The Mariners Finally Won A Series

We can’t sit here and say the Mariners finally flipped a switch and now all the hitting woes are solved. I will say, however, that we saw some signs of life. We saw better approaches at the plate. We saw guys start to lay off of those breaking pitches out of the zone; not ENTIRELY, of course, there were still plenty of strikeouts to be had by everyone. But, we saw competent Major League at bats throughout the lineup, which was encouraging.

How much of that derived from poor Reds pitching? That remains to be seen. But, I will say that the way we were inflating pitch counts from their starters is going to be the way we win ballgames going forward. It doesn’t make sense for this team to have a swing-first attitude. There’s not enough power, and frankly not enough bat-to-ball skills, for that to be our plan of action. No, we need the opposite approach. We need to be patient. We need to foul off pitches, take our walks, and take these starters out of games in five innings or less.

Thankfully, with how good our pitching can be, we can scrape by with this meager run support. Three more Quality Starts – running the streak to seven straight games – led the way to holding the Reds to 5 runs in three games.

George Kirby got off the schneid on Monday, going 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 5 hits, with 6 strikeouts. This was the game where the run support was decidedly NOT meager; 9 runs! Can you even fathom it?! Haniger had a double and a homer (3 RBI), Polanco had a 3-run bomb to go along with 3 runs scored; Luke Raley had two hits, including a triple. Everyone in the lineup had at least a hit or a walk. We scored early, we piled on late, it was almost the perfect game.

We got back to our old tricks on Tuesday, edging the Reds out 3-1. Logan Gilbert went 6.2 innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits and a walk, with 6 strikeouts. Haniger, J.P., and Julio had two hits each. Newcomer Jonatan Clase – who got the start in left in all three games this series – had his second consecutive game with a hit, this time an RBI double. And, we shot all of our high-leverage bullpen bullets to lock it down. Andres Munoz had to get 4 outs again (we’re really relying on him to do that a lot so far in the early going; Brash and Santos can’t return soon enough), spanning the game from Logan’s final inning to the 9th. Unfortunately, Stanek couldn’t quite get the save, as he had to be pulled after getting two outs. But, Saucedo finished the job, as we all believed he would (and certainly did NOT believe he was going to add gasoline to the fire of this impending blown save).

The Mariners wrapped up the sweep thanks to another Bryce Miller sterling outing. 6 innings, 1 run on 1 hit and 1 walk, with 7 strikeouts. The lone hit was a solo homer by the best player on the Reds, Elly De La Cruz, but thankfully we had some firepower of our own. Raleigh, Garver, and Rojas each homered to account for our first three runs. This was Garver’s first in a Mariners uniform, which was nice to finally see. Julio had a couple of doubles. And Clase even had a walk and a run scored!

I’m not trying to jinx him or anything, but it does finally feel like Julio is working his way out of the slump. He’s starting to go the other way at the plate, he’s finding more barrels to balls, and his defense has been absolutely superb this season. Other than that memorable ball over the fence he couldn’t quite bring back (even though he got a glove on it), he’s been a dynamo in center, and almost single-handedly won us that game on Tuesday, throwing De La Cruz out at third base before Jake Fraley could score at home, and running down a number of would-be doubles in the gaps.

This puts us at 9-10, with a series against the hapless Rockies down in Colorado this weekend. If ever there was a time to defy expectations and find a way to blow it, now would be it. A good team would take this winning streak to 6 games. I suspect that won’t even remotely be the case.

The Mariners’ Everything Looks As Bad As Expected

I don’t know what we’re doing here. We can’t string together back-to-back quality starts to save our lives, our defense is a God damn trainwreck, we’re still sucking at the plate as per usual. It’s all bad. Everything about the Mariners is bad. We’re somehow 4-6, but it feels like we should be 0-10.

The first game in Milwaukee showed some promise. But, just as much – if not more – left us with a lot of doubts. After an incredible first start to the season, Logan Gilbert gave up three bombs (4 runs total) in 5.2 innings. What’s worse is that the offense FINALLY came alive in the top of the sixth – to tie the game at 3-3 – only for Logan to give up a homer in the bottom half. We somehow managed to bridge the game down just one run in the bottom of the 8th, when Ryne Stanek – our second-best reliever – gave up three hits to give the Brewers a little extra cushion.

