Fun Times To Be Had At A Tacoma Rainiers Game

It was a spur of the moment situation.  I was home alone, sitting at my laptop, trying to figure out what I wanted to do for lunch.  There was Thai food, there was a bagel shop, there was a new pizza place I’ve yet to try, there was Round Table Pizza (which I love, and which has better-than-you’d-expect hot wings).  Then, a tweet came across my feed from the Tacoma Rainiers.  This weekend is Throwback Weekend, and on Saturday they were playing as the Tacoma Giants (1960-1965), with cool old school Tacoma Giants hats going to the first 1,000 fans in attendance (black back for 2/3 of the circumference, white front for 1/3 of the circumference, orange letter T with black outline, orange button on top, and orange curved bill.  Here’s a photo if you can’t picture it.

I wanted that hat as soon as I saw it.  I also figured a 5:05pm game at Cheney Stadium would be more fun than going to a movie (which was my original plan; I can still see A Quiet Place anytime), so I jumped at the opportunity.

Wanting to get there early enough to get a good parking spot, and ensure I got my hat, I left my house at around 3pm.  I live about 3 and a half miles from the stadium through town, so I wasn’t worried about the drive.  But, I wanted to gas up my car and get cash from my bank, so I wanted to get a jump on that, as the park opens up 90 minutes before gametime.  When I got to the gas station, I found something seriously wrong with my car; even though I clearly had less than a quarter of a tank, the gas pump was reading it as if my tank was full after less than a gallon had been put in.  Figuring this was some error with the car’s sensor, I tried to pump more gas into it and it started gushing out of the opening.  This was … a new problem for me.  I’ve never heard of this happening before.  I paid for what little gas I’d pumped and sat in my car, weighing my options.

Option 1 – go to the bank, get my cash, and go to the game anyway.  I have a 2017 Prius that I just bought in December, and while I didn’t have a ton of gas, I surely had enough to get me to Cheney Stadium and back, with enough left over to go back to the dealership for repairs.

Option 2 – go to the dealership right then and see if by the grace of God they could sneak me in today.

Considering I knew I had to be in Lynnwood the next day, I figured I didn’t have enough gas to get me there and back.  I didn’t want to drive my 1980 Camaro to Lynnwood and back because I’m trying to not put a ton of miles on it anymore.  I couldn’t skip out on going to Lynnwood, because it was for a going-away dinner for a buddy of mine who’s moving to Cleveland of all places.  And, I didn’t know when I’d have the time after that, as I have to work during the week (and commute back and forth to Seattle at that).  So, I went straight to the dealership.  Fortunately, they gave me a loaner, so I’m able to get around until they’re able to look at my Prius, which wasn’t going to happen for at least a couple days.

Luckily, I was in and out of there in time to still go to the Rainiers game.  I got there around 4pm – which is about 30 minutes later than I’d wanted – but they had plenty of hats left over, so I didn’t come away with nothing.

Boy, I’ll tell you, Cheney Stadium is really nice!  For less than $30, I was 7 rows up, just to the third base-side of home plate (basically between the dugout and home plate).  Here’s a photo of my view.  I guess they have tickets as low as $7?  It’s a remarkably good deal, any way you slice it (especially when you compare it to Mariners games at Safeco Field).

You’re not getting away with cheap food though.  It’s not ridiculously expensive, but you get the idea.  I paid, I dunno, $6-$8 for a footlong hot dog, and around that price for a footlong corndog.  I didn’t walk around pricing everything, but that’s the idea.  I also didn’t get any beer, so I have no idea what that was running, but I’m sure it wasn’t free.  If I would’ve gotten a seat in the first four rows (or thereabouts) behind home plate, it looked like they had a bunch of free food and/or waiters walking around taking your order (presumably for drinks?).  I don’t know what those seats cost, but it could very well be a nice deal with the food spread factored in.  Also, while Cheney doesn’t have regular outfield seating you’d find at Safeco, there are some field-level seats out in left field that look pretty slick.  Imagine if the Safeco bullpen areas had a net in front of them instead of a wall, and you could just sit there; I don’t know what these tickets cost either, but I know I want to try it sometime.

If you just want a cheap, fun day at the ballpark though, you’ll find plenty of seats with sick views of the field for less than $20.  There’s also a little grass hill down the first base line where I assume you sit the cheapest.  And, I think there’s like a party deck place or something that you can get a seat in, with close access to alcohol stands and whatnot.  I dunno, check out the website and figure it out!

Casey Lawrence got the start in this one, and an error by the first baseman cost him a possible double play (it for-sure cost him one out, and one of the two runs he gave up that inning).  Overall, he wasn’t super sharp, but he finished his day by getting 7 strikeouts for his last 7 outs; he went 4 innings, giving up 3 runs (2 earned, officially).  Josh Smith followed, going 3 innings, giving up 4 runs (2 earned, thanks to a bad error by the right fielder); Dario Alvarez went the final 2 innings, giving up 1 run.

Down 7-0 in the bottom of the 6th inning, the Rainiers mounted a rally, loading the bases on singles before a sac fly and a 2-run error made it 7-3.  The Rainiers made it interesting in the bottom of the 8th, but could only add on one more run.  The Sacramento River Cats extended the lead to 8-4, and the Rainiers couldn’t do much of anything against a guy throwing 96 mph smoke in the bottom of the 9th.

I kept score of the game in the little program they were handing out (of course, I had to buy a Rainiers souvenir pen, because I always forget to bring my own pens to these things when I’m by myself and want to keep score), which I haven’t done in ages.  I still get a kick out of it, because I’m a boring dork, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’m planning on going to a lot more games in the future.  I mean, I might as well, right?  I’m living in Tacoma for the foreseeable future, and I’ve got a lot of free time to myself.  Not enough time to warrant season tickets (or any of the season ticket packages, as I never know when other plans might crop up), but still, I hope to take advantage of more of these spur of the moment type deals.

It’s a pain in the ass for people from up north to come down to Tacoma, and I get that; I make that drive at least 4 days a week when I find myself visiting Seattle for work or leisure.  But, if you’ve got a day to kill, it’s highly worth your while.  Tacoma’s got a lot of cool things going on; great bar scene, great food spots if you know where to look.  Come early and stay late!  You can’t let the concept of shitty I-5 traffic run your whole life!

My Sunday At A Tacoma Rainiers Game

I know I’m not the first hack to extol the down-home virtues of watching minor league baseball games, but you’re just going to have to go with me on this one because I went to a Rainiers game yesterday, and MAN did I have a great time!

It all started with bedbugs.  A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a couple of them walking across my couch’s giant ottoman.  Upon confirmation of the infestation, I was forced to spend the entirety of that week’s weekend cleaning and bagging everything in my apartment (leaving only for the occasional gym run and to buy groceries).  This is what happens when you live anywhere in the Capitol Hill/First Hill/South Lake Union areas; and just know that the problem is getting worse, not better (I’m looking at you, Amazon.  The bedbug scourge is spreading through Seattle’s hipper areas like upwardly mobile tech-yuppies; you might want to clear out while you still can).

Anyway, last weekend was the worst.  So, I made it a point to spend this weekend as far away from my apartment (now supposedly bedbug-free, but we’ll see) as possible.  Turns out, “as far as possible” is 30-something miles south, to Tacoma, to stay with my family.  Of course, there’s only so much you can do with your family, and so much binge drinking you can accomplish in a 3-day period.  So, I decided to clean & sober it up on Sunday afternoon with a 1:35pm baseball game at Cheney Stadium.

Or, I guess, The New Cheney Stadium?

I can’t remember the last time I attended a game at Cheney, but it was before all the renovations.  I vaguely remember there being Dollar Hot Dogs, Dollar Ice Cream, and Dollar Other Stuff (maybe beer?).  I’m almost positive the only reason we were there was for the hot dogs (and beer, I guess), and for the life of me I can’t remember any of the Rainiers in the game that day (probably for the best).

