There’s No Way For The Mariners To Win Without Increasing Payroll

Every year, it’s the same story. The Mariners have their budget, fans lament about the lack of free agent spending, a certain segment of the media and fanbase pushes back against spending money for the sake of spending money, and ultimately nothing matters because the Mariners win 54% of their games and are able to stay in playoff contention for longer than anyone could’ve reasonably hoped for heading into the season.

Yeah, of course, I don’t want the Mariners to spend a bunch of money on shitty players. That’s not what ANYONE wants, when they talk about the Mariners spending more. But, there’s a difference that no one is referencing. It makes sense to go after productive players still in their primes, even if you have to over-pay to get them here. What DOESN’T make sense is going after broke-ass over-the-hill players who were great 3-5 years ago, but now can barely swing a bat. Jorge Polanco three years ago? Sign me up. Mitch Haniger five years ago (assuming he would’ve been healthy)? Of course I want that! Kolten Wong five years ago, Mitch Garver three years ago, these are all fine players who would’ve been very helpful to the last couple of Mariners squads.

There’s clearly an internal struggle within Mariners ownership between people who want to put a winner on the field, and people who want to be the Tampa Bay Rays. But, how many World Series championships have the Rays won? Zero. How many have they been to? Two, which is obviously infinity more than the Mariners, but in those two World Series appearances, they have combined for exactly 3 more victories than the Mariners. In other words, they were never serious contenders to be champions. It feels like – more than anything else – they caught the Clutch Bug, lucked their way into the finals, and ran into a buzzsaw that was clearly better than them.

I don’t really feel like going back and doing the work right now, but if you go through all the World Series champions, you have to go back to the 2015 Kansas City Royals before you find a winner that was a traditional low payroll sort of team. Before that? I have no idea. The A’s won it all in 1989, but that was over a generation ago; things were a lot different in Oakland in 1989.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but we’re talking about one team in the last – let’s say – 30 years (dating back to the strike) where a low budget team won it all. And, even then, the Royals were 17th in payroll in 2015.

Ready to be sick to your stomach? Guess who’s 17th in payroll in 2024 at the moment.

Clearly, that’s not going to get the job done this year. Once again, the hitting is too shitty. Once again, we have too many holes to overcome. Once again, the margin for error is too razor thin.

What’s shocking to me is that the Mariners still haven’t been swept in a series. What’s far less shocking is that they’ve lost six series in a row. With this most recent one against the Blue Jays, of course you have to blame the bats, but you can also blame Ryne Stanek for blowing the finale by giving up a 3-run bomb in the 7th. Now, we go to San Diego for a 2-game set; I would bet the Taylor Family Farm we get swept in this series, where we’re going up against a team that has almost our exact record. Of course, the Padres’ starting pitchers are nothing special, but that won’t stop them from striking us out a combined 30 times in two games.

Then, it’s a 4-game set against the Angels before FINALLY having this first half come to a close.

I was out of town most of last week, so I didn’t see a second of the Blue Jays series. Nevertheless, I could sure use a break from this team for a few days!

Who Is The Second-Best Reliever On The Mariners Right Now?

We all know Andres Munoz is the first-best reliever on the Mariners; it goes without saying, it’s so obvious. I don’t know where the Mariners would be right now without Munoz, but they’d be considerably worse-off. Maybe even at or below .500.

But, who’s #2? It’s kind of a bummer of a question, because the real answer is the second-best Mariners reliver is on the IL at the moment. It’s probably Matt Brash (if he isn’t actually #1), followed by Gregory Santos. Two of our top three relievers are out of commission, and it’s kind of a steep decline from there.

It’s not fatal, though. This is still a good bullpen. And it has the potential to be great, if Santos comes back, and if we trade for someone like Paul Sewald. But, I think Scott Servais and the Analytics Department do a good job of papering over the bald spots of this group, that might otherwise be in weaker hands if we were just managing this bullpen with our guts, or conventional wisdom.

