All sports fans have heard the preseason predictions, just like Seattle Mariner fans heard national baseball writers say Seattle would compete for the pennant, with some predicting the Mariners would play in the World Series. I never bought into it because, though these baseball pundits said ‘they look good on paper,’ paper burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit, then poof the paper is gone.
And so it has been for Seattle. Poof, their season is long gone. Many baseball writers pointed to the Mariners starting pitching and bullpen. The ace of the staff is King Felix. But despite a 14-8 record, Felix is 3-3 with a 6.26 RERA and a .343 batting average against in his last seven starts. At this rate he would have one of his worst seasons. Who could predict that, nor could anyone predict Hisashi Iwakuma missing a large part of the season with injuries; the same for James Paxton. Mike Montgomery, called up from AAA, who started so brilliantly is 0-3 with a plus seven ERA since the all-star game. Roenis Elias who was sent to Tacoma long ago, was recently recalled and though he may yet start, he has been relegated to the bullpen.
Then there is the bullpen, nearly flawless in 2014, but deeply flawed in 2015. To this date the bullpen has blown 17 saves and are in large part the reason the Mariners lead the majors with 22 losses with the opposition winning in their last at bat. And having 20 extra inning games already, the bullpen has been taxed. Fernando Rodney who closed 48 games last season has been released. Yoervis Medina, the 8th inning pitcher last season was gone after 12 innings, though his pitching numbers did not merit the M’s parting with him so early, not with a 3.00 era and a win and save.
Danny Farquhar, Dominic Leone, and Joe Beimel, stalwarts all in 2014, have failed in 2015 and Tom Wilhelmsen was sent to AAA for a spell. The Mariners have tried Tyler Olsen, 5.40; Mayckol Guaipe, 7.50; Dave Rollins 7.85; and Robert Rasmussen, 16.71, and though their inning pitched is low, their numbers tell the story.
Their one reliable reliever, Mark Lowe, was traded at the deadline for prospects-or suspects if you wish. Charlie Furbush, solid from the left side, pitched 21 innings before an arm injury.
And now you know why looking at paper is a folly; why believing the paper is foolish, a chimera, a distorted hopeful dream. Paper tends to go up in smoke. Just ask the Seattle Mariners.
Some baseball players work their way through the minor leagues to earn a spot on the 25 man roster of a major league team. Others like Lucas Luetge of the Mariners were drafted from another team. He was drafted from the Milwaukee Brewers minor league system in the Rule 5 Draft and has been an effective left handed reliever.
Now the Mariners have drafted another left hander, soon to be 25 year old Dave Rollins. Unless he is returned to the Houston Astros he will be in Seattle’s bullpen on opening day. In fact he must stay on the roster the entire season and be active for at least 90 days.
In four season he has pitched in 88 games, 64 of which were starts. He is 23-16 with a 3.39 career ERA and averages 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He has good numbers and though he can either start or relieve, he most likely will be used in relief now that Seattle has J.A. Happ in the rotation. Rollins is familiar with Happ, for Rollins was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 24th round of the 2011 draft and was part of a trade that sent Rollins to Houston for Happ. Now they will be happy teammates.
The Mariners have had their eye on Rollins for sometime. They drafted him in the 23rd round of the amateur draft in 2009 and again the next year in the 46th round. He never signed. If Rollins succeeds he will give the Mariners a lot of flexibility. They have nothing to lose except some money to the Astros.
He may not have a name. His coming to Seattle will not get the buzz of a Nelson Cruz signing, or the addition of Happ, but like Luetge, he could end up being valuable.
It was probably a bad omen when Steve Pryor, a right handed set-up man, and possible closer of the future, was injured and lost for the season. He tore his right latissimus dorsi muscle behind his right shoulder. Before he got hurt he pitched seven innings, seven strikeouts, 1 walk, 3 hits,, 0.00 ERA.
The adage says every picture tells a story, well so do statistics, and the numbers from the Mariner bullpen paint a hideous picture. If it were a movie it would be Freddie Krueger in “Nightmare on Royal Brougham Way” with no one starring.
I begin at the end with the closer. Tom ‘the Bartender’ Wilhelmsen was sailing along closing games, and then he lost it. What, besides his confidence perhaps, was lost is a mystery for pitching coach Carl Willis to solve. But despite his 4.00 ERA he saved 24 of 29 games. He has five blown saves coupled with three losses is eight bad games, okay real bad. But consider Danny Farquhar who took over the closer spot. He has saved 14 0f 18, and he too has three losses, so he has seven bad outings, only one less than Wilhelmsen, and pitching in far fewer games. He does have a 4.62 ERA, but he has lowered it substantially for it was north of 7.00.
In short the job is open next season. Perhaps even a free agent closer will be sought.
But to get to the closer you have to have setup men and middle relief and lefties, and all that jazz. The record of the bullpen is 15-30. As a team the Mariners are currently 19 games below .500 and the bullpen has cost, in many respects, 15 of the 19 losses. Of course the teams lack of run production is also a major factor.
Pitching and defense will win you a lot of games, but it will also cause you to lose a lot of games and that is the difference this year. Medina and Furbush have been reliable; Medina 64 innings, 46 hits, 67 strikeouts, 2.95 ERA and Furbush 61 innings, 40 hits, 77 strikeouts, 3.39 ERA. Oliver Perez has been okay, only 48 hits in 50 innings. with 69 strikeouts, but a 3.55 era. Still, we will take that.
After that it is an arson squad. Collectively the rest of the bullpen has pitched 180 innings, allowing 236 hits, with the lowest era of the bunch 4.65. They need to blow up the pen, bring in some free agent veterans to mix with some of the young arms. The pen needs retooling, and that’s no bull.
