The Mariners are probably toast

Hello there, and welcome to another Dome and Bedlam post. I’ll try to make this one brief. I know you all hate this thing I do where I tweet about the Mariners having issues, making sub-optimal choices, and generally being a bit of an Eeyore, and you are well within your rights to do so. I don’t have anything resembling expertise, and it would be dishonest to pretend I do. The vast majority of whatever knowledge I have about the game comes from trying to filter three plus decades of playing and observing baseball through however many beers I’ve had on a particular night. That’s admittedly a hit or miss proposition. That said here’s what I’m thinking about tonight, and you can absolutely take it in any way you want:

Lloyd Face

As I write this the Mariners are tied 2-2 with the Angels in the 5th, with James Paxton on the hill. He’s at 92 pitches. It’s a tense, stressful, not particularly fun game, primarily because it’s hard to not feel as though the Mariners have to win this game. At 11-15, against a divisional rival, with their ace on the hill, and a rotation otherwise in shambles, the Mariners have to be all but perfect in the few games they do have a pitching advantage to have any chance of survival while Felix Hernandez and Drew Smyly are out, or the trading season begins to open up to allow for outside help to be acquired.

Losing two starting pitchers in April is near worst case scenario for this team, which is still suffering from the varying levels of incompetence and neglect that a decade of Bavasi and Zduriencik left behind. (Regardless of what you think of Jerry Dipoto’s acumen, this was an incredibly difficult situation he took over in 2015. Remember that Theo Epstein, in the discussion for greatest executive in the history of the game, averaged 95 losses his first three years in Chicago. Some of the Mariners’ issues today are Dipoto-inflicted, yes, but the man inherited a win now roster with a barren farm system, and the win now roster wasn’t built to win more than 84 games or so.)

So, the Mariners are 11-15. Their BPro and Fangraphs playoff odds are 28.7% and 18.6%, respectively. Through most if not all of May the team will be without Felix Hernandez, Drew Smyly, and Mitch Haniger, with little way to acquire anything resembling an upgrade over in-house depth. The simple fact of the matter is loosely 60-70% of games in May the Mariners look to have the disadvantage in starting pitching. Depending on how you feel about Yovani Gallardo’s ability to sustain his FIP even that may be generous.

The Rainiers are a fun group almost utterly devoid of anything able to provide help in 2017, if ever. This team will sink or swim in May largely on what it already has, and that is Hisashi Iwakuma, Yovani Gallardo, Ariel Miranda, and some combination of Chase De Jong, Dillon Overton, and Chris Heston. None of those latter three are major league starters, let alone for a team with playoff aspirations.

Consider the following: Let us be friendly to the poor Mariners, and say that they finish May at .500, despite their 1998 throwback pitching staff. At 14-14 in May the Mariners finish the first two months with a 25-29 record. At that point, there’s a good chance the Astros have run completely away with the division, and put it to sleep. If we factor the 2nd Wild Card to be ~85 wins the Mariners would have to play June-September at 60-48 to push for the playoffs. This, of course assumes that Felix returns to health and can be an above average starter, that Drew Smyly recovers, that no other starting pitcher gets hurt ALL YEAR, and/or that Dipoto is able to conjure a MLB pitcher out of the trade market.

At this point, hopefully, I’ve done a decent job laying out my concerns. I haven’t even touched on the bullpen, which is replete with names you either never knew or know for all the wrong reasons. The 2017 Mariners are probably, on May 3rd, a lost cause. The words “pessimism” or “hater” tends to get thrown around when statements like that get made, and I want to quickly address them, before freeing you to do something undoubtedly more worthy of your time.

Olivo Face Plant

I typed 696 words before this paragraph, and not one of them does anything to my hope that the Mariners will buck what are, objectively, very long odds to make the playoffs. I hope they are good. I want them to be a miracle team. I’m rooting for their success. The team certainly doesn’t think they’re out of it. They cannot and should not. After all, they’re the ones who have to play games, manage rosters, and show up every day to make it happen.

Hoping, wanting, rooting, these are different things than being. Saying this team is almost certain to miss the playoffs is not the same as wishing it. There was a time where I took the stance that Mariner fans collectively allowed for too much pessimism, drug too much past baggage into the present day. At present we seem in danger of arriving at a new state of being, one where we respond to difficult math and projections with eyes shut, fingers in our ears, and prayers sent to the fates. My belief is there is nothing to fear from acknowledging the reality of a situation, particularly in something as trivial as sports. To root for a team to overcome long odds can be one of the most rewarding experiences we as fans can ever have. We know this, we’ve seen it before.

To beating miserable odds, perhaps the finest toast I can give from one Mariners fan to another. Cheers.

