The thirty game check

Today the Mariners jet off to Toronto. It’s one of their two off days during the first 30 games  of the season. I feel a bit different about them than I did when they limped home, tongues dragging, from their road trip to Texas.

The M’s finished their homestand 5-2 against one lousy team, the Anaheim Angels, and one pretty good team, the Baltimore Orioles.  They head out on the road against one awful team, the Toronto Blue Jays, and one division-leader, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

While I still think it’s early to assess the quality of any team, it seems to me the M’s recent homestand provides some encouragement, and some qualities to continue looking for as the season rolls on.

The Starting Rotation-Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are solid.  They pitch well enough to win every time out.  Home or road, no differences.  Lefties and righties, doesn’t affect them.  Though they won’t always win, this usually has less to do with their performances and more to do with their teammates.  The rest of the rotation, however, will have more to do with whether the M’s record will improve over last year’s 75-87.

Joe Saunders wins at home and loses on the road. His performances home and away are like two different guys.  The one at Safeco is cool, calm, collected, the picture of a methodical soft-tossing leftie.  The one on the road is simply at war with himself-unable to locate his pitches or even throw strikes. Brandon Maurer is young.  We’ve seen him be very, very good a couple of times, and very, very bad all the rest of his starts.  I’m much more encouraged about Aaron Harang after last night’s game than after his other starts.  Harang’s fast ball was up into the mid-90’s allowing him to have more success with the high fastball he likes to throw.  Previously his high fastball was like 89 and hitters were riding the express out to the cheap seats.

The rotation still seems unsettled.  It’s unclear whether Maurer has the ability to stick at this level at this time, but there’s not a lot to replace him with in Tacoma.  Saunders, yeesh.  Has to get better on the road.  Harang, we’ll see, but he could be this year’s Kevin Millwood, and I’d take that.  But like I said in a previous post, this team will get as far as its rotation will take them.

The Big Boys: Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse

These were the two big bats the Mariners acquired in the off-season.  So far, they’ve been worth the prices paid for their services.  Though Morales isn’t yet lighting the world on fire, he is a stabilizing influence in the middle of the lineup.  His OPS+ is 119.  He’s consistently walking, with an OBP of .358, his power just hasn’t emerged yet, which is pretty much in line with his career performance, a bit of a late starter.  He’s someone the M’s can count on to start or continue rallies.

Morse got off to a hot homerun pace, but his broken pinkie really derailed his progress for a couple of weeks.  He is a force of nature with his nine homers tied for the American League lead.  However, most of those have come with the bases empty.  In addition he also has 29 strikeouts to go with his 6 walks.  Would definitely like to see the K’s go down and the BB’s increase.

You’d definitely have to rate these trades as a success, though how much of a success remains to be seen.

Promises, Promises: Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley

Ten games ago I was pulling my hair out and wondering if Smoak and Ackley, together with Jack Zdurencik, should be on Pierce Transit headed for a seat on the Rainiers bench.  I’ve begun to feel differently, however.  Smoak is getting his walks and his hits.  He currently leads the team in walks with 15, resulting in an OBP of .345.  He’s also starting to get his hits and his average is up to .240.  The last few games he has doubled-pulled line drives and hard liners to the opposite field.  I’m encouraged, and hope that soon we’ll start seeing balls leaving the ball park.  That’s kind of the way things went in Spring Training.  Still very much in a wait and see mode on Smoak, but there’s at least reason to hope.

Dustin Ackley is a mystery.  The best hitter drafted in 2009, he really augured in last year, and has struggled since arriving in Spring Training this year.  Recently he seeems to be having more success getting hits to all fields.  However, they aren’t much in the way of hits.  When Ackley came up he was a gap hitter with doubles power.  That’s simply not in his game right now.  He didn’t look very good last night with three strikeouts.  I’m less optimistic about his success than Smoak, but it’s still a bit early.  Let’s see what the next ten games produce.

The Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino Show

I love watching both these guys in the field.  There simply is not a better defensive shortstop in the game than Brendan Ryan.  Andino plays the game with a lot of grit and toughness and I like that too.  Unfortunately, a bucket of clams could hit better than the two of them, and I don’t know what the M’s can do about it.  The “Ryan is working on it”, and giving Andino a little more time excuses offered by Eric Wedge are getting old, and there is that Franklin guy down in Tacoma who is lighting up the Pacific Coast League.  It will be interesting to see how this works out.

The Bruised Brothers: Michael Saunders and Franklin Gutierrez.

If I stepped off a three week cruise and you’d told me Franklin Gutierrez was injured, I’d ask what else was new.  If you’d told me the entire M’s starting outfield was hurt, I’d respond “Holy shit Batman!”

Gutierrez, on the few occasions when he is physically able, makes this team so much better.  Playing him in center field, pushes Saunders’ speed out to a corner position, and improves the ability of all the outifelders to run down balls. He’s a good hitter, has some power, and adds some speed to the lineup this team sorely lacks. I hope he gets back soon, but it’s a hammie.  It’s Franklin.  Time to make do with what we have.

Saunders looked like he was taking the next step on the ladder.  His shoulder injury seemed to really impact this team.  When he homered in his first game back against the Angels, it’s sort of like he was making a statement.  He’s been a bonus in the outfield.  He’s a terror on the bases.  Saunders is still a project.  Struck out three times on Tuesday, but he makes the team better.

Kyle Seager

Though he was slow out of the gate, Seager, hitting second, built on last year’s success and, and while I wouldn’t call him a monster, he is definitely the most complete of the young hitters on this team.  Though he’s not likely to be the .400+ OBP guy Edgar Martinez was, he could be a 50 doubles, 20 home run guy, hitting around .300.  That and the fact he plays a very good third base makes him look like the cream of Jackie Z’s youth crop.

Jesus Montero

I keep pulling for this guy because we potentially gave up so much to get him.  Not only that but Kendrys Morales likely won’t stay beyond this year and he’s supposed to be our designated hitter of the future. I keep thinking something is going to jump start him.  Some of the hits he’s had have been big, but there are just so few of them. Between his lack of catching skills and his struggles at the plate, Montero hasn’t gotten off to an encouraging start.  All he has going for him is his comparative youth.

Guys without jobs: Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez

I wasn’t wild about the Bay pickup in the offseason, but he’s done a good job filling in during the Great Outfield Massacre. His defense is decent and he shows some signs at the plate he might still have a career left. I might feel more comfortable with him in a backup role, but he does have a tidy 127 OPS+.  Raul Ibanez is the opposite of Jason Bay.  Raul is one of my favorite former Mariners. He should remain a former Mariner.  He’s looked embarassingly bad in the field, and despite a couple of homers, he’s not hittin’ a lick.  His OPS+ is 44.  Raul is probably ready to go.

The Injury Bug

In seasons past, the Mariners have been bad.  They’ve played below expectations.  They’ve done stupid stuff. But for the most part they’ve avoided a plethora of injuries.  Not the case this year.  So far the M’s suffered a raft of injuries contributing to their slow start.  This is the casualty list:

Franklin Gutierrez (naturally), Michael Morse, Michael Saunders, Erasmo Ramirez, Stephen Pryor, and Josh Kinney.  Of these, only Morse hasn’t been on the DL. How much better would this team be with Ramirez in the starting rotation, Pryor in the bullpen, and Gutierrez in center field?  No question they’d be better.  Maybe not loads better, but definitely improved, and two games better makes them a .500 team.

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