The Mariners Toppled The Twins

Last Thursday’s 10-2 drubbing of the Mariners by the hot Twins bats feels like a decade ago. We shouldn’t forget about it, though, because that’s the second start in as many outings for Marco Gonzales where he looked decidedly un-ace-like. After giving up 3 walks and 3 homers on Opening Day, Marco gave up two of each to the Twins. His ERA now sits at over 10, and while it’s not time yet to completely panic, there’s a version of Marco out there in the Multiverse who REALLY breaks bad, and this is the start of it all.

I don’t think that’s the Marco of our universe, though. But, I’m not throwing that out with the bathwater, either. I pause because it’s the very start of the season, after an unusually-short 2020 season. His command/control is clearly off, and it just might take him a little bit to get it going again. I hope that’s it, and that he rights the ship in a hurry.

Based on that game, you’d be right to worry about … well, everything! But, then Yusei Kikuchi stepped onto the mound and spun 6 innings of 2-run ball to keep us in it! His only blemish was a 2-run homer by Nelson Cruz (on a pretty good pitch on the outside of the zone, hit the other way over a very high wall), and can you blame him for being mashed by one of the best in the game today? I’m always surprised when Nellie makes an out!

This was a nice little coming-out series for Taylor Trammell, who had his first Major League homer in this one. Haniger also had a solo blast that contributed to the Mariners’ temporary lead. Kyle Seager would also come up big in this series, hitting a go-ahead RBI in the eighth inning before Rafael Montero blew his second save of the season in the bottom of the eighth (why he was in there so early is anyone’s guess; I refuse to research this insignificant detail). Ultimately, Haniger hit the winning sacrifice fly in the tenth to help put this one away. Sadler, Graveman (who also got the win), and Middleton (who ended up with the save) all did their jobs with a scoreless inning of bullpen work each. Lots of help up and down the lineup in this one; it seems like this team – more than most – is going to need the whole “Team Effort” thing to be a big part of their victories this season, at least until the superstars separate themselves. All in all, a nice 4-3 victory for the M’s.

The rubber match on Sunday looked like as big of a lost cause as I’ve seen. I tuned in specifically to see Chris Flexen – because I missed his first start with the M’s – and it was an interesting one! He was in a nasty little jam in the first, but got out of it while giving up only the one run. It looked like he might cruise for a while after that, but the third inning happened with lots of unlucky balls finding grass they shouldn’t have (including a pretty harmful error to help things along). Flexen limited the damage to three more runs (two earned), only to pretty much fall apart in the fifth. In all, he went the five innings, giving up six runs (five earned), while throwing only 84 pitches.

The Mariners were down 6-0 at that point, and I officially switched over to watch The Masters, so I missed the four runs the Mariners scored in the top of the sixth. Including a homer by Seager, and a 3-run blast by Trammell! Once I saw what was happening on Twitter, I switched it back, and was rewarded by a pretty entertaining little comeback!

The Mariners got one more back in the seventh, and it was a 6-5 game until the ninth, when Kyle Seager stepped to the plate with two on, jacking his second homer of the game. The bullpen was truly remarkable in this one. Will Vest went two scoreless, Drew Steckenrider pitched a scoreless eighth to earn his first victory, and Rafael Montero bounced back with his second save of the season, with an easy 9-pitch affair.

It was reasonable to think – before this past weekend – that Trammell might be on a fast track to Tacoma for a long-ish stint in AAA, but hopefully he’s starting to turn a corner. Hopefully success begets success. He’s still sitting with a sub-.200 batting average, so obviously there’s work to be done. But, now pitchers know they’re going to have to be reasonably careful with him. At the very least, I’d love to see what he looks like when Kyle Lewis reclaims his spot in the middle of the order. If nothing else, our outfield coverage should be insane!

Also, props to Kyle Seager for his output so far this season. This is the guy I was hoping to see, as it may be his final year with the team that drafted him.

