The Mariners Had Some Trouble Against The Rockies

The Mariners lost the first two games of the weekend series against the Rockies, and it wasn’t even close.  Losing 7-1 and 5-1, only to win the finale 6-4 is a big reason why we’re only +17 in run differential in spite of the fact that we’re 23 games over .500.

Of course, in the two defeats, we had injuries to contend with.  Mike Zunino is on the DL, which makes an already-bad position a million times worse.  The Mariners have to be among the worst in all of baseball in offensive production from the catcher spot, where our mostly-everyday starter is hitting just .189.  It’s somehow this bad and Mike Marjama still decided to retire from the game of baseball, which is a mind-blowing revelation we just learned about recently.

Anyway, Mike Haniger was also out on Friday, when we lost 7-1.  Felix wasn’t great (lasting only 5 innings, giving up 3 runs), the bullpen was worse, and there you go.  A Denard Span solo homer was the only thing keeping us from being shut out.

We got Haniger back for Saturday, but had to sit Dee Gordon with a hip issue, and the bottom third of our order was John Andreoli, David Freitas, and Andrew Romine.  They absolutely lived up to expectations as the Mariners lost 5-1.  James Paxton was on the hill and the game was a 1-1 tie heading into the 7th inning; then after a 1-out walk and bloop single, he made a mistake with his cutter in the middle of the plate that was turned around for a 3-run home run.  They tacked on another run in the 9th, but that was really all they needed.  This time, it was a Jean Segura solo homer preventing us from being shut out.

We got Gordon back for Sunday and were back to mostly full strength.  Ryon Healy had a 2-run double and a 3-run homer to lead the charge, as Wade LeBlanc muscled through 6 innings (giving up 4 runs) and the bullpen locked it down to give him his 5th win of the season.  Edwin Diaz got his 35th save of the season.

This series was a classic example of how this team could be in trouble if we run into too many injuries down the stretch.  You could say that about every team, but I think it’s especially tenuous with this M’s team and how we’re winning ballgames.  We need everyone, working in perfect harmony, to account for all these close wins; take even one man out, and it starts to break down.

Also, this series was a classic example of the Rockies straight up murdering bad pitches.  It seemed like not a single mistake went by them.  I mean, shit, their backup catcher hit TWO triples on Friday!  That’s a .153 hitter!

We play them again next week, in Colorado, and then God willing that’ll be the last time we ever see this team, so whatever.  In the meantime, the M’s have a day off today, then it’s 6 more road games until the All Star Break.  Time to go down to Anaheim and further bury the Angels, then see what we can do against the Rockies.

Should The Mariners Extend Nelson Cruz?

When the Mariners signed Nelson Cruz to a 4-year deal before the 2015 season, I was in the camp that yelled out to the heavens, “IT’S ABOUT TIME!”  I wanted him a year earlier – when he was a bargain for the Orioles on a 1-year deal – but we missed out.  Not letting that opportunity slip through our fingers a second time, Jackie Z & Co. signed him to a $57 million contract (all guaranteed, because MLB), $1 million as a signing bonus, with four equal shares of $14 million per year paying out accordingly.

Given his age, his declining athleticism from an outfield defense perspective, and his injury history, I think we all took that deal in the same vein we did the Robinson Cano deal:  if we can get his usual offensive production for half of the deal, it would be worth it.  Anything beyond that is pure gravy.

Well, we’re just over halfway through the final year of that deal, and as Mariners fans we’re up to our EYEBALLS in gravy!

I know it sounds crazy, but as purely a DH making $14 million per year, Nelson Cruz has nevertheless been a total bargain.  He’s averaged over 150 games per season (and is on his way to matching that this year), he’s hit for 44, 43, and 39 homers (respectively), and he’s already got 22 this year (on pace to surpass 40 homers yet again).  This is what we brought him here for, to hit dingers and hit for a solid average.  And, while those numbers have been steadily declining, it’s been ever-so-slight; so slight as to really be negligible from a production standpoint.  2015 was his best year with the Mariners (and arguably his best year ever), but he’s only dropped a tad since then.  Instead of falling off of a mountain, Cruz is enjoying a leisurely stroll down a molehill.

