Tag: Baseball

Holiday catch-up

FW2

It's July 4th weekend (still, barely) and I've been spending my time in the garage building yet another comic cabinet, watching baseball, and binging season 2 of Star Trek: Prodigy.

Some stray thoughts from the week:

  • Driving home from umpiring last week, a dashboard warning light came on in my car. It's one I've seen before and I know from that experience that it's nothing urgent, just a computer fault related to overdrive, which rarely kicks in anyway. It was a one-off, hasn't happened again. Even so, it got me thinking that the next time something goes wrong with this 25-year-old jalopy it won't be worth fixing. It probably wasn't worth putting in the new exhaust system I shelled out three grand for four or five months ago. So I've been looking at used cars, wondering what I could possibly afford that would be a significant step up, and I've decided on a Prius. Not immediately, but probably before the year's out, if I find a good enough price on a well-maintained model from a year without a lot of reported issues. If anyone reading this is a Prius person, please let me know if the stuff I'm reading online about Generation III Priuses (Prii?) being inferior to what came before as well as after is real or bunk. A Gen II is likely what I'll end up with as I want to keep the purchase price low.
  • It has been one year and four days since I brought Mizuki home from the King County Animal Shelter as a we-think-nine-week-old kitten last July 3rd. It's been a good year and four days. She is healthy, less skittish (but still afraid of unfamiliar people—makes me wonder what happened to her in those we-think-nine-weeks before she came to live here), and maybe 2/3 grown. She loves her kitty fam, playing with Zephyr on the daily and cuddling with Raimei most nights. I am very glad I adopted her and I'd like to think she is too.

    mizuki2

  • I am sick and tired of the Mariners striking out. Particularly when it really matters, as all strikeouts are not equal. Like today, when Ty France struck out with the winning run on 3rd and one out in the 9th. It's not a new problem, last year the M's were K machines and their strikeout tendencies actually got worse with that kind of easy RBI opportunity. It still happens a lot, though I've not done the research to know if they again lead the baseball world in Ks with a runner at 3rd and 0 or 1 out. Wouldn't surprise me at all if they do. At some point this season, I predict they will break their own record of 20 strikeouts in a game.
  • Two such unforgiveable strikeouts occurred in their July 4th game, which I attended. They overcame that and went on to victory, though, so the failures will be lost to time. But I noted it in the scorecard anyway. Still, a fun game on a pleasant holiday afternoon, viewed from the club level:

    TMP0704

  • After that, the B's and I headed up to Everett for a doubleheader of sorts and took in the Class-A AquaSox's rout of the Vancouver Canadians (that club really needs a better name) and had almost the exact same vantage point:

    aquasox

    A small-town fireworks show followed, which was pleasantly ordinary as such things go.
  • This year, July 4th had a whole different aura to it because of what the Supreme Court has done recently and because of the massive anxiety attack the country is having over the presidential race. But that's another post.
  • Star Trek: Prodigy season 2 is really good. Yes, it's a kids show, yes, it's got a lot of Voyager trappings, but it's really well-done and I heartily recommend it to kids of its target demo and to nerds of any age. (Just keep in mind who the target demo is.)

There's probably more stuff I could pontificate on, but it'll wait. It's approaching midnight and I haven't eaten yet. Must rectify that.

FW3

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The straw that stirs the drink

jackson

I did not watch the Rickwood Field game saluting the Negro Leagues between the Cardinals and the Giants last night as I was umpiring. But I have read the recaps and seen a couple of clips form the Fox (ugh) broadcast; the clip from the 5th inning when they went to a retro 1950s-style TV picture complete with no color, two or three camera angles only, and primitive on-screen graphics was pretty neat.

But the best writeup of the game comes from Craig Calcaterra, with special kudos for the section he wrote on Reggie Jackson's appearance in the broadcast booth. Rather than pick some pullquotes, I'll just share the whole section here.

Reggie Jackson brings the truth

 

Reggie Jackson joined the Fox MLB panel before the Cards-Giants game at Rickwood Field last night. During his appearance Jackson, who played 114 games for the Oakland Athletics’ Southern League affiliate in Birmingham in 1967, was asked by Alex Rodriguez about his feelings upon returning to Rickwood. Jackson did not lean into any feel-good sentiments that Major League Baseball or Fox likely wanted to hear from him. And he did not hold back.

"Coming back here is not easy," Jackson said. "The racism when I played here, the difficulty of going through different places where we traveled. Fortunately, I had a manager and I had players on the team that helped me get through it. But I wouldn't wish it on anybody." Jackson then described about how he would be called the n-word and would be denied service at restaurants and hotels.

Jackson then said, that if it wasn’t for his teammates and coaches with the Birmingham A’s, things would’ve gotten even worse:

"Fortunately, I had a manager, in Johnny McNamara, that . . . if I couldn't eat in the place, nobody would eat. We would get food to travel. If I couldn't stay in a hotel, they'd drive to the next hotel and find a place where I could stay. Had it not been for Rollie Fingers, Johnny McNamara, Dave Duncan, Joe and Sharon Rudi . . . I slept on their couch three, four nights a week for about a month and a half. Finally, they were threatened that they would burn our apartment complex down unless I got out."

Jackson said that without McNamara and his teammates, "I would've [gotten] killed here, because I would've beat someone's ass." Watch:

I embedded that video because it’s the only full-length, embeddable one I could find that focused on this part of his appearance, but it bleeps out the N-words Reggie used. They aired live on Fox, however and, given how prone baseball and baseball fans are to sanitize history and nostalgia, it was important that they did.

Listening to Jackson speak, I was struck by two thoughts.

First: though baseball didn’t put too fine a point on it, the game at Rickwood Field replaced the Field of Dreams Game in Iowa on the schedule as a special, small ballpark event. Though the reasons for skipping Iowa this year had more to do with business and logistics than anything else, kudos to Major League Baseball for moving away from the synthetic, sanitized version of history — if one can even call what was essentially a 1980s movie tribute version of baseball “history” — and embracing real history that actually matters.

Second: Jackson was not describing life in the Negro Leagues or during the heart of the Jim Crow era. What he described took place twenty years after baseball was integrated, over a decade after de jure segregation was outlawed, three years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, and two years after the Voting Rights Act was passed. It was a time when many who are reading these words were alive, some of whom were adults. Jackson himself was an active major leaguer into the late 1980s yet he faced the sort of bigotry and discrimination that many people in this country tend to casually assume was the stuff of ancient history if, indeed, they even acknowledge it ever happened.

And make no mistake, we’re at a point in American history where there are many people — including people in positions of power or who are seeking positions of power — who are actively trying to bring back the conditions Jackson described and who want to turn back the clock to before the Civil Rights Era began. Our Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act and multiple state legislatures have passed laws forbidding the teaching or even the discussion of racism, institutional or otherwise, in public schools and universities. Republican politicians and activists have their eyes set on eliminating anti-discrimination laws and have, as both a matter of policy and rhetoric, embraced the notion of returning Blacks and other minorities to the status of second class citizenship. And they have done so shamelessly.

