The Official 2016 Mariners Preview

I got into a bunch of stuff last week, if you missed it.

So, without further ado, why not kick this post off by talking about the hitters and fielders?

I’ve been on record for a while now as being pretty impressed by the collection of hitters the Mariners have amassed this year.  I think we’re across-the-board better than we were last year, and better than we’ve been in I can’t remember how many years.  Adam Lind should be an improvement over the streaky LoMo.  I’m not really all that high on Brad Miller (again, streaky), so I think we’ll get more consistency out of Ketel Marte.  Chris Iannetta should be leaps & bounds better than the black hole that was Mike Zunino.  Nori Aoki should be a HUGE upgrade over Dustin Ackley.  And, considering there was absolutely nothing special about Austin Jackson, that means we’re not taking much of a hit offensively with Leonys Martin, while at the same time getting a bigtime player defensively in center.

When you tack that onto Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz still in their primes, the improved health of Robinson Cano leading to a dramatic return to form, and the steady presence of Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez in a platoon situation, I think we’re going to see this team be quite competitive offensively, compared to in years past where most of the time we were struggling just to score a run or two.

In fact, I’ll take it one step further.  I think we’re going to see a high number of shootouts, where the Mariners are scoring 7+ runs, while at the same time giving up 7+ runs.  While the obvious home run numbers won’t be there, I think this COULD prove to be the best offense we’ve had since 2001.

Which is a shame, because usually it’s the pitching I have the most confidence in.  This year, terms like “potential” and “cautiously optimistic” have been uttered by me when talking about the collection of starters and relievers we’ve got on the roster.  It’s less than ideal.  You can make the case for and against just about every one of these guys.

I’m like 85-90% sure Felix Hernandez is going to continue being great.  But, while I won’t damn him for the so-called poor finish to his season last year, I will say there were a disturbing number of appearances where he got absolutely annihilated.  8 runs against Houston, where he only got 1 out.  7 runs each against the Yankees and Diamondbacks.  10 runs in 2.1 innings against Boston.  I’m not used to seeing my guy struggle like he did in these games.  I mean, I didn’t think I’d EVER see a time where he couldn’t get out of the first inning!  It’s not cause to be alarmed, but it’s cause to be on alert.  King Felix is still performing at a high level for the most part, but winter is coming.

On any given day, I’m 50/50 as to whether we’ll see Good Iwakuma or Crap Iwakuma.  He had that 2013 season where he was amazing (and amazingly healthy), but he’s followed it up with two so-so years.  While he finished pretty consistently strong, he had a run from late 2014 through early 2015 where he was giving up homers at an insane rate.  Even in his best year, he was giving up almost a homer a game, so that’s not entirely a negative issue with him.  But, keeping guys off base and keeping the ball from looking like a juicy piece of meat for opposing batters to mash will always be the key.

Wade Miley is more or less an effective innings eater, but he reminds me of every soft-tossing lefty starter we’ve had here in the last 8 years or so.  Vargas, Saunders, Elias, Happ, Washburn, Rowland-Smith, and I’m sure I’m forgetting countless others.  Vargas was probably the best of the bunch, but he didn’t come as a finished product and had his share of growing pains along the way.  Does Miley have an effective out pitch?  If he doesn’t have an awesome splitter or change up or something, I don’t have high hopes for him being very good.

Taijuan Walker seems to have the most promise among players taking a big leap forward.  But, at the same time, he could just be who he is.  When his command is on, he’ll be tough, but ultimately falling short of that elite, Ace status.

Then, there’s what’s sure to be a revolving door of sorts at the bottom of the rotation.  Karns is young, and I don’t really know what he has.  Paxton is down in Tacoma, waiting for either Karns to slip up, or someone else to get injured.  Neither one of them inspire too much confidence (I mean, our main injury insurance in Paxton is himself injury-prone!).

Ultimately, this is going to be the highest variance season we’ve seen out of the Mariners since 2007.  You know how, in every Preview post I’ve ever written about the Mariners, I talk about the Best Case Scenario?  Well, usually my scenarios are based in far-off delusions (Ackley/Smoak/Montero/Miller/Zunino will hopefully be ready to take the next step into being a productive and elite member of baseball society).  But, the actual variance in possibilities isn’t usually that great.  A normal range of outcomes is usually anywhere from 70-80 wins.  But, this year?  I could see this team winning anywhere from 65 games to 90 games and not have it be totally crazy.

What does a 65-win Mariners team look like?  Well, probably injury-riddled at its core.  One would think that team will have to face significant time with King Felix on the shelf, and at least one of the big three (Cano/Cruz/Seager).  As this team doesn’t really have a ton of depth, nor a ton of talent coming up through the pipeline, it just won’t be able to overcome significant health issues at its premium positions.

What does a 75-win Mariners team look like?  Well, tbh, a lot like last year’s team.  The bullpen struggles, the starters are somewhat effective, but have their own peaks & valleys to deal with, and the hitters aren’t as good as we thought going in.  That means Iannetta is just as black of a hole as Zunino; Lind isn’t much of an upgrade over LoMo, as he struggles to adjust to Safeco Field; Ketel Marte is drastically worse than the low bar Brad Miller had set for us; Nori Aoki looks more like Austin Jackson than we care to admit; and Leonys Martin looks more like James Jones than we care to admit.  That team also has one of the big three (let’s say Cruz, for shits and giggles, since he would appear to be due for some regression towards the mean) unexpectedly struggling a lot more than they did last year, due to nagging health issues or simply advanced age.

