The Mariners Cut Justus Sheffield & Signed Some Guy

The Mariners are taking a flier on some guy named Tommy La Stella, and that’s the big headline around Mariners-land. But, buried way at the bottom is a quick hit about how Justus Sheffield was DFA’d to make room.

I dunno, maybe Sheffield is a non-story at this point. Maybe the Mariners get him back on a minor league deal and he stays in the organization. But, I think it’s pretty significant news! This is a guy who was a first round draft pick. He was traded to the Yankees as a prospect and flew up the rankings. He was subsequently traded by the Yankees to the Mariners in the James Paxton deal and while the bloom was off the rose a little bit, he was still considered to be a top-shelf rotation guy. Maybe no longer an ace, but certainly a #2 or #3, with potential to still be an ace one day, should things break the right way.

Instead, he’s just been kind of this colossal disappointment. Not much velocity, no real out pitch (his slider is probably his best weapon, but that’s not saying much), not really any good command, EXTREMELY hittable. He hung around in the upper levels in the org for a couple years until he finally caught his big break in the COVID season of 2020, when he started 10 times and had decent numbers. But, even that seemed kind of flimsy, which was proven accurate when he cratered in 2021 and lost his status as a starter. The move to the bullpen didn’t come with any sort of uptick in velo or anything else useful at either the Major League or AAA levels. He came into 2022 as a long reliever in the majors and a starter in Tacoma, but couldn’t do anything well at either level. Thankfully for the Mariners, our rotation stayed remarkably healthy last year, so there was no need to try to shoe-horn him in there.

And now, presumably, he’s somebody else’s problem.

Sheffield was a tough guy to root for, because he didn’t do anything particularly well. He seemed slow on the mound, he threw like a power pitcher but without a power pitcher’s stuff, and once teams realized all he had was a slider, all they had to do was lay off it until he got it higher in the zone, at which point they were free to tee off.

Just another in a long line of disaster trades for this organization.

Anyway, he won’t be missed. And this Tommy La Stella guy doesn’t seem like he’ll be anyone worth missing either. Per that Lookout Landing link, he was pretty great in 2019, and has been dealing with injuries ever since. He’s a tough guy to strike out, but other than that doesn’t have power or play any defense other than first base. You’re not really platooning him with France – even though he bats lefty – so he’s really just a bench bat who might aspire to be a DH once a week. I’m not really expecting him to make the team.

The Mariners Traded For Teoscar Hernández

It’s our first big deal of the offseason! The Mariners sent Erik Swanson and prospect Adam Macko to the Blue Jays for outfielder Teoscar Hernández.

Hernández, you may recall, hit two home runs off of Robbie Ray in that 10-9 wild card clinching performance, so there’s a little bit of a reverse If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em thing going on. We’re stuck with Robbie Ray for a while, so we might as well acquire all the guys who kick his ass.

Expanding beyond that, though, it’s hard not to see this as a huge upgrade for our offense and specifically for our outfield. I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know what he brings to the table defensively, but that didn’t stop us with Winker or anyone else. My guess is he’ll slot into left, which will still free us to re-sign Mitch Haniger and possibly platoon him in right with Kelenic or whoever else we bring in.

I should point out that I’m under the assumption we’re going to cut and run with Winker, so this feels like his replacement, and a huge upgrade at that. Whereas Winker struggled to hit for power in Seattle, Hernández should have no problem whatsoever. He’s among the league leaders in hard hit balls. He has a track record of 20+ home runs in 4 of the last 5 years (the holdout being the 2020 COVID year where he still hit 16 homers in 50 games). He’s also hit for a pretty good average in each of the last three years.

This type of deal doesn’t come without downsides, though. He’s going to strike out a lot. Like, A LOT a lot. I also wouldn’t expect a huge on-base percentage boost out of him. He’s here to sit in the middle of our lineup and mash dingers; being our 5th hitter is probably his most likely landing spot. If I had to venture a guess at our lineup – extremely premature, I grant you – it’ll look something like this:

  1. Julio (CF)
  2. Ty France (1B)
  3. TBD (SS/2B)
  4. Suarez (3B)
  5. Hernández (LF)
  6. Raleigh (C)
  7. TBD (RF)
  8. TBD (DH)
  9. Crawford (2B/SS)

I’ll be curious to see how this morphs and changes over the offseason.

Anyway, the other main drawback is that Hernández is on the final year of Arbitration. He’s set to earn a reasonable amount of money in 2023 (projected anywhere from $10-$14 million), but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2024. Presumably, if we like his fit, we could extend him during the season. But, by the same token, presumably he’ll want to see free agency and cash in as a guy who just turned 30 this past October.

In spite of the rental status – and the fact that he’s another righty, when we could really use a quality left-handed bat in the middle of our lineup – I would do this trade 100 out of 100 times. We’ll see if it pans out, of course, but knowing what we know now, the cost isn’t extreme.

We lost Erik Swanson, which is tough, but not heartbreaking or anything. He had a great 2022 season – after a few years struggling with command/control – but I don’t know how sustainable his stuff is. The key was figuring out a quality Out Pitch, which he seems to have found. But, his fastball doesn’t seem all that impressive; this really feels like we’re selling at the height of his value. We got an elite 2022 season out of him (1.68 ERA in 57 games), but he didn’t often have to take on those high-leverage situations, since we had more elite relievers ahead of him. I was happy we were finally able to get him into a playoff game – in that 18-inning barnburner – but it was odd that it took us five games before we finally trusted him enough to let him in there (and, even then, it wasn’t until the 13th inning).

My ultimate feelings about Swanson are largely positive, even though his career in Seattle started out very negative. He came over with Justus Sheffield in the James Paxton trade, with both guys expected to be starters. Swanson was converted to a reliever fairly quickly -after making 8 starts in 2019 – but even then he looked mediocre-to-bad. So, I was quite impressed with how he worked on his craft and continued to improve every season. I wish him nothing but the best. He might not ever be an elite closer or anything, but he should be a steady presence for years to come.

I don’t know anything about the other pitcher we sent over. Apparently he’s a lefty starter from A-ball. So, he’s a lottery ticket. Odds are, he won’t be anything. And, if he DOES turn into someone great, we’ll all be screaming about it in a few years.