Wins like these are important to teams like this. That attitude of never saying die or whatever is a pretty big deal when it comes to Scott Servais-managed Mariners squads, which is why I’m really rooting for him to make it through this rebuild unscathed. I do think Servais is one of the good ones; if managers do anything other than decide when to take out pitchers and be scapegoats for underperforming teams, I think they can help breed a culture, and I like the culture he’s breeding here. Given what the Mariners have had to endure in all the years since Lou Piniella was here, it’s HARD to turn around a culture like the one that had set in!

That’s all I got. Four more in Baltimore starting today. They’re pretty bad, the Mariners should be somewhat better, so you’d hope another series win is in the cards, as we get to the real meat of the April schedule coming up.

The Mariners Won One Against The White Sox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re pretty set with the infield:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The obvious wildcard on the Mariners is the bullpen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Do what you’re going to do, Mariners!

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

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

Blockbuster: The Mariners Traded Austin Nola & Duds For Prospects (and probably some duds too)

The San Diego Padres are making a move, ladies and germs. From what I can tell, this is the equivalent of pushing your chips out and declaring yourself All In. At the time of this writing, they’ve made four deals, and the trade deadline is still some hours away yet.

One of those deals was to acquire Sicilian Army Knife (seriously, according to Wikipedia anyway, the Nolas emigrated from Sicily) Austin Nola from the Mariners. Since the deal was padded out from there, here’s the nuts and bolts:

  • Padres acquire: Austin Nola, Austin Adams, and Dan Altavilla
  • Mariners acquire: Taylor Trammell, Andres Munoz, Luis Torrens, and Ty France

The rumors started swirling yesterday morning, when Nola was not-so-suspiciously out of the lineup (he had just played the night before, and catchers usually get day games off following night games), but the Mariners DID suspiciously call up a third catcher just in case. Of the players the Mariners might be willing to part with (in other words, the players NOT currently factored into the overall rebuild), Austin Nola had the most value of anyone. He’s currently in the prime of his career, he plays multiple positions well (catcher, first base, the corner outfield spots, maybe even a little third base in a pinch), and he’s still under club control for five more years beyond 2020 (meaning for the duration of his prime, he figures to be extremely cost-effective).

At that point, you have to wonder – as a Mariners fan – why we’d want to give away someone with so much value? If he’s so good, and he’s cheap for so long, isn’t that someone you try to build around?

Well, he turns 31 years old in December. Asked and answered. If we don’t expect the Mariners to seriously contend until 2022 at the earliest – which will be Nola’s age-32 season – is it wise to expect he’ll still be as good when he’s entering his mid-30’s? It’s likely Nola’s trade value will never be higher than it is right this very minute. If his on-field production starts to decline, that value is going to plummet. So, it’s probably smarter to strike while the iron is hot. Nevertheless, when I started reading the rumors, I was adamant that the Mariners better get a king’s fucking ransom in return! We can’t keep trading quality players for pennies on the dollar if we’re ever going to turn this ship around!

And, to their credit, it sounds like the Mariners did just that!

Taylor Trammell is the big prize here. He’s a Top 100 prospect who, oddly enough, is also an outfielder. Including the two guys we have in the minors (until at least a month into the 2021 season) as well as Kyle Lewis, that gives the Mariners four very highly-coveted outfielders. Which, on the one hand, gives us insurance in case someone doesn’t pan out, while on the other hand gives us a valuable trade chip in the unlikely event that they ALL pan out.

Andres Munoz is a reliever who can throw triple digits with ease. At least, he could, until he required Tommy John surgery back in March. Pitchers usually return from this surgery intact, so that’s not much of a worry. He’s 21 years old and already has 22 games of Major League experience from 2019, when he showed that electric stuff (30 strikeouts in 23 innings, albeit with 11 walks and 10 runs given up). I know fans are going to want to immediately declare him the “Closer of the Future”, but let’s hold our horses a little bit. It’s fun to get excited over guys who throw as hard as he does, but these types of pitchers flame out just as easily as they succeed (and it’s pretty rare that any reliever is successful over a long career). I think the best we can hope for is that he puts together one or two magical years when all the stars seem to align for the Mariners; but, banking on him being any consistent presence over the next half decade or longer is simply unrealistic. That being said, his stuff is CLEARLY better than anyone else in the Mariners’ minor league system (saying nothing of the Major League roster, which is a dumpster fire).

