where it’s the injuries themselves that are to blame for all of this, and by simply getting guys back, the Mariners will return to their April & May glories.

When, the reality is, I was writing about this team needing help before most these injuries even started!  Now, I’ll certainly take the blame for putting the whammy on this team when I wrote about how healthy they’d been to date, but it’s pretty quaint to look back on that post now.  THESE Mariners look like they need help just about everywhere, wheras THOSE Mariners weren’t too far off.

I’ll give you this:  getting Felix Hernandez back will – hopefully – be a big boost to this rotation.  It’s tough to say how much this calf injury is going to affect him the rest of the year – we know he’s a gamer, and will play through a lot of pain to be the leader this team needs, but will that make him a less effective pitcher overall?  Regardless, King Felix at 75% is still better than Wade Miley, Wade LeBlanc, Mike Montgomery, and Taijuan Walker at 50%; indeed, King Felix at 75% is probably better than everyone on this roster (save Iwakuma when he’s on a hot streak).

I still think this team needs another bigtime starting pitcher, but given how the last six weeks have gone, I’m less high on acquiring a 2-month rental than I was in mid-May.  I just don’t think it’s reasonable to expect this team to blow the farm on 2016 alone, when so much of this team (especially in the pitching department) is falling apart and needs an upgrade.

With Felix back, your five best starting pitchers are:

  1. Felix
  2. Iwakuma
  3. Paxton
  4. Montgomery
  5. LeBlanc

Walker will jump up to the 3-4 range once his foot injury heals, thankfully pushing LeBlanc out of here, but the fact remains that Karns and Miley are both ineffective and need to be removed (if not from the team entirely, then at least from the rotation – which has already happened to Karns).  The timetable on Walker looks like at least another couple weeks, which puts us into August, but I still maintain that this team needs to get him all the way back to 100% before bringing him back, because his injury-shortened starts are killing this team.

As for the bullpen, I don’t know where the help is going to come from, to be honest.  As a good start, it’d be nice to take away the closing role from Cishek.  I thought this was a really well-reasoned argument to go to the Bullpen By Committee approach.  That’s a tough thing, though, when I really only have confidence in one guy – Edwin Diaz, who has been un-fucking-believable – and even then, I have to see what happens when the league figures him out and he has to adjust.  If anything, I think the Mariners need to be more like the Angels in their bullpen usage – just annoy the piss out of everyone by using multiple relievers per inning if you have to, playing the matchup game to the Nth degree.

But, let’s face it, who can trust this bullpen?  Cishek and Benoit were supposed to bring veteran stability to this unit, but they’ve both been disasters at times.  Nick Vincent was strong to start the year, but he’s injured (and before that, was starting to get hit pretty hard).  Montgomery has been good, but he struggled in late-game, pressure situations (and he might also be MUCH better used in the starting rotation).  Nuno has been good, but he’s more of a wild card than we’ve seen.  The jury is still out on Karns (though, the team appears to be saving him for mop-up long relief).  And, if Miley does get demoted to the bullpen, how exactly will that be a good thing (when the vast majority of his starts involve him getting shelled early, only to settle down for the last few innings)?

Beyond that, Zych appears to be a lost cause for 2016.  Furbush is on the mend, but will he return to his 2015 form?  Or, his pre-2015 form when he was spotty at best?  Wilhelmsen is back, and looking like he’s being groomed for more high-leverage situations (even though he was a Hindenburg crossed with a Challenger-level disaster in Texas); can’t say I have much trust there.  And, with all these veterans leaving a lot to be desired, why would I feel good having faith in the likes of Cook or Scribner, should they ever fully make it back from injury?

That just leaves the Tacoma guys:  Roach, Aro, Martin, Guaipe, and Rollins, none of whom have been able to consistently throw strikes or generally do their fucking jobs at the Big League level.

So, you can go ahead and make Diaz the closer if you want, but that’s still only taking care of the 9th inning.  What about the 8th, 7th, 6th, and 5th innings?  You know, the ones our starters are too inept to get through.

Quite frankly, I LIKE how they’ve used Diaz so far.  Diaz is by far the best reliever on this team right now, and he’s being used as such:  in situations with runners on base, in close ballgames, when you absolutely, no questions asked, need a strikeout to get out of a huge mess.  As has been noted by countless smarter baseball fans than myself, sometimes the most important inning of relief ISN’T the 9th inning.  In fact, I’d say more often than not, that moment reveals itself to be earlier; but, baseball is so entrenched in this system of set up men & closers that it’s considered automatic when it really shouldn’t be.  As such, THAT’S the most important reason why I think the Mariners should go with a bullpen by committee; not because I necessarily need to see Cishek pitch earlier, but because I don’t think he should be entrusted with getting the final three outs when he might only be qualified to get 1-2 of those outs.

