The Mariners are Not Toast

On May 3rd, forty-seven games ago, I wrote that the Mariners were probably toast. They were 11-16, missing Felix Hernandez and Mitch Haniger, Edwin Diaz was a mess while still being their best bullpen arm, and the team did not (and still does not) have the talent resources on the farm to acquire help via trade.

Those things were true then, and I do not regret writing them. What is also true is that, despite losing Jean Segura (twice), Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, and doubtless a few others I’ve forgotten to injury the Mariners have managed to go 26-21 since, and after tonight’s 7-5 win over Justin Verlander and the Tigers, sit at 37-37.

Additionally, and crucial to the headline of this post, is that the American League has refused to run away from the Mariners while they spun their wheels and filled up punch cards at the local Group Health. While the Yankees and Red Sox are trading division leader/WC1, only the Twins and Rays sit a few games above .500 and the Mariners, and I am here to tell you despite their many flaws the Mariners major league roster is every bit as talented as those two teams.

It’s important to note that the Mariners are not by any stretch a lock or even a front runner for a playoff position at this point. Their Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds coming into today were 25.1%, somehow down from the 28.7% they were at when I condemned them to heck last month. They are still massively flawed, with little depth beyond the outfield, a bottom third (at best) major league rotation, and a bullpen that, while improved since April, is far from the league’s best.

This team, even if everyone stays healthy and Drew Smyly comes back and contributes at the levels expected in March, is not a team I would feel comfortable shooting for a playoff spot in most years. Only the AL’s parity and the benevolent gift of WC2 from His Holiness Allen Huber “Bud” Selig have given this team life. This is a confluence of good fortune, and one that does not come around often. With the 2nd Wild Card typically falling between 88-90 wins, likely a total well beyond this team’s capability, the possibility of only needing to win 85 games or so is as responsible as anything for the stay of their execution.

Still, the team deserves credit. They have not thrived, but they have survived. They have overcome their weaknesses, both built in and unexpectedly arisen. They have managed to build a roster and culture that has allowed Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, and Mitch Haniger to flourish, bringing the possibility of the most complete Mariner outfield in franchise history very much into focus. They have assembled, when healthy and when Mike Zunino has not been fed after midnight, as fearsome a 1-9 offense as there is in the American League.

Tomorrow, Andrew Moore makes his debut, and while I don’t believe he’s a budding star, I have little doubt he is better than many pitchers who have started games for the team this year. Friday, Felix Hernandez returns. A Paxton/Felix/Miranda/Moore/Gaviglio rotation is nowhere approximate to “good”, but if you’re optimistic and have had as much booze as I’ve had tonight you can squint and make it passable, particularly if your offense can casually score 6-7 runs any given night.

They are many things. They are unfinished, flawed, broken, old, exciting, tough, frustrating, confusing, persistent, and infuriating. But they are not, as I said most recently, toast.

On May 3rd I wrote this:

“To root for a team to overcome long odds is one of the most rewarding experiences we as fans can have.”

They have proved me wrong, by proving that correct.

To beating long odds, and the roar of the faithful when Nelson Cruz’s double found grass tonight.

GOMS

GOBIZ

 

 

 

 

Episode 8: Outfield Rakes, & Spicy Takes

(This week’s episode brought to you by Noah Dupont and his generous donation in goods amounting to a worth of $16.50.)

Nathan gets the duct tape removed, to the detriment of the show. The guys talk about the excitement of overcoming long odds, the outfield depth, and more. Scott and David try to name Mariner pitchers.

Twitter takes are read, and mostly ignored, but appreciated. We answer a few questions, and bid you adieu.

(Music credits: Jay Z, The Oh Hellos, Further Seems Forever)

One and two

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu describes that an enemy is not easily defeated by surrounding them completely. One must present their adversary with an apparent way out of danger, and there lies your trap. It is for this very reason that 0-2 is not the most difficult count for a hitter, it’s 1-2. At 0-2 a pitcher is never supposed to throw a hittable pitch. At 1-2, you’re backed into a corner. The pitcher has already wasted something offspeed to show you the wrong part of the outside corner. They could easily do it again, you have that to worry about. Their full arsenal is available; the pitcher has their entire repertoire at hand. The enemy has the green light. You are a boat stranded upon the ocean and the storm is swirling around you. The waves, taller than the mast, they are coming. But in your hand, you have an oar. Down 1-2, a hitter is up against the odds. Yet the odds always allow for two outcomes.

When I was six years old, for whatever reason, my parent’s had mostly childless friends. As an only-child myself, I was often the one kid at parties full of 30 and 40-something’s and my dad let me drink a finger of wine whenever he found it fitting. I hated it, but it seemed en-vogue and it’s what adults did when they got together. At six years old, I turned to him in a moment I distinctly remember and told him, “I want to be a winemaker.” I’d heard him say that word, “winemaker”, before and Dad and one his best friends often discussed making wine in the garage. There was no knowledge of what the job entailed, simply that it appeared to provide pleasure and a space for friendships. In that instant his response to me was plain, facetious, honest, “Then you better get your Masters from UC Davis.” It was a joke. I had no idea what that meant. What that would cost of me. It stuck.

My senior year of college I was all over the place. I applied to seventeen law schools, and three schools for enology and viticulture (the sciences of winemaking and grape-growing, respectively). By early April I had replies from 19 schools. UC Davis was the one missing, and I simply figured that I messed up my application. It had been several weeks since I had heard from my second-to-last school. Yet on a Sunday morning at 8AM, Central Time, an email was waiting for me from UCD – “Your Application Decision”. It took me ten minutes to summon the courage to open it.