If you’ve watched the Mariners this year, you know that after Munoz (or, rather, before Munoz, if it’s the 8th inning or earlier), we tend to see Ryne Stanek. He’s the designated #2 in this bullpen. But, is he actually the second-best reliever? Probably not. He has the most experience in high-leverage situations, but I wouldn’t say he’s the #2 guy I trust the most to get me out of a jam, or to bridge that gap to Munoz. Sure, he throws the ball hard – often touching triple digits – but it’s awfully straight and hittable. I would also say his splitter or whatever he throws to get outs isn’t what was advertised. 11 of his 27 appearances has been for less than 1 full inning, often because he’s getting himself into jams that other guys (likely Munoz, for a 4-out or 5-out save) have to get him out of. He has a 4.38 ERA at the moment, and it feels like it could be a lot worse.

Through the first month, I would’ve said Gabe Speier was the second-best reliever (with his sub-1 ERA), but his month of May was pretty atrocious, and now he’s on the IL, so wipe that away.

There’s something to be said for Tyson Miller, who had a nice start to his season as well, but we let him go and now he’s kicking ass for the Cubs.

Tayler Saucedo has good-looking numbers, and has had a few big moments this year (including finishing off the 10th inning in Kansas City for his third save of the season), but for the most part I wouldn’t say he’s coming up in the highest-leverage situations. He’s a nice lefty, but I’m not ready to put him in that upper tier just yet.

There’s a number of journeymen relievers we’ve brought in here, who’ve had varying degrees of success, in spite of finding themselves sort of up and down between the Majors and minors. Austin Voth is probably the best story of the bunch, in that he’s managed to not only stick with the Mariners all year, but is doing pretty well for himself. In the early part of the season, it seemed like he was more of a mop-up artist, but he’s slowly, but surely, finding his way into bigger spots. I still wouldn’t put him in the top two, though.

One very interesting name is Mike Baumann, who we recently picked up from the Orioles. I found it extremely intriguing when I heard on the radio last week that the Mariners’ hitters vouched for him, as he was a tough at-bat for those who’ve faced him. Even though he’s been very good for the Mariners so far, I don’t know if I’m there with him just yet. He seems to have another fastball with not a ton of movement, and without a very distinct off-speed pitch. I’m still on a wait & see approach with him.

Who I think is probably the actual second-best reliever is also the guy I would’ve been least likely to believe to be the second-best reliever heading into the season, and that’s Trent Thornton.

Now, that doesn’t mean I think he’s great or anything. I would still place him firmly in a tier or two below Andres Munoz. I couldn’t possibly tell you how he had a 2.08 ERA with the Mariners last year (after coming here from Toronto in a mid-season trade), except to say his FIP was actually 4.72, which leads me to believe his defense largely saved his bacon, and/or he left a bunch of runners on base only for other guys to pull him out of the fire. Either way, I was largely unimpressed with Thornton last year, and came into 2024 wondering why he was still on the team.

Yet, this year, as things have shaken out, he did very well in low-leverage situations, to the point where he started earning more opportunities in close games that we could actually win! Now, it hasn’t always worked out; he has a 3.62 ERA, after all. But, his FIP is actually 2.86, meaning he should actually have better numbers than he does!

Ultimately, I think Thornton and Baumann are pretty close to the same guys, and maybe even throw Stanek in that bunch. I don’t think any of them have done enough to earn the 8th inning on a regular basis. But, they’re right there, good enough to maybe get a 7th inning every now and again, or to be put into tie games or games where we’re not losing by much and want to just keep it close to see if our offense scores late.

But, if we had to rely on those three guys exclusively in the biggest situations? I think it would be a disaster waiting to happen.

A bullpen is a fragile ecosystem. Guys need to have their roles sussed out. Ideally, we’re able to keep Munoz upright and dominating all year. Ideally, Santos will make his comeback at mid-season and take some of the load off of Stanek and Thornton. Ideally, Logan Evans will get called up at some point and become the next Matt Brash. Even if he does, it won’t start off that way; he’s going to have to earn his high-leverage spots. But, if by season’s end, we can put some space between Munoz and the Stanek/Thornton/Baumann triumvirate, I think we’ll have a nice little unit we can go to war with come playoff time.