He could drop dead the moment I publish this post and his stint with the Mariners would STILL be better than my wildest dreams upon his signing 4 years ago.  Which brings us to the ultimate question:  should the Mariners keep him around beyond 2018?

I find myself saying the same things I always say about a beloved veteran athlete whose prime might be just behind him, but is otherwise still playing at a high level:  I wouldn’t mind having him back, under the right contract.  Obviously, I want something that’s somewhat team-friendly, but I also live in the real world, and I understand how deals work in the MLB.  Reports indicate Cruz is looking for a multi-year deal.  Given how much of a boss he’s been for the majority of his career – but especially when he got out of Texas and became more of an all-world DH – my hunch is he’ll get what he’s looking for.  But, “multi-year” can mean a lot of things.  Since he just turned 38 years old this week, I can’t imagine he’ll land anything beyond a 2-year contract (it only takes one team, of course, so it wouldn’t TOTALLY shock me if he saw a 3-year deal from someone like the Royals or, I dunno, the Orioles maybe; but I highly doubt it).  So, would I be interested in the Mariners signing him to a 2-year deal worth $26-$30 million?

I mean, again, I probably wouldn’t be devastated, but the more I think about it, the more I start to wonder if I’m coming at this from the wrong angle.

I keep saying I want to be the type of fan that roots for teams who get rid of aging players a year too early vs. a year too late.  So, I need to build some thicker skin about these types of things.  Yes, Cruz has been wonderful in a Mariners uniform; you can consider me a fan for life for all he’s done.  Do I really want that legacy tarnished if he turns into a Richie Sexson in his final season with us?

More to the point:  do I think Cruz has two MORE years where he can give us this type of 4-win production?

The Mariners just signed Wade LeBlanc to an extension this week.  He’s got guaranteed money for 2019, with apparent team options (and incentives) based on his performance that could see him in Seattle through 2022.  It’s basically one of the most team-friendly deals I’ve ever seen that wasn’t negotiated by the player directly.  A lot of the Mariners core we have now is locked up at least through next year, if not for many years to come.  Cruz is really the most important player not under contract for next year, which is why this is coming up now.

For what it’s worth, the LAST thing I want to have happen is for the Mariners to extend him before the season ends.  I mean, let’s face it, he’s one major injury away from calling it a career.  That’s just the way these things go when you get to be his age.  If he tears a rotator cuff or an ACL or otherwise has to go on the shelf for up to a year, how good do you think he’s going to be when he comes back?  That’s assuming he has no setbacks!  Will he have the power he has now?  Will he be able to hit for the average he’s hitting now?  Or, will both of those numbers dip to the point that – considering he plays no defense whatsoever – he’s just a replacement-level player that can only DH?

Sorry, but you HAVE to wait to see how his season plays out before even CONSIDERING an extension.  At which point, I say you wait for the market to dictate what he’s worth.  Teams haven’t been willing to shell out mega millions for designated hitters in recent years.  You could argue he’s different, and given his work ethic and leadership abilities, he’s worth more than your average lumbering slugger.  But, I wouldn’t bet he’ll get insane money.  It’s even possible he’d earn less of a base salary (with more in the way of incentives) than he’s getting now.

And, as always, Bob Dutton makes some good points here.  What do the Mariners want to do with Robinson Cano after this year?  We’re in the 5th year of his 10-year deal, and the plan all along was to eventually move him away from second base.  With his suspension, it looks like that plan has been accelerated.  It was always going to require the Mariners getting a worthy second baseman to take his place, and with Dee Gordon’s emergence, you can see why the team is comfortable with him there.  And, with Healy under team control (arbitration eligible through 2022), and Evan White behind him, I don’t see a lot of free time from the first base position.  Besides that, how would Cano take to a possible transition there?  He might prefer (and even be better suited) to simply DHing.