What does an 85-win Mariners team look like?  Well, for starters, the hitters match my expectations of being the strength of this team.  The pitching likely struggles at spots, and maybe Iwakuma or Karns miss a month or two due to injury (probably at different points in the season, giving us a lot more of Paxton than we expected).  The bullpen goes through hot periods and extra cold periods, but the offense is just clutch enough to give us a Kansas City Royals-esque spate of walk-off wins.  This team stays relevant throughout the season – giving Seattle fans lots to talk about all summer – and might even break that streak of seasons without a postseason appearance, depending on how things shake out in the rest of the American League.  Ultimately, this team probably disappoints in the playoffs (if it does get there), but it gives fans a ton of hope going into the 2017 season.

What does a 90-win (or 90+ win) Mariners team look like?  Well, here’s your Best Case Scenario.  Here’s where absolutely everything that needed to break right DOES break right.  Felix is in the Cy Young conversation.  Iwakuma is back to his 2013 tricks.  Wade Miley comes better than advertised and not only eats up innings, but figures out how to be an effective #2 or #3 starter.  Taijuan Walker goes thermonuclear.  And, the duo of Karns/Paxton are pleasant surprises whose ability to pitch finally catches up to their raw stuff.  This team gets strong seasons out of its primary 8th & 9th inning bullpen guys, and gets enough out of the rest of the bullpen to make it one of the top five units in the league.  And the hitting is not only as good as I think it’s going to be, but it still manages to come through on that clutchness factor, where we’re winning a vast majority of 1-run games (what some would say is an unsustainable rate of winning in those types of close games).  This team probably catches some luck among the rest of the A.L. West and takes the division, and cruises right into the ALCS.  Felix gets to show the world what it’s been missing by not having him in the playoffs, as he blows away the field in his post-season starts, and this team makes its first-ever World Series appearance (where it goes on to lose in five games, because this is Seattle, and we can’t have nice things).

So, where do I have my money?

In Tahoe, there was a Futures bet.  The over/under for the Mariners was 82 wins.  Now, considering I had 1 good betting day out of 4 when I was down there, you can take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt.  If I still had money on the last day there, I would’ve bet everything I had on the Mariners winning under 82 games.  What does that mean?  Well, my gambling prowess notwithstanding, I believe there is a greater than 50% chance that the shit hits the fan with this team (either with injuries, or a struggling bullpen, or the hitters just not being as good as we expected) and the Mariners struggle to remain competitive.  You know me, I hate a team that doesn’t pitch well.  Even if the key guys stay healthy, I still think this team – at the end of the day – will look a lot like it did last year, at least in the win/loss column.

That having been said, there’s a part of me that believes in this team more than last year’s team.  I wonder if that’s just because it looks so different (13 of the 25 players we have going into Opening Day will be playing their first games as Mariners).  I mean, different = better, right?  Well, at least different = more exciting, for the first few weeks anyway.

My hunch is that the offense will ultimately be one of the better ones we’ve seen in recent history, but it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see this offense get off to yet ANOTHER slow start in the month of April.  All the better to make me look foolish in my predictions (because everything in the world revolves around me and what I think).  Conversely, the pitching will probably start out on fire, and this team will be a couple games under .500 going into May.  It’ll tread water – as the Mariners like to do – through the All Star Break, and then on that road trip at the end of July the Mariners will go something like 1-7 and play themselves right out of contention (and a season-saving deadline deal).  From there, it’ll just be a matter of playing out the string of yet another losing season.  I think the record will be 77-85.

I like this team, but I’ve been burned too many times in the past.  I’ll go into this year expecting the worst, because why shouldn’t I?  We’ve got national morons predicting the Mariners will shock the world – like we read about just about every single year – but what are they basing it on?  The same things I’m basing my prediction on:  the high variance nature of this roster.  When has that ever worked out in our favor to spell out a post-season appearance?  Not bloody often.

Just Another Home Opener NOT On Opening Day

Last year, the Mariners didn’t get to play their home opener until April 13th, after eight games on the road including two in Japan.  I don’t remember this, but apparently the Mariners got to start Felix Hernandez at their home opener last season.  He went seven innings, giving up two runs, and we ended up losing to Bartolo Colon and the Oakland Athletics 4-0.

In 2011, the Mariners didn’t play their home opener until April 8th, after six games on the road.  I remember this game vividly, because Jason Vargas got the start against the Cleveland Indians, giving up 7 runs in 3.1 innings en route to a miserable 12-3 loss.  The 2011 Mariners were trying to help everyone forget about the doldrums their 2010 counterparts faced; what better way to do that than to get lit up at home in front of a near-sellout crowd?

In 2010, the Mariners didn’t play their home opener until April 12th, after seven games on the road.  I have a vague recollection of this game, which leads me to believe that maybe last night’s home opener was my FOURTH in a row and not just my third.  Ryan Rowland-Smith was a personal favorite of mine and he didn’t do so hot in his 7 innings of 4-run ball.  The Mariners lost this game to the A’s 4-0, while generating only two hits.