In the interim, maybe Thornton keeps getting the job done. Maybe he’s the next Justin Topa. If nothing else, he’s another feather in the cap of this organization’s uncanny ability to get the most out of average-looking guys in the bullpen. Where were these coaches back in the 90’s, when the bullpen was – without question – our biggest Achilles heel?

The Mariners Made A Somewhat Interesting, Minor Trade

It’s a trade so minor, not even Lookout Landing bothered to do a write-up on it (yet).

The Mariners acquired reliever Mike Baumann and minor league catcher Michael Perez from the Orioles, for minor league catcher Blake Hunt.

It kinda feels like that stupid Tik Tok thing, where I’m walking down the sidewalk and talking into my phone … “We’re Mariners fans! Of course we’re going to nit-pick to death even the most minuscule details of every trade!”

“We’re Mariners fans! Of course we believe guys only turn into good baseball players once they’ve left the organization!”

“We’re Mariners fans! Of course we can’t wait for the sweet release of death!”

By the way, I don’t actually have Tik Tok, but I do watch a stupid amount of Instagram Reels. Yet, even I know it’s a Tik Tok thing, because no one in their right mind talks about watching Instagram Reels. But, I digress.

I kinda want to like this deal, but I’ve got my foot caught in some netting that I just can’t pull myself free from. I understand the need to bolster our bullpen. In that sense, the addition of Mike Baumann feels like it at least has potential. Is he remarkably better than Cody Bolton, who was optioned to Tacoma? I dunno, we’ll see. I would say probably, but who knows? He’s been pretty darn good the last two seasons, and he’s only 28. But, if he’s so great, why did Baltimore DFA him recently (leading to this trade, because we wouldn’t be in line to claim him off waivers, given our overall record)? Especially when bullpen is their biggest weakness as a team?

The first thing I look at when it comes to pitchers is their ERA, because I’m a 43 year old man and I’m dumb. The second thing I look at is their strikeouts per 9. I feel like that’s one of the better dummy stats for relievers; shows you what kind of stuff they have and how good of an out-pitch they’ve got.

His ERA numbers are good; under 4 in 2023 and 2024. He had 8.5 SO/9 in 2023, and 7.9 this year (in a much smaller sample size). It’s good. Ideally, you want 9 or more (averaging a strikeout-plus per inning), but that’s fine. I will, of course, have to reserve judgment until I can see him actually pitch in a Mariners uniform, but it seems like this should be a value-add to the team.

What I don’t totally get are these shenanigans with the catcher position. Specifically the backup catcher spot.

We all know Cal Raleigh is great. But, the dude could use a break every once in a while! And the team could use someone who isn’t a total fucking waste of space. If you’re going to back up Cal Raleigh and you’re going to be a black hole in the lineup, the least you can do is be a whiz defensively! But, Seby Zavala is neither a remotely decent hitter, nor a remotely competent backstop. That kid from The Sandlot would be a better alternative!

Before we brought in Zavala, we traded for Blake Hunt (giving up Tatem “Don’t Call Me Lewis” Levins). Levins is still in A-ball with the Rays, so who knows if he’ll ever amount to anything. But, Hunt at least seemed promising. He was in AAA last year with the Rays, and has been a very pleasant surprise for the Tacoma Rainiers so far this year (slashing .293/.372/.533).

You’re telling me, right now, Blake Hunt isn’t an improvement over Seby Zavala? The same Seby Zavala who went into today’s game slashing .188/.212/.344? Frankly, it’s asinine that Zavala is here in the first place, and for what? Because he’s 5 years older than Hunt?

Now, Hunt goes to Baltimore, where he should be a significant improvement over the guy we got for him, Michael Perez. Perez who, at this point, is hardly even a AAA player. He looks as washed up as it gets, which isn’t the worst thing in the world as long as he stays in Tacoma. But, it looks like the Mariners found the one guy in professional baseball who’s more useless than Zavala.

I would take Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham over either of these guys. Hell, I would take Kevin Costner TODAY over them!

I wish I could find information on how much team control the M’s will have over Baumann. From what I could glean, he’s a pre-arbitration player, so that gives us a few years of team control. This only really works out if we can turn him into a leverage arm. With Brash gone, and Santos the biggest of question marks, we’re in desperate need of another leverage arm.