Fuck.  The.  Save.  Stat.

You want some help on the horizon?  Get rid of established bullpen roles, bring in another starter for more than just the stretch run, demote the shit out of Miley & Karns, and let everything ride.

You know what you DON’T do?  You don’t make “corner outfield” your top priority.

Here’s what I don’t understand:  everyone under the sun praises Seth Smith for his quality, professional at bats.  Yet, these same people keep telling anyone who’ll listen that this team needs to trade for a left fielder.  WHY?  I get it, you’d like to see improved outfield defense.  So would I.  But, you still need to start Smith against any right-handed starter, which puts him in your lineup 2/3 of the time.  And, while his numbers aren’t necessarily eye-popping, I think you’re getting enough out of Guti in his platoon role to justify the roster spot.

Which, I guess, leaves right field, where we’ve seen more of Nelson Cruz than anyone could possibly like.  But, it comes back to getting your best hitting lineup out there.  And, more often than not, when a right handed pitcher is on the mound against us, that means getting both Lind and Dae-ho Lee in there.  Lee has shown he deserves more regular at bats, even against righties, which means if you’re getting both Lee and Lind in there, one of them is going to have to DH.  That pushes Cruz into the outfield, for obvious reasons, on the days you don’t sit one of Lind or Lee.

This team doesn’t need a starting corner outfielder (besides, getting one that’s good defensively AND one that has good on-base skills, is a fucking unicorn that most other teams aren’t willing to part with); it needs a better reserve outfielder.  Nori Aoki has already been demoted to Tacoma, which was appropriate and the right start.  At this point, if anything, you’d just want a reserve that’s better than him, or O’Malley, or the recently recalled Dan Robertson (who really hasn’t had a chance to play enough to show you he’s ready to stick or not).

For me, I’m not really sweating the outfield right now.  The rest of this team’s hitting and defense is good enough to withstand the occasional Robertson start in the outfield, or the occasional outfield with both Smith and Cruz roaming the corners.

In TL;DR, while there IS help on the horizon, with injured guys getting healthy, I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be enough to turn around the fortunes for this star-crossed team.  For this team to do what it truly NEEDS to do, it’s going to have to trade away the farm and it’s going to have to take on some significant payroll, neither of which I think this organization is prepared to do.

Dae-ho Lee Is Gonna Build A Wall (to hit dingers over) and Opposing Pitchers Are Gonna Pay For It!

If Dae-ho Lee isn’t your new favorite Mariner, you probably don’t have a soul.  You probably go around to various mall Santas, pulling beards off in front of aghast children.  Just admit it!  You dab the grease from your pizza with a napkin and proceed to eat it with a knife and fork!  I’m not here to tell you how to live your life, but I will judge the shit out of anyone who can’t find a way to enjoy the whimsy in life.

I don’t know, it’s like Dae-ho Lee has this inate ability to instinctively know when we need him the most.  He’s obviously not playing every day – locked into a platoon at first base with an Adam Lind who is growing increasingly more irrelevant – and when he does play, he doesn’t ALWAYS open up a can of whoop-ass (it’s been long enough, right?  I think we can start working that phrase back into our vernacular).  But, when he DOES open up that can, it’s usually at a point where the Mariners are at their most desperate for an offensive spark.

His first homer came in his third game, at home against the A’s.  The Mariners were trailing 2-0 in the fifth inning when he led off with a solo bomb to get things going.  The M’s would go on to tie the game in that inning, forcing the starter out of the game in the process, but it wouldn’t be enough as we’d go on to lose 3-2 (with Lind pinch hitting for Lee in the bottom of the ninth to seal our fate).

A few days later, in the closing game of a lost homestand, the Mariners were sitting at 2-6, thanks to a 5-game home losing streak.  Things were grim.  Fans were hurling themselves off of the bandwagon into the open arms of giant spikes, gladly impaling our bodies rather than watch one more minute of this infuriating franchise.  The Mariners blew a 2-1 lead to send the game into extra innings; we managed to get it to the bottom of the 10th with the score still tied, when a magical Korean pixie by the name of Dae-ho Lee floated into the batter’s box in place of Lind.  With a runner at first base and two outs, Lee clubbed a ball out to left for the game-winning 2-run home run, to salvage SOME semblance of respectability for the team, and kickstart this run that we’ve been on (18-7 over our last 25 games).