These are all questions we have facing us in mid-August when Cano returns from his suspension, by the way.  Where does he fit?  I would assume he’ll still play some at second base, but not so much that it cuts Dee Gordon out (who will need to be our starter there in the playoffs).  I would also assume Cano fills in at first base on a part time basis – possibly against right-handed pitchers? – but it’s going to be a struggle.  You can’t play Cano at DH over Cruz, barring injury.  But, you CAN play him at DH starting next year, if Cruz is playing elsewhere.

Based on the way the roster is constructed, this seems to be the most sensible and smartest way to go.  I love Cruz, and in another world I wouldn’t mind him finishing his career in Seattle.  But, we’ve got Cano for another 5 years, at $24 million per year, rendering him effectively untradeable.

Best case scenario has the Mariners passing Cano through waivers in August and sending him somewhere in a salary dump deal with a team looking for some veteran leadership.  But, considering he has a full no-trade clause, that seems unlikely.  It would also require the Mariners to eat anywhere from $10-$14 million per year for the rest of the contract, which almost defeats the purpose.

Unless the purpose is to use the money you’re saving to put it up toward a Nelson Cruz extension.  Long story short, the only way I want to see the Mariners extend Cruz is by first ridding themselves out from under the albatross that is Cano’s massive contract.  Since that seems impossible, I’m afraid we’re going to have to bid adieu to Mr. Cruz after this season, with the consolation being that we enjoyed the perfect free agent transaction (which is so rare nowadays).

Mariners Lose A Pitcher’s Duel In Red Sox Opener

Quality starts have been rare for The King this season, but now we’ve got 2 pretty great starts out of his last three games, including one against probably the best team in the American League.

Felix followed up a dominant 8-inning, 1-run performance against the Rays with a 3-inning, 6-run performance against the Rays, making the good start look more like an anomaly than a sign of better things to come.  So, the fact that he was able to bounce right back against the Red Sox last night and go 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits, 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts, makes things all the more confusing.

If I’m being honest, this is more in line with what I’d hoped to see out of him.  Sure, there will be disaster starts, but I also expected to see a little vintage Felix sprinkled in, and the fact that we’re starting to see that again is a really good thing for this team.  He’s not as all-important to this team’s success like he was back in his prime, but now it’s different.  It’s more important for ME, as a fan, that he do well this year so he’s allowed to pitch in the post-season when we finally get there, because it would break my fucking heart to see the Mariners get in the playoffs and not see Felix on the mound.

Unfortunately, for those watching the game last night, David Price was just a little bit better, going 7 innings, giving up 1 run on 5 hits, 0 walks, with 7 strikeouts.  In the end, that’s all she wrote:  a 2-1 loss.

The Mariners were 0-2 with RISP, so it’s not like there were a ton of scoring opportunities.  I do find it interesting that Craig Kimbrel walked the first two batters in the 9th with Seager and Healy coming up, and we totally shit the bed from there.  I’m less annoyed by Healy – as he’s been remarkably solid this year once he returned from his April DL stint – though he did ground out into the game-ending double play; but I’m starting to get really pissed about what we’re getting out of Kyle Seager.  Yeah, okay, he traditionally starts slow, but this is getting ridiculous!  He’s hitting .226 and now we’re in mid-June!  HOW MUCH LONGER ARE WE GOING TO HAVE TO WAIT FOR SEAGER TO GET HIS ASS IN GEAR AT THE PLATE?

If this game is a sign of things to come, we’re in for a very fun, very exciting series against the Red Sox this weekend.

Fuck You Angels! The Mariners Got The Sweep

When I was a kid, I gave much more of a shit about baseball rivalries than I do now.  I hated the Yankees, obviously.  I disliked the Rangers quite a bit (especially when they signed A-Rod).  In the early 2000’s, I REALLY hated the Athletics, because even though the Mariners won 90+ games from 2000-2003, the A’s were the reason why we only made the playoffs twice (in spite of a couple 93-win campaigns).  In recent years, I guess I hate the Astros, but I don’t even know if they qualify as a rivalry, from my fan’s perspective.  It’s more of a looming dread whenever I see HOU coming up on the little pocket calendar I have hanging up at my desk.  When the switch flipped and Houston became HOUSTON, it’s been utter annihilation (and even before they were good, they still won an annoying amount of times).  Besides, this is really the first year where the Mariners and Astros have been on the same level, record-wise.  They may indeed grow to become my most hated baseball enemy when the season’s over.