It does NOT work if Baumann is another Austin Voth or Cody Bolton-type. He needs to be better. He needs to slot most of the rest of the arms (not named Munoz or Stanek) down a rung. At that point, I think I’ll find a way to move beyond this backup catcher conundrum.

The Mariners Won An Important Series Against The Royals

The Mariners needed to come home and go 4-2 or better. And that’s just what they did, go 4-2, winning both series against the A’s and Royals. Now, they get Thursday off, before a 10-game road trip in 10 days, followed by another 7 games in 7 days at home. 17 in a row. Why Major League Baseball does this is asinine, but nobody put me in charge of scheduling.

George Kirby got us off to a great start on Monday, going 7 shutout innings, giving up only 3 hits, while striking out 6. There was another stutter by Ryne Stanek, which necessitated an Andres Munoz 4-out save, but we got the job done, winning 6-2.

Ty France had 2 hits, including a late homer to give us some insurance runs. Cal Raleigh also had two hits and an RBI. And, don’t look now, but Luke Raley has been fucking RAKING; he went 3 for 4 with 3 RBI, 2 runs, and a homer. At this point, he’s easily the hottest hitter on the team, and you absolutely can’t keep him out of the lineup.

Tuesday’s game was a bitter pill to swallow, in spite of yet another Luke Raley homer staking us to a 1-0 lead. For a while, it looked like that might be good enough, as Logan Gilbert was on one. But, sadly, with two outs in the 7th, he gave up a 3-run home run to earn the loss.

Julio had a couple hits, and Mitch Haniger finally broke out with a 3 for 3 day with a homer, but a 4-2 defeat was all she wrote.

We managed to win 4-2 on Wednesday. Bryan Woo went 5.1 innings, giving up only 1 run (though leaving with a bit of a jam on his hands in the 6th). Gabe Speier got him out of it, though, and the bullpen was pretty great from there. Except for Austin Voth, who could only manage one out in the 8th, necessitating another multi-inning save from Munoz. This time of the 5-out variety. He did it! But, clearly, the loss of Brash and Santos is going to take its toll sooner or later.

We had another two hits from Raley, another homer from France, and we even saw the return of Dominic Canzone (who hit a double and scored a run). Even better, barring a setback tonight in Tacoma, J.P. Crawford should be back in the lineup on Friday.

We’re really separating the men from the boys on this road trip. The Orioles and Yankees are phenomenal, and the Nationals are hovering around .500. If we can get out of this with a 5-5 record or better, I think that’s huge. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see our pitching start to show some cracks in the armor. With the offense still waiting around for summer to get going.

The M’s Bounced Back Against The A’s

Kind of a weird weekend series for the Mariners. I don’t think ANY of the three games went as we might expect.

Friday night saw the return of Bryan Woo. As it happened, 2024 Woo looked a lot like 2023 Woo. A lot of fastballs, a lot of strikes, pretty reasonable pitch count; on the downside, he ended up getting tight in the fifth inning and had to be pulled (4.1 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 1 walk, 3 K’s). It won’t equate to another IL stint (just yet), but it is pretty concerning. Even more concerning is that this isn’t the first time he’s had this feeling on his way back to full strength.

On the good side, his arm tightened up because he had to rest so long between the fourth and fifth innings, because the Mariners were scoring so many runs. I think it’s a fair trade; give me 8 runs, I’ll suffer a starter not being able to go five full innings. Dylan Moore kicked some fuckin’ ass in this one, going 3 for 4 with a homer and 5 RBI. Ty France bounced back with two hits (including a 2-RBI double), and Luke Raley also chipped in with an RBI double and 2 runs scored.

It was nice to get the win, and not have to use anyone of import out in the bullpen, on what could’ve otherwise been an ugly night. Instead, that ugliness ended up taking place on Saturday, as we lost by an identical 8-1 score.

We were limited to 3 hits and 0 walks, which is how you waste a perfectly good Bryce Miller Quality Start (6 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts). But, the bullpen did us no favors, with Stanek giving up a run, Speier giving up 2 runs, and Bazardo (back from AAA) giving up 3 runs.