Indeed, just two weeks ago, Byron Donalds, a sitting Republican Congressman who is actively seeking to become Donald Trump’s vice presidential candidate, argued that things were better for Black people during the Jim Crow era:

“You see, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together. During Jim Crow, more Black people were not just conservative — Black people have always been conservative-minded — but more Black people voted conservatively,” Donalds said. “And then HEW, Lyndon Johnson — you go down that road, and now we are where we are.”

Donalds didn’t get caught on a hot mic saying this. He said it before a crowd at a Trump campaign event in Philadelphia. And not a single Republican of consequence, let alone the man at the top of the Republican ticket, offered a word of criticism or pushback.

We’re living in a perilous time. A time when a large number of Americans want to erase the racial and social progress we have realized over the past 50-60 years. Those efforts cannot be stopped by our ignoring them. They must be actively fought, and the first step in doing so is by reminding people of what actually happened in those times and calling bullshit on those who wish to distort history.

In light of that, kudos to Reggie Jackson for not holding back on his account of his own personal history. Kudos to him for not contributing to the sanitization of history at large. It’s only through plain and straightforward words like his that we can keep others from dragging us back to the dark ages which so many fought and so many died to help us escape.

Craig's newsletter, "Cup of Coffee," is free once a week and subscription only for the other four days he publishes.

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Quotes of the week

A few notes from over the last week or so. I'd been meaning to post longer bits about each of these, but time got away from me and, you know, there was stuff to do. Anyway, a few things I heard/read that deserve some repetition:

  • "I don't care about you. I just want your vote."  This was former president Cheeto Hitler in a rare moment of honesty, talking to the crowd at his hate rally in Las Vegas. The man cares about nothing other than power for himself and becoming a U.S. incarnation of Kim Jong Un.
  • "If the hood fits..."  So said David Ferguson on The Bob Cesca Show last Thursday. David was referring to Supreme Court "Justice" Samuel Alito's outrage, outrage! at being called a bigot. "I just can't with these people," Ferguson went on. "They're like, 'how dare you accuse us of being prejudiced! We just hate black people and queers.' I want to Psycho-shower these people."
  • “He can’t stand for 90 minutes, but he’s 100% able to be President? Have fun explaining that.”  That was alleged Congressman Josh Hawley (MAGA-MO) criticizing President Biden, thinking that the format for next week's scheduled presidential debate will have the candidates seated at a table and that said format was demanded by the president. I seem to remember President Biden standing for a long address at the House of Representatives a couple months back without any trouble. And guess what—standing is not a requirement to be President of the United States. Franklin Roosevelt held the gig for 12+ years without standing at all.
  • "Time never applied to Willie Mays the way it applies to others. He is like a Kurt Vonnegut character, unstuck in time, everything, everywhere, all at once, simultaneously the Say Hey Kid playing stickball in the streets of New York and the wizard outrunning baseballs soaring toward the gap at Candlestick Park, and the slugger tearing into baseballs as if it is something personal, and the legend launching a million memories and making parents and grandparents feel like children."  That's Joe Posnanski, remembering the great Willie Mays, who died yesterday at age 93.
  • And this, from satirist Andy Borowitz:
    THE OCEAN DEEP (The Borowitz Report)—Calling his longstanding fear of being devoured by them “delusional thinking at its saddest,” the world’s sharks issued a statement on Tuesday disavowing “any interest whatsoever” in eating Donald J. Trump.
       “Given his constant intake of Diet Coke and hamburgers, there is nothing to indicate that Trump would be anything resembling a nutritious meal,” the sharks’ statement read. “The very thought of biting into him is nauseating.”

       The sharks said that Trump’s anxiety about being eaten by them demonstrates “an inflated sense of his appeal, to say the least.”
       “We thought the same thing when Robert F. Kennedy Jr. claimed he was eaten by a worm,” the sharks wrote. “Why do these narcissists think they’re so delicious?”
       In perhaps their most withering comment, the sharks concluded, “We might consider eating Trump if the only other thing on the menu was Steve Bannon.”

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The Chicago way

raleybunt
The critical play in Monday night's Mariner win, from future manager Luke Raley

Whenever my Mariners season ticket group gets together for the preseason ticket draft, I scan the schedule for a home series against the Chicago White Sox to make sure I get at least one of those dates. This is because my friend Dave is a Chicago transplant and a Sox fan and it's become a sort of tradition for us to take in an M's/Sox game every year. Well, the White Sox are in town this week for a series against the host Seattle Mariners and I had my tickets, so off Dave and I went to the ballpark by Elliott Bay on this fine, almost-summery Monday evening.

For those that are not baseball followers, the White Sox this year are historically bad. They recently snapped a 14-game losing streak and figure to challenge the Major League record for most losses in a season, a dubious honor now held by the expansion 1962 New York Mets, who tallied 120 defeats against 40 wins (and two rainouts). Dave, of course, knows this, but even a lifelong fan like Dave has been hard-pressed to follow the hapless flailing of this year's Sox. When I mentioned that I hadn't heard of more than two or three guys in the White Sox' lineup, he could only recognize one or two others.

Yet, he was aware of the various ways the White Sox had lost games both last year and this year—including one by balking in the winning run in the 9th inning, one on a bogus interference call on an otherwise routine infield popup, another after their first-base coach went missing during a rain delay—and how they had lost many games that they had at one point been winning (24 so far this season). So despite the fact that Chicago had managed to get into the late innings with a 4-0 lead, he knew not to count any metaphorical chickens. "Whenever I see the Sox here," Dave said (paraphrasing), "the Mariners end up staging a late comeback."

Ms061024
The view from Section 327,  Josh Rojas at the plate

Sure enough, the Mariners, who had been utterly stymied by Chicago starting pitcher Erick Fedde (whom neither of us was familiar with), went to town on the Sox bullpen. Dominic Canzone, about whom I had earlier in the game said was going to have to pick things up if he didn't want to be optioned to Triple-A, led off the home 8th with a first-pitch laser-beam homer for the first Seattle run. That was the end of Fedde's night. Reliever Michael Kopech took over and promptly loaded the bases, but in tried and true Mariner fashion, the next two batters failed to score the easy RBI from 3rd by striking out. (The second of those batters, Cal Raleigh, objected strenuously to the strike three call—manager Scott Servais ran out of the dugout to keep Raleigh from doing anything to get ejected and was instead ejected himself—but it was a good pitch on the black according to MLB Gamecast.)

dave
Chicago White Sox fan, 2024 edition

I thought the Sox were going to get out of it. Dave knew better.

Mitch Haniger followed Raleigh's K with a single to plate two, and then Luke Raley came up and delivered the best part of the entire game: a two-out, expertly-placed bunt single to score Josh Rojas from third and tie the score. Just brilliant. It was the third time this year I'd seen Raley bunt for a hit, and each time it was not a play dictated by the bench but a sharp exploitation of the opposing defense; I continue to be impressed by his skill at a facet of the game that has largely been forgotten in the 21st century. It was a thrilling dose of "Harr-ball" in a homer-happy world. (If Luke Raley decides to become a manager after his playing days, I bet he'd be quite good.)

It remained tied at four into the 9th, when the M's decided to once again "panic with Stanek"; the Seattle reliever did his typical tightrope walk, going deep into counts with some not-remotely-close-to-the-zone pitches and serving up a couple of hits, but managed to strike out the side and take the tie into the home 9th.