But, for now, I think I hate the Angels the most.  Granted, they’re clearly the better franchise.  They’ve actually WON a World Series, for instance.  They’ve been to the playoffs 10 times to our 4; they’ve consistently been more of a winning team in general (and haven’t had those bottom-out years like the Mariners have).  Nevertheless, with the Astros way up there, I’ve always seen the Angels as more of our peers.  Whenever you find the Mariners contending for a wild card spot, the Angels always seem to be right there with us.  Also, from 2010 onward, the Angels only have the 1 playoff appearance, so it’s not like they’ve been super awesome of late.  And, they’ve had a number of players I couldn’t help but despise, from Mike Trout to Jered Weaver to (retroactively) Chone Figgins to John Lackey to Troy Glaus to Tim Salmon to Chuck Finley.  The only Angels player I ever really liked was Vlad, because he was fucking amazing and I secretly never forgave the Mariners for not making a bigger push to sign him when he was a free agent after 2003.  Can you even imagine?  That would’ve been so much fun!

Anyway, the Mariners just swept the Angels yesterday in the 3-game series, and I couldn’t be happier.

I didn’t hold out a ton of hope in yesterday’s game, even when the Angels’ starter was pulled after 2 innings with an injury.  Marco Gonzales really wasn’t as sharp as he’d been of late, only lasting 5 innings, giving up 3 runs.  We knew ahead of time that Edwin Diaz wasn’t going to be available, after pitching 3 games in a row, and in 4 games in 5 days.  That slotted the bullpen all kinds of wonky, and accordingly the bullpen wasn’t as sharp as it had been of late either.  Newcomer Mike Morin – in just his 2nd appearance since being called up from Tacoma – gave up a run on a triple and a sac fly.  Chasen Bradford – who has been all kinds of good this year – gave up 2 solo homers in the 7th to put us behind by 2 runs.  And, there we were, late in the game, facing the prospects of losing for just the third time in the month of June.

That’s when the offense went back to work.  Gamel and Zunino had RBIs in the 2nd to stake the Mariners to a 2-0 lead.  Then, after an RBI by Trout (who somehow didn’t homer in this one, though he did have two hits and two intentional walks), Nelson Cruz hit a 2-run bomb (which is his 5th in the last 5 games) to put the M’s up 4-1.  In the 7th, after Bradford gagged up the homers, Segura hit a guy in on a double; followed by Healy solo homering in the 8th to re-tie the game; ultimately setting the stage for a bottom of the 9th showdown (thanks to a couple scoreless innings out of eventual winner Roenis Elias).

With one out, Segura on at first, Mitch Haniger took a mistake by the Angels pitcher and deposited it into the left field stands for his second walk-off home run of the season.  Not for nothing, but that’s his 16th homer of the season (tying his mark of 2017) and his 52nd RBI (surpassing what he did in 2017, in 29 fewer games).  Can you imagine what it’ll be like if he can stay healthy all year?  He truly is deserving of a slot on the All Star team.

The Mariners are still 0.5 games ahead of the Astros, but are now 7.5 games ahead of the Angels, which is just the best.

Now, we’ve got a 4-game series against the Red Sox.  I hope you like a lot of annoying Boston fans, because they’re coming out in force!  The good news is Chris Sale pitched yesterday, so we lucked into avoiding one of the best lefties in the game.  The bad news is the rest of their rotation is also really fucking good.  And, James Paxton is saddled with Friday’s “Fireworks Night” game, which I believe the Mariners have lost every fucking time they’ve done it.  Here’s to hoping for a little of that old Felix magic tonight as he squares off against David Price.  This series could get REAL dicey in a hurry.

