Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s start by acknowledging the maybe not-so-obvious: the 2013 Mariners are terrible. They are the result of an offseason full of bad decisions and gambles that haven’t gone well, and as a result, they are terrible. While a certain sentiment exists acknowledging that this is a young, developing team, the fact is that most of the young, developing players have been bad. Nick Franklin has been bad. Dustin Ackley has been baaaaad. Despite looking good for sizable chunks of the season, Justin Smoak has been bad. Remember Jesus Montero? Maybe you don’t. That’s how bad he was. Not that the veterans position players were much better, and certainly this is the worst pitching staff the M’s have put together since, I dunno, 2008?
Make no mistake, this is a really bad Mariners team. Bad enough that everyone should probably be getting fired, although they likely won’t. 2013 has been the kind of bad that all but promises to keep the process behind the bad intact. In short, things look bleak. Of course, the Mariners exacerbated these feelings with their recently-completed sweep at the hands of the Astros, which is just about as low as a baseball team can sink. Swept. By the Astros. In September. After a trade deadline where the GM refused to unload desirable veteran pieces because he had become convinced their presence would help assure a “respectable” finish. There’s nothing respectable about being swept by the Houston Astros.
There are worse things in life than being swept at home by the Astros, but maybe not within the context of baseball. This series ought to represent a low-point for the Mariners, who, by the way, are still treating Ackley and Franklin and Michael Saunders like part-timers. Again, it’s September. This isn’t the time to be playing Raul Ibanez six days a week, this is the time for evaluating the young guys who are potentially part of the next good Mariners team. Or, at the very least, part of the next Mariners team. The Mariners are leaning on the veterans in September 2013, and the veterans are playing like crap. Everyone’s playing like crap except Felix, who’s not playing. This will be quick, I promise. No need to scrutinize every last detail of all three of these terrible games. Taijuan Walker started the first game and was great so he’ll get some words, but I don’t feel inclined to spill much virtual ink over anyone else. Remember how deflating April was? September has been a lot like that. Mariners baseball. My. Oh. My.
Monday, September 9 – Astros 6, Mariners 4
Before this series went horribly wrong there was Taijuan Walker, the glowing 21-year-old super-prospect, making his third-ever start in the majors and his final of the season. Walker, as we know, is widely considered the best pitching prospect to rise through the Mariners system since one Felix Hernandez. We also know that Felix worked out just about as perfectly as any pitching prospect ever could, so fair or not, Walker’s already been saddled with insane expectations. People talk about him as a future ace, not a potential ace. Not that M’s fans take Walker for granted, it’s just that his failure, like that of virtually every recent position player prospect, isn’t something we’re expecting by now.
As fans, we’ve watched Walker climb and climb and finally arrive at the highest level. What he’s done since getting here hasn’t done much to temper expectations. Tai Walker’s vitals, as a member of the 2013 Mariners: 15 innings pitched, 7.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 3.60 ERA, 2.25 FIP, 3.81 xFIP, 0.5 WAR. In three short games, Walker added half a win to his team. If Walker were to sustain that performance over 180 innings, he’d be a six-win pitcher. You know who was a six-win pitcher in 180 innings this year? Matt Harvey. What Taijuan Walker did with the Mariners over his fifteen innings was produce the kind of value that conjured up almost-reasonable images of Matt Harvey.
Walker’s not going to pitch again until 2014, but one can’t help but think he’s done enough already to raise his stock to new highs. Anyone who wasn’t thrilled with the idea of Walker before a) was crazy and b) is probably thrilled now. This particular start was his best, as the young potential ace struck out eight Astros in five innings while issuing only one free pass. He allowed five base hits and two earned runs, one of which was the result of starting an inning with back-to-back doubles. But Walker also struck out Chris Carter to end a bases-loaded threat in the first. He struck Carter out again to end the third, then struck out the side in the fourth. So what if three of those five hits were two baggers? Walker’s barely 21, and hits happen. Eight strikeouts against the Astros isn’t eight strikeouts against a major league team, but it’s eight strikeouts, and I don’t see Brandon Maurer out there striking out eight Astros. Ks and walks are the best way to evaluate a pitcher, and Walker succeeded by punching batters out and not handing them first base for free. Walker succeeded in the way that best indicates a sustainable ability to succeed.
