Month: April 2018

M’s Pants Indians, Come Home 16-11

The Mariners played their 27th game of the season today.  They won, always a good thing. They won a four game series against a pretty good Indians team on the road.  They split a pair of one-run decisions.  They unlimbered all their offense for the last two games and bludgeoned their hosts and their vaunted pitching staff into submission.

The Mariners are done with their season series against the Tribe.  They finished 6-1 Their winning percentage is .593.  At this moment they are 1.5 games behind the Astros for the division lead.  They are currently tied with the Angels for second place in the West.  If the faltering Angels lose to the Yankees tonight, the M’s will slide into the second wild card spot.

Yes, you’re absolutely right, Seattle has played only 17% of their schedule, and it’s way too early to get to excited about division leads and wild card positions.

But imagine for just a moment the Mariners were 11-16.  The M’s would be just ahead of the awful Texas Rangers, having lost series to the terrible White Sox, and wretched Royals, and swept in Cleveland by the Indians, we’d be done talking about the M’s, Haniger’s hot start, the return of Ryon Healy and the resurrection of Marco Gonzales. We’d be deeply analyzing the Seahawks draft instead of smiling at this:

 

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Mitch Haniger hit his tenth home run to make the final score 10-4 over the Indians.

Or this:

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Robinson Cano’s 100th home run as a Mariner to give the Mariners a 5-0 lead in the 2nd inning.

So while it may be a little too early to pronounce the Mariners a division winner or even a playoff team on April 29th, shame on the clowns who declared the M’s a bad team in the ashes of the Astros series. 7-3 on this road trip.  They win a four game series from an Indians team that hadn’t lost a home series since last summer’s All-Star break.  They aren’t that bad.

Just some quick notes

Go Marco!!

Between April 9-19 Marco Gonzales looked just like dogmeat.  In the three starts during that time, I was sure the M’s were ripped off in the Tyler O’Neil trade and Gonzales needed to be deposited in the garbage disposal with other bad Gonzaga Bulldogs. In 10.1 innings over that time, Gonzales allowed 11 runs on 18 hits.  But when the lefty rolled into Chicago on April 23rd, he blanked the White Sox over six innings allowing the M’s to hold on to a 1-0 shutout. Today Gonzales allowed only two runs in six innings.  Things seem to be settling in.  Would love to see him extended to at least 100 pitches.  Oh, and Tyler O’Neil?  Sent back to Louisville after only nine big-league at bats.

The Dynamic Duo

While the M’s are beginning to get more consistent production from their rotation, mostly, sort of, except maybe Erasmo Ramirez, their bullpen, honestly has been even more concerning.  Guys they were counting on like Nick Vincent and Mark Rzepczynski, Dan Altavilla, simply haven’t consistently been on their game.  With M’s winning a lot of one-run ball games, the wolf–pack simply has to tighten things up. One guy who has gotten his game together is Juan Nicasio.  He certainly wasn’t the guy I thought the M’s were getting when they signed him for $8.5 M in the off-season, but over his last six appearances since April 16th, he’s been nails. Six strikeouts, no walks and two hits over six innings.  His partner in crime, Edwin Diaz, has been likewise perfect, at least in final results.  The kid’s only allowed one run in his 14.1 innings and is perfect in save situations.  At least the back of the rotation is solid.

At Last, The Lineup We Were Promised!!

With the return of Ryon Healy, everybody is finally on board.  This might be the least injured the M’s have been since 2016.  And it’s paying off. While the left field platoon of Ben Gamel and Ichiro have yet to show consistent signs of success, everyone else has contributed in big ways, from Mitch Haniger’s amazing .309/..384/.701 with 10 home runs (tied for first in the AL) to Jean Segura’s .298/.325/.447 with 9 doubles (tied for fourth) 21 runs scored (tied for 7th) and five steals (tied for third) to Dee Gordon’s .309/.339/.400  with 10 steals (1st in AL) and penchant for leaving calamity in his wake (number one on the planet,) this is a pretty exciting team to watch.  It’s been fun to see the return of Mike Zunino and Friday’s ninth inning bomb.  Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano can add to the mix without having to be the only guys.  This team will be dangerous from 1-9.