Trout Keeps Hitting Homers & The Mariners Keep Winning Ballgames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mariners Swept The Rays, Are In First Place

This is the latest the Mariners have been in first place in the A.L. West since 2003?  Am I reading that right?

This is … utter insanity.  I keep waiting for these guys to fall apart and this team keeps proving me wrong!  We’ve seen good stretches of Mariners baseball before; in each of the last 4 years, for instance, we’ve flirted with the concept of contention.  Maybe the M’s have a great week or two, maybe they have an outstanding road trip or something and head home to face a division rival for a huge weekend series, and what happens next?  They fall apart.  And, it’s not necessarily always against the likes of the Astros!  This team has been on some runs and were set to face some sub-.500 competition and they would STILL find ways to lose to those teams, and derail all the progress they’d made scratching and clawing to get to that point!

Hell, when the Astros were the worst team in baseball – before all their prospects hit it big – we’d STILL lose to their fucking asses at least half the time!

What’s the difference this time?  The Mariners are still beating all the teams they’re supposed to beat.  They’re beating the Twins, and the Royals, and the Tigers, and the Blue Jays, and the White Sox, and the Athletics, and the Rangers, and the Indians.  Coming into this series, the Rays were one game over .500; they were a scrappy group of battlers who might’ve been JUST the thorn in our side to – as I mentioned – derail all of the progress we’ve made lately.  And yet, what happened?  We beat them in all three games by a combined 4 runs!

On Friday, we saw another Mike Leake gem:  7 innings, 2 runs, 6 hits, 0 walks, 8 strikeouts.  Colome got us to the 9th with a 1-run lead, but unfortunately Diaz had his 3rd blown save of the season to send it to extras.  We eventually won it in the bottom of the 13th (after 2 scoreless innings from Roenis Elias, who was called up to replace the DFA’d Scrabble; I’ll be happy to not have to talk about that guy ever again) on a Mitch Haniger solo homer to center.

On Saturday, we saw the continuing emergence of Marco Gonzales, who went 6.2 innings of 1-run ball, with 5 hits, 2 walks, and 6 strikeouts.  He continues to be so impressive; I love it!  Cruz, Seager, and Healy accounted for the 3 runs, and the bullpen was perfect (with Diaz getting his 20th save of the season).

On Sunday, we saw the return of Dominant King Felix:  8 innings of 1-run ball, with 5 hits, 1 walk, and 7 strikeouts.  I say dominant even though it wasn’t Felix at his peak; it wasn’t Perfect Game Felix or anything.  But, even when Felix was a Cy Young guy, he had games like this:  he’d dance around a couple jams here and there, but he’d go deep into the ballgame nevertheless, keeping the team in it.  Indeed, it was so much like a Classic King Felix game that the Mariners didn’t score any runs until the 8th inning!  It was 1-0 for the longest time, because the Rays’ Blake Snell absolutely murdered us through 6 innings, striking out 12 (including the first 7 of the game, to tie the A.L. record, and 8 of the first 9 through the lineup), walking 0, and giving up only 2 weak singles.  We were fortunate to foul off a bunch of pitches and otherwise get his pitch count high so they had to pull him early.  We finally scratched a couple runs across in the bottom of the 8th thanks to some elite small ball from the likes of Span and Gordon, and Diaz was able to make it hold up with his 21st save of the season.

As for the Felix show yesterday, I’ll say this:  I was thrilled for him.  He REALLY needed that.  Now, it’s the Rays, and their lineup looks like one of the more impotent ones in the American League (at least from what I’ve seen of it), but with the way Felix had been going, that didn’t matter.  He would’ve struggled against AAA hitting; so hopefully it’s something mechanical they were able to work out.  He gets a rematch against the Rays (and the same opponent in Snell) this week, so hopefully it goes the same as before.

