Paxton Leads Road Warrior M’s to Promised Land

Paxton no-hitter

The Seattle Mariners are 12-6 on the road this year.  They are only 8-8 at home. That’s the flip of what we usually think of a successful team.  But at least they’re winning somewhere. I’d like to make a really big deal about it, but Houston is 10-9 at home and 12-6 on the road and the Angels are only 8-10 at home and a blistering 13-3 away from the Big A. Interesting observation.  I have no way to account for, but sure think it’s interesting that the best teams in the West are simply meh at home and hot on the road.

And the M’s added to their success tonight, shutting out the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre 5-0.  Yeah, I know I haven’t said it. James Paxton threw a no-hitter in Toronto tonight. Made the Jays look silly.  He wasn’t K-man as he was in his last outing, when he struck out 16 A’s.  But his complete game white-wash required only 99 pitches.  In the ninth inning he threw a 100 mph fastball.

I managed to miss a lot of this, but caught the last few innings on radio and the ninth on television. It was a pleasure to watch.

I’ve said some shitty things about Paxton the past couple of years. I’m not sure they’re untrue, just ungenerous. He’s been hurt a lot, and it takes him a long time to hone his mechanics. This year is no different, as it’s really only been his last few starts he’s been the guy we all hoped he’d be.

But when James Paxton is on, there isn’t anyone better. Tonight was a showcase for that.  99 pitches-no hitter.  That’s a Tom Seaver start.

Paxton’s was the sixth no-hitter in Mariners history.  Here’s something interesting. The first was Randy Johnson’s in 1990 and then Chris Bosio’s in 1993.  It took the team 13 years to get their first with another not too long after.  Then it was another 19 years before the combined no-no in 2012 that was started by Kevin Millwood and finished by five members of the bullpen. Between 2012 and 2018 there were four Mariners no-hitters, including the perfect game by Felix Hernandez in 2012, Hisashi Iwakuma’s no-no in 2015, and now Paxton zeroing out Toronto.  Weird.  It’s not like the M’s have produced a ton of great teams between 2012-18.

For James Paxton, congratulations. Nothing but the best.  He’s like a high jumper who’s cleared eight feet.  It only gets better from here.

 

 

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The Mariners at 30 Games

Dee Gordon for Ichiro
Dee Gordon salutes Ichiro Suzuki during last night’s game. The M’s announced Ichiro would be joining the front office.

The M’s wake up this morning at 18-12.  They are a half game behind the Angels and Astros who are tied atop the American League Western Division.

Improbable.  Impossible. Who’da thunk it?  Looking back at my pre-season predictions which suggested a rosy 84 win season and then became more pessimistic when the regular season began, suggesting a .500 club might be more likely, obviously not me.

But it’s early yet, and we still don’t quite know who this team is, though they are a pleasant surprise so far.

Some quick observations.  In the big picture, the M’s don’t look like a contending team.  They are a +3 runs scored, with a Pythagorean won-loss of 15-15.  In the middle. For most offensive statistics–runs, 2B, 3B, total bases, the M’s rank right in the middle, 7th or 8th in the AL.  There are a few anomalies.  The Mariners are 11th in hits, and 15th in walks.  Yet they are 3rd in batting average with .256, 3rd  in slugging with .438, and they lead the league for fewest strikeout with 222 (Numbers from Baseball Reference.)  League average for a team is 264.

Pitching numbers, again, aren’t great, but not horrendous either.  The M’s rank 9th in team ERA with 4.64, but are 5th in XFIP with 4.01 according to FanGraphs.  They rank 4th in walks allowed, 5th in strikeouts, but are 12th in home runs allowed according to Baseball Reference

So statistically–big picture statistics-this team is a fairly middling team with some specific strengths and specific flaws. They put the ball in play a lot, eschewing the generally high strikeout totals currently in vogue.  Pitching, they give up a lot of home runs and that’s what seems to get them in trouble.

A look at their last ten games is interesting. They gave up more than four runs only twice, Chicago’s 10-4 ambush of Mike Leake on April 23rd, and the 6-5 loss to Cleveland and Corey Kluber on April 27th.  Starting pitching went six innings or more but seven times including Erasmo Ramirez’s second loss and last night’s Wade LeBlanc start which we knew would be cobbled together.

Individual Performances

The Dee Gordon Show is performing nightly at a ballpark near you, and if you aren’t watching, well, you’re missing out. Gordon is slashing .355/.380/.452.  He’s tied for the league lead in hits with 44, leads the league in stolen bases with 14, and is in the top 20 for runs scored with 20.  More importantly, it’s ridiculous to watch him get on base and create general havoc for opposing pitchers and opportunities for the hitters behind him. Trading for Gordon in the off-season was sheer inspiration.

Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, and Mitch Haniger have all cooled a bit since burning down the city of Cleveland, but were all offensive engines over the preceding ten day period.  Those returning from the wounded list; Nelson Cruz, Mike Zunino, Ryon Healy, Ben Gamel, are all still trying to find themselves with consistency, but each has made a meaningful impact in games since their return from the DL.

Strictly from an eyeball point of view, this may be the best defensive infield the M’s have had in quite some time.  Advanced stats love Jean Segura and Robinson Cano with 4 defensive runs saved each and solid UZR/150 ratings, but for whatever reason don’t like Kyle Seager, awarding him -3 drs. Healy also looks good at first base, maybe the best the M’s have had since John Olerud. From a spectator’s perspective, Seager has made some eye-watering plays in the field this week, beginning with the double play he turned with Cano in the first game of the Oakland series.

The M’s get a lot of grief about their pitching.  It’s been better than I expected, though they have yet to resolve their fifth starter status. Felix Hernandez  has found a comfort zone, in which he seems to cruise through six innings and then fall off a cliff.  However, since being pounded in San Francisco on April 4th, the King has allowed three or fewer runs in his last six starts.  Not the King of old, he is a newer and slipperier Felix who seems to still be learning on the job-or maybe we’re just learning who HE is.  James Paxton appeared to be the Big Maple we hoped we were getting in his last start with 16 punchouts in seven really good innings. I’m anxious to see his next start. Mike Leake hasn’t been as good as he was for the M’s in his handful of starts last summer.  He’s allowed a worrisome 17 runs over his last 19.1 innings.  Marco Gonzales has had back to back good games after hitting a low point in his April 9th and 14th starts.

If this rotation won’t remind anyone of Boston’s or Cleveland’s or Houston’s, it feels adequate if healthy, if it continues to improve a bit, and if the front office decides to strengthen it heading into the trade deadline, assuming the M’s are still competing. However the inconsistency of the rotation is also probably the reason the team hasn’t run off a long string of victories.

The bullpen, despite Wednesday’s meltdown remains pretty darn good at the back end. Edwin Diaz and Juan Nicasio form a solid set-up closer tandem.  Nick Vincent is another late-innings guy that has done great service for the M’s the past two seasons, but is really struggling. James Pazos, Chasen Bradford, and LeBlanc have all contributed to the team’s success, and filled in for a pitching staff that rarely gets past the 6th inning. Bullpens are bullpens.  It’s hard to predict their success from year to year, even with all the same guys.  I don’t think this one is any different.

So the M’s find themselves six games over .500 heading into a crucial series with the Angels for the weekend.  I hate the Angels, so from the standpoint of measuring the team against a division foe, continuing progress up the AL pecking order, and fulfilling me own personal vendetta against the team from SoCal, the M’s need to keep on keeping on.  Win those series.  Go M’s

 

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!

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.

dee gordon cheer

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