Breakfast & Biz 4/27/18 – Something Like Hope

Closer. clooooooserrrrrrr…….

Every year has a moment where you let yourself dream. For Mariner fans, in many years that moment is before the first game. Some years, like 2014, we get to hope late into September, and we have learned to cherish that experience, that team.

While it’s a fickle alchemy that leads to a person’s hope, in the end I believe it’s a personal choice, and nothing more. Logic, reason, emotion, past experience, and personal attachment are all factors in that choice, but we decide how to measure them, and when to cook with them.

I still don’t really believe in the 2018 Mariners. They have beaten up on the worst the AL has to offer in the White Sox, Rangers, and Royals. They are 6-2 in one run games, and seemingly haven’t experienced a single tough loss this year. They still can’t really pitch, and while the offense is as fun and deep as any they’ve had this decade, it remains old and injury prone.

But, they’re 14-10. That 6-2 one run record is largely attributable to the very real possibility that Edwin Diaz is evolving into ChariDiaz, and is now one of the very best relief pitchers currently playing the game. They are only just yesterday approaching something approximating their penciled in every day lineup. They have survived some adversity. Lucky? You bet. But luck and skill count exactly the same in the W-L analysis.

I’m not ready to believe in the Mariners yet, but I’m getting closer. It’s fair to say I disbelieve in them less. It’s entirely possible that’s the best experience a baseball team can give its fans; move them from skepticism, and towards trust. Closer to embracing, trusting, maybe, perhaps, something like loving them.

I don’t love them yet. There is still so much for them to prove to me, and I will always be bitter that the shortcomings they have were easily accounted for and remedied by an ownership actually committed to winning. But I watched Edwin Diaz mow down one of the American League’s best teams last night, and felt something a little bit like love. To be honest, it’s more than I ever expected, and I’m always grateful for that.

Go M’s.

Breakfast & Biz 4/24/18 – Crow Chef Mitch

shut up I don’t want to talk about it

I am, through nature and experience, extremely skeptical of unproven Mariner prospects. Poor Mariner fans are annually put in a situation where every team is excited about someone or something, and as Mariner fans until recently could not convince themselves of the team’s overall quality, we desperately cling to the hope of a Justin Smoak here, a Clint Nageotte there, a Mike Ford seemingly everywhere.

So it’s with that background that I rolled my eyes at Mitch Haniger. He was too old, too little minor league track record, no major league track record. I did what I do with these things; watch the tape, talk to some people, look at the numbers, and said no. This was not the guy Mariner fans wanted him to be. This was more false hope.

I was loud about my doubt last Spring Training, and have been largely paying for it ever since. Last night, in a miserable loss to a miserable White Sox team, Haniger homered for the fourth straight night. He now has a wRC+ of 197. His line of .324/395/.716 looks like something from the Kingdome.

I’m going to double down slightly, and say that Haniger isn’t this good. Hell, almost no one is this good. A month of hitting with a 197 wRC+ is about the peak of even a great player’s ability. But Haniger’s numbers don’t show anything screaming for regression. His BABIP is .313. His K/BB percentages are in line with previously established norms. The only real question at this point is if Haniger can continue to hit the ball as hard as all damn hell when he makes contact. If he does that, and the slugging stays above .600, the Mariners may finally have the under 30, cost controlled six+ win player they haven’t had since Franklin Gutierrez in 2009, and easily their most exciting position player talent since Kyle Seager.

Mitch Haniger is not all that much fun, when he’s not hitting the ball like Mike Trout. Actually now that I think of it neither is Mike Trout. Anyway, Mitch’s next interesting character trait shown will be his first. His uniform sleeves flap around in the breeze like he’s in Little League, and his defense is…….fine? It’s fine. Maybe it’s better than that. The numbers say it is, but I’m a stubborn man and don’t feel like being 100% wrong this morning.

It’s important with this stuff to own up when you’re wrong. I think at this point I got Mitch wrong, and I owe him an apology. He has very politely and blandly stuffed the crow down my gullet. Mitch: I am sorry. You are a good baseball man.

Overall the 2018 Mariners appear to be in a tough spot. They do not have a good starting pitcher, let alone many necessitating an entire rotation. But where Jerry Dipoto’s eyes for arms has largely come up snake eyes, he pried a good player out of the desert in Mitch Haniger. At worst he is a cheap, slightly above average corner outfielder for the next 3-5 years. At best, he’s a hitter the likes of which the Mariners haven’t had at this point in their career in decades. Sucks I had to be wrong, though. I’ll hold that against him for a bit.

