The Official 2017 Seattle Mariners Preview, Part I: The Hitters

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been doing these season preview posts, and I’ve been splitting them up between hitters and pitchers.  So, you know, why mess with what’s so obviously working?

Last year, the Mariners were third in runs scored in the American League.  They were fourth in hits, fifth in OBP, slugging, and OPS, and seventh in batting average.  They were remarkably low in doubles and triples, but were second in the league in homers.  All in all, they were clearly in the upper third in most batting categories, which makes them the best hitting Mariners team we’ve seen in quite some time.  So, you can see some of the moves already starting to work.  Cano had a bounce-back year, Cruz kept on chugging along, and Seager had his best season to date.  But, the fill-in pieces, guys like Martin, Smith, Aoki, Marte, and Lee all had nice years too.  It was really a pleasant surprise and one of the main reasons why the 2016 Mariners were so much fun to watch.

Now, the pitching was another story, and the ultimate reason why we failed yet again to make the playoffs, but that’s a story for tomorrow.

This year, the Mariners are poised to be even BETTER on offense.  Last year, the Mariners were a good 110 runs behind Boston for first; this year, the M’s might be able to bridge that gap!  It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see this Mariners team lead the league in runs scored, barring injury of course.  The moves they’ve made to bolster this offense has been nothing short of outstanding:

  • Traded Vidal Nuno for backup catcher Carlos Ruiz (opting to let Chris Iannetta walk)
  • Traded a minor league pitcher for Danny Valencia (opting to let Lind & Lee walk)
  • Traded Taijuan Walker & Ketel Marte for Jean Segura & Mitch Haniger (and a minor league reliever)
  • Traded Nate Karns for Jarrod Dyson (opting to trade Seth Smith for a starting pitcher)

Let’s break this down.  Starting at the top, we’re going into 2017 with a combo of Zunino and Ruiz at catcher, as opposed to Iannetta and Clevenger.  Iannetta, as you may recall, had a pretty good start to the season, but quickly settled into everyday mediocrity.  Clevenger was just plain underutilized before he got injured and was lost for the season.  By the time Zunino got his call-up, he was a man possessed, but eventually settled into some bad habits.  His batting average plummeted, though his on-base percentage was a breath of fresh air.  The hope is, his good habits start to outweigh his bad ones, and he’s able to eventually hit for something resembling a respectable average (to go along with all of his natural power, his natural ability to draw HBPs, and his newfound skill for drawing walks).  And, if he doesn’t, Carlos Ruiz is there to pick up some of the slack.  He figures to be an immediate upgrade over Iannetta, with the option to take over full time if needed.  This is a win all the way around, particularly considering we didn’t give up much to get him.

Next, we’ve got Danny Valencia, who for now will be taking over for the combo of Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee.  Lind was a disappointment for the entirety of 2016, aside from a few clutch late-game heroics.  Lee started off the season as the best story of the year, but as he got more playing time and opposing pitchers got more of a book on him, his numbers declined in the second half, to the point where he had to face a stint in Tacoma to get his swing under control.  Valencia is in no way a perfect, polished player, but he’s been fantastic the last two seasons, particularly against lefties, but improving against righties.  Even if he regresses while starting every day, he should still be a big improvement over Lind and what Lee became in the second half last year.  If Valencia can just hold it together until Vogelbach works on his game in Tacoma and gets called back up, we should be in good shape at first base for the first time in forever.

The deal that everyone’s hoping puts the Mariners over the top is the one that brought in Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger for Walker and Marte.  Marte has already been demoted to Triple-A, meanwhile Segura looks FANTASTIC so far this spring.  He hits for average, he’s got some pop in his bat, he can steal bases; the Mariners might have the biggest upgrade at any position in the entire American League from 2016 to 2017 in their switch from Marte to Segura.  I can’t WAIT for the season to start and I get to watch this guy every day.  Meanwhile, Haniger hasn’t slowed down one iota this spring, as you could make the argument he’s been the best player on the team in the month of March.  I know that means nothing, and I depressingly await his reverting to a pumpkin once the calendar flips to April.  But, if by the grace of all that is holy he manages to be the “surprise” player all the coaches believe he’ll be, we could be talking about this Taijuan Walker trade as highway robbery in favor of the Mariners.  So, you know, remember I said that when both of the Mariners’ guys flop out while Walker wins his second Cy Young Award in a few years.

Rounding out the outfield, we’ve got Jarrod Dyson, who figures to get plenty of playing time in left field.  Between Dyson and Haniger – replacing the likes of Seth Smith and Aoki/Guti – we’re talking about a MASSIVE improvement in our outfield defense.  This is no small thing, particularly when you consider our pitching staff and all the flyballs they tend to give up.  Dyson also figures to be a top-of-the-lineup hitter when he’s in there, who can steal a billion bases for you, so all around speed is the name of the game.  Dyson and Segura will be the primary base-stealers for you, but then there’s Martin (who had 24 last year) as well as Haniger, Heredia, and whoever ends up being our utility infielder.  When you think about late game heroics, I think you’re going to find we’ll be less reliant on the 10th inning home run, and more reliant on pinch runners stealing second and scoring on a single.  This could be HUGE for our record in 1-run games, which tends to be average-to-awful.

So, yeah, the hitting looks good!  As long as the Big Three don’t take significant steps back, or miss significant time with injuries, we should be right around the top of the American League in most important batting categories.  Leaving us with the ultimate question:  will we have enough pitching to win enough ballgames to get a spot in the post-season?

I’ll look into that tomorrow, as well as give you my official predictions on the season.

Mariners Traded For Danny Valencia

From the A’s for minor league pitcher Paul Blackburn (acquired in the Mike Montgomery deal from the Cubs).

I’m not gonna lie to you, I irrationally love this move.  For starters, to get the money part out of the way, it looks like he’ll make a little over $5 million in his 3rd year of arbitration. So, in essence, we’re talking about an inexpensive, potentially short-term deal on a guy who very well may end up getting a nice chunk of change after 2017.  I’m not totally worried about that, because I think I’d rather have the flexibility (in case he stinks) with the potential to extend him if he continues to do well.

So, what is a Danny Valencia?  Well, he’s a right-handed bat who can play defensively at third base, left field, right field, and first base.  It sounds like, in his time here, he’ll probably play primarily at first base, with some outfield mixed in.  If all goes according to plan, he would likely be a platoon partner with Dan Vogelbach (who we also acquired in the Mike Montgomery trade, in an odd quirk), but I have to imagine he’d get more starts than a Dae-ho Lee.