This was when Dave made a prediction. Based on the way the season has gone for the White Sox thus far, Dave predicted that the game would end when the Mariners load the bases, the batter works the count to 3-and-something, and the Sox pitcher is called for a pitchclock violation. Not just a walkoff walk, but a walkoff three-ball walk. It would be only fitting for the 2024 Chicago White Sox.

Rookie Ryan Bliss led off the Seattle 9th with a groundout. Then J.P. Crawford drew a walk. Then Josh Rojas walked. Then Julio Rodríguez singled to short left. The bases were loaded. Then Cal Raleigh came up and took ball one. Hm. Then Raleigh took ball two. I glanced over at Dave and called him Nostradamus. Which, of course, jinxed Dave's prediction as Raleigh crushed the next pitch deep into the night for a game-winning grand slam home run.

"Sorry we didn't get your walkoff pitchclock violation," I said. "But a walkoff slam is also appropriate, right?"

"I guess," came the reply. But it was wistful. I get it. Walkoff grand slams are unusual and exciting—and fun for the home crowd!—but they don't reek of bizarre. And the ’24 Sox need to stumble into as many bizarre ways to lose as possible on their way to 121+.

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Brain fog

peppermintpattypanel

As regulars here know, I deal with clinical depression. I often use the metaphor of orbiting a black hole to try to convey the experience to normals; when things are fine, I'm in high stable orbit. When things are bad, the orbit has decayed and the black hole threatens to drag me all the way down to spaghettification. With good meds, it's a relapsing/remitting kind of thing and since my former doc and I hit on a particular prescription some years back, I've not had a really bad episode. So on the whole, things are good on that front.

But no bad episodes doesn't mean no episodes, nor does it mean no symptoms. 

Lately I've been in a kind of upper-middle ground between "fine" and "spiraling down into noodle form," like the orbit has decayed but only 10 or 15 percent. It's perfectly functional if a bit drab. In the before-time, I'd never have noticed this; it happens gradually, the orbital velocity slows, well, slowly, and I'd have to fall a good distance before it registered. But over the years I have learned to detect precursors to failing orbit episodes and sometimes that's enough to at least arrest the decay if not jump-start a push to achieve higher altitude. With luck I can do that now.

At this altitude, the main symptom of the back hole's increased gravity is a kind of brain fog. (If I lose more altitude the next-worst symptom seems to be excessive irritability.) And today there was a lot of it, sort of cold-morning-in-San-Francisco fog.

I forgot someone's name, not a big deal; I lost track of a bank deposit, which turned out to be fine but wasted a fair chunk of time; I caught myself almost emailing the wrong person named Karen; in preparing to go to the Mariners game, I noted when I should leave home in order to allow for enough time to comfortably arrive in my seat by first pitch under the assumption of a 7:10 start time even though I had just reminded myself that we live in the age of the hated 6:40 starts for most games (yes, I missed the top of the first inning, dammit, but starting pitcher Brian Woo did me a solid by throwing a lot of pitches to get those three outs); and when I got to the ballpark neighborhood, though lucking into my usual free parking space, I left my keys in the car.

I noticed I didn't have my keys after the game ended and we were leaving our seats. Panic started to set in. My car has already been stolen once, and that time the keys were nowhere near it and it was parked in a residential neighborhood instead of a comparatively grungy section of town south of Pioneer Square.

So I left my friends to the mercies of Metro transportation (it's OK, they're used to it) and jogged back to my parking space, expecting to find my car missing. But it was there, untouched, the keys right there on the driver's seat. Faith in humanity restored, at least for now. Whew. Big shout-out to my next-door neighbor and fellow night-owl Sean, who happened to be home when I called and was perfectly willing to go into my place, grab my spare key, and drive it all the way down to me without the slightest complaint. Sean is good people.

So I survived the day without much hassle despite all the fogginess, the Mariners won handily against the Oakland-for-the-moment A's, and I was informed that for my gig as a softball umpire I am getting a small pay raise.

Now if I can just muster up the energy to raise the orbit some maybe I'll be looking at a good stretch of time for a while.

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Whitey Herzog

herzog

If I ever had anything like a "mentor" in my baseball fandom, it was a guy I never met. He was a former mediocre ballplayer not good enough to be an everyday presence in any big league lineup, but then went on to be a Hall of Fame manager. His name was Whitey Herzog, and he died a few weeks ago at age 92.

Whitey's time as a manager coincided with my formative years as a baseball nerd. He took over the Kansas City Royals of the American League in 1975 and it was around 1976 or ’77 that I became interested enough in the game to start reading box scores and developing favorite players and noticing how different ballparks played and so forth. But I knew nothing of Whitey or managers or strategies then. It wasn't until Whitey got fired by the Royals (after three straight division titles, the fools!) and took over my favorite team, the National League's St. Louis Cardinals, that I started to take notice.

I'd been a fan of the Cardinals for one reason: one of the first games I remember seeing on TV was a Cardinal game in which Lou Brock stole bases. That was cool. Thus, they became my team. They were bad back then, but I don't think I was aware of it in real time. What I remember about my Cardinal fandom from those days was being excited if they were playing the Dodgers (we got Dodger games on our local radio) and feeling good when I'd open up a new pack of baseball cards and find Cardinal players in it. (I have a distinct memory of getting a Lynn McGlothen card with him wearing the pillbox-type white-striped cap I only ever saw on cards, never on TV. Also one of Bake McBride in a regular uniform.)

When the 1980s rolled around, I was more curious about the off-field workings of a team and that's when Whitey—who had become both the field manager and the general manager of the Cardinals, the first person to hold both jobs simultaneously in decades and the last one to do so to date—started dismantling the Cardinal roster. Garry Templeton, the popular All-Star shortstop? Gone, traded. Ted Simmons, the popular star catcher? Gone, traded. Ken Reitz, Leon Durham, Pete Vukovich? Get out of town, boys. It wouldn't be until later that I really knew what was going on, I just thought it was curious that so many guys would be traded away deliberately.

1981 was a strike year. The season just stopped right in the middle, so my attention wasn't what it would be going forward, but it did bum me out that the Cardinals finished second in both halves of what became the "split season" of ’81. But 1982. Now I'm a teen and I'm learning things. I'm reading the "transactions" section of the sports page every day, looking for new moves Whitey was making as the season started, wondering what it meant. This is still the primitive before-times, of course, so following an out-of-market team was a challenge that mostly relied on the daily box scores and the occasional yahtzee of the Cards being featured on Monday Night Baseball or the NBC Game of the Week, as well as Vin Scully's radio play-by-play on those 12 meetings a year between the Cardinals and Dodgers ("A very pleasant good evening to you wherever you may be, I'm Vin Scully, along with Jerry Doggett and Ross Porter, and it's time for Dodger baseball!"). Still, I had my faves. First baseman Keith Hernandez topped the list. Also the guy they'd traded Templeton for, Ozzie Smith. And there was this new guy I'd never heard of named McGee that looked really funny when he batted. And they were good—won 90 games, swept Atlanta in the National League playoffs, and beat Milwaukee in the World Series. And when your team wins the World Series in the first year you're really die-hard paying attention to the ins and outs of the sport, well, that's it for you, you've crossed the Rubicon. Your foundation as a fan has been set, and in my case it was set with Whiteyball.