We’re now 37-22; the Astros are 37-24.  The Yankees are still a ridiculous 37-17, but they don’t matter at the moment; they’re the Astros’ problem!  Because WE own the division right now!  And, not for nothing, but we’re 5.5 games over the Angels, which is a lot of breathing room (but I’ll always accept a little more).

Of course, we have a 2-game set in Houston starting tomorrow, so this very well could be a short-term division lead.  They have the best rotation in all of baseball; but we have Paxton and LeBlanc going, our two hottest pitchers!  If anyone is going to keep us in these games, it’s those guys!

Now that I’ve said that, watch us get blown out and swept.  But, today’s an off-day; WE CAN’T LOSE TODAY (knock on wood)!

The Mariners Got The Victory They Needed

There’s been so many tight games this season, but particularly over the last couple weeks, with the offense missing guys like Dee Gordon, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, and others for various amounts of time.  The margin for error has been ridiculously thin, and we’ve seen some repercussions of that in this Rangers series as the bullpen finally cracked a couple times.  This team desperately needed a breakout from the offense and to cruise to a comfortable victory.  Last night, in a 6-1 win, the Mariners got just that.

On May 3rd, Wade LeBlanc entered the starting rotation for the Seattle Mariners, taking the spot that was briefly held by an injured Erasmo Ramirez.  Up until that day, LeBlanc was a long reliever for this club – who has been on the roster since opening day, but only got in 5 games in the month of April due to all the off days and the fact that the Mariners were involved in so many close, winning games.  So, he obviously has had to be stretched out a little bit this month (he was also quite under the weather last night, which accounts for his only lasting 5 innings on 84 pitches).  But, regardless, LeBlanc has been OUTSTANDING in the month of May (really, all season, but that’s neither here nor there).  He’s 1-0 (though the team is 5-1 in his starts) with a 1.72 ERA.  31.1 innings pitched, 6 runs given up, 25 hits, only 6 walks, with 23 strikeouts in those 6 games.

I mean, if it weren’t for Paxton’s 1.67 ERA, his 2 complete games, his no hitter, his 51 strikeouts (against only 9 walks) and 21 hits in 43 innings of work across his 6 games (again, he’s got to be a lock for American League Pitcher of the Month), we’d be talking about the best starter on this team!

Small sample?  Go fuck yourself!  Wade LeBlanc is magic and I won’t hear anything else!

Pazos, Nicasio, and Chasen Bradford nailed down the final four innings without incident, meaning we were able to save guys like Diaz and Colome for the weekend.  Again, just excellent pitching all around yesterday.

On the hitting side of things, Dee Gordon returned with a vengeance, with a leadoff triple and a run scored off of a very shallow pop up to right field.  Nelson Cruz banged a 2-run homer and later had a 3rd RBI to keep his momentum going in the right direction.  Segura was on base 3 times and scored 3 times; Healy had an RBI single; and Heredia and Span each had 2 hits as the bottom of the lineup looks remarkably improved with those two guys getting regular AB’s.  In 4 games with the Mariners so far, Span has 5 hits (including a double) and 3 runs scored.  I like Gamel as much as the next guy – and I concede he was looking better at the plate right before this trade went down – but overall he’s been terrible for almost a full year now, and he appears to be much better suited to being a team’s 4th outfielder rather than a starter.  How about that?  Everyone went into this season thinking it was Heredia that was destined to be a 4th outfielder (and that might very well be his overarching role when it’s all said and done), but right now Heredia looks like a dynamic weapon and a viable starting outfielder in this league if he can keep it up at the plate.

The Mariners ended up 18-11 in the month of May, which follows a 16-11 month of April.  We are 1 game behind the Astros in the A.L. West (tied in the loss column), and 4.5 games ahead of the Angels as we currently hold the 2nd Wild Card spot (3 full games behind the Yankees for the 1st Wild Card spot).