In 2009, the Mariners didn’t play their home opener until April 14th, after seven games on the road.  I am almost positive I didn’t go to this game, though I bet I thought about it.  Carlos Silva got the start, went 7 innings, gave up 2 runs, but this ended up being a battle of the bullpens as the Mariners won 3-2 in 10 innings.

2008 was the last time the Mariners got to play their home opener on ACTUAL Opening Day.  On March 31st, against Kevin Millwood and the Texas Rangers.  Newly-acquired Erik Bedard got the start and went 5 strong innings of 1-run ball; Sean Green, Eric O’Flaherty, Mark Lowe, and J.J. Putz locked down the final four innings, giving up only 1 run in our 5-2 victory.  For the record, the Mariners played their first three games at home, then promptly went out on the road for a 7-game trip against the likes of Baltimore and Tampa Bay.

Major League Baseball REALLY likes sticking the M’s on the road to start the season!

I was at the game last night, but right now my mind is a jumbled mush, so this post probably won’t come out the way I want it to.

When I go to a mid-week Mariners game, I tend to do it up right.  Straight from work (getting off at 3:30), I walk down to the tunnel and get off at the International District stop.  From there, it’s a hop and a skip over to Slugger’s, the little hole in the wall just across from the north entrance to CenturyLink Field.  Yesterday, I made a bee-line to the upstairs area and grabbed the first 4-person table I could find.  A basket of tots and a Coors Light tallboy later, I was joined by a couple of friends and we proceeded to drink Coors Banquet Beer tallboys until 6:15 or so.

Then, we grabbed some bagel dogs from Blazin’ Bagels and went inside.  We opted for the 200-level club seats, along the third base line, and were hardly disappointed.  Of course, I managed to find the only two Astros fans willing to spend upwards of $75-$100 on club tickets, seated right next to me.  There’s nothing sadder than a lone Astros fan clapping in your ear when he knows as well as you do that there’s no chance in Hell the Astros are going to win this game.  Nevertheless, it’s still kind of annoying when you hear people next to you cheering at all the wrong times.

I was inside buying a soda when Jamie Moyer threw out the first pitch.  From television replays, he looked like a guy who should not be quitting his day job (especially when that day job is “Sit around, do nothing, play some golf, and go for a swim in your Money Bin”).  I don’t understand these athletes who can’t give up the game.  IT’S JUST A GAME!  Take your millions of dollars and enjoy your fucking life!  Find a new hobby for fuck’s sake, it’s not that hard!

I did not get a chance to leave our club seats during the game.  I did not spend any time in The Pen, nor did I get a chance to walk through Edgar’s; it was far too crowded to do either.  Maybe on some chance Tuesday-night game when there are only 12,000 people there.

I did get to marvel at the new video screen.  Sure is a great way to pump us up with more advertisements!  Here we go, Budweiser, here we go!  Clap clap.

The hydro races were most certainly NOT in mid-season form.  Green won wire to wire!  When does that EVER happen?  Yellow was poised for a breakthru, but it wasn’t to be.

Oh, and a fan ran onto the field!  Those are always fun and exciting.  It was between innings, so I’m sure the Root broadcast was on a commercial break.  I’m also sure that when they came back, Dave Sims probably made some disparaging remark about that fan’s overall jackassery.  I don’t understand the media policy surrounding fans running onto the field.  They have an “America Doesn’t Negotiate With Terrorists” type of stubborn resolve over not showing these people (streakers, athlete kissers, general disruptors) on camera, lest everyone else gets the bright idea that, “If I run out onto the field, I’ll be famous!”  This, in spite of the fact that NOT showing them still doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent.  Also, let’s face it, when someone runs onto the field, people want to see what happens!  They’ll take a break from open-heart surgery to see how this idiot gets tackled and whisked away to Stadium Jail.  Why not show it?  It’s something new and different and obviously the people want to know what’s happening.  Pretending everything is hunky dory and showing random shots of athletes standing around looking confused isn’t exactly the best way to spend five minutes of broadcast time.  Making snarky comments about people you refuse to show on camera, bemoaning how they’re wasting everyone’s time, is also a terrible way to spend your broadcast time.  Just acknowledge it, laugh it off, and let us see the guy get tackled to the turf by four guys in security outfits!

As for the game itself, what am I going to tell you about a 3-0 game over the Astros that you don’t already know?  I was going to rage against the machine if Joe Saunders got anything less than five strikeouts, so bully for him.  He only managed to go 6.1 innings even though his pitch count was at 91 for the day.

I’m telling you, I’ve never seen a manager so giddy about his bullpen.  I hope you like mid-inning pitching replacements, because Eric Wedge is a kid in a candy store, mixing and matching left-handers and right-handers left and right!  Capps came in and continued his blitzkrieg on the rest of baseball.  Furbush got to pitch to one guy.  And Wilhelmsen recorded one of the easiest saves you’re ever going to see.  A 3-0 lead against the Astros shouldn’t even COUNT as a save!  That’s like a 12-0 lead against anyone else!

Regarding the offense, they got five hits.  Saunders and Morales got two apiece in accounting for just about all of our offensive production.  Dustin Ackley got a hit and still managed to finish the day with a sub-.100 batting average.

