Step back from the ledge.

It’s April 21st and the Mariners are 7-11, losers of six straight games.  They’re already six games behind division leading Oakland, winning at a blistering pace, and a game behind the third place Angels.  Things suck.  They suck a lot and not much is going right.

But take heart boys and girls, the M’s are at home, and assuming they can climb out of their travel stupor, they face a team that is worse, the Houston Astros.  The Houstons are dead last or nearly dead last in every offensive category, except, oddly, home runs and triples.  You’ll recall that this same Houston squad barely lost the season series to the M’s last year, and first pitch fastballs may travel a considerable distance in an opposite heading from their origin. As a team their pitching isn’t very good, but Scott Feldman and Brett Oberholtzer   performed well so far.

Offensively the Mariners are in the bottom third for pretty much everything.  They are 14th in batting average and OBP.  They’re 12th in slugging.  They’ve hit some home runs and triples, but they are 12th in runs scored.  Nobody is off to a great start, perhaps with the exception of Corey Hart whose .269/.333/.558 is a monument to the miracles of modern medecine, and at least as good as I hoped it would be.  Robinson Cano has a 98 OPS+.  Brad Miller has exactly two walks to go with his 21 strikeouts, and that’s six fewer K’s than leadoff wannabe Abraham Almonte.  Though Dustin Ackley, at this moment, seems to be righting his major league prospects, Justin Smoak despite being an Angel killer has little to suggest he’s taken a firm handle on first base.  Though he leads the team in walks, Kyle