The Mariners Won One Against The White Sox

If you ever want to know where the Mariners are in their rebuild, it’s helpful to see how they play against the very best teams in baseball. I would put the White Sox up there among them, and at least at this point in the rebuild, the M’s were outclassed.

The game on Monday was a brutal 6-0 shutout. Justus Sheffield looked pretty good through three innings, but the wheels started to come off in the fourth, and he was done after five, having given up 6 runs, 4 earned. I would say that performance was as expected for a guy making his first start of the season, against a team that absolutely mashes left-handed pitching.

The real drag was from the lineup, who managed only three hits on the day (two of them by Haniger). We struck out 15 fucking times against only 4 walks; that’s as pathetic as it gets. Take a picture of what the outfield looks like right now (sans Haniger), as it can ONLY improve from here with call-ups and guys returning from injury. Jake Fraley, Sam Haggerty, and Taylor Trammell don’t appear to be Major League players (yet? maybe ever?). Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, and Julio Rodriguez can’t get here soon enough.

The only positive in this one was the four innings of shutout ball by the bullpen. Don’t get used to that, though.

Tuesday’s game was a miserable 10-4 blowout, where both Paxton and Fraley left injured. Paxton’s injury seems particularly bad, as he’s reportedly seeking a second opinion. Fraley: who cares? Margevicius never should’ve appeared in this series – being a soft-tossing lefty – and was roped around accordingly. The rest of the bullpen behind him didn’t do the team any favors either, as everyone after Paxton combined to give up 9 of the 10 runs.

As for the hitters, Haniger and Ty France were good! Tom Murphy was productive in his at-bats at DH. Everyone else was pretty mediocre.

Yesterday’s game was a relatively impressive 8-4 victory for the M’s! I’ll be honest, that was a tough one to see coming, and in retrospect seems even less likely!

Justin Dunn has improved velocity on his fastball, but was otherwise up to his old tricks in this one: allowing one hit while walking EIGHT! Ye gods. He failed to get through the fifth inning. BUT, the hitters brought their lunch pails in this one, scoring three off of old buddy Dallas Keuchel, then five more against some hapless reliever who got knocked around something fierce.

Kyle Seager started pulling his weight in this one, with three hits and three RBI. But, seven Mariners in total had hits, most of them in a 7-run sixth inning.

The bullpen went 4.1 innings, giving up just 1 run, with Will Vest getting his first career Major League win. All in all, a lot to like about this one game at least. If the series as a whole is a barometer of where the Mariners are in their rebuild, it’s encouraging to have a performance like this one to at least give us some hope.

Now, the Mariners are off on their first road trip of the season, with a weird three-game series against the Twins (with a random Friday off-day). I don’t understand why MLB didn’t schedule this with another off-day on Sunday; if you’re SO worried about there being a rainout, why not front-load the games so you have a better opportunity to get the entire series in? Sure, the Twins’ home-opener is secure, but what happens if there’s a rain storm on Saturday or Sunday? We’re fucked into making a repeat trip to Minnesota later in the season! Fucking idiots; schedule smarter!

2021 Mariners Preview Extravaganza: We Have A Rest Of The Team

Yesterday, I wrote about the starting rotation. Today – the day of the Mariners’ first game of the season – I’ll be writing about everything else.

If you’ve been following along all offseason, I’ve already written about most of these guys. But, now we have an official roster, so let’s run through it.

We’re pretty set with the infield:

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Dylan Moore (2B)
  • Evan White (1B)
  • Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)

All healthy, present, and accounted for! All of them, of course, come with question marks. Does Seager have anything left in the late-career resurgence tank? Can Crawford build on his Gold Glove campaign to be a more consistent (and somewhat more powerful) hitter? Was 2020 a mirage for Moore? Will White EVER hit, period? And, is the catcher position as strong as I expect it to be? How many of these guys – if any – will be longterm solutions at their respective positions? I gotta believe that the Next Great Mariners Team has at least a few of these guys playing roles; they can’t ALL still be in the minors or other organizations!

One guy we don’t have to worry about is:

This guy can hit! No notes! Also, since I believe in him so strongly, watch him struggle mightily. This is the way.

The outfield is my favorite part of this team, now and especially in the future. With Kyle Lewis starting on the 10-Day IL, it’s a little underwhelming at the moment, but obviously the M’s have to play it super safe with our 2020 Rookie of the Year.

  • Mitch Haniger (RF)
  • Jake Fraley (CF)
  • Taylor Trammell (LF)
  • Sam Haggerty (INF/OF)
  • Jose Marmolejos (INF/OF)

The story of camp has been Trammell making the Opening Day roster. Not just as an injury replacement to the injured Lewis, but as a legitimate starting left fielder for this team. He’s another one of those great guys we traded for from the Padres last year when we sent them Austin Nola – making us three for three of guys coming over in return making the team in 2021, with France and Torrens – whose prospect stock has fluctuated wildly over the course of his minor league career. But, he appears to be putting it all together now at just the right time: ahead of Kelenic and Rodriguez. This glut of highly-touted outfielders will only make things that much easier for the M’s as they fill out the rest of the roster to try to build a championship ballclub. Of everyone on this 26-man roster, Trammell is the one I’m most excited about.

And Haniger is the one I’m most curious about. He’s had a long road back to full health; at one point in his career he was one of the top 25-or-so players in the American League. It wouldn’t shock me to see him right back in that area; it also wouldn’t shock me to see him totally shit the bed. He no longer seems to be the future of the franchise, but he’s currently the present, and will have every opportunity to rebuild his value in the game of baseball.

Fraley and the rest are just guys. Placeholders until our young superstars return from injury and/or get called up from the minors.

The obvious wildcard on the Mariners is the bullpen:

  • Rafael Montero
  • Kendall Graveman
  • Nick Margevicius
  • Anthony Misiewicz
  • Keynan Middleton
  • Casey Sadler
  • Will Vest
  • Drew Steckenrider

Oof. Like I said, I have avoided learning too much about the bullpen; I’d rather watch them with my own eyes and draw my own conclusions. But, to get me started, I guess I’ll look up some info and regurgitate it here, for my own benefit if nothing else.