Solid start to the offseason, but there’s a lot more left to do.

What I’d Like To See The Mariners Do This Offseason

It’s impossible to predict the fluctuation of outcomes from individual players year over year. A guy might’ve had a great 2022, then all of a sudden goes in the tank due to injuries, private personal matters, or just total randomness. Baseball can be INFURIATING in that respect.

That being said, there doesn’t appear to be quite as many holes to fill this offseason as usual. Coming off of back-to-back 90-win seasons – the latest being a playoff run into the ALDS – that’s a good problem to have. It’s also one we’re not used to experiencing, as Mariners fans. I almost don’t know what to do with myself!

The starting rotation, for instance, looks to be set, barring trades. My hunch on the order goes like this:

  • Luis Castillo (R)
  • Logan Gilbert (R)
  • Robbie Ray (L)
  • George Kirby (R)
  • Marco Gonzales (L)

Is it perfect? No. But, I think the top end is good-to-elite, and I think the two lefties are solid innings eaters. The depth beyond those five guys is a little suspect, as I don’t know if any of our upcoming minor league starters are ready to ascend (or will even be with the club, since they present as our biggest trade chips), but we at least should have Chris Flexen around as a long relief arm/injury replacement starter.

I would say the bullpen is largely set too, though of course there’s room to tinker. We’ve got the following arms under contract (among a host of others):

  • Andres Munoz
  • Paul Sewald
  • Erik Swanson
  • Matt Brash
  • Diego Castillo
  • Penn Murfee
  • Matt Festa

We probably need another left-handed reliever or two, but that’s what Spring Training is there for. We go out and find underappreciated rejects and turn them into monster relievers. I’m sure there are guys out on the scrap heap looking to turn their careers around in Seattle.

The major holes are where you’d expect: the everyday lineup.

Right off the bat, Mitch Haniger, Carlos Santana, and Adam Frazier are all free agents. That’s your starting right fielder, DH, and second baseman. Then, there’s the whole Jesse Winker fiasco, so you’re probably looking at a need to replace your left fielder.

Coming at it from the other direction, we look solid-to-great at center field (Julio), third base (Suarez), first base (France), catcher (Raleigh), and short stop or second base (Crawford).

Internal depth pieces include Kelenic, Toro, Lewis, Haggerty, Moore, Trammell, and Torrens. I don’t think we should be confident in any of those guys. I like Haggerty a lot, but I wonder if he’ll get exposed the more he plays. I like Kyle Lewis a lot, but he can’t stay healthy with his chronic knee issues that probably prevent him from playing everyday outside of DH (and, considering how bad he was at the plate this year, you have to wonder if he even has value with his bat anymore). Trammell, Toro, and Torrens all look to be Quad-A players not to be trusted with starting jobs. And Kelenic is the real wild card in all of this. Highly touted, highly regarded throughout his minor league career, but definitely stalled out at the Major League level. Is it possible for him to figure it out? Of course. But, will he do so in a Mariners uniform? That’s a huge question.

It’s frustrating to see so much of the outfield in flux, because that looked like our area of greatest strength. It was supposed to be Julio, Lewis, and Kelenic for the next 5-10 years. Now, it looks like we’ve hit on 1 out of 3.

I’d love for Mitch Haniger to stick around, but clearly he too can’t stay healthy. The smarter play feels like we should let him move on to another team. Which is a tough pill to swallow, because he’s exactly the kind of guy you want. Works hard, plays quality outfield defense, hits for good average and power when he’s healthy, great teammate. But, if he’s spending more time in the training room than out on the field, that’s not a guy you can count on.

I’m already at the point where I think Winker needs to go, but his value has taken such a sharp hit this year, I don’t know what you’d get in return. The smart play might be to get rid of him anyway, because his attitude and alleged lack of work ethic might be a bigger detriment than whatever good we might squeeze out of positive regression, but I can see why the organization might want to avoid having to replace BOTH corner outfield spots. There’s also the chance that, you know, his severe surgical injuries might have hampered him just a bit. So, maybe he’s on the short list for a bit of positive regression.

Even though the Mariners are in the best spot they’ve been in since 2001, it’s not like this is an EASY fix. Two outfielders, one middle-infielder, and one big bat to DH and maybe help out in the field on occasion.

I think the middle infielder is the key. I think we have to sign one of the big bats that hit the market in free agency to either play short stop (and move Crawford over to second) or second base. From there, I think you take a shot in free agency at a quality outfielder, but more likely will have to make a trade for that guy. Then, as for the other outfielder, I think you maybe find someone to platoon, with the other platoon partner being an internal candidate (either Kelenic, Haggerty, or Moore, whoever produces best in Spring Training). As for the DH, find some vet akin to Carlos Santana (only maybe slightly younger and more spry) who can fill in at first base in a pinch, to give France regular days off to DH in his place.

The Mariners should have a decent amount of money to play around with, so I’m hoping there’s at least one big splash. The trade candidates can be guys with 1-2 years left. Maybe we can flip Winker for someone else’s problem, in a greener pastures sort of situation.

The big story this offseason is where will Aaron Judge go. He’s going to get half a billion dollars, easy. Is that someone I’d want in a Mariners uniform? I dunno, how well did it go the last time we signed away a former Yankees superstar?

Here’s the deal: I would be thrilled if the Mariners signed Judge to play right field. As we all would. In the short term, pairing him with Julio and the other guys on our roster is only going to make them the most formidable pairing in baseball. But, there’s a reason why his numbers have been so insane with the Yankees, and that’s because he plays half his game in Yankee Stadium. Hitting homers there is as easy as breathing. If he moves to Seattle, expect a DRAMATIC downturn in his number of homers. He hit 60+ this year? You might bank on him hitting 40+ with the Mariners. I’d say the 30-40 range is more likely. And that’s assuming he stays healthy.

Of course, long term, I think that contract will be a disaster. What worries me is if it’s a disaster from the start. Think Albert Pujols when he joined the Angels. He went downhill almost immediately, and they had to endure a decade of his creaky knees.

I’d rather put that money into a short stop who’s a better long-term fit, and then trade for a value bat in the outfield. That’s easier said than done, obviously. But, I will say that now that we’ve had this success, and we’ve got a lot of our core locked up, Seattle is a more attractive place to come and play. Obviously, it’s not perfect. There’s a lot of travel involved. The home park isn’t easy, especially in the colder months. But, locating the right guys who fit our dynamic and what we’re trying to do offensively will be critical to getting over the hump.