Lee would only make 6 appearances after that game, over the next three weeks.  He had an opportunity to start against the A’s on May 4th, and again made the most of it.  The game looked like it would be open-and-shut, but King Felix was off his game, and had let the A’s take an 8-4 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning.  That’s when our spritely savior, one Dae-ho Lee, decided to take the game over.  He hadn’t really done much of anything up to that point, but like I said earlier, it’s like he just KNOWS when this team needs him.  Down four runs, with your team’s ace pulled from the game, Lee started picking up the slack by hitting a solo homer in the top of the sixth, to edge the game a little closer.  That set off a shockwave of rallying by the rest of the Mariners, who managed to pull the game to within one run, at 8-7, in the top of the seventh.  A great man like Dae-ho Lee could be forgiven if he thought that he’d done enough for the team that day, but not so fast!  With a runner on, he hit his second homer of the day to give the Mariners a 1-run advantage, that they would go on to hold down over the rest of the game.

Fast forward to last night.  His fourth start in four games, an unprecedented streak of games for Lee, who for all intents and purposes has been a reserve player to this point in the season.  Part of it is a run on left-handed pitching, part of it has been to get some other guys some days off, but regardless here we were, in the second game of a 3-game series with the Rays.  The Mariners jumped all over the Rays in the first to go up 3-0, but that lead was chipped down to 3-2 entering the bottom of the fourth.  Sensing the Mariners would need more offensive production to maintain the lead, Lee stepped to home plate with two runners on and crushed a ball to right field for a 3-run homer.  The Mariners would go on to give up a couple more runs along the way, but Lee’s wizardry proved to be the margin of victory once again.

At this point, I think it’s a fair question to ask:  when do the Mariners start featuring Lee against more right-handed pitching?  When do we start seeing more of a 50/50 split between Lee and Lind, as opposed to the split that we’ve been seeing to this point, which is around 2/3 for Lind, and 1/3 for Lee?  Hell, at what point do we just hand the everyday starting job to Lee and send Lind’s goldbricking ass packing?

Jerry Dipoto should be praised for a lot of the moves he made in the offseason; so many of them have worked out like gangbusters!  Bringing in Lee on a minor league deal, bringing in Aoki, Martin, Iannetta, and Clevenger to bring more of a veteran presence to the team, while improving our defense and on-base abilities.  The trades for Miley and Karns so far have been pretty good, and his influence over our bullpen – Cishek, Peralta, Vincent, and Benoit (when healthy) – has been a boon for this team.  And, while getting Iwakuma back on a team-friendly deal was a stroke of luck more than anything, he was still open to bringing him back when we all sort of thought the Mariners were done adding to the starting rotation.

But, even the best GM’s aren’t going to be right 100% of the time.  I don’t know if Dipoto is the best, but he’s having an Executive of the Year-type season, and with all of that having been said, he swung and missed on injured guys like Ryan Cook and Evan Scribner (who still could help this team, but not until the second half, most likely), and Adam Lind has been a pretty huge disaster.

This is an excellent post from Lookout Landing, if you’re looking for something of a reality check during these times of unmitigated prosperity as a Mariners fan.  Look at the section, “First base is a mess” to get an idea of just how bad Adam Lind has been.  I mean, shit, the whole idea with bringing in Lind in the first place was that – even if he struggled with his power numbers in the spacious Safeco Field – he was AT THE VERY LEAST supposed to get on base via the walk.  And he’s not even doing THAT, with all of 3 walks on the season.

First base has been a black hole for so long, it might be pretty easy to overlook what Lind is doing to this team.  But, we’ve actually got a solid lineup now.  Leonys Martin is a bit of a dud at the plate, but for a #9 hitter, with the defense he brings to the table, you’ll gladly take it.  The point is, keeping a second black hole in our lineup with Lind could be too much to overcome, particularly when you figure the bullpen is eventually going to come back down to Earth, if not the entire pitching side of this team.

Anyway, something to think about.  Lee could be a possible option, but he could also prove the organization was correct originally in holding him to a steady diet of lefty pitchers only.  If not Lee, then the team should probably look into a reasonable option via trade.  But, I might be getting ahead of myself.