In fact, here’s a look at our 5-6-7-8 hitters:

  • Kyle Seager
  • Justin Smoak
  • Jesus Montero
  • Dustin Ackley

And here are their batting averages:

  • .167
  • .167
  • .160
  • .087

The future of the Mariners!  The young core that’s going to lead this organization back to the playoffs!  True to the Blue!

Seattle Mariners 2011 Preview, Part 1: The Pitchers

I was going to set this aside as its own post, but then all hell broke loose over the weekend, so I guess I’ll address the Michael Pineda Situation here.

As I said before, I was torn.  More torn on this issue than on any other.  There are too many pro’s and con’s on both sides, so we’ll just list them out here.  To start Pineda in Tacoma:

Pro – let him get a little more seasoning before throwing him into the fire, let him work on perfecting that change-up and any other secondary pitches, and of course saving ourselves a full year of service time by not bringing him up until late May.

Con – risk bruising his ego when he is so clearly among the best 5 starters we have in the organization, risk shattering team morale by making the better move for the organization long-term vs. the better move for winning games right now, and Pineda wouldn’t have access to major league coaches to help him work through problems.

To start Pineda in Seattle:

Pro – he DOES get access to those major league coaches, he gets to face Major League hitting (which should speed up his overall progress, since he’s shown he’s a man among boys in the AAA level), and he gets to mentor under the greatest pitcher of our generation, Felix Hernandez.

Con – maybe he gets roughed up early and has to be sent back down, maybe he strains himself and hits the DL, maybe he tries to rely too much on his fastball and doesn’t develop the secondary pitches he will need to be a bona fide Number 1 starter because he’s too concerned with using what he’s got now to get the outs he needs to STAY a Major Leaguer.

Whew!  That was exhausting.  Anyway, I’ve given it thought, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this will be a good thing in the long run.

Yeah, that full year of service time hurts.  Let’s face it, either way he was going to get the same amount of Major League experience this year before being shut down (as he will be on a strict innings count).  But, you know what?  I like that he made the team out of Spring Training (in his first real attempt).  I like that he’ll be starting with the big ballclub as their #5 man.  No pressure, plenty of down time when we’ve got off-days in between.  And who knows?  Maybe these extra few weeks will be all the difference!

Make no mistake, I’m not predicting Cy Young numbers out of Pineda.  You’re going to see a guy who will probably go somewhere around 11-14 with a 4.78 ERA.  But, within those harsh numbers you’ll see his potential break out.  Remember, this is a team that’s not going to score a lot of runs, so he WILL lose more games than he wins.  Nevertheless, you’ll see some real gems where he goes 7 innings of 2-hit ball.  AND, you’ll see some games where he can’t get out of the third inning.  It happens to the best of ’em.  Hell, King Felix himself had to go through his growing pains.

Pineda will likely start out hot, then the league will figure him out, then towards the end of his season he’ll start making the right adjustments to end on a high note.  I wouldn’t ask for anything more.  Season 2 might bring some more pains, but then by Season 3, he should be a stud.  With Felix and Pineda leading the charge, look for THAT year to be something special in Marinerland.

***

Our rotation as a whole is going to be a REAL mixed bag.  We’ll have Mr. Cy Young, then we’ll have soft-tossing left-hander Jason Vargas.  Then we’ll come back with soft-tossing right-hander Doug Fister, followed by marginally hard-throwing Erik Bedard.  That’s a cool little mix there of Righty, Lefty, Righty, Lefty, Righty.  And I wouldn’t even worry all that much about Felix following Pineda after the first turn of the rotation.  With Pineda, you’re getting gas plain and simple.  Teams will focus in on that, and then Felix will come right out with the wicked bendy stuff to throw them completely off balance.

I’m not predicting anything less than Cy Young material out of Felix this year, so we can pretty much move on.

I want to say that I see bad things for Vargas, but I honestly believe his change up is too big to fail.  He may only throw 87 miles per hour on the fastball, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t come into his own last year.  He strikes me as a very cerebral dude who’s got just enough smarts to out-wit his opponents.

I DON’T want to say that I see bad things for Fister, but in reality he’s going to be this year’s Rowland-Smith.  Fister has had a messy Spring, he didn’t finish the season anywhere NEAR the level he started it, he can’t generate swinging strikes to save his life, and when his pin-point accuracy on the corners of the plate is lacking, he’s the most hittable guy I’ve ever seen.  You’re going to see Fister struggle.  You’re going to see him get more chances than he deserves because the guys in Tacoma (and on the DL) aren’t quite there yet, and you’re going to see Fister struggle even more.  After this season, you’re going to see Fister in another uniform, and after next season you’re going to see him out of baseball.  Count it.

I’m SO happy that Erik Bedard is back.  I think he’s going to give us everything he gave us the LAST time he was healthy!  Which is rock-solid front end of the rotation pitching.  Between him, Felix, Vargas, and every other time with Pineda, we’re going to look MIGHTY good on the mound this year.

***

Until we get to the 7th or 8th innings.

Bullpen is crap!  Print it, post it, put it to bed.

Well, that’s not entirely fair.  But, in the first month or so it’s going to be crap.  Probably.