The Mariners traded for Rafael Montero from the Rangers in the offseason. He had 8 saves for a terrible Rangers team last year, and I guess figures to be our closer out of the gate? He doesn’t have a ton of Major League experience, but maybe he’s put it all together. We’ll see. He’s not a bad buy-low candidate, at least in the short term.

Graveman we all know. He was here last year, signed to be a starter after missing a lot of time with injuries. He ended up with a neck issue that somehow allows him to throw very hard in short bursts as a reliever, but hampers him too much to go too many innings in a row. I don’t understand this one iota (mostly, I don’t understand why he doesn’t just have some surgical procedure to fix it and return 100% healthy), but whatever. He’s generally pretty good for an inning most of the time, so that makes him a quality set-up candidate in my mind.

Margevicius was neck-and-neck with Justin Dunn for the sixth starter job. He will be one of the long men in the bullpen to eat up innings and keep us in ballgames when a starter falters. He’ll also be the first man to join the rotation if there’s an injury (and there will be an injury). He’s fine, I like him in this role a great deal. He’s also one of just two lefties in the ‘pen, so there should be no shortage of work for him this season.

Misiewicz is presumably our top lefty reliever. We drafted him in 2015 and he made his debut last year. He was pretty good, I think! I dunno, we’ll see I guess.

Keynan “Don’t Call Me Kenyan” Middleton was a free agent signing who played for the Angels’ organization the last four years. His 2020 looked pretty atrocious. The three years prior look better, just as long as you don’t go sniffing around his FIP too hard. He might be just a guy. A cheap guy, but a guy nevertheless. He’s still young enough to put it all together, but don’t hold your breath.

Sadler is a veteran we claimed from the Cubs last year, who has bounced around multiple organizations. He’s someone else with big Just A Guy energy.

Will Vest is a Rule 5 guy we poached from the Tigers this offseason. He will be making his Major League debut this year, which will be somewhat fun! Other than that, I dunno. He’s the Rule 5 guy, that’s the nugget I’m going to keep in my brain and promptly forget as soon as he makes it into an actual game.

Drew Steckenrider sounds like one of those names I always fuck up when it comes to those Lookout Landing Sporcle quizzes asking you to name all the Mariners’ pitchers from a particular season. He came over from the Marlins organization on a minor league deal and was apparently one of the last guys to make the team. He’s another one I’m not holding my breath about.

***

The world is our oyster here! The Mariners could be a Bottom Five team, but I really don’t think that will be the case. There’s a lot of young talent in the organization just waiting to break through. There’s a TON of athleticism. There’s promise bursting at the seams. This is a team that WANTS to be great, that has just enough leadership at just the right spots – including the coaching staff – to potentially make it happen. We could be looking at a team that hangs around and FINALLY becomes the one to break the playoff drought!

Or, you know, it could be another year with another mediocre record.

But, the hope is that the young guys will improve. That’s really all that matters. 2020 was a roaring success because we saw improvement from the guys we needed to see improvement from. 2021 needs to be more of the same. Winning and losing isn’t quite as irrelevant as it was last year, but that’s not the ultimate agenda quite yet. The experience of winning isn’t quite as important as the experience of just playing at this level, but there is a lot of value there. That’s why I won’t be as maniacal as in years past when it comes to getting a high draft pick for next season.

Do what you’re going to do, Mariners!

My prediction is that the M’s easily surpass the 72.5 win total that Vegas has them at. But, ultimately I don’t see us getting one of those Wild Card spots. Instead, we’ll probably be drafting in the teens next year.

I’m reserving all predictions beyond that. I’m not making ANY specific player predictions, because so much can happen. Injuries, regression, breakouts, it’s all on the table. My only hope is that I don’t exit this season feeling worse about the Mariners than I do right now. Right now, I’m full of optimism! So, let’s just work in service of that and try to make 2022 and beyond really special!

The 2020 Mariners Are Giving People A Lot Of Hope For 2021

The best-case scenario for the 2020 Mariners would’ve been going 60-0 with the players we had on our original roster (without calling up any of our prized prospects), followed by a rampage through the playoffs and our first (of many) World Series titles; my second and third wishes – for the record, if there are any lamp-imprisoned genies out there reading this – would be a billion tax-free American dollars given to me through no criminal means, and my very own Perpetual Orgasm Machine that I’m able to plug into Matrix-style for my own nonstop indulgence.

Since we obviously didn’t reach that apex of baseball achievement, I’d have to say the 2020 Mariners season was a qualified success! I’ll rate it a 7 out of 10 batting doughnuts (you don’t rate baseball success on a scale of batting doughnuts?). Based on expectations as a long-suffering Mariners fan, though, I’d have to bump it up to an 8 out of 10.

There was every reason to expect the worst this year. Key guys getting injured. Potential stars failing to develop. Botched trades. Useless free agent signings. Listless or negative clubhouse chemistry compounded exponentially as losses mounted. The Mariners have been in some form of rebuild since plummeting back to Earth in 2004. You can say they’ve never really torn the franchise down to the studs until this time around – and I’m inclined to agree with you – but there’s also no one right way to rebuild a franchise. As it turns out, hindsight being what it is, we know that all the ways we’ve tried it over the last 16 years have been utter failures, largely due to the reasons listed at the top of this paragraph; we’ve seen it all and then some!

So, to have the relative success this team was able to achieve is pretty remarkable. For the first time in a VERY long time, there is reason for actual hope. This feels real! Not based on a mountain of lies and unsustainably-lucky performances. We finished 27-33, and even with the playoffs expanded to eight teams per league, we still failed to get there. Honestly, I think that’s great! We didn’t overachieve! Because let’s face it, the last time there was this much hype around a bad, yet-hopefully-rebuilding Mariners squad, we did overachieve (in 2007 and again in 2009) and were crushingly disappointed (in 2008 and again in 2010).

Our general managers in those eras made what now feels like panic moves, to bolster a house of cards and see if we could parlay unlikely success into a return to meaningful, post-season baseball. And, we ended up losing over 100 games in response both times, falling apart under the weight of too-high expectations.

That isn’t to say the Mariners should stand pat going into 2021; just stick to the plan. The plan all along was to strip away the rotting, dead wood, give our young prospects an opportunity to flourish, and then add on complementary, quality veterans to slingshot into the stratosphere. While a 60-game, COVID-shortened season isn’t the ideal form of development for our young guys, it’s better than nothing. And, you can argue they flourished all the same.