And What Does It All Mean?

Well, not a lot really.  As long as the Mariners continue to win, we’ll keep talking about them.  If they don’t we’ll be talking Seahawks training camp. The next homestand features the surprising A’s and the Angels who are 3-7 over their last ten games.  The rest of May is mostly at Safeco against some teams that are really struggling.  If the M’s can turn in a really good month, they’ll be well positioned for the more difficult mid-summer chunk of their season.

Go M’s!

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M’s Reacquire Roenis Elias

 

Roenis Elias Mariners
Roenis Elias back in a Mariners uniform where he belongs. The M’s obtained Elias for a Player To Be Named Later to the Red Sox.

I hated the Wade Miley trade. I hated giving up Carson Smith, even if he was pretty much broken all of last year. Miley was a stinking pile of poop every fifth day. My niece, a dyed- in-the-wool Red Sox fan tormented me for most of the year about being rid of the big dope.

And it really pissed me off to know that Roenis Elias was a part of that deal.  It was bad enough to see that potentially THE bullpen arm for the Mariners future was gone, but they threw in Elias too?

Let’s be clear, I know, you know, any knowledgeable Mariners fan knows Roenis Elias is not going to make this team a winner. This is not Seattle’s Tit for Houston’s Gerrit Cole Tat. It’s not even clear what the lefty curveballer’s role will be, if he’s eventually ticketed to join the team in Seattle or if he’s intended for depth in Tacoma.

Elias started 51 games for the M’s in 2014-15.  He was walky-dinger prone, and was a slightly less than average starter.

But I could see him supplanting Wade LeBlanc or Mark Rzepczynski in the bullpen.  Neither has been particularly effective so far. According to Greg Johns at MLB.Com, he’s headed for Tacoma to be stretched out for a starting job.  Is he planned as a depth option in Tacoma, or is there thinking he could help out in Seattle where the four and five spots in the rotation seem unsettled?

It’s also unclear what the M’s gave up to get Elias.  It’s a PTBNL.  Maybe it’s cash.  Who knows.  The Red Sox were happy to free up a spot on their 40-man roster.

So why so many pixels spilled over so minor an acquisition?  It just feels like a smart get, however little it may help for a player I always kind of liked.  More pitching is always good and the M’s haven’t exactly broken down the doors to get more this season. Elias over Ichiro on the roster?  Might be a tough choice.

 

 

Erasmo up, Heredia to Tacoma: What Are You Thinking?

Seattle Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki (51)

“Fisher, after his unsettling wait, was low with the first pitch.  He put the second one over, and  . . . swung mightily and missed.  The crowd grunted, seeing that classic swing, so long and smooth and quick, exposed. Fisher threw the third time, . . .  swung again, and there it was.  The ball climbed on a diagonal line into the vast volume of air over center field.  From my angle, behind third base, the ball seemed less an object in flight than the tip of a towering, motionless construct, like the Eiffel Tower or the Tappan Zee Bridge.  It was in the books when it was still in the sky.”

John Updike wrote this immortal account of Ted Williams’ last at-bat in The New Yorker in 1960.  Teddy Ballgame homered in his last plate appearance. He was 41.  His slash line in 1960 was .316/.451/.645, with 29 home runs.

God only knows when ichiro Suzuki will have his last major league at-bat, or for what team or when that will be.  But I’m betting he won’t have Williams slash line, and he won’t go out on the same high the Splinter did at Fenway that night so long ago.

Which is a pity, because ten or twelve years ago there was no more prolific hitter than number 51 in a Mariners jersey.  I want to remember him that way, gunning down Terence Long at third, stealing bases, breaking George Sisler’s hit record.  I want to see his plaque in a Mariners hat in the Hall of Fame, the first Japanese-born player to do so.

So why this long, rambling intro? Never write a blog post when you’re angry. The news today the Mariners activated Erasmo Ramirez was expected.  We’re into five starter territory now that the schedule has normalized. Somebody had to go. With five outfielders, the obvious answer was Ichiro. Instead they sent down Guillermo Heredia, who had minor league options.