Speaking of which, this apparently spells doom for Lee returning to the Mariners.  I’m not sure it totally made sense to bring him back anyway, as he’s looking for a more regular guaranteed role as a starting first baseman, but I sure did enjoy watching the big guy play the game of baseball.  I wish him luck wherever he goes, and hope wherever that is isn’t an American League West city.

Valencia has never been a full-time starter in his Major League career, dating back to 2010, but he’s really broken out in the last two years, with a .288/.346/.822 line across 235 games (about 118 per season), averaging 18 homers, 22 doubles, and decent strikeout & walk rates.  This is a very useful player who slots anywhere from 2-6 in the lineup (for the M’s, I’d say either 2 or 6), who also gives you a lot of options defensively and – most importantly – in roster construction.  This is baseball, so you only get 4 bench spots, and one of those goes to the backup catcher.  Last year, one of our big problems was having too many platoons.  While Valencia is probably a platoon guy, he can also fill in at a bunch of spots, if we have to deal with injuries (which always crop up).

We’re still pretty far from being done, but I can’t complain about the moves so far.  Backup/maybe co-starting catcher:  check.  First base/right-handed corner outfield power bat:  check.  All for the low-low price of Vidal Nuno and a minor league nobody.  I can’t wait for what comes next!

Mariners Made Some Minor Moves, Brought In Another Catcher

This is the time of year where it’s easy to lose track of the Mariners’ wheelings and dealings, so I’m going to do my best to corral them in the occasional post (mostly so it’s easier for me to go back later and find them, when I do my longer Mariners-related preview posts).  So, without further ado, some stuff:

  • Exercised Seth Smith’s 2017 option for $7 million
  • Declined Chris Iannetta’s option
  • Waived Nori Aoki (picked up by Houston, ugh)
  • Furbush, Clevenger, and Ryan Cook declined assignments with Tacoma, became free agents
  • Claimed Dean Kiekhefer off waivers from St. Louis
  • Lind, Storen, Dae-ho Lee, and Guti also granted free agency
  • Trade Vidal Nuno to Dodgers for catcher Carlos Ruiz

So, mostly news about guys who probably won’t be back.  I can’t imagine, with the shitstorm on Twitter, that the Mariners will work that hard to bring back Steve Clevenger.  Furbush is still annihilated with injuries, so I don’t know what his deal is.  I guess he’ll continue to work his way back into pitching shape and then see if he can get a deal somewhere.  It’s not impossible for him to return to Seattle, but he’s going to have to prove he’s 100%, or else come back on a minor league, try-out deal.  Either way, can’t afford to keep those guys on our 40-man roster; better to have the open spots.  The Mariners actually need a quality left-handed reliever, not a guy who will spend the entirety of 2017 on the DL.

Speaking of left-handed relievers, Vidal Nuno is gone!  I dunno, he was a guy we all liked for his versatility, but it turns out if you’re a crappy starter and a crappy reliever, the bottom line is you’re crappy.  We were able to swap him for another catcher, which looks like an awesome deal from a Mariners perspective.

Mike Zunino came back to the Majors in 2016 better than he was before, but he’s still not a finished product.  His defense is second to only a select few, as he was among the league leaders in defensive runs saved, while playing less than half the season in the Bigs.  With Ruiz’s bat – and competent on-base abilities – I wouldn’t mind seeing an equal timeshare between the two guys.  If they can stay healthy, we might be looking at not just replacement-level production out of the catcher position, but actually having it be a net-positive for this team!  Either way, it’s a VAST improvement over Chris Iannetta, which is all I can ask for.

Also speaking of left-handed relievers, this Kiekhefer guy is one of those!  He has all of 26 Major League appearances under his belt, all in 2016, and most of them pretty sub-par.  He’s sort of like a lefty version of Steve Cishek, only not as good.  He’ll destroy left-handed hitting, but he appears to struggle mightily against righties.  I guess you could argue he’s still pretty young, and for the most part looked better in September than he did earlier in the year (one 4-run appearance aside), but more than anything I think you peg him to be Spring Training fodder.  He’s on the 40-man roster, for now, but that’s not necessarily set in stone.  Whether he has options (I would assume he still does) is another issue.  If he pitches well in spring, either he makes the big league team, or he goes to Tacoma as insurance.  I guess we’ll see.

I think the writing was already on the wall when it came to Smith and Aoki.  The team likes Smith’s veteran leadership and steady (sometimes power) bat in the lineup over Aoki’s streakiness and slap-hittiness.  Aoki’s questionable defensive ability, and his poor base running, really did him in.  Nevertheless, I hate seeing him go to Houston, as I’m CONVINCED he’ll have a career year, even if he doesn’t play every day.

As for everyone else, we’ll wait and see.  I can’t imagine the market is too broad for Guti, so expect him back.  Dae-ho Lee might be less inclined to return, unless he’s guaranteed more playing time.  I have to think we’re going to look for a more permanent fix for our first base woes.  Drew Storen might be the toughest one to retain, as I can’t imagine the Mariners will want to break the bank for a right handed reliever who had a nice half-season with us, but is ultimately a hit-or-miss prospect going forward.  If he wants to come back on a relatively minor deal, fine, but I don’t think I’m paying more than $2-3 million for his services.

So far, so good.  The Mariners are better now than they were at the end of the 2016 season.  Let’s keep doing that and everything should be fine.

The Bullpen Was Too Much Miss, Not Enough Hit

Unless you take that phrase literally, in which case “miss”ing bats is a good thing and getting your balls “hit” is a bad thing, in which case I hate the title of this post already.

The amount of power a bullpen holds over the quality of your team’s baseball season is pretty obscene.  Granted, every area of a baseball team plays its part – hitting, defense, starting pitching, baserunning – so to get to a point where your bullpen can make or break your year means you need your starters to keep you in the game, you need your hitters to give you a lead, your defense needs to not give the other team extra outs, and you can’t take away outs from your own team by getting picked off or taking an extra base you shouldn’t have.

So, while the hitting for the Mariners wasn’t good for the longest time (mostly during the Jackie Z era), it didn’t really matter if our bullpens were good or not.

But, it’s a new day.  Our hitting is solid, our starters – for the most part – keep us in ballgames (even if they’re not particularly dominating), our defense is good enough (again, for the most part), and while our baserunning is pretty bad, it’s also a pretty small part of the game of baseball, all things considered.  A team like 2016’s Mariners had it all going for them, meaning the bullpen was the most important factor in deciding whether or not we’d make the playoffs.

And, as you can tell by our absence, obviously the bullpen wasn’t quite good enough.

For starters, the Mariners were 30-30 in 1-run games.  This is actually what one would expect.  If you’re significantly better, then it would stand to reason that you’re luckier, as these sorts of things tend to even out over time.  If you’re significantly worse, then it would stand to reason you’re unlucky.  So, we can throw luck right out the window as far as the Mariners are concerned.