The M’s are in desperate need for young, cheap, homegrown stars (not necessarily draft picks or international free agent signings, but really anyone acquired to work their way through our minor league system). Kyle Seager was really the last one to stick in any sort of meaningful way, and he obviously has a ceiling to his level of production; before him you’re probably looking at King Felix. That’s NOT a lot of stars over the last 15 years, which makes the futility all the more understandable.

With the crop of youngsters we have on the team now, and the guys in the upper levels of the minors (who figure to be called up pretty early on in the 2021 season), there are a considerable number of candidates who could be stars for this team. That’s so exciting!

As a change of pace, I’m going to rank the top Mariners I’m most excited about, with a little blurb for each.

  1. Jarred Kelenic – We did it! We kept him in the minors for the entirety of the 2020 season! That buys us an extra year of club control, and if we keep him down there for the first month or so in 2021, that’ll earn us one MORE year. This is important, see, because he’s far and away the best prospect we’ve had in the organization since King Felix, the best position player prospect we’ve had since Adam Jones, and probably the best position player prospect who we’re not going to foolishly trade away since Alex Rodriguez! If it all breaks as it should, his floor should be as a perennial All Star, with his ceiling being an MVP-calibre superstar.
  2. Kyle Lewis – Our should-be Rookie of the Year, he’s really exceeded expectations both in his 2019 cup of coffee and his 2020 surge forward. Of course, in both instances, we saw some struggles; his final month of this season was a pretty collosal nightmare from a batting average perspective. But, he remained a tough out – with a resepctable on-base percentage throughout – and took a huge leap in his defense, in locking down the everyday centerfield job. You never root for someone to do poorly, of course, but I don’t think his end to the season was a bad thing. He’s not a finished product, that’s clear. That’s also really exciting, because we know what the floor is (and that’s a really good player); we have no idea what the ceiling is, though, which allows us to dream as big as we want!
  3. Evan White – On paper, his rookie season wasn’t all that good, but there are still promising signs of things to come. For starters, he’s already among the best defensive first basemen in baseball. That’s going to paper over a lot of things for someone who slashed only .179/.253/.352. Anecdotally, though, I think we all saw some good improvement with his approach at the plate. In 54 games, he hit 7 doubles and 8 homers; extrapolate that out for nearly a full season and you’re looking at a 20/20 player. As a rookie? I’ll take that. This was good, pain-free experience for a still-developing prospect; I know I’ve said this a lot over the years, but I really believe he’s only going to get better from here. When he makes contact, the ball really explodes off his bat! This isn’t a Justin Smoak/Warning Track Power sort of swing; he’s got some pop that will play at this level! He just needs to improve his eye at the plate and his contact rate; everything else will work itself out in the years ahead.
  4. Marco Gonzales – What a stud. Just an absolute horse for this team. Someone to lead a new generation of exciting pitchers both with his outstanding on-field performance and his in-clubhouse guidance. I’ll be honest, I forgot we already extended him through 2025, but now that I confirmed it (and at a pretty reasonable salary to boot), I’m even more thrilled! When the M’s originally acquired him from the Cardinals in 2017, I thought we were getting just another ho-hum, soft-tossing lefty who at best would translate to a #5 starter, but more likely fizzle out of baseball entirely. Boy am I happy to be so wrong! He has gotten better every year he’s been here, to the point where you can legitimately have him in the Cy Young conversation! I thought his 2018/2019 level of production was his peak – a 4 ERA type of guy who might give you 175-200 innings and keep you in most games – but what he was in 2020 was a legitimate … ALMOST ace. He’s so close! If he can do what he did this season over 30+ starts next year, then I’ll absolutely give him that mantle for as long as he’s still in Seattle.
  5. Mitch Haniger – Don’t think I forgot about you! You know what’s exciting? Having an All Star locked and loaded and ready to go (hopefully) in 2021. He’s still young, he’s still at the Arbitration level for two more seasons, he’s STARVING to be back on the diamond and among the greats in this league again (so you know motivation won’t be an issue), and he’s still talented in all the ways you want in a right fielder. Sure, he might be a little rusty at first, but he hasn’t irrevocably declined; he’s just had nagging, freak injuries. Injuries, mind you, that should fully heal and shouldn’t hamper his ability going forward. I’m under the assumption that – before too long – he’ll return to his 2018 level, where he was a 6-WAR type of player. This further helps matters because, while the Mariners do have a considerable glut in outfield talent, they don’t necessarily have to call them all up right away. We’ve got Haniger here to soften the blow! Also, with the DH spot up for grabs, if we do end up extending Haniger beyond 2022, he can always transition there and prolong his career that way.
  6. J.P. Crawford – Before the final series of the season – where he raised his batting average nearly 30 points in four games – I think there was a lot of consternation about Crawford’s 2020 season. To that I would say: this is the same guy who was hitting nearly .400 through July 31st; he’s streaky! In great and maddening ways! If you offered me .259/.335/.343 out of him every year, with the quality defense he plays at short stop, I think I’d take that and be happy. I don’t think anyone loves the idea of him being this team’s leadoff hitter – though, he was pretty great at working counts and looking at a lot of pitches this year – but as a bottom-of-the-order type of guy with plus-defense? Yes please! But, more importantly, he’s young enough that there’s still plenty of potential for him to get better as he gets used to playing at this level. I think he’s fine, and I’m happy to continue rooting for him.
  7. Justus Sheffield – There was a lot of concern for him as I’ve noted before, the bloom had come off the rose a little bit (even though he only just turned 24 this year). He was always going to start this season in the Majors and be given every opportunity to work his way through any growing pains. I think he came out of it wildly successful given my pre-season expectations! Six of his ten starts were of the quality variety, and I’d argue it would’ve been seven of ten had the manager left him in there longer in his final appearance of the season (there was no reason to push him, since we weren’t playing for anything, but he had plenty left in the tank). The fastball isn’t great, but his slider is phenomenal, and I thought his command improved tremendously from where it was in 2019. When we traded James Paxton to get him, we’d hoped we were getting a future ace; I don’t think that’s in the cards here. But, he can be a quality #2 or an elite #3 in a great rotation if he continues to progress.
  8. Ty France – He’s not the biggest name we got in the Austin Nola deal, but he’s the most Major League-ready bat, which is just what this team needs. The question remains: where does he belong? Is he a DH until Kyle Seager moves on? Does he take over at third base after that? Do we try to transition him over to second base? Do we shoehorn him into left field until Kelenic gets called up? Or, is he simply trade bait for someone else who has a more established defensive fit for this team? What I’m excited about is the fact that his production at the plate didn’t falter one bit in going from San Diego to Seattle. You never know what you’re going to get when you trade for someone; sometimes the transition causes them to press and try to do too much (leading to mistakes). His bat plays anywhere in the 2-6 range in the lineup – depending on who you’ve got around him – and it should continue to be productive as long as he’s here (under team control through the 2025 season).
  9. Dylan Moore – He’s your frontrunner for the starting second baseman job next year, but he too can play all over the field if you need him. This is VERY impressive for someone who appeared to be nothing more than a utility guy (at best) or a Quad-A level talent (at worst). We’ve seen TONS of Dylan Moore types who never took the next step into being an everyday starter, which is why his story is so special. He came into this season and really set all of our expectations on fire! His defense has DRASTICALLY improved since the beginning of 2019, and now his bat – particularly his power numbers – has taken that leap as well. He’s yet another diamond in the rough this team was able to pluck from obscurity who should be a valuable player on the roster, as well as a valuable trade chip if we need him to be.
  10. Tom Murphy / Luis Torrens – Let’s just lump both of our prospective catchers in here. This has long been a troubled position for the Mariners (as an organization with LOTS of trouble spots they’ve failed to properly fill over the years, that’s really saying something). It’s so reassuring that we not only have this spot 100% locked down in 2021, but for many years to come (with prospect Cal Raleigh knocking on the door of the Majors, who figures to be our regular starting catcher as soon as 2022 or 2023). Murphy, of course, spent 2020 injured, but he should return at full health (and to his quality 2019 form). This, fortunately, afforded us ample opportunity to get a good, long look at Torrens, who also came over from San Diego, and was really reliable in all facets of the catching game for the M’s.
  11. Justin Dunn – Our other big rookie starter getting a “full” season’s worth of experience didn’t have quite as promising of a year as Sheffield. He too has a rather disappointing fastball, but makes up for it with tons of movement. Which means that he didn’t give up very many hits (or even a ton of hard-hit balls), but he walked a bunch of dudes (31 in just over 45 innings). You wonder, if he is able to harness things and stay within the strike zone more, if that’ll translate to giving up more hits and extra-base hits. BUT, if he’s able to put it ALL together, he could be a really special guy. As it is, this was just a year to get his feet wet, and he did that, while staying healthy throughout. He’s worked his arm up, accounting for four quality starts out of ten, and now it’s time to take what he’s learned this year and advance things in 2021 and beyond. Once again – with Sheffield – he’ll be given every opportunity to walk out of Spring Training with a starting rotation job, which means he has a significant head start over the younger guys we’ve drafted in recent years, who are champing at the bit to make their marks in the Major Leagues.
  12. Yohan Ramirez – The bullpen was an unmitigated disaster in 2020, but Ramirez – the Rule 5 guy we got from the Cheating Astros’ organization – managed to not only stay up all year, but be probably our best overall reliever, as well as the guy most poised to be our Closer of the Future. He made 16 appearances, got 3 saves, and had the best ERA on the team (of guys who finished the season on the 25-man roster). He had 26 strikeouts in 20.2 innings, so he’s got electric stuff; but he also had 20 walks in that span, which means he’s yet to fully harness it. Bullpen is such a crapshoot, and we’ve probably got 20 guys right behind him who all have potential to be at least competent, so I don’t know if it makes a ton of sense to go crazy here. I’m just happy we came out of this season with ONE guy I like!