“Attached is your Admissions Decision”

Another few minutes to gather myself and open the attached document of which I read only the first word, “Congratulations…”

It’s 6AM in Seattle but I call my mother with the biggest news I’ve ever received and been able to deliver in my young life. A goal fifteen years in the making achieved, all my roommates awake from my monstrous victory yell, she answers the phone.

“Mom, guess what.”

“What?”

“I got into Davis.”

A brief pause. I’m ecstatically waiting her unbridled joy. A response I’ve been waiting for since almost before my memory can reach.

“How are you gonna pay for that?”

I wasn’t raised in a house that dwindled long on accomplishment. Victories were briefly celebrated, if at all. They were simply treated as fuel for the next fire to burn. I was taught from a very young age that without stoking your own furnace, you will one day go cold and void. It sounds like a harsh way to live, but it’s an honest one. It’s about being able to inspire yourself. You have achieved this mountain top, now what about the next? It’s about a willingness to fail in hope that the next valley is more shallow than the one before. It’s about resiliency. Teaching this is a dear, dear form of love. Because in this life, well, more times than not, you’re gonna take a step out of the box, catch your breath, adjust the gloves, and stare out at the mound, down 1-2.

Every at-bat has a certain scheme and rhythm before the music starts. A routine before even stepping into the batter’s box, a certain way you tap the bat to the plate. There is always this plan. It’s not even learned, it’s within you at birth. You reached out and grabbed this plan, these habits, so very long ago from the stardust surrounding your soul before you become matter. But plans mean nothing when the bullets start flying. As you step into the box, settle yourself and free your mind, the pitcher comes set.

It’s a grooved fastball. Middle-away, full extension of the hands is easier here, clearly a mistake. You swing as hard as you possibly can while trying to keep your head in. You can already feel the effortless crack of the ball hitting the sweet heart of maple, the ball over the fence, the cheering crowd, the slow, purposeful arc and crisp final one-hundred feet of a bundle of leather and string defying all given physical expectations. The ball instead is fouled straight back.

Strike one.

You missed your shot.

I was once asked where the richest place on Earth is. Sensing a trap within the question, or some sort of riddle, I thought about mineral wealth of nations. What laid buried beneath. Papa New Guinea was my first thought. I was on the right track, but miles away from the wanted answer.

“The richest place on Earth is the graveyard.”

There lies the songs never sung, the letters never written, the stories gone to bed too soon. There lies love lost, the regret of silence, the eternal question of what happens when you leave something behind. The answer? Nothing. Nothing happens because the spark was never given a chance to light fuel. The question isn’t what happens when you leave something behind. It’s what didn’t happen. And we’ll never know. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor, sure, but the sentiment is a true one. A lot of people die full. Full of their talent, full of their ability, their skills. They never used it because they were scared to take a risk. You have to shoot your shot.

Sometimes, you miss. You still have a strike to give.

The pitcher is set again. Down 0-1 you’re still very much in this at bat. Gloves properly adjusted, the pitch arrives, another mistake, but this one too far off the plate to even give a chance. The pitch darts away and into the dirt. Ball one. Some decisions are so easy they seem almost to be made for you. Some forks in the road have a very clear choice. The count is 1-1. You’re back on track. You step out of the box to mentally check the plan.

A deep breath and a return to the inside of the chalk lines, the next pitch is delivered. It’s coming inside and tight.

I am sitting with her as she attempts to talk her sister out of suicide on the phone. My room is eerily quiet. I’m holding her hand. It’s the only thing I can feel in the darkness of the space.

I am sitting next to a man in a ditch. He is dying. My arm is around him as I give him water and wash his wounds. “You’ll be okay. We’re here with you.”

I am standing in a bar as her last beer turns into the story of how she was beat as a child. Her tears are warm against me as I hold her while the music drowns out the rest of the world. The warmth of her pain made physical is all I feel.

I am sitting on her bed when she tells me she is going to marry another man.

My phone rings, an old friend. I take a walk to answer the call, expecting to catch up during a warm, Summer’s evening. She has other news. Dave died this morning.

I am sitting on her bed as her PTSD returns. She can’t be touched in this moment. I ask if it’s better for her if I stay or leave. She asks me to stay. I sit at the foot of the bed, quiet.

I am driving my car when she starts to cry. She heard first the news of my grandmother passing. It strikes her too close to home. I hold her hand. It’s a Sunday morning and we have a tradition of getting breakfast. In this instance and all the others, I have no words. I am a passenger. I am not enough. They are, though.

All these people will leave me, in one way or another. In that leaving they will take with them a piece of myself. Not out of malice, but out of necessity. It’s not even a conscious act. It is what we all do when a body catch a body coming through the rye. In those moments there was deep love, but deep inadequacy, too. I was measured too light. I didn’t recognize the pitch.

The ball curls wordlessly away from your body and into the zone. The movement deceptive. You were simply a passenger, the bat still on your shoulder. You never saw it coming.

Strike two.

So there you stand, two feet out of the batter’s box and in a hole. There you stand with no strikes to give. No room for error, pieces of you gone, and at the will of an enemy who has you backed into a corner. The waves are rising, your vessel looking smaller and smaller against them. In this moment, as in every moment, you have a choice. You can wait and hope, or fight. It won’t be easy. I wish I could tell you it gets easier, but it doesn’t. You have to find something inside yourself. You aren’t in the graveyard yet. You still have an oar. Start paddling. Put Fate, Circumstance, whatever form of free-will you believe in, into your own hands. Go down swinging.

The pitcher comes set again.

It is not the things we do in life that we regret on our deathbed, but the things we do not.

Swing if it’s close.

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.