As I’ve noted before, the month of June looks a lot tougher.  The Rays are hanging around .500 (and we face them 7 times), and we also play the Astros, Angels, Red Sox, and Yankees this month.  In fact, we don’t play a team under .500 again until June 25th!  That’s 22 consecutive games against teams that are either IN the playoffs (if the season ended today) or fighting tooth and nail for the Wild Card spot (in other words, our direct opponents for possible post-season play).  On top of that, out of 28 games, only 12 are at home this month.  We make trips to Houston, Tampa (then back home), then we go out to New York, Boston, and Baltimore (before returning home again).  Make no mistake, everything about this month spells B-R-U-T-A-L.

The good news?  If we can avoid getaway-day rainouts that need to be made up at a later date, once we return from our East Coast road trip in Baltimore, We’ll never have to go any further east than the state of Texas the rest of the season.  The entire month of July, for instance, has us only going to Anaheim and Colorado!  In fact, all of our road trips after the month of June are against the A.L. West or the N.L. West.

Just got to get through this month.  If you offered it to me on a silver platter right now, I would absolutely accept a .500 record for the month of June.  If you gave me 14-14, SIGN ME UP!

How Did The Mariners Get So Damn Good?

Or, at least, so damn lucky?

The last time I wrote about the Mariners, it was to comment on the big trade for Colome and Span.  The time immediately before that was to comment on the loss to the A’s.  It sort of felt like the beginning of maybe a little down period for the M’s – because, with all the injuries and whatnot, how could they possibly continue to keep winning?  And yet, in spite of my obvious negativity, the Mariners bucked the odds and went right back to winning!

They beat the Twins in all three games over the weekend – some sweet revenge over that stupid make-up game – then they took the first game over the Rangers.  Three 1-run victories and a 2-run victory; I’m telling you, either we’re witnessing the hottest stretch of the season for this pitching staff, or I’m going to have to admit that they’re a lot better than I originally thought!

On Friday, we were all treated to a James Paxton Special:  7 innings, 1 run, 3 hits, 0 walks, 11 strikeouts.  Nick Vincent held down the 8th and Edwin Diaz got his 18th save of the season, as the Mariners won 2-1.  It was a game where the offense was really held in check, but Cruz and Haniger were able to knock home a couple guys from second base.

On Saturday, we were all treated to a Wade LeBlanc Special:  6 innings, 2 runs, 4 hits, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts in 77 pitches.  There was a little hiccup with the bullpen – after the offense was able to overcome a 2-run deficit with a 3-run bottom of the 6th on homers from Segura and Cruz – as Vincent and Pazos combined to allow the tying run.  However, the rest of those guys got us through the 12th (anchored by Juan Nicasio’s scoreless 2 innings with 5 strikeouts), when Mike Zunino – with 2 outs – jacked a homer to left to walk it off.

On Sunday, we were all treated to a Mike Leake Special:  8 innings, 1 run, 4 hits, 0 walks, 2 strikeouts in 86 pitches.  Newcomer Alex Colome got his first save in a Mariners uniform (allowing the team to rest Edwin Diaz) as we won 3-1.  The M’s were down 1-0 early, then Seager tied it with a solo homer in the 4th, followed by Healy knocking in the winning runs in the 8th with a double.  Combined, both pitchers threw less than 100 pitches, which is kind of insane in this day and age.

On Monday, we were all treated to a Marco Gonzales Special:  6.2 innings, 1 run (0 earned), 4 hits, 4 walks, 4 strikeouts.  Pazos finished up the 7th on 2 pitches, Colome embraced his new 8th inning role without trouble, and Diaz got his 19th save.  Offensively, Cruz and Seager hit in a couple guys from second and that’s all we needed as the Mariners won 2-1.

I haven’t been tracking it – mostly because I wrote them off in the off-season – but the pitching staff has really been terrific.  I vaguely remember them struggling in the early going, but right now the Mariners are 5th in the American League in ERA (behind the obvious suspects:  Houston, Boston, Anaheim and New York).  Yeah, our run differential is pretty crappy, which points to a number of issues with this team; but without this pitching staff, we’d be looking at A LOT more losses.  If they pitched like I thought they’d pitch heading into the season, we might be talking about a 9-game or a 10-game losing streak right now.  Instead, the Mariners are 33-20, 1 game behind the Astros (tied in the loss column), and 1.5 games behind the Yankees for the top Wild Card spot.  Yes, that’s correct, we’re closer to the division lead than we are the top Wild Card spot!  How insane is that?