The Mariners’ offense bounced right back, though, scoring 8 more on Sunday to win 8-4. Julio had two hits with a homer, Garver also had two hits with a homer, even the backup catcher got in on the action with his first homer of the season. Pair that with a Luis Castillo Quality Start (6 innings, 7 hits, 2 runs, 0 walks, 8 strikeouts) and some competent bullpen work, and you get out of the weekend with a series win.

In other news, I called it with Matt Brash. He had surgery recently and is out for the year. What I wasn’t expecting was Gregory Santos not being back until maybe July. That’s rough. That makes me think this team probably needs to acquire another bullpen arm or two.

In some good news, J.P. Crawford is getting ready to go out on a rehab assignment. And I think I heard something about Dom Canzone swinging a bat down in extended spring training. So, you know, that’s something.

It Sure Seems Like Matt Brash’s Season Is Over

We got some bad news in the last week or so, with word coming out that Matt Brash had a setback in his recovery. They shut him down in Spring Training, to rest his arm in the hopes that he’d maybe be back a month into the season. Things were going according to plan, as he ramped himself back up to throwing normally in bullpen sessions. He was all ready to go out to Tacoma or wherever for a rehab assignment, when it was announced that his arm wasn’t recovering like it’s supposed to after throwing his bullpens. They shut Brash down again, this time sending him to some specialist down in Texas.

We haven’t heard anything yet about the findings, but it sure feels like Brash isn’t going to make it back. Either he needs surgery and his year is over, or they’re going to keep dicking around with us – hoping that more rest and rehab will do the trick – before he ultimately gets shut down again and has to have surgery anyway. Just get the surgery! If you need it, just get it, because otherwise if you wait, it’s going to cost you part or all of 2025 too.

This is, obviously, a severe blow to the 2024 Mariners. Brash was projected to be our best reliever this year, maybe even one of the best in all of baseball. There was always that possibility, anyway. That he’d make 70+ appearances and have a sub-2 ERA, with 100+ strikeouts and a ton of high-leverage holds and saves. No one else you’d replace him with has anything close to his level of ability. And, to boot, this puts more stress on guys like Munoz and Stanek, who have proven to be hittable; saying nothing of Gregory Santos, who is also still on the IL and whose timeline is still very much TBD.

Ultimately, it’s a huge bummer. I would’ve loved to have seen what this team looks like with four elite, top-end relievers doing their thing down the stretch and in the playoffs. That might still happen, but if it does, it’s going to require the Mariners making a deadline deal and probably shelling out more money than they look like they’re willing to spend.

Or, they’d have to do something that makes them even more uncomfortable, and that’s turning one of their hot-shit young arms into a bullpen guy.

I find it utterly fascinating that – by all accounts – the notion of Bryan Woo being converted to a reliever is a non-starter. Maybe they’re smart to keep him where he is, and I’ll be made to look the fool as he develops into an ace-level talent one day. But, it’s not like Brash is going to be the only reliever injury we’re going to see this year. And you’re telling me Woo wouldn’t be fucking awesome as a 1-inning guy, letting it rip and blowing it by guys in the late innings?

I’m not necessarily saying that we need to be doing this right away. Of course, I would prefer the Mariners to keep their six starters stretched out and available. As we’ve already seen with Woo’s spring injury, it’s hard to keep pitchers off the IL. When Woo is ready to come back to the Mariners, Hancock SHOULD go down to Tacoma and continue starting. We should have him working on his secondary pitches, knowing full well that we’re going to need him back up here again at some point.

But, I find it hard to believe that we can’t even broach the subject of Woo as a reliever. If the rotation holds up the rest of the way, maybe Woo has some sophomore struggles here and there, we get into August and the bullpen needs a jolt … wouldn’t that be the perfect opportunity for him to just slide in there and be a 6th or 7th inning guy for a while? Maybe, as he has success and gains confidence, we can use that arm in higher leverage situations once – God forbid – the playoffs roll around and we need the extra arms in that capacity.

It’s ridiculous to me that Woo as a reliever won’t happen because he’s never done it before. That’s idiotic to me! If that were a legitimate reason, nobody would ever do anything else than what they’ve already done! It’s asinine!

