Looking At The Mariners’ Bullpen

My concern throughout this offseason is that the bullpen wasn’t being fostered as much as it should, and that it would be this team’s biggest weakness (even worse than a probably-terrible offense). Matt Brash can still be prone to blow-ups, and Andres Munoz can be pretty inconsistent at times. And how long before either has a serious arm injury knocking them out for the season?

Gregory Santos helps in that regard. Now, we appear to have a true three-headed monster at the back of the bullpen (as long as they stay healthy), which just means we have to slot the rest in behind them.

The Mariners are pretty clearly in a three-tier system with their bullpen, with the above-referenced guys in that very top tier. In the next tier down, I’m putting guys like:

  • Gabe Speier
  • Tayler Saucedo
  • Eduard Bazardo
  • Ty Adcock

They were all varying degrees of “fine” in 2023 for the Mariners. They could grow into something more, they could regress hard, or they could stay middle-of-the-road relievers, eating up innings mostly in lost causes, with the occasional bursts of usefulness in higher leverage situations (when our elite relievers are taxed and need a rest).

Then, we’ve got the total wild cards who currently reside on the 40-man roster:

  • Carlos Vargas
  • Austin Voth
  • Trent Thornton
  • Cody Bolton
  • Jackson Kowar
  • Mauricio Llovera

Llovera was claimed off waivers and seems like camp fodder. Bolton was purchased from the Pirates and looks like he had somewhat of a rough rookie season in 2023 (after pretty good numbers in the minors). Kowar came over in the Kelenic trade (who was himself flipped by the Braves after playing in the Royals’ organization) and seems like the best possibility to make good on that otherwise terrible deal for the M’s. Kowar hasn’t really been good since 2021, so we’ll see.

I’m on record as not understanding what Thornton is doing on the Mariners. Sure, his ERA looked amazing last year (2.08), but his FIP was 4.72 and that seems to be closer to his actual value. He got lucky last year; I expect that luck to run out very soon. As for Voth, I guess he has a sweeper pitch that might be something. Both of these guys are veterans, so I guess the hope is they prove capable enough to stick and be some mentors to the younger guys.

Carlos Vargas might be the most interesting prospect of the bunch (he came over in the Suarez deal). He’s still pretty raw and I’m guessing will start off the season in Tacoma. But, we need plenty of depth to hang out in AAA until they get the call up for injuries or ineffectiveness.

I’ll tell you what, though, the bottom of this bullpen could look VERY dire, unless we have a surprise or two make it big out of Spring Training. I guess I should stop doubting the Mariners’ abilities in finding diamonds in the rough, because they’ve done it every year for God knows. But, how long until the luck runs out, or the well runs dry, or whatever you want to call it?

My sentiment on bullpens for a while now is: since they’re so incredibly volatile, you might as well not pump a ton of free agency dollars into them. Especially if you’re a team like the Mariners and there’s a finite amount of those dollars to go around. I’d rather spend that money in more useful areas. But, if our ability to develop these nobodies ever falters, or if we find the wrong set of nobodies who don’t take to our partcular teachings, then there’s nothing worse than a truly terrible bullpen. The best way to win more games than you otherwise should – i.e. the best way to paper over a subpar offense – is to go above and beyond in your bullpen. But, conversely, the best way to look like the absolute fucking worst, is to blow a bunch of games you should’ve won, because your starting rotation is awesome and your hitting is sometimes competent, but your bullpen just can’t lock it down.

Which is why I don’t usually give the bullpen a ton of thought. I don’t want to know all the ins and outs. I just want to show up when the regular season starts and find out who’s great and who needs to go.

What We Can Be Happy About With This 2023 Mariners Season

I get it: being out of the playoffs is pretty irritating. This isn’t what we expected coming into the season; we were supposed to be a team on the rise and a team taking a step forward, after finally breaking the playoff drought in 2022. We had the core nucleus, we had the pitching, we just needed guys to play to expectations and we should’ve been all right. Did we do enough to get over the hump and become a division winner? No. We had a chance! Houston came down to Earth a little bit – which is something we definitely needed to happen for that to come to fruition – but we never expected Texas to be as good as they were, and that wrench ultimately ended our season.

Now, we have to move on. We have to look forward to next year. With a little bit of time to sit in our resentment, and reflect on what’s been done and what’s been said, now it’s time to rationally look back at what went right. We know what went wrong. The bottom of the order and the bench stunk. Many guys didn’t play to expectations. But, there were some positives as well, and we can’t just ignore them because we’re mad at the end result.

This organization isn’t going to blow everything up. The front office is staying intact. The manager and coaches are all being retained. There are guys under contract who likely aren’t going anywhere, and players with club control who still figure into our future plans. Unfortunately, we’re in a similar situation as the end of the 2022 season: needing to fill in around the margins. We didn’t get it right last offseason; we must get it right this offseason.

First and foremost, how do you not love what we got from J.P. Crawford? He came into 2023 as a legitimate fringe player. His 2022 season was arguably the worst of his Mariners career. He had terrible Spring Training numbers. He started out the year batting 9th, as everyone was calling on this team to upgrade at the short stop position. 2023 was as Make Or Break as it gets. And, to his credit, he put in the work last offseason at Driveline, he picked himself up, and he had the very best season of his career. He was a 5.0 WAR player; that’s leaps and bounds better than he’s ever been. He got his batting average back up to where it’s been in the past, he increased his on-base percentage quite a bit, and he slugged off the charts at .438. He hit 19 homers; 10 more than he’s hit in any other year! His 54 extra base hits were a career high. He pretty quickly found himself at the top of the batting order and never relinquished it, which I find most encouraging. That means he didn’t suffer a lot of prolonged, aggravating slumps. He was a guy we could always count on; for most of the year, he was the ONLY guy we could count on.