I could go on and on; there are a few pitchers in the minors I’m pretty excited about, but I know almost nothing about them, and I don’t know what exactly they were able to accomplish in Tacoma this year, without any real games happening (and facing the same Mariners prospects over and over). Many of them won’t be ready until 2022 at the earliest, and even the guys who are on the cusp will still likely have to start 2021 in the minors just to prove they’re ready to be called up.

But, if you just look at the guys I talked about here, 2021 looks like it could be quite fun. By midseason, Kelenic, Lewis, and Haniger could be our outfielders. Seager, Crawford, Moore, White, and Murphy/Torrens could be our infield, with Ty France as our DH (and any number of good-looking bench/utility guys behind them, like Jose Marmolejos, Sam Haggerty, Tim Lopes, and Shed Long). What do you think about this lineup?

  1. Dylan Moore (2B)
  2. Mitch Haniger (RF)
  3. Kyle Lewis (CF)
  4. Kyle Seager (3B)
  5. Ty France (DH)
  6. Evan White (1B)
  7. Jarred Kelenic (LF)
  8. Tom Murphy/Luis Torrens (C)
  9. J.P. Crawford (SS)

Obviously, of course, Kelenic will eventually ascend toward the 2-4 range in the lineup, but as a rookie? Let’s give him a soft landing, at least until he’s worked through his inevitable struggles.

That’s a fun lineup, though, right?! Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais are already talking about the 2021 team contending for the playoffs – which is a good year (at least) earlier than most projections had us heading into this season – and that has to be a considerable reason why. Those guys can hit, defend, steal bases, get on base; everything you want! That’s a viable Major League everyday roster that can win a lot of ballgames.

On the pitching side of things, it’s a little more iffy. It sounds like we’re going to continue with a 6-man rotation, with four of the slots going to Marco, Justus Sheffield, Yusei Kikuchi, and Justin Dunn. Figure that Nick Margevicius and Ljay Newsome will compete for a fifth spot (with the other likely heading to the bullpen as a long reliever), and a sixth spot going to a free agent (maybe bring back Taijuan Walker, who was KILLING it in Toronto after we traded him; it’s a bummer that it doesn’t look like he got a chance to pitch in the playoffs, before they lost to the Rays). With all the money the Mariners have to spend, I have to imagine that whoever we sign in free agency will be of high quality. So, if you figure he’s at least on Marco’s level, that’s two high-quality starters at the top of the rotation, with two promising young guys in Sheffield & Dunn, and Kikuchi who will hopefully figure it out at some point (considering his pedigree in the Japanese league). Also, not for nothing, but Margevicius and Newsome both threw lots of strikes and consistently kept the M’s in ballgames, so I have no problem with either one of them.