Yesterday, I had more of an agenda at hand.  James Paxton was on the hill and I’ve yet to see any of the games by members of The Big Three, so this was as good a time as any.  We also had soon-to-be-promoted Nick Franklin as well as catching phenom Mike Zunino.  Going into this day, there were enough interesting elements to capture my attention full throttle.

That was before I realized we had Guti at DH (and batting leadoff) as he works his way from DL to Majors.  So, that was a nice bonus.  Stefen Romero was also in the lineup, playing left field (and making a nice diving catch early in the game).  Carlos Triunfel was also in the lineup at short (pushing Franklin to second).  I don’t know if that means the Mariners see Triunfel as a more-likely replacement for the Brendan Ryan/Robert Andino experiment than Nick Franklin, or if they’re just keeping both players fresh in the event one of them is brought up to play short, but I thought it was somewhat interesting.

James Paxton started out the game as a strike-throwing machine.  He breezed through the first 7-8 hitters, then they started figuring him out and knocking him around.  It’s hard for me to make any definitive opinions on the guy after only one viewing, but suffice it to say James Paxton did not have a good game.  Was this just one bad day?  Was it a fluke that this particular team seemed to get the better of him?

If you want my inexperienced take, I can see why he’s the lowest-rated of the Big Three.  If he’s hitting his spots, painting the corners, he’ll be in good shape.  He either needs to develop a better secondary out pitch or he needs to start throwing it more often, because it didn’t seem like he trusted it as much as he should’ve.  James Paxton might be too predictable.  Or, he might just have the kind of stuff that hitters are better able to figure out as the game goes on.  I understand why some people believe he’s destined to be a bullpen arm; because the second and third times around the lineup saw him getting hit pretty damn hard.  The thing is:  his stuff isn’t all that great.  How much can you expect out of a semi-finesse lefty with no real strong out-pitch in the bullpen?

Either way, Paxton didn’t make it out of the fifth inning.  Jonathan Arias relieved and made his AAA-debut.  He was recalled from AA and looks like a strong right handed power arm.  Arias went 2.1 innings of no-hit, 2-strikeout ball before giving way to Brian Sweeney who went the final 2 innings while giving up only 1 hit.

On the offensive side of things, Tacoma scored first thanks to a second-inning solo home run by Mike Zunino, which was apparently his first home run at home in his brief Tacoma career.  Zunino would go hitless the rest of the way, but he knocked in another run thanks to a sac-fly in the bottom of the sixth.

Paxton gave up two runs in the third and two runs in the fourth to put Memphis ahead 4-1.  The way Maikel Cleto was going, I thought this was going to be a long day (made even longer thanks to the Mariners losing for a third consecutive day in Cleveland, with Felix getting pounded), but third baseman Nate Tenbrink homered in the bottom of the fourth to pull the game to 4-3.  A solo homer off of Paxton in the fifth effectively knocked him out of the game and put Memphis up 5-3, which stuck until the bottom of the sixth with the aforementioned sac fly by Zunino, followed by an RBI single (with the infield pulled in, a runner on third, and only one out) by first baseman Rich Poythress to tie the game.

The teams exchanged zeroes until the bottom of the ninth, with one out, when Carlos Triunfel mashed a game-winning, walk-off home run.  And the majority of the 5,341 in attendance went home happy.

All in all, it was a great time.  One thing I noticed from the renovation is that they’ve done away with those long, hard metal benches.  All the seats are actual SEATS.  View Reserved seats are only $13 and you feel like you’re RIGHT THERE.  These same seats at Safeco Field would probably be over $100.  There’s a grassy hill area next to right field (down the first base side) where people can sit and those tickets are only $7.  From the looks of things, nestled comfortably in my $13 seats behind home plate, it looked like a fucking madhouse of kids running around in that grassy area.  So, unless you’re on a huge budget, or you’ve got a million kids and are already dead inside, I suggest NOT sitting on the grassy knoll.  For the record, the real good seats, down practically on the field, are still only $25.  And, there are suites, which I didn’t bother to price, as well as a party deck area with tables and umbrellas and, I guess, beer and stuff, but I didn’t price that either.  As I was with just one other buddy, I didn’t see the point in doing a full price-breakdown of all possible experiences at The New Cheney Stadium.

As I have no other minor league stadia to compare it to, I won’t.  It’s a fairly similar experience to going to Safeco – there are between-innings announcements, games on the video screen, stupid trivia, a reindeer mascot that’s a clear knockoff of the Mariner Moose.  Unlike Safeco, there were t-shirts shot into the stands, teenage girls dancing on the dugout while music is playing, kids running the bases in the middle of the game, about a million pre-game ceremonial pitches, a Kiss Cam, and a bunch of other things that distract from the actual experience of watching a fucking baseball game.  I would say my old age is starting to creep in, but even when I was a child I thought these things were idiotic and pointless.

Do you think they ever have throw-back days where the stadium announcer doesn’t do anything but say the names of the batters, where we’re not bombarded with music to fill any dreaded silence we might be forced to endure, where there’s nothing on the video board, where there’s no mascot running around, no T-shirts given away, and where we’re not forced to make it all about the kids, thereby dragging out the game an extra 15-20 minutes?  Followed by an after-game celebration with NO fireworks?  Where everyone can just sit there and quietly watch a fucking baseball game?  Where they can cheer when they want to cheer instead of being told when to cheer?  Do you think that’s possible?  Because I would GO to that game.  I would go the SHIT to that game!  I’d even wear an old-timey hat from the 1930s and a suit if need be!

Seattle Mariners 2012 Postmortem, Part 2 (Pitchers)

See Part 1 HERE.

Some interesting similarities between 2011’s starters and 2012’s.  Obviously, the two constants were Felix and Vargas.  For no discernible reason whatsoever, both were remarkably better in 2012.  Felix’s ERA dropped from 3.47 to 3.06; Vargas’ ERA dropped from 4.25 to 3.85.  This is reflected in their records, as they combined for 3 more wins and 7 fewer losses.

As chance would have it, both will likely return for 2013.  Can we expect continued improvement?  Will there be regression?

Obviously, Felix is smack dab in the middle of his prime, so I would expect any worsening of his ERA to be completely random (or due to injury, knock on wood).  As for Vargas, I think he’s going to be a crapshoot for the rest of his career.  A dependable crapshoot, but a crapshoot nonetheless.  I do wonder, though, what he’ll look like without the security blanket of Safeco.

Vargas Home/Road splits in 2012:

  • Home:  98.2 IP, 2.74 ERA, .592 OPS against, 9 home runs allowed in 14 games
  • Road:  118.2 IP, 4.78 ERA, .809 OPS against, 26 home runs allowed in 19 games

Look, not for nothing, but if you were planning out your pitching rotation, and you had a guy like Vargas – with such EXTREME home/road splits – wouldn’t you try to do the math and figure out a way to maximize his home starts?  Just something to consider.

I’m told by people smarter than myself that giving up a shit-ton of home runs is kind of random, so that’s likely to improve next season.  Nevertheless, you’re talking about a flyball pitcher who is considerably worse on the road.  He gets knocked around!  He’s likely going to leave Seattle after next season and he’s likely going to struggle for the rest of his career (except for the few times he comes to Safeco to pitch against the Mariners, that is).

It’s pointless to complain about Vargas (besides, I’m not complaining anyway); just know that we’re stuck with him.  Of course, there’s talk of trying to extend him on a 2-3 year deal for a reasonable amount of money.  I wouldn’t be against it.  Granted, he’s not the sexiest thing in baseball cleats, but about half the time he gets the job done, and he eats up a lot of innings.  You know EXACTLY what you’re going to get from Vargas, so in that sense, it’s nice to have something you can rely on.

Plus, you know, it’s not like we’re asking Vargas to be anything more than he is.  After all, we DO have a number 1 pitcher.  And he just so happens to be the best, most fearsome pitcher in all of baseball.