We’ve got two very young guys in Josh Lueke and Tom Wilhelmsen with all the talent in the world.  They throw hard, they throw in the strike zone, and I have no doubt that they’ll be excellent back-end relievers (and potential closers) in the years to come.  But right now?  Right now they’re rookies.  They’re going to have nights where they’re electric and nights where they implode.

Chris Ray and Jamey Wright are NOT rookies.  They’re as veteran as they come.  Ray is a former closer who’s coming off multiple injuries/surgeries.  Wright is just a guy who’s bounced around the league with marginally good stuff.  These guys will probably pitch the bulk of our 7th and 8th innings when we’ve got a lead (at least until the younger guys step up).  I have no faith in either of these guys getting the job done.  Give the Mariners a 1-run lead in the 7th with this gauntlet of crap and I will bet on the Blown Save every time.

I don’t know a thing about Aaron Laffey except that he throws the ball with his left hand and is not Garrett Olson.  I like him already.

David Pauley is David Pauley.  He started a bunch of unmemorable games for us last season, he didn’t totally destroy his career by posting league-worst numbers, so he got a tryout this Spring and did okay.  Bank on seeing him at some point in the first five games, then bank on seeing him every 10 days or so.  Long relievers have GOT to have the best jobs in baseball.  All you do is come into games where your team is either down by a lot or up by a lot, all you have to do is throw strikes, and if you go 5+ innings while your team makes a miraculous comeback, then you’re a superstar.

Brandon League is our closer RIGHT NOW.  Aardsma will be back, likely, in early May.  Aardsma will also, likely, be traded sometime within the next 12 months.  So, look at April as League’s opportunity to showcase his abilities to get three 9th inning outs.  He better bring his splitter, that’s all I’ve got to say.  And let’s cut back on totally sucking dick in save situations where Felix was the starter, huh?  I WANT to like you, League!  You’ve got magical stuff that every once in a while gets pounded into submission for some reason.  Just don’t get pounded when Felix previously occupied your mound for the first 8 innings!

Predicting The Mariners 2011 Roster

I am well aware that we’re in the infancy of Spring Training, but what else are we going to do for the next few weeks but speculate, speculate, speculate?

Therefore, without further adieu, I give you what I think will be YOUR Seattle Mariners in 2011 (at least, before injuries, cuts, trades, surprise retirements, and jail time set in).

We’ll start with the Starters:

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Erik Bedard
  3. Jason Vargas
  4. Doug Fister
  5. Nate Robertson

First thing’s first:  that fifth starter is easily the weakest position on the team; you better come out of the block on fire if you hope to keep your job after the first couple months.  Because we have hot shot Michael Pineda – who SHOULD be the unquestioned fifth starter, but won’t be because if we start him out in AAA, his years don’t start counting against the organization (in other words, if he started out the season with the big ballclub, he would be a free agent a year sooner, after team control finally ends).

Also, nobody is saying Nate Robertson has anything won; he’s on a minor league contract after all.  There will be a 3-way battle (sans Pineda) between him, Luke French, and David Pauley.  First place gets to rent the fifth starter job, second place gets to be our bullpen long man (and pitch every 11 days or so), and third place gets to go to Tacoma.  And, since Pauley and French are already on the active roster, Robertson will have to heavily impress in Spring Training to be retained for the season.

On to the bullpen (with one minor note that David Aardsma WILL be our closer, but since he just had hip surgery, he might miss the first full month of the season; for the sake of argument, I’m including him in the following projection):

  • Closer:  David Aardsma
  • 8th Inning:  Brandon League
  • 7th Inning:  Chris Ray
  • Set Up:  Josh Lueke
  • Set Up:  Dan Cortes
  • Set Up:  Josh Flores
  • Long Reliever:  Luke French

My guess is, with French’s stability towards the end of last season, his hard work carries over to this Spring where he wins the backup job.  He’s also a left hander, so that will be cool.  Josh Flores is a Rule 5 guy Jackie Z decided to give a shot.  He played last year in A-ball, but he has high upside, so I think we’ll do everything in our power to keep him.  Lueke and Flores are both young up-and-comers who SHOULD win spots (one or both could run into the same Michael Pineda scenario where we try to delay their debuts with the big ballclub; if one has to start in Tacoma, I’d bet on Lueke, since Flores got to see some time with Seattle in September of last year).  Chris Ray is one of a thousand relievers we signed to minor league deals, and his is one of the biggest names (he was an effective closer in recent years, coming off injuries).  The other is Manny Delcarmen, and I have to believe one of those guys is done (my bet is Delcarmen, though he may have the better fastball).  League will probably be our closer until DA returns (with probably Jamey Wright taking up DA’s spot in said meantime).

Like last year, there’s a lot to like about our pitching staff.  Of course, it’s impossible to predict who’s going to tank out of nowhere like RRS did last year, but if things hold serve, having Felix, Bedard, and Vargas as our top three will be pretty impressive.  If anyone regresses, it’ll definitely be Fister, who was unable to keep up his pre-DL production post-DL last year.  He just doesn’t have the fastball, and if he’s not hitting spots with pinpoint precision, then he’s getting crushed and will likely be demoted once Pineda’s ready.  Speaking of Pineda:  when he enters the rotation and we can pump out Felix, Bedard, Vargas, and Pineda … WATCH OUT.  A lot to like about those four guys.