That’s a tremendous foundation on which to start. Short stop is secure for the foreseeable future. His defense seemed to bounce back a bit, he’s probably the best leader we could hope for among this player group, and where do you need to be strongest on a baseball field? Up the middle.

Which brings us to Julio. I can’t say it was a better season than 2022, but I do believe he took a step forward. Julio had a rough April in 2022, before going on a tear. In 2023, he REALLY struggled through June. Sophomore Slump was being bandied about. I think we all believed he’d pull out of it at some point, but I wasn’t sure he could get anywhere near where he was as a rookie.

Then, in July, he started picking it up. And that August, MY GOD. .429/.474/.724 slash line for the entire month; he was otherworldly! All of a sudden, he DID start to get back to where we all expected. But, then he cooled again in September. His slugging was still there, but everything else severely diminished. His WAR was 5.3 – tops on the team – but his entire slash line was a little bit worse compared to 2022. He had more doubles, homers, and stolen bases, but he also played in 23 more games.

All in all, I’m not worried about Julio. I think 2023 was a great learning experience for the young superstar. But, it wasn’t a wasted year for him, either. He didn’t have a learning experience while taking an extreme step back; he was still the best and most important player on this team, and I expect him to take these first two years and move forward as one of the best players in all of baseball.

Finishing with the Up The Middle motif, we have Cal Raleigh. Thank Christ for Cal Raleigh! This was his first full year. His first full year as the unquestioned #1 at catcher. And his first year where he wasn’t in jeopardy of being sent down to Tacoma to work on some things. He improved his batting average and on-base percentage, while taking a quiet step back in slugging. He had career highs in homers and doubles, but again, played in 145 games (compared to 119 in 2022). Where he REALLY took a step forward was with his defense; he was throwing dudes out left and right, really shutting down the run game of opposing offenses (in spite of the fact that this pitching staff isn’t always the greatest at holding runners).

I wouldn’t say Cal is a finished product either, though I don’t know if I would expect him to hit considerably above his .232 batting average. What matters is, like J.P., he didn’t suffer crazy lulls. He was pretty consistent all year. And, if you’re going to give me 30 homers from a catcher, I’m going to take that every time! Going forward, we don’t have to worry about Cal; he’s the guy. He’s going to be here for a good, long while. Hopefully, we can sign him to a long term extension sooner rather than later, because I think he’s going to be worth every penny. The concern lies in who his backup is going to be. Tom Murphy is a tremendous backup – when healthy – but he’s proven that we can’t count on him in that regard. We don’t want to blow Cal out with overuse, even though he’s a stud and wants to be out there every single day.

There’s a steep drop-off from there, as far as everyday players are concerned. I don’t want to get too into the weeds with Teoscar Hernandez – because I don’t know where he’s going to be next year – but I thought he did okay. He gave us almost what he showed he was in Toronto in 2022. Worse slash line, WAY too many strikeouts, but he was a 2.1 WAR player and that’s not nothing. He hit 26 homers and 29 doubles, while playing in 160 of 162 games. Yes, he had an abysmal start to his Mariners career, but he got it going as the season went along (and also enjoyed a torrid August), showing you what he’s capable of. I get the feeling it took him some time to figure out how to hit in this ballpark, but to his credit, he figured it out. He wasn’t a total waste of space like Jesse Winker and some of these other guys we’ve brought in. His overall numbers and production were pretty much what I would’ve expected out of a healthy Mitch Haniger, though I will say the defense was often a problem.

That’s all I got for the offense. On to the pitching.

Castillo, Gilbert, Kirby, excellent work, no notes! They had wonderful seasons. All 190+ innings pitched, all sub-4 ERAs, all with 179+ strikeouts, all with WHIPs 1.10 or lower. All 3.1 WAR pitchers or above. They obviously didn’t win as many games as we’d like (between 13-14), but that’s a reflection of the team as a whole. All had 18+ quality starts (out of 31-33 starts). It’s as ideal of a Top 3 in a starting rotation as you could hope for: all young, under contract/club control for years to come, and all elite in their own ways. On top of which, it was just Logan’s third Major League season, and Kirby’s second. The training wheels are off for all of these guys; we get to head into 2024 knowing that 3/5 of our rotation is not just set, but among the best in all of baseball. They continue to get better! They continue to introduce new pitches and find new ways to get batters out! Hell, I welcome the further influx of George Kirby knuckleballs! Bring it all on!

Now, were they all totally consistent all year long? No. Castillo and Kirby really came up short in that final week and a half. There were enough instances this season where their lines really left me scratching my head. But, that’s pretty nit-picky. On the whole, all three of these guys were tremendous, and I’m happy to go forward with them.

Sticking with the rotation, how do you not like what we got from Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo as rookies? They very much WERE under strict pitch counts and innings limits. They weren’t perfect, but they had ERAs of 4.32 and 4.21 respectively. They had K/9 rates of 8.2 and 9.5, which slots them quite nicely with our Top 3 listed above. Going into 2024, a rotation of just those five guys looks – on paper – to be outstanding!

We don’t know exactly what they are yet, though. They’re still very raw, very young, very inexperienced. I don’t know that they have a great command of their secondary/off-speed pitches. They were both fucking bananas against righties, but really had their struggles against lefties, and that has to get fixed if they expect to stay in the Major Leagues for the long haul.

  • Miller vs. Righties: 7.20 K/BB, .200/.234/.315, in 282 PA
  • Miller vs. Lefties: 2.94 K/BB, .303/.358/.558, in 255 PA
  • Woo vs. Righties: 7.25 K/BB, .179/.226/.268, in 191 PA
  • Woo vs. Lefties: 1.52 K/BB, .283/.389/.540, in 180 PA

That’s too stark of a difference. It’s a little Matt Brash-y. Excellent numbers for a reliever, but not so hot if you want to hack it as a starter.