It’s funny, because I can clearly remember when Randy Johnson was a player on the Seattle Mariners.  I can close my eyes and picture him with the hat and the jersey and the mullet, staring down the batter from behind his glove, going into his wind up, burying a slider in the dirt on a right-handed batter for another strikeout.  It’s all there in my memory bank.

What’s not there is the feeling I had watching him as an M’s fan.  That confidence, that swagger, knowing that we’d be in for an amazing show every time he took the mound.  Knowing that other teams feared facing him above all others.  Knowing the best left-handed batters in the game would actively boycott his starts.  It’s hard.  Even though I knew Randy was one of the best in the game, it’s hard to be over-confident when your team has never really won anything ever.

I do know the fear, though.  Of opposing pitchers.  Coming in here and absolutely DESTROYING the Mariners.  If I had to pick a pitcher in his prime who I feared above all others, it’s hands down Pedro Martinez when he was with Boston.  Good LORD!  Remember, we had some out-of-this-world offenses back in the day.  And he would come here and we’d be lucky to get AH run, let alone many runs required to beat a Pedro-backed Red Sox team.  In fact, every time he started against us, I’d wonder, “Is this the time he no-hits us?”

The numbers bear this out, by the way.  In 14 career games (seriously, it felt like 144), the M’s only hit .177 against him.  That’s the second-best batting average against of any team he ever faced.

Anyway, this isn’t a post about Pedro, but I just want you to keep him in mind.  Because every time Felix faces, oh I dunno, the Rays or the Twins (who have batted .188 and .191 respectively against Felix in his career), they look at Felix the way I looked at Pedro.  With fear and awe and frustration and sometimes murderous rage.

Felix is great.  He’s AMAZING!  I don’t care what anyone else says, he’s hands down the best pitcher in baseball.  If I’m lucky enough to see Felix stick with the Mariners through his entire career, I will die a happy man.  And in 2012, Felix got his first Perfect Game.  Remember that?  Remember all the warm fuzzies on that Wednesday afternoon back in August?  That event single-handedly made my 2012.  Considering we’re talking about a team that was going nowhere, at least I got SOMETHING to enjoy.  Something to look back on with extreme fondness.

Anyway, that’s Felix and Vargas.  That’s 40% of your 2012 starting rotation and 40% of your 2013 starting rotation.

You thought you were finished with Blake Beavan after 2011?  You thought, “Oh, he’s a long relief bullpen guy at best!  No way he cracks the rotation AGAIN!”

Well, you thought wrong, my friends.  Because not only was he back in the 2012 rotation, he made 11 more starts than in 2011!  And he gave us EXACTLY the same type of production.

Blake Beavan is who he is and that’s all he’s going to be, it appears.  A guy with an ERA in the 4.50-range.  A guy who strikes out approximately 4 batters per 9 innings pitched.  A guy who is always in or near the strike zone.  A guy who pitches to contact.  And a guy who doesn’t get enough groundball outs to be an effective pitcher in the American League.

You want the typical Beavan start?  Here it is:  6 IP, 3 ER, 7 hits, 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 1 HR, 101 pitches.  You want to see that 26 times in a season?  Be my guest.

Most M’s fans hope we’ve seen the last of Beavan in the rotation.  As it stands, three of the five spots are currently locked up in Felix, Vargas, and Iwakuma.  Many believe Erasmo is one solid & steady Spring Training away from locking down that 4th starter job.  Which just leaves ol’ number 5.  Without question, the Mariners are going to bring in a free agent or two to compete for that 5th spot.  Likewise, guys like Hultzen will get a crack (and even if he doesn’t win it outright, he’ll be heavily considered for a May or June call-up, if he dominates AAA as he should).

Have we seen the last of Beavan?  I’m going to say yes, because I’m tired of straddling this fence all the time.

Speaking of Iwakuma (was I?  speaking of him?), he’s back!  On a 2 or 3 year deal, depending on how well he does in those first two seasons.  This is most-excellent.  Iwakuma was a definite gem when he was allowed to start last season.  As a starter, over 16 games, he had an 8-4 record with a 2.65 ERA.  In 14 relief appearances to start the season, he had a 1-1 record with a 4.75 ERA.

First, it should be mentioned that Iwakuma had all of five appearances in the months of April and May.  For reasons that haven’t been fully explained, Iwakuma was buried in the bullpen and only allowed to pitch in the most controlled (or emergency) circumstances.  Either he wasn’t ready to pitch in the Majors, or the team didn’t believe in his stuff.  Either way, when thrust into a starter’s role, Iwakuma rewarded the team with a bevy of dominant performances.

Second, it should be mentioned that the primary reason Iwakuma got to start at all was because Hector Noesi is a thing.

There have been some extremely shitty starting pitchers for the Mariners over the years.  Scott Sanders comes immediately to mind; don’t ask me why.  Sterling Hitchcock was a real sore thumb.  I recall Paul Spoljaric getting some starts early on.  Ken Cloude, of course.  Good ol’ Mac Suzuki …

Anyway, without hyperbole, Hector Noesi completely out-shits them all!

The only reason he didn’t have the highest ERA on the team is because George Sherrill had a 27 ERA after two appearances before being lost for the season to injury.  Noesi was a complete and total waste, in every sense of the word.  And the frustrating thing?  Unlike those other stiffs I listed above, Noesi actually has STUFF!  He’s got a live fastball with lots of movement, he’s got some sick breaking stuff … I mean, if he could harness his own power, he could be a Top 20 pitcher in this league.

But, it’s absolutely a fact that he doesn’t have the mental capacity to succeed.  I mean, just look at his numbers in various counts.

I’m going to split this up.  I’ll give you Noesi’s numbers, and I’ll give you Felix’s numbers.  The guy Noesi was in 2012 vs. the guy Noesi should aspire to be.

  • BA against in an 0-0 count:  Noesi – .300, Felix – .403
  • BA against in an 0-1 count:  Noesi – .244, Felix – .310
  • BA against in an 0-2 count:  Noesi – .319, Felix – .101

I could go on and on, but you probably get the idea.  If you don’t hit Felix early in the count, odds are you’re not hitting him at all.  When Felix gets ahead of you in the count, you’re fucking doomed!  When Noesi gets ahead of you in the count, just sit on something in the middle of the plate, because THAT’S where he’s going to throw it!

And it’s not like the media didn’t make a huge deal about it during the first couple months of the season.  It was a nasty little trend that never went away.  It’s also not like the coaches didn’t harp on it in public and private, ad nauseam!  Noesi just, for whatever reason, couldn’t adjust his game.  Which leads me to believe he’s not ready mentally.  Which makes me question whether he ever will be.

I don’t think we have to worry about Noesi in 2013; he’s firmly in the Tacoma Rainiers camp.  That doesn’t mean we won’t have some other huge embarrassing failure clogging up our 2013 rotation; it just means it won’t be the SAME huge embarrassing failure.

Finally, to finish off this little spiel on 2012 starters, we had Kevin Millwood.  Somehow, we got a full season out of the guy, which is a shock considering he was always coming up with some minor malady or another.

I’m not going to kick the guy as he’s being shown the door – obvs, he won’t be back for 2013 – but he wasn’t great.  He wasn’t as bad as I thought going into the season either, though, so that’s something I guess.  I’m not overly upset that we were forced to watch him nearly every fifth day.  And, he gave me probably my second-favorite memory of the 2012 season:  the 6-pitcher no-hitter.

Hell, if it weren’t for his decomposing body, he probably would’ve stayed IN that game and eventually given up a hit!

So, good on you, Millwood.  You made it through another season.  Happy trails and I wish you good fortune in your future endeavors.

***

The bullpen was a definite bright spot, especially once we cleared out all the trash.

For as shitty as the Mariners have been over the past decade, they’ve still been blessed with some solid closing performances.  Tom Wilhelmsen kept the streak alive in 2012.