(UPDATE: The Mariners lost 6-4. They are 11-16. The odds are longer. /clink)

 

 

Joy

joy

My awakening with baseball came a decade ago, when I read Baseball Between the Numbers, a veritable textbook on analysis collated by Jonah Keri. The subline of the book, Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong, struck me. I’ve long been a person who thrives on challenging convention. A contrarian by nature, I often follow a path of dissent to a fault. Whether in writing, debate, taste – I have been fueled by having a unique opinion. This existed within me until right around the same time I read the aforementioned book. I remember the moment, listening to whatever metal-mathcore bullshit I was pretending to love at the time. “Do I even like the Dillinger Escape Plan?” I thought, driving in my car, wearing my Dillinger Escape Plan hoodie.

Learning that many of the narratives people pass around about baseball are inherently false changed my perspective on the game in a permanent fashion. It shaped my voice when I wrote about baseball, it opened my eyes when I watched the game. It taught me to view a season from 10,000 feet instead of living and dying by every moment. A 12:40 game on a Wednesday in August has the same impact as opening night. Baseball is cruel, it is emotional, it is beautiful. It is also, above anything else, exactly linear for 162 games. I viewed, and still view, baseball with the mind of an analyst, formed by that book and everything I consumed immediately after. Sometimes that comes across as people thinking I don’t enjoy the game, or that I’m a pessimist. It’s not the case.

I met my wife in 2005, during the time I was spreading my fair share of controversial takes around the music industry as an album reviewer. She is a radiant woman with a smile and laugh that consumes your soul and warms your heart. I fell in love immediately, as does virtually everyone else who spends more than 30 seconds with her. At the time, my analytical mind manifested itself in the form of practicality. Part of this was being a broke college student, part of this was a comfort in my own bubble. My wife is a woman of adventure. I was a man of familiarity. I didn’t want to travel, I didn’t want to eat out. I liked what I liked. Comfort was contentment, and contentment was happiness. I didn’t realize how wrong that kind of happy was until she broke me down.

Over the years of our relationship, I now find joy in more aspects of life than I ever imagined possible. I’ll eat anything, travel anywhere, and take any opportunity to celebrate. It doesn’t always come easy, as there’s still remnants at my core that push back with anxiety. I fight through them, and the result is an unbridled, relentless sense of self-worth and content, with my wife at the core of it all. My job, my friends, my travel, my friendships. My brothers here at Dome and Bedlam. These words. In it all, joy.

I choose joy because the opposite is horrific. I have seen my closest friends shattered by life events. Marriages failed, families wrenched apart. I have watched my wife lie next to her best friend, whispering goodbye days before her death from an inoperable brain tumor at age 27. Still, I have experienced a fraction of the tormented sadness and depression that many have. Sadness is devastating and unavoidable.

And yet, we carry on, rooting for a baseball team that has playoff potential, which means they have World Series potential. For some, they find their joy in hoping that potential becomes a reality. I, with them, share the same sentiment. It may manifest differently, as I view the team with an analytical eye and see outcomes a little worse than many of my friends and peers. I will root with every fiber of my being to be wrong about the 2017 Mariners. I want them to be better than the .500 team I currently project them as. I want so deeply to add success from the Mariners to my ever-growing sources of joy. I will experience it, along with everyone else, in waves throughout this year. There is no schadenfreude when the Mariners fail. It is simply familiar and comfortable. I am sick of it. I want adventure, and I want exuberance.  I want it in more than bursts. I want from the Mariners what I get from my wife. Together, we’ll lament, complain, and languish. We will laugh about the failures. We will celebrate the success. We will choose to be happy, because to do otherwise is too easy, and makes life too hard.

If it all goes right

Just this one time, with meaning

I once heard that the way to experience true happiness is to picture the precise moment you fell in love with the object, idea, or person in question. Not the month, the week, day, but the moment. You see, these instances are important for contemplation and deep focus because they, just as our very lives, are fleeting. We often speak of a limited time on Earth, but what we rarely discuss, because it gnaws at our very core, is that the processing power of our mind is also limited in both ability and duration. I am doomed to suffer the same, eventual memory loss of my grandparents, their grandparents, even my mother and father. Those memories, those moments where we fell in love, eventually they will be wiped away, replaced or simply lost. For me, the moment I fell in love with the Seattle Mariners, I can still feel it.