As Napster guy said to Facebook guy in The Social Network, “The wild card isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Winning the division and getting a top two seed.”

2022 Seattle Mariners: In Memoriam

It’s fun to look back at my prediction post to see what I thought about the Mariners heading into the season. Long story short: I was right about some guys, VERY wrong about some guys, and I had this team pegged as an 84-win squad who would go on to miss the playoffs once again.

It’s funny how this season ebbed and flowed. We started out 11-6, which kind of gets lost in the shuffle in the narrative to this season, because the next stretch was so terrible. As late as June 19th, we were infamously 10 games under .500 at 29-39 (meaning in that span of almost two months, we went 18-33). Then, amazingly, we finished the year 61-33 (winning at a .649 clip), including a 14-game winning streak to close out the first half. This was a year removed from another 90-win Mariners team who had a pretty shabby record in May/June before turning it on the rest of the way. The main difference is that we had three wild card teams to go along with three divisional winners making the playoffs in each league. So, this time around, 90 wins was just enough.

There are so many fun storylines that came along this year, with the top being Julio Rodriguez. He’s a superstar! He’s the superstar we’ve been waiting for since Ken Griffey Jr. left. He hits for average (.284), he hits for power (28 homers, 25 doubles, 3 triples), he steals bases (25 against 7 caught stealing), he plays tremendous defense in center field, and he’s by all accounts a fantastic leader and teammate. He’s everything you could want in a 6-WAR player, and oh by the way, he also had an absolutely atrocious month of April before figuring out how to play at this level. Meaning he did all he did in 5 months, which is absolutely incredible. He’s your American League Rookie of the Year, and unlike the last Mariners ROY (Kyle Lewis), he figures to play at a high level for many years to come (hence the humongous mega-deal he signed during the season).

You know who else was a really cool story? Cal Raleigh! He struggled in 2021, and was off to another rough start in 2022, to the point where he was briefly sent back down to Tacoma to work on some things. He ultimately was forced to return due to catcher injuries, but this time he made the most of it. He doesn’t hit for much average, but he was among the best catchers in the game with his power (27 homers, 20 doubles, and one improbable triple) and he obviously has a great defensive game (both in handling pitchers as well as throwing runners out and pitch-framing). As far as Pleasant Surprises go, he’s way up there for me and a lot of Mariners fans.

Another guy I wasn’t expecting a ton from was Eugenio Suarez. I wondered – as did many people – if his best days weren’t behind him. Instead, he was probably the best version of what he can be: a 4-WAR player who hit 31 homers, 24 doubles, and 2 triples. He also played very good defense at third base, and is amazingly an upgrade over what we had with Kyle Seager over the last few years. His batting average isn’t stupendous, but his on-base percentage is very good.

One more pleasant surprise before we get to the guys we expected to be good, and that’s Sam Haggerty. It’s a rough go that he wasn’t able to make it to the playoffs – suffering a major injury in the final week of the regular season – but as a bench guy, he finished with 2.2 WAR. It got to the point that he forced his way into an almost-everyday role on this team (bouncing around from various outfield AND infield spots) through sheer grit and talent. I don’t know what his role is long-term, but he’s one of those guys every playoff team needs: someone who hits for average, plays amazing defense, and will steal you a money bag in a pinch.

We got Ty France and J.P. Crawford through almost a full season intact, and they produced about as well as you’d expect, with 3.0 and 2.8 WAR respectively. I think you’d still look to improve at one of the middle infield spots this offseason (potentially moving J.P. over to second), but you have to like what both of these guys give you, as far as leadership and production go. Ultimately, you wonder how both of them will handle the rigors of a full season (as nagging injuries seem to creep in and sap their effectiveness as the season wears on), but for now I have no complaints.

Finally, pour one out for Mitch Haniger and Carlos Santana. Both were on the final years of their respective deals (Santana was a trade acquisition who didn’t hit a lot, but when he did, they seemed to be in the biggest of moments). Santana is probably washed as an everyday bat, while Haniger proved once again that he can’t stay healthy for a full (or multiple) season(s). I would say Haniger was great while he was in there, but even with his 1.4 WAR across 57 games, he still went in the tank for long stretches (and didn’t really give us much in the playoffs).

As far as pitching goes, there are plenty of kudos to go around. Logan Gilbert led the squad in WAR with 3.2. He built on his impressive rookie season with an even better one, throwing 185.2 innings in 32 starts. It looks like Gilbert is going to be a workhorse for many years to come.

On Gilbert’s heels came George Kirby, who had a similar rookie year this year to Gilbert’s last year: very restricted innings, yet still impressive output. What Kirby had this year – which Gilbert never got a chance to show last year – was a phenomenal playoff run. You would expect Kirby to have a similar increase in his innings next year, followed by the training wheels coming all the way off in 2024.

Luis Castillo was our big deadline acquisition, and he showed why the cost was worth it. To the point that he earned himself a long-term extension to stick around and be this team’s ace for the foreseeable future. He’s like a harder-throwing Felix with a similarly-impressive change up.

Robbie Ray was the leader of the pitchers throughout the year, but he had a number of rough patches to endure. His start was rocky as hell, until he started incorporating his 2-seam fastball. That led to improved results, but ultimately it seemed like he struggled against better teams. I don’t know what tweaks are in his future, but he’s going to need to rein in his command if he’s going to be worth the huge wad of money the Mariners are giving him over the next few years.

The rotation was wildly healthy this year, which is pretty insane. Marco Gonzales did Marco Gonzales things, finishing pretty well in line with his career norms, throwing 183 innings across 32 starts, and being about league average as you can get. Chris Flexen also did Chris Flexen things, and earned himself a nice little bump in pay in 2023 (to be this team’s long reliever, I guess, if he’s not traded at some point).