With Marco Gonzales coming back for one more go-around – assuming we can’t find a trade partner for him – and with Robbie Ray still on the books for a tremendous amount of money (though, I was dismayed to hear he likely won’t be back until midseason, which means he probably won’t be back to normal until 2025), I think there’s a general sense among the fanbase that one of Miller or Woo won’t be here next year. That one will be traded to help bolster other areas of need. It makes sense, though it’s unfortunate. I can’t help but feel like it’s a case of We Can’t Have Nice Things. Just when we lock down the rotation as solidly as possible, we have to bust it up – YET AGAIN – to help out our feeble offense. I was surprised to hear that Woo is more liked than Miller, as far as the scouts and analytical people are concerned. That’s interesting, considering Miller passed the eye test a little bit more. He’s a little further along in his development, has more innings under his belt, and doesn’t have the injury history of Woo. But, whatever, I guess. Both guys looked awesome, and I hope we’re able to find a way to keep ’em around.

I can only go as far as Matt Brash, Justin Topa, and Andres Munoz with the bullpen. We had other nice-ish pieces – Gabe Speier, Tayler Saucedo, Isaiah Campbell all got an extended run, and looked decent as back-end of the bullpen kind of guys – Eduard Bazardo had good-looking stuff, Ty Adcock got a cup of coffee and looked decent, Prelander Berroa got a tiny cup of espresso and looked like a guy with tremendous upside, but I don’t know how much you can count on ANY of those guys. Especially when you consider, in 2022, we had the likes of Diego Castillo (who spent most of 2023 in Tacoma), Matt Festa (who had solid numbers in Tacoma, but isn’t even in the organization anymore), Penn Murfee (who got hurt, and isn’t expected to be healthy in time to start 2024), not to mention Paul Sewald (who famously was traded at the deadline). There’s so much flux with any bullpen, year to year, that it’s kind of pointless to project. If we get anything out of any of these lower tier guys in 2024, it’ll be gravy. I’m expecting nothing; I’m not even expecting they’ll be on the team.

You have to say Matt Brash was the best reliever on the team, especially after Sewald went to Arizona. There’s a lot to like here. 107 strikeouts was fifth on the team, behind our top four starters. 13.6 K/9 led the team. 3.06 ERA was very respectable. I wouldn’t say he gave us quite what we were expecting, but I think that’s because we were expecting the moon and the stars. Every report about his offseason was about how he might have the best slider of all time, in baseball history. Shit like that. As your #3 reliever behind Sewald and Munoz coming in? I think I expected something like a sub-1 ERA and maybe no more than 1 or 2 blown saves. Instead, you know, he was on the hook for 5 blown saves, and he got dinged with 4 losses. He had a somewhat rocky first couple months, but then improved over the rest of the season, and became the pitcher we all thought he’d be. He was the most reliable reliever we had by season’s end. And I think he improved enough – and worked on his pitch mix enough – to get even better in 2024.

Justin Topa came out of nowhere, as an older pre-arb player – to totally blow away expectations. Before 2023, he had played in no more than 7 games in any given season with the Brewers; this year he was in 75. He had an 8.0 K/9 rate, and had the best WAR of any Mariners reliever with 1.6 (over Brash’s 1.3). He wasn’t perfect – none of these guys were – but he was maybe the most consistently-good reliever we had, with no prolonged slumps. Every once in a while he didn’t have it, but you could say that about anyone; Topa didn’t cost us very many games, and was an incredible asset overall.

Andres Munoz, at least for me, barely qualifies for the theme of this post. But, he’s under contract through 2028 and isn’t going anywhere. He was fine. He wasn’t what he was in 2022, but an early-season injury took him out of commission for a good chunk of games. For as amazing as his stuff is, he was a little too inconsistent for me. As one of five regular relievers with 10+ K/9 (12.3), it’s clear his arm talent is pretty rare. But, his walk rate spiked, his K/BB rate dropped considerably (6.4 in 2022, 3.0 in 2023), and his splits vs. lefties and righties flip-flopped. He was better against lefties than righties in 2022; though still amazing against righties. But, while he was still strong against righties in 2023, he took a big dive against lefties, for whatever reason.

Ultimately, I’m not too worried. Though, I will say it’s concerning that he got hurt again. Remember, he missed all of 2020 and most of 2021 coming back from injury. He might just be a guy – with the way he throws – that he’s going to break down sooner than you’d hope. The M’s will want to take a good, hard look at this bullpen, and have more contingencies in place, so we’re not forced to rely on guys like Trent Thornton, Dominic Leone, Luke Weaver, and Juan Then types.

So, when you hear about the Mariners talking up their core guys, these are who they’re talking about. It’s a fine core! I like all these guys. But, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. There are guys who had really BAD 2023 seasons that need to be called out; we’ll get into that next time.

The Mariners Won 1 Game Per City On Their Last Road Trip

I guess it’s lucky the Rangers have been so atrocious lately, but the Mariners are free-falling, and I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done to fix it.

We lost 2 of 3 to the awful Mets. Then, we lost 2 of 3 to the average Reds. After a 1-0 victory to open up the Rays series, we lost the next 3 games to fall to 79-64, and as of Monday morning, up by only half a game over the Rangers for the final wild card spot (lost in all this has been the fact that the Blue Jays have been on a tear, winning 8 of 10 as we lost 7 of 10 on that road trip).

And, really, we were lucky to win two of those games. So, this hasn’t been the funnest September, after a record-breaking August.

The 1-0 win was everything this team needed. Dominant Luis Castillo start (6 innings, 4 hits, 4 walks, 8 strikeouts) and lockdown bullpen work by Campbell, Brash, and Munoz.