I don’t have a lot to say about the guy, except that he’s great.  Atomic fastball, crazy-sick curve ball, and he’s working on a change up.  He’s either going to be a bigtime trade chip this offseason, or he’s going to be a lockdown closer for us in 2013.  Either way, I’ll take it.

Other than the Bartender’s bossness, the major bullpen storyline was Brandon League totally falling apart, losing his closer’s job, then getting traded to the Dodgers for a couple guys who will probably never see the light of day in a Mariners uniform.

Just to beat this dead horse one more time:  we drafted Brandon Morrow over Tim Lincecum (obvious step down in talent, 2012 season notwithstanding).  THEN, we traded Morrow for League and another guy.  The other guy continues to struggle for us in the minors.  THEN, we traded League for two more guys who will struggle in the minors.  In short, we passed over Tim Lincecum and drafted NOBODY in the first round that season.  Thanks Bavasi.  Thanks Jackie Z.

League went on to play in 28 games for the Dodgers.  He had an ERA of 2.30, with 6 saves and a serious uptick in K’s per 9 innings (8.9, vs. the mid-6 area for the Mariners).  League was rewarded with a fairly massive 3-year extension (with a vesting option for a 4th, if he meets a quota of appearances) that could be worth, all told, upwards of $28.5 million over said 4 years.

For the record, I don’t think there’s any way that fourth year sees the light of day.  Enjoy your inconsistent ball of aggravation, Dodgers!

The Mariners also traded Steve Delabar in 2012, which brought us Eric Thames, so I’d say that’s a win.  Thames wasn’t superb, but he had his moments.  Delabar was just another fireballer who wasn’t in the long-term plans either way.

Lucas Luetge, however, IS very much in our long-term plans!  He was a Rule 5 guy we picked up and made our lefty specialist.  And what a lefty specialist he was!  It’s not often that Rule 5 guys stick with a team for a full season; but if they do, it’s likely because they’re bullpen guys.  Luetge wasn’t just buried, though.  He was put in some tough situations and made it through pretty much unscathed.  63 appearances (though, only 40.2 IP), 3.98 ERA, with 38 strikeouts and 24 walks.  Not bad for a guy who was in the minors the year before.

Luetge is a guy we throw in there late in games to mostly get just one guy out.  Furbush, however, is a lefty we throw in there to be dominant late in games.

Furbush was a starter we got in the Doug Fister trade.  He stunk as a starter in 2011, so he was converted into a reliever (or back into a reliever, as I believe he’s had experience in that role before).  Furbush as a reliever in 2012 was lights fucking out, so it’s nice to have him back as well in 2013.

Oliver Perez, as I wrote about a little while ago, was re-signed.  He’s our third left-hander in the bullpen.  He’s got a live fastball and produced at a high level in 2012 (2.12 ERA in 33 games).

To even things out, we’ve got fireballers in the form of Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps.  They combined for 44 games, struck out a ton of guys, and both had ERAs near 4.  2012 was their first season in the Big Leagues (not sure if they played in enough games to qualify as “rookies” or not), so we’ve got that going for us.

Rounding things out, we’ve got Shawn Kelley.  Another big fastball, another productive season.

The bullpen for 2013 looks amazing, I’m not gonna lie.  If we trade no one, here’s what it looks like in list form:

  • Tom Wilhelmsen – Closer
  • Shawn Kelley – Righty
  • Charlie Furbush – Lefty
  • Stephen Pryor – Righty
  • Oliver Perez – Lefty
  • Carter Capps – Righty
  • Lucas Luetge – Lefty Specialist

As I sit here looking at it, I’m wondering who our Long Man is going to be.  I’ve never known a team to have a bullpen of all 1-inning-or-less guys.  Seems to me someone will HAVE to be traded, or left behind in Tacoma.  We’ll see.

Obviously, Wilhelmsen is the proven talent, so he’ll probably be pretty easy to move.  Made even easier since it looks like we have two more closer types (Pryor & Capps) with longer team control.  Those two guys are probably more valuable (due to said team control), so it wouldn’t shock me to see one, or even both, of them go to help bring in a bat.  However, let’s not go crazy and trade all three, huh?  I’d like to try to get Felix over the 15-win mark at SOME point in the near future!

In short, there was a lot to like (or at least not a lot to hate) about the pitching in 2012.  With the young ‘uns in Double-A itching to get their opportunity, we’re an organization rich in pitching.  Obviously, some will be traded to bring in a bat (or bats).  Hold onto your nuts this offseason, it’s going to get mighty interesting.

Analysis Of The Ichiro Trade

For the record, this trade defies analysis.  At its core, this trade is one of convenience.  It’s good for the Mariners because now they can start Wells every day.  They can continue to play Saunders every day (even when Guti comes back, if Guti ever comes back).  And, they can give Mike Carp regular playing time (between left field and first base) to see if there’s anything there worth keeping around for next season.

The Yankees get a still-good defender (though, they’re going to shoe-horn him into left field; I’m sure Ichiro will be as up to the task as he was when playing center field for Grover) who will be a major upgrade over Raul Ibanez (who the Yankees blogs seem to loathe).  They get a guy who still has a lot of speed and stolen base potential.  AND, they don’t have to feature him in the top third of their lineup like the Mariners have been doing.  With a guy like Ichiro, batting what Ichiro has been batting over the last two seasons, it’s a lot easier to justify his playing time if you’re able to bury him at 9th in the lineup.  And finally, it’s a lot easier to justify bringing in Ichiro at all when you’re only paying him $2 million over the rest of this contract.  At season’s end, if Ichiro is terrible, let him go.

And, quite frankly, this is a boon for Ichiro himself.  He asked for the trade, but he did so quietly.  That shows the respect he has for this organization.  I’m sure he didn’t demand to which team he’d be traded, but I’m sure landing with the Yankees had to have been at or near the top of his list.  He is all but guaranteed to make his second-ever playoff appearance on a team with a real shot at going all the way.  And, most importantly of all, he will have an opportunity to play every day (or nearly every day) thanks to Brett Gardner being out for the season.

***

I’ve been hearing people talk about the Mariners saving money and how that’s a good thing; are you high?  First of all, the Mariners are still picking up $5 million on his tab; how is that saving ANYTHING?  Secondly, this money is already spent.  The deal ends at the end of this season; any money the Mariners save is ONLY good for improving their bottom line.  It’s not like that $2 million is going to roll over into next year.  It’s not like they’re going to make a trade for someone else’s high-priced contract.  That money is GONE.  So, stop talking about the money like it’s anything other than what we already hate this organization for:  the Mariners pinching pennies and getting away with it.

Also, let’s get this out of the way:  this trade was never going to be for some amazing hitter or high-end prospect.  D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar are probably – at-best – decent pitchers for the Tacoma Rainiers for a couple of seasons before they flame out of professional baseball entirely.  You can’t sit there and expect to fleece a Major League ballclub in a trade for a guy like Ichiro.  They have scouts, they can read stat lines, they know all about sabermetrics, and they have eyes.  What they see with those eyes is a 38 year old singles hitter who doesn’t walk, has a sub-.270 batting average, and is no longer the dynamo he was just three years ago.  I know, as a Mariners fan, you see Ichiro and you see an All Star, Gold Glove leadoff hitter with a career .322 batting average.  But, as objective, non-Mariners fans, every other front office in the Major Leagues sees a guy who is past his prime, playing in one of his final seasons (if not his actual final season).

In other words, I wouldn’t expect a whole lot out of the pitchers we received.  If they’re even marginally better than Hector Noesi, I’ll be ecstatic.