The bullpen – for the second year in a row – was this team’s heart and soul, and they needed every bit of the talent on offer. What’s interesting is that – aside from Sewald – we got it from a gaggle of new guys. Andres Munoz was the obvious breakout star, throwing 100+, with a 90+ slider. But, Erik Swanson dramatically improved his game, Penn Murfee was a nice surprise, Matt Festa was a competent arm, Diego Castillo got better once he was dropped from the highest-leverage spots, and Matt Brash was a revelation once the team demoted him from starter to reliever. If Brash sticks with relief, I think the sky is the limit with this kid, which is great news when you figure he’ll slot alongside Munoz and Sewald for the next few years at least.

It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for the 2022 Mariners, though.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Jesse Winker was this team’s biggest disappointment. He came over in that first big trade with the Reds (alongside Suarez), and everyone pegged Winker as the cornerstone of that deal. For good reason, because all Winker has done is produce at the plate in his Major League career. Especially in 2021, when he played at an All Star level.

Winker’s production fell dramatically this year. He suffered the Seattle curse. At home, his slash line was .203/.331/.294; on the road, it was dramatically higher: .232/.354/.382. 10 of his 14 homers came on the road. Ironically, the book on him was that he struggled against lefties but crushed righties; however that flipped for some bizarre reason in 2022. Across the board he was better against lefties, which is crazy to me!

The final nail in the coffin appears to be his work ethic, and his chemistry in the clubhouse as a result of that (lack of) work ethic. I’ll say this: I agree with Divish, I don’t think he looks very strong or athletic whatsoever. His defense isn’t just mediocre, it’s an outright liability. Sure, his eye at the plate is pretty strong, but you can’t build a career on crap defense and walks. That’s not going to work on a team that has a razor-thin margin for error when it comes to our offensive struggles at times. This is a team with a whole lotta alpha dogs who are in it to win it. I don’t know what Winker’s vibe is exactly – he struck me as an easygoing, comedy relief type of presence, but I don’t know if that’s totally accurate given the RBF we’ve come to witness so often – but clearly it doesn’t mesh with this team. Either he gets traded, or they try to make it work with an offseason meeting of the minds. My hunch is we cut and run, though I hope there’s at least a little value, since I think his bat would play in a friendlier offensive environment.

Adam Frazier was also a pretty significant offseason acquisition that was also a major disappointment. You bring in a guy like Frazier for his high batting average and on-base percentage. Competent defense at second and in the corner outfield is a bonus, but he’s supposed to be a regular baserunner for other guys to hit in. That’s what makes his 2022 season so befuddling, because his bat SHOULD play anywhere he goes. We’re not relying on him to be a dynamic power source like Winker, we just want him standing on first base for other guys to knock him around. He only turned 30 this year, so he should still be close enough to his prime to be effective. But, regardless, he started in a pretty deep hole and could never fully get out of it, in spite of occasional hot stretches. As I mentioned, there’s room for improvement up the middle, but that was always going to be the case. Frazier was on a 1-year deal, so we were going to have to look to fill this spot either way. Between left field and second base, we need to find at least ONE bigtime bat to help prop up this offense to get closer to league-average in scoring.

I’ll just rattle off really quickly: the other major disappointments were Luis Torrens, Abraham Toro, and Jarred Kelenic.

Kelenic had a fantastic finish to his 2021 season, which gave us all hope that he’d be here to stay in 2022. Instead, he sucked hard in the early going, spent MOST of the year down in Tacoma, had a nice little blip in the last couple weeks of the regular season, but ultimately wasn’t able to continue that through the playoffs. There’s still a lot he needs to do to be a more consistent Major League presence, and I just don’t know if he’s ever going to stick in Seattle.

Toro was a deadline acquisition in 2021 who has had a number of big hits in clutch moments, but by and large he’s been atrocious. He had to play for the Mariners quite a bit this year due to injuries and ineffectiveness around the roster, but he’s a huge wad of nothing. Time to move on.

Torrens, we thought, figured out his bat in 2021, and was supposed to be a steady middle-of-the-order type of guy, either as a backup catcher, or as this team’s DH. But, once again, he fell off the map and found himself DFA’d. He passed through without anyone claiming him, so we were able to get him to Tacoma until late in the regular season, when he returned to Seattle (with Raleigh’s injury issues) and saw an uptick in his offensive production again. I couldn’t tell you what his future holds, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the Mariners need improvement at backup catcher.

I don’t have a ton of complaints about the pitching. Again, it would be nice if Robbie Ray was better against good teams, since we clearly need him if we’re going to make it back to the playoffs. It was also disconcerting to see Sewald get beaten around so much late in the year. But, other than some minor quibbles, most of the guys who sucked (Steckenrider sure didn’t last long, did he?) were jettisoned in a timely fashion.

The overarching analysis for the 2022 Mariners is a rousing success. We made the playoffs for the first time since 2001! Even if it was last year’s playoff format, we would have made it to the Wild Card play-in game, and we would have prevailed to advance to the ALDS. So, I’m not taking anything away from the Mariners. Quite frankly, it’s insane there haven’t been more playoff teams for a while now. After a 162-game season, there needs to be proper representation! There are so many good teams in baseball who deserve a shot every year, why deprive markets of fun opportunities?

This is a team that outperformed expectations. It’s also a team that can easily keep things going, barring injuries. A couple of key additions should leave us contending for the A.L. West next year. And, as long as we don’t totally strip the farm system, there should be enough studs coming up through the pipeline – especially on the pitching side – to keep us playing at a high level for years to come.

The last time the Mariners were good, we had a nice 9-year run of success. Unfortunately, in that span, we only made it to the postseason 4 times, and never advanced beyond the ALCS. That needs to change here. Hopefully, we have the talent and the scouting to make the leap. It’s time for the Mariners – the only team to never play for a world championship – to make the World Series. Will that happen in 2023? A lot would have to go right, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Of course, the odds are super long. But, it’s just nice to have a fun baseball team to root for again. It’s been FAR too long!

The Mariners Were Swept In The ALDS

The Astros needed to record considerably more than 27 outs – 54 outs, to be precise; 18 full innings – to celebrate on our field. But, in the end, this series concluded in the most predictable way possible.

Just goes to show how critical that first game is. You hold on for game one, Saturday’s 1-0 thriller doesn’t matter quite as much.