On October 6th, 2000, I was in a car, the same car I still drive, a 1993 Toyota Landcruiser, with my dad, waiting in the midday Sun to go and get a haircut. Delaying our appointment because the Mariners were on the radio and about to sweep the Chicago White Sox. I loosely knew the characters associated with the 2000 M’s. There was Edgar, Dan the Man, A-Rod, Guillen, Rickey Henderson, Charles Gipson, Kaz, Freddy, Cammie, and others. The names were mostly all I had. That team won 91 games. I hadn’t processed joy, yet. Maybe I still haven’t really gotten down to it even to this day. Yet, I do know, that the moment I fell in love with the Seattle Mariners was right about here:


So it makes sense that between then and now, love has changed its course. Between then and what we all witnessed tonight, there was a dynasty built, torn apart, and then stones thrown at the rubble. Weeds scatter the remains, some spring and summer flowers grow there. We came to know the Mariners amongst a pile of failed prospects, half-season hype-trains, Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins, Dustin Ackley promotion and demotions, losing Adrian Beltre, and Felix Hernandez. It hasn’t been until rather recently, from 2014 to now, that anything has stirred those feelings of true, unbridled love. Sometimes, we just need a reason to believe.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the relevance of the Mariners has coincided with the tenure of Robinson Cano. It’s no mistake that everything simply feels different with him in teal. And in 2017, he didn’t disappoint. We all knew that in order for this to work, Robi would have to bear a large burden. Yet, he made it look so easy. If we thought 2016 was the final chapter in the MVP-career of Cano, we were dreadfully wrong, and we needed him to prove us wrong. There he was, double into right-center after double. He was relentless and his partnership with the powerful Jean Segura was likely the most entertaining double-play combo the franchise has ever seen. That Cano smile never left all season, and why would it have? I still remember the exact moment I fell in love with him, too.

The rest we saw coming, James Paxton led a rotation featuring a junk-balling Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma riding off into the sunset. The bullpen was terrifying, both in its volatility and use of relative unknowns. It felt like almost every night someone new was throwing a high leverage eighth. Nelson Cruz kept his magic intact for one more season with another 40-homer year and the outfield defense was good enough to make up for their issues at the plate. What we didn’t account for, and maybe never should have as fans of the Seattle Mariners, was a rather large dash of luck.

It wasn’t hard, back in April, to see this team making the playoffs, you could even see 90 wins. What was worrisome was the other side of the coin. Just as simply one could see 90 losses. But, we never account for luck as fans of the team that until today, had the longest active postseason drought. We’ve been through this before. We’ve heard the hype only to have every single wheel come off the rails. We remember 2010, 2015, 2008. Think back on all the walkoffs in August. The O’Malley bleeder down the right field line, the Segura grand slam in Houston, Haniger stealing home to beat the Royals. Remember Zunino’s three home run game? Now, we’ll remember the exact moment we fell in love with playoff baseball again.

Looking back on it, it makes sense that the Seattle Mariners hosted the Texas Rangers in the Wild Card Game. It makes sense that three AL West teams made the playoffs, and one of them, this time, was the Mariners. You see, you start to learn something about love as time goes on. That it’s more adult than you’d care to admit. That loving a sports team is full of rage and intensity, grace, silence, echoes, they come together if you’ll let them in. That, like loving another person, when something is out of your own control, you cope in different ways. You buy in further and further, rejection drives you deeper and deeper. And that when love is so lopsided that it destroys you, and you have to keep mortgaging yourself to keep it alive, that one day, Leonys Martin changes everything. He makes you fall in love, again.


That’s what we all saw again tonight. Leonys, playing for the team that finally made him feel welcomed, like he belonged, and in the midst of one of the worst slumps of his career, took an 8th inning Matt Bush curveball ten rows deep. It was a bit of that same magic he seemed to possess in 2016, that one night in May. A call back to a time that feels so long ago, but so new again. A roofless Safeco almost fell to the ground. Those old, wrinkled gods of baseball long ago heard us in their sleep. Felix watched as his seven inning, two-run gem was finally, thirteen years later, made good. Edwin Diaz closed a ninth I don’t think I felt a single moment of. I’m still numb. The love I feel has shaken my bones of their feeling.

I don’t want to feel, either. Perhaps that is the most important aspect of love in the moments you find it. At the same time you are both completely full and void of feeling, of regard or care. There is only this moment, this person, this being that you love. The Seattle Mariners, at some point in the next several hours, will fly to start a Divisional series in Boston. Felix, Cano, Cruz, Seager, Paxton, and Leonys all will be beaming. But that doesn’t matter. Tomorrow doesn’t matter.

Simply this moment does.

Episode 5: Jonah Keri, and season predictions

0:00-50:00 BASEBALL, it is here. Listen as we tell you exactly what will happen in the 2017 Mariners season. Gasp in shock and horror at which of us chooses the pessimist role. Rewind and listen carefully as Scott attempts to join us from inside a tin can, FROM THE FUTURE. It’s all here. You may skip the season now.

50:00-1:08:00 Jonah Keri, famed Canadian, Internet Man, and The Real Young Pope joins us for a national perspective on the team.

1:08:00-1:35:00 Twitter Q&A. Nathan yells at a cow, we still can’t understand Scott, David makes a pun, and we thus have to banish him for life.

