Why I remain a Mariners fan

mike Zunino slam
Mike Zunino’s grand slam capped the M’s scoring in Saturday’s win over the Rays at Safeco Field 9-2.

I wrote this as a fanpost over on Lookout Landing.  Coming on the heels of what I hope is a Mike Zunino coming-out party I wanted to celebrate.  I was limited to 800 words, but every one of them is true.  It’s hard to be a Mariners fan sometimes.  But if you’ve lived in this area as long as I have, and if you live for baseball, as I do, it’s hard not to surrender your heart to the olde towne team.

Yes, I don’t feel like they take very good care of my heart at times.  And I do stomp out the door angrily for a night, or a week or ten days when they are absolutely unwatchable. But I am linked to the Seattle Mariners, and will be until the day I can no longer see or hear.

Why I am a fan of the Seattle Mariners 

I’m not sure I’m the oldest reader at LL, but at 61 I’m certainly not the youngest.  I’ve been a baseball fan as long as I can remember, and my first heroes were ballplayers.  It was Mays and McCovey, and then Koufax and Drysdale.  I could never understand why my friends wouldn’t let them all be my heroes at the same time.

I grew up in Shoreline, not far from the home of the late, great Chris Cornell.  My dad took me to Sicks Stadium to see the Rainiers, and then the Angels. In 1969, something special happened and major league baseball came to Sicks Stadium as the expansion Pilots.  Don Mincher, Tommy Harper and fightin’ Ray Oyler were the guys we followed in the box scores. I loved the Pilots, and if they were dreadful, well, they were our dreadful team, Seattle’s team.

As I prepared to enter high school, two terrible things happened.  Kent State, and the Pilots, who went to spring training as Seattle’s team, took a right turn and became the Brewers.  They were our team.  It felt like having my heart broken for the first time.  If only I could have been a better fan, gone to more games, cheered a little louder they would have stayed and maybe won.

That summer I moved to the Bay Area and became a Giants fan. But Willie,  Stretch and Marichal left. I basked in the A’s glory years with Reggie, Catfish, and Campy until Charlie Finley began to part them out too. I stayed for five years. When the University of Puget Sound called me back to finish my degree, Seattle was different in every way. Sicks Stadium was gone, but the Kingdome was rising in its place.

When the M’s became a thing in 1977, I immediately latched on to them and have been in love ever since. I’ve seen good players come and go.  I’ve seen some great games and some terrible ones.

I saw Jim Presley’s extra inning grand slam to beat the Angels on opening night in 1986 and I cheered with my family when Junior hit his first homer in 1989. I saw Kevin Millwood’s combined no-hitter in 2012.

I also watched Mike Schooler blow up on opening night in 1992 and saw Jose Mesa punt the save in the first Safeco game. In my only playoff game, Roger Clemens threw a one-hitter at the M’s in the 2000 AlCS. In 2014 Fernando Rodney walked four Athletics to lose a game that would have gotten the M’s to the playoffs.

The run of teams that were good and almost good from 1995-2003 was wonderful.  It had the entire Puget Sound area excited, and it was tremendous to be part of that. I’m a teacher and the M’s were always the talk of our school.  The wins, the home runs, the latest Dave Niehaus call. Edgar and Junior, Danny and the Unit, Buhner and Boone. I remember like it was yesterday.

It’s been a long time since this team was really good.  There were some good seasons.  And lots of terrible seasons.  It’s the number of terribles that make it hard to be a fan. Baseball is a process, one in which a team should be constantly building toward success. The guys in charge, Mariners-in-chief, have done stupid, and there’s been an awful lot of stupid for a long time. I’m under no illusions when the team is bad, and I don’t hesitate to call them out.  That’s the privilege of being a fan.  But I don’t ever walk away, give up, and say never, never, never. Never is a long time.

When that happens, all a fan can do is cheer the players.   Ichiro’s hitting.   Felix when he was young and on fire.    Remember Guti in 2009 when he was the best center fielder ever? And I keep cheering today when Nelson Cruz goes deep, or when Cano makes the play behind second that looks so easy, like he’s in a rocking chair. Yes, the pitching may be as bad as pitching can be, but there’s always something for a fan to applaud.