Go M’s.

Breakfast & Biz 4/23/18 – The Why

There is no try, there are only 81 HOME GAMES TO COME SEE A LEGEND

The hardest things to write about are the things so plain for everyone to see. Yesterday morning, to make room for the return of Erasmo Ramirez, the Mariners needed to clear a roster spot. The team was carrying five outfielders on their roster. If you consider that in 2017 Austin Romine played more in the outfield than the infield, you could even credibly say they were carrying six.

They all have their uses, save one. You know exactly where this goes. Ichiro is forty-four, and the game has finally passed him by. His bat, conceivably, could pick up to a point of you, Ichiro Defender, being able to semi-soberly deem it passable. But there is no other tool left for him. He is a late-inning defensive substitute in need of a late-inning defensive substitute. The routes are slow, the arm, faded. He is at the end, and because of the deep respect and admiration for him and his career, I have hated being forced to watch it so closely, so intimately.

It should have ended last year, when an Evan Marshall pitch got roped into the seats, and the crowd spontaneously realized this was goodbye, and we rose to pay our respects. We rose to say thank you. It was the right way to end.

Instead, not even this is the end, because the Mariners did not do the sensible thing. They did not do right by Ichiro and let him leave before this fanbase is forced to further turn on him, as an entertaining but breathtakingly flawed team fights to end the longest playoff drought in American sports. No, from wherever the word came, be it Scott Servais, Jerry Dipoto, or a higher power, Ichiro is still here, and Guillermo Heredia is not. Heredia is the Mariners best left fielder, I am all but convinced. He gets to spend a few weeks in Tacoma, and wonder why. His teammates will wonder the same, as seniority and deference to experience last in a major league clubhouse exactly as long as you’re able to help a team win.

This script was written the moment the Mariners brought Ichiro back, and it has not deviated. There is no happy ending, beyond perhaps one last clutch single at home. Then, inevitably, the farcical nature of this will become too much even for Mariner ownership, and it will end. Ichiro will leave, his playing career in America almost certainly over. The Mariners will carry on, and perhaps make the playoffs or, perhaps, again, miss them by a single game. Everyone; Guillermo Heredia, the team, the fans, maybe even Ichiro, will wonder why.

We’ll all wonder why, while knowing the truth. But we’ll keep searching, because the answer is too obvious, and too painful to arrive at. Best to keep asking: Why?

Go M’s.

Breakfast and Biz 4/20/18 – 10%

Everyone have a beer

It’s always funny watching baseball in April. The catharsis of the game’s return tends to dominate the first week. Soon though, particularly after as contentious an offseason as Mariner fans just experienced, must come the takes. The games count now, and so they must be filled to the brim with meaning.

It is understandable, particularly in a region where recent transplants to the region and/or newer sports fans have largely entered sports fan culture through the NFL, and the Seahawks, where sixteen games is all you get, and a full year’s purpose and effort and cheer and lament has to be packed in.

We are fortunate, then, and would do well to remember, that baseball allows for more space, and more calm. We haven’t quite reached the point where going 0-5 does nothing more than drop his batting average six or seven points, or where a three game losing streak just feels like “a rough patch”, but we’ll get there soon.

Yesterday, the Mariners got destroyed by the Houston Astros, 9-2, after losing 7-1 the day before, and 4-1 the day before that. The fact that rooting for the Mariners to beat the Astros is somewhat analogous to rooting for a 12 seed to beat a 5 in March can be depressing, or frustrating, or really anything you want it to be. The Astros winning the last three days doesn’t change anything. Regardless of record, they were always going to be the more talented of these two rosters by a wide margin. That’s……that’s just the truth.

And that’s ok! The Mariners are 9-8. They have survived injury, largely disastrous starting pitching (Marco Gonzales had by an extremely wide margin his best start of the year yesterday, and did not make it through five innings.), and a bullpen that has, as bullpens always do, crawled afresh from the primordial ooze of April. Like all bullpens it will evolve into its final form sometime around mid-July, and this bullpen has already formed a hell of a giant stinger at the end of its tail.