(Music credits: The Soggy Bottom Boys, The Decemberists, Alexandre Desplat, Portugal The Man, Scott Weber)

Hail the Viper

Viper

It looks so small, so helpless. To the casual observer its body appears thin to the point of fragility, an overgrown slug that evolution gifted with speed to keep it safe. It sees you, and wraps itself into an incoherent jumble of curves and folds, like nature’s accordion bellows. It is still, closed, and appears overmatched. It is not. It is poised.

Diaz leg kick

What you foolishly thought to be frailness, or smallness, was in fact a perfect killing machine. Like a modern hyper car, every single thing present went through a rigorous examination. Anything that added unnecessary weight or bulk was cast aside. Every muscle, every instinct, every tooth, every scale, was designed with one question in mind: Will this get me fed?

You don’t know it, because in your size and power you mistakenly view yourself as safe, but you are being viewed as prey. The stillness is about to be broken. The perfect balance, the closed position, was all preamble to an explosion unlike anything else in nature. It will come directly at you, and your brain will not register its beginning until well after it has finished.

Viper

It will happen with an acceleration twice beyond the tolerance of the world’s greatest fighter pilots. In less than 0.1 seconds, you are going to experience pain, and your assailant will be gazing at you calmly, ready to inflict more pain. That’s less than an eye blink.

Diaz the Viper

Don’t blink. Hail The Viper.

Choose your ride

An hour or so from posting this Felix Hernandez will step on the hill to face off against Mariner teammate Drew Smyly, and Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. It’s a difficult situation for Mariner fans, particularly those of us born into American citizenship.

About two hours or so before posting this, the University of Washington relieved head men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar of his position after fifteen seasons, six NCAA tournaments, and, most crucially with regards to his firing, a miserable, utterly failed 2016-17 season.

Lorenzo and Felix are tied in my mind, not for their similarities in career, demeanor, or style, but for being extremely loyal to their teams, and the region I am so happy to call home.

Loyalty is, in sports certainly, and maybe in life, overrated as an attribute. A person can carve out a lot of success in business, poker, sports, social gatherings, and other venues by knowing the right time to walk away. If love is something Don Draper invented to sell nylons, loyalty is something Bo Schembechler invented to win football games.

It’s an exploited concept, and thus one we need to be careful to not hold too near to our hearts, or at least do so with an awareness of the pratfalls. Nonetheless both Felix Hernandez and Lorezno Romar inspire loyalty in me, to a degree that almost certainly negates whatever wisdom I just attempted to espouse.

Lorenzo Romar is an alumn of Washington basketball. A man who built a program, the same one where he grew to adulthood, into a national power by harnessing the incredible talent of local boys like Nate Robinson, Jon Brockman, and Brandon Roy. He took it to heights never before seen, ones it probably could not sustain, at least not with him. By most accounts he is not an exceptionally gifted strategist or student of the modern game. By many more accounts, his players love him, and revere the role he played in their lives.

As for Felix Hernandez, what fresh observation can be observed? A man of generational gifts, plopped into the literal and figurative remotest outpost in all of baseball, Felix squandered the best of his talents for awful Mariner teams. The tragedy of his wasted talent was so clear, written so starkly, that almost no Mariner fan would have demonized him had he demanded a trade, or played out his contract to sign with a better franchise, closer to his native Venezuela.

He stayed. He stayed for money, yes, and comfort and familiarity, yes. But he stayed for something more, something beautifully dumb, which is perhaps the best way I can think of to characterize loyalty. Felix stayed for us, and that is something almost no athlete of his caliber had ever done in Seattle, before.

To win basketball games in 2017 and beyond, admittedly its primary function and goal, the University of Washington may have made the right decision in firing Lorenzo Romar. Winning nine games with the potential 1st overall NBA draft pick in your lineup take a special kind of failure, and the program has not felt relevant this decade. I won’t argue anything about the decision. I’ll choose to be sad, though, because Romar is a good man, a man I would have played for, a man I would have been thrilled to win with, but would have also proudly lost for.

Felix Hernandez facing off against my country, with his Mariner teammate on the mound presents clarity that the Romar situation does not. Due to regional proximity I am a Mariner fan, and due to birth I am an American. But as far as baseball goes, as far as sports go, Felix is my King. He is faded, and far from his full glory, but kings rule for life. When he steps on that hill tonight, I hope he throws 95, embarrasses Giancarlo Stanton and co., and roars off the mound like I’ve seen him do so many times in a Seattle uniform. Long live the king.

The process of choosing how and where and why and who we align ourselves with, who we stand behind, is a process adulthood spiders like a rock to a windshield. Clarity is suddenly sent careening off into one of seemingly endless possible, narrow directions, and we can’t know which one to follow. Worse still, we aren’t allowed the time or context to figure it all out. At some point, we have to choose who we ride with, and decide how long we’ll do so, and how to best balance optimization, and love.

I’ll be with Lorenzo for quite awhile, and with Felix til I die. Carve ‘em up, El Rey. Viva Venezuela.