Mariners Insight

Weekly updates on the Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are Defying Odds and Finally Look Ready to End the Long Playoff Drought

If you read that blog post I scripted six months ago that basically wrote off the Mariners due to losing out on the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, citing him as the overly-crucial piece to pushing this team over the hill and ending their playoff drought, do me a favor: Find that article, crumple it into a ball, and burn it in a fire. Then get out a new piece of paper and write out three simple words.

Who Needs Him.

This 2018 Mariners ballclub is more than just competitive. They’re lethal.

Ohtani on the other hand, had his few weeks of glory, but has now more than spiraled back down to earth, going 3 for his last 25 (.120 average) and 10 for his last 69 (.169 average) at the plate, producing just one multi-hit game since May 11.

But enough about Ohtani. His team is 7.5 games back and that guy won’t be seeing a big-league mound (or possibly even the field) anytime soon, as he is currently sitting on the DL with a sprained UCL with reports looming that he may need Tommy John surgery.

Ok look, the M’s (44-24) likely are not actually on the same level of talent as the Houston Astros, despite the current AL West standings. Their run differential for the year is +27, which is 28 fewer than the LA Dodgers (34-32) and eight less than that of the Cleveland Indians (35-30). Houston’s is +130 which leads all of baseball by a substantial margin.

In other words, the Astros score a lot of runs. On top of that, they have two starting pitchers who are in the frontrunning for the AL Cy Young Award (Justin Verlander, Gerit Cole) with the trio behind them honing the capability to throw like a No. 1 of any MLB staff on every fifth day (Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton).

But that’s by no means to say the Mariners won’t continue to stay scorching hot. It’s no secret at this point that they have been crowned baseball’s king of one-run wins this year, going 21-9 in contests decided by a lone tally. And while many think that can’t be sustained (and maybe it can’t to some extent) don’t believe for a second that this ballclub is going to fold and get crushed by an avalanche after the All-Star Break.

First off, perhaps the greatest reason the team has been so successful in one-run ballgames is because they have a right-handed flamethrower by the name of Edwin Díaz (you may have heard of him at this point) who has put his name in the debate for the game’s best closer. His league-leading 25 saves can often be regarded as a flawed stat, but his 14.5 Strikeouts per 9 (4th among relievers), 0.86 WHIP and .156 Bating Average Against are nothing that can be refuted. The numbers would be even lower had it not been for one rocky outing in a non-save situation against Texas where he probably never should have been in the game in the first place due to being overused on previous nights.

But that last part is beside the point. As long as Díaz’s workload is managed properly for the remainder of the year, he’s showing no signs of slowing down with his 100-mph heater complemented by what may be the nastiest slider on the planet.

And the supporting cast to Eddie that makes up the rest of the bullpen? All they did was sport the lowest bullpen ERA in the majors during the month of May, at one point combining to go 27 consecutive innings without surrendering an earned run. To make matters better on top of that, they went out and added Alex Colomé, who has more saves than anyone over the span of the last two seasons, to be their setup man in the eighth.

Like the old saying goes, pitching and defense wins games, and the area of concern that had fans biting their nails all offseason is now in the rearview mirror.

Outside of Felix Hernandez (because that will take a blog post in itself that I may or may not write) the Mariners starting rotation has taken the AL by storm. At this point the baseball world knows what James Paxton is capable of, highlighted in 2018 by a no-hitter in his native country and a 16-strikeout performance at Safeco Field. His X factor has always been health, but he has shown no signs of lethargy or pain this season, which is a positive signal.

But Paxton’s numbers were never the concern, and to that point, Mike Leake really wasn’t either. Despite his rough patch in April and early May, he has been flat-out dominant over his last five starts. The two pitchers that have made the most significant strides and deserve a truck load credit for keeping the rotation rock-solid are Wade LeBlanc and Marco Gonzales.

LeBlanc was asked to fill the No. 5 spot in place of the injured Erasmo Ramirez and has run away with that job. While he seldomly goes deep in games, he has allowed more than a pair of earned runs just once since moving into the rotation and has allowed a run or less on three separate occasions.

Gonzales has quickly started to sway fans into his corner after a vast Seattle contingent was incredibly unhappy that the team gave up their No. 2 prospect in Tyler O’Neill for him. But Marco is proving his doubters wrong, showing why he was once a first round draft pick. He has allowed just three earned in his last 33.1 innings and spun four straight quality starts before Wednesday. His command to his pitchers and bite to his off speed has really taken a turn recently, getting the better of American League lineups. Heck, the argument is there that Gonzales has been the second-best starter on the club, which is a shot in the arm Seattle desperately needed.