It’s not a dominant rotation, but as long as guys don’t regress too bad, you can win a lot with them.

The bullpen is another matter, of course. You figure the M’s will also look to free agency here to shore it up, but I won’t be holding my breath. The variance from season to season when it comes to relievers makes them too unpredictable to project. It’s going to take a lot of luck – in finding the right guys, as well as helping our homegrown guys improve in their development – but if the Mariners somehow hit the lottery with their bullpen configuration, then 2021 could very well be the year we end the streak.

It could be the first year since 2001 that we make the post-season!

(it would also help if MLB kept the playoff format as is, with eight teams per league advancing, but that’s neither here nor there).

As I mentioned, every time I’ve left a season allowing myself to dream big about the future, the Mariners have fallen on their faces. This time DOES feel different, though. The foundation doesn’t seem like it’s being held together by 15 year old duct tape, with a leaking roof and spiders crawling all over the basement. The veterans are still in their primes, the young guys look poised to develop early, and if we can just catch a fucking BREAK for once, maybe there will be cause for real, legitimate celebration in 2021!

Or, you know, maybe everything falls apart again, the front office all gets fired after making all these promises of contention, panic moves – made in hopes to save their jobs – all bite us horrifically in the ass, and we’re left to do this all over again in another 5-10 years.

When I put it that way, when do the Seattle Kraken start playing?

Alas, The Mariners Have No More Games Against The Inept Rangers Left To Play

The Mariners finished the 10-game season set against the Rangers with an 8-2 record, thanks to the 4-game sweep over Labor Day weekend. Ever since the disasterous Rangers/Astros/Dodgers road trip where we went 2-8, the Mariners have won 11 out of 14, and were quite close to winning two more in that stretch! That brings us up to a 19-22 record, good for third in the A.L. West and, not for nothing, but also DANGEROUSLY close to actual playoff contention!

No joke, we’re closer to second place in the division (2 games) than we are fourth place (2.5 games), and don’t forget that the top two teams in every division advance to the playoffs (plus two wild card teams per conference).

Now, of course, let’s not go crazy. The Rangers are BAD. But, what I think is pretty entertaining is the fact that the Mariners … might not be bad? I’m also highly amused that we’re in the midst of a 6-game winning streak and this is mostly AFTER the Mariners made all of their trade deadline deals. Sure, losing Taijuan Walker and Austin Nola doesn’t help, but everyone else seems to be addition by subtraction. Let’s look back fondly at the last four days, before reality comes crashing down again as we head to San Francisco to play the Giants over the next couple days.

After our series against the A’s was COVID-ed out, you’d be reasonable in thinking the M’s might be a little rusty or otherwise lacking in focus. But, Yusei Kikuchi brought his lunch pail in this one, going 6 innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits (0 walks) with 7 strikeouts. It was a highly-effective performance (against, again, a bad Rangers offense). Dylan Moore, back from the IL, has been on fire; he had 2 hits in this one. Evan White also had 2 hits (including a double) and 2 walks, knocking in 2. And J.P. Crawford mashed a 3-run home run to salt this one away late. The Mariners were up 6-1 going into the ninth inning, when the Rangers made it marginally interesting, but they still lost by three runs.

The quality pitching continued for the Mariners on Saturday, as Justus Sheffield went 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits & 1 walk, with 6 strikeouts. Dylan Moore had another hit in this one. Newcomer Ty France has had a solid start to his Mariners career, with two hits of his own (he has 4 hits and 4 RBI since coming over in the trade with San Diego). There were lots of clutch hits up and down the lineup, though, as the M’s were 5 for 12 with runners in scoring position. Also of note is that Yohan Ramirez notched his second save of his young Major League career, locking down a 5-3 victory.

Justin Dunn couldn’t let the Quality Start train fall off the tracks; on Sunday he managed 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks, with 4 strikeouts, after really struggling through the first two innings. This was a game where the offense did just enough in nailing a 4-3 win. Kyle Seager led the way with 2 hits (including a 2-run home run in the first), and Kyle Lewis had a solo bomb. Kendall Graveman made his second appearance of the weekend in this one, since returning from the IL. He’ll be a bullpen guy the rest of the way due to a neck injury that’s preventing him from getting deep into games. He also just might be a bullpen guy forever, because he seems perfectly suited for this role. He can touch 99 miles per hour with his fastball, he has tons of movement on his pitches, and he’s an unflappable veteran who should be good in these pressure-packed moments. Honestly, I’d love to see him as our 7th or 8th inning guy exclusively next year.

Finally, on Labor Day, Marco Gonzales continues to be master of his domain (I’m using that phrase correctly, right? He doesn’t jack off?). He’s also a really great baseball pitcher! 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits (0 walks) with 7 strikeouts. He is just a marvel to watch out there. I figured he could turn himself into a decent #3 or MAYBE a #2 if he really worked at his craft, but he is legitimately a borderline ace right now. At this point, I’m surprised when he’s NOT going at least 7 innings and giving up 2 runs or less. Certainly, in three of his last four starts, he’s gone 23 innings and given up just 4 runs. His ERA now sits at 3.02 and he’s worked his way up to a 5-2 record on the season. The only blemish in this 8-4 victory came in the ninth inning, when Aaron Fletcher was handed a soft landing of sorts with a 6-run lead. He got one out while giving up a run and leaving the bases loaded. Yohan Ramirez had to enter in this improbable save-situation and try not to give up the farm. He got a quick out on a sacrifice fly, walked the bases loaded again, but got the final batter to foul out to end it, picking up his third career save in the process. Big moment for the kid!

Look, I know it’s dumb to dream of the playoffs now, especially when the Astros still get to play the Rangers a whopping seven times, but I just think it’s remarkable that we’re in this position at all. The starting pitching – particularly from the younger guys, but really across the board – has been better than I ever could’ve imagined. The bullpen has been a struggle to watch, but I would argue our very worst offenders (save Aaron Fletcher, for now) are off the team and out of the organization entirely.