My hopes for a bounce-back series against the Rays were dashed the very next night, with another off-kilter performance by Kirby. He gave up 2 runs in a ragged first inning where he couldn’t throw strikes, then settled down through the sixth. We had a 4-2 lead heading into the seventh, but then we tried to squeeze another inning out of Kirby (who, in spite of a tough first inning, had a reasonable pitch count and probably should’ve been able to go one more). Kirby ended up getting one out before giving up a double and a game-tying homer before being pulled, turning a quality start into a no decision. Campbell entered the game and gave up a 2-run home run of his own, before Dominic Leone gave up a solo homer in the eighth to give the game its final score of 7-4.

Kirby didn’t have pleasant words to say about being put out there for the seventh. He questioned the manager’s decision, which I’m sure a lot of fans did as well. Kirby predictably walked those words back the next morning – heat of the moment and whatnot – but I’m sure a lot of fans were mixed. There’s the younger fans – who’ve become accustomed to what baseball is in today’s age – and a segment of Anti-Servais Mariners fans, who probably sided with Kirby.

Then, there’s the old timers, and the Unwritten Rules crowd (usually comprised of ex-players like Roger Clemens, who got his ass roasted on Twitter for wading into the conversation). Someone even had the gall to compare Kirby to Erik Bedard for … reasons. They point to Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan, who would regularly throw 120-150 pitches per game, trying to go the full nine if at all possible.

I don’t like this argument. Yeah, complete games are cool. But that’s not what baseball is today. Instead, you’ve got starters regularly throwing in the high-90s, and that kind of strain isn’t conducive to throwing 110+ pitches very often, if ever (unless you’re a unicorn). Not if you want them to make it through an entire season, or multiple seasons, without arm surgeries. It’s a Get Off My Lawn stance, and I won’t hear it. Just accept that things change, and it’s never going to be the way it was when you were younger.

That being said, you have to take it in context. It’s early September. We’re in the midst of a 10 games in 10 days East Coast road trip. We don’t have an off-day until this upcoming Thursday, and after that we only have one more off-day until the end of the season. We’re also breaking in not one but TWO rookie starting pitchers, whose outings need to be carefully managed (including the occasional skipped start, as with what happened to Woo on Saturday). That means the bullpen gets taxed. We also – for better or for worse – traded our best and most-consistent reliever at the deadline, which means that taxed bullpen is that much less-effective. We brought in three veterans (Thornton, Weaver, and Leone) who look(ed) objectively terrible, we have another rookie in Campbell who is just trying his best, but is by no means a lockdown guy, and other veterans we brought in – like Saucedo, Speier, and even Topa – have shown serious cracks as this season has gone on.

To be blunt, the bullpen is over-worked, and that falls on the starters. That falls predominantly on guys like Castillo, Gilbert, and Kirby, who have experience, and should be able to go out there in the seventh inning, on 94 pitches, and take care of business for another three outs.

The home run Kirby gave up was to the #9 hitter! It’s not like we were asking him to take on the heart of the order for the fourth time through. This is a backup catcher!

I 100% see why Servais did what he did. If this was April or May, or if our starters had been rolling a little more of late – allowing our bullpen to stay fresh – Kirby would’ve handed over the ball after getting out of the sixth inning, and all would’ve been right with the world. But, it’s early September, in a pennant chase, and we desperately needed our second-best starter to squeeze another inning out of his arm. He failed. He failed with a questionable mix of pitches and locations. And, if he missed his spot, that’s on him. If he hit his spot, that’s still partially on him and partially on whoever was calling this game (either the catcher or the manager in the dugout). Maybe Servais should’ve walked him. I dunno. That’s a conversation. But, I’m not blaming Servais for his handling of the bullpen. And, I’m certainly not blaming him for his handling of Kirby. Kirby, more often than not, has had it easy. The team doesn’t ask him to over-exert himself very often. He could’ve done us this solid. And, quite frankly, he should’ve taken his loss like a professional, rather than whine about it to the press after the game.

Saturday was, *sigh*, a bullpen day. Trent Thornton got the opener role, couldn’t throw strikes in the first, and ended up going 2 innings, giving up just the one run. He gave way to Luke Weaver, who gave us the Luke Weaver Special (4.1 innings, 4 runs), and then was thankfully DFA’d by Sunday. I hope we never see him again, unless it’s on an opposing team’s pitching staff.

We, at one point, led 4-1. Then, the Weaver Experience left us trailing 5-4. We miraculously tied it in the eighth, before Saucedo lost it in the bottom of the ninth with a 2-run homer. We were 1/8 with RISP, and once again starting a backup catcher who failed to finish the game, necessitating us to overwork Cal Raleigh, as per usual this time of year.

I’m happy to say I didn’t see one iota of our 6-3 loss on Sunday, what with NFL football dominating the day. Bryce Miller stunk up the joint (5 innings, 5 runs), and I don’t even feel like talking about the rest.

Next up, we have the Angels in town. Then, it’s the Dodgers, then it’s the home stretch. One way or another, this season is almost over.

The Mariners Looked Like Their Old Selves, Losing 2 of 3 To The Mets

I hated almost every minute of this weekend when it came to the Mariners. I’m not going to say I saw the losing series coming, but I also can’t say that I’m entirely surprised.

The 2-1 loss on Friday was easily the most frustrating game of the series. It’s frustrating that we struck out 13 times, it’s frustrating that we were 0 for 7 with RISP, it’s frustrating that we squandered another awesome start by Logan Gilbert, it’s frustrating that Andres Munoz blew yet another one late (how he ended up winning the Reliever of the Month Award for August is beyond me), it’s frustrating that he just STOPPED throwing off-speed pitches to Daniel Vogelbach (who was timing him up pretty well, and only needed a bleeder of a single to get the go-ahead run home), and it’s even frustating that we got saddled going up against their lone quality starter, in an otherwise miserable season for the Mets.