This trade came as a shock not just for its timing, but for the fact that it happened at all.  I think most Mariners fans thought we’d be seeing Hell frozen over before we’d see them ship off their most marketable commodity (in fact, has anyone checked Hell recently?  is it still warm down there?).  A few of us thought (and hoped) that this 2012 season would conclude and we would all be glued to our TVs (if not cheering wildly at Safeco) on October 3rd as Ichiro played in his final game as a Seattle Mariner.  He would retire after the game, a franchise leader in so much, and we would be counting down the days until his Hall of Fame speech.  Others thought we’d get to season’s end, Ichiro would expect a new contract, the Mariners would balk at making an offer, and he would leave the organization in a huff.  I think the majority of us feared we’d get to season’s end and Ichiro either would have already signed or would eventually be re-signed before next season to a long-term (2, 3, 4 year) deal, for many more millions of dollars than he’d be worth.  Resentment would set in.  Resentment mostly for the organization so foolish as to think that would be a good idea for a team aspiring to win ANYTHING, and resentment for Ichiro himself, through no fault of his own.

In short, as I’ve said before, this trade is probably the best possible outcome, even if we don’t get to say a proper goodbye.  But, we have two more games at Safeco with Ichiro, even if he is wearing the wrong uniform.  Go out and show him how much you care.  Because the first game the Mariners play without Ichiro involved in some way is going to be fucking strange.

The Mariners Should Not Bring Up Danny Hultzen, Yet

Just about everyone is up in arms about getting Danny Hultzen some Major League experience.  Forget the fact that he’s only 12 starts into his professional career.  Forget the fact that at this time last year he was still in college.  We’ve got to get him up here NOW!

To which, I reply, Why?

Why is it so necessary to get him up here RIGHT NOW?  You know he’s going to be up here eventually!  What’s the harm in letting him season a little longer?

Some might say that he has done all he can with the Double-A talent level; it’s time to see what he does against superior opponents.  Well, then put him in Tacoma!  Why does everyone have a hard-on for fast-rising minor league talent bypassing the Triple-A level?  It’s called Triple-A for a reason, obviously the talent level is going to be a step up from Double-A.  Why not promote Hultzen to Tacoma and keep him there for a while?

Honestly, there’s no downside.  Unless our Major League rotation suffers a bunch of injuries all at once, I don’t see the need.  The Mariners aren’t going anywhere this year.  Promoting Hultzen before he’s ready can only do more harm than good.  If he comes up here and struggles, then he will likely be sent back down anyway, thereby disrupting his confidence.  If he comes up here and succeeds, so what?  It’s not like it’s going to propel us to the playoffs!

For as shaky as our rotation has been this year, it’s still probably the best we have right now.  Felix and Vargas are locked in.  Millwood, if he remains healthy, will remain entrenched.  The team still wants to get a better look at Noesi before dropping him into the long relief role he appears destined for.  The only guy on thin ice right now is Beavan, and we’ve got a guy in Erasmo Ramirez down in Tacoma who is ready for the jump to the Majors right now.

In fact, I can’t imagine Ramirez is our only alternative.  I think the team would be better suited in starting Iwakuma over Hultzen right now.  Or even stretching out Charlie Furbush again.  Hell, we’ve even got another guy in Andrew Carraway (who has already been promoted from Double-A to Triple-A this season) who probably deserves a look.

Hultzen needs, minimum, two months in Tacoma.  I don’t want to see him up in Seattle after three amazing starts in a Rainiers uniform.  I want to see him up here in August or September!  He will deserve to get a promotion eventually, as a reward for an amazing first minor league season; but he doesn’t deserve it now.

Obviously, things could change.  Vargas and Millwood could be traded.  Guys could go down with injury.  Guys could underperform to such a degree that it would be painful to run them out there every five days to watch them get shelled.  In that instance, if we’re down so many starters that we NEED a guy like Hultzen to come up here and try to salvage some dignity for this team, then fine.  But, to bring him up for no good God damned reason, just because he’s a sexy Second Overall Draft Pick who the fans would like to see sooner rather than later … it doesn’t make any sense.

If things were different, if this team were on the verge of sneaking into the Wild Card race, then fine.  But, this team is still pretty bad.  And subjecting Hultzen to this kind of mediocrity won’t do him a bit of good.

2012 Seattle Mariners 2-Month Review: April & May

And, you know, I guess March too.

I needed something to write about today.  Today just so happens to be a day on the calendar very close to the end of the month of May.  Ergo, a review of the first third of the season.

Officially, this is going to be kind of cheating because the stats I’m about to throw out will include yesterday’s game against the White Sox, but sue me, because I don’t feel like doing the math involved with eliminating yesterday’s contest.  Besides, I feel like yesterday is a pretty good sample of what the season has been so far for the Seattle Mariners.

I broke up my Season Preview into two parts:  Hitting & Pitching.  I’ll keep this as a single post, but first I’ll look at the hitting and try to refer back to my original work to see where things are going compared to my initial opinion of things.

And I’ll kick things off with Dustin Ackley.  He’s the one guy I was convinced we wouldn’t have to worry about on this team.  And, truth be told, I’m still not worried about him.  Though, let’s be honest, there’s certainly room for improvement.

His .254 batting average is third on the team.  In looking at the second part of that sentence – third on the team – you might think, “All right!  Not bad!”.  But, if you take your frame of reference outside of the Mariners’ Level of Hell we’ve been mired in for the past three seasons, then you’ll know that .254 is NOT an acceptable batting average.

Except for a lull in early April where he was as low as .231, Ackley has been right around his current average all season.  That’s not gonna work for me.  Ideally, he will find a way to improve by about 50 points between now and the end of the season.  Failing that, I would like to see him sit around .275 or so.  With the way he’s able to keep his OBP up, that should put a nice finishing boost on his overall OPS going into next season.  At that point, with a year & change under his belt in the Majors, I think we can expect that Ackley will have figured out all the adjustments he needs to figure out to be a .300 hitter for the bulk of his career.  Outlook:  bright.

Following Ackley, as he has in the batting order for so much of his baseball career since college, let’s look at the most pleasant surprise on this Mariners team:  Kyle Seager.

Seager leads the team in batting average with .283.  Now THAT is where you want to be at this point in your career!  And don’t let the fact that he looks like a male version of Punky Brewster fool you, this guy has a future in Major League Baseball!  He currently leads the team in OPS at .806, which is just … *sniff* … there are no words.  It’s so damn beautiful I could cry!  What?  No, I’m not crying right now!  There’s just something in my eye!

Also, Seager leads the team in RBI with 31.  That puts him in the Top 20 in the AL.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.

I was pretty high on Seager to start the season, putting him in my catagory of Guys We Have Reason To Hope Will Be Good.  That may have been jumping the gun a little bit, but for whatever reason I’ve always liked this guy.  He’s just a pure hitter, plain and simple.  He’ll never lead the league in power numbers, but he’ll be an important piece for this team for a long time.

Next on the list, I’ll discuss Jesus Montero.  This is his first full season in the Majors, so I don’t want to be too hard on the guy, but let’s just say he’s not There yet.  A .251 batting average, a most-unimpressive .294 OBP.  What’s keeping his OPS from being a total disgrace are his power numbers.  He’s second on the team in Homers with 7 and fifth on the team in doubles with 9.

Make no mistake, I’m not down on the guy at all!  He’s still learning how to be a regular catcher (not necessarily an “every-day” catcher because … Olivo), he’s still technically (I believe) a rookie, and there is still a LOT of promise in his bat.  The way he’s able to go the other way with power.  The way he’s occasionally able to rip mistakes down the left field line to keep pitchers honest.  I think he very well COULD be the next Edgar Martinez for this team.  But, Edgar wasn’t Edgar overnight.  I would still look for big things out of this guy in the coming seasons.  Let’s just get through this one healthy and with some semblance of momentum at the end.

Next, let’s take a look at the guy I’m (so far) most proud of on this team.  Justin Smoak.

This guy was getting KILLED in the press earlier this season, and for good reason.  As late as May 9th, Smoak was hitting .173 thanks to a 3 for 30 stretch to open up the month.  From there, over the next 21 games (of which he played in 19), Smoak has raised his average 65 points!  He’s had 6 homers in that stretch (compared to 3 in our first 33 games), 18 RBI (compared to 10 before), and he’s raised his OPS to a somewhat-respectable .688 (compared to a downright Figginsian .493 up until that point).