The Rangers, on the other hand, were 36-11 in 1-run games, which is, like, an all-time crazy record for 1-run games.  Their dumb ass luck ran out though, when they got swept by the Blue Jays in the ALDS, going 0-1 in the playoffs in 1-run games.

Anyway, here are the records of the A.L. playoff teams in 1-run games:

  • Texas:  36-11
  • Cleveland:  28-21
  • Boston:  20-24
  • Toronto:  21-25
  • Baltimore:  21-16

So, as you can see, there’s a good mix.  Texas, Cleveland, and Baltimore were all over .500; Boston and Toronto were both a few games under.  What I noticed straight away is that the Mariners were involved in significantly MORE 1-run games than any of these teams.  37% of our games were decided by a single run.  Looking at it another way, 73% of our games (119) were decided by 4 runs or less.  So, we played a lot of close games.  I’d wager we were among the league leaders in close games.  As such, the performance of our bullpen meant a lot more than that of the rest of the American League.

The Mariners were involved in 74 save opportunities this season; we converted 49 of them, for a save percentage of 66%.  The league average was only 68%, so that doesn’t put us too far behind the 8-ball.  But, how does that compare to the playoff teams?  Let’s take a look:

  • Texas:  56 of 73, 77%
  • Cleveland:  37 of 48, 77%
  • Boston:  43 of 61, 70%
  • Toronto:  43 of 65, 66%
  • Baltimore:  54 of 68, 79%

So, as you can see, 4/5 playoff teams had superior save percentages than the Mariners.  If we’d just saved 70% of our opportunites – 2% above league average, and right in line with the playoff teams – that’s 3 more wins you could add to our total, which just so happens to be the number of games the Mariners missed the playoffs by.

The story of the 2016 Mariners bullpen kicks right off with injuries.  Charlie Furbush was a guy we’d penciled in for a significant role, but he didn’t throw a single inning.  Ryan Cook was another guy we brought in, at least on a tryout basis, but he’s a guy who’d had success as recently as 2014, and was one of the better relievers out there in 2012 & 2013; he too never pitched an inning for us.  Then, there’s Evan Scribner, who didn’t throw his first Major League pitches until September, when it turned out he’s actually terrific!  So, right off the bat, we were at a disadvantage, meaning guys like Joel Peralta and Steve Johnson were getting extended looks early in the season.

Then, you have Tony Zych, who made the Major League roster out of Spring Training.  He had the best fastball on the team, and arguably the best “stuff” of any of our relievers.  He made it to 10 appearances before he got hurt and was lost for the year (for all intents and purposes; he came back in late August for a couple of innings, but had to be quickly shut down again).  And, of course, there was Joaquin Benoit, who got hurt in April, returned about a month later, but was not the rock we needed out of our 8th inning set up guy.  He ended up being traded to Toronto for Drew Storen, where the change of scenery did both of them good.

It’s really quite remarkable, not just how the bullpen ended up looking compared to how we pictured it at the beginning of 2016, but also how it evolved throughout the season.  On top of those other injuries, Storen, Wilhelmsen, Nick Vincent, and Steve Cishek all found themselves on the DL at one point or another.  When you factor in how the starters weren’t always (or even USUALLY) at their best, this bullpen was continuously taxed nine ways from Sunday, all the way until September, when we were finally allowed to expand our roster.

This, of course, affected how we shaped the rest of our roster the first five months of the season, bringing into question why Major League Baseball limits teams to 25-man rosters, when so much of the game is specialized by way of bullpens and platoons and pinch runners and defensive replacements.  It makes no sense, when you think about it, but that’s baseball for you.  It’s the “neither here nor there” of professional sports.

If you want to know how the bullpen was doing at a particular point in the season, just look at the schedule.  You don’t need to hunt for stats to figure out when this bullpen was rolling vs. when it was sucking my will to live.  In the month of May, for instance, it was on a nice little run (the Mariners just so happened to have gone 17-11 in May); in the month of June, they fell apart (the Mariners just so happened to have gone 10-18 in June).  They were great in early August, terrible in late August, and so on and so forth.  This was one of the streakiest Mariners teams in recent memory, and those streaks almost always coincided with how the bullpen was doing.  They’d go long stretches of scoreless baseball, followed by painful stretches of agonizing baseball.  And, in the end, it all added up to 3 too many blown saves.  Who were our culprits?

Well, the first name that comes to mind is Steve Cishek, who started the season as this team’s closer, but lost that job on August 1st, after yet another meltdown.  Of his 7 blown saves, the Mariners were only able to come back and win 1 of them.  He also cost us 3 other games when he came into the game tied and took it on the chin.  Immediately after ceding control of the closer’s job to Edwin Diaz, he went on the DL, only to return to be a masterful set up man.  He’s also under contract for next year, so bank on him being back.

Edwin Diaz was lights out through his first three months or so.  We started him off slowly, but he quickly earned higher leverage roles when it was readily apparent that he was striking out everybody he faced.  He blew three saves, but we were able to come back and win two of those games.  He took 3 other losses when he came into a tie situation, but two of those games were in his pre-closer days.  He did end up taking the loss in the season-deciding game on October 1st, but he was in his 3rd inning that day, and was clearly over-worked to that point.  Diaz will go into 2017 as the frontrunner for the closer role.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to manage his outings a little better.  He was on pace to make something like 74 appearances over the course of a full season, so maybe we can try to shave off 5-10 next year, since he’s still a growing boy and all.

When you take a look at the actual numbers for our bullpen, one name sticks out like a sore thumb:  Nick Vincent.  Even though he had a spell on the DL, he’s one of those constants you can point to on this team this year.  He was brought in just before the regular season, and almost immediately entered the regular rotation as one of our high-leverage pitchers.  What sticks out is that Nick Vincent of all people was involved in 9 save situations, and somehow managed to blow SIX of them!  One fewer than Steve Cishek, and double the number of blown saves of Edwin Diaz; what in the holy fuck?

As I’ve said before, Vincent isn’t bad, but he’s also not a guy – in an ideal world – you want in there late in the game with a lead.  He’s a guy who should be used earlier in games, when the starter gets knocked out prematurely.  Or, put him in there in the 6th/7th innings, or in games where it’s close but we’re trailing.  I’m not saying he can’t handle the pressure of high-leverage, game-winning situations, but I’m VERY MUCH saying his stuff is weaksauce and I’m surprised guys didn’t smack him around more than they did.  Unfortunately, the 2016 Mariners bullpen was far from an ideal world, so he was counted upon more than he should’ve been.  It’s one of the reasons why he hit the DL in the first place; he simply wasn’t used to pitching that much, and his body couldn’t take it!