Abe Almonte hit his first homer, a two-run shot, and it warrants mention that he’s been a treat to watch this month. He’s extraordinarily speedy for a big dude, and his throwing arm from the outfield has already produced a couple highlight reel jaw-droppers He’s even managed to be a slightly above-average hitter! Brad Miller hit a homer too, off of Josh Fields. Fields, recall, was one of the several relievers Bill Bavasi drafted in the first round because before the Mariners were poorly run, they were unfathomably poorly run. Danny Farquhar blew the hell out of a save, which is primarily why the M’s lost. Josh Fields allowed a dinger and got the save, and his ERA is a robust 5.91. You know how Farquhar has that ghastly ERA and a minuscule FIP? Fields has a 5.61 FIP. Again, he’s the Astros closer.
Tuesday, September 10 – Astros 13, Mariners 2
Joe Saunders struck out five batters in three innings. He wasn’t allowed to throw more than those three innings because he was bad, for three innings, against the Astros. Terrible, even, despite the nice little strikeouts and all. Jonathan Villar led off the game with a home run. Who is Jonathan Villar? Great question. I don’t know. He allowed five more runs, just for fun, because the Mariners need pitchers to pitch the innings they have to play and although Saunders is just atrocious he’s going to be here for the rest of the year, pitching innings. Just not very many innings.
Tom Wilhelmsen pitched two much-needed shutout innings before handing the ball to Carter Capps, who got blasted. Capps passed the baton to Chance Ruffin, who got blasted. Ruffin tossed the hat to Lucas Luetge, who got blasted the hardest. I used to spend my free time writing articles about how the bullpen was overflowing with talented arms and that 2012’s results hardly matched the process. And now, this.
Oh yeah, and the offense scored two runs behind Franklin Gutierrez, who is playing an awful lot for someone who is almost certainly not going to be a 2014 Mariner. Also the M’s traded Brendan Ryan to the Yankees mid-game, and Brendan Ryan is one of the best defenders on planet earth and easily the most watchable guy on the field at any given moment. The Mariners pantsed their fans, then kicked them in the crotch. Astros thirteen, Mariners eleven less than that, with the trade of a fan favorite thrown in to boot.
Wednesday, September 11 – Astros 6, Mariners 1
Brandon Maurer wasn’t even supposed to be here today, as this was originally scheduled to be Felix’s start. But Felix is hurt, however insignificant an injury the front office may claim it to be, so this start went instead to a rookie who really should have thrown zero major league innings this season. Maurer is a mess right now, and one wonders what affect this season might have on his development. How much could it devastate a young guy, basically still a prospect, to be forced to pitch against superior competition before he’s ready? Maurer, of course, yielded five runs in three innings, bringing his ERA to 7.18 on the year.
Here’s to a strong 2014 with the Rainier’s and hopefully he’s not too messed up from this experience. If you’re looking for a bright spot, again, it’s Tom Wilhelmsen, who struck out the side in the sixth. Oliver Perez was good too, and Bobby LaFramboise was fine I guess. Kendrys Morales hit a home run! He’s going to earn fourteen million dollars next year probably! This has been a rough September.
UP NEXT: Mariners @ Cardinals Having been thoroughly dominated by the worst team in the league at home, the Mariners now travel to St. Louis to play three DH-less games against a first-place playoff lock with the best run differential in the NL. The Cardinals are perhaps the best-run team in baseball, as they have spent their money wisely while crafting an infallible pipeline of a minor league system that churns out productive big leaguers at a startling rate. They’re a model franchise, and it’s hard to imagine them ever going more than a year or two without being in contention for a championship. That’s who the Mariners are going to play, and the Mariners are probably going to use Raul Ibanez in the outfield more than once while doing it.
The organizational contrast should be sharp. Things work very differently in St. Louis. Don’t be surprised if-and-when the M’s are swept, but also don’t be surprised if the M’s take a couple games and make everyone go “huh.” It’s baseball. Don’t bet on it because it’s oh so very unpredictable. Anything can happen, and don’t believe me? Look at the Pirates! They’ve won eighty-four games, and counting! The Pittsburgh Pirates! Also of note is that the Mariners are in position to receive a top ten pick in the draft, and top ten picks are protected from forfeiture in the event that a team wants to go after top free agents.
That’s something to keep an eye on going forward. Probable pitchers: Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Adam Wainwright battle of aces. Cool. James Paxton vs. Michael Wacha, battle of top prospects. Cool! Erasmo Ramirez vs. Shelby Miller, battle of a short dude and one of many guys who would win the ROY in a landslide if he played in the American League. The Marlins have a better run differential than the Mariners. Happy baseball!