You gotta give it up to the Mariners for fighting as hard as absolutely possible. It’s not easy to hold the Astros scoreless for three innings, let alone 17. George Kirby – who locked down the save in that crazy 10-9 Blue Jays victory – rightly got the start in game three. With the way Robbie Ray has been abused this post season – not to mention how much he’s been destroyed by the Astros all year – it would’ve been a fireable offense to start him in this series. Kirby was up for the challenge and then some, going 7 innings, giving up 6 hits, 0 walks, while striking out 5. It’s the kind of performance that gives you extreme hope for the future.

I’ll say this, between what Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby have done – especially in the playoffs – that’s as good as it gets! If you can make Robbie Ray – a former Cy Young Award winner – essentially your fourth starter (though I think he’ll slot between Gilbert and Kirby, just to change things up), that’s a rotation worth writing home about.

There were some great redemption stories for the bullpen. Andres Munoz had little trouble, striking out the side in his inning of work. Paul Sewald pitched two full clean innings, striking out 4 over 38 pitches. Erik Swanson was finally allowed to see the mound, throwing a clean inning of his own. Festa went two scoreless. Even Penn Murfee – the hard-luck loser, giving up the game-winning homer to Jeremy Pena – got out of a jam in the 17th to give us yet another opportunity to walk it off. And, finally, even Robbie Ray got us out of the 18th – getting our final two outs of the game – while keeping the game at a 1-0 deficit. I don’t think Ray is finished as a starter by any stretch – though I was as irate at him as anyone – but I think it’s time to lower our expectations going forward. He won’t be winning any more Cy Young Awards, but he can still be a fine back-end starter against lesser opponents.

Lots of amazing, elite pitching by the Mariners in this one. But, of course, the Astros did us one better. They had the luxury of throwing out a fourth elite starter (Luis Garcia) to pitch the final five innings (giving up only 2 hits in the process), and we never even came close to ending this thing in favor of the good guys.

That’s not totally true. While we could only muster 7 hits across 18 innings, Julio Rodriguez did hit a screaming double in the bottom of the eighth that was mere feet from clearing the wall. He also walked and stole second in the 13th inning, but Ty France couldn’t hit him home. Nor could Adam Frazier – the hero in that Toronto comeback – get a hit with a runner on second in the 17th.

That’s a hard pill to swallow. Made worse, of course, because it was the Astros. Fuck those frontrunning pieces of shit. I hope they suffer in the most agonizing way possible.

The Mariners Are Finished

There’s no coming back from that. The numbers bear it out: over 70% of teams who lose game 1 of a 5-game playoff series go on to lose that series. But, psychologically? There’s no coming back from that! The Mariners gave the Astros their absolute best. We knocked out their ace starter after four innings, we piled up 7 runs in their own ballpark, we got the game to our bullpen (our number one strength as a team by a million miles), and we STILL couldn’t finish the job. We’re done. It’s only a matter of time. I would wager, that time will come on Saturday, in the form of a 3-game sweep.

It was all right there, that’s what’s devastating about it. Had we held on, game 1 was an absolute gift. Then, we’d have the luxury of Luis Castillo going in game 2; if he could do to the Astros what he just did to the Blue Jays, then we’d be firmly in the driver’s seat of this series, needing to win in just one of the last three games. But, conversely, we could have endured the rare bad game from Castillo and still headed back to Seattle knowing there’d be two home games to look forward to.

Now, if we get that rare bad game from Castillo, you can put the final nail in our coffin.

I’m eternally grateful I didn’t see the end of the game. I watched through Logan Gilbert getting pulled with one out in the sixth, then I had to drive to Port Orchard to poke around during our home inspection. With the spottiest of phone Internet, the best I could do was follow along on Twitter at a snail’s pace. But, if I was watching live? I might’ve had a rage aneurysm.

I have a lot of shit I want to say. I have a lot of pointed and angry words for this organization and certain players on it. Part of me is so sad and disappointed though, because I know that was it. It’s over. We’re witnessing a slow motion car crash in real time. The Astros are just too fucking good. The one advantage that we had was the fact that we were fresh and they were rusty. Then, they woke up from their slumber over the last two innings of that game, and now they’re going to stomp all over us like the Godzillas that they are. We can’t beat that team! We’ve never been able to beat that team. And losing to them in the playoffs is just something I don’t think I can endure.

So, I’m emotionally tapped out. The Mariners are that close family member with a terminal illness, and I’m the fan that grieves their loss while they’re still alive. We deserve better. The Astros and their shitty fans deserve MUCH worse.

What the fuck happened to Paul Sewald? He was our rock! Are we going to find out he’s been secretly hurt since late in the regular season? Because he has NOT been the same guy, getting rocked for major hits in big spots. Did the magic spell that some witch put on his pitches finally wear off? It’s just the worst possible time for our best reliever (over the last two years) to shit the bed like this.

I blame Scott Servais 100% for this loss. You’ve watched him murder our team for years now, YOU FUCKING WALK YORDAN ALVAREZ!!! Is there a base open? WALK HIM! Are the bases loaded? FUCK IT, WALK HIM ANYWAY! This is not a discussion, this is not a debate. You walk the guy who fucking murders you in every fucking big moment, and you take your chances with whoever the fuck. The reincarnation of Babe Ruth in his prime could be standing there on deck, I don’t care! You walk Alvarez!

I also blame him for thinking Robbie Ray deserves to be on the mound in this series at all. Are you ready for four more years of Robbie Ray’s junkballs getting blasted far and wide? There’s a player opt-out after two more years, but what are the odds he’s in any position to earn more money on the open market? I’ve never been more depressed in my life.

I know there’s a lot of blame to go around, but I just can’t get over the whole pitching to Alvarez thing. I refuse to hear any argument to the contrary, that’s the guy you don’t let beat you.

There’s two games to go. Do I really have to do this? Do I really have to keep watching this series? So often, during the regular season, I take the Astros series off. As a fan, I’ll watch anything else. I’ll go to the gym. I’ll turn on a movie. I’ll go to sleep early.

But, these are the playoffs. I have to watch. I don’t want to, but I know I have to.

This is fucking miserable.

I will give props to the offense, who never stopped fighting in this one. Homers by J.P. and Suarez in the middle innings were nice cushions for the inevitable destruction. Julio had a double and a triple. France had three hits. Everyone but Santana contributed, but his time is coming again.

It’s just too bad that this game had to end with a complete and total bullpen meltdown. If you can’t rely on your bullpen, then all hope is lost.