All that being said, credit where it’s due, the offense rallied again – this time in the top of the 9th – to score twice and force the blown save to tie the game at 5-5. Unfortunately, with Julio standing at second, Mitch Haniger couldn’t get him home. We were stuck going with our first-best reliever – Andres Munoz – who promptly walked four guys around just the one strikeout, to walk-off-walk the game to its conclusion.

On Saturday, we got probably the best start of young Bryce Miller’s career: 7 shutout innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts, on only 78 pitches. To much fan consternation, Scott Servais didn’t let him go out for the 8th, but honestly I get it. It’s his second year in the pros, he was heading into the heart of the order for the third time, why ruin a perfectly fine boost of confidence?

The second-guessers were nearly proven right, though, as the bullpen immediately turned a 4-0 lead into a 4-3 nailbiter. We did manage to add an insurance run before Munoz took another crack at pitching in a Major League Baseball game, which he passed with flying colors. Because obviously a guy in a save situation is going to try harder than a guy in a tie game.

Still looking for our first series win of the season, the Mariners had a third consecutive game where a pitcher on our staff got absolutely abused. In this case, Emerson Hancock got obliterated, from the moment he stepped on the mound. We squeezed 3.1 innings out of him, but he gave up 8 runs on 11 hits, with 1 walk, and 6 strikeouts. Caught a lot of the plate, was WAY too fastball-heavy early in the game, and his breaking pitches stunk (hence the over-reliance on the heater). Tayler Saucedo ate up 2.2 innings of shutout ball, but otherwise this was the SECOND time Josh Rojas has had to come in to pitch in a blowout, for those keeping track at home. 10 games, two Josh Rojas pitching appearances. That’s how our season is going.

It’s just so fucking demoralizing to follow this team. Every time you want to believe, they slap you with a big, fat dose of reality: the Same Ol’ Mariners are always gonna Same Ol’ Mariners. The hitting is always going to stink. Crappy defense is a new wrinkle, but at the same time not totally unprecedented. Recall back to the “glory days” of Jackie Z, when he kept bringing in the Mark Trumbos and Jesus Monteros of the world. Sacrifice a little defense in the hopes that the offense will more than make up for it. Except, SURPRISE, in Seattle that offense doesn’t play, and now you get crap defense to boot!

What I’m struggling with the most has to be the pitching. And you can’t even blame bullpen injuries for this. We’re two turns through the rotation; every starter has had one good game and one crap game, except for Luis Castillo – ostensibly our ace – who has TWO crap games (more on him in a few days, after I write about his latest fucking debacle). That kind of inconsistency isn’t going to cut it. Not with the way the hitting is going to forever struggle, and not with the way the defense is going to give teams extra outs.

We’re 23rd in ERA. We have 3 Quality Starts in 10 games. We’re middle of the road in WHIP. We’re tied for the 4th-most home runs given up (7 of the 10 games played in Seattle!), and we have the 8th-highest opponent batting average. And these are just the run of the mill dummy stats; I’m sure analytics aren’t looking at the Mariners too kindly either.

But, you know, that’s Mariners baseball. It’s a shit sandwich, all the fucking time, forever.

The Mariners’ Offense Looks As Bad As Expected

The Mariners came out of that 4-game Red Sox series with a 2-2 split. It’s probably as good of an outcome as we could have expected, considering one of those wins came 1-0, and the other necessitated overcoming a 2-run deficit in the bottom of the 10th inning (after the game was tied 1-1 through regulation). By all rights, that should’ve been a 4-game sweep with the Mariners losing all four, but here we are.

We scored 10 runs in four games, so that’s not ideal. After that first game, the pitching started to come alive, but as you’ll see, there’s a difference between the high-end pitching, and everyone else.

George Kirby is the best pitcher on this team. He came out on Friday and dominated, throwing 6.2 scoreless innings, giving up 2 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 8. Speier got him out of the 7th inning with our lead intact, Stanek got two outs in the 8th, and Munoz got the 4-out save to preserve our first win of the season. J.P. Crawford hit a solo homer in the 6th for our only scoring of the day.

Saturday was another pitching-heavy day, with Logan Gilbert going 7 innings, giving up just the 1 run. He looked equally as phenomenal as Kirby, giving up 4 hits, 1 walk, while striking out 8. Lots of great movement on his pitches, with only one little mini-jam that he was able to work out of in the 5th.