I’ll always be a baseball fan first.  It’s nice that the Seahawks win, but I don’t live or die for football. No, the leisurely pace of baseball is fine for me. I suppose I could choose another team to root for.  But I learned a lesson early in life that if you don’t love your team enough, if you can’t manage an occasional cheer even when they’re bad, your team just might decide to leave town. Yes, it’s been a long time since the M’s were in the playoffs, but I’m proud to be a Seattle Mariners fan, and I know some day I’ll be rewarded too.

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M’s survive 4-4 road trip through hell

ariel-miranda-620-620x370

Ariel Miranda pitched just well enough to pick up a couple of wins in the M’s 4-4 road trip to Washington D.C., Boston and Denver. 

Eight days ago I reflected on the challenges faced by the Mariners as they set off on an eight-day road trip to Washington, Boston, and Colorado.  I suggested that, given the current state of the Mariners pitching staff and their offensive struggles, the M’s could consider a three win road trip a success. When they convincingly clobbered the Rockies 10-4 last night at Coors Field, Seattle earned a 4-4 road split.  This was almost miraculous given the quality of the opponents and way the trip began.

The first two games in Washington met all our worst expectations as the Nationals lit up Christian Bergman for 10 runs in four innings on the way to a 10-1 stroll through the mess that is the Mariners pitching staff. The following day, Sam Gaviglio allowed four unearned runs in the first inning on the way to a 5-1 loss. The M’s continued their offensive lethargy, which the pitching just wasn’t good enough, and it looked like the trip could end 0-8.

But Ariel Miranda pulled a rabbit out of his hat and managed to still the Nationals potent offense to win 4-2.  Though the five-inning outing wasn’t his best effort, it was far from his worst.  A nearly spotless effort by the bullpen over four innings held on for the victory.

If the first two games in Washington seemed shaky, the first two games in Boston made the ride through Nationals Park seem like a summer breeze. Back to back shutouts, 3-0 and 6-0 illuminated the Mariners mysterious offensive futility that persisted from the White Sox series and resulted in a RS/RA of 9-52 over eight games.

But somehow in the Sunday finale at Fenway, Christian Bergman found whatever was missing in D.C. and shutout the Bosox through 7.0, and the Mariners found a way to score, beating their AL East rivals 5-0.

At 2-4 the Mariners limped into Coors Field to face the NL West-leading Rockies. The Boston finale seemed to cure them of what ailed the Mariners as they combined decent pitching performances with sufficient offense to sweep the Rockies 6-5 and 10-4.

The Mariners open a ten game home stand against those same Rockies tonight.  At 24–29 they return home in pretty much the same condition in which they left.  Their pitching staff is still dependent on guys who should still be toiling in the minors.  Their offense is wildly inconsistent.  Too many key guys are on the DL. 53 games into the season, we should have a pretty clear idea of who these guys are.

I don’t think we can say that.  With Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyley still on the DL and no clear date set for their return, the M’s will continue with Bergman, Gaviglio and Miranda.  And what happens to an ineffective Gallardo with Paxton returning and others looking like they might be back next month?

How will the projected return of outfielder Mitch Haniger affect the trio currently playing?  Certainly the performance of Ben Gamel has earned him consideration for time in one of the corners as Jarrod Dyson struggles with the stick.

With lots of home games in June against some pretty good teams in the Rockies, Twins, Rays, Astros and Blue Jays, the M’s have to figure out how to win consistently if they are going to jump over the seven teams in front of them in the Wild Card chase.  Not impossible, but every passing game in the wilderness makes it more difficult.

Go M’s

Whither now Mariners?

 

Mariners lose again 2
Ariel Miranda watched Jose Abreu circle the bases after tying the score 1-1 in Friday night’s loss to the White Sox. The Mariners notched one hit against Jose Quintana and the Pale Hose. 

The M’s head out on a tortuous road trip, with a series is Washington, Boston, and Colorado.  The Nationals and Rockies are division leaders, and although the Red Sox haven’t quite caught fire yet, they could do so any time.  Maybe preying on some woeful Mariners pitching will get them started.