The Miracle Mariners Made It To The ALDS

I gotta tell ya, this weekend felt like a surreal dream! The Mariners shut out the Blue Jays on Friday afternoon, then my girlfriend and I found the perfect house that had been saving itself especially for us. On Saturday, the Mariners blew it early – giving up an 8-1 deficit to the Blue Jays – and as we discussed submitting an offer on the house with our Realtor, that’s when the comeback commenced. We pulled off the comeback as I was on the road listening on the radio, and later that night we got word that our offer was accepted. In one fell swoop, the Mariners swept the Blue Jays to make it to the American League Divisional Series, AND we got a house! What am I more happy about? I’m pleading the Fifth, but let’s say both events are life-changing and make me happier than I’ve ever been.

There is, of course, more to do. The Mariners have a supremely difficult 5-game series with the Astros to look forward to. And we have our home inspection tomorrow afternoon (ensuring I’m likely to miss the end of this M’s game as well). The rest of this month is sure to be a rollercoaster!

Friday was the game we HAD to have. We all knew it. We all knew it because we saw the writing on the wall with Robbie Ray. Spoiler alert: that writing would prove to be correct. Bottom line is: no one wanted to go into Game 2 needing a quality start from one of our most inconsistent starters over the bulk of this season. Note I didn’t say “one of our worst”. That might be Marco, but at least Marco is pretty consistent. You know what you’re going to get – more often than not – from Marco. With Ray, it could be 7 shutout innings, or he could fail to get out of the second; it’s a total crapshoot.

With that in mind, it was beyond a relief to see Luis Castillo come in and dominate from the jump. What’s interesting is that he didn’t necessarily kill them with unhittable stuff. He just killed them with stuff that led to relatively weak contact. He only finished with 5 strikeouts, but three of them came in the 7th inning (when it looked like he was emptying the tank). He finished the game having gone 7.1 innings, 6 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 5 K’s. It was a masterful performance!

But, he left with a runner on first (hitting George Springer on the wrist in his final AB). That brought Andres Munoz into the game to mop up; he got a fly-out and a ground-out against two of the best Blue Jays hitters (Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero Jr.) to keep them scoreless. Then, Munoz returned in the bottom of the 9th to make quick work of things, giving up a harmless double in the process.

The offense got things going early against one of the better starters in the league in Alek Manoah. He hit Julio to lead off the game, a France groundout moved Julio over to second, Suarez doubled to right to score our first run, and then Cal Raleigh immediately followed with a 2-run homer to make it 3-0 before the Blue Jays even got up to bat. That was it until the fifth inning, when Julio was hit a second time, advanced on a France single the other way, and scored on a Suarez fielder’s choice. 4-0, final score.

That was a relief! It was nice knowing that no matter what happened on Saturday, there’d still be a game on Sunday, where Logan Gilbert would square off against whoever the third-best starter is on the Jays. But, no need! This actually sets things up really well for the Astros series (we need all the help we can get), allowing us to potentially throw Gilbert twice if need be.

The offense REALLY struggled to get going on Saturday. We had a decent opportunity in the first again, but couldn’t push anyone home. France reached on an error and Cal walked, but Haniger struck out to end the threat.

Ironically enough – when it came to Robbie Ray – he looked kind of dialed in through the first three at-bats of the game. Two strikeouts and a weak grounder by Vlad gave us all a false sense of security that things would be fine. That proved not to be in the second inning, when he gave up a meatball 2-run home run to Teoscar Hernandez. He gave up an RBI single in the third, and by that point it looked like he was done. Scott Servais, nevertheless, trotted him back out for the fourth inning, and he gave up a leadoff home run to Hernandez (his second of the day) before getting pulled.

I was convinced that extra run might mean something, but after Brash got an inning of work under his belt, he gave way to Sewald in the fifth, who gave up 4 earned runs in 0.2 innings of work. Just a nightmare scenario. We managed to finally get a hit and break through with a run in the top of the fifth (thanks to a Kelenic sac fly RBI), but it was 8-1 by the time the bottom half concluded.

We finally chased Kevin Gausman in the sixth (I missed all of this). He gave up back-to-back-to-back singles to load the bases, before striking out Haniger and getting a weak pop-out from Adam Frazier (who, in his career, has notoriously beaten Gausman like a red-headed stepchild). Hindsight being what it is, you wonder why they didn’t leave Gausman in there to face Santana (he was only at 95 pitches). To be fair, Santana hit a rocket of a double in the fifth that missed being a 2-run home run by inches, so maybe that was fresh in the manager’s mind.

Anyway, a wild pitch by the reliever is the only reason why Santana didn’t go on to hit a grand slam. Regardless, it was a 3-run home run (4 runs scored total that inning) to bring the game to an 8-5 score in this now battle of the bullpens. Matt Festa went 1.1 innings of relief, with Penn Murfee relieving him in the bottom of the seventh, giving up an inherited runner in the process. So, it was 9-5 when all hell broke loose.

Top of the eighth: Suarez led off with a double, Raleigh singled to center to make it 9-6. Haniger and Frazier both singled to load the bases, where Santana and Dylan Moore (who had relieved Kelenic) both struck out. With two outs, J.P. Crawford swung at a first-pitch slider that flared into center. Both Bichette and Springer sprinted for the ball, but neither really had a chance for it (maybe if Bichette gave way, Springer could’ve dove for it, but the replay I saw made that appear to be an impossibility). Since there were two outs, everyone was running on the ball, and all three ended up scoring, as Crawford landed on second base. Springer had to exit the game after that, almost certainly with some sort of head injury upon running into his teammate. But, we had a brand new ballgame. 9-9.

Munoz took over in the eighth, struggling a bit, but ultimately kept it scoreless in a heroic effort. That’s two insanely important games in a row – against the teeth of the Blue Jays’ lineup – and he got zeroes on the board.

Raleigh doubled in the top of the ninth, sandwiched around a couple of outs. All hope was not lost, though, as Frazier doubled him home for the 10-9 lead. All that was left was the save.