So, it is with some years spent in this game I tell you, rejoice! The Mariners are 9-8! They are not going to win the division, almost certainly. I don’t know a single Mariner fan who actually believed that they would, so we should be all clear there. While the Mariners have been getting sawed in half by the Astros, the Angels have been getting quartered by the Red Sox, and that is probably the Mariners’ truest inter-division competition for a playoff spot. Nothing anyone has realistically hoped they would be in 2018 has been lost, and in the process I’d add this team has shown it can be pretty damn fun to watch.

Yesterday the Mariners lost, and I went outside. I went for a walk, mowed the lawn, and played with my kids. There have been years when baseball, and more specifically the Seattle Mariners, have played a large part in how I feel on a given day, but those days are past now. It is, of course, verboten to tell others “How to Fan” so I will not do that. I will say, though, that if you enjoy the sun, if you’re fortunate enough to be near family, or if you’ve just felt shut-in the past six months of wind and rain, to maybe just put the game on the radio for a few days, or even maybe not at all.

The Mariners are out there, sure, but they aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be right there, where you left them, anytime you need them. Baseball is a sport wonderfully adaptable to your chosen or needed lifestyle, and will just fill in whatever gaps you choose to leave for it, making for a nice snug fit. I’m going to let it do that this year, and I encourage you to do the same.

Go M’s.

Breakfast and Biz 4/19/18 – Hundredths

Everyone’s great, so does that mean nobody is? Well, actually…

A few months back, during a typically cold and wet northwest evening, my children and I were watching the Olympics together. We had come for the aerial competition, with its gaudy flips and hangtime, but stuck around for four-man bobsledding. The kids, after composing themselves from the thrill of just how fast those men were going down that death-defying coaster of ice, would unfailingly ask me after every run whether the team had done good or bad.

For them, see, there was no difference. There was only pure, blinding, thrilling speed. Saying “well that team went four hundredths of a second faster than the team before them, so they feel like the years of ceaseless toil, financial sacrifice, and effort have been rewarded, while those other guys feel as though the ground has come up and swallowed them whole” just doesn’t resonate with them, and more’s the better for that I suppose.

The only way it could be explained to them was when, through the magic of television, the broadcast superimposed multiple runs on top of each other, similar to that famous Yu Darvish gif you’ve all seen. Here now was a simple thing to see, easily understood. One team was, just, ahead of all the rest. My kids had fewer questions after that.

For anyone watching the first two and a half games of this Astros series, sans context, it would be easy to think these teams are nearly equally matched. The Mariners rotation, which I have taken ample opportunity to savage on multiple occasions, was largely effective against a terrific Houston offense. The Mariner bats, facing a comically talented rotation, were scraping out just enough runs. Through two games, and six innings, the teams were at a stalemate.

And then, they weren’t. Mike Leake seemingly kept throwing the same pitches, at the same velocity, in the same places he had the previous six innings, but now they weren’t being missed. They were getting hit, and hard. Nick Vincent had the same experience. Dee Gordon and Mitch Haniger were misplaying balls and suddenly the Astros were better than the Mariners, and by quite a bit.

The baseball season will do that. Every team is good. Every player is an amazing blend of athleticism, skill, and work ethic. Sure, just like bobsledding you’ll have some poor group form an underfunded country, in baseball’s case we’ll say the Reds, who even a moment’s glance says does not belong out there. But by and large it feels like the margins are so close, the difference between victory and defeat so small as to be nearly invisible at times. The nature of the sport is such that can very easily fool yourself into thinking a baseball season is just millions of coin flips, with randomness the One True God.

But just because the baseline is otherworldly excellence, does not mean it’s also the ceiling. All these players are so good, and so talented. But the win/loss record superimposes two teams’ journey down the same path. Over that journey, one always separates itself from the rest, even if it’s only by hundredths of a second. There’s always a winner, so there’s always a loser.

Go M’s.

Breakfast & Biz 4/18/18 – Back up back stop

This won’t matter unless it does and then it very much will

The next twelve hours or so, at least as it concerns the Mariners, are going to be all about what the Mariners do with Ben Gamel and Ichiro. That ground is going to be pretty saturated, and I’ve already written a few things on the Mariners left field situation, so instead I want to pivot this morning to the next roster crunch coming down the line: Backup catcher.

At the beginning of the season, all conversations and projections pointed to Mike Marjama as the man slated to back up Mike Zunino. He is an incredibly easy and fun player to root for. His decision to open up publicly about his struggles with an eating disorder represent a still fledgling effort by athletes to fight back against dogmatic and hurtful concepts of masculinity, athleticism, toughness, and courage. More than anything he does on a baseball field, Marjama’s efforts to lead in this manner make him a winner, and a person worthy of our admiration.