The bullpen is even fascinating in its own right.  Will DA return with a vengeance?  Will League improve upon his up-and-down 2010, where at times he was unhittable and at others he was my worst nightmare?  Will Ray or Delcarmen return to being awesome?  Will Lueke and Cortes make impact names for themselves?

I don’t have nearly the glowing praise of the following hitters, but let’s take a look at the starting nine:

  1. Ichiro – RF
  2. Chone Figgins – 3B
  3. Justin Smoak – 1B
  4. Jack Cust – DH
  5. Franklin Gutierrez – CF
  6. Miguel Olivo – C
  7. Michael Saunders
  8. Jack Wilson – SS
  9. Brendan Ryan – 2B

Limited power!  A lot of strikeouts!  Low batting averages!  Who could want anything more?

A key, as always, will be the 3-4-5 hitters.  Will Smoak take the next step in becoming a bonafide major leaguer?  Will Jack Cust be the designated hitter we’ve been lacking since 2004?  Will Franklin Gutierrez adjust to how pitchers have adjusted to him?  All three of these things need to happen for us to be an adequate ballclub; my guess is we see a lot of shuffling of the 3-4-5 spots like last year.

I see Miguel Olivo batting 6th primarily because he’s probably our 3rd best home run threat after Cust and Gutierrez.  He might even be our 2nd best home run threat.  Go ahead and let that sink in.  I’ll wait.

If you haven’t already taken an overdose of sleeping pills, imagine the black hole our last three spots will be (don’t get up, I’ll go get the bottle).  Ye gods; I have nothing positive to say about any of those guys so I won’t say anything at all.

Our bench is looking like this:

  • Milton Bradley – LF/DH
  • Adam Moore – C
  • Adam Kennedy
  • Ryan Langerhans

My guess is Bradley – because of his contract – and Moore – because we have to develop SOMEBODY at catcher after spending so many high draft picks on them – are locks to make the team.  Adam Kennedy is in a dogfight with Josh Wilson and a bevy of other crappy infielders for that bench spot.  My guess is his old batting form returns enough in Spring Training to earn him a job, only to suck balls once the calendar flips to April (a la Eric Byrnes last year).  Ryan Langerhans is in a similar dogfight with such exciting names as Gabe Gross and Jody Gerut for the backup outfielder spot.  I think he’ll pull it out because … I dunno, I just like him I guess.  And because his last name reminds me of Jagerbombs.

Of note is Dustin Ackley, who will also be a Michael Pineda-esque casualty (only to be brought up mid-season like the other young’uns).  On the one hand, I understand the financial aspect of getting these potential rising stars for an extra year; on the other, this team is HELLA-boring when the kids are in AAA.  Assuming, of course, that we lose upwards of 60% of our games again.  Which likely WILL happen.

So, that’s that; we’ll see how right I am.  By the way, I’m still not ready for baseball to start.  Maybe a little Spring Training buzz will light my fire.

More On Why Milton Bradley Is Such An Ass Clown

A player can be sucky and I won’t INSTANTLY hate him.  Usually, I’ll give a guy a chance to turn things around.  Everyone has a bad month now and then.

It’s when one month turns into two that I start getting annoyed.  If it doesn’t immediately result in reduced playing time, that annoyance turns to rage.

However, there are other factors beyond A. sucking and B. time.  Variables such as salary, attitude, personality, and history all come into play.  For instance, if I knew nothing of Ryan Rowland-Smith last year other than he was a pitcher looking to crack the starting rotation – if I had no opinion of the man whatsoever going in – I would’ve seen a guy having a crappy year.  So, yeah, that sucks.  As chances had it, that guy ended up playing in way more games than he should have.  So, yeah, that’s annoying.  But, since he didn’t make all that much money, my feelings would’ve never gone beyond annoyance. 

For the record, I actually really like the guy and felt legitimately bad that he had to go through such a tough season; and I wish RRS nothing but the best in his new career with the Astros.  Since he was a good guy personality-wise, and he always did interviews after tough losses, and said all the right things to the point where you’d have to genuinely believe him, even that annoyance abated.

Now, let’s take another random example of someone who had a crappy year.  Oh, I dunno, why not Milton Bradley?

Crappy start to season + continued playing time + ridiculous salary figure + one more year stuck with him + age + history of mental breakdowns & ejections & fighting with management + leaves stadium after getting benched + leaves team for psychological help + legal issues stemming from an off-season = Ass Clown.

And then I read about his press conference today from Geoff Baker.  To wit:

Bradley was asked whether he’s fired up about the pending competition.

“Not really,” he said … “Nobody can compete with me. I’m Milton Bradley. I’m at my best. And they pay me a lot of money because I can play. So, I’m not really concerned about all that.”

See, only an Ass Clown would say something like that.  Because, at the moment, Milton Bradley is behind Michael Saunders on the depth chart.  Because, all of last year, Milton Bradley was a huge drain both on and off the field for this organization.  They pay Milton Bradley a lot of money not because he can play, but because he snookered another team into giving him an outrageous amount of money after having one good season after a bunch of injury-plagued (albeit still pretty good) seasons.  And, of course, they pay him a lot of money because previous management paid Carlos Silva a lot of money, but that’s neither here nor there (I wonder how it feels to know you make just about as much as a fat-ass pitcher who couldn’t even make it in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors).