 Whitey looked at his environs, first in Kansas City, then in St. Louis, and noted the artificial turf and big outfields. I can use this, he thought, and favored speedy guys and defensive stars in KC with Willie Wilson and Frank White and company. In St. Louis, he had total control and didn't just favor such players, he went out and got them from other teams and had no trouble dealing away players who didn't fit his vision. And the Cardinals became a revelation to the league, winning games left and right by stealing bases, manufacturing runs, making defensive plays, and treating the home run like a deterrent more than an actual weapon—so long as you had one guy in the lineup who would pop one every now and then, the pitcher had to worry about it, and that was enough.

The ’82 Cardinals won it all with their top home run threat, George Hendrick, hitting just 19 longballs, good for 17th in the 12-team National League. As a team they hit all of 67, dead last in the NL. But they were first in on-base percentage, first in most defensive metrics, and stole 200 bags, far and away more than any other club. To me, that's a far more exciting way to play and to watch baseball.

I was a devotee. To this day, my favorite team of all time is the 1985 Cardinals, the team that most successfully embodied the Whiteyball philosophy. Though Whitey was no longer the GM—he stepped down from that post prior to the ’83 season—he still held a lot of clout with the front office and made that ’85 club league champs (101 wins). They had the Rookie of the Year in a scrawny outfielder named Vince Coleman who stole 110 bases. They had the NL MVP in Willie McGee, who hit .353 and stole 56. They had Gold Gloves at center field and shortstop, plus future Gold Glove winners at third base and right field; the Cy Young runner-up in a great year for pitchers plus a second starter with 20 wins; and stole not 200 bases like the ’82 team did, but 314 (league average of the other 11 NL clubs: 120). Second baseman Tommy Herr drove in 110 runs while hitting just eight homers. That team was awesome, and that team was Whitey Herzog baseball. (Except for Jack Clark. He was the first baseman, acquired in a preseason trade to fill the gaping void that had been made when Keith Hernandez was traded in ’83 because of off-the-field behavior, and though Clark was critical to the team, it was in the function of the deterrent. He didn't fit the Whiteyball mold at all—not a good defender, not fast, not a "fundamentals first" kind of guy—but he could hit and he could hit them out on occasion, giving the team their one power threat and often an extra baserunner. Pitchers would often pitch around Clark and he drew a lot of walks, both intentional and the sort of "intentionally unintentional" type. Which was just fine with Andy Van Slyke, who usually batted behind him.)

When I moved out on my own and came up to Seattle and started going to Mariner games at the Kingdome, my season-ticket mates Erik and Mike, in a clever melding of my Herzog allegiance and my status as cat-guardian, dubbed my preferred brand of baseball "Harr-ball." It was often frustrating to watch the M's in those days, even when they were winning, because they won with boppers. Very little Harr-ball to be found.

These days, even in the less-homer-friendly outdoor venue the M's now call home, not only is there still a dearth of Harr-ball, there's a lack of basic managerial smarts and strategy that makes me miss Whitey Herzog on a near-everyday basis.

Whitey Herzog didn't make me a baseball fan. But he did make me the kind of fan I am. And I'm grateful. RIP, Whitey.

HerzogHOF

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Opening Day

openingnightTMP

Lots going on of late. Most of my free time has been occupied with a project I'll post about later, plus I've been doing the umpire thing, and all kinds of news has been noteworthy, and I've been mildly under the weather since Sunday and binging a rewatch of Enterprise.

But for now, TODAY IS OPENING DAY and I'll be heading down to the ballpark in an hour or so.

In years past I'd have been doing a lot of writing and editing of season preview stuff relating to Your Seattle Mariners, but as we all know, the website that stuff was for and its antecedent publication are both gone the way of the dodo. Thus, I haven't been paying nearly as much attention to the doings of the baseball world in the preseason; I didn't watch a single spring training game or renew my subscription to The Athletic or even pony up to get the everyday newsletters from Joe Pos or Craig Cal. (Craig, I may well take you up on your Opening Day discount offer, but I'm still wavering.)

But the season is here now. Time to buckle down.

The hometown Mariners are not a group that inspires a great deal of confidence, but you know what, they could be really good. They just need to overcome their manager, their lack of depth on the bench, the inconsistency of their ace starting pitcher, the rawness of the rest of the young rotation, a questionable third-base platoon, and an untried relief corps. Otherwise, they look great.

New to the club this year are second baseman Jorge Polanco, who we hope will resemble the Jorge Polanco of 2019 more than the Jorge Polanco of 2020-2023; third baseman Luis Urias, whom I expect nothing from; corner OF/1B Luke Raley, who so far has looked like a Quadruple-A type player, but maybe?; DH Mitch Garver, who actually could be really good; and the welcome return of Mitch Haniger, who we all hope can stay off the injured list.

With that crop of newbies, how can we contain all the excitement?!

Game 1. 7:10pm PDT. I'll be up in section 339 (not my regular seats) keeping score.

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So long to a Mariner who deserved better

Marco
The Rodney Dangerfield of pitchers

The baseball winter meetings are in full swing, and Your Seattle Mariners were among the teams to make some news with a big trade.

The other day, the Mariners dealt outfielder Jarred Kelenic, first baseman Evan White, and pitcher Marco Gonzales to Atlanta for two formerly highly-touted pitching prospects that now have questionable abilities. On its face, it makes no sense and I can't yet figure what part this plays in the alleged master plan for the 2024 season.

I'm unhappy with this trade mostly because I am a huge Marco Gonzales fan. I might be Marco's biggest fan that isn't related to him. I say that because Marco has been, as I've long described him, the Rodney Dangerfield of Major League pitchers—he gets no respect.

Local fans soured on him over the last couple of years, and frankly they weren't that high on him to begin with, which doesn't really speak well of local fandom. The team itself seemed to think poorly of him—the club's former CEO referred to him as a "boring" pitcher; his manager seemed not to trust his ability to navigate baserunners; he was even left off the postseason roster in 2022, which was a huge metaphorical slap in the face.

That all annoyed me, to put it mildly. Marco is the sort of pitcher I love to watch; rather than rely on sheer muscle or wacky breaking stuff, he succeeds by spotting the ball and mixing pitches and being smart. When healthy—and he hasn't been for much of the last two seasons—he's just sneaky good, good enough to be a 20-game winner if only he had an offense behind him that could score more than a couple of runs for him and/or a manager that didn't panic when two runners get on with two out in the middle innings. He should have won 20 in 2019 but had to settle for a 16-13 campaign that included six losses in which he posted a quality start (6+ innings and no more than 3 earned runs allowed), including a 1-0 game and two 2-1 contests.

After dominating in the 2020 mini-season (3rd in the league in WHIP, 8th in ERA, 1st in K:BB ratio), he had to deal with forearm problems in ’22 and ’23, plus personal traumas that by his own admission took his focus off the game. Still put up decent numbers, though. And, through it all, Marco Gonzales remains a top-notch human, dedicated family man and proud local resident and generally good-natured guy.

But he's not flashy and his recent injury troubles contributed to a lot of negativity from the aforementioned local fandom. The guy deserves better.

Hopefully he'll get better respect with his new team, whomever that turns out to be.