I dunno, it’s a long season. Seems dumb to get all worked up over something like this, when we don’t know what’s going to happen. I just keep thinking about how good Woo might look as a reliever, and with Brash now on the shelf, it seems like a no-brainer to me. We’ve converted much better-looking starters into relievers with pretty good success, including Brash himself! Why not Woo? Yes Woo can!

The Mariners Are Playing Like A Playoff Team Right Now

That’s a great Atlanta Braves team right there, probably the eventual N.L. East champions and maybe even a World Series participant this season. And the Mariners just beat them two out of three games.

I wouldn’t say it was easy. In fact, if a couple things happen differently, there’s a reasonable argument to be made that the M’s should’ve been swept. But, our pitching did its job and the hitting did just enough. This felt a little bit like playoff baseball, or what people think “playoff baseball” looks like in the regular season. How soon we forget what it ACTUALLY looks like, which is starters going MAYBE five innings, and their very best relievers working repeatedly on zero days rest. That’s not what this was. This was relying on your starters to go 7 dominant innings. This was getting awesome production from everyone in your bullpen, not just the top two guys. And, sure, there was a 5-out save sprinkled in, but there was also no chance he was going to appear in any other game this week.

We kicked things off on Monday with a thrilling 2-1 pitcher’s duel. Bryce Miller bounced back to go 7 strong, holding one of the better lineups we’ll see all year to 2 hits, 1 run, and a walk, while striking them out a whopping 10 times. Unfortunately for Miller, he had to settle for the no decision, because the M’s were held hitless through 7 innings and scoreless through 8. Ultimately, all it took to win this one was a bloop (by Polanco) and a blast (by Garver), to walk it off and give our newcomers something to celebrate.

Tuesday’s game was almost as impressive, with Luis Castillo also going 7 strong, holding them scoreless on 3 hits and a walk, with 7 strikeouts. For those keeping track at home, Castillo had three pretty crummy starts to kick off the season (12 runs in 15.2 innings) and four straight quality starts to follow (5 runs – 4 earned – in 26 innings). An ERA that was pushing 7 is down under 4 where it belongs.

We almost gagged that one away, though, with another brutal outing by Stanek, who got one out in the 8th and gave up 2 runs in the process. As he clearly didn’t have it, we hustled Munoz in there to get us out of the jam (though he did give up an inherited runner, and very nearly blew the save then and there). Once that nightmare subsided, Munoz had a relatively easy go of it in the 9th, to get his fifth save of the season.

The Mariners did all their damage before the fifth inning, with a 2-run Polanco homer kicking things off in the third, and a Moore RBI double in the fourth to give us the cushion we needed. Unfortunately, that clutchness failed us on Wednesday, as we lost 5-2, while being held to 2 for 11 with RISP.

I’ll be honest with you, I predicted a Mariners loss heading into that game, given all that happened leading up to it. I knew Munoz wouldn’t be used. I was pretty sure Stanek would be given some rest. That meant Speier would be held back unless we had a late lead for him to protect. Also Known As: we’d be getting the back-end of our bullpen, and a shaky Emerson Hancock, to try to keep the Braves at bay.

What I didn’t see coming was a brutal Haniger flat-out drop of a can of corn in right that led to four unearned runs in the 4th. Hancock couldn’t get out of the jam, and we were down 5-0 as a result. However, the bullpen kept the Braves scoreless from there, which is phenomenal! If we didn’t have that drop, maybe we sweep with another 2-1 victory. Or, if the offense had a little more going for it, maybe we pick Haniger and Hancock up and win it a little ugly.

But, it’s hard to be too upset about a series victory against a team like the Braves. They’re GOOD, and we hung right there with them. That has to be a confidence boost for a team that’s coming back from a horrendous first couple weeks of the season.

6-10 was our record midway through April. We’ve since won 11 of 15 games – largely on the strength of our pitching – to pull ourselves up to 17-14 and in first place in the A.L. West. Now, we’ve got an off-day, followed by a weekend series down in Houston. Then, it’s four games in Minnesota next week, who are on a major hot streak of their own after a slow start.