What has obviously impressed me the most has been the hitting. The everyday players. Kyle Lewis has cooled off considerably since his red-hot start, but he’s still finding ways to contribute and should be a leading Rookie of the Year candidate. Kyle Seager has been flat-out fun to watch! He’s the kind of guy you love to have leading a new crop of youngsters, as he goes about his business the way you hope EVERY player on your team would. J.P. Crawford is still streaky as all get-out, and hasn’t quite mastered the power element of his bat, but his ability to get on base hasn’t wavered all year; with his defensive ability up the middle, I’ll take it. Evan White is still digging himself out of a pretty deep hole to start his Major League career, but he’s been MUCH improved over the last 2-3 weeks. He doesn’t look lost at the plate, and his power is insane when he’s able to connect.

The real fun has come from the fringes. Austin Nola obviously turned himself into an All Star and was traded for a bounty. Dylan Moore appears to be right on his tail, hitting .293/.369/.565 with 7 doubles and 6 homers; that’s supposed to be your utility outfielder! He was this scrawny-looking Quad-A guy last year who was barely hitting over .200 across 113 games! Then, there was Sam Haggerty (before he just went on the IL), who came out of nowhere to hit like a maniac. And even Jose Marmolejos has been red-hot since being called back up from the minors! His defense isn’t any sort of sight to behold, but he’s more than making up for it with his power bat!

The point is, I expected the offense to struggle a lot more than they have this year. Of course, there’s still about three weeks left to go, so anything can happen.

Counterpoint: there’s still about three weeks left to go, so anything can happen! We have ten games against National League opponents (who don’t get to see us too often, and therefore aren’t used to beating up on us like the American League has). We have three games – at home – against the Astros (our rivals for one of those playoff spots), and six games against the A’s (who are leading the division at the moment, but are long overdue for a cool-off period).

If the Mariners are worthy of making the playoffs, they’ll figure out how to overcome this two-game deficit. If they’re not, then it wasn’t meant to be. Either way, it won’t change my excitement level for 2021 one iota. Better days are ahead, my friends! I can feel it!

The Mariners Split With The Angels The Hard Way

Well, the good news is: we never have to play the Angels again in 2020.

There is no bad news.

It’s not all that dire, actually; I just don’t like them very much. The Mariners split the weekend 4-game series, and they split the 10-game season series; considering seven of those games were down in Anaheim (because MLB’s scheduling is dumb), that’s actually kind of impressive (of course, considering the Angels might be even worse than the Mariners, that’s also whatever the opposite of “impressive” is; Google says “unimpressive” might be the word I’m looking for there).

Game 1 of this series was pretty rough on the ol’ offense. Nick Margevicius spun another relative gem – 6 innings, 2 runs – but the bullpen gave up a late solo homer to Guess Who* and our ninth inning comeback fell one run short. Seager and Crawford had doubles in this one; Lopes and Swingin’ Sam Haggerty had the RBI.

* – Mike Trout, of course

Game 2 was a miserable affair I was more than happy to have missed (winning all of $10 playing poker against my family). A 16-3 laugher where Justus Sheffield didn’t quite have it (4.2 innings, 6 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks, with 6 strikeouts) and Tim Lopes got to pitch an inning of mop-up duty. Shed Long hit a homer – to prove he doesn’t JUST make outs all the time – and Austin Nola got his last walk in a Mariners uniform.

Games 3 and 4 were a couple of thrilling 2-1 victories for the good guys! I truly loved every minute of these!

Justin Dunn (in Game 3) followed up his 6 innings of 1-hit, 0-run ball by producing yet another line of 6 innings of 1-hit, 0-run ball! This time with 3 extra walks, but with the same 6 strikeouts! Kyle Lewis provided a solo homer in the top of the seventh to put Dunn in line for another win, but that was immediately coughed back up by the bullpen. The score stayed that way into the top of the 10th inning, when Tim Lopes hit automatic baserunner Kyle Lewis in from second base to take the lead, which Yohan Ramirez locked down for his first career Major League save.

I’ll admit, I’m not really a fan of starting a guy off at second base when we get to extra innings, but it’s new and different, so that makes it interesting (at least for now). At some point, I feel like that novelty is going to wear off and it’s going to stop feeling like legitimate baseball. You should need more than a bloop single to win an extra-innings game. I dunno, maybe that’s just a sign I’m getting old. You kids today with your “participation trophies” and your “baseball games that no longer go 18 innings once in a blue moon”.

Game 4 might’ve been my absolute favorite game of the season. Marco Gonzales had a complete game 4-hitter, with 1 walk and 8 strikeouts! He was absolutely marvelous! There were a couple of unlucky, broken-bat singles in the ninth inning to make it interesting, but then Guess Who* came to bat nursing a 3-strikeout game. He promptly hit a line drive right at Kyle Seager, who was able to double off the runner at second base for two outs. From there, the game was well in hand. He only needed 102 pitches in this gem! GOD I MISS COMPLETE GAMES!

Jose Marmolejos continued his red hot road trip with the go-ahead homer in the sixth inning; prior to that, Joe Odom (current starting catcher until the guy from the Padres gets cleared to play) knocked in Jake Fraley to get the scoring started for the Mariners.

The Mariners currently sit 15-22 and in third place in the A.L. West (VERY comfortably behind the top two teams). That record is good for 8th in the draft order for next season. On the one hand, getting swept by the Angels would’ve put us in the driver’s seat for one of the top draft spots, but on the other hand: how embarrassing that would’ve been!

In COVID news, I guess someone on the Athletics caught it? So, that means at least the first two games of the 3-game set that would’ve started tonight are postponed. If everything looks good, maybe we get a doubleheader in on Thursday. It’s pretty convenient that this is a homestand for the Mariners, so at least they can enjoy the break in the comfort of their own homes. The downside is, this is the last time Oakland was scheduled to come to Seattle, so if they’re ever going to make up that third game, they’ll have to do it on one of the teams’ mutual off-days in September:

  • Could be Monday the 14th; Seattle will return home the day before, though Oakland would have to hop from Texas (on Sunday) to Seattle (Monday) to play in Colorado on Tuesday
  • Could be Thursday the 17th; Seattle has a rare mid-homestand off-day, while Oakland would tack an extra day to their Texas/Colorado road trip before returning to Oakland for their game on Friday
  • Otherwise, MLB could unfairly add to the three games in Oakland the Mariners are set to play to close out the season, but I don’t think that’s very likely.