As I stated in an earlier post, Ichiro simply isn’t the hitter he was a decade ago or even a few years ago.  His defense has deteriorated.  Add this:  he’s left handed.  Ben Gamel and Dee Gordon are also left-handed.

Heredia is a better hitter, better outfielder, can play all three outfield positions and is right-handed.  You may recall he got Saturday night’s key rally going in the 7th inning. Heredia is 27, and if he doesn’t have Ichiro’s passport to Cooperstown, he is a better member of this team today, and better able to help this team win now.

So, what the hell?  I’m not sure who made this decision, but I am relatively certain that 90% of Mariner Nation is up in arms about this. How can we be persuaded this team wants to win and win now when they aren’t keeping the best players on the team?  This may be a time-buying measure so the Jerry Dipoto or the front office can sort this out in a manner that doesn’t injure their relations with the former star, but they’re perpetuating a public image that rightly or wrongly much of the public has that winning is not at the top of this organization’s to-do list. They better sort it out fast.

Ichiro has repeatedly stated he wants to play until he’s at least 50.  That’s fine, I completely support that.  But it must be with another team.  This one has a very narrow window to ending it’s 16 year playoff drought, and it must carry all the best players available to them. There are only 25 roster spots available for those guys, and unfortunately number 51 isn’t one of them.

Why The M’s Are Better and A Shout-Out to Danny Farquhar.

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The Houston Astros are tough.  They have great pitching and a team full of mostly young, affordable stars.  They showed us that by coming into Safeco and kicking the crap out of the Mariners in a four game series, and have now shouldered past the Angels to take first place in the American League West.  I don’t expect for them to relinquish that spot for the rest of the season.

It’s hard to see your team get slapped around by another.  There’s frustration in Mariner Nation, stoked by 16 years of frustration. The Mariners seem improved, but not as good as the Astros.

How are the Mariners better?  Well, let’s start with the rotation.  We’ve gone four turns through.

Felix made his fifth start against the Rangers last night.  Four outings of decent and one, against the Giants, of utter rubbish. If you take out the Giants game, he’s okay, As much as you could hope for. Is he the new Felix?  Still too early to say.  He’s not striking out as many and he’s only pitched a full six innings once. But, for April, I’ll take it.

James Paxton pitches today against the ageless Bartolo Colon. Likewise, Paxton has had one terrible outing and three decent ones.  His season is evolving into the one we want to see, getting deeper into games and striking out everybody. Still no games deeper than six innings and throwing a lot of pitches, but it feels like he’s close,  Paxton won the 2-1 game against Houston’s Dallas Keuchel.

Mike Leake pitched as we’d expect Mike Leake to pitch, with nothing disastrous. Well, maybe his last start, when he was great through six innings and absolutely collapsed in the seventh for the 7-2 loss in the Houston series. He’s been a steady presence in the rotation.

Marco Gonzales has struggled. After a fine first start, he’s just been poop.  Gonzales lasted 2.1 innings against the Royals, 3.1 innings against the A’s, and 4.1 against the Astros, and he was simply ineffective. He’ll have to be better or solutions will need to be found.

Overall, the rotation has been better than I thought–the bullpen, not as good, but that’s a subject for a different post. Despite Gonzales’ struggles, the guys seem healthy, and by this time in 2017 there were already warning signs. The fifth starter, likely Erasmo Ramirez, will make his first appearance after an acceptable outing by Ariel Miranda in a losing cause.

The M’s are better than the 2016-17 teams of the Dipoto era.  I know they struggled for four games against Sean Manaea and the entire Astros rotation, but they are really good pitchers, better than the Mariners starters.  There’s a reason they won the World Series last year.  That said, the if the M’s want to compete, they’ll need to play better against the champs.

Though they struggled against the Astros, the Mariners just have a better lineup.  It’s deeper and more players contribute to the scoring. This team used to be all about the exploits of Robbie, Boomstick, and Kyle. This year the team leader in home runs and RBI’s is Mitch Haniger.  The leaders in hits are Dee Gordon and Jean Segura.  Cano has only one homer and 7 RBI’s, but he leads the team in OBP at .440, walks, batting average, and most importantly, runs scored with 13. The M’s welcomed back their walking wounded as Nelson Cruz, Ben Gamel and Mike Zunino have all seen action.  The team will only get better as they get their timing back, and Cruz hopefully is repaired.