The bullpen kept things square at 1-1 through nine innings. The M’s scored in their first and final frames in this one. Haniger hit an RBI single in the bottom of the first to kick off the scoring. Then, we did absolutely nothing until the 10th. We needed that 10th inning explosion, because Trent Thorton made his first 2024 appearance and looked A LOT like 2023 Trent Thornton, promptly giving up 2 runs (1 earned, 1 inherited) in 0.2 innings before being relieved. Thankfully, we kept the damage to 2 runs, and we mounted our first (and, to date, only) extended rally of the season, punctuated by Julio Rodriguez’s first-ever game-winning hit of any kind (in this case, a single to right to score Rojas from third).

The good vibes couldn’t extend to Sunday, as the Mariners had no juice whatsoever, losing 5-1. Bryce Miller gave up 4 runs in 5 innings, and the offense had nothing going.

In total, the Mariners struck out 45 times in their first four games. That’s third most in all of baseball, and one of the teams ahead of us – the Dodgers – have already played two more games. So, you know, not great. Everything we heard about this offseason revolved around cutting down on strikeouts.

As for the offensive implosion, we hired this “Offensive Coordinator”, which sounds like one of those moves a team makes that is – within a year – roundly mocked for being as stupid as we all expected it to be coming into the season. He was supposed to help our hitting coaches to – among other things – get this offense going EARLIER, so we’re not totally flailing at the plate in April and May. Well, today’s April 1st, so maybe his job didn’t quite get started for those pesky March games.

I dunno, does Boston have great pitching? They didn’t seem all that impressive to me. But, regardless, we’re second-to-last in batting average, dead last in OBP, second-to-last in slugging, and the only reason we’re not dead last in runs scored is because the three teams below us have only played three games.

I get it, it’s one series. It’s so damn early. There’s plenty of time for things to get going. But also, until these guys start performing, all they’re going to do is confirm our worst suspicions about this team. Which is only going to rile up the fanbase that much more.

I wouldn’t say I feel great about the Mariners right now. But, I also wouldn’t say my opinion has changed from this time last week. It’s a long season. Let’s just hope it’s not also a LONG season.

2024 Seattle Mariners Preview Extravaganza Part I: Run Prevention

It’s interesting how opinions can shift. Just two months ago, I was ranting and raving about the F-grade the Mariners deserved for this offseason (not necessarily the grade Jerry Dipoto & Co. earned, but the organization as a whole, starting first & foremost with ownership). Since then, it should be pointed out, three very important personnel moves were made. We traded for Jorge Polanco to shore up second base. We traded for Gregory Santos to shore up the back-end of our bullpen. Then, we signed Ryne Stanek after it became clear Santos (and Brash) wouldn’t be healthy enough to break camp with the Mariners out of Spring Training. You’re talking about some much-needed depth, and you’re also talking about – when healthy – a team that should at least hang around.

On top of those moves, the other thing that’s happened in the subsequent two months since I wrote that post is that the Mariners have had their entire Spring Training session. We have some more information than we did before. Even though we’re all loathe to talk positively about numbers, you can’t help but feel at least a little warm and fuzzy about hitters mashing the ball, and the stuff from your pitchers starting to come around.

I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve done a complete 180 on this team. But, between the additional moves, the exhibition performance, all the pundits and analytics being more bullish than bearish on this team, and the general optimism of spring and the new season directly before us, it’s hard not to have that … whatever the opposite is of cloud your thinking. Clear? Sunny up? They’ve gone and sunnied up my disposition – without my consent, I might add – and I’m not sure how to reconcile those feelings from two months ago.

You know what I hate? Being everyone’s “dark horse”. You know what else I hate? Being suckered into this fucking team, only for them to fall flat on their asses.

So, I’m trying to shut all that noise out and just focus on what my brain tells me. For starters, I have to give the usual caveat: all of this prognostication assumes we have an average amount of health (or better). Every team deals with injuries. Even the very best teams have to endure stretches where it feels like the baseball gods are whooping them with the ugly stick. The Rangers last year – World Series champions – had a spell in the second half where it looked like they might fall apart. But, they picked themselves up, steamrolled through the playoffs, and the rest was history. But, obviously, everyone remembers the 1996 Mariners, where Randy Johnson was lost for most of the year, and we also lost a good month from Ken Griffey Jr. Teams can’t endure the loss of their two best players for extended stretches and still hope to compete. If the 2024 Mariners lose Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez, no one is going to sit there and say, “Well, that’s just an average amount of baseball injuries.” It’s debilitating!