His semi-saving grace is that only 3 of his 6 blown saves led to losses.  But, again, he accounted for 4 other defeats in tie-game situations.  Of our pitchers who were exclusively relievers, who threw a minimum of 20 innings this year, Vincent was one of only two who had a negative Win Probability Added, leading me to believe that it’s pretty difficult for a reliever to GET a negative rating for this stat over the course of a full (or even PARTIAL) season.

For what it’s worth, Vidal Nuno is the other reliever to have a negative WPA.  I was about to dismiss his numbers though, as he seemed to be used mostly in mop-up duties, but apparently he appeared in the 4th most high leverage situations of guys in our bullpen at 16.  The only people to appear in more high leverage games were Vincent (24), Diaz (26) and Cishek (37).  Diaz had a whopping 1.9 WPA (meaning he alone was worth nearly 2 wins by himself), and Cishek actually had a respectable 0.7 WPA (or he was worth nearly 1 win by himself).

Most of the guys had their ups and downs, but I’d like to point out a few of the good ones.  Drew Storen was actually pretty great, especially considering Toronto was THIS CLOSE to DFA’ing his ass before they traded him to us for Benoit.  Tom Wilhelmsen, same deal (especially considering his stint in Texas, when he was worth -0.9 WPA in 21 games before they did DFA his ass).  Mike Montgomery was also one of the good ones, which is why it’s so unfortunate that he was traded away to the Cubs mid-season.  He’s a pretty rock solid reliever, and he’s good for the occasional spot start, which in my book makes him invaluable, but in the Mariners’ book makes him worth Dan Vogelbach.  Scribner, as I said before, had the all-world September; and Arquimedes Caminero has some lethal stuff, if only he can harness it.

Going into 2017, there’s a lot to like about this unit.  We’re, unfortunately, going to be without Charlie Furbush again, as he needed surgery that would keep him out ANOTHER year, but hopefully with certain guys returning, we can solidify this part of our team and not have to worry about it so much.

Guys I like:

  • Edwin Diaz
  • Steve Cishek
  • Evan Scribner
  • Tony Zych

If we can get these guys back and keep them healthy, that’s as good a foundation to a bullpen as can be.

Guys I like, sort of:

  • Drew Storen
  • Nick Vincent
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Vidal Nuno

Storen isn’t under contract, so the team would have to go out and re-sign him, but I think for the right price, that could be a nice little move for this team.  The rest of these guys, I could take or leave.  I don’t totally trust any of them in high leverage situations, so I’d PREFER they stick to 6th/7th innings, or in extras; but, I also wouldn’t be devastated if the team traded them away or otherwise got rid of them.

Guys I find interesting:

  • Arquimedes Caminero
  • Dan Altavilla

Caminero I talked about before.  Altavilla is another one of these guys (like Diaz) where the Mariners brought him up straight from AA.  He was called up late in the season for the team to get a look at him, and only 3 of his 15 appearances were in high leverage situations, but he showed good stuff, and if he carries that over into Spring Training, I could easily see him making this roster.  If he proves he’s got what it takes to do well in those high leverage situations, he could find himself quickly climbing into the Guys I Like category.

All the other bullpen guys on the roster feel like Spring Training fodder and little more.  The team is in desperate need of a quality left-handed reliever, so I’d expect them to make a move in that regard in the not-too-distant future.  My way-too-early prediction for next season has our bullpen looking like this:

  • Diaz – closer
  • Cishek
  • Scribner
  • Zych
  • Vincent
  • Altavilla
  • Random Lefty Not Currently In The Organization

Depending on the lefty, that strikes me as a bullpen we can work with!  Again, assuming they’re utilized properly.

The Saddest End To A Mariners (Non-Playoff) Season I Can Remember

Things were looking SO GOOD on Saturday!  For starters, we were coming off of a win on Friday night (which I missed, in lieu of attending the Husky football game), while Toronto lost in New York at the same time to give us a CHANCE!  Then, on Saturday, while Toronto came back to win it late, Baltimore lost to the Red Sox!  And, what’s more, the Tigers lost in Atlanta!  It was all set up!  We needed to win out and have either Baltimore or Toronto lose on Sunday, and we were in a play-in game for the wild card!  Meaningful playoff baseball was SO within our grasp!

Then, Hisashi Iwakuma came out, stood over me, spread his buttcheeks as wide as they would go, and dropped a huge pile of shit in my mouth he’d been holding in for three days.  I know that he’s been Mr. Steady for us in a year where our starting rotation was by and large a mess (so we’re not supposed to criticize him because we’re so lucky the Dodgers failed him on his physical, thereby allowing him to return to Seattle), but it’s also okay to be pissed at the guy for failing to show up in the most important game of the season.  The Win or Go Home game.  This is what you get with Iwakuma!  For as many terrific, wonderful starts he’s able to churn out, he gives you the exact same number of duds, with the rest a bland mix of meh games where he goes 5 or 6 innings and gives up 3 or 4 runs (in theory keeping you in the game, but it all really depends on how the other team’s starter fares).

I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but there he was, and there they were, scoring 4 runs in the third inning, immediately after we’d gone up 2-0 to set the tone.  When Iwakuma came out in the fourth inning with the same bullshit – ultimately needing to be pulled to try to salvage our season – I was numb.  That was it.  All she wrote.

But, credit to the Mariners’ offense, they fought back, like they always do.  5-2 became 5-4.  7-4 in the top of the seventh became 7-7 in the bottom of the seventh.  8-7 in the top of the eighth became 8-8 in the bottom of the eighth.  No matter what happened, we wouldn’t give up, but no matter how hard we tried, we could never overtake them!

From a bullpen perspective, Nuno and Vincent and Cishek all helped blow it for us.  Typical.  I’m STILL not sure Nuno ever actually appeared in a game the Mariners won, and he had a 1-1 record this season!

But, there we were, bottom of the 9th, tie game, bases loaded, two outs, with Nori Aoki – our hottest September hitter – at the plate.

There we were, bottom of the 10th, down one (forced to use Diaz an inning too much), Ben Gamel on base with nobody out and the heart of the order at the plate.  Cano, Cruz, Seager.

Gamel got as far as third base, but it wasn’t meant to be.

I just have these images of heartbroken Mariners, unable to move from the dugout steps.  Unable to cope with the reality before them.  Another season on the outside looking in.

This is getting hard, this whole Being A Mariners Fan thing.

I was trying to remember if I felt this downtrodden back in 2014, when we were actually CLOSER to the playoffs than we were this year.  In 2014, it came all the way down to Game 162 before things were set.  But, in looking back, our run that final weekend was just too improbable.  Too many things needed to happen, with the help we needed from elsewhere coming from teams who just weren’t good, so I never REALLY believed we had a shot (and therefore, it wasn’t as hard when we didn’t make it).