But this is no longer a team that has only three guys who can hurt you. With Dee Gordon running wild on the bases, the M’s are third in the league in steals.  They’re no longer the station to station team. While they lost some of their early season mojo last week, I anticipate they’ll perform better on this road trip against bad Texas and Chicago teams, at least until they get to Cleveland where they’ll take on the currently underwhelming Indians.

This team is better and more fun to watch than any team in recent memory.  They won’t win the AL West.  They likely won’t make the playoffs.  It’s a team very much in transition looking ahead to next year. If winning is your only criteria for liking a team, you’ll be disappointed-though this team will win plenty, just not enough. But jeez, just having Dee Gordon as team cheerleader is enough for this fan.

Go M’s

Danny Farquhar

Former Mariner Shout-Out to Danny Farquhar

For those not in the know, Danny Farquhar was a Mariner from 2013-15.  He saved 16 games for Seattle in 2013.  He was one of those dealt to the Rays in Jerry Dipotos first great purge for Nate Karns in 2015.  Now he’s in the White Sox bullpen.  Until yesterday, when he collapsed in the dugout after getting two outs in the game against Houston.  Farquhar’s condition is critical. He suffered a brain aneurism that caused his brain to bleed. He was reported  still in critical condition by USA Today a few hours ago.

Danny is a fringe big leaguer, just like lots of other guys in the majors.  He’s a journeyman right-hander that many teams add to mop up disasters, or fill innings.  He’s not blessed with Edwin Diaz’s 99 mile an hour heat or his wipe out slider. In his seven years in major league baseball, he’s appeared in 253 games and 272.1 innings.  This is the first year he’s made a million dollars in a season.  Nobody is talking about Danny Farquhar as someone likely to clean up in next year’s free agent class. He’s just a guy hanging on to a job in the majors, and now this.

Farquhar is 31 years old, is married to his wife Alexandria.  They have a daughter and two sons.  His Wikipedia page says he would like to coach and teach high school math.

I’ll be thinking about Danny, and sending him the best thoughts I can.  Hope you can do the same.

Once a Mariner, always a Mariner.

Taijuan Walker Broken: Better Them Than Us

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As I was removing my Mariners lanyard with the inscription “Property of Lance McCullers and Gerrit Cole,” I ran across the post on MLB Trade Rumors that former M’s first round pick Tai Walker partially tore his UCL and will be having Tommy John surgery.

Walker, you remember him, former first round draft choice with millions of tons of potential, but never quite fulfilled it as a Mariner. He certainly had moments of real goodness, but it never quite happened.  Jerry Dipoto’s best trade of 2017 was sending Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte to the Diamondbacks for Jean Segura and little known outfielder Mitch Haniger.  Yes, that Haniger who has held the M’s together while awaiting the return of Nelson Cruz and Mike Zunino.

I never wish any player ill, and I still have hope that Walker, all of 25, will overcome his injury and be good.  He had a solid year for Arizona in 2017, making 28 starts for 157.1 innings, with 3.49 ERA, 4.04 FIP good enough for a 9-9 record.  He also struck out 146, walked 61 and allowed 17 homers.

There were times, when Segura and Haniger were injured, I lamented the trade of Walker.  With all the pitching injuries, he would have been second on the team in innings pitched right behind Ariel Miranda

But I’ve thought better of it.  Cheers to Tai Walker and the Diamondbacks.  I hope your recovery is swift and successful.  And no I’m not snickering.

Mike Zunino soon to return

In speaking of Mike Zunino, he should be returning to the Mariners when they head south to take on Bartolo Colon and the Rangers on Friday night. This morning’s News Tribune offers a great article about Zunino by T.J. Cotterill, and how he managed to get his hitting woes straightened out.  When he was sent down last year, again, he came with his usual bag of excuses explaining that he’d been successful elsewhere  and he just needed a few fixes.  He was told no, by Mariners Minor League Field Coordinator Mike Micucci and rebuilt his swing in several pieces.  But let Cotterill tell the story, it’s a good one. unfortunately it’s behind a paywall and I can’t link to it.