You can just feel the baseball oozing off of this season.

The Mariners Are Down J.P. Crawford, Continue To Win Anyway

There’s definitely an argument to be made that this isn’t really any big loss. J.P. Crawford – like most Mariners hitters – is off to an excruciatingly slow start. .198 batting average, .296 on-base percentage, four extra-base hits in 22 games, and there’s even been some defensive lapses that might not show up in your average stat sheet, but have still hampered this team at times.

That being said, other than Julio or Cal, J.P. is the guy we can least-afford to lose time. He plays the toughest defensive position, he’s our leadoff hitter, he’s one of the few competent lefty bats we have on the roster, and in spite of his slow start, I fully expect him to turn it around anytime he gets back on the field.

What’s even worse, though, is his injury. The dreaded Oblique Strain. Depending on how lucky you are, you’re either out for a month, or a year and a half if you’re Mitch Haniger. There’s luck involved, there’s giving it time to heal, there’s walking that tightrope of not rushing it and making it worse, while still getting your body back into baseball shape in order to not miss too much time, when every single game matters. Honestly? I’d rather he just kicked a water cooler and gotten hurt like Jarred Kelenic did last year; at least there’s a viable timeline you can follow, when you know he’ll be back in your lineup. J.P. Crawford could be back before the end of May, or he could have to wait until September. Or he could come back, play a while, re-injure it, and find himself once again down for the count.

So, NOT IDEAL.

Yet, the Mariners managed to go 1-1 against the Rangers without him, and 2-1 against the Diamondbacks. Heading into the Braves series, we were up to 15-13 and in first place in the A.L. West!

Of course, we’re talking about a team that’s absolutely laying the league to waste with its pitching. There was a 4-0 shutout in game one against Texas, with Logan Gilbert going 6.2 innings. There was a 5-1 loss in the middle there, with Bryce Miller getting roughed up a bit. But, we came right back to win 4-3, with another Luis Castillo Quality Start, and some more shut down bullpen work.

We won our fourth consecutive series by taking the first two against the Diamondbacks (sans Paul Sewald, who has started this season on the IL). Game 1 was a 6-1 blowout (thanks in large part to a Haniger Grand Slam), with Emerson Hancock going 6 innings and giving up just the one run. In game 2, we won 3-1 behind another George Kirby masterpiece (7 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts). Even though we took a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning of game 3, we couldn’t quite lock it down, losing 3-2. Nevertheless, Gilbert went 6.1 innings, giving up two of the runs, striking out 9 along the way.

This team is in an interesting groove right now. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I totally believed in the pitching. I mean, I figured it would be good, but not good-enough, you know? Like, they’d keep us in games, but ultimately the offense would be their undoing. I think part of that disbelief has to do with the bullpen, which has been the biggest pleasant surprise of the young season so far.

All the way up and down that bullpen, you’re seeing some phenomenal numbers! Who knew Gabe Speier had this kind of dominance in him? Who saw Trent Thornton bouncing back after looking like ass for most of his career? Look at what we’re getting from guys like Cody Bolton, Brett de Geus, Tayler Saucedo, and Austin Voth! They all have ERAs under 3. We’ve seen some cracks in the armor of guys like Andres Munoz and Ryne Stanek, but they’re still – by and large – throwing flames and getting us out of big spots more often than not (their numbers are nothing to sneeze at either, also in the sub-3 ERA range).

What does that mean? Well, for one thing, we’re not having to over-work our starters. We’re able to pull them before they turn into pumpkins, without giving up the game entirely. They can focus on being economical with their pitches and just getting through six innings.

Everyone said this pitching staff – particularly the rotation – would keep the Mariners afloat. But, they’re doing so much more. They’re REALLY kicking some fucking ass! It’s all so much better than I ever could’ve imagined. And, not for nothing, but Bryan Woo is one or two more rehab starts away from coming back. We have SIX stud starters, when most teams struggle to even have three!

There’s still a lot of work left for this offense to start pulling its weight. It’s not helping that we’re forced to make Dylan Moore an everyday player. But, at some point, they’re going to have to get it together, if we want these Mariners to truly contend for a playoff spot.

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.