In short, Smoak has been on a tear.  And you know what I think?  I think this is just who he is gonna be.  He’s going to be a streaky player who is insanely hot for a month, and ice cold for a month.  What he’s got to take better control of is exactly HOW cold he gets.  He can’t be hitting .173 for very long and expect to retain his Major League status.  “Cold” for him needs to be around .225.  And “Hot” for him should start approaching .300 or .325.  It looks like he’s got his shit figured out so far, but I’ve been fooled by Smoak before.

One of the other more pleasant surprises this season (after Seager) has probably been Michael Saunders.  Granted, his .241 batting average isn’t lighting the world on fire.  But, he’s far from the total disaster he’s been the past three seasons in the Majors.  Hell, compare his numbers this year to last and you will see across-the-board improvement.

He played in 58 games last year; this year he has been in 51.  So far, his average is almost 100 points higher.  He has 13 doubles compared to 5 last year; 4 homers compared to 2; 16 RBI compared to 8; and he has already walked more as well as stolen more bases.  Whatever he did to improve his swing in the offseason has CLEARLY worked.

That having been said, what Michael Saunders has been over the first two months isn’t what you would consider to be a “starting calibre” outfielder.  I don’t care how good his defense has been.  But, at least he has shown he’s a bona fide Major League reserve outfielder.  He currently has probably another month or so before Franklin Gutierrez comes back from the DL.  In that month, I would REALLY like to see him make a push to improve that batting average and slugging percentage.  He could make Wedge’s life a lot more difficult if he’s able to make the push from Major League Reserve to Major League Starter.

Finally, I’m just going to run through a few other guys.  Alex Liddi has been nice to see.  He’s done some impressive things.  And I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the guy.  Mike Carp has had a tough go thus far, what with landing on the DL.  He’s sub-Mendoza right now, so he’s going to have to pick that up.  As it is, he’s losing significant playing time to Liddi (who isn’t even a natural outfielder, but the Mariners are trying to shoe-horn him into being one).  Olivo, Figgins, and Ryan have all been fucking disasters and I can’t wait until they’re all out of my life.  And, of course, Ichiro has been Ichiro (except for the fact that his batting average is about 50 points below his career average).  He’s still a starting-calibre guy for us, but he’s clearly at the end of his career.  Maybe one or two more years TOPS.  Here’s to hoping those lame duck seasons are in another city.

***

On the pitching side of things, I don’t have nearly as much to say.  That’s mostly because we’re talking about a group as a whole where most of them won’t even be on the roster next year, if not the year after.  Guys I expect to be gone after 2012 (if not sometime mid-season):  Kevin Millwood, Jason Vargas, Brandon League, Hisashi Iwakuma, George Sherrill, Steve Delabar.

And, when you look at the starters, I would expect to see four new guys behind Felix next season.  I think Beavan is destined for a long relief role (in which he will continue to Beavan his way through until the team finally gives up on him and trades him for scraps).  I think Noesi will be flipped in a trade (either as a throw-in, like he was in the Pineda deal, or for more scraps).  And I think we’re looking at the rise of the kids for 2013 (with probably one veteran signing a la Kevin Millwood, just to cover our asses).

But, I guess this is commentary for another time.  Right now, let’s look at the starters.

Felix has been Felix.  Yeah, he’s had some struggles of late, but he’s still Felix and I still expect him to turn things around.  He’s had some duds against the White Sox, Angels, Indians, and Yankees, but those are all really good teams.  Anyway, it’s June now.  This is traditionally the time where Felix turns on the ol’ Wiggum charm.  Moving on.

Vargas has been Vargas, in that he has – for the most part – been very good the first couple months of the season.  We’ll see if he turns back into a pumpkin as he has the previous two seasons.  His contract with whoever he signs with this offseason kinda depends on it.

Millwood has gone from being the fucking Holocaust in his first 6 starts (posting a 5.88 ERA in the process) to actually being a guy you can be proud of having in your starting rotation the last 4 starts (lowering said ERA to 3.56).  Including a 2-hitter in Colorado!  This gives me real hope that we can actually GET something for him come July 31st.  Fingers crossed this Renaissance continues!

Beavan … ugh.  I have absolutely nothing to say about Beavan.  Turn into Doug Fister already so we can trade you!

And Noesi.  This guy, I hate.  One could argue I haven’t given him a chance to win me over, but I could counter with:  what reason has HE given ME?  I don’t want to look at his pitch location, I don’t want to talk about whether or not he has been “unlucky”.  I want results.  I care about wins and losses and how many runs this guy has given up.  Give me the bottom line or get the FUCK off my team!  He leads the team in homers given up, he hardly strikes anybody out, he has no real command of his pitches so he has no idea where they’re going to end up.  The guy is a joke.  The Mariners have been cursed with guys like Noesi since the mid-90s.  Guys with plus fastballs, guys with lots of movement on their pitches, but for whatever reason, guys who can’t hack it on game day.  I want Noesi gone.  I want him gone yesterday.

As for our bullpen, the main story is obviously Brandon League blowing his way out of the closer’s job.  True, he’s had a rough go, and a rough go at the most inopportune time for him (when he’s about to be a free agent).  Likewise, it’s the most inopportune time for the Mariners as well, because we were looking to trade this guy at the deadline.  There’s still time, but for the time being he’s going to be working his way back to respectability in a set-up role.

As for the others, there’s been a lot to like about Wilhelmsen.  I don’t think he’s our “Closer of the Future” or anything, but his K/9IP rate is off the charts!  Luetge still hasn’t given up a run in 18 appearances (spanning a meager 11.1 innings), so it’s safe to say this Rule 5 guy has been a nice story for this team as our sometimes lefty specialist.  Furbush, after a quick sojourn to Triple A, has bounced back as another lefty arm in the bullpen with flying colors.  Delabar was recently sent down to Tacoma for giving up too many homers (and not getting enough right handers out in spite of the fact that he throws with his right hand), so we might not be seeing him for a while.  Iwakuma has appeared in 5 games even though he’s been on the team since Opening Day.  That says a LOT about what the team thinks about his abilities.  Then again, maybe they’re just saving him up to give him a bigger load in the second half of the season.

***

The Seattle Mariners ended the month of May with a 23-30 record.  We were tied for last in the AL West with the Oakland A’s.  We were 9 games back of Texas.  We were the 7th worst team in all of baseball.

There have been surprises here and there.  For instance, we’re 5-5 against the Rangers and 5-1 against the Tigers!  Of course, we’re also 1-4 against the Indians and got swept in our only series against the Angels, 4-0.  We’ve had a perfect game pitched against us and we’ve had a 7-game losing streak.

However, all that having been said, this team just FEELS better.  Even though as of the end of May in 2011 we were 27-26 and only 1.5 games out of first.  We’re hitting better (perfect game notwithstanding), we’re scoring more runs.  Hell, we put up 21 on the Rangers just a few days ago!

Obviously, this Mariners team isn’t going to contend for shit.  But, it’s not TOTALLY impossible for the Mariners in 2013 to make some noise.  Gets me all hard just thinking about it.