Gamel up, Miranda down, now what?

The M’s sent Ariel Miranda down after his Tuesday performance.  Ben Gamel was called up and played in Wednesday’s game. No need for a fifth starter until, gulp, Sunday.  The team has five outfielders, at least until Sunday when Erasmo Ramirez or Rob Whalen is needed to take the mound in Texas.  It will be interesting to see how long this shell game continues or Jerry Dipoto and company do the right thing.

Tyler O’Neill Called Up

The Cardinals called up former M’s prospect Tyler O’Neill yesterday.  Highly ranked prospect (for the M”s) O’Neill was traded for Marco Gonzales last year, much to the fear and loathing of many fans.  Hmm, Marco, you’ve been shelled your last two outings, maybe you can redeem yourself this afternoon and we can all feel better about this deal.

O’Neill was slashing .388/.385/.837 with six homers in AAA Memphis.  He has a history with a high strikeout rate, so let’s see if he can stick.

Marco, you better get us a win buddy.

Matinee baseball today.  Go M’s

Painted Into A Corner: The Mariners and Ichiro

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When Ben Gamel went down with an oblique injury during Spring Training, the M’s had lots of choices on how to replace him.  With two healthy starting outfielders in Mitch Haniger and Dee Gordon, and Guillermo Heredia still questionable due to off-season shoulder surgery, the Mariner definitely had some planning to do.

They could have taken a chance on MLB veterans John Andreoli or Kirk Nieuwenweis, knowing their need was fairly temporary.  They could have filled in with prospect Ian Miller for a couple dozen games and given him a sniff of the big leagues.  The Mariners could also have signed a free-agent with the understanding that when Gamel was healthy, they were likely gone, designated for assignment, maybe with a place in the M’s minor leagues if they were so inclined.

But the Mariners signed Ichiro Suzuki.  A Mariner Legend. A future Hall-Of-Famer.  A Mariner fan favorite.

He’s also a 44-year old outfielder whose history with the team vastly exceeds his value on the field in 2018.  In a small sample size over nine games, Ichiro is much the worst of the four Mariner outfielders on the 25-man roster. He’s hitting a paltry .207/.207/.207 slash (never seen that before,) with a wRC+ of only 14, with 100 being average.  Defensively, things are just as dismal.  In left field, his UZR/150 is a ghastly -24.9.

Look all this is over a pretty small collection of games for a guy who had little Spring Training, is coming off a calf injury and may offer some clubhouse leadership and team chemistry. But, the bottom line is Ichiro simply doesn’t have the physical skills to contribute significantly to this team on the field.

And Gamel is ready.  And he’s stuck in Tacoma, according to News Tribune writer T.J. Cotterill. That’s not terrible.  I’m stuck in Tacoma and I kind of like it. But Gamel is destined to be the M’s left fielder, and should be in Seattle. Heredia should be the number four guy.

The Mariners have said they will carry five outfielders.  That is extremely unusual for this team and any team in this relief heavy era.  In the past the M’s carried each of the position players (3 OF, 4 IF, C) for eight, a reserve catcher, DH, reserve IF (who can perhaps play OF too) and maybe a platoon at 1B.  That leaves space for five starters and as many relievers as possible.  For this team, that’s typically been eight.

To keep a fifth outfielder means some one has to go.  Currently the M’s are carrying two utility players in Andrew Romine and Taylor Motter, but both of them offer maximum position flexibility because they can both play all infield positions AND the outfield.  Romine would assuredly stay because he is the emergency catcher. There’s no way the M’s will give up a reliever–not with this rotation, or in this day and age.

Adding to this picture is the Mariners have not needed a fifth starter.  As of this writing they have only rotation mates Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Mike Leake, and Marco Gonzalez on the roster.  Today they will need to call up Ariel Miranda to take the fifth starter spot.  That will likely require that Motter follow I-5 to Cheney Stadium.

Meanwhile, Gamel is ready, according to Cotterill.  He was ready on Sunday.  He was ready yesterday.  He’ll be ready today, but he’ll be playing in a Rainiers uniform.