To this point, we had used Ray (3 innings), Brash, Sewald (2 outs), Castillo (1 out), Festa (4 outs), Murfee (2 outs), and Munoz. There were only three other pitchers on the roster, and one of them was George Kirby. While I know he’s been relegated to a bullpen role – at least for this series, if not for the entire playoffs – I don’t think this is the spot we necessarily envisioned for his first-ever playoff appearance.

Yet, he got three outs, only giving up a harmless walk, and the celebration was on. Blue Jays fans were justifiably stunned, as were Mariners fans, if I’m being honest. The Rally Shoe is apparently a thing now (because some fan – or possible mental patient – put a shoe on his head that was caught by a TV camera during the viewing party at T-Mobile Park); I will not be participating in the Rally Shoe phenomenon, because I don’t want to put a dirty-ass shoe on my head.

Anyway, what a wonderful dream of a weekend! The ALDS starts for us tomorrow at just after 12:30pm. Game 1 Tuesday, Game 2 Thursday (both in Houston), then Game 3 and Game 4 are in Seattle Saturday and Sunday (with a potential Game 5 on Monday, with no off-day for travel).

As fun as this is, this is probably the end of the road for the Mariners. We might steal a game or two, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Astros sweep us. The talent disparity is pretty severe. Plus, they’ve had all this time off and can slot their starters accordingly. We’ll get one game out of Luis Castillo, but probably not two. Not with Game 2 being on Thursday (better chance if it landed on Wednesday); that would put him on 3-days rest for a potential Game 5, if we make it that far.

I expect us to go Gilbert, Castillo, Ray in the first three games. That would put Ray in T-Mobile Park, which is far more ideal than him pitching in Houston. That slots Gilbert to start on Sunday on 4 days’ rest. Or, we could save him for Monday on normal rest and throw Gonzales either Saturday or Sunday. As always, I think it’ll depend on how the first couple of games go. We might have to reshuffle everything depending on how big a hole we dig ourselves.

While I’ll say that I’m officially betting the Taylor Family Farm on the Astros winning this series, it wouldn’t be totally unthinkable for the Mariners to shock the world. It’s only a 5-game series. If our pitching is on point – and I mean REALLY on point – we could steal enough games to move on. I don’t think we’ll be winning any 10-9 type shootouts, though!

We’ll see! I never like playing the Just Happy To Be There card, because I don’t believe this team is just happy to be there. But, as a fan, making the playoffs was the goal. Reaching the ALDS feels like gravy. We’re playing with house money. We got beyond the meaningless drivel that is the Wild Card series, and now we’re into the traditional (quote/unquote) baseball playoffs. The one I grew up with, not necessarily the one my father or grandfather grew up with.

It’s nice to be there. It’s nice to be in the mix with the other divisional winners (the Astros, Yankees, and Guardians – who swept the Rays in part by winning a game in 15 innings 1-0). We have just as much pitching as anyone, therefore we have just as much of a chance to prevail as anyone.

Now that the pressure is off. Now that everyone believes the Astros will prevail (and probably win it all), let’s go out there and have fun and maybe spoil everyone’s bets!

The Mariners Losing Games Isn’t So Much A Concern As Losing Players

The good teams can withstand a few injuries and still be great. The good teams can withstand players underperforming expectations, or otherwise going through prolonged slumps, because they have enough depth to fill things out and compete at a high level.

The Mariners aren’t there yet. The Mariners are on a shoestring tightrope they’re trying to walk, with pretty much zero depth and therefore zero margin for error when it comes to players getting injured. That’s why, this slew of guys either suffering severe injuries, or otherwise playing through nagging ones, is much more of a nightmare scenario than the Mariners having a sub-par road trip.

Julio Rodriguez had to be pulled from the outfield yesterday, as he’s dealing with back tightness that it sounds like will land him on the IL. Eugenio Suarez is famously already on the IL with an injured hand that might prevent him from playing third base again this season (rendering him as exclusively a DH, which really does a number on our team defensively). Mitch Haniger is playing through aches and pains. Ty France is playing through aches and pains (and has to try his glove at third base for the first time in years). J.P. Crawford missed yesterday with a leg issue or some damn thing. Cal Raleigh has an injured thumb on his glove hand.

This is forcing us into a position we’d rather not be in. Like having Carlos Santana out there every day (when he’s probably best served with regular rest days, at his advanced age). Like being forced to use Winker in spite of his struggles both at the plate and in the field. Like riding Sam Haggerty and Dylan Moore, when you figure both will come with diminishing returns the more they’re exposed to MLB pitching. Like playing Toro even though he’s a nonsense man with zero bat-on-ball skills whatsoever. Like taking stabs in the dark, with Kelenic called back up even though he can’t hit Major League bendy pitches (and, from what I recall, his prowess at hitting Major League straight pitches isn’t all that elite either).

Everyone feels this need for the team to fight to the bitter end for that top wild card spot, when that’s just asinine to me. Rest everyone who needs to rest – putting them on the IL for 10 days, if need be – and let’s just back into the playoffs as Wild Card #3!

There’s no way Baltimore is catching us. They play Houston for 4, the Red Sox for 4 on the road, the Yankees for 3 on the road, and the Blue Jays for 3 to close out their season. They won’t have the wins when all is said and done. And the White Sox aren’t even on my radar; they’re too far back. I don’t give two shits about the #1 or #2 wild card slots. Just give me #3 and let’s call it a season.

Meanwhile, let’s use these remaining 2 weeks to get healthy! We need all these guys for the post-season. How we finish the regular season is irrelevant! We did it! We’re good enough with the pitching we have to coast into that third wild card slot. But, if we keep pushing guys before they’re fully healed, then it’ll all be for naught.

I only care about what happens in the playoffs, against the Guardians of Cleveland, the Yankees of New York, and whoever we might face in a potential ALCS.

So, you can panic about this Oakland series all you want. It’s not phasing me. We lost 4-1 on Tuesday after managing all of one hit. Seems like a bad luck game to me more than anything (Luis Castillo falling apart against that lineup for a second time is a bit perturbing, though). We lost 2-1 on Wednesday, but that was even crazier of a scenario, where Robbie Ray went 6 shutout innings and some poor defense behind Erik Swanson doomed us.

Sanity was restored (at least for one day) in yesterday’s 9-5 victory. Sure, Julio had to leave, but Kelenic had a couple of monster hits (has he FINALLY turned a corner? We’ll see over the next week and change), and France and Haniger seem to be waking up from their slumber. It wasn’t a good outing by Kirby, but it was nice to see the offense overcome against a team they’re supposed to beat.