This year, we HAD help!  Competent help!  The Red Sox are division winners!  The Yankees were in contention up until the last week or so!

(This year I believed.  God help me, I believed that going into this weekend, one of those two A.L. East teams would lose two games to open the window for the Cardiac Mariners.)

Now, obviously, Sunday rolled around and both Toronto and Baltimore won their games, but those games were quasi-meaningless anyway because we were knocked out, and the Tigers would go on to lose to the Braves a second time.  Do things change if the Mariners are still breathing down their necks?  I dunno, maybe, maybe not, but it’s something I would’ve loved to have seen.

That game on Saturday was something else.  It was intense, full of wild mood swings and shifts in momentum.  Every pitch mattered.  Every out counted, more than any other game we’d played this year.  That WAS playoff baseball, regardless of where it fell on the calendar.  Lots of pinch hitters, defensive replacements, pinch runners, yanking the starter early, blowing out your bullpen as far as it’ll go, IT HAD EVERYTHING!

And, in the end, as always, the Mariners came up just short.

I feel so sad today because I’m ALWAYS this sad when a team I love has a playoff run that’s cut short of the championship.  While this “playoff run” ended with Game 161, it doesn’t hurt any less when the mind is tricked into believing what it wants to believe.  I wanted so badly for the Mariners to get into THESE playoffs, that it felt like we were already there.  Backs against the wall, in a Win or Go Home situation, and we lost.  And we’re home.  Where we’ve always been.  Watching other, better teams, go on to play more important, more meaningful baseball.

15 years and counting.  I’ll rant and rave later.  I’m gonna be sad for now.  This was a fun team to watch and a fun team to root for and it deserved better.  Or maybe it didn’t, I don’t know.

The Mariners Don’t Have Time For Bullshit Rookie Mistakes

Felix starts against the Astros of late – even when it looks like he might be going well – are still tense affairs that can turn on a dime.  I mean, Jose Altuve is batting over .500 against him for his career, and the rest of the heart of their lineup is solid-enough to take Felix out of his comfort zone.  So, when you’re in a situation like we were in yesterday, where Felix was into the 6th inning with a 4-2 lead, you thank your lucky stars and you hope nothing happens to derail him.  Even the slightest breeze by the Astros’ meaty part of the lineup can turn what would’ve been a surefire victory just two years ago into a 6-run nightmare that effectively eliminates you from serious contention.

Bottom of the 6th, Altuve leads off with a single.  Because of course he does.  Carlos Correa follows with another single, pushing Altuve to second, and you’re just glad he didn’t hit a 2-run homer to tie it.  Put those two guys on, fine!  Just as long as they’re not both in scoring position, you can probably get out of this inning with a lead.  Felix then gets Evan Gattis to strike out and now you’re in business:  you’re just a double play away from getting out of the inning perfectly unscathed.  Of course, double plays are hard to force, but Felix had already induced two to that point.

Third baseman Yulieski Gurriel walks to the plate.  He hits a grounder to the short stop, Ketel Marte.  With Cano already standing at the second base bag, Marte foregoes the easy flip and instead takes it to the bag himself in plenty of time:  one out.  He makes a strong throw towards first that pulls Adam Lind off the bag; Lind is unable to secure the ball and it goes behind him; Altuve scores.  4-3 Mariners.  We can still get out of the inning, but then Felix follows that with a walk.  Then an RBI single.  Then a numbnuts error by Lind, followed by 4 unearned runs, all attributed to Felix Hernandez.  Before you know it, our offense goes in the tank and Vidal Nuno is in the game, mopping up yet another defeat.

ALL COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED, if either Marte flipped to Cano, who had an easy turn with plenty of time to get it to first base; or if Marte had just done his fucking job and made a good throw to first himself.  But, this is the same sort of bullshit we’ve seen out of Marte since he was brought up last year.  He has failed to improve his defense, and really that should be the ONLY fucking reason he’s up here right now, because it sure as shit isn’t his bat!  His line is .258/.288/.325!  He can’t hit for power, he can’t take a walk, he BARELY hits for a decent average, and all the good he brings you on the basepaths is 10 times negated by his shitty defense.  He’s no wizard with the diving backhand, and he all too frequently bungles the routine play.  Last night was another example of a routine play being botched by a little bitch who can’t focus on what needs to be done.

Ketel Marte is the reason why the Mariners spent most of the July trade deadline trying to get a deal done with Cincinnati for their short stop.  Ketel Marte is most certainly the reason why the Mariners will try again this offseason.

Ketel Marte is not a Major League short stop.  He’s, at best, a bench guy you use to pinch run in later innings.  But, really, he belongs in the minors, or out of baseball entirely.  Because if he’s not good at defense now, if he struggles to make the routine plays at his physical peak, what makes you think he’s going to be any BETTER in the seasons to come?

There is nothing about Marte’s game that leads me to believe he has a future as a successful Major Leaguer.  Maybe if he was given a brain transplant, but I don’t think we have the technology for that just yet.

It’s unfortunate to have your season derailed by a rookie you’re forced to depend upon.  This team is one of the most veteran teams in the league, we’re rock solid up and down the lineup and all around the field.  Where our outfielders fail defensively, they make up for it at the plate, and this month we have reserves to put in during the later innings for a little defensive boost.  But, at short stop?  It’s Marte, or it’s O’Malley – who may be smarter with the routine play, but has even LESS range than Marte, so is not really that much of an upgrade – or it’s someone even worse.

I’m telling you, we needed this game last night.  Had we secured the double play, we would’ve been up 4-2 after six.  Felix’s pitch count would’ve been low, the bottom of the order was coming up with no one on base, it would’ve been a WHOLE DIFFERENT GAME!  I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t have gotten the King through 7 innings, leaving us with just two innings of bullpen work to go to get the save.  Plus, Houston’s bullpen usage might have been different had they been trailing, so maybe we score more runs to boot?

And don’t tell me it’s Felix’s job to overcome bullshit defense.  For starters, Houston has the best approach to Felix’s arsenal of any team I’ve ever seen, and he was on a massive slump against them.  So, for peace of mind he needed a clean game from his defense.  Giving any team extra outs, regardless of the pitcher on the mound, is never going to be helpful.  But, given the circumstances, the Mariners really found a new way to let down their ace (usually it’s by the offense taking a huge shit, or the bullpen blowing a lead).  Except, the thing is, THIS ISN’T NEW!  He’s been dogged by shitty defense seemingly all season!  9 of the runs he’s allowed have been unearned!  That doesn’t take into account all the other errors he’s managed to overcome, as well as the plays like Marte’s (where you can’t assume the double play, so he technically wasn’t awarded the double-error he so rightfully deserved).