The M’s find themselves 20-25 after a terrible homestand.  They began by winning two of three against the last place A’s, but could do nothing with a White Sox team that came into Safeco Field struggling. After managing a run on one hit Friday night, the Mariners offense went meekly, losing 16-1 on Saturday, and 8-1 on getaway Sunday.

Saturday’s immolation came at the hands of fellow arsonists Yovani Gallardo and Dillon Overton.  Together they surrendered nine and five runs respectively over 3.2 and 4.1 innings. Utilityman Mike Freeman pitched the last  inning and allowed the final run. I wonder if he can start.

Sunday’s conflagration began at the hands of Chris Heston, who allowed seven runs over three innings. While Dan Altavilla chipped in the eighth run just for good measure, the remaining four innings were well-managed by James Pazos, Steve Cishek, Mark Rzepczynski and Casey Lawrence.

Yes, the pitching sucks.  At 226 runs allowed, the Mariners have provided more opposing offense than any team in the American League.  More than any team in baseball except the San Diego Padres.

Unfortunately Seattle’s offense has likewise spun down the drain while facing the White Sox.  Over the last three games, the M’s were outscored 26-3.  But you already knew that. Taking it a step further, the M’s totaled only 40 hits in the seven game homestand.  That’s less than six hits per game.  It’s pretty tough to score much without hits.

It could be they’ve just struggled without Robinson Cano in the lineup. Perhaps they’ve been in such early holes, players have tried to do too much.

But the bottom third of the Mariners order with an inconsistent Jarrod Dyson, a catcher tandem of Tuffy Gosewich and Carlos Ruiz, and a Taylor Motter who is showing why he’s a great utility guy, but not quite ready for the daily big time, makes it hard on the other six guys.  Kyle Seager is not all the way back. Danny Valencia is still finding his way.  Guillermo Heredia and Ben Gamel are learning.  Nelson Cruz and Jean Segura can’t carry the team, though they’ve certainly tried.

And hovering over all this mess, is a barrelful of injuries.  We hear reports of who is improving and when we might see them.  Who is having setbacks and who is not.  But, it’s not clear who will be ready when.  Paxton and Haniger back maybe when the team returns from the road trip.  Felix . . . maybe, whenever?  Iwakuma sometime in June.  Smyly, end of June.  Cano will be added to the roster Tuesday.  Zunino has already replaced Tuffy. That’s not likely to be enough.

What’s clear, is the Mariners season is teetering on the brink. They are hopelessly behind the Astros unless that team and its stadium is destroyed in a meteor strike. The M’s are 5.5 games behind the second Wild Card spot.  That number isn’t hopeless, and the league has done a gentlemanly job of staying close to our boys. But there are seven teams in front of the Mariners, and one, the Texas Rangers, has gotten blazing hot. It could be that the M’s catch fire when they get their walking wounded back. Or not.

What is certain however, is this road trip is next on Seattle’s list of crosses to bear. Eight games against quality teams that play well at home.  In the five games in National League parks, they’ll be without their best hitter.

With 117 games left to play it’s hard to say this is the pivotal road trip of the year.  But if the M’s can’t pitch; if their offense hides in the clubhouse and they can’t find a way to win at least three games, it’s hard to see how they get in and stay in the Wild Card chase.  It’s also not hard to imagine M’s management taking this team apart if this spiral continues.

Go M’s.

 

Finally, something to cheer

Christian Bergman

Jean Segura leads the American league in batting, hitting .359.  The man is a machine, seemingly living on base. Nelson Cruz leads the league in RBI’s with 36, a couple behind Nationals 1B RyanZimmerman and tied with all-everything Nationals OF Bryce Harper for the MLB lead. We should celebrate that Jarrod Dyson has eight Defensive Runs Saved and tied the league record for being hit by a pitch three times in a game.

But let’s face it, looking out on the burned twisted wasteland that is the Mariners pitching staff, this team needs a hero, a pitcher who can lead this team to the promised land of post season baseball.  Actually, they need several heroes, but we’ve got to start somewhere.

