It's the semi-debut of what will now be a weekly Twitter mailbag which answers questions from readers/fans about the Mariners, baseball, food, music and the existential crisis of man.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.  —  Earlier this week in talking about his bullpen usage, the bad outing of Juan Nicasio the night before in Houston and his confidence in using the veteran right-hander in leverage situations (before the disabled list stint), manager Scott Servais offered this very honest thought:

Get your questions in by tweeting at @RyanDivish

September 23 | Searching for prospects and bright spots from 2018 season

September 16 | All things Nelson Cruz, including a possible future in ... Houston?

September 9 | Buyer's remorse on Dipoto and Servais? Will Ichiro play in Japan?

September 2 | Why didn't M's go all-in before August waiver deadline?

August 26 | Playoff droughts in MLB history and why no one wants Kyle Seager

“That’s the difference between the seat I sit in and your (Twitter) followers,” he said chuckling. “They don’t sit in this seat. You can’t panic. I take a look at the bigger picture.”

Ah, yes, my Twitter followers. They are an eclectic mix — some funny, some angry, some unhinged — all passionate.

In a nod to Twitter and them, we’ve decided to make Twitter mailbags, which we’ve done on occasion, a regular weekly feature. They will take the place of my Sunday column on the Times’ baseball page of the print edition and go up online Sunday mornings.

As always, these are real questions from my the unending entertainment of my Twitter mentions.

Well, I guess you consider the Astros as the likely winner of the American League West? As I type this on Saturday afternoon before the Mariners game vs. the Rays in Tampa, Seattle sits atop the division standings by one game over the Astros.

But it’s more than fair to believe the Astros, and not the Mariners, will win the division. On paper, Houston has the superior team with the best starting rotation in baseball. On the field, the Astros have also been the better team.

The Mariners record vs. the Astros since the 2015 season — 22-41.

  • 2018 — 2-4
  • 2017 — 5-14
  • 2016 — 8-11
  • 2015 — 7-12

So following past results, let’s say Houston wins the West as most people predicted before the season. It would appear that your two-horse race premise seems likely with little opportunity of a longshot to enter the fray.

Besides the six teams you listed, there is only one other team in the American League with a winning record — the Oakland A’s at 33-31.

The Yankees and Red Sox are running away with the AL East. They are going to battling for that all-important division title for the remainder of the season. Gee, I wonder if MLB Network and ESPN will give this any additional attention.

The AL Central is dumpster fire. The Indians (33-28) haven’t played particularly well this season and still lead the division by five games. Realistically, the Twins are the only team in the Central that is strong enough to challenge Cleveland. The eventual return of Ervin Santana will make a difference. And yet Minnesota has done little to change the thinking that last season’s playoff appearance was one-year aberration.

That leaves the West with four teams over .500. The Astros have the best starting rotation, followed by the Mariners with the Angels and A’s well behind them. That’s usually a good indicator to project the finish. It doesn’t seem like Oakland is good enough to overtake the Mariners or Angels, but the A’s are certainly good enough to cause problems for everyone. Seattle has 16 games remaining against the Angels this season, including a three-game series to open the upcoming homestand, which starts on Monday. The Angels received the crushing news that Shohei Ohtani will be out for a significant time with an elbow strain. It leaves their pitching staff, which wasn’t particularly good to begin with, even more depleted. Seattle would presumably play at least nine games vs. the Angels with Ohtani out.

Given the mutual dislike of Servais and Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto with Angels owner Arte Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia — a two-horse race would be pretty enjoyable to watch for the remainder of the season.

And now we get to the Robinson Cano portion of the mailbag …

Shock is probably the best way to describe the initial reaction. Even players like Nelson Cruz and Jean Segura, who are close friends of Cano, didn’t know about the positive test and suspension until the day it was announced. There was a fair amount of hurt and disappointment from some players with a sense of betrayal.

The team held a meeting to discuss the situation and how they planned to move forward in Cano’s absence. They’ve said all the right things about it bringing them closer together. Still, most baseball players have an unbelievable ability to move forward and move on from disappointment. If they didn’t have that, it’s unlikely they could make it to the big leagues, considering the amount of failure in the game.

Still, the team’s success isn’t because of the absence of Cano or some driving motivational theme to persevere. Going into Saturday, they were 18-6 in games since Cano was removed from the lineup because of the broken right hand and then the suspension.

But let’s be clear: The Mariners are a better team with Cano in the lineup on a daily basis. Seattle’s offense has lagged without his presence and production. The offense was averaging 4.69 runs per game with a .763 OPS before his suspension and 3.8 runs per game with a .691 OPS since then.

Why have they had so much success? Pitching, teams they are playing and a little bit of luck. In those 24 games, Mariners pitchers have posted a 2.47 ERA. Of those 24 games, they played a total of five games against teams with a winning record — three vs. Oakland and two vs. Houston. And they’ve also played 16 one-run games, going 13-3. There is a luck factor involved that much success in one-run games. And that rate doesn’t seem sustainable.

No, there isn’t a clause in the Cano deal. And there isn’t a clause in any player’s deal. Why? The collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the player’s union had specific language put into place to not allow such clauses in the “uniform players contract” when the two sides agreed upon the joint drug testing policy. Cano’s contract is guaranteed.

From the joint drug testing policy …

“All authority to discipline Players for violations of the Program shall repose with the Commissioner’s Office. No Club may take any disciplinary or adverse action against a Player (including, but not limited to, a fine, suspension, or any adverse action pursuant to a Uniform Player’s Contract) because of a Player’s violation of the Program.”

Who writes this stuff?

Dipoto has said often that Cano is going to play second base most of the time with Dee Gordon moving back to center and then playing second a few times a week to stay sharp for the postseason. Cano will be well-rested when he returns on Aug. 14 and he could be the sort of late-season addition that pushes the Mariners into the postseason and possibility with a better spot than the second wild card.

It’s amusing for you to think I would have a choice in such matters.