For now, that's the Atlanta Braves, but the rumor is that the Braves intend to flip him elsewhere. Seeing that caused me to revise my initial impression of the trade—at first it appeared that the M's representative, be it operations chief Jerry Dipoto or new "general manager" Justin Hollander, started things off by shopping Kelenic and his massive whiff rate and after back-and-forth got snookered into a bad deal.

Now it appears that getting rid of Marco was the real goal in order to dump some salary. He's on the last year of his contract and is owed a sizeable-but-not-upper-echelon chunk of change in ’24. Atlanta wanted Kelenic, Seattle said, "OK, but you also have to take Gonzales," and Atlanta countered with, "well, that doesn't help us, throw in something else maybe," and Seattle said, "well, we have this first baseman we thought was going to be a star before we rushed him to the bigs too fast and then had to have a bunch of surgeries." Which Atlanta replied with, "OK, but you already gave him a big contract, so you'll have to cover most of that," and Seattle said, "fine, what do we get in return," and Atlanta said, "you can have this former 2nd-round draft pick that just had Tommy John surgery and hasn't thrown a professional pitch yet and another former top draftee reliever that's stunk it up since turning pro and that we just took a flyer on." Seattle replied, "So, two big unknowns that won't likely do anything for us right away if ever? Sounds good! Let's sign it."

At least, that's how I picture it.

Fitting, really. Even after being traded Marco is dissed by his new team, they don't even want him. The injustice of it all.

Meanwhile, I'm fine giving away Kelenic. He was a bust, and though he could turn it around and live up to his top prospect status at some point, he probably wasn't going to do that here. White I'm sorry to see go, but he's kind of like the pitcher the M's got in return, a former top prospect coming off of surgery and a big question mark for the future. He's an elite defensive player, but given how the M's botched his development years who knows if he'll ever hit.

With the Mariners having previously traded third baseman Eugenio Suárez to the Diamondbacks (also for not much return in a salary dump) and letting right fielder Teoscar Hernández go via free agency, they've rid themselves of three of the worst strikeout offenders in the Majors as well as about $50M in payroll obligations. It remains to be seen what they spend that savings on or who will fill the resulting holes.

Good luck, Marco. I hope wherever you end up you have a decent manager and get your 20-win season.

UPDATE

As I was writing this, Atlanta flipped Marco to the Pittsburgh Pirates. For basically nothing. More disrespect. Atlanta offloaded him in exchange for merely the ever-popular Player to be Named Later or Cash Considerations from the Pirates, and Atlanta will end up paying most of his salary.

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Playoff upsets

AZD

The 2023 World Series begins in a little over an hour as I type this. It's not the World Series I anticipated, far from the one I wanted, and the second consecutive one featuring a team that would not have made the postseason at all under rules that existed before 2022.

Depending on your point of view, this consequence of expanded playoffs is a travesty or a brilliant jewel of success. Or, I guess, you're indifferent; I do realize there are people out there that just don't get worked up over baseball.

Once in a while, a less successful team bests a bigger season winner and advances past them. It happens, especially in short series, and is a fun aberration from time to time. But it's no longer an aberration, it's a feature. And it should change.

You'd think this view would mean I am rooting against the 84-win Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series this week. Well, no, I'm rooting for them. Because their opponent is the Texas Rangers, a team I've spent a lot of years disliking and rooting against. This week I'm a Diamondbacks fan, a partisan for my former home state. Nevertheless, their pennant is something less than deserved, a bit tainted by being a sixth-seed in a postseason format that rewards mediocrity over excellence.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred likely sees this as a feature rather than a bug in his new system. But his focus has always simply been on revenue; competitive issues just aren't important to him. Which means there's a small chance the system can be tweaked to improve things.

I've opined on this before, so rather than rehash all the details of my pre-2022 suggested playoff plan I'll skip to the end.

The principal problem with the current setup is that two of the division winners—the winningest ones—sit around for a week after the season ends while everyone else plays in "Wild Card games," even the other division winner who is not a Wild Card team. Which is doubly unfair. The secondary problem is that Wild Card teams are not penalized for not finishing first and there's a good chance that, as was the case in the last two National League Championship Series, the last two standing will be WC teams. If you're going to allow teams in the postseason that haven't won anything, make it a disadvantage.

So, oddly the way to fix this that might make it palatable to Manfred and company is to add yet another playoff seed. Make it four Wild Card berths rather than the current three and have them play one-game-and-done advancing games the day after the season ends. Then the next day have the victors play each other. The winner of that game then advances to the Division Series as the LONE Wild Card entrant to the main playoff tourney, which begins THE NEXT DAY. Also, the Division Series, which has been a best three out of five format since its inception, is expanded to best four out of seven, just like the League Championship Series and World Series. This allows Manfred to retain his extra playoff games—even gives the possibility of a couple more—and thus the TV revenue he so lusts after, as well as the hype potential of another WC berth, while at the same time restoring some balance and fairness to the competitive side of the postseason.

All three division winners get placed on the same footing. WC teams are disadvantaged not just by having to run a mini-gauntlet of winning two extra games before making the Division Series, but by having no off days after the season. Division winners have two off-days (perhaps three for one of them, depending on how the TV schedules work out) instead of the five-plus they currently suffer through. Two days is enough to catch your breath and reset your pitching rotation, but not enough to get stale and lose your timing at the plate.

Right now the lesser clubs are advantaged in the DS. Somehow the hated Houston Astros have not been hurt by it either last year or this, but every other "favorite" has looked bad against upstarts. The Goliaths are meek vs. the Davids.

In the history of postseason baseball, there have been 16 teams to make the playoffs with a season win total below 90 and advance beyond one round by defeating at least one 90+ win team, be it in the LCS or Wild Card game/series. Five went the distance to become World Series champs. Five. That goes back to 1973, the first time such a team got in—and to date the one with the fewest wins, the 82-80 New York Mets. But the Mets won their division in an era when teams played 60% of their games within their own division, so they got where they got plenty legitimately. With Wild Card teams there is no schedule equity. 

The Diamondbacks are the fourth Wild Card team under 90 wins to win a pennant. If the system stays the way it is, look for a whole lot more of them going forward.

Stupid Manfred.

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Baseball notes

mlb

The baseball playoffs are in full swing, so I am, of course, preoccupied with them over the more important things in the world. I mean, I'm paying attention to all the Congressional chaos and I have deep, deep concerns about the fascist plans of the so-called Republican party, but I'll save that stuff for another post.

Right now, the playoffs.

I've never been a fan of the Wild Card concept. I think winning a division should mean something, and the existence of even one Wild Card team in a league devalues the accomplishment. Having said that, I realize it's never going away. Rob Manfred and company want the extra playoffs and the TV money that comes with them. And I admit, despite the competitive inequities, I do enjoy having more baseball. So as long as we have them, the format needs some refinement.

Before last season, when the current playoff format began, I wrote a piece for that other website that is no more proposing a playoff system that would be more acceptable. Obviously, no one in Manfred's office listened to me, because it's not what we ended up with. I'm reproducing it below just to get it back on the Interwebs and reiterate the point. (Though in retrospect, it's not the playoff expansion that will hurt teams' TV contracts, it's cord-cutting.)