We won Saturday’s game 8-7, but it shouldn’t have been that difficult. We were up 3-0 early, before Castillo gave it all back. Then, we took a 7-3 lead, before the combination of Castillo and Speier gave most of it back again. 5 innings and 5 runs for our “Ace”. Saucedo ended up blowing the save in the bottom of the 8th, but luckily J.P. Crawford was there to homer in the top of the 9th to give us the margin of victory.

Sunday’s game was a real nothing-burger from the whole team. George Kirby had an even-worse start than Castillo, going only 3 innings, giving up 4 runs (3 earned). From there, the bullpen was just eating innings, with oldcomer-turned-newcomer Dominic Leone, Isaiah Campbell, and Trent Thornton going 5 and giving up 2. We hit back-to-back homers (Canzone and Ford) to score our only three runs in the 4th, but otherwise the offense was garbage against a lot of garbage pitching.

What, did we spend all weekend going to Broadway plays and partying until five in the morning? Cincinnati should offer much less in the way of distractions. Of course, they more than make up for it in having a better baseball team to go up against, including one of the most exciting players in the league in Elly De La Cruz. So, that’s fun.

The Mariners Completed A Team-Record 21-Win Month Of August

It’s kind of incredible that the Mariners went 21-6 in the month of August. Incredible in that this was the franchise record for wins in any single month, especially when you consider the team won 116 games in 2001. But, also, just compared to where we came from to start this season.

We were 12-16 through April. We went 17-11 in May, but 7 of those wins came against Oakland. Then, we went 9-15 in June to further send this season spiraling, culminating in a 15-4 loss to the Rays that had the fans in T-Mobile Park booing like we haven’t seen in quite some time. 38-42 felt like the nadir, and a real tipping point for this team. With two weeks to go before the All Star Break, and a month to go before the trade deadline, you had to wonder if this team had what it takes.

After that, we started to turn it around, going 7-2 to close out the first half. In the entire month of July, we went 17-9, in spite of some hiccups in the immediate aftermath of the All Star Break. That kind of play brought us to 55-51, but not a whole lot in the way of activity at the deadline.

Then came August. Two 8-game winning streaks in that span. An 8-2 road trip – including a sweep of the Astros – and a 5-1 homestand at the end, against the dregs of the sport.

We won 2/3 against the A’s this week, which isn’t as disappointing as it appears when you consider the loss came in a game where everything that could’ve gone wrong DID go wrong.

Let’s kick it off on a happy note: an easy, breezy 7-0 victory on Monday. Bryan Woo – in his second start coming out of an IL stint – was still on a restricted pitch count, but managed to go 6 innings, giving up 3 hits and a walk, while striking out 5, all on 69 pitches. Boy, that’s huge! I know the level of competition is sus, but he still had to go out there and do a lot with a little, if we wanted to preserve our bullpen, and he passed with flying colors. The Mariners jumped all over the Oakland starter – scoring 4 runs in the first three innings, and 6 runs in the first four – affording us the opportunity to utilize the back-end of our bullpen (Saucedo, Campbell, and Thornton all feasted).

The heart of our line up – one through five – did all the damage. J.P. led off the game with a homer, had 2 hits total, with 3 runs scored. Julio went 4/5 with a homer, 3 RBI, and 3 runs. Suarez had 2 hits and a walk, with a run. Teoscar also had 2 hits and 2 RBI. And Ty France went 2/3 with a walk. 12 of our 14 hits came from those five guys; simply remarkable!

It’s hard to say whether or not this would’ve been a sweep had everyone been healthy, but things got off to a VERY rocky start on Tuesday when George Kirby was scratched due to a stomach bug. It looked even more grim when Julio was also scratched with what was later revealed to be a nerve issue with his foot, that has a mysterious origin no one can seem to pinpoint.

Given the last-minute nature of things, Luke Weaver was forced into action, and the results were as predictable as they were aggravating. It really does look like he has quality stuff: the fastball is live, with some movement; the breaking pitches are solid, and he’s got a great mix of different ones to go to. But, his command and/or control is EXTREMELY lacking. He catches WAY too much of the plate, and was pounded accordingly. Since he wasn’t stretched out, he only went 3.2 innings, giving up 7 hits (including 2 homers) and 3 runs, with 0 strikeouts. I don’t know how many hard hits he gave up to batters with two strikes, but it was appalling. And, to make matters worse, he had one of the worst pick-off moves to first I’ve ever seen, spiking it so bad it bounced up and bashed into Ty France’s thumb/wrist, resulting in him being pulled from the game out of an abundance of caution and hand swelling.

Weaver had a tremendous Mariners debut against the White Sox, pitching 2 flawless innings, striking out 5. But, he’s followed that up with two appearances where he’s gone 4.2 innings, giving up 4 runs. Just scrolling through his game log with the Reds this season, I would say the latter two performances are more on brand with what he is. I don’t understand how this is something we’re valuing over a guy like Tommy Milone, who can at least induce weak contact and get the defense involved. You can’t utilize your defense if you’re giving up bombs to the cheap seats!

All that being said, the bullpen did everything it could to keep us in this one; the A’s never scored again after Weaver was pulled with runners on base. Campbell, Thornton, and Saucedo each pitched on no rest, and ate up 4.1 innings of 1-hit ball, with Matt Brash sprinkling in a scoreless inning as well.

Unfortunately, the offense just didn’t have it in this one. The A’s starter was wild – giving up 5 walks – but he held us to 1 hit and 1 run in 4 innings of work. And the bullpen behind him was pure filth, striking out 9 across 5 innings, probably pitching better than they have all season. Just hitting the corners, keeping us off-balance, and making us look ridiculous. Down 3-1, with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth, we did manage a little rally. Rojas singled and J.P. doubled to give us two in scoring position with Suarez at bat. But, alas, we couldn’t complete the rally and that was that.