Also, if I could quote from the same post:

Bradley said he’s had multiple conversations with new manager Eric Wedge both here and during the off-season.

“I’m glad he’s here,” Bradley said. “We needed the discipline. Somebody to put a foot in your behind when you need it. We just got a little lax with things the way they were going before and now he’s going to get it back on track the way it needs to be.”

Would that be the kind of discipline where players don’t run off and leave the team because they’ve been benched?  Because, you know, the last manager tried to treat his players like men, then when it came time for punishment, his players in turn acted like fucking babies and revolted.  Just throwing that out there.  Where was this call for discipline last year when you were throwing your tantrums?

I’m sorry, but I’m at the point now where the only way I’m going to even REMOTELY enjoy this guy is if he turns it around in a big way on the field.  But honestly, at this point, I’m almost rooting for him to struggle even more so the team simply cuts him and takes the sunk cost right in the jimmies.  There is one ass clown too many on this team right now; if I’m going to watch the loser I’m anticipating, I’d rather watch the loser full of players I can actually respect.

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 159

King Felix is officially down for the count, per Jackie Z.  Also down for the count?  One Douglas Wildes Fister (not kidding about that middle name).  With 5.1 innings of 13-hit, 6-run ball, Mister Fister finishes the season with a 6-14 record, a 4.11 ERA, 32 walks vs. 93 strike outs, and 171 innings pitched (while missing a month along the way).  If you told me that was his line going into the season, I would’ve said, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”  But, laying that out before me, knowing what I know, it’s a little disappointing considering he’s been under 4 in ERA all year.  ALL YEAR.  In fact, going into his injury spell, he had one of the best ERAs in the American League.  All signs point to regression to his personal mean, which, whatever.  I don’t think he’s quite as locked up as Vargas considering next year’s Opening Week Rotation – I think he’ll still need to show that he’s not regressing too far the other way in Spring Training – but I’m pretty confident we’ll see Fister again.  In some capacity.  Let’s just hope that next season doesn’t see him turn into Ryan Rowland-Smith circa 2010.  At the very least, I’m 50 times more confident going into a new year with Douglas Fister than I am with Ian Snell.  That’s saying SOMETHING.  I don’t know quite what yet, but it’s something.

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 93

And in the dramatic, anti-climactic conclusion to the Ryan Rowland-Smith saga, my boy’s been put on the DL with a back. Apparently, it’s the only way, as I forgot you need these things called “Options” to be sent back down to AAA. Otherwise, you have to clear waivers, and for as bad as he’s been this year, he certainly wouldn’t clear waivers. He’s still a young arm who’s produced in the near-past. Either way, back or no back, I think the break will do him nothing but good. There comes a point in any bad season where it goes beyond the Mental, where no amount of pressing or not-pressing, bearing down or backing off, working on mechanics or just letting it fly will right your ship. At this point, it’s total shell shock, and anyone who’s ever played those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle video games for the NES knows: shell shock leads to utter disaster. Of course, all day yesterday on the various blogs and such, story after story, opinion after opinion, all of them about what a good guy Ryan Rowland-Smith is. Indeed, without knowing him personally, he seems like the guy I’d most want to know personally, in a non-baseball-related capacity. Regardless, I think he knows we’re all rooting for him – anyone who follows the team closely can’t help but. I don’t think it’s a matter of him Needing A Change Of Scenery either. First of all, if you can’t succeed in the pitcher-friendly confines of Safeco Field, you’re probably not going to succeed in most other confines (especially those God-damned confines of whatever they call the field where the White Sox play; Jesus Christ my tumor-riddled dog could hit a home run in that park!). Secondly, with so much of the fan base behind him, it’s not a matter of blocking out all the nay-sayers; we give Ryan Rowland-Smith WAY more slack than we give the likes of Jose Lopez and Rob Johnson. He’s just run into a rough spot; all these hits and home runs he’s given up are totally ruining his night right now. Maybe a little breather’s just the thing. Get out of this downward spiral where every game is the Most Important Game Of Your Career. I still think some “rehab” starts in Tacoma will do him a world of good. There’s nothing that takes the sour taste of getting shelled out of your mouth quite like succeeding against inferior talent.

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 92

Boy, this Mariners team looks to be breaking records left and right (though, the ultimate record of Most Losses In A Season seems to be pretty safe). This time? Most runs given up by a Mariners pitcher in a single game (Ryan Rowland-Smith, tied with Randy Johnson and Jamie Moyer with 11). Something tells me RRS won’t be joining the ranks of the Big Unit and the Ageless Wonder anytime soon. This looks to be the final straw here for my favorite pitcher, but then again I’ve said that a few other times this year to the same effect. But, let’s face it, after a beating like that, you’ve GOT to send him down, if for nothing else than to preserve whatever microscopic shred of self-confidence the kid has. Let him go down to AAA. Let him regain command of the strike zone. Let him pummel on some hacks for the next month. Then, bring him back in September and give him every opportunity to try to catch fire out of the bullpen. This is going to be interesting to see play out. Likely, this defeat last night was his last start in a Mariner uniform. It might have been his last start in the Major Leagues, though I’d be less inclined to bet on that. Looking back over his starting career, any success he saw in abbreviated seasons the last two years were rife with him getting into and out of jams. This year, he seemingly hasn’t gotten out of ANY jams. So, we’ll see. Going into next year, we have Felix, Vargas, and probably Fister. Michael Pineda will certainly get a shot and if he’s anywhere near as dominating in Spring Training as he’s been in Tacoma, he’ll likely crack the #5 spot in the rotation. I have no doubt that Jackie Z will go out in the offseason and pick up another veteran or semi-veteran starter. Meaning that the only way RRS makes the squad next year – besides showing remarkable improvement over this year’s Nagasaki – is if Fister falls on his face. The odds are long for RRS. It starts now with ass kicking in AAA. (by the way, record for most losses: the Cleveland Spiders in 1899 with a 20-134 record; most losses since the 1960s: the ’62 Mets with a 40-120 record. It’s like Ron Fairly said: “Everybody wins 60 games and everybody loses 60 games; it’s what you do with those other 42 games that determines your season”).