The problem is, well, he’s not a great catcher. He can hit a bit. His wRC+ in his last three minor league stints in Tampa were 142, 120, and 127. But, and here’s where the constraints of my time and this series have to fall upon your grace, as I have no intention of making gifs or screenshots, his defense is leaving a lot to be desired. You can choose to believe or not believe me when I tell you I know a few people inside the game of baseball whose opinions I value, and each of them has, in turn, rated Marjama’s defense as varying degrees of “not good.”

Enter David Freitas. A waiver pickup last August from Atlanta, Freitas has a similar, if slightly inferior, offensive track record to Marjama. In the tiny sample size of 2018 Freitas’ bat has outperformed Marjama’s, but that should be given very little consideration. No, the real meat here is that Freitas, at least from those I’ve talked to and my own layman’s eye, is the better defensive catcher of the two, and not by a fractional amount. The framing, the pitch blocking, and overall, somewhat unmeasurable “command” of the dish all seem to favor Freitas.

Want more? Well sure. In his first start of the year James Paxton, very much the Mariners’ Ace, was caught by Mike Marjama. In every one of his subsequent three starts it has been David Freitas. That could be nothing, but typically a team’s best pitcher is the one who gets to choose his catcher, and James is definitely the Mariners’ best pitcher.

It’s probably a small gap, but taken as a whole, a gap does appear to exist. David Freitas and Mike Marjama are the same age, with similar minor league track records and offensive skillsets. The largest difference between the two is defense, where Freitas appears to hold the advantage. Marjama was the presumptive opening day backup, but their play on the field makes me comfortable recommending and hoping that it’s Freitas that remains in Seattle, whenever Mike Zunino makes his return. And may that be soon.

Go M’s.

Breakfast & Biz 4/16/18 – The Fulcrum

like a hinge but more literary sounding

I’m a bit of a simple man, I will admit that. I like loud movies, the cannons in the 1812 Overture, used to (cringe) DVR Michael Irvin’s JACKED UP segment once upon a time, and once got emotional at the end of Armageddon. Take this in mind when I say, while acknowledging that not quite 10% of the season has passed, the Mariners season may just be defined by their closer, Edwin Diaz.

Through thirteen games, the Mariners have been a boardwalk cartoonist’s version of what we thought they would be. The offense, even largely missing Nelson Cruz and entirely missing Mike Zunino, has the 4th highest wRC+ in the game. Robinson Cano has an on base percentage of .537. Mitch Haniger’s next bad at bat will be his first. Even the April Iceman, Kyle Seager, has a 155 wRC+. An offense with an assumed range of above average to very good has largely found its ceiling. They may not (they will not) be this good all year, but if/when Zunino returns they will have a long, deep lineup, capable of punishing mistakes, and grinding through arms.

The pitching, however, has been atrocious. Even with Felix Hernandez’s quality six inning start yesterday Seattle starters are barely averaging five innings a start, and have the second highest FIP in baseball. Marco Gonzales has gotten through the fourth inning once this year. Mike Leake is walking a tight rope with no net, and the rope is on fire, and there are crocodiles down below.

A team with a great offense and terrible pitching, loosely, abstracts to a .500 team. That’s what a lot of us have thought the Mariners were since about November of last year. Indeed thus far they have scored exactly as many runs as they have allowed, one of the most .500 things a team can do, when you paint their story by number. Within that, however, lies a pivot point, a fulcrum, and it is a viciously talented wisp of a closer from Puerto Rico.

Diaz’s start to the season has been the pop this team needed. Always talented and capable, he has harnessed his fastball command for the team’s first two weeks, and when he does there are exactly zero relievers in baseball clearly better than him. If, and it is a huge if, this represents the next evolutionary leap in Diaz’s career the Mariners as wild card contenders is not the long shot it was at the beginning of the season. Already, the Mariners have won four games by two or fewer runs. A change in just one, or heaven help us, two of those outcomes and the season’s positive start lags into the “Same Old Mariners” zone. You know of what I speak.

The Astros are in town for four games. The Astros are a better team than the Mariners. They will have the starting pitching advantage in three of four games. They have, regardless of early season numbers, the better lineup. They may¬†not have a better closer. The Mariners’ 2018 can bend and twist many ways, and that will go through the right arm of Edwin Diaz.

Go M’s.