What did this cost the Mariners?  Well, putting the final nail in the Astros’ coffin, for starters.  They’re a half-game behind us with one more game to play this morning.  The Tigers easily defeated the Indians last night – thanks to the Indians clinching the night before, and resting all their starters against Verlander as a reward – so we’re 1 game behind the Tigers again.  AND, the Orioles lost to the Blue Jays, so we missed out on an opportunity to be 1 game back of the second wild card.

All because little Ketel Marte made boom boom in his diapers instead of finishing a double play that would’ve kept us in the race.  Now, we’ve got 5 games to go, and pretty much need a miracle to pass the two teams we’re trailing.

If the Mariners are going to make a go of it next year, they need guys they can count on.  They can’t be going with useless rookies who don’t excel at any aspect of baseball.  But, even then, will it be enough?

The Mariners Are Really Putting Me Through The Wringer

Tasked with the second inexperienced starter in two days, the Seattle Mariners had to put on their big boy pants to beat the Angels last night.  So, it was really a perfect time for the power in the bats to completely disappear.

After digging a hole early, Cody Martin somewhat settled down to go 4.1 innings while giving up only 2 runs.  Given our placement in the standings and how important all of these games are, combined with the fact that the Mariners just took the lead in the top of the 4th to go up 4-2, Scott Servais wasn’t taking any chances.  It was the prudent play.

The bullpen rebounded in a big way over the previous night.  Storen went 1.1 scoreless, Nuno got the final out of the 6th, Caminero made it through a scoreless 7th, and Wilhelmsen did the same in the 8th.  Perfect.  Bring on the Sugar!

Texas Tea ... Sweetener!

Texas Tea … Sweetener!

Who almost fucking blew it.

ARE YOU FLIPPING KIDDING ME???

A single and a wild pitch put the leadoff batter in scoring position.  For the most part, like the night prior, the Angels hitters were cheating, going up there looking fastball all the way and swinging accordingly.  That’s what happened with the first batter.  So, Diaz turned to his slider, and almost exclusively his slider, the rest of the way.  I didn’t understand at first, as the next batter whiffed twice at it before laying off the next two balls outside, before putting the final slider into centerfield to make the game 4-3.  After the game, I discovered he’d lost confidence in his fastball command, but either way, it was SCARY for a while there!

Diaz got a strikeout from an overly-aggressive Kole Calhoun, but then Trout singled and advanced to second on the throw as Leonys Martin tried to cut down the runner going to third.  With two runners in scoring position, and only one out in the inning, Diaz intentionally walked Albert Pujols to load ’em up.  From there, he got another strikeout before running into the final batter of the night, who hit a hard ground ball towards the bag that Seager dove on.  He was able to throw out the final runner by a half step to save the game, in what has to be the best defensive play made by a Mariners fielder all year.  Hell, it might be the play of the decade, given the circumstances (but, my memory ain’t what it used to be).

Just an unbelievable sense of relief after that.  We wrap up the 4-game series tonight, with Iwakuma on the mound.  Let’s do this thing!

The Mariners Played Past Midnight, Rewarded The Insane Who Stayed Up So Late

I’m not gonna lie to you, it wasn’t looking good last night.  Wade LeBlanc just didn’t have it (certainly a byproduct of the Tigers absolutely destroying soft-tossing left-handed pitching), barely made it through 5 innings while giving up 4 runs, and the offense was sputtering.  Down 3-0, I tuned into the horror show that was the fourth inning.  Cano doubled to lead off the inning and Cruz tripled him in (any competent outfielder would’ve caught that ball for an out, but that’s neither here nor there) to get one back.  With no outs, Dae-ho Lee and Kyle Seager both proceeded to fly out to center, neither of which were deep enough to allow Cruz to tag up (apparently, although it sure seemed like he could’ve scored on Lee’s ball).  Once we officially Iannetta’d up that scoring opportunity, stranding Cruz at third base, I wouldn’t have blamed myself or any of you for changing the channel or just going to bed extra early.  Gotta get that beauty sleep for the Guns N’ Roses show on Friday!

I did, indeed, dip in and out of the game, thanks to various distractions.  I was down a mid-90s Aphex Twin worm hole on YouTube when Kyle Seager bashed his game-tying 3-run home run in the bottom of the 8th, but I was more or less glued to the TV from the 9th inning on.  Every strike out!  Every man left on base!  Every time a guy swung for the fences instead of just trying to get on base and string some hits together!  I was there!  On my couch!  Ready to drop this game like a bad habit at the first sign of danger!

The bullpen, to its credit, was phenomenal.  I can’t keep track of all the roster moves this team has made over the last couple months, so I really don’t know who’s injured, who’s in Tacoma, who’s been picked up by other teams, and apparently how many people we actually have in our bullpen at the moment!  Somewhere in there, in between the trade for Arquimedes Caminero (2 scoreless last night), and the return of Nick Vincent from the DL (1 scoreless, in his first action since June 26th), the Mariners were working with a 6-man bullpen as of yesterday.  That will surely change today – since all 6 of them pitched last night, 1-2 innings each – but all 6 of those guys need to be commended for throwing a combined 9 shutout innings.  Most remarkable of all was probably Tom Wilhelmsen in the 14th, who allowed the bases to be loaded with only 1 out, before somehow getting out of the inning unscathed.  It would be foolish to expect every single member of the bullpen to be ON in the same game, but to see him fight back and get out of trouble was a nice little boost in the 11pm hour.

I won’t lump Ariel Miranda in with the rest of the bullpen, because he was actually slotted to be Friday’s starter in Oakland.  He may still start that day anyway, as yesterday was a regular bullpen day for him, but he sure as shit wasn’t sharp last night.  It might be a coincidence that the Tigers scored all of their runs against the only left-handed pitchers we opted to use Hi Vidal Nuno!, but they seemed to blast Miranda with relative ease, leading me to think they probably hit lefties pretty well over in Detroit.  Granted, Victor Martinez – who hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the 15th – hits everyone well, from both sides of the plate.  But, the next batter had a sharp single to center, followed by 2 line outs to help Miranda get out of the inning.  The fact that Miranda gave up only the one run was probably the best case scenario.

Which brought us to the bottom of the 15th.  The Tigers, in all of that insanity, managed to preserve their closer all that way!  Francisco Rodriguez is a longtime veteran with 418 career saves.  And, by the numbers, it looks like he’s having another rock solid season this year, with 32 saves against only (now) 3 blown saves (after last night’s game).  But, SPOILER ALERT:  the Mariners apparently handle this guy pretty well (I was going to look for the exact numbers, but Baseball Reference is shitting the bed on his splits page right now).  No matter, because last night is all that I care about.  And, in the bottom of the 15th, with one out, Cruz walked, Lind dropped a single into right field (a byproduct of the outfielders playing so deep to “take away the double”), and Seager went the other way with a single-turned-double thanks to an outfield bobble.