On getaway day yesterday, we were still without Julio, though France had healed up enough to go 0 for 3 with a walk. Bryce Miller didn’t have his best stuff, but he gutted through 6 innings, giving up 3 runs. Teoscar tied the game with a 3-run bomb in the third, which was precisely what this team needed to get going. Justin Topa didn’t have good stuff either, giving a run back in the seventh to put us in a 4-3 hole.

Our offense really lit them up in the bottom half of the inning, though. With a lefty on the mound, Canzone doubled, Ford singled, and Moore walked to load the bases. One out later, J.P. doubled home two runs to give the M’s a 5-4 lead. Too bad we couldn’t play add-on, but Brash and Munoz had it going on to preserve the victory.

We head into September tied for the A.L. West lead. We’re also comfortably ahead of the Blue Jays for a wild card spot. Not SUPER comfortable; I’m not dropping the ol’ Mission Accomplished banner just yet. But, they seem to be the only competition outside of our division for the wild card, if worse comes to worst.

29 games to go. 7 against Texas, 3 against Houston, 4 against Tampa, and 3 against the Dodgers. There’s also 6 against the Angels and A’s. In our immediate future, we have our final East Coast swing until maybe the playoffs, at the Mets, Reds, and the aforementioned Rays. The Mets are bad, the Reds are average, and the Rays are still ahead of us by a fair amount. It’s gonna be edge-of-your-seat entertainment from here on out!

This Is Not A Drill: The Mariners Swept The Astros In Houston

Well, then I guess there’s only one thing left to do

I can’t even begin to tell you how unlikely all of this is. We’re now 14 games over .500; remember the All Star Break? We were one game over .500, and needed to go 45-28 to get to 90 wins. Remember the next week after the All Star Break? Remember how we lost a series at home against the lowly Tigers, and were in the midst of breaking even against the Twins? Remember how – at that point – we’d dipped down to one game below .500? It’s insane to think of how this season has turned around in such a short period of time.

Now, all we need to do is go 21-17 to get to 90 wins. Not that 90 wins are any sort of guarantee. Might take 93-95 wins this year, with the way things are going in the American League. Regardless, as of this weekend, we are in the third wild card spot by half a game. Time will tell if this is our emotional high-water mark on the season, or if we’ll power through to the finish. But it’s been a lot more fun to watch this team over the last month.

It was especially fun to watch the Mariners this weekend, because fuck the Astros! As you know from my post on Friday, I didn’t have high hopes. It just seemed like our bullpen was taxed, our starters were iffy, and we were in their home (where we’ve rarely done well). I don’t think this weekend could’ve gone more perfectly.

On Friday, we just barely scraped by with a 2-0 victory. Bryce Miller had his good stuff going in this one, completing 6.1 innings, giving up only 2 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 2. Justin Topa – who was pretty fresh – bridged that gap to the ninth inning, where Andres Munoz (also pretty fresh) nailed down the save.

Offensively, this was the Julio Rodriguez Show. It’s been his show for the last week, and really since the All Star Break. He went 4/5 in this one with a solo homer in the third. Mike Ford had the other solo homer in the sixth off of J.P. France, who was otherwise very good.

On Saturday, Julio went 4/6 with 2 runs scored en route to a 10-3 Mariners victory over Framber Valdez (who went 5 innings, giving up 6 runs). It was largely a team effort in this one, as Teoscar Hernandez had a big game (3/5 with 2 RBI and a run), as did Dylan Moore (2 home runs, 3 RBI), Ty France (2 hits, 2 runs), Sam Haggerty (2 hits, including a homer), and Jose Caballero (1 hit, 1 walk, 1 run, and 1 fight instigated by the Astros battery, who just hate him).

Logan Gilbert gave us 6 innings of competent pitching in this one, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits and a walk, with 3 strikeouts. Thankfully, we kept adding on runs throughout, so we got away with our back-of-the-bullpen arms to finish this one. That ended up being pretty fortuitous, considering what happened on Sunday.

It looks like Emerson Hancock’s season might be done. He left the game after 2 innings with a right shoulder strain. He had a lat strain in 2022 that delayed the start of that season, so I would say this is pretty concerning. For him, anyway. The Mariners were all set to bring back Bryan Woo from the IL in this upcoming series in Chicago. Now, the intention was to go to a 6-man rotation for a spell, and that appears to be in jeopardy. But, maybe the time off was all Woo needed to at least get us to the finish line. Either that, or maybe we sprinkle in a spot start or two out of one of our AAA starters. It’s already almost September, so it’s not like the guys have a ton of starts remaining.

Anyway, on Sunday, the M’s had built up a 6-0 lead heading into the bottom of the third, when our bullpen was forced to take over. Unfortunately, that bullpen gave us quite a scare right off the bat. Tayler Saucedo had zilch, getting no outs, giving up 5 runs on 4 hits and a HBP. Of course, two of those runs came around to score by his successor, but that’s still his fault.

The rest of the bullpen was pretty much nails! Thorton ate up 1.2 innings (including getting us out of that Saucedo scrape with a lead intact), Brash went 1.1 innings, Campbell went 1 inning (giving up the Astros’ sixth run, after we’d already gotten our seventh), and Topa, Munoz, and Speier locked it down from there, keeping the score where it was, 7-6. As it happened, I was at Wild Waves, following along on my phone. I saw that Munoz did the 8th inning – taking out the top of the order – and was sure he’d be in there for the 2-inning save. Instead, Speier of all people got the job done, starting with Destroyer Of All Things Mariner Yordan Alvarez and striking him out. I’m glad Y.A. was relatively cool in this series; it’s nice not to see him homer against us literally every single day.