The Down & Up & Down Game @ Safeco Field

I would be remiss if I didn’t give THIS game its own post. Especially since I was there and watched nearly all of it.

This game was a joke from the beginning. I knew it, everyone there knew it. I wasn’t taking our chances seriously one bit when I saw Ryan Rowland-Smith vs. John Lackey. No, Lackey isn’t any kind of prize pig, but RRS … against this Red Sox offense … YEEESH.

So, really, it was no surprise that we were down 6-1 in short order. RRS went 6 innings, gave up 5. The bullpen guys came in and – aside from a solo homer in the 7th – pretty much did an amazing job for once. Jamey Wright even went THREE shutout innings! All that aside, this was a pretty standard Mariners game from the first to the eighth.

Except, of course, even with the terribleness of this Mariners offense, you never expect them to get No Hit by the likes of fucking John Lackey. He gave up a run early by giving up a walk, a stolen base, a fielder’s choice, and a passed ball. In the 3rd inning, when we were down 3-1, I mentioned to Nate – mostly as a lark – “We could still be no-hit here.”

Little did I know that into the 8th inning, there we’d be, STILL being no-hit by fucking John Lackey. Oh how I HATE John Lackey, the overpaid son of a bitch. He’s the Barry Zito of the American League and I hope he rots in hell over in Beantown.

I JUMPED for joy as Josh Bard of all people broke up the no-no with a sharp single into Right Center! I clapped not a bit for the pitcher who just lost his bid. I was giddy for the game to end so I could come on here and rub it in Lackey’s face.

Little did I know.

The Sox brought in Manny Delcarmen, as Lackey was already well over 100 pitches after the 8th. This game was all ready to be signed, sealed, and delivered as your Average 2010 Mariners Game. He promptly went and let Figgins get on, then gave up a 2-run homer to Guti. That made it 6-3. THEN, he walked Jose Lopez and saw Milton Bradley reach on an error from the shortstop that could’ve conceivably turned two.

From there, he was pulled in favor of the closer, Ron Crapplebon. Who we hate. As rational and understanding human beings, because he’s a douche.

There was Kotchman’s double to make it 6-4 with runners on 2nd and 3rd. Then the hero of the day Josh Bard drew a tough walk to load ’em up. THEN, with one out, Jack Wilson came to the plate. He bounced one to short, who dumped it to Bill Hall at 2nd for the 2nd out, but the throw to first went wide and two more runs scored to tie it up! Ichiro was walked intentionally, and Figgins couldn’t bring home the win. So we went to extras.

From here, it looked EXACTLY like your Average 2010 Mariners Game. Good pitching for a bit, no hitting, loading the bases with less than 2 out in the 12th and failing to get the run in thank you Jose Lopez I hope you die. Finally, they brought in Garrett Olson, and I knew it was only a matter of time. He would be in there for the long haul, until we started letting reserve players pitch. He managed to go 1 scoreless inning, but couldn’t go two.

The Red Sox scored 2 runs in the top of the 13th with a double to left center. Immediately after, I got up to leave the stadium.

Good game though. Biggest 9th Inning Comeback in Mariners History. Had Terrace Club seats courtesy of Nate Myles Long. A night that was supposed to be a 2.5 hour lopsided Mariners loss turned into one of the more memorable games I’ll probably ever see. And, to be able to say that John Lackey went from No-Hitter to No-Decision just made it all the better.

A Paragraph With The Mariners – 84

It was kind of an ugly series over the weekend, even though we won the last game in extra innings and lost the middle two by 1 run apiece. It just never felt like we were in either of those middle games, with the horrid hitting in Felix’s start and the horrid pitching in Rowland-Smith’s start. Thank Christ for Vargas, with his season-high in strike outs. The fact that it took until the extra innings is a testament to how bad the offense is. Now, I don’t know if Ron Fairly was smoking crack rock when he made the statement, but when the Mariners scored in the 10th inning, he said it was only the 2nd extra-innings run we’ve scored all year. Truth be told, this WAS only the 2nd extra-innings win we’ve accumulated all season, which is supremely sad. FYI, Vargas has 7 Quality Starts in his last 9 (a Quality Start being at least 6 innings pitched and 3 runs allowed or fewer). To compare, Felix has 7 Quality Starts in his last 8 (though, to be fair, Felix has 12 Quality Starts in his last 13, with 4 complete games in that stretch). Did you know Felix’s middle name is Abraham?