Last night Christian Bergman threw a 7.1 inning two-hit shutout at the Oakland A’s last night.  The A’s shouldn’t be mistaken for the ’27 Yankees, the 2016 Cubs, or even this year’s Houston Astros, but a dominant pitching performance in a year when virtually every Mariners pitcher is broken or, at best, capable of surviving six innings in a cage with a beer league team, is nothing to sneeze at.

I’m not sure if Christian Bergman is that hero the M’s need.  If he is, he’ll have to prove it every fifth game. But I do know it is the first sort of dominating pitching performance a Mariners starter has had since. Ariel Miranda’s seven innings of shut out ball in a 7-1 win over the Marlins on April 17th.  Yep, that’s more than a month ago.

The M’s, Blowers and Sims, or anybody else can promote all the six innings of muddle Mariner pitchers have managed over the past week, but it just isn’t good enough. Tonight Sam Gaviglio will take his place on the Safeco mound to make his first major league start.  He’ll try to brush away the memories of various Dillon Overtons, Ryan Webers and Chris DeJongs and elevate the team to levels we all hoped for when things were rosy in March.

But every day is a new game.  Every start is just the next one. Today, let’s celebrate Bergman’s excellent performance and hope for another from Gaviglio as the White Sox roll in to town.  We need all the heroes we can get.

17-17 With Every Day a New Adventure

rogers centre

After administering a whupping to Philadelphia’s godawful bullpen for two games, the M’s head in to Toronto’s Rogers Centre to meet the Blue Jays for four games.

I’m not sure which is the bigger story? After five weeks of struggle the M’s have fought their way back to .500.  Or the M’s have four-fifths of their projected starting rotation entering Spring Training on the DL.

Add to the starters, relievers Evan Scribner, Evan Matthews, Steve Cishek, and Shae Simmons.  Add to the pitchers, all everything outfielder Mitch Haniger. Add to the injured, an ineffective Mike Zunino and Leonys Martin and the team that trundles into the Jays’ home is pretty different from the one that rolled into Houston on April 3rd.

The Mariners won five of their last six.  That’s no small feat.  But let’s not get too smug.  They beat an injury-riddled Angels team, a bad Rangers club, and a Phillies crew that may be good some day, but today has a breathtakingly terrible relief pitching.

If all the injuries and moves on the pitching merry-go-round haven’t induced vertigo and oxygen depletion, news today the M’s have additional losses to their roster. Robinson Cano’s tweaked quadriceps will keep him out of the lineup.  Mike Freeman will fill in at second base.  And if things couldn’t be weirder or worse, Cuban players Guillermo Heredia and Ariel Miranda were having visa issues at the border and were not expected to get to Toronto in time for tonight’s game. Miranda isn’t scheduled to pitch tonight, and Taylor Motter will take Heredia’s place in left field.

In addition, Jerry Dipoto has been anything but idle today as he sucks up any potential pitching reinforcements that might aid his ailing staff.  The M’s recalled Zac Curtis from AA Arkansas directly to the big club, and sent right hander Dan Altavilla to AAA.  They also claimed RHP Casey Lawrence from the waiver wire.  He’d been DFA’ed by Toronto.  Dipoto also purchased the contract of RHP Justin DeFratus of the independent Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. De Fratus is bound for Arkansas.  He also snagged  RHP Tyler Cloyd from the independent Somerset Patriots.  Cloyd will go to Tacoma.  Both have major league experience, and De Fratus was once a Mariner property.

Phwah, I hear you exclaiming.  It’s the Blue Jays. They suck!  Well, you’re right, sort of.  The Jays, not unlike the M’s, got off to a slow start and did a swan dive into an empty pool their first 25 games or so.  But they’re improving.  The M’s will be running youngsters Chase DeJong, Dillon Overton and Christian Bergman out to start games that would have been pitched by Felix Hernandez, James Paxton and Hisashi Iwakuma.  They are fly-ball pitchers about to do their business in one of the biggest homer-producing parks in the major leagues.