Julio doubled in the first in this one, before coming around to score. Otherwise, he was quiet, but if he’s not the Player of the Week, there’s some shenanigans going on. Canzone was 4/5 with a RBI and a run, Moore was also 4/5 with a RBI. Rojas had 2 hits and 2 runs; Suarez had a 2-run homer; and even Brian O’Keefe had a 2-run double (though he’s still yet to finish a game he’s started, with Cal pinch hitting late both times).

The Mariners got all the way to be within a half game of the Astros (tied in the loss column). On top of that, we have officially taken the season series against them! So, bring on the tiebreaker! Again, we’ll see if this is our high-water mark or not. We have three more against the White Sox starting tonight, before we get to go back home for what – ON PAPER – looks like the cheesiest of all homestands (3 vs. the Royals, 3 vs. the A’s), but we saw what happened the last time we faced the Royals. Off-days are starting to get scarce, but we rustled up a well-deserved one this Thursday.

On the plus side, we finally get J.P. Crawford back from his concussion. On the downside, we’ll see how long it takes him to get back in the groove.

The Mariners Have A Bullpen Problem

The Mariners have lost three of their last four games, and it was damn near four in a row. All in the 9th inning or later. All thanks to a meltdown by either Andres Munoz or Matt Brash, ostensibly our two best relievers.

This bullpen problem didn’t happen immediately following the trade of Paul Sewald, but obviously that’s the move you point to. It’s been an especially bitter pill to swallow because Dominic Canzone and Josh Rojas have both had some VERY impactful hits late in games to pull our asses out of the fire; the irony being the fact that they were able to temporarily save us, but we didn’t have someone like Sewald to come in and lock it down.

In Paul Sewald news: after his own meltdown, he’s come back to save three games in four days this week. Oh cruel fate, why have you cursed us so?

The thing is, I would argue our bullpen problem predates the Sewald trade, though obviously it hasn’t helped matters. We came into 2023 believing the bullpen was the best and deepest part of this team, which has been anything but the case. Diego Castillo is struggling to stay afloat in AAA. Matt Festa, Chris Flexen, and Trevor Gott aren’t even in the organization anymore. Penn Murfee is on the 60 day IL. Now, we have the Sewald trade, and we’ve back-filled with some very uninspiring arms.

Isaiah Campbell seems to be used exclusively in mop-up duty during blowouts or lost causes. Trent Thornton has wildly unimpressive stuff (it’s no wonder he was previously DFA’d; he would be the last guy I’d use in a high-leverage situation). Ryder Ryan is the latest guy we’ve picked up off the scrap heap; he made his Major League debut at 28 years old last week, so we’ll see.

The guys who’ve stuck are, again, Munoz and Brash at the top. Justin Topa seems to get overlooked, but should probably have a bigger presence in high-leverage situations. Tayler Saucedo is an interesting breakout for this team, but I don’t know if he’s necessarily a high-leverage guy, so much as a solid 6th or 7th inning bridge arm against the bottom of the opposing team’s order. And Gabe Speier is your run of the mill lefty; he has good days and bad days.

As the Mariners have largely underperformed this season, it’s not exclusively due to the lack of hitting. It’s been kind of a nightmare scenario and you can point to two critical figures: our record in 1-run games (16-22) and our record in extra inning games (6-11). When you look at the 2021 and 2022 Mariners, those were pretty well reversed; the Mariners were remarkably clutch in tight games like these, and I would argue the bullpen played at a significantly higher level as a result.

See, it’s not JUST the hitting, it’s a collective effort. More often than not, yeah, we haven’t been able to get the big hit. But, sometimes it’s a poor start. And sometimes, these close games we used to nail down are being blown by relievers we’re forced to rely on.

What we’re starting to see is the hitting coming around. It’s a little later in the season than we’d like, but they’re finally doing their jobs. So, these blown saves, and these lost extra innings games are standing out a little more. It doesn’t help that we’ve bunched a number of these blown saves all in a row, now involving multiple pitchers. Maybe that’s just baseball. Peaks and valleys and whatnot. I’ll buy that to a point, but I think it also points to a bigger concern as we hit the stretch run. The Mariners need to win as many of these games as they can if we want to make it back to the playoffs. And even if we do manage to beat the odds and sneak into a wild card spot, can we really rely on these guys in a playoff situation?

It feels like we’re in need of one really awesome high-leverage arm. I had hoped Munoz or Brash would’ve stepped up to be one of those ace closers with a sub-2 ERA, but as we’ve seen all year, they’ve had their ups and downs. They’ll go through great runs of excellence, but then hit these spots where they’re extremely hittable, and then all hell breaks loose.

It’s a bummer, because the rotation has been largely amazing. And on the whole, the bullpen is pretty solid. But, the margin for error is so razor thin with this team that we can’t afford to be this bad in close games. This feels like a problem that’ll have to settle itself next year.

The Mariners Swept The Angels For Their Fifth Straight Series Win

Things are starting to get interesting for the Mariners. I don’t know how seriously I want to take this development just yet, so let’s live in the hypothetical for now. That way I don’t have to commit to believing anything might be “real” in this situation.

Hypothetically speaking, the Mariners are one of the hottest teams in baseball. You can take this one of two ways: either, “It’s About Fucking Time” and claim this is what the team has been capable of all along; they’re just finally playing up to their potential. Or, “It’s Just A Fluke” and the other shoe is about to drop anytime now, because this team has always been a .500 team, and it’s only a matter of time before they take another nosedive.

But, hypothetically though? Hypothetically it’s now or never. If this team were to ever turn their season around, it couldn’t realistically happen any later. There’s a little under two months to go. And there are still a good number of teams in our way between where we are today and a hypothetical playoff appearance.