THAT, right there, is exactly what I was looking for.  They don’t all have to be walk-off home runs!  Them shits is hard to hit!  But, get you some walks and some singles going, and now you’ve got the pitcher in trouble.  Now, you’ve got the pitcher throwing many multiple pressure pitches.  And, if you find the right guy on the right day, it’s only a matter of time before he succumbs to the pressure and gives you something good to hit.  In this scenario, of course, you have to look at that pitch to Seager – fat, juicy, right in the middle of the plate.  The fact that he went the other way with it – when everyone expects him to pull the ball at all times – was the cherry on top.

The MVP of the game probably goes to Justin Upton on that bobble of Seager’s hit.  If he doesn’t botch-toe that thing, I highly doubt Lind gets to third base.  It’s impossible to know what would’ve happened had he come up with it cleanly, but in this hypothetical scenario, it’s likely Zunino doesn’t get the game winning hit, and he’s followed by Leonys Martin who struck out a whopping 5 times in 6 official at bats (what comes after Golden Sombrero, btw?).  BUT, thanks to Upton, Lind DID get to third base, and all it took was a Zunino sac fly to center – this time, thankfully, deep enough to test the dude’s arm – to bring home the winning run and let us all go to bed early (Wednesday morning).  Shit, if it weren’t for Upton, they might still be playing baseball and I might literally be dead by my own hands!

As I noted above, today the Mariners are certain to make a move for bullpen help.  It’s also the final game in the series, with King Felix on the mound.  I’m sure he’s going to INTEND to bring his A-Game, and try to go at least 8 innings tonight, but he’s been a little dodgy since his return from the DL, so I don’t think it’s something we can depend upon.  However, if he does return to form, tonight would be the perfect time.  Save the bullpen, with an off-day/travel day tomorrow, followed by 20 games in a row.  They’re all important, they’re all must-win, but winning tonight would be extra special.

I Don’t Know Why I Stayed Up To Watch All Of That Mariners Game Last Night

You want the short answer?  I knew Ariel Miranda was getting his first Major League start and I wanted like hell for him to do well.  We’d just shipped off Wade Miley – who, in his first start with the Orioles, went 5 innings, giving up 4 runs in a loss – and I’d made that big to do about Good Riddance and all that jazz.  This year has been such a shitshow with the pitching, I’m DESPERATE for any possibility that a new guy might help turn things around.

Also, not for nothing, but I realize we’re just starting to get into Looking Forward To Next Year mode – even if I’m being dragged there kicking and screaming – and I’d like to have some reasons for optimism.  I NEED a good pitching staff, or else I get all wonky!

Well, Ariel Miranda acquitted himself just fine last night.  6 innings, 2 runs, spreading out 8 hits and a walk, with 5 strikeouts.  He got himself into a little trouble here and there, but was able to pitch around it.  I thought he hit his spots pretty well, for the most part.  He seemed pretty fearless out there, and pretty natural at the same time.  He might get sent right back down to Tacoma in a minute, what with Taijuan Walker’s return, but let’s be real here:  no one expects this rotation to stay intact for the next two weeks, let alone the rest of the season.  We will most definitely see Ariel Miranda again.  And I hope we get a lot more of what we saw last night, because that’s a guy I can go to war with.

Unfortunately, as has been the case more and more of late, the hitting let us down last night.  The Mariners should win every game they hold an opponent to 2 runs in regulation.  But, it wasn’t to be.  Robbie – after being our hero on Tuesday – totally shit the bed last night.  Cruz wasn’t good for anything more than a couple of walks.  Seager was 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position.  Zunino was only good for a couple of walks (a lot of walks by Mariners hitters last night, which makes the end result particularly galling, as we’re NEVER this patient at the plate).  The only middle-of-the-order hitter to do ANYTHING last night was Dae-ho Lee, with the RBI single in the 5th to tie the game.  He’s so good at getting that runner in by knocking a single the other way; he’s NOT just a power guy!  That’s what we love about Dae-ho so much!

The rest of the lineup wasn’t much better, to be fair.  Leonys Martin is in a BIGTIME slump right now.  Guillermo Heredia is NOT a leadoff hitter, and I wish Servais would stop doing that.  Shawn O’Malley had a solo homer – and 3 hits on the day – but he’s also not a starting-calibre short stop, which was on full display in the top of the 11th, when his diving stab at a single through the infield cost the Mariners a run and ultimately the game.  A competent defensive short stop at the very least is able to keep that ball in the infield, with a good chance of actually making the play and getting the out at first.  This team seriously needs Ketel Marte back in the lineup.  Because he’s leaps and bounds better than O’Malley defensively, and because we need to see if the kid has what it takes to be our everyday short stop next year and beyond.

I mean, seriously, who gets mono in this day and age?!

Short story long, I’ve gotta give it up for the bullpen last night.  They really worked their asses off to keep that game tied as long as it was.  I thought Miranda was pulled at exactly the right time:  he made it through 6, and even though he’d only thrown 80 pitches, he was starting to get hit hard, and it’s better to preserve the kid’s confidence going forward than try to squeeze another inning out of him and giving up the lead in the process.  I like Storen in that spot right now, I thought Nuno was in there the exact right amount, and I even agree with having Wilhelmsen in there for the 4 outs.  No one was egregiously over-used, but with Diaz unavailable (having pitched in 4 days out of the last 5), you had to get a little extra somewhere.  I started the 10th inning wondering just what in the hell the Mariners were thinking by not bringing Blake Parker up sooner – as it looked like he’d been kicking all ass in Tacoma – but by the end of the 10th, I was having visions of Joel Peralta, and understood it probably wasn’t the organization being prejudiced against guys named Blake.  By the time we got to the 11th, and Cody Martin was the last man standing, you kinda knew time was growing short.  I just hoped he wouldn’t IMMEDIATELY give up the go-ahead run, but maybe buy us an inning or two before falling apart.

Oh well, I guess.  Can’t win ’em all, I suppose.  We’ll get ’em next time and whatnot.  The sun’ll come out tomorrow and whathaveyou.

Big Griffey Hall of Fame Weekend starts tonight.  I’m going to all three games, so I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say come Monday.

Mariners Finish Trade Deadline Period By Dealing Miley

I’ve been saying all along we need to hold off until we see all the moves in context.  Well, it’s the afternoon of August 1st, and all the major moves have been made (it’s still possible to get rid of someone like Lind – who has a fat contract and doesn’t bring a ton to the table – before the end of the month, but that won’t mean much at this point, as I’ll get into later).