Here’s to hoping – for the teams’ sakes – that they’re able to at least get one of these games played on Thursday of this week. But, you know, better to be safe than sorry and all that.

These Damn-Fool Mariners Almost Swept The Padres Too!

Everything about this series was impressive, even the defeat!

After a harrowing stretch where the Mariners went 1-8, we damn near went 6-0; a funny thing for a terrible team to do when I’m over here talking about draft positioning in 2021.

We kicked things off on Tuesday with a rather satisfying 8-3 victory. Marco Gonzales wasn’t the sharpest I’ve ever seen, but he battled through five innings, giving up three runs on nine hits. Thankfully, the bullpen was able to shut it down from there.

The offense jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Marco gave up his runs to make things tight in the third inning. From there, though, the M’s were able to play add-on in the sixth and seventh innings to put it away. Austin Nola had three hits (including a homer), Evan White added three hits, and J.P. Crawford had a double and a homer to turn things around after a little slump. This was a fairly impressive victory against a really hot Padres team.

Then, on Wednesday, the Mariners decided to participate in the rash of pro sports boycotts this week over the latest high-profile police shooting (kind of sad that’s a sentence that gets to be written, but there you go). I’m dubious that Wednesday will be a day that goes down in history – as some people are writing – but I’m supportive of what they did anyway. It’s better than doing nothing, than ignoring the issue and hoping it goes away. I don’t know how much good it’ll end up doing in the grand scheme of things, but if it gets people talking and gets people focused on something important, I’m for it. I do think it would’ve been interesting – as someone on Twitter pointed out – what the reaction would’ve been if there were paying fans in the stands when these boycotts/walkouts happened. It’s one thing to postpone a game in an empty stadium/arena that will just be made up at a later date; it’s another for the franchises to have to issue refunds and to be face-to-face with thousands of potentially-angry fans who might not care about social issues when they’re trying to experience a ballgame.

Anyway, this meant that on Thursday, we got to experience our first doubleheader of the 2020 season! The COVID rules dictate that all doubleheaders are 7-inning affairs, which I don’t know why, but it tickles me to my core. My friend brought up a good point: in fantasy baseball, if you throw a 7-inning complete game shutout, does that count towards your CG/SHO stats? I’m sure it does, which is such delightful fantasy chaos I can’t even stand it! Of course, there wasn’t any worry about the Mariners doing that, so let’s hop to it.

In the first game, Taijuan Walker was supposed to start, but, well, you know … so instead Ljay Newsome was given the opportunity, and I’d say he made the most of it! You might recall he made his Major League debut against the Dodgers and spun three innings of relative gold against a pretty potent lineup. I would argue the Padres have just-as-potent of a lineup, and what do you know? More relative gold! 4 innings, 1 run on 3 hits and 0 walks, with 4 strikeouts. Work ended up distracting me from most of his outing, but I like what I hear about him so far anyway! He only threw 60 pitches, which leads me to believe the organization is still trying to build up his arm strength, on top of showing an abundance of caution for a guy who might be a legitimate member of this pitching staff (in some capacity) for many years to come.

After three shutout innings by both sides, the Mariners put a 3-spot on the board in the fourth inning. Evan White apparently strained his shoulder while diving for a ball earlier in the game and had to be pulled after his at-bat in the second inning. Jose Marmolejos – who was recently called up for this road trip – took over at first base and in his first AB crushed a 2-run homer the opposite way. Shed Long followed shortly after that with an RBI single to give the M’s a nice little cushion … that was wiped away completely in the bottom of the sixth thanks to Matt Magill.

Undaunted, the Mariners came out in the top of the seventh – the final inning of the game, remember – with a 4-run explosion! It was honestly one of the more impressive offensive displays I’ve seen out of this team! Sam Haggerty is a kid I’m liking more and more every time I see him; he got it started with an infield RBI single. Kyle Lewis followed with another infield RBI single, then Kyle Seager did the same damn thing! Austin Nola’s sacrifice fly made it 7-3 and gave us all the feeling that the game was put to bed.

Then, in walked Taylor Williams. The Taylor Williams Experience isn’t quite as entertaining as the Fernando Rodney Experience, but he’s just as much of a terrifying rollercoaster every time he steps on the mound! This was one of the more impressive blow-ups I’ve ever seen.

The TWE started off with two relatively quick outs! That’s part of what’s so insane about all of this. With a 4-run lead, the Padres were down to their final out of the game, and then things totally unravelled. A hit batter. A walk. A wild pitch. Another walk to load the bases. A single to score two. A passed ball to advance the runners. Another wild pitch to score one. A single to tie the game.

That last single was TWE’s 29th pitch of the inning, and here’s where things get interesting. Part of me expected – with a second game coming up in just minutes after the first – that Scott Servais would stick with TWE to at least close out the inning, lose or tie. If he gets the final out of the inning, then we’re going to extras regardless, and there are only so many bullpen guys to go around (on top of which, Yusei Kikuchi was to start the second game, and there’s no telling with him how many innings he’ll go in any given start). Instead, Servais made the curious choice to insert Dan Altavilla, Resident Buffed-Up Punching Bag. I’m a firm believer that neither Altavilla nor TWE will be part of the next Great Mariners Team if-and-when we ever see it come to fruition, but using both of these guys in such high-leverage situations – when they’ve proven time and again to be dangerous out there, if not outright inept – can only mean the team is (smartly) intentionally tanking as much as possible (without making it LOOK like they’re tanking) to get that higher draft pick that I keep harping on.

Call me crazy! I know it sounds like those Flat Earth people who say that Australia isn’t a real place that exists, but I’m just saying that it’s AWFULLY fishy that Altavilla – of ALL people – is brought in to try and preserve the tie. Of course, he promptly gave up a single, followed by a 3-run home run, to allow the Padres to walk it off. Seven innings scored in total, to give them the 10-7 victory. Incredible!

Game Two kicked off, I dunno, 30-60 minutes later? I was reading a short story when the Mariners put up a whopping SIX runs in the top of the first; out of sight/out of mind indeed! Who was in the middle of it all? Jose Marmolejos! With a GRAND SLAM! Are you kidding?! I don’t know if the team expected him to play at all on this road trip – I think he was mostly here just as insurance – and yet he enters in the middle of game one and manages to hit a homer in each game of a doubleheader! This is, apparently, why we have insurance; who knew?!