We are often reminded the M’s have, correctly, scored the second most runs in the American League behind the Yankees.  But they are also third in most runs allowed.

The M’s need to at least split this series before coming home to face a pesky (at least for the Mariners) A’s team, and the White Sox who have hung around the .500 mark with their surprising pitching.

Go M’s

 

 

Catastrophe: Mariners lose opener and possibly Felix.

Felix Opening day 2017

It’s hard enough to lose, but it’s tougher still to lose your ace. Mariner Nation will have its eyes fixed on reports regarding Felix Hernandez’s apparent groin injury during the team’s 3–0 loss to the Astros in the season opener.  The King clearly injured himself covering a close play at first on a groundout by Josh Reddick.  Hernandez hit the bag hard and came off the play limping. He remained in the game through the fifth inning, retiring all three Astros batters, but was removed for Nick Vincent in the sixth.

Note: The Mariners announced last night it was unlikely Felix would have to miss his next start. 

The Mariners began the game with promise, with Jean Segura singling to lead off the first inning, but his run died at second.  The M’s were not so lucky when George Springer led off the Astros half of the inning with a home run.  Felix pitched well through the fifth, allowing only another solo homer to Carlos Correa.  It was a 449 foot bomb that exited Minute Maid Park. Mariners down 2-0. Scoring for the game concluded when Nick Vincent relieved Felix in the sixth.  He allowed Alex Bregman to walk in a 12-pitch at-bat.  Jose Altuve followed with a single, driving Bregman to third, scoring on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Correa.

Unfortunately, the M’s had no such luck against Houston starter Dallas Keuchel. Segura’s hit was one of only three the M’s amassed against Astros pitching. Segura followed up with an infield hit in the eighth.  Robinson Cano singled in the fourth inning.

The Mariners had scoring opportunities when they loaded the bases in fourth, but Leonys Martin grounded out to end the inning. In the eighth, Segura got his second hit and he was followed by Mitch Haniger who walked. A passed ball moved the runners up to 2nd and 3rd, but Cano lined out to right fielder George Springer.

Not a lot to cheer in this game.  Keuchel looks to have regained his 2015 Cy Award winning form.  The M’s were mostly baffled by his assortment of high 80’s fastballs, a great changeup and breaking pitches that were very well located.

if there were any bright spots for the Mariners, it was the performance of left-hander James Pazos and right hander Casey Fien.  They retired all seven of the Houston batters they faced.

But it doesn’t diminish the fact the M’s lost their opening game of the season, and may be losing their ace and spiritual leader to the disabled list.  This is not the opener anyone envisioned.

 

Are the 2017 Mariners three games better than the 2016 version?

Mariners-40th

One of the worst seasons of my Mariners fandom was 2015.  Mind you I’ve followed this team closely since their first season forty years ago.  M’s success on the field has been very cyclical.  2009 was surprisingly good followed by five years in the wilderness.  The Mariners got to within one game of the playoffs in 2014, were proclaimed AL champs in the 2015 preseason and were absolutely vile.  Last year, another so close, but so far away year, and for 2017 after significant re-tooling the Mariners once again have some national notice. Will they break their 15 year absence from the playoffs or will it be one more year of disappointment?

These are the three things I’m looking at moving ahead that give me guarded optimism the Mariners will compete for a playoff spot, as well three areas that leave me sanguine about the possibilities.

More ways to score

In past years, even at times in 2016 when the Mariners scored more runs than they had since 2007, the Mariners would have those games when facing good pitching or just having an off day, they would wait around for a hot bat, a three run homer to put a digit on the scoreboard.  This year should be different, for two reasons.

Remember last year’s control-the-zone campaign?  Well, it worked.  The Mariners went from 22nd in the majors and a .311 OBP in 2015 to ninth and a .326 OBP in 2016.  Their spring results were even more remarkable with a .357 OBP, fourth among major league teams.  While I would never make too much of spring statistics, it’s also impossible to ignore the organization- wide emphasis on patience at the plate and hitting what’s in the ‘zone.  It will result in more baserunners, better pitches to hit and more runs scored.

Speed kills, and for the first time in decades the Mariners have plenty of it. It’s not just a lone Ichiro here or a Julio Cruz there, the M’s have several stolen base threats with Jean Segura, Jarrod Dyson, and Leonys Martin in their lineup. In addition to the proven stolen base threats they have guys who should steal some bases in Taylor Motter and Mitch Haniger.  But it’s not just the stolen bases, it’s the extra bases-first to third and second to home on a single, scoring on a sacrifice fly from third, taking an extra base or more on fielding mistakes that give the M’s more potential to pressure pitchers and defenses, and score some extra runs.

More base runners and more speed should add to what is already a potent offense with plenty of thump.  But it will no longer be required for the M’s to hit the long ball to take charge of a game.

Defense

I’ve written ad nauseum about the need for the Mariners to field an outfield best suited for the size of Safeco Field. Jack Zdurencik’s predilection for assembling outfielders who made Hanley Ramirez look like Joe Dimaggio by comparison was legendary.  This year Dipoto went the other direction and and the guys look like greyhounds straining at the slip. Dyson and Martin are both veteran outfielders with superior defense.  Haniger, in right field, looks to be an excellent fielder with a strong arm.  Reserve outfielder Guillermo Heredia can play any of the outfield positions. This is zones covered, runs saved, pitching performances salvaged much better than the 2016 version.

Jean Segura was an average major league shortstop before he was traded from Milwaukee to Arizona. In 2016 Segura played shortstop for the Diamondbacks, but he’ll revert back to his natural position with the M’s. He replaces Ketel Marte who was a a bad defensive shortstop in 2016.  Marte may grow into something much better, but his -2 Defensive Runs Saved, -15.3 UZR 150 and 21 errors won’t be missed.  Call Segura a defensive upgrade.

Last year the M’s signed Chris Iannetta to be their starting catcher and exiled Mike Zunino to Tacoma to work on his swing.  Iannetta struggled defensively, racking up a -6 defensive runs saved in his 776.1 innings.  When Zunino took over the catching duties, he put up 4 defensive runs saved in 443.2 innings.  Enter Chooch. The M’s added Carlos Ruiz to their catching corps, the first of Dipoto’s many additions to the 2017 team.  There is much to admire about Ruiz: his work with pitchers, his veteran presence, his World Series Championship pedigree.  But in his 493 innings of work with the Dodgers last year, Chooch saved 7 defensive runs.  The Mariners are much better at catcher than they were in 2016.

The clubhouse intangibles 

We rarely talk about chemistry in baseball.  It’s a big deal in football, basketball, maybe even in soccer, games that seem to generate so much more emotion on the field than baseball. Baseball often seems a struggle between batter and pitcher, with each taking their turn, and most hitters returning to the dugout trying figure out what to do differently next time.

But this year it feels as though it feels like something is different.  The Mariners are sending out bonding smoke signals.  Prior to the beginning of the WBC Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, in their interview with Marly Rivera expressed their happiness with the Mariners clubhouse.  “It is one of the best I’ve ever been in, in terms of friendship and the way we get along,” Cano said.

Even newcomer and relative youngster Taylor Motter commented on the welcoming atmosphere in the Mariner clubhouse.  He especially appreciated Scott Servais’ early morning meeting and role they played in getting know his teammates, according to Shannon Drayer’s March 31st story.

“To get to know my new teammates, inside-out, families, hobbies, the things that they do outside of baseball,” Motter said. “It’s not just be a good teammate, be a good teammate, a good person, and let the rest take care of itself.”

It’s too early to know whether this will contribute to a winning culture on the field.  But I remember the poisonous atmosphere of past Mariner clubhouses: the whispering against Ichiro, Mike Sweeny’s threat to punch out whoever revealed Ken Griffey, Jr’s naps in the clubhouse to the media.  This has got to be better.

Concerns

Starting Pitching

How different is the 2017 starting rotation than the 2016 version?

2016 began with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, Wade Miley and Nate Karns.  Each and every one of them suffered through extended periods of ineffectiveness and in many cases injury. Only Iwakuma made all of his scheduled starts. The rotation was filled out with various Wade LeBlancs, Cody Martins and a host of lesser lights.

In 2017, most of those starting five are gone.  Tonight Felix will start the season, followed by James Paxton, Iwakuma, Ariel Miranda and Yovani Gallardo.  Each of these pitchers have pretty large question marks hanging over their heads. If one had to put an up or down arrow over their heads based on last year’s performance, only Paxton would have an arrow pointing up.  Miranda might have one pointing sideways.  It’s my belief the team will go as far as the starting pitching will take it.  A modest improvement should propel the Mariners into the playoffs.

Bullpen

The bullpen is filled with uncertainty and unknowns.  With many of the players the Mariners counted on for this season still recovering from injury,  Servais will be nursing them through until reinforcements arrive.  Even wunderkind closer Edwin Diaz, a superstar in the making, faltered at the end of 2016.  It remains to be seen whether Evan Scribner, Casey Fien and Nick Vincent can do the job in late innings.  Dan Altavilla, James Pazos, and Dillon Overton haven’t had much experience at the major league level.  That the bullpen has so many left-handers to start the season is a sign the relief corps is pretty thin.  It will be interesting to see how things will shake out when Zych, Cishek and Simmons return. The bullpen is, at best, a question mark.

The cliff

Albert Pujols is beginning his age 37 season, his sixth of the ten year contract he signed with the Angels.  He came to Los Angeles as one of the greatest hitters in major league baseball history, 30th in WAR with 91.1 (according to FanGraphs) behind only Lou Gehrig and Mel Ott as first basemen.  In his ten years with St. Louis, Pujols never earned less than 5.4 WAR.  In 2003 he stroked an amazing 9.5 WAR.  In the years of his Angels contract, he has garnered a total of 9.8 WAR. Some of the decline is due to his shift to DH, in which he suffers a penalty, but most is due to injury and eroding skills.

The Mariners have several key players facing one cliff or another.  The age cliff is a big one on this team.  Nelson Cruz and Hisashi Iwakuma are both 36.  Robinson Cano is 34. Jarrod Dyson is 32.  Felix Hernandez and Yovani Gallardo are both 31.  Just because a players crosses the age 30 threshold doesn’t mean they are doomed.  Just ask Bartolo Colon or Ichiro if they can still play the game at age 40+.  But it is a fact that bat speed can decline, fast ball velocity decreases with age and use.  We haven’t seen it yet in the case of Cruz or Cano, but at some point they are going to turn the corner on their talent. All of the projection services see them finishing below their 2016 production; a lot below. And don’t get me started on Felix or Kuma.

The more a player ages, the more likely they are to suffer injury. Each of these guys are key players for this staff.  The loss of any of them for an extended time will seriously affect the Mariners plans.  Dipoto has worked hard to insure the organization has more depth, but let’s be clear; there is nobody in the organization to replace Cruz or Cano. Chris Heston cannot be Felix.

Finally there is the cliff of regression.  Some players have such good seasons, they simply can’t repeat that level of performance again.  Jean Segura had that kind of performance last year. His .319/.369/.499 slash was vastly superior to his career .280/.319/.396.  Which is more indicative of the player the M”s traded for? I’m betting on a 10-15% slide from 2016.  But even that is a huge improvement to standing pat with Ketel Marte.  Other players may be subject to regression too.  Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager both had career highs for homers.  Is there more upside to their power?  I have a hard time imagining they do.  What will Dyson’s performance look like as an every day player?  Can he hit left-handers well enough to get the 600 at-bats he desperately wants as he heads into 2018 free-agency?

There are lots of reasons to be excited about the Mariners as they open their season tonight.  But it’s definitely best to head into the season with eyes wide-open.  It’s been an exciting hot-stove season, and an interesting spring warm-up.  But I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed about ending that playoff drought.  If the pitching turns out and everyone stays healthy, there should be exciting times.  If the pitching struggles, the season could be long and frustrating.  The Mariners should be competitive for the AL West title, but I’m holding out for a wild card spot.  Or they could finish 2017 just as they finished 2016, dazzlingly close, but not quite able to close the deal.  Go M’s .