But the system as it stands now has problems. To wit, the division winners are not rewarded for finishing first. Two of them do get to rest up for a week or so and nurse little injuries and set their pitching rotations, but they also lose momentum. And the excessive number of days off doesn't give that much downside to the Wild Card clubs. So, let's cut out some off days. There should be zero off days between the WC series and the LDS. Then tighten up the calendar during the LDS; the first day all four series are on, then they alternate. That's obviously for TV, and it's hard to argue with that; I have no solution. But fewer off days are better in that a team can't jumble its pitching rotation. A WC team should have to use their top two or three starting pitchers in the WC round, then immediately travel to the LDS town with no off day. So, assuming the now-customary four-days rest rotation, their top two pitchers would not be available for LDS Game 1 or 2. If the WC series went the distance, neither would their third starter. But if there's an off day between LCS 1 and 2 then the ace can go in Game 2; not nothing, but not as much of a handicap.

And the third division winner gets no recognition at all, they're on the same footing as the WCs. Not cool.  Thus, even though it involves creating yet another Wild Card team, I much prefer my proposal from two years ago. (Of course, if MLB expands soonish as it appears it wants to, the system would be screwed again as expanding from 30 to 32 teams likely means a realignment from six divisions of five into eight divisions of four. Perfect for zero Wild Cards, e.g. the best way, but problematic for having any at all.)


Expanding playoffs again is a bad plan, but here’s an OK way to do it

December 8, 2021

Commissioner Rob Manfred and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association have a lot on their plate right now. The lockout continues with no apparent progress and the matters under alleged discussion are many. One of those matters is the structure of MLB’s playoffs.

 Manfred was so enthralled by the extra round of playoffs in the abbreviated 2020 season that he wants that system to be the norm from here on out. He doesn’t seem to care that it only made sense to do it that way in 2020 because of the short season played that year; 60 games was not a fair test of a team’s mettle, so making the playoff tournament pool bigger was a way to compensate. So what, Manfred seems to think, it meant a bigger influx of TV money! MORE TV MONEY! BWAAH-HA-HA-HA!!!!! In the tiny mind of Manfred, there is no balancing argument, no down-the-road obstacle that would counter this. It’s merely “more playoffs = more TV money.” No doubt with the evil laugh, too.

He’s probably wrong, of course—the way he wants to set things up, the regular season would be so further devalued that teams’ individual broadcasting contracts would inevitably shrink, relatively speaking, and there would be no net gain of TV money. (To say nothing of the fact that today’s cable/satellite broadcast model is fast becoming obsolete.) But that’s a long-view argument that can’t penetrate the commissioner’s meager and myopia-addled perceptive powers. He’s going to insist on more playoffs and the union is going to give them in some fashion in order to reach agreement on other issues. The question is, what form will they take?

Manfred wants essentially the 2020 model: Three division winners and three second-place finishers and one Wild Card (or just four Wild Card teams regardless of division/finish, unclear which he proposed) in each league, where the club with the top record gets a bye on the first round and everyone else plays a best-of-three series to advance to the second round, which we now know as the Division Series. This is terrible, as it makes winning your division unimportant. With the exception of the bye team, whether you finish first or not is just a matter of seeding; it is a more widespread reintroduction of the problem that the addition of the second Wild Card slot in 2012 successfully rectified—finishing first has to be substantially better than finishing second or lower. More broadly, the regular season must remain important and not merely a warmup for the playoff tournament.

If we are to be saddled with more playoff teams, the only way in which I’d be OK with it is if finishing first is maintained as a matter of significant import. We have a six-division structure and not enough clubs to comfortably break into more, so six first-place teams is the most we can have (with a two-team expansion, MLB could break into eight divisions of four, but that’s off in the future a ways and wouldn’t help with this anyway). With the four Wild Card clubs (two in each league), we have ten playoff teams, a full third of the MLB complement, but for Manfred that’s not enough. He wants fourteen.

Can this be accomplished? 14 clubs in the tourney while still retaining the importance of first place and the full season? Not entirely, no, but adding more Wild Card slots can still be done without totally FUBARing things. Right now each league has a Wild Card game as a play-in to the Division Series. If we limit additional Wild Cards to that tier, we’re still in the same general realm of acceptance.

Rather than make division winners play in this new introductory round, you leave them be. Win your division and be guaranteed a seed in the Division Series, just like now—three division champs and a single Wild Card club play on from that point. Before that, though, instead of having two Wild Card teams play for that one Division Series berth, you could have four.

As we know, in 2021 Boston hosted New York for the American League Wild Card entry to the Division Series, while Los Angeles hosted St. Louis for the same in the National League. With additional Wild Card teams in play, this is what we’d have had in ’21:

AL EAST AL CENT AL WEST   NL EAST NL CENT NL WEST
TB CWS HOU   ATL MIL SF
BOS CLE SEA   PHI STL LAD
NYY DET OAK   NYM CIN SD
TOR KC LAA   MIA CHC COL
BAL MIN TEX   WAS PIT ARZ

Unlike what Manfred wants to do, in our case the four Wild Card teams in each league would get pared down to one before any division winners get involved:

AL WC  1 AL WC  2   NL WC  1 NL WC  2
SEA (90-72) @ BOS (92-70) TOR (91-71) @ NYY (92-70)   PHI (82-80) @ LAD (106-56) CIN (83-79) @ STL (90-72)
AL WC  3   NL WC  3
ALWC 1 winner vs. ALWC 2 winner   NLWC 1 winner vs. NLWC 2 winner

Then things proceed apace with the Division Series and League Championship Series as we know them now.

You can do this with single-game Wild Card games, three per league total, or you could make it a best-of-three series first round and then a do-or-die single game. Single games would be best, as that only adds one day of idle time for the division winners, but Manfred would whine about how he wants more TV money than that. So to get him to stop throwing his baby tantrum, we say best-of-three for WC 1 and WC 2, then single deciding game for WC 3, giving MLB a “Wild Card Week” between the end of the season and the Division Series (season ends Sunday; day off Monday; best-of-three Tue-Wed-Thu, 2-1 home/away format with no travel days; single-gamers Friday; LDS starts Saturday). The drawback is that doing best-of-three means the division winners all sit on their hands for six days (more if any off days get shoehorned into the WC round). That’s not a good thing, though some might welcome it; any hot-streak momentum might go away, but being able to reset pitching rotations regardless of how down-to-the-wire your season was would be appealing, as would extra rest for any banged-up players.

But, you say, all that downtime for division winners makes things uneven and unfair! Well, under the current system division champs wait up to four days already, and even Manfred’s way has two clubs waiting around for a week; doing single-games for all the Wild Cards would have division winners idle for only a few days. But that really doesn’t matter. If we really cared about equity and fairness and what’s good for the sport, we wouldn’t be adding more playoff teams to begin with. No, this is nothing but an attempt at a cash grab, and that needs to be acknowledged. Accepting that, we mitigate the fair and equitable thing by keeping the regular season and finishing first as meaningful as we can and make it a true disadvantage to advance as just a Wild Card team.

A better compromise would be to do all Wild Cards as single-elimination, win one and move on, and make the Division Series best-of-seven instead of best-of-five. Then you still get your “extra” playoff teams, you don’t have anyone sit around for an entire week, and you get your added games for playoff TV. Either way the World Series starts nearer to the end of October (in 2021 it would have started October 30 instead of October 26).