Three more games against the lowly Rangers to close out the month, then a weekend series against the Rays to close out this 10-game homestand.  Very important to keep this ball rolling, because June looks insanely difficult.  The 7 games against the Rays, 4 games against the Orioles on the road, and 2 games against the Royals are the easiest games of the bunch.  But, on the flipside, we face the Astros twice, the Red Sox 7 times, the Yankees 3 times, and the Angels 3 times.  So, we’ll get a good look at how good these Mariners really are.

Good: The Mariners Won The Season Series Against The Tigers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cano’s Gone & The Mariners Are Fucked

The one thing the Mariners had going for them was their elite lineup compensating for a suspect pitching staff.  Regardless of how good a lineup is, there are still going to be games where they just don’t have it – they suffer poor BABIP luck, they can’t hit with RISP, they just get dominated by a great pitcher at the top of his game – and somewhere in there lies the 2 losses to Detroit over the weekend.  Lots of balls hit right at guys, and lots of futility with men on base, unable to take advantage of struggling pitchers and knock them out of games.  The good thing about an elite Mariners lineup is that these types of games happen less and less often.  The bad thing about injuries to that elite Mariners lineup is that these types of games will happen more and more, and the pitching staff simply isn’t good enough to pick up the slack.

Robinson Cano has a broken bone in his hand.  He’s going to be out for many weeks as it heals.  Robinson Cano is one of our very best hitters.  He’s going to be replaced by a sub-replacement level hitter.  Saying nothing of the change in our defense, this is a complete disaster.  Andrew Romine has improved quite a lot since he spent the bulk of this season batting .000, but he’s a far cry from competent at the plate, and we’re set to see him most every day (that is, when we don’t see AAA call-up Gordon Beckham).

So, if Cano is out for the foreseeable future, and if the pitching stinks, what’s left?  Well, the rest of the hitters are going to have to pick up the slack in a big way.  I don’t know how much more Gordon, Segura, or Cruz can do.  Seager seems to be heating up, which is going to be crucial.  Haniger continues to plug away, but doesn’t quite look like he’s making that leap into superstardom like it appeared back in April.  Healy has obviously been remarkable since his return from the DL, but he’s going to be up and down all year, so I don’t think we can really depend on him.  The obvious sources of improved production reside at catcher and left field.  Mike Zunino needs to get his ass over .200 with the batting average, for starters, so a massive hot streak appears to be in order.  The other one is Ben Gamel, who’s done absolutely nothing all year since returning from the oblique injury.  Who didn’t see that coming a mile away?  Nevertheless, it’s been long enough.  He’s had his “spring training” period or whatever you want to call it; now it’s time to start returning to the form he showed in the first half of 2017.  Figure it the fuck out, Gamel!  You’re our only hope!

Regarding the series with the Tigers, I want to say this series was lost when Friday’s game rained out.  They predictably split the doubleheader on Saturday (losing the first game in frustrating fashion; busting out with the bats in the second), and they tried their damnedest to keep rallying in the Sunday finale, but could never secure a lead after the third inning, and Juan Nicasio is just the fucking worst.

I don’t want to say it’s all over, but then again I also don’t want to say I ever believed in this team in the first place.  I’d say the best case scenario is the Mariners will tread water until Cano comes back, but we’ll have plenty of other injuries to go around by the time that happens.  It’s been a pleasant few weeks since we had our offense back to full strength, and now it’s over.  Barring many more injuries, the Mariners will still “contend”, but we knew what we were getting into before the season even started.  The Mariners are going to Mariners all over themselves and finish around .500 by season’s end.  Even with Cano, our fate was always going to be on the outside looking in; now without Cano, figure that fate is more secure.