The Mariners’ Bullpen Is Not Very Good Right Now

I won’t go so far as to say it sucks quite yet, because I still have hope for some better results.  Some of that hope resides in Tacoma right now, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

  • Game 1 – Tom Wilhelmsen 2 innings of shutout ball; Brandon League 1 inning of shutout ball
  • Game 2 – Shawn Kelley .1 innings, 1 earned run, 1 home run; George Sherrill 0 innings, 1 earned run, 1 home run; Steve Delabar 1.1 innings, 1 earned run, 1 home run
  • Game 3 – Delabar 1.2 innings of shutout ball; Wilhelmsen 1 inning, 1 earned run; League 1 inning of shutout ball
  • Game 4 – Luetge .1 innings of shutout ball; Delabar .1 innings, 1 earned run, 1 home run; Wilhelmsen & League 1 inning of shutout ball each
  • Game 5 – Erasmo Ramirez 3 innings, 1 earned run, 1 home run; Delabar .2 innings of shutout ball; Sherrill 1.1 innings, 3 earned runs, 1 home run
  • Game 6 – Wilhelmsen 1.2 innings of shutout ball
  • Game 7 – Delabar .2 innings, 2 earned runs, 2 home runs; Luetge 1.1 innings of shutout ball; League 1 inning of shutout ball
  • Game 8 – Ramirez 1.1 innings, 1 earned run

At the top of the heap, we have League and Wilhelmsen who have combined for 9.2 innings of relief and 1 earned run.  Not far behind, there’s a goose egg for Luetge in his 1.2 innings of relief.

AND … there’s everyone else.  Kelley only had one game to prove that he “deserved” to be in Tacoma.  Sherrill has had two games and has the same ERA (27.00).  For all intents and purposes, Delabar isn’t that far behind with his 7.71 ERA over five games, considering he’s given up a whopping 4 home runs!  And, in looking at Ramirez, you just have to wonder if he’s ready.  I think in retrospect, it was probably a stupid idea to keep him on the Major League roster out of Spring Training.  Probably should’ve let him get some more confidence in Tacoma before destroying it with this Texas series.  Maybe “destroy” isn’t accurate, but he certainly didn’t do much to help this team in his two appearances except to eat up some innings.

If Delabar still has options, then it is irresponsible to keep him on the Major League roster.  He is getting HAMMERED out there, and it’s not just Texas!  But, even if it was, a reliever with his stuff shouldn’t be getting shelled like he has.  If he absolutely must remain on this team, then he’s the number 1 candidate to take a week or two off if I’ve ever seen one.  Give him the ol’ Jeff Gray treatment and bury him in that bullpen and maybe let Iwakuma get his feet wet.  He certainly can’t be any WORSE.

If it were up to me, I’d bite the bullet right this second.  Replace Delabar with Kelley and replace Ramirez with Furbush.  You can’t go around throwing games away this early in the season if you want to generate even one iota of fan interest.

Thus far, the bullpen has helped in costing us today’s game (Ramirez gave up the fourth Vargas run as well as his own), and the second Japan game.  The bullpen (or at least parts of it) has been monstrously bad in three others whose outcomes they didn’t affect.  It’s time to nip this right now, before things get too out of hand.

And I’ll tell you this for free, if Sherrill keeps getting pounded the way he has, then they better cut his over-the-hill ass asap!  I’m tired of watching his bullshit get turned around for moon-shots!

Hector Noesi Is Probably Going To Suck

Let me preface this by saying:  I hope I’m wrong.

Let me also say:  yeah, yeah, I know, it’s only one game and it’s against the Rangers in Texas.  Blow me.

Perhaps “suck” is too strong a word, but I contend there’s a lot of leeway with a word like “suck”.  To some, “suck” means being terrible, among the lowest of the low.  To others, “suck” simply means the absence of being good.  I have no confidence in Hector Noesi ever being good.  Or, at least being good over an extended period of time (like, say, over the course of an entire baseball season).

He has stuff.  I don’t know how great that stuff is, but he has something.  His fastball moves, and it goes about 92-93 miles per hour.  He’s got a slider and a change up, and both of those move as well.  All kinds of movement with this guy!  The thing with Noesi that’s ultimately going to land him with the Tacoma Rainiers is:  he’s one of those pitchers who doesn’t know where the fuck his pitches will end up after he’s thrown them.  I can’t STAND those kinds of pitchers!

Oh, he’ll have a game here and there where he looks unhittable.  But, that’s just because all of those pitches he can’t control just HAPPEN to miss a bunch of bats (or lead those bats to create weak, groundball contact).  But, for every game like that, he’s going to have double the games where he looks like he did tonight against the Rangers.  Nearly half of his pitches will be balls, he’ll have just as many walks as strikeouts, and a third of his hits given up will go for home runs.

I’ll admit, it’s a rough go when your first start with your new team is against the Rangers, but you know what?  Show me something.  I’m not expecting perfection out of the gate, but show me SOMETHING.  In spite of what we’ve seen thus far, we’re not going to face the Oakland A’s EVERY game.  Sometimes, we’re going to face teams like the Rangers.  And if you can’t do better than 3 innings and 7 earned runs, then I don’t want to see you pitching for my baseball team.

The three starters after Felix and Vargas are REALLY going to suck my will to live.  Remind me to never attend a game where Noesi, Beavan, or Millwood are starting.

A Mid-August Look At The Mariners’ Youth Movement

With the start of football season, the Mariners just haven’t been all that interesting, so my posts on the team have been unsurprisingly less frequent.  However, of late, the Mariners have produced some exciting moments from a batch of our younger guys getting a late-season showcase.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  This is August.  This is a team far from contention.  We’ve seen this before; we’ll reserve our judgment for next year.  Let’s see if they can continue to produce when the games, the at bats, the pitches actually mean something.

I hear you.  How many times have we seen a pitcher come on like gangbusters in September, only to suck to high heaven the following spring?  How many hitters have made a name for themselves with their late-season call up, only to have that name erased forever when shit was on the line?  But, I will say this:  I’d rather have guys produce now than the alternative (being:  not producing at all).  Do quality at bats & innings pitched guarantee success in the following season?  No, of course not.  But, at least they open the door to possibility.  To hope.

I’m going to give an overview of a few of the more exciting players who’ve made an impact of late.  Let’s start with the pitchers, since they’re actually the less interesting of the two sides.

Dan Cortes – Did you know this guy has one of the lowest ERAs on the team?  You wouldn’t think so, by reading all the blogs around the city.  Of course, we’re talking about 8 measly innings pitched, but still.  All I ever hear about the guy is how he walks the world, but truth be told he’s only walked 3 guys.  What’s probably the most disturbing is that he’s struck out 0.  It’s too early to tell if the guy is going to be a major bullpen threat next year, but he’s shown so far in his few outings that he can go multiple innings, he can keep guys off base, and he’s even induced more groundball outs than flyball outs.  If he can keep it up, and have an awesome Spring, you could be looking at a trusted 6th/7th inning guy.

Tom Wilhelmsen – In my opinion, a guy who has no business being on a major league roster right now.  Granted, he’s got a live arm, but he’s too damn wild and ineffective.  He’s given up 12 walks vs. 10 strikeouts, he’s got an ERA in the mid-6 range, and he doesn’t appear to be making any progress.  For every decent outing, he’s got an absolute disaster right around the corner.  My best case scenario for this guy:  manage to somehow not kill the rest of his trade value over the next month and a half, then package him with some other prospects for a quality bat.  He’s a guy I wouldn’t mind losing, even if his is a story heart warming.

Josh Lueke – Glad we traded for this guy, glad we kept him glad he’s gotten a chance to show what he can do after his abomination of an April.  Don’t let the 8.44 ERA fool you; he was over 17 when he was originally sent down to Tacoma after his first 8 appearances.  The guy couldn’t do anything right, the velocity on his fastball was disturbingly low, and he was just getting pounded left and right.  Ever since his mid-July call-up, he’s pitched 9.2 innings and given up only 3 runs (with 7 strikeouts vs. 2 walks).  He’s too young to be closing games in the Majors, but one day he could be the man.  It’s nice having him around on his way up (as I imagine his trip back down the ladder of success will be a quick & painful one).