With that out of the way, let’s get going here. Since all I want to talk about is the hitting, we’re going to save that for Part II tomorrow. Right now, let’s get into the pitching and (a little bit on the) defense (at the end).

Baseball is tricky. You can’t sit there and say, “So and so is the most important guy on this team, and without him playing great, we have no chance.” It’s not football with the quarterback position. It’s not basketball with whoever your superstar is. Baseball is too much of a team sport. Yes, you need your stars to play well, but one guy can’t do it all. If that were the case, Mike Trout would be a champion countless times over.

You can’t even pin it all on a single pitcher, though I’ll contend until my dying breath that there’s nothing quite like an ace to dominate (particularly down the stretch of a pennant race). But, with the 2024 Mariners, we’re not even close to talking about them being contenders without this pitching staff, and especially this starting rotation. They’re the straw that stirs the drink. The most important aspect of this team, by far.

I don’t think you’re going to find a more talented one through five in Major League Baseball – nor one with a higher upside – than the one the Mariners are going to throw out there this seaason. Luis Castillo and George Kirby, right now, are among the best starters in all of baseball, and Logan Gilbert isn’t too far behind. And the pure, raw stuff of Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, and Emerson Hancock (who is slotting into Woo’s spot while he starts the season on the IL with a little bit of arm inflammation) makes them more than the ideal 4 & 5 starters. There’s the kind of potential that we just saw in the first couple of seasons with Kirby and Gilbert! Now, obviously, that’s no guarantee they’re going to turn into bona fide All Stars, but if the worst thing you can say is that the guys projected to be in the back of your rotation – with mid-to-high 90’s fastballs with tons of movement and some promising off-speed pitches – are going to get hit around every now and then, that’s a pretty great problem to have.

Do you know how many teams have absolute bums in the back-end of their rotation? Do you know how many teams are relying on soft-tossing journeymen a la Marco Gonzales to simply eat up innings? Meanwhile, the Mariners have nothing but power arms fisting their way through opposing lineups; it’s outstanding!

Obviously, the knock against the rotation is the lack of depth. But, what team doesn’t have that problem? With Hancock, I’ve already listed six guys who we like. The top three guys are better than most other teams have in their ace spots; and the bottom three guys are better than most every other team’s back-end. If those other teams suffer rotation injuries, I can only imagine the drop-off in quality!

The fact of the matter is, the Mariners are uniquely positioned to withstand the injury bug every now and then. Obviously, it would be ideal if we can get through the next couple months without losing any more starters – to give our bullpen an opportunity to heal up. But, with our home stadium, with our marine layer, and eventually when we get our bullpen figured out, I don’t have a big problem ceding a few outings to a Quad-A starter every now and then. Let him five & dive and hope your offense is up to the task to win a squeaker.

Now, that bullpen does come with some questions. I think we’re all in agreement that when our studs get healthy, a top four (in whatever order you choose) of Santos, Brash, Stanek, and Munoz, is as good as it gets. Again, in all of Major League Baseball. At that point, it almost doesn’t matter who else you put out there. Saucedo and Speier are reliable-enough. Trent Thornton could conceivably be due for a bounce-back, after having a full offseason in our throwing program. And, I’m sure there are plenty of under-the-rader arms in our organization who are poised to be the next Justin Topa or Paul Sewald. Until this unit lets me down, I have to believe we have what it takes to get the job done in the bullpen.

If this team is going to get back to the playoffs, it’s going to be on the arms to get the job done. For as good as they are, it would be helpful if the defense could pick things up behind them, but we’ll see.

By all accounts, we’re going to take a serious step back defensively. Which is kind of shocking, if I’m honest. I always remember Mitch Haniger being better than average. Has he really taken such a dive with age and injury? If he has, that’s a problem, because we’re clearly not as good in left field with the loss of Kelenic. I don’t even know if Luke Raley is competent out there! We might be on the hook for Super Utility Dylan Moore more than we’d like (that is, if he’s not covering for third base).