Luis Torrens is a 24 year old catcher with moderate MLB experience, where the best he’s shown is promise. He should get a significant look the rest of this season. To his credit, he’s looked better in 2020 than he ever has at this level, and he’s young enough to still build himself into a viable Major League catcher. But, it’s clear the Mariners are banking on Cal Raleigh – currently on the Jarred Kelenic/Julio Rodriguez track – to be this team’s Catcher of the Future. At best, Torrens figures to be his backup, if he’s still around in a few years. In the meantime, he could be the bridge to Raleigh if everything breaks right for him.

It doesn’t sound like Torrens is much of a defender behind the plate. But, so far I’ve really liked the Mariners’ coaching staff when it comes to improving catcher defense. They’ve been able to turn Austin Nola into a star, they got the most out of Omar Narvaez (rated as among the very worst defensive catchers when we traded for him before last season), they turned Tom Murphy’s career around before his injury this year. It seems like they can work with someone like Torrens and build him into at least a league-average catcher.

Ty France is a 26 year old third baseman, who is in his second year in the bigs. Fans have taken that as a sign that Kyle Seager could be moved later today (seems unlikely, given his contract), but he really seems like just another prospect to throw onto the pile. His bat in the minor leagues was insane, but he struggled quite a bit in his Major League debut last year. He’s been better this year – in a small sample, of course – but obviously it’s too soon to make any sort of definitive statement about his development. Like Torrens, I would expect France will get a LONG look the rest of the way, either at DH or subbing in for Seager. Hopefully, his bat stays as hot as it’s been to this point of the season, as losing Nola is going to put a serious damper on this Mariners offense the rest of the way.

I also understand – thanks to U.S.S. Mariner – that France can also play second base, which could be significant because Shed Long looks … bad. Don’t get me wrong, physically he LOOKS cool as shit, but he can’t hit, he lost all his power it would seem, and his defense is nothing to write home about. Since there’s clearly an immediate hole at second base, and there figures to be a hole at third base in the next year or two, if France pans out with his bat, that’s a big worry off our collective plates.

On top of this, the Mariners were able to rid themselves of Dan Altavilla, who – as I’ve lambasted repeatedly this year (and in years prior) – has never been able to parlay his strong arm into Major League success (even more reason to caution against over-hyping Munoz). Austin Adams was a good reliever for the Mariners in 2019, but there’s a reason why I refused to learn any of these relievers’ names this year: none of them figure to be here when the Mariners are good again. Adams hasn’t pitched at all in 2020 because of his ACL surgery (which doesn’t figure to be a serious ailment for a pitcher, but nevertheless requires a buttload of rehab to come back from), which makes his inclusion in this deal all the more surprising. From what I recall, he’s been throwing … somewhere, and may in fact return to Major League action before the season ends. But, I mean, that’s a lot to ask from someone – to jump right into the fire like that – who hasn’t pitched an inning in anger since last September.

This is a pretty exciting deal for the Mariners, all things considered. This further bolsters our farm system and makes our current youth movement at the Major League level all the more interesting. It’s also an exciting deal for the Padres! I have no reason for any animosity towards them; they’re another franchise who hasn’t been good in a LONG time. It’s commendable for them to play for the championship right now, as opposed to playing it safe and seeing if their own guys can develop on their own. I don’t really have any other ponies in this race (particularly with King Felix sitting the season out), so yeah, I’ll root for the Padres! Go get ’em boys! May Austin Nola be the last piece to the championship puzzle!