They call Los Angeles the City of Angels, but to Seattle it is the Den of Demons. Not only did they loses four straight in Lucifer’s lair, but have lost 16 of their last 18 in the Dizzyland of Satan.
A demon with a Mariner skull. (artwork by Eric Leidecker)
The good ship Mariner is sinking into the briny and before long may be lying on the bottom of the Pacific.
It is a familiar litany. The worst batting average in the league, worst in on base percentage, worst in slugging. They can’t hit. The question is why.
You can not blame the hitting coach Chris Chambliss. The Mariners tried two coaches last season and neither helped. So what goood is a hitting coach?
Chris not smiling of late.
I would think a coach looks at film, sees the the flaws, helps the player make adjustments. It is up to the player to follow through, but for some reason many Mariners are unable to get things going.
Two of the three best hitters, Ackley and Halman are rookies, though neither has had a lot of at bats.
But blowing the series in Hotel California where you can check out but never leave, gives them five straight in the loss column. After the all-star break they play four at home with division leader Texas. In order to get back in the race they must win three of the four. A split does no good and losing three or four will in all honesty do in their season.
The hiting MUST improve as the bullpen is showing a few cracks and the pitching can not continue to dominate every night. Pitchers are being overly taxed and hitters must begin to make contributions.
But at least Ackley, Halman, Peguero, and Seager are getting a baptism; if nothing else they will be ready for next season. Just don’t head to Hotel California without garlic around their necks, or take silver bullets, or whatver is used to kill demons.
Doug Fister is the unluckiest pitcher in baseball. He has allowed three runs in his last 25 innings, giving up only 17 hits in the process, yet has no wins to show for it.
Saturday night was the toughest of all. In the fifth inning the Padres Cameron Maybin walked and eventually scored. But the problem, as the Mariner TV crew showed was that the count on Maybin was really 3-2, there was no ball four. The umpire, Phil Cuzzi had the wrong count. So did the scoreboard operator. And neither Fister nor Mariner catcher Josh Bard noticed; in fact manager Eric Wedge did not know; no one noticed, as everyone was asleep.
Fister pitched the complete game and lost 1-0 as Maybin scored the only run of the game, a run that should not have been.
Fister lowered his ERA to 3.02, yet is 3-9 on the season. He has absolutely no run support. In the last five starts it is 1.66. He pitches his heart out and the Mariners bats are bloodless when he pitches.
He was the unlucky pitcher against Washington, leading 5-1 after eight in the game the Nats won with a five run 9th off the bullpen. So even getting runs does not help Doug.
I do not recall a streak of great pitching with such terrible luck. How does an umpire and everyone in the ball park not be able to count to four? How did they all miss it?
Everyone trusted the scoreboard, apparently even Cuzzi.
If Fister were a puppy, he would be the sympathetic abused doggy on an ASPCA commercial that breaks your heart and you send in money to prevent such abuse of a poor animal.
At the very least he deserves a telethon to raise runs for his starts. I would suggest one of Jerry’s kids, but the Labor Day telethon may be too late for Doug. By Labor Day he may be to sick a puppy.
With Gimenez on the DL and Olivo banged up the Mariners brought up veteran catcher Josh Bard and Jose Yepez from Tacoma to strengthen the backstop position. Bard played Wednesday and got two hits, but who is this Jose Yepez?
He is not a prospect. Not when you are a 30 years old catcher , having spent years toiling in the minors and Independent leagues. Medicine Hat, Dunedin, Charleston, Gary, Pensacola, West Tennessee, High Desert and Tacoma are some of his stops.
In 28 games at Tacoma this season he hit .276 with one homer. He is not a power hitter, hitting 35 homers in 611 games. Career minor league average is .268. But now he is in the Bigs, something he can tell his kids about. He is here for an emergency, to back up Bard until Olivo is ready.
Then there is Jeff Gray. Manger Eric Wedge has set roles for pitchers and Gray is long relief. But the Mariner starters have been so adept at getting deep into games Gray doesn’t pitch much. In fact he has not been on the mound since June 11. Some managers would have used Gray just to keep him sharp. Not Wedge.
It is not a criticism. It is just his style. At the moment the Mariners have ten pitchers. There are five in the bullpen and with Pauley, Laffey, and Wright, getting most of the work trying to set up League, that Ray and Gray sit and wait.
Wedge is not following the book, the expected way of managing, though whoever wrote ‘the book’ on managing is one of those mysteries, and he may have been wrong in the first place.
I like managers who use players to win and Wedge has juggled the lineup and position of players to get the maximum out of a team with the worst offense in baseball. It must be frustrating, but he has steered a good course.
The Mariners reached .500 with a 4-3 win over the Bronx Bombers Friday night. Michael Pineda was not in top form struggling to find the strike zone with 97 pitches in five innings, 55 for strikes, walking five and striking out five.
But the bullpen pitched four scoreless innings with League getting a 1-2-3 9th.
Down 3-0 the Mariners score two in the fifth and two in the sixth to get the lead and held on to break even at 25-25. Both runs in the sixth came on ground outs. The Mariners have now won 8 of their last 9.
Jack Cust watch: 1st homer at plate appearance 164. 2nd homer is pending at 13.
The .500 Mariners will now try to go over that mark with Admiral Felix pitching Saturday. More good news, the first place Rangers lost to Kansas Cityand the good ship Mariner has smoothly sailed to within ½ game of first place.
It is entirely within the realms of possibility that come Monday the M’s could be in first place. Crazy notion to be sure, but baseball like life is day to day, anything can happen, and like life, there is always hope.