Moore: 2019 has potential to be worst Mariners season ever
If you’re like me, from time to time you forget that we were told about this being a step-back season for the Mariners. We’re supposed to focus on prospects and see how they’re doing in West Virginia, Modesto, Little Rock and Tacoma. If they’re doing well — and some of them are — we can shift our sights to 2021 or 2022, years when the Mariners will conceivably become World Series contenders.
My apologies if I’ve used this first paragraph in a post before. It seems like I have because I need to keep reminding myself that the major-league team won’t be sub-par forever and yet, for the most part in their 42-year history, that’s what they’ve largely been.
I’m old enough to have witnessed every Mariners’ season — they started when I was 19, and I’m turning 62 later this month. They had a losing record for the first 14 seasons, and I remember betting $50 with a guy named Red at the Mustard Seed in Bellevue that the Mariners would finally have a winning record in 1992. I liked Red. He played a lot of cribbage at the bar, but I got sick of his constant crowing about his beloved Red Sox.
I won my bet after the Mariners went 83-79 in ’92, and I’m not quite sure why I’m bringing that up, probably because I’m in no hurry to write about the 2019 Mariners. I guess the point is, for someone to say he’s seen every season and think that this one has the potential to be the worst, well, that’s a new definition for hitting bottom.
Again, we knew this season was going to be bad, but the 13-2 start made it feel like it was going to be much better than what we expected. Yet the Mariners have gone 12-35 since and will probably lose 100 games at this rate.
It’s not so much the losing, it’s how they’re losing and how big the losses are. They get their doors blown off on a regular basis. I’m honestly at a point where I feel like if you put the Tacoma Rainiers on the field at T-Mobile Park and had them play the rest of the season, they might fare better than their big-league brothers.
The Mariners have given up 10 or more runs 13 times in 62 games. I don’t mind that so much when Mike Leake and Wade LeBlanc are the victims, though I personally like them both, they’re average pitchers at best and don’t factor into the future plans. But when Marco Gonzales is throwing batting practice like he has in his last seven starts, you start to wonder.
Gonzales is this year’s No. 1 starter. Maybe he won’t be down the road, and maybe you’d argue that Yusei Kikuchi is better than Marco, but Gonzales got the ball twice on Opening Day, once in Japan, once in Seattle. I think most of us look at him as being the best starter in the rotation. And we’ve been told by general manager Jerry Dipoto that Gonzales and Mitch Haniger were supposed to be the two cornerstones of whatever lies ahead in the 2020’s.
So when Gonzales struggles like he has, it makes me wonder about the talent evaluation overall. Then when you see Haniger hitting .227 and being one of MLB’s strikeout leaders, I wonder even more about the talent evaluation overall.
And when you see an insistence on continuing to put a square peg in a round hole in left field with Domingo Santana along with apparently similar thinking with Mallex Smith in center field, well, I think it’s fair to wonder what’s going on.
Keep in mind, I’m just a baseball fan. I don’t know the game like Dipoto does. And as a baseball fan, I have knee-jerk reactions when things aren’t going well. But seriously, I don’t get why the Mariners have to be this bad while we’re waiting for the prospects to get here.
They lead the league with 69 errors, and that’s been endlessly discussed. I don’t care if you have Average Joe or Joe Blow at every position, if they’re major-leaguers, they shouldn’t be making as many errors as the Mariners. We heard that when Kyle Seager returned, that would help. Unfortunately, errors must be as contagious as hitting — Seager made two errors yesterday, which is unlike him, but they happened.
The Mariners committed three overall Sunday in a 13-3 loss to the Angels and could have had five or at least four. The official scorer gave Smith a break on a ball that should have been a single that Mallex turned into a double by fumbling the scoop. And the ground-rule double by Albert Pujols that Smith lost in the sun? Listen, I’m not so sure Smith would have caught that one if it had been cloudy or the roof were closed — his defense has been that shaky this season.
I also don’t understand the number of strikeouts. They lead MLB with 608, an average of nearly 10 a game. I know, I know, you’ll tell me that strikeouts are up around the league, it’s part of the new way that baseball is played, with launch angles and exit velocities and home runs galore. And besides, when you’re trying to control the zone like the Mariners are, that means you’re taking more pitches, getting deeper in counts, prompting more strikeouts.
Here’s my comeback: if this is what control the zone is doing for you, stop controlling the zone! Start swinging at the first pitch. Maybe you’ll make contact more often. Be more aggressive early in the count. Put the ball in play, which will not only make it more entertaining for fans, but you actually have a chance for something positive to happen that can’t possibly happen with a strikeout.
One more time, the saber-metrics guys would shove it in my face and tell my why that’s a bad strategy, but is what we’ve seen this season look like a good strategy to you?
Speaking of strategies, Monday night the Mariners plan to go with an “opener,” using a reliever for one inning before handing the ball to Wade LeBlanc, which got me to wondering again: Is this the best way to help LeBlanc, who gave up three runs to the Angels in the first inning of his last start? Maybe, but it could backfire too, throwing him out of his routine.
But I like that manager Scott Servais is at least rolling the dice and trying something different since conventional baseball isn’t working. Thing is, if you’re going to “experiment” like this, why not experiment with other things too? Move Haniger to left field and Santana to right field. Santana’s history proves he’s much more comfortable and less prone to make errors in right field. Would it somehow adversely affect Haniger? I doubt it.
And while you’re at it, play Daniel Vogelbach at first base more frequently. I know he’s not a good first baseman. I know he’s a potential defensive liability. But in a season that doesn’t really matter, so what if he boots a few balls and doesn’t dig out a few throws. Let’s see definitively if he can be a first baseman of the future or simply a good option at designated hitter.
In the meantime — I’ll try to look at the bigger picture, as long as the Mariners can cut down on their errors and strikeouts and give us a presentable product — until we get to those better years ahead.