One final trip – to Kansas City – and then we’re home until the playoffs. We’ve only got a half-game cushion with the Rays keeping us in that third wild card spot. We’re still 4 up on Baltimore (but really we’re 5 up, since we hold the tiebreaker).

The Mariners Dropping A Series In Anaheim Isn’t The Worst Thing Ever

The most important thing regarding the Mariners is simply Making The Playoffs. In that sense, it might not have been too cool if we’d been swept in that 4-game series. But, I wouldn’t have been totally opposed to that either.

We sit 5 games ahead of Baltimore, all alone as the third wild card team. That’s the sweet spot. Honestly, we could probably stand to give the Rays and Blue Jays a little bit of a cushion. Because, the second-most important thing regarding the Mariners is holding onto that third wild card spot. That means we avoid the aforementioned Blue Jays and Rays in the wild card round, plus we avoid the Astros in the ALDS (if we are to make it that far). A 3-game road trip to Cleveland is absolutely my top choice for the Mariners. And, losing 3 of 4 to the Angels went pretty far towards reaching that goal.

I will say this was a fairly ugly series, for numerous reasons. The pitching shit the bed on Friday, with Robbie Ray giving up 5 runs in 5 innings. Matt Festa followed by giving up a 3-run home run in the sixth to really put us away. The offense somehow managed to claw its way back (thanks to homers by Julio and France, and two homers by Carlos Santana), but ultimately we didn’t have enough, and lost 8-7.

Then, the hitting went to sleep for a couple games. That’s not too surprising when you factor in the injuries to Suarez (who hit the IL after getting hit on the hand with a pitch on Friday), Julio (who has yet to hit the IL, after tweaking his back in batting practice), Haniger (who did … something; maybe fielding for a ball?), Raleigh (who has a left thumb/hand injury from sliding into a base), and Ty France (who is allegedly dealing with a nagging something or other, and is playing through it in spite of his struggles at the plate). The only “good” injury news – if you want to call it that – is the fact that Dylan Moore returned from the IL, to help mitigate some of this damage.

Anyway, on Saturday we lost 2-1. Ohtani went 7 shutout innings. Kirby gave up 2 runs in 6 innings. Trammell homered against their bullpen, but that was it.

We lost 5-1 on Sunday, with Marco having one of those Bad Marco days, giving up 5 runs in 6.1 innings. Not a lot of positives to hang our hat on here.

In the rare 4th game of a series landing on a Monday, we salvaged one on the back of Logan Gilbert going 6 innings, giving up 1 run while striking out 11. It’s in the running for most dominant outing of his career, that’s for sure. And, it came with a relatively soft landing, as the bats decided to wake up again. France hit an RBI double in the first, Santana hit a grand slam in the fifth, France hit a 3-run bomb in the seventh, and Santana added a solo homer in the ninth (all adding up to a 9-1 victory). It’s been cool to see Santana get hot at exactly the right time, with France and Haniger starting to find their swings again.

The hope is for Julio to return sometime this week. But, we’ll see about Raleigh, and obviously Suarez is a HUGE concern (since he’d been red-fucking-hot over the last month or so). At this point, I think we’d be thrilled if Suarez is back by the playoffs, but you have to worry about his health at that point; will he be able to return to form? Or, will this injury essentially wipe out his season with ineffectiveness, even if he does return to the field? I think it’s safe to say the Mariners need EVERYONE to be healthy and producing, if we want to make some noise in the playoffs. If we lose any vital cogs, it’s going to decimate our chances.

The road trip concludes with three in Oakland, followed by three in Kansas City. Now is not the time to go on a massive winning streak, although I don’t know if it can be helped. Those teams are SO BAD and our pitching is still really damn good. Then, we’re home for 10 games in 9 days against Texas, Oakland, and Detroit. Ditto there. Here’s to everyone getting healthy over the next couple weeks, but also here’s to the team finishing with the third wild card spot. We deserve it!

The Mariners Had An Annoying Split Against A Terrible Team

The Athletics and the Nationals have lost a combined billion games this season. They are – no if’s, and’s, or but’s – the two worst teams in all of baseball. And, in the last five games, we’ve gone a combined 2-3 against them.

This isn’t an outrage to end all outrages, but it’s like, what are we doing here? The whole point of getting to enjoy this fluffy pillow of a schedule is beating up on crap teams like these! Then, you coast into a comfortable #1 wild card spot, and off we go.

Nothing ever comes easy for this franchise, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It just goes to show how much work we’ll need to do this offseason. We’re not a championship team, by any measure.

Tuesday’s game pretty much went according to plan. We got a dominant start out of Robbie Ray (6.2 innings, 1 run on 2 hits & 2 walks with 7 strikeouts) and some rock-solid bullpen work until the ninth, when Sewald gave up a run. The offense did just enough, though, with 2-run homers by Haniger and Suarez, and that all adds up to a 4-2 victory.

Yesterday’s game, on the other hand, was God damned insufferable. Our offense shit the bed against a terrible starter and they were pretty useless against a whatever bullpen. We totally squandered a fantastic start by George Kirby (7 innings, 1 run on 8 hits, with 9 strikeouts) and for a while there it looked like he might take the hard-luck loss. Thankfully, Julio bowed up with a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth to tie it. Unfortunately, it was all for naught, as Paul Sewald gave up a 2-run homer to cost us the game. Bad time for our trusty best reliever to go into a slump.

We have a huge series coming up starting today. The Cleveland Guardians née Rippers, Lake Shores, Bluebirds, Bronchos, Napoleons, & Indians come to town for a 4-game set. They’re currently the leaders in the A.L. Central, but as things can change in an instant, they could very well be contenders for one of our wild card spots (especially if the Twins get hot down the stretch). Right now, we’re effectively tied with the Guardians (we have one more victory and one more defeat), so if we want to make sure we have the edge over them heading into the playoffs, it would behoove us to win a bunch of these games. Because oh by the way, we also play them in Cleveland in about a week. So, get used to this team, because we’re going to be seeing a lot of them!

Also, if Ty France could find his swing again, I’d really appreciate it!