The whole thing is, of course, colossally dumb. But so long as Rob Manfred is Commissioner of Baseball, the best we can hope for is to limit the scope of the dumbness and keep as much integrity in our great game as we can in the face of his myopic agenda.

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The season is over. Bring on the postseason.

23post

The baseball season is done, and Your Seattle Mariners finished in disappointing fashion. But not surprising, right? I mean, the way the year started did any of us really think they'd make the postseason? There was real hope after that fantastic August, sure, but they never got smarter about things. Anyway, there's lots of points to make in a future 2023 Mariners dissection post, but tonight I'm going to look ahead to the ’23 postseason, which begins in about 9 hours.

Tomorrow's full slate of games is courtesy of Commissioner Manfred's new Wild Card Series, which, OK, I don't really support, but it's here so we'll roll with it. Doubtful it'll ever go away now that it's in place. I'll save my screaming into the wind rants about such things for the Designated Hitter rule and the Manfred Man zombie runners in extra innings (thank god there are none of those in the post).

Anyway, here's the bracket:

bracket

My rooting interests, such as they are, are:

In the AL (a) for Toronto, just because, y'know, yay Canada (although nothing against Minnesota, so that one can go either way for me); (b) against Texas, so go Rays despite your ugly, ugly ballpark; (c) against Houston in the ALDS (obvs) and (d) for Baltimore other ALDS. The nightmare scenario is the Astros and Rangers both advancing.

National League (a) for Milwaukee, but not with much fervor; (b) for Miami, just because the Phils won last year's pennant when they didn't deserve it; (c) probably against the Dodgers in a kind of support-the-underdog way, though I imagine LA will walk all over whoever they draw in their NLCS; and (d) against Atlanta, though likewise they'll probably win big.

Mostly I just hope for dramatic games and series. And/or humiliating losses for the Astros and Rangers.

Now, for those wondering which team to root for based on their connection to the Mariners—i.e. Karen—or for those who subscribe to the Seattle version of what Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko used to call the "Ex-Cub Factor," here are the playoff teams featuring former Seattle Mariners. (Royko described the ex-Cub Factor, or ECF, as a debilitating pathogen that is inescapable for any team once three ex-Cubs are on the roster: "When there are three, this horrible virus comes together and multiplies and becomes so powerful it makes the other players weak, nearsighted, addle-brained, slow-footed, and lacking in hand-eye coordination." Even if a team has less than three, it might not be safe: “A team with no ex-Cubs probably has the edge on a team that has even one.” Adapting the Cubs' futility of Royko's day to the Mariners' haplessness of, well, nearly their whole existence, you can apply the formula to ex-M's.)

Baltimore Orioles (1)
  • Adam Frazier (2B): Frazier spent one year in Seattle, 2022, when he posted an unremarkable line of .238/.301/.311. He did slightly better this year in Baltimore, .240/.300/.396.
Houston Astros (2)
  • Kendall Graveman (RHP): The Undertaker was great in short relief for the M's in 2021 until he was dealt (with Montero) to Houston as the trade deadline approached. He moved on to Chicago, then was traded to Houston again almost two years to the day later. He had an OK year between the White Sox and Astros.
  • Rafael Montero (RHP) : This guy was gawd-awful for Seattle. Then he was good as an Astro last year, this year he regressed to resemble the guy we knew as a Mariner. Not as bad, but bad enough: ERA over 5.00 and WHIP above 1.500.
Minnesota Twins (1)
  • Emilio Pagán (RHP): Pagán came up in the Mariners' farm system and had a decent rookie campaign in Seattle in 2017. He was then traded to Oakland for a lousy corner infielder. This is his second year in the Twin Cities and he's done quite well in short relief appearances.
Tampa Bay Rays (1)
  • Shawn Armstrong (RHP): Armstrong only played in 18 games with the M's (2018-2019) and was pretty bad. He was great out of the Rays' bullpen this year, though (52 IP, 1.38 ERA, 0.904 WHIP).
Toronto Blue Jays (2)
  • Erik Hanson (RHP): Traded to the Jays after last season for Teoscar Hernández, Swanson had himself a pretty good season as a setup reliever north of the border. He still hasn't been given the chance to close, but he's good enough to do it.
  • Yusei Kikuchi (LHP): Yusei's second year in Toronto was significantly better than his first; he posted career-bests in basically everything. Which isn't to say he was the kind of ace he was back in his Seibu Lions days in Tokorozawa, he still only managed about five innings per start and served up too many homers, but he more than held his own as a mid-rotation fixture.
Texas Rangers (0)
  • No ex-Mariners active here, although infielder/outfielder Brad Miller is on their Injured List. 
Atlanta Braves (0) 
Los Angeles Dodgers (2)
  • Kolten Wong (2B): As predicted, Wong caught on with another team shortly after the Mariners released him this past August. As predicted, he was much better with the new team than he was with the M's (.300/.353/.500 in 20 games with LA).
  • Chris Taylor (IF/OF): In just one of many lousy trades made by the Mariners, Taylor was dealt to LA in 2015 for a guy named Zach Lee. Who? Exactly. Taylor has been a solid utility player for the Dodgers ever since, even making the All-Star team in 2021. This year his numbers aren't anything special, and he still strikes out too much, but you never know when he's going to deliver the big hit.
Milwaukee Brewers (4, 1 active)
  • Carlos Santana (1B): Santana started the year as a Pittsburgh Pirate, but was traded to Milwaukee near the trade deadline to shore up a Brewer lineup plagued with injuries. He did OK (.249, 11 HR).
  • Jesse Winker (OF, injured): Winker had a terrible season, batting under .200 and spending the bulk of it on the shelf. He hasn't played since just after the All-Star break.
  • Abraham Toro (IF, inactive): Fatty Tuna spent most of the season in the minors, getting into only nine Major League games in 2023. He's not likely to be on the playoff roster, but could be used if someone gets hurt.
  • J.B. Bukauskas (RHP, inactive): This guy made one relief appearance with Seattle before being placed on waivers and claimed by the Brewers. He spent most of the year in Triple-A and is unlikely to be on the playoff roster.
Philadelphia Phillies (1)
  • Taijuan Walker (RHP): A two-time Mariner—traded first to Arizona with Ketel Marte for Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura, then after returning years later to Seattle traded again to the Blue Jays for minor leaguer Alberto Rodríguez, Tai signed as a free agent with Philadelphia prior to this season. He had a serviceable year in the Phillies' starting rotation, but nothing to write home about other than posting a career high in innings pitched.
Miami Marlins (1)
  • J.T. Chargois (RHP): After a decent half-season in Seattle, J.T. was traded to the Rays for Diego Castillo. He moved downstate to Miami this year and put up OK numbers as a middle reliever. 
Arizona Diamondbacks (3, 2 active)
  • Paul Sewald (RHP): Traded from the M's to the Snakes this past July 31st, Sewald saved 13 games for Arizona, but his ERA and WHIP got considerably worse in the desert (2.93, 1.023 in 43 IP as a Mariner, 3.57, 1.472 in 18 innings as a Diamondback).
  • Ketel Marte (IF/OF): Perhaps the best of today's Diamondbacks, Marte's year wasn't as good as his All-Star campaign of 2019, but still plenty good. He gets on base, hits for average, hits for occasional power, can steal a base once in a while, and can play a decent middle infield or center field. Ketel was last with the M's in 2016 and the trade he was in (with Taijuan Walker for Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura) was one of those good-for-everybody deals.
  • Kyle Lewis (OF, inactive): Mister Streaky was Rookie of the Year in the truncated 2020 season as a Mariner, and I'd bet real money had that been a regular-length season that he wouldn't have been in the top three. He won the award based on a fantastic three week stretch that preceded three weeks of futility. He followed that up with two injury-hampered seasons, got dealt to Arizona for C/OF Cooper Hummel, was briefly hurt again after a disappointing first few weeks of this season, then came back and was optioned to Triple-A. In the minors he tore the cover off the ball. Called back up to Phoenix mid-season, he stank again. Sent back down, he raked again. The Snakes have five outfielders on the active roster, so odds are there won't be room for Lewis unless they go deep into the tournament and/or someone gets hurt.