Charlie Furbush – The jury isn’t just out on this guy; the jury has yet to be selected!  He’s started 3 games for us, relieved in another.  He’s had a good start (5 innings, 1 run), a terrible start (4 innings, 7 runs, 6 earned), and a great start (7 innings, 1 run, against the Red Sox of all teams).  Sure, there’s promise, but promises are made to be broken.  The upside is:  he becomes a left-handed Doug Fister (i.e.  he’s a capable innings-eater who doesn’t strike anybody out, but also doesn’t walk the world).  If all he becomes is the left-handed Doug Fister, then we’ve pretty much come away from that trade ahead, since there are three other guys involved with the deal (not counting Pauley, who nobody in their right mind will ever miss).  If he fails in his charge to become the left-haded Doug Fister, then who cares?  Doug Fisters are a dime a dozen (you’ll never know how it pains me to say that, as I was actually a pretty big Doug Fister fan while he was here).

Blake Beavan – Here’s another guy with limited upside.  Essentially, we want him to be the right-handed Doug Fister (or, just Doug Fister).  At first, you had to LOVE what you saw out of the kid.  6 consecutive quality starts to kick off his career (including a couple of impressive performances down in Anaheim, going 14.1 innings over 2 starts, giving up 3 earned runs).  He has since backed those games up with a couple of real clunkers (11.1 innings, 11 runs, 6 home runs against Boston & Toronto).  That’s not going to cut it.  He’s got to find a way to be a little more spectacular in his wins and a little less like Chinese Water Torture in his losses.  I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in this guy right now, but I don’t think there’s any pitcher I’m more interested in seeing down the stretch.  Can he bounce back?  Will he flame out like the Challenger Explosion?

Now, to the hitters (in an effort to not bum everyone out, I’ve decided to leave Justin Smoak off this list).

Trayvon Robinson – Talk about an exciting debut!  The kid has flashed some serious glove, some serious power, and some serious consistency.  He’s 9 for 36 so far with 4 doubles and a homer.  Of course, in his 10 appearances he’s struck out 14 times with only 1 walk (so, in that sense, he’s just like Halman, Peguero, and all the rest of our high-strikeout AAA bashers).  People in the know seem to have higher hopes about Robinson in spite of these K’s, so who knows?  What I want to see out of him more than anything else is a batting average that doesn’t plummet to Figginsian levels with steady playing time.  All of these guys seem to start out ablaze, then a month goes by and it’s like they’ve been hit with a dozen fire extinguishers.

Casper Wells – Before the trade, Wells was hitting .257 with 4 homers, a .323 OBP, and a .451 slugging percentage in 113 at bats spread out over the first four months.  Since the trade, Wells is hitting .326 with 5 homers (including a homer in 4 consecutive games), a .413 OBP, and a .652 slugging percentage in 46 at bats.  Sure, a smaller sample size, but it could also be a testament to what the guy can do when given a chance to compete for a starting spot (and given a chance to play everyday).  A lot to like about the guy’s results, but I question if he can do it over the long haul.  For the moment, though, he’s making the Fister trade look like a fucking blockbuster.

Mike Carp – This guy is easily my favorite story of the year.  Not Pineda, not Ackley, not Wedge shaving off his moustache, not even the cutting of Milton Bradley.  Here’s a guy who looked like nothing more than a AAA also-ran.  Someone with not enough power for the power positions (left field, first base, DH) and not enough skill for the skill positions where we’re hurting the most (third base, short stop, catcher).  Essentially, he was a baseball player without a position.  No matter where you put him, he would ultimately never live up to the ideal.

Then, something happened.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the guy took a few dozen massive doses of steroids, but I’m pretty darn certain that’s not the case.  Simply put, the guy turned into a wild, uncaged animal for our Rainiers.  As guys like Peguero and Halman kept all the Major League playing time for themselves (and doing a poor job at it to boot), Carp quietly went about his business of being the Osama Bin Laden of the PCL (terrorizing, he was terrorizing them).  Finally, in early June, the Mariners had no choice.  They HAD to bring the guy up.

And, I don’t want to say he struggled, but he certainly wasn’t the hitter he was in Tacoma.  He had a .200 batting average with 2 doubles and 0 homers in 35 at bats … okay, so he struggled!  He still had enough walks to keep his OBP at .333.  When he was sent back down in early July, I was convinced that was it for the Mike Carp era.  It proved once and for all that Carp was indeed nothing more than a AAA also-ran.

Then, he was called back up.  And all of a sudden, he started dominating.  They gave him an everyday job and let him take his lumps.  As a result, Carp has rewarded the team with .371 batting average over his last 105 at bats.  He’s hit 6 homers, 6 doubles, and a triple.  He’s slugging .619 over this span to give himself an absolute Ruthian OPS.

You know why he’s my favorite story of the year?  Because he reminds me so much of Edgar.  A guy who toiled in the minors well into his 20s, then finally got a shot on some bad teams.  Once he had a regular opportunity to bat, he ran away with it, winning batting titles and the hearts of the Pacific Northwest.  Who’s to say Carp couldn’t do the same thing as our DH of the future?

I implore Mariners executives:  don’t go out and buy another past-his-prime designated hitter in the hopes that he’ll rebound to his 2-years-ago self.  2 years in baseball years might as well be 2 decades when you’re old.  Mike Carp is here now, he’s inexpensive, and he’s poised to tear the cover off the ball for years to come!

Dustin Ackley – This kid is just amazing.  There’s nothing else to say about him.  I have no concerns whatsoever that he’s going to regress next year.  I fully expect him to have a Wade Boggs type career for the next decade-plus.  Even when he’s struggling (like he has in August, with a .241 batting average), he’s still awesome (a .379 on-base percentage in that very same span).  On the year, he has 25 walks vs. 35 strikeouts.  He’s hit 5 homers, 5 triples, and 11 doubles; I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome that is for a second baseman.  In seriously not that many years, he’s going to go down as the best second baseman the Mariners have ever seen (with apologies to Harold Reynolds).  I love you Dustin Ackley.  So very damn much!

The Answer To A Question Nobody Asked: Kyle Seager

So, everybody, can we PLEASE stop with all of this?  The guys we bring up from Tacoma are most likely NOT going to be the savior of this offense.  Have we learned nothing from Mike Carp?  Yeah, he got on base a little bit, but overall his impact was pretty much nil!

Oh, don’t mind me.  I’m just irritable.  This whole “youth movement” thing would be a lot easier to swallow if this team were in last place in the AL.  Instead, all of this contending has put a bug in my ear.  A stupid, irrational bug that whispers, “Psst, we could do it.  We could be the 2010 San Francisco Giants.  This pitching is good enough to take us all the way.”

Of course, that may or may not be true, but what are we supposed to do about it?  It’s not like we can trade for all the replacements we need.  Third base, left field, center field, designated hitter … all of these positions in our batting order are black holes of death.  And first base, catcher, and short stop aren’t far behind.  I mean, unless we want to give up our two best young players – Ackley & Pineda – there’s no way we’re filling those holes in mid-season deal(s).

Instead, all we can do is stick with the plan.  Play the kids.  And so guys like Kyle Seager are brought up WELL before they’re ripe.  Except, they’re not brought up for the right reasons.  We’re told they’re here to gain valuable Major League experience, but in reality they’re here to “Save The Offense”.  They’re placed on a team hovering around .500, hovering close-enough to first place in the AL West, and they’re expected to be world-beaters right out of the box.

It ain’t right!

The truth is, I don’t know if Kyle Seager is ready to be up here or not.  My point is:  he doesn’t DESERVE to be up here to begin with.  And bringing him up here because he had a hot 2-week start to his Triple-A career isn’t doing him any favors.  Here’s what’s going to happen:  he’ll get some semi-regular playing time, he’ll stink to high heaven, and he’ll be back in Tacoma one month from today.  Really, where he belongs.

July isn’t the month you go full-retard with the youth movement.  July is the month you play the veterans you hope to unload.  I mean, that’s just Baseball 101 right there.  Jack Cust should be our everyday designated hitter, Jack Wilson should be sprayed across all infield positions to highlight his versatility, and Chone Figgins should be perched atop the dugout with a “Free” sign strapped around his neck.

Play ’em & trade ’em, Wedge & Z.  Spare me this youth movement until August when I can officially stop caring.