First, we had Montgomery for Vogelbach, and we didn’t know what to think.  That one probably sits more in the camp of The Future than Win Now, but Montgomery is more or less just a bullpen piece at this point, and Vogelbach could be called up to Seattle at any time.

Next, we had Benoit for Storen, which was an obvious Greener Pastures move for two struggling relievers.  Not much insight there (though, again, you see the Mariners go younger to bring in a guy with more upside, even if his contract expires after this year).

Now, we’ve got Wade Miley going to Baltimore for minor league starter Ariel Miranda.  I know I’ve been conducting the Hate Train on Miley pretty much since he started showing us how worthless he is, but there’s no rational way to look at this move as anything other than a sell-off.  Miley was set to earn upwards of $9 million next year, with a club option for 2018 that would’ve paid out $12 million.  At the very least, we avoid that high salary next year and the $500,000 buy-out for 2018 (the Mariners sent no money Baltimore’s way, so it’s all on them now).

I don’t know why people are so upset!  I mean, yeah, I get it, the Mariners are sellers, and not even GOOD sellers.  They sold off scraps and got back question marks.  Part of that, I’m sure, is that there weren’t any good deals out there.  But, you can’t help but see this amalgam of moves as the Mariners – once again – trying to have it both ways.  They get to be sellers without going so far as selling our most prized assets (*cough* NELSON CRUZ *cough*), but they can also say, “Look, we’re still pretty much the same team we were in the first two months, so let’s not totally close the door on this contention thing.”

And sure, I get it, Miley’s been on an upswing recently.  He’s on a run of 3 quality starts in a row, and 4 out of his last 5 starts.  Hell, his most recent outing – Saturday, against the Cubs – was his very best of the season!  But, don’t forget the rest of the starts.  Don’t forget all the bullshit outings we got out of Miley this year.  A guy who was supposed to be – AT WORST – an innings eater, couldn’t even do THAT!  What value does that guy have, who brings nothing to the table whatsoever?  He’s not going to get you some stud prospect.  He’s going to get you exactly who we got.

Ariel Miranda, with 1 career Major League appearance.  Who’s played the bulk of his career in Cuba, who just made Baltimore’s AAA club this season.  He’s a lefty starter with a good fastball (94 mph range) and a good changeup (he’s actually better against righties than lefties), but nothing much going on with his other breaking balls.

In my book, this guy is no worse than Miley RIGHT NOW.

Everyone points to Miley’s experience as the deciding factor, but what does that mean?  I take it to mean you know what you’re going to get with Miley.  That the younger pitcher will be wild and inconsistent from start to start.  Well, look at the breakdown of 29 year old Miley’s starts with the Mariners this year, from April through July:

  1. Bad Start
  2. Bad Start
  3. Really Bad Start
  4. Good Start
  5. Great Start
  6. Good Start
  7. Bad Start
  8. Good Start
  9. Bad Start
  10. Bad Start
  11. Really Bad Start
  12. Great Start
  13. Bad Start
  14. Really Bad Start
  15. Good Start
  16. Bad Start
  17. Good Start
  18. Good Start
  19. Great Start

Tell me, where’s the consistency?  For what it’s worth, a Good Start is like a regular Quality Start; a Great Start is 7 innings or more with 2 runs or less; a Bad Start is 4 runs or more (or a 3-run, 5 inning start); a Really Bad Start is anything less than 5 innings.

Miley has as many Really Bad Starts as Great Starts.  He has more Bad Starts than Good Starts.  That’s not acceptable, at all, from a veteran starter earning as much money as Miley makes.  He’s a fucking washed up joke, and it’s Baltimore’s loss.

You’re telling me Ariel Miranda can’t give us Miley-esque production as a back-end starter right now?  Because I think he can.  And if he does, then boom, the Mariners have already won that trade, because he’s making peanuts, is younger, and has more upside.  He just needs a chance.

If you ask me, the Mariners got better RIGHT NOW, just by getting rid of Miley.

What does this mean going forward though?  It means, starting tonight, the Mariners have to nut up or shut up.  Felix has to round back into his dominant form.  Paxton needs to be a stud.  Walker needs to return and stay healthy.  Iwakuma needs to continue his run of quality pitching.  And one of our 5th starters needs to emerge.  Wade LeBlanc, Ariel Miranda, or Nathan Karns (seems unlikely on the Karns one, but the other two are possibilities).

It means, starting tonight, the bullpen needs to coalesce.  Absolutely NO MORE BLOWN SAVES from Cishek.  If he blows one more game, he’s done as the closer, period.  Keep putting Diaz in there in the most pressure-packed situations and hope he continues to shine.  And the veterans – Wilhelmsen, Nuno, Storen, eventually Furbush, hopefully Vincent – need to be dialed in.

We need two months of pure excellence out of the entire pitching staff in order to get this thing done.  Anything less, and you’re going to see more of the same frustrating .500 ball that we’ve been watching of late.  Because this is it!  This is the team we have, for the final two months of the season.  No more help is walking through that door.  In fact, guys are more likely to leave, if we can find any takers for Lind, Aoki, or Seth Smith (all names I’ve heard bandied about in trade rumors).

But, even if we do find takers, don’t expect to get a lot in return.  Removing Lind, Aoki, or Smith are cost-cutting moves plain and simple.  You only get those guys off your team if you think they won’t be of any help to you reaching the playoffs, and you want to open up some roster spots for younger guys like Vogelbach, like the recently recalled Guillermo Heredia, like whoever else in Tacoma you want to see drink a cup of coffee.

My bet is that this upcoming homestand – starting tonight with 4 against the Red Sox, then 3 against the Angels over the weekend, then 3 more against the Tigers – is going to be the most important homestand of the year.  There’s one off-day this month for the Mariners, and it takes place after that Tigers series.  If you don’t see something like an 8-2 record in those ten games, I think we go into full-on Play For Next Year mode.  I think you start seeing more guys from Tacoma called up.  I think you start seeing guys like Aoki and Lind and maybe even Smith getting released or traded for peanuts.  I think you see a switch at closer, and you see even more crappy Tacoma relievers called up to show what they can do.

That’s because, after the homestand, it’s 20 games in a row, all but 6 on the road.  The Dog Days!  They’re here!  With the August 31st waivers deadline, followed by the September call-ups, if the Mariners haven’t made up a significant chunk of their 5-game deficit in the Wild Card standings, you’re going to see a whole lotta mailing it in.  How soon that starts will be dictated in the next 10 days.

Pressure’s on, Mariners.  Are you going to be like all the other shitty Mariners teams we’ve suffered through recently?  Or, are you actually going to shock the world?