So, depending on how you reckon things, the Diamondbacks or the Brewers have the most ex-Mariners. Or the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, and Blue Jays tie with two each. I have a kind of weird desire to see Kolten Wong have a spectacular playoff run, just to prove he's better than he got much chance to be here.

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I'm really tired of this, baseball edition

JPC
JP's expression says it all

Last night I attended the Mariners game with my good friends K & E, hoping for a nice pick-me-up for the team after their lousy road trip to Cincinnati and St. Petersburg. You can almost excuse dropping three of four to the Rays, they're a really good team. But now they were playing the Angels, who are, let's see, what is the technical term... oh, yes, they're bad.

Having fallen out of first place and clinging by a thread to a Wild Card position, the M's needed to come out strong. And so they did: a three-run first inning, and with Logan Gilbert on the mound, things were looking good. Until the Angels' catcher, promoted from the minors 2½ weeks ago, clubbed a home run to make it 3-1. OK, still not bad. His next time up, that same newbie hit a nearly-identical home run, this time with a runner aboard. Mariners 3, Logan O'Hoppe 3. Meanwhile, after that first-inning performance, the Seattle lineup could do nothing against the suddenly formidable Reid Detmers, who was 3-10 with a nearly 5.00 ERA. It was beginning to look like extra innings.

Then came an interesting ninth. The M's brought in their supposed closer, Andres Muñoz, who was somehow named AL reliever of the month for August. Seems to me whoever made that decision didn't see him pitch; I mean, a 1.4 WHIP isn't exactly stellar, but OK. Which isn't to knock Muñoz. I like Muñoz, but in my opinion he's not ready in the head for the pressure of the closer role. He's still pretty raw; someday he could be an elite reliever, but right now he's still learning on the job. E and I were talking about how Muñoz makes us nervous these days, and I mentioned that he's got great stuff but doesn't make good choices when he has a batter on the ropes.

337
A retro view of the game last night, as we sat in row 3 of section 337, one row forward of what had been my original Safeco Field season seats for several years. Though I'm happy in 327 row 9, I've missed you, 337! Especially the distance from the PA speakers there. Much less of an aural assault.

Mike Moustakas led off with a smart base hit against the limited defensive shift the M's were employing, just chopping a grounder toward third where nobody was playing. Not Muñoz's fault, his manager's, but OK. Then that O'Hoppe jerk is up again. Muñoz gets to a 1-2 count despite some poor home plate umping, but then tries to be cute. Does he buzz in that 100mph fastball above the letters? No, he throws the same pitch he just threw for strike two, which is nearly the same pitch he threw for ball one (it was in the strike zone, I could even see it from up high), and O'Hoppe said "thank you very much" and blasted it into left for a double. Next batter, Eduardo Escobar, gets in the hole at 0-and-2, but again Muñoz doesn't realize he's in charge. Escobar is a .230 hitter with a high K rate, at 0-2 he has to protect the plate. Muñoz can reach 102mph, but instead he throws the same slider he threw to O'Hoppe and Escobar hit it hard on a line, but the M's were lucky: it was hit right at Jarred Kelenic, who was shallow enough that the guy running for Moustakas at 3rd didn't try to tag up and score. Muñoz then hits the next guy with a fastball to load the bases. Now Brett Phillips and his .188 average is up. Could still get out of this if nothing goes wrong, and Muñoz has seemingly learned from his mistake and is pounding in 100mph+ fastballs. Phillips takes two quick strikes, then a third—except, no, called a ball. Next pitch also called a ball, but looked good from where we were. The next pitch was certainly strike three—except this umpire had dirt in his eye or something, because it's called ball three, and now the crowd is letting the ump have it. Phillips has gotten better timing on the fastball, but he's still fouling them off. Finally he swings and misses and there are two out. Next guy grounds out harmlessly to short and we're still tied. Whew.

Bottom half started out nicely. Cal Raleigh leads off with a base hit. Geno Suárez follows with another single. With Raleigh now at second base, manager Scott Servais smartly elects to replace him with a pinch-runner in José Caballero. Not the ideal choice, but the best one available. Ty France then lines a hit into left-center field and this looks like it! A walk-off victory! Except, what's this? Caballero is being held at third base??! Wait, didn't he just get put into the game for this exact scenario? Run, go for it, make them make a play at the plate. But no, Servais and third-base coach Manny Acta play it conservatively because, hey, there's nobody out and now the winning run is at third with no outs and that's easy to drive in, right?

Well, yes, unless you're the Seattle Mariners.

As I pointed out a while back, the M's suck at this. They only convert that runner at 3B with 0/1 out into a run scored about 40% of the time. Because they strike out. The team's overall 26% K rate actually gets worse with a runner at third and 0/1 out. Worse! Insanity.

To the surprise of no one in the stadium, Jarred Kelenic struck out. And the next guy up was Dylan Less-is-Moore, who despite playing above my expectations of late is still not a good Major League hitter and tapped a weak roller to the shortstop playing shallow, easy forceout at home. Now it was up to Dom Canzone, who just missed squaring up a pitch and rolled it to first. Extra innings. K & E both groaned in unison and I did a riff on the old Cars song "Moving in Stereo": M's are the same, we're groaning in stereo/M's are the same, they can't score from third...

I expected that to be that. The Angels would score their Manfred Man and the M's would not and it'd be over. And indeed, the Angels belted a homer to score two. Bottom 10 would surprise me when Julio Rodríguez crushed his own 2-run homer (his 30th of the season, congrats, Julio) to retie the game. Did we have hope? Not really. The Angels singled their Manfred Man to third in the 11th, then singled him home to go up 6-5, then Geno Suárez made an uncharacteristic error on a hard grounder that scored another run, then another hit and another run before Servais goes and gets Isaiah Campbell from the bullpen, who throws one pitch to end the frame and stop the bleeding. But the M's went down 1-2-3 in the home 11th. 

Was this the game that effectively ends the Mariners' postseason hopes? We'll see; given the struggles the Astros and Rangers have both been having, and given that there are still a bunch of games to play against them, there's still a way to pull it out. But after this, my belief that the M's will never win a title so long as Scott Servais is their manager is solidified even more.

EKT2
The "V"s were, perhaps, premature.

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