The Mariners have no business carrying a fifth outfielder.  Who is going to sit?  No, really. Manager Scott Servais suggested on March 7th, the day after Ichiro signed on to his return gig, that he could play often for the Mariners.

“He probably plays four, five times a week, something like that, depending on the match-ups and the schedule,” Servais said.

In making this commitment to Ichiro, Servais, General Manager Jerry Dipoto and the entire Mariners organization set themselves up for a public relations disaster of the highest order.

If they release the Mariner hero and legend, they risk humiliating a key connection to the last Mariners playoff team.  Did they tell him he’d likely only be a Mariner until Gamel returned from injury?  My guess is they didn’t.

Releasing Number 51 would also alienate a significant portion of the Mariner fan base.  There are sizable number of fans with very long memories with incredible loyalty to Mariners past.  The M’s often market to these folks, some might say quite cynically, as the team brought back Griffey in 2009, Ibanez in 2013, and now Ichiro in 2018 just to recapture that nostalgia and (older) fan support.

But keeping Ichiro on the roster reduces the talent on the team, takes playing time away from better players, and takes a badly needed roster spot.

The M’s have painted themselves into a terrible public relations corner on this one.  If they really want to win, Ichiro must go.  These guys have gotten off to a great start, they show promise, it’s time to do the right thing.  Just do it fast, like ripping off a Band-Aid.

Felix and Paxton Shine, Give Hope

The M’s lost to the Athletics 2-1 on Sunday due to a dominating performance by Sean Manaea.  The Mariners mustered only a pair of hits off the hard-luck A’s starter and a pair of relievers.

But Monday, turnabout was fair play, as Seattle beat the visiting Astros 2-1 on a solo homer by the still gimpy Nelson Cruz, and took advantage of some less than perfect outfield conditions that turned into a run on back to back doubles by catcher David Freitas and center fielder Dee Gordon.

Two games, identical scores, one a win and one a loss. Not a lot in a 162 game schedule.  But if those don’t give Mariners fans hope, I don’t know what will.

Felix and Manaea

Let’s take a look at Felix Hernandez’s performance on Sunday. 97 pitches bought The King 6.1 innings, 7 K’s and 0 walks. The runs came when Marcus Semien led off with a single, and Felix uncharacteristically balked him to second.  He grooved a 3-0 fastball to Mariner-Killer Jed Lowrie who deposited it in the right field seats, for the game winning homer. Hernandez allowed only five hits in his outing.  While I’d love to see him get deeper in the game, the bullpen allowed only two hits and no runs during the remaining 2.2 innings. The team has to score to win, and the M’s just didn’t come through against a good A’s pitcher.

Paxton beats astros

Monday night’s game matched Mariners ace James Paxton against former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel pitching for the visiting Astros.  The Astros have smacked the Mariners around pretty consistently the past few years, and this series will be a yardstick to measure just how good the 2018 team might be. This was an important game.

And it didn’t get off to an auspicious start when that man, George Springer, led off the game with a 453 foot fly ball into the left center field seats. Paxton struggled to get through innings, while Keuchel seemed to breeze through them. But over the course of his 106 pitches, the big Canadian allowed only one more hit to, Carlos Correa. Paxton struck out 7 and walked three.  Despite all the good news, he only got through 6.0 innings.  The bullpen was brilliant for a second consecutive day and M’s won an exciting squeaker.

Though neither the Sunday or Monday performances were perfect, they were indicative of the impact that a healthy and effective Felix and Big Maple has on this team.  They kept the Mariners in games against two very good pitchers and allowed the offense to scratch out what they could against good pitching. One day it paid off, the other it didn’t.

The Mariners should be congratulated for getting off to a hot start. But without seeming  a killjoy, four of those nine wins have come against the Royals and A’s, who give every appearance of looking bad for 2018.  They’ll need more strong performances from all their starters as the year progresses, and they’ll need to match up with the big guys too.  That’s why last night’s win over the Astros is so encouraging. Here’s hoping Mike Ariel Miranda, Mike Leake and Marco Gonzalez can be effective too.

Go M’s.