All that put together: this rotation is broadening its shoulders and letting their voice be heard.

The offense was expected to anchor this team, and while that has now fallen into the hands of the pitching, they have still followed suit. Nelson Cruz is finally healthy and back to his usual ways. Dee Gordon is a catalyst in the leadoff spot and in the dugout firing people up. Ben Gamel is hitting .300. Ryon Healy is hot, Heredia has become a reliable everyday player.

Then there is Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger who have just about made everyone forget about all the awful Seattle trades of the past due to their play. Segura leads baseball in Hits and is second in batting average, and Haniger has made Scott Servais and crew forget about Robinson Cano. After a slight adjustment period in May, he has taken the three hole in the lineup by storm with his 16 bombs and his .876 OPS.

While they struggled to push across runners in May, the month of June has been very kind to them offensively, already scoring five or more runs six times for the month.

So the bottom line: the team is clicking from every point, firing on all cylinders. They hold the third best record in baseball. They are 20 games over for the first time since Aug. 24, 2007 when Beautiful Girls by Sean Kingston was America’s top hit (per a tweet from Mariners beat writer Ryan Divish). Finally, they are ready to roll into the summer with high aspirations and their ultimate goal within reach.

Will they remain atop the AL West all season? That remains to be seen, Houston sure isn’t going to roll over and die. But with a 7.5 game cushion of a playoff spot and the squad playing its hottest and strongest baseball of this decade, let me say the following.

Get out your earbuds and play whatever song hypes yourself up after wins (Winner by Jaime Foxx, All I Do is Win by DJ Khaled, My oh My by Macklemore. Even if you want a throwback, In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins). Because the Mariners are coming, and they sure are fun to watch these days. The Autumn Seattle breeze is sniffing postseason play and that egregious number 17 is looking as if its ready to fall.

The Sho Goes On: A Crushing Blow

On Friday morning I went through something that I along with the rest of the Mariners fanbase is so prone to over the last decade and a half: let-down. False hope. That little shining light that all the sudden gets burned out.

But this news really stung. In fact, so badly that I would put it on my Mount Rushmore of disappointments in all my years as a sports fan, joining the Seahawks throwing the ball on the 1-yard line, flying to Miami to see Notre Dame get obliterated in the BCS National Championship, and the Mariners falling one game short of a playoff birth in game 162 of the 2014 season.

The highly coveted “Japanese Babe Ruth” in Shohei Ohtani signed with Seattle’s AL West rival, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This was a whopping gut punch and slap in the face to every Mariners fan alive, and for so many reasons.

The decision was so unexpected. Of Ohtani’s seven finalists (Mariners, Rangers, Angels, Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Padres) the Angels were the team that people thought Ohtani would least-likely go to, given the little connection they had prior to the announcement. The M’s on the other hand, were considered to be the clear-cut front runner.

This was due to their rich history and success with Japanese players, the relatively small market of Seattle sports, along with general manager Jerry Dipoto’s borderline obsession over the Japanese phenom, quoting that the Mariners were “all in” on Ohtani, among other factors on top of those. Then to add on to the list of reasons, they not only bolstered their roster by adding speedster and former NL batting title winner Dee Gordon via trade, they acquired an extra $1 million in international slot money, giving them the most cash among the seven finalists to pay to Shohei.

So now Ohtani is going to be playing in the city of Angels, as he will rep the red and white, and have his name inscribed into the same lineup card as the game’s greatest player, Mike Trout. As I saw on Twitter earlier, “Angels in the Outfield just became a nightmare.”

The way ESPN senior baseball writer Keith Law phrased it on Friday in an interview on 710ESPN Seattle was “I can tell you, it’s pretty much the worst-case scenario for the Mariners.”

Keith, you took the words right out of my mouth. These two teams have matched up similarly in the last couple of seasons, both having similar flaws in their lack of starting pitching. Both of these teams will also be looking up at the reigning World Champion Houston Astros in 2018 in terms of the AL West. But now for Anaheim, the gap between them and the Astros doesn’t seem as far due to winning the Shohei sweepstakes. For the M’s, it’s going to be an even bigger uphill climb than it was before.

Maybe people think I’m over reacting, and losing out on Ohtani isn’t the end of the world. There is of course the portion of baseball fans out there that believe Ohtani isn’t worth all of the hype and praise that he’s been getting. Many think he won’t ever develop into being a star at the plate in Major League Baseball. Many think nobody can be a two-way player. But my opinion differs.

Never in my lifetime have I seen a free agent player this young, with so much talent, giving a team the opportunity to get a front-line starter and middle of the lineup hitter in one body… for so little money. And I doubt we will ever see a scenario like this again.