Staked to such a seemingly-insurmountable lead, Yusei Kikuchi went out there and was fine. Like Marco earlier in the week, he went 5 innings, giving up 3 runs (on 7 hits and 0 walks), with 6 strikeouts. He threw only 81 pitches, and never seemed to be in any huge jams, so it was curious to not try to squeeze one more inning out of him (especially when the bullpen had just done what it did earlier in the day), but again *Guy Tapping Head Meme* Scott Servais knows you can’t have your bullpen blow a save if you don’t go to your bullpen!

With a 6-3 lead at our disposal, we went with Aaron Fletcher in the bottom of the sixth. In just his third Major League appearance, he REALLY looked like he was going to oblige in blowing this game! A walk, a walk, a strikeout (SEVERELY aided by the umpire not knowing what a “strike zone” was), and a single loaded the bases before Servais had no choice but to pull him in favor of Joey Gerber (you know, to keep up appearances … *WINK*). Gerber has been mostly great in his first season in the Majors; if I were a manager who was trying to actually win games, I might’ve considered using him over Altavilla in Game One, for instance, as he’s been pretty reliable. Anyway, depending on where your interests lie, he either DID or DIDN’T disappoint, when he threw one pitch and managed to get a double play to get out of the inning without giving up any runs.

From there, the M’s added two more runs to their ledger, thanks to yet another clutch Sam Haggerty RBI (a double this time, giving him two hits in the game and three hits on the day), followed by another clutch Austin Nola RBI (a single this time, which was his lone hit of the game – though he had two walks – but his second hit on the day – in addition to his third walk earlier). Veteran reliever Yoshihisa Hirano closed this 8-3 victory out without too much trouble, giving the Mariners quite an impressive series win (that was, again, one out away from a series sweep).

And guess what! Now, we go to Anaheim to play the last place Angels for four games! Not only are the Angels last in the A.L. West – with a 10-22 record – but they’ve got the very worst record in all of Major League Baseball! Unbelievable, right?

At 13-20, the Mariners currently hold the seventh draft pick (based on winning percentage), which is kinda crazy. There are also five teams with a worse run differential than our -31. We could easily explain-away the sweep against the Rangers as them just being terrible. But, this Padres series was a little eye-opening. Truth be told, I know I’m all about that high draft pick, but THIS is actually what we wanted to see from the 2020 Mariners. Start off in a huge hole, but over time, everyone (especially the young guys) gets better until this team starts to look somewhat competent out there. THEN, you parlay that into further improvement in 2021, with maybe a hot finish putting us in or near playoff contention, just in time for this team to truly be great in 2022 and beyond.

It would, of course, be idiotic for us to get our hopes up for this 2020 team, with just a month left to play. But, you know, talk to me in four days when we sweep the Angels and are sitting at a quite-respectable 17-20. At that point, I might just be dumb enough to believe anything!

The Mariners Swept Someone, If You Can Believe It

I mean, it was the Texas Rangers, and their offense looks pretty abysmal – even by Mariners standards – but a series sweep is a series sweep!

I’ll be the first to admit: I only watched Sunday’s game. But, it sounds like there was a lot of good stuff to be mined from this weekend. Nick Margevicius got the start on Friday and was cruising along through four shutout innings, before giving up four runs in the next 1.1 innings. The bullpen was perfect the rest of the way though (including Taylor Williams’ fifth save) to seal the deal.

The offense was the story of this 7-4 victory. Kyle Lewis got on base three times and scored three runs (including a solo homer), Tim Lopes had a couple hits, and Braden Bishop checked in with a couple RBI. The damage was spread throughout the lineup, with seven Mariners getting hits and all nine Mariners managing to get on base at least once.

The Mariners absolutely exploded on Saturday, winning 10-1. Justus Sheffield had another quality start – going 6 innings, giving up 1 run on 6 hits and 1 walk, with 5 strikeouts. And, obviously, the bullpen worked its magic from there.

The offense was even MORE of the story in this one. Kyle Lewis was on base all five times (including going 3 for 3 at the plate), Austin Nola also checked in with 3 hits and 3 runs, and Evan White had a whale of a game! He had two hits – including a homer – and a whopping 6 RBI! It sounds like this one would’ve been a lot of fun to witness; it’s also games like these where I miss being in the stadium. That would’ve been just a total party from the opening pitch.

Yesterday’s game was actually a pretty thrilling little 4-1 victory! Justin Dunn had the best start of his young career! Of course, his last “best start of his career” was also against the Rangers a couple of weeks earlier. In that one, he went 6 innings, giving up 2 runs; yesterday afternoon, he went 6 innings, giving up 0 runs (while giving up only 1 hit and 1 walk, and striking out 6). He really had command of everything. The ball had phenomenal movement, he was getting ahead of hitters, and he did a great job of mixing up his pitches. I was wondering earlier in the season why he was such a highly-touted prospect, and it’s a game like this that’s really opened my eyes to the possibilities of what Justin Dunn can ultimately become. It’s still not the best fastball I’ve ever seen, but with the movement on all of his pitches, if he can command them, he could be really good!

All the scoring by the Mariners came off of the home run ball. Kyle Lewis and Austin Nola both had solo shots, and newcomer Sam Haggerty had a 2-run bomb. So far, Haggerty has had at least one hit in all five games he’s appeared in since making his Major League debut. He appears to be quite undersized – which makes sense, given his youth – but at the very least he seems to know what he’s doing in the very early going.

The sweep brings our record to 11-19, which is good for the fourth overall draft pick if the season ended today. We’re also now only the SECOND-worst run differential in all of baseball; the Rangers have fallen to the bottom! So, you know, take this sweep with a hefty grain of salt. The Angels appear to be the real deal as far as bad teams are concerned, because they leapfrogged us to the last place spot in the A.L. West.

Everything seems to be coming up Mariners lately, especially with an off-day today. But, be careful with that optimism, because tomorrow we start a 3-game road set against the red-hot Padres down in San Diego! They’re on a 7-game winning streak – having recently swept the state of Texas – and you might remember that brouhaha with Fernando Tatis Jr. last week. So, we’re walking into THAT hornet’s nest!

Look, just enjoy the pleasant weekend while you can, is all I’m saying.