Speaking of which, is Luis Urias the worst defensive third baseman in baseball? We’ll find out! He sure as shit seems to be worse than Suarez. And I don’t know if Rojas or Moore are much better. Also, what are we going to get out of Polanco at second?

Seems like the potential for a lot of holes. That being said, I don’t care how old Haniger is, there’s no WAY he’s worse than Teoscar Hernandez. We still have Julio and J.P. And our catching figures to be among the best in baseball as well (or, at the very least, the most underrated).

I don’t know if we can count on this defense to carry us. But, as long as it isn’t a total hindrance, then the run prevention half of this team should be among the best in the American League. Certainly good enough to get us to the post-season.

Now, will the hitting do its part? Check back tomorrow (and the rest of this regular season) to find out!

The Mariners Signed Ryne Stanek

I’m at a loss for words. How did the Mariners stumble into signing Ryne Stanek? Why was he still available in the first place? Why didn’t the Astros make a bigger push to bring him back? How did we get him for so cheap and on such a short deal?

It’s reportedly a 1 year, $4 million contract, with $2 million in incentives. That is flabbergasting! There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. There are around eight relievers per team on any given 26-man roster. You’re telling me that NOBODY could’ve used Stanek’s services?

It’s crazy to me that the Mariners, of all teams, got him to sign. With our money issues, I just never would’ve expected it!

I guess the reason why he was available is twofold. For starters, apparently his original asking price was way too high. And, accordingly, I think teams might’ve been a little scared by his 2023 season. In 2022, Stanek was one of the best relievers in baseball (1.15 ERA in 59 games); but, those numbers drastically inflated last year (4.09 ERA in 55 games). I would also say there’s probably cause for concern with a pitcher who’s going to turn 33 years old in July, who has appeared in 186 regular season games across the last three seasons (with an additional 21 post-season games in that span). You’re talking about 69 appearances per season on average!

You have to come with a little perspective on a move like this. I think it’s safe to say we’re heading into the downside of his career. There’s a nonzero chance he’s cooked. He walks a lot of guys, his FIP is inflated, his K per 9 innings have declined the last couple years, and he’s going from a terrific defensive team in Houston to a very sketchy one in Seattle (lookin’ at you, third base and corner outfield).

But, on the flipside, he averaged over 98 miles per hour on his fastball last year, he has two amazing out pitches, he has reverse platoon splits, he has all that playoff experience, AND I feel like he’s got some extra motivation with the way the Astros just let him walk without really making any effort to keep him.

For the Mariners, it’s a no-brainer. Maybe other teams can be a little more discerning with their bullpen choices. But, we already had a CONSIDERABLE need to add to our bullpen, and that’s before all the arm issues with Matt Brash and Gregory Santos (that are going to put both of them on the IL heading into the regular season). You know what I haven’t heard about so far in Spring Training? The one or two From Out Of Nowhere guys who are supposed to make a big impact. Carlos Vargas, by all accounts, has been wild. Jackson Kowar has been shut down with arm soreness. None of the other fringe candidates have really popped.

The Mariners already have a hard-enough time winning games in April and May with their hitting consistently slamming down on the snooze button until the weather warms up. We can’t afford to ALSO have a piecemeal bullpen costing us important early-season wins. Stanek should hopefully alleviate some of those concerns, bridging this team until Brash and Santos come back.

Then, assuming no further injuries derail this season, you’re talking about a 4-headed monster at the back of that bullpen with Brash, Munoz, Santos, and Stanek. In that situation, Stanek is either your third or fourth option! You shouldn’t necessarily NEED to overwork him! Thereby, ideally, getting the most out of him, while preserving him for a late-season playoff push.

I’m more than willing to dismiss his 2023 numbers, because relievers are always so volatile. Also, it’s not like we’re committing to him longterm. If he comes here and stinks, eating $4 million isn’t so bad.

I couldn’t be more thrilled with this move. Which probably means it’s going to bite us in the ass, because that’s what always happens with the Mariners. This doesn’t change the major faults with this roster’s construction (still lookin’ at you, third base and corner outfield), but hopefully this is one less hole we have to worry about. Every little bit helps, when you’re a team like the Mariners and you’re projected to be right there on the playoff fringe. It’s all about pitching – while hopefully getting Just Enough out of your hitting – and so you really can’t have too many live wire arms in your arsenal. In that sense, Ryne Stanek is the perfect move for this very team.

How did we get so lucky?