So, hypothetically, what’s changed? Well, as we’ve said all along, it starts with Julio. He’s been much better of late, steadily getting on base, producing runs, driving them in, the whole package. I wouldn’t even say he’s gone supernova yet, which is cause for optimism. He’s been fine, but he’s also choked in some big situations. I feel like he’s got a sustained period of perfection in him that’s yet to come out.

Very close behind, I would say the resurgence of Eugenio Suarez has been paramount. He was just giving us nothing most of the year, but then set the Mariners record for consecutive games with an RBI (at 10), and a lot of these have come in huge situations. Then, there’s the power surge of Cal Raleigh. Again, these are ALL guys we’ve been clamoring for all season! This team goes where its core goes, and these three players are the most important hitters on this team.

It’s important not to discount what J.P. Crawford has done this season. I tend to overlook him because he’s been the one positive (on the hitting side) throughout the year. No real lulls! He’s dragged this offense kicking and screaming to where it is today, and we’re finally starting to see some dividends paid. He has the best average and on-base percentage among regulars, which also gives him the best OPS. He’s leading the team in WAR. And, he has 10 homers as of today, which is already a season high for him, with 50 games to go.

Beyond that, we’re getting just enough from Ty France and Teoscar Hernandez (though you hope there are hot streaks left in both of those guys before the season’s through). With real production coming from the likes of Tom Murphy, Dylan Moore, and even Cade Marlowe in limited duty!

Also, by and large, the pitching has hypothetically continued being this team’s rock. It’s not nails every single game, but for the most part, it’s giving us a chance to win. And finally, this team is hypothetically taking advantage.

The Mariners needed this sweep. Hypothetically, if we’re going to make a run at the post-season, winning a series is nice, winning a string of them is even nicer, but we’ll need to sprinkle in some sweeps if we really want to make up some games on the teams ahead of us. The Angels were one of those teams in our way; now they’re not. Hypothetically.

The extreme LEAST likely victory of this sweep happened on Thursday. It was so unlikely that I called it before the game. Ohtani vs. Woo? Bet the entire Taylor Family Farm on the Angels and don’t look back! Easy money on the horizon! -1.5 runs? Of course!

And then the game got funky. Woo matched Ohtani zero for zero. Then, Ohtani left the game after four innings (though he continued to hit as the team’s DH). The M’s took a brief 1-0 lead in the sixth off of a Geno homer, but left that inning down 2-1. For a little while, it was looking like we’d lose that bet on the half-run kicker, but then Ohtani came through with a solo homer in the bottom of the 8th to give us our farm back. With the Angels’ closer having never blown a save this year? Not quite “easy” money, but money nevertheless.

Then, Cal and France walked to lead off the ninth inning. Then, newcomer Canzone singled sharply to right to load the bases. THEN, our last great hope Teoscar struck out, leaving us with Cade Marlowe. Has a guy named Cade ever been good for anything?!

Well, this one was! He hit a high fastball pushing 100mph for a go-ahead Grand Slam! What are you even talking about? What are you saying?! Where’s the Jennifer Lawrence eating hot wings meme?!

Andres Munoz quickly got ready and locked down his fourth save of the season to preserve the 5-3 victory. Unreal.

Nothing’s ever going to top that first game, but Friday’s thrilling 9-7 victory comes close. The M’s rallied for 4 runs in the first, thanks in large part to Ty France’s 3-run bomb (literally his first home run since June 22nd, breaking a streak of 34 homerless games). With Luis Castillo on the bump, this looked like smooth sailing.

Except, Castillo shit all over his legs, giving up 7 runs in 6 innings. Luckily, the M’s played add-on, so the game was tied at that point. Dylan Moore homered in the second to make it 5-1, and Julio homered in the fourth to make it 7-5. We were tied heading into the eighth, when Geno hit an RBI single to take the lead. Cal followed that up with a solo homer in the ninth to give the game its final score. Thankfully, the bullpen was on it, with Brash taking home only his second save of the season after working himself into a little bit of a tight situation.

We closed out the series with a pair of 3-2 victories over the weekend. Kirby got the start on Saturday and was an animal. 7 innings, 1 run on 3 hits, with 5 strikeouts. Julio had a 2-run double in the third, France had the game-winning RBI single in the eighth, and Munoz gave up a relatively harmless run in the ninth. Munoz got himself into a tremendous amount of trouble with two outs, allowing two runners to reach before giving up what was luckily only a ground rule double (the game-tying run definitely would’ve scored had that ball stayed in the yard). But then, after intentionally walking the next guy to load the bases, he hammered home four upper-90s fastballs to strike out the final batter.

On Sunday, J.P. led off the game with a first-pitch homer, but we gave them a run right back in the bottom half of the inning. This was Bryce Miller’s start, who had been on a two game skid that brought into question his ability to be a starter on this team (at least from me). He ended up settling down after that, going 5 innings, limiting them to just the 1 run on 5 hits with a whopping 10 strikeouts. He induced a ton of swings and misses, which was nice to see. And, he still had life on his fastball when all was said and done.

Teoscar eventually gave us a 2-1 lead with a solo homer in the seventh, but the Angels fought right back wth a solo homer of their own in the bottom half. The game went extra, with Geno getting an RBI single to take the lead in the tenth, and Tayler Saucedo earned the win by pitching the final two scoreless innings.

We get a couple of well-earned days off this week, sandwiching a 2-game home series against the Padres. Then, it’s Felix Hall of Fame Weekend against the high-flying Orioles. I’ll be at the games Saturday and Sunday, which is going to be an absolute thrill! Should be a perfect opportunity for the pitching to be on point and for the offense to go back in the tank. It literally defined Felix’s hall of fame career!