Per MLB rules, Ohtani is not allowed to make a free agent contract, as he is not 25 years old yet. The Angels will be paying him a minor-league contract over the course of six seasons. So even if Shohei turns out to be a bust and doesn’t pan out the way people think he will, it’s not really money going to waste since he’s being paid so little to begin with.

In the end, it just sucks. No way around it. It really seemed like the M’s had this in the palm of their hands and it slipped away. Like having the golden ticket, only to have it swiped by Slugworth (For those who get the Willy Wonka reference).

Oh, what could have been: where have we heard Mariners fans say that before?

By no means do I blame this on Dipoto. He might be the only person on the planet whose more devastated by Ohtani’s decision than I am. Aside from forcefully dragging Ohtani to Seattle against his will, Dipoto did everything he possibly could to try and sway the Japanese star to sign. It just hurts to think about how much deeper the Mariners lineup could have gotten over the course of 24 hours, after the Dee Gordon trade.

Sometimes I lay there and think to myself: “Is this playoff drought ever going to end?” “Will I ever see the Mariners win the World Series during my lifetime?”

While that may seem ridiculous, as other teams such as the Blue Jays and Royals had longer playoff droughts, they also have World Series titles, while Seattle has never appeared in a Fall Classic in their 40 seasons as a franchise, being one of only two clubs to never reach one. Each of the last three or four offseasons I hear analysts and experts pick them to either win the division, or grab a Wild Card spot. But somehow, year after year, something goes wrong. Whether it be a surplus of injuries, under performing, or whatever else you can draw up, it’s always something.

Often I think it would take an All Star caliber lineup to push the M’s into October. Maybe that’s a large reason as to why I let myself hop aboard the Shohei hype train and rode it halfway around the world. I thought to myself that if a guy getting compared to Luis Severino on the mound and Freddie Freeman at the plate couldn’t turn the franchise around, then nobody can. But now that’s just wishful thinking.

As to where the team goes from here: there is still starting pitching out there, a lot of it being top-quality. But Dipoto is going to have to be willing to fork over some paychecks to make it happen. Because I can tell you right now, this current pitching staff isn’t going to cut it if they are looking to end their playoff drought in 2018.

The rotation consists of one borderline ace in James Paxton, but every time you turn around he gets himself injured faster than you can snap your fingers. There’s Felix Hernandez, who (if we are being brutally honest) has made me cringe watching him pitch over the last two seasons, not exactly earning the title “King Felix” anymore. You have Mike Leake, who can be a decent middle to back-end of the rotation type of starter. And to cap it off, a handful of young, struggling guys such as Andrew Moore, Ariel Miranda, and Marco Gonzales, to name a few.

So what does this translate to? My guess is about 75 wins from where they are sitting at this current moment. If Dipoto wants that to change, he’s going to need to go and get at least one more top-of-the-line starter. All Stars such as Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta are on the free agent market, and Rays starter Chris Archer appears to be on the trading block.

Shohei is gone, but can the Mariners move on? Can they find a way to avenge the absence of the Japanese Babe Ruth to their ballclub? There’s only one way for fans to find out, and it’s just about my least favorite method that exists.

Play the waiting game.

Mariners Insight Podcast September 19, 2017

Clock Has Finally Struck Midnight on the Mariners

The Mariners have been off and on all season.

There have been times during the year where they seemed destined for a postseason run, and other moments where they shouldn’t be affiliated with any talks of October. But it has finally reached the tipping point.

After Wednesday night’s loss, where the team surrendered just two hits throughout the course of the game, they have fallen below .500 yet again. They are currently sitting at 69-70, having lost seven of their last 10, and two in a row to the Houston Astros. These were games that they needed to take advantage of with the Minnesota Twins, who have possessed the second wild card spot for the last few weeks, having lost their last three contests.

The M’s still sit just three games back in the AL wild card race, but they are behind five other teams (Angels, Twins, Orioles, Rangers, Rays) and are a downward trend at the wrong time. The offense has no consistency and is incapable of putting up crooked numbers against top-quality opponents. They scored just six runs in three games against the Yankees, and have so far pushed across three runs in two games against the Astros. Nelson Cruz, who was at one point looking like a potential MVP candidate, has not had a multi-hit game since August 19th. Cano has been hot as of late, but hasn’t been able to keep it up for an extended period of time. More of the same goes for Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino.

On the other side of the ball, pitching has continued to haunt Seattle. Despite Ariel Miranda’s nice performance in his latest outing, it was the first quality start he had put together since July 28. He hasn’t tossed over six frames since June 30. Erasmo Ramirez has been a shot in the arm for the ballclub over his last few starts, but there isn’t support enough behind him. Scott Servais finally called it quits on the Yovani Gallardo project, as the veteran right-hander has been reassigned to a bullpen role. Andrew Albers has been mediocre, but nothing special.

Felix Hernandez and James Paxton are close to returning, but Servais said they won’t be able to be stretched out in their starts. In other words, they will only have the capacity to hurl four or five innings max.

The bullpen has been heavily taxed this year, as we all know. But despite that, injuries have caught up to them too. David Phelps and Tony Zych won’t return in 2017, James Pazos has hit a wall during the second half of the season, and plain and simple: these guys are fatigued.

Hats off to Servais and Jerry Dipoto for keeping the team glued together with every scrap piece they have in their armory for such an extensive period of time. But the wheels have finally fallen off. Mathematically, the team still has a shot. But being under .500 in the month of September doesn’t usually translate to a playoff appearance.

If they want to make one last push, they are in desperate need of a prolonged winning streak. But with the remains the Mariners have left, is it likely?

I’ll put it this way: The Seattle Mariners need a miracle.

Podcast 8-27: M’s Look to Wrap Up Long Road Series on a High Note

The Mariners Ended July on a Great Note: But Where do they Turn From Here?

July has now come and gone for the Seattle Mariners, but the team’s action and transactions haven’t exactly been laid back. From Jerry Dipoto wheeling and dealing per usual, to Robinson Cano hitting the go ahead homer and winning MVP in the All-Star Game, the M’s have had a lot on their plate.

They finished the month with an even 13-13 record, and are currently sitting one game over .500 at 54-53 after winning two of three in Texas to start the month of August.

In July, there was much positive and a fair portion of negative to take away (but hey, that the M’s for you). They did not get off to a hot start, getting swept at home by the Royals and only splitting a home series with the AL-worst Oakland Athletics. Two of those six losses were due to blown opportunities by the bullpen. Seattle sat at a gloomy 41-46 at the end of the Royals series.

The pitching staff that had been loosely glued together for most of the first half looked as if it was starting to come undone, with the exception of James Paxton, who was finally starting to find his early season form when July rolled around. Ariel Miranda started to get hit hard. Sam Gaviglio couldn’t work himself out of big jams and minimize damage the way he had been doing through his first handful of starts. Felix Hernandez was just starting to work his way back after recovering from shoulder bursitis, and there was much question as to whether he could still be effective.

But after the All Star Break, the Mariners started to kick it into high gear. They went on to win four of their final five series for the month, including a sweep on the road against the White Sox. Nelson Cruz went back to hitting home runs in bunches after going a month without one. Felix started to find his groove again. Ben Gamel and Jean Segura continued to stay atop the American League in batting average, and the pieces started to fall into place.

Jerry Dipoto saw this as an opportunity to be somewhat of a buyer at the trade deadline. He acquired David Phelps, an effective inning eating, hard throwing right hander from the Marlins. Phelps has given them a sturdy 7th inning reliever to pave the bridge between the starter, and the ever-dependable Nick Vincent and Edwin Diaz at the back end of the bullpen. Since 2016, only 14 relievers have thrown over 100 innings while posting an ERA below 2.70. One of them being David Phelps, who among those 14, is 5th in strikeouts in the last two seasons.

He also traded for Erasmo Ramirez to come back to Seattle and be a back-end starter for the club, with the team still lacking starting pitching. Ramirez was very disappointing in his first stint with the Mariners, but had an ERA under 4 in two seasons as a starter with the Rays. While his 2017 campaign hasn’t been phenomenal, with him posting a 4.80 ERA while splitting time as a starter and long reliever in Tampa, he will look to turn things back around in his reunion in the Pacific Northwest.
But the most substantial trade: one that didn’t even involve Major League caliber players. The Mariners traded minor league outfielder Tyler O’Neill in exchange for left handed starter Marco Gonzales from the Cardinals, who is a former first round pick.

O’Neill was the Mariners number two prospect, is just 22 years old, and has power that has been compared to Yankees rookie sensation Aaron Judge (per Fangraphs). While that comparison may be stretching it a little bit, a fair share of Seattle was not happy to see him depart, with many expecting him to be a 30 homer type of player down the road.

The hope is that Gonzales can be a cornerstone of the pitching staff in the near future, as he is a guy who has Major League experience as a starter, and also has five years of club control in his contract. But Gonzales is coming off Tommy John surgery from 2016 and the injury prone side of his arsenal is a worry. Nevertheless, Dipoto has said that Gonzales will likely be up with the club in the next few weeks.

For now, the pitching staff consists of James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Ariel Miranda, Yovani Gallardo, and Erasmo Ramirez. Andrew Moore and Sam Gaviglio were sent back to Tacoma.

In Dipoto’s eyes, the pieces are in place. But will it be enough? The bullpen is currently the best in baseball, and as a whole had a fantastic month of July, ranking 1st in baseball in bullpen ERA.  I personally feel that they are one solid starter short, but there was not much the team could do with the top-of-the-line pitchers on the market, such as Sonny Gray and Yu Darvish, being too expensive. At the very least, it would have cost the Mariners their top prospect in outfielder Kyle Lewis, who has potential to be a perennial All Star once he is MLB ready. However, more likely than not, more would have had to be coughed up with Lewis due to the asking price of those pitchers by their respective teams.

From August and on, this is the hand we’ve been dealt. This is the team. It won’t change drastically in the next two months. But that’s not to say they can’t make a run. As I mentioned, 1.5 games is well within striking distance, and with a four game series this weekend against the Royals, who currently hold the second Wild Card spot, it is very possible that Seattle will make up more ground.

But the consistency factor has to stay put. They been very consistent since coming out of the break, but they can’t afford to have another losing streak, or frankly, go below .500 again. Time is not on their side. The season is winding down. They have to continue to trend upward if they look to end the season with a Wild Card berth, and a key factor will be the Royals series. It could end up being the most important series of the season.

Until the late afternoon on October 1st, we as fans can do nothing but sit back, watch the games, and pray that the 16-year playoff drought comes to an end.

Player of the Month: While two Mariners racked up awards, I don’t think there is anyone more deserving on the team, or in the league than James Paxton. Paxton won AL pitcher of the month and became the first Mariner in franchise history to win 6 games in a month, all while posting a 1.37 ERA, while striking out 44 batters in those six starts, and walking just six. Opponents hit just .182 off him. Honorable mention goes to Edwin Diaz, who won AL reliever of the month, grasping 8 saves while putting up a 1.98 ERA and 21 strikeouts in July. He has bounced back beautifully since regaining the closer role.

June Comes to a Close, Seattle One Game Under .500 After Solid Month

With the Mariners finally surpassing the .500 mark at home against the Houston Astros last week, things finally seemed to be looking up for the ballclub, especially with the Philadelphia Phillies coming to town, who possess MLB’s worst record at 27-53, and had just 10 road wins coming into the series. Along with that, the Mariners had their two best arms taking the mound in James Paxton and Felix Hernandez, who made his second start since coming off the disabled list with shoulder bursitis.

Nevertheless, a lack of offense and a hitch in the bullpen, particularly from closer Edwin Diaz, were the premier causes for the M’s suffering two home losses in the short series.

In game one the Mariners jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a two-run blast from Jean Segura, but it was all they would be able to push across. In fact, the team as a whole was only able to string together five hits. Two came from Segura, two came from Danny Valencia, and one came from Jarrod Dyson.

On the mound Paxton cruised through his first four innings, and looked as if he would finally revert back to the form that he had displayed through the first month of the season before landing on the DL with a strained forearm. But a two-run hiccup in the 5th and a mammoth home run from Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco in the 7th gave the Phillies a 3-2 lead, ending Paxton’s night at the end of seven.

Tony Zych and Edwin Diaz were unable to stop the bleeding in the 8th and 9th, as Zych gave up a run in the 8th and Diaz surrendered four runs in the 9th, failing to complete his full inning. The M’s dropped the game 8-2.

Then in game two, Felix gave his team another quality start, allowing three earned runs in six strong innings. The only real trouble he encountered was when Ty Kelly took him deep to right centerfield to put the Phillies on top 2-1. Regardless, he kept the M’s in the game and the offense gave him run support for his second consecutive start (something fans would never see in the pre-Robinson Cano era). Kyle Seager, Valencia, and Cano all contributed long balls and the M’s took a 4-3 lead heading into the 9th.

But Diaz struggled once again, giving up a solo bomb to Tommy Joseph to tie the game. He later walked a man, got issued a balk, and let up an RBI single to Andrew Knapp, which resulted in being the deciding run, and the M’s lost 5-4.

Struggles aside Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto vowed to keep Diaz as the closer, and the team took a short break from their favorable home schedule to play a three-game series in Anaheim, hoping to turn around their luck once again.

Seattle dominated from every aspect in game one, as they won by a score of 10-0. Four homers were hit by the club, two from Cano, one from Seager, and one from Zunino, who finished the month with 31 RBI’s, just three short of breaking the franchise record for RBI’s in a month. Ariel Miranda was dominant on the hill, allowing no runs on two hits in his seven innings.

But as well as game one went, game two went the exact opposite. The Mariners had no answers for Ricky Nolasco, who despite his season struggles, seems to use the M’s as a healing medication. Nolasco tossed a complete game shutout, giving up just three hits. Although Sam Gaviglio was solid, going 6.1 innings while letting up three runs, he had no support on the offensive side of the ball. The Angels took the showdown 4-0.

But in the rubber match James Paxton finally did find his old form, going 6.1 innings while giving the Angels just one run to work with. Paxton had a perfect game going through the first 5.1 innings, but a soft liner by Danny Espinosa destroyed that hope in the bottom of the 6th. The Mariners collected enough runs to put them on top with the long ball taking center stage once again. Robbie Cano slingshot a three-run jack off the right field foul pole in the 8th to give the Mariners a 5-1 lead. Jean Segura provided the other two runs with an RBI single and RBI double on a 4 for 5 afternoon. Despite an offensive scare in the bottom of the 8th from the Halos, the M’s hung on to win 5-3. Edwin Diaz hurled the final 1.1 innings of the game to pick up the save, while also getting his team out of a jam in the 8th with two runners in scoring position.

Overall the Mariners had a 2-3 week as July now rolls in, finishing with a June record of 15-12. Their season record currently stands at 41-42. This is not the worst week they could have encountered, especially after getting swept by the Phillies at home in two games. They still managed to pick up a series win on the road against an Angels team that has played very good baseball up to this point.

Seattle now comes home for the week for a three-game stand against the Royals, followed by a four-game series against the A’s. Andrew Moore is expected to return to the big-league club and start on Monday. In Moore’s Major League debut, he went 7 innings while allowing three earned runs to the Tigers.

One injury update: Nelson Cruz exited Saturday’s game with knee soreness. He is day-to-day at this point, but is not expected to go on the DL. Cruz has not hit a home run since June 4th, a streak that marks the longest of his career. Regardless, he was selected on Sunday afternoon for his 5th career All Star Game.

Weekly MVP: After a much-needed monster week, Robinson Cano earns this week’s Player of the Week honors. Cano had seven hits in five games, including four homers and nine RBI’s. He now is hitting .284 on the year with 17 HR’s, along with a whopping 60 RBI’s, which is currently second in the American League, behind only Aaron Judge.

Mariners String Together Best Week of the Season, Still Being Plagued by Injuries

After a malicious 2-4 week on the east coast against two high powered offenses in the Nationals and Red Sox, the Mariners rallied off a fantastic 6-1 week, taking three of four from the first place Colorado Rockies, and later sweeping the Tampa Bay Rays at home.

They won the opener 6-5, getting out to an early 3-0 lead. Sam Gaviglio did not have his best outing, surrendering five runs in five innings, but the Mariners bullpen, who has quickly turned things around as of late, had his back. Using what was almost the entirety of their bullpen, six different M’s relievers threw the final four innings allowing no earned runs to pick up the W.

The M’s would take games two and three, winning by sufficient margins of 10-4 and 5-0. In the third game of the series, in which they returned home to Seattle after the prolonged road trip, James Paxton came off the DL, making his first start since May 2nd, and gave the M’s everything they had hoped for and more. Paxton threw 5.1 scoreless innings in his return, earning a standing ovation at Safeco Field.

They would drop the finale 6-3, therefore failing to sweep the Rockies, but the loss was the least of Seattle’s concerns. The injury bug simply won’t get out of the Mariners system. Nelson Cruz was drilled by a Kyle Freeland fastball in the right hand during the 3rd inning, and would later leave the game. He ended up being okay, with the MRI revealing no structural damage, but that wasn’t the case for Jean Segura.

Segura hurt himself sliding into second base while attempting to tag up on a fly ball and had to be helped off the field by the trainers. It was later discovered that Segura suffered a high ankle sprain, and is expected to miss about a month. The club called up rookie Tyler Smith to fill his void on the roster, but it will be Taylor Motter roaming at short for the time being.

When the Rays came into town on Friday, the Mariners put together what was their best weekend of the season, dominating from all three phases. They outscored Tampa 28-7 in the three games, pitching was outstanding, and the club didn’t commit an error all weekend. It was capped off on Sunday afternoon with a complete game from Ariel Miranda that was a sun triple away from being a complete game shutout. Miranda gave up just the one run along with four hits in his outing.

But the most intriguing takeaway from the series was the eye-popping display of offense from Mike Zunino and Danny Valencia.

As we know, Zunino hasn’t exactly been the Buster Posey-esque catcher that everybody had hoped for when the Mariners drafted him third overall back in 2012.  But this weekend he used all of the adjustments he made in Tacoma and applied them to his at-bats. He went 5 for 11 on the weekend with 10 RBI’s and a towering grand slam against Rays starter Alex Cobb on Saturday that was two rows from exiting Safeco Field. Zunino had 7 RBI’s in Saturday’s game alone and brought his season average up to .216, which currently sits as the highest of his career.

Meanwhile Valencia came into the weekend hitting .247 but finished at .283 after nine hits on the weekend, going 9 for 9 until his final at bat of Sunday’s game, which tied Raul Ibanez for a franchise record. He also had a homer and drove in six runs.

The M’s now sit at 28-30, just 2.5 games back of the second wild card. This team has been very streaky in the last couple of weeks. After going 1-7 and being outscored 50-9 in those contests, the Mariners turned it around and went 7-1 in their last eight games, outscoring opponents 57-22. They continue their longest homestand of the year this week when they will take on the Twins for a three game sweepstakes before the Blue Jays make the long trip to the Pacific Northwest for the weekend.

MVP: There are so many guys who are deserving of it in this incredible week, but this week’s goes to Danny Valencia, beating out Mike Zunino by a thread. As I mentioned, Valencia raised his average by 36 points during the weekend and by 30 points during the week. He also had 9 RBI’s on the week. The M’s are going to need him and Zunino to keep producing at the bottom of the lineup if they want to stay in the race.

Mariners Limping Back From Road Trip, Struggle North of the Border

In what was expected to be a somewhat soft road trip, despite the prolonged traveling, the week was anything but soft for the Mariners, who came up with a 2-4 week. After starting off the week hot, they came plummeting to earth when they were north of the border in Toronto.

The injuries continued for the Mariners pitching staff. Hisashi Iwakuma was placed on the 10 day DL with shoulder inflammation, and he is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. The Mariners then called up right hander Ryan Weber, who dominated in Tacoma, going 2-0 with an 0.85 ERA in 31.2 innings pitched. He then went on the DL with a bicep strain after lasting just 3.2 innings against the Blue Jays, in which he was effective until the injury, allowing just one run on three hits. Who will now be called up to replace him is unknown.

The M’s swept the Phillies in a two game stand at Citizens Bank Park in which they scored 21 runs in two games. In game one they trailed by four runs two different times in the game after a disastrous start from Ariel Miranda, in which he gave up 8 runs in 3.1 innings. But homers from Cano and Ben Gamel got them back in the game the first time. Later in the game a 6th inning rally which included a pinch-hit single from Nelson Cruz, along with doubles from Gamel in the 7th and Taylor Motter in the 9th secured them a 10-9 win.

In game two the M’s jumped out to a 3-0 lead before Phillies outfielder Aaron Altherr tied it up with a three-run shot. But from then on it was uphill for Seattle. They scored five runs in the 7th and three in the 8th, led by a Carlos Ruiz three-run double against his former team and a homer from Danny Valencia. They would take game two 11-6.

But once they arrived in Toronto they were hit by a tidal wave of problems. The offense went silent, scoring just six runs in the four games, and the pitching staff was being attempted to get glued together by a plethora of Triple A starters. Chase De Jong and Christian Bergman both had rocky starts and Weber got injured in his, with the M’s dropping the first three games by scores of 7-2, 4-0, and 7-2. The one game they had an opportunity to gain some ground was the finale on Sunday afternoon when Ariel Miranda gave the Mariners five strong innings, allowing just one run. The Blue Jays took a 2-1 lead on a 6th inning home run from Justin Smoak (who tortured the Mariners all series as every former Mariners usually does). But Jarrod Dyson tied things up at 2 with a solo shot, in what was his first career home run away from Kauffman Stadium. However, Edwin Diaz once again struggled in a non-save situation, surrendering a walk off home run to centerfielder Kevin Pillar to give the Jays a series sweep.

This was an unbelievably tough weekend to swallow, with the M’s being unable to take a game from a team who has been one of the worst in baseball in the early going of this 2017 season. This upcoming home stand is crucial for the Mariner ballclub. If they want to stay in contention, they at least need to stay afloat. If they tank another week, they could find themselves in a hole that will be incredibly tough to get themselves out of. The A’s will come to town for a three-game sweepstakes before the White Sox come in for a four game weekend series.

MVP: My weekly MVP has to go to the man who makes up half of the Flow Bros in right fielder Ben Gamel. Gamel has been an incredible surprise for a team that is in much need of some production. He has filled in magnificently for the injured Mitch Haniger, hitting .318 on the year. He hit .333 this week along with a homer and 4 RBI’s from the Tuesday game. He will almost undoubtedly stay in the starting lineup when Haniger returns, along with Guillermo Heredia, making an all-rookie outfield with 3 youngsters who are all currently hitting above .300.

Mariners Get Back On Track, Near .500 Mark

When the M’s needed a big week against a couple of subpar ballclubs, they stepped up and got one. They finally improved to two games under .500 after a week’s play, after being 4 games under after the last two weeks concluded. They went 4-2 on the week, and came from behind in each series to get the series win.

The M’s opened up a week homestand starting Tuesday when the Angels came in town for a three game stand. In the opener James Paxton was on the hill and didn’t have his sharpest outing. He went 5.1 innings and allowed just one earned run, but walked five hitters and threw 105 pitches. The game went back and forth, and was deadlocked at 2-2 until Danny Valencia homered to left to make it 4-3. Kole Calhoun then sent one into the right field seats in the bottom of the 8th to make it 4-3 before Robbie hit a game tying single in the 9th. But when the game went to extras the Angels scored two runs in the 11th to put the game away. The M’s would lose 6-4.

In game two the Mariners jumped out to a 4-0 lead thanks to homers from Robinson Cano and Jean Segura and an RBI single from Nelson Cruz. But Hisashi Iwakuma and rookie Emilio Pagan combined for a disastrous sixth inning, as the Angels would score six runs in the sixth. The damage could have been much more substantial if not for a robbed home run, courtesy of Guillermo Heredia. But the M’s would come through in the 8th to take an 8-6 lead thanks to a game-tying double from Jarrod Dyson and a 2 RBI single from Jean Segura. Despite Kole Calhoun having Edwin Diaz’s number for the second night in a row when he hit a solo shot in the 9th, it was not enough for a comeback. The M’s would hang on for an 8-7 victory.

In the rubber match it was all Seattle. Ariel Miranda, who has turned into one of the most consistent arms on the Mariners staff, had another sturdy performance, going 7 innings, allowing just two earned runs on seven hits. On offense, the Mariners scored one in the 1st, three in the 3rd, two in the 4th, one in the 6th, one in the 7th, and thee in the 8th to take the game 11-3 and win their third straight home series.

On Friday the Rangers came into town for a weekend series. Game one turned out to be a major pitchers duel. Yovani Gallardo went 6 innings for the Mariners, allowing just one earned run on four hits, while Rangers ace Yu Darvish threw seven innings of one run ball, surrendering just six hits. The game was tied at 1 going into extras, with the only runs coming from a misplayed ball from Ben Gamel and a solo shot from Robbie Cano. After the M’s used seven relievers, with two of them getting injured in Jean Machi and Evan Marshall, Rougned Odor hit a two-run bomb in the top of the 13th and the M’s would lose 3-1 after failing to reciprocate in the bottom of the inning.

In Saturday’s game the Mariners dominated for a solid 8-2 win. Chase De Jong thrived in SafeCo going six innings, allowing just one run on a 428 foot homer to Joey Gallo. But the M’s exploded for seven runs in the 7th highlighted by singles from Danny Valencia, Taylor Motter, and Ben Gamel.

Sunday’s game consisted of toughness and grit out of the Mariners. Being down 3-0 in the 7th, they scored three runs in the bottom of the 7th on four walks and a 2 RBI single from Danny Valencia. Then in the 8th Kyle Seager hit his second homer of the year to give the M’s a 4-3. Edwin Diaz had no trouble in the 9th, sending the Rangers down 1, 2, 3 to give the M’s another series win at home and improve them to a 15-17 record.

The Mariners have now won four straight home series and have really made the best of their situation, given all of their injuries.

Speaking of injuries, one more crucial one was tacked on to their list this week. James Paxton was placed on the DL after straining his forearm. But he is expected to miss minimal time and be back during the next homestand, along with Felix and Mitch Haniger.

The Mariners will spend a week on the road as they travel to Philadelphia for a quick two game stand with the Phillies before heading north to Toronto for a four game series with the Blue Jays. This is another week that the M’s can and should definitely use to their advantage, playing two struggling teams. It is very plausible that they could finally bring their record above .500 by the end of the week.

MVP: This week’s MVP is a tie for the first time ever, as two players were both more than worthy. The first recipient has to go to Jean Segura. The guy really is a hitting machine. This week he hit .481 on the week, collecting a whopping 13 hits in six games, along with a homer and 5 RBI’s. He also had the RBI walk that gave the Mariners their first run on Sunday. The other is Danny Valencia, who is finally starting to come into his own, raising his average 46 points this week, along with two homers and clutch RBI singles on Saturday and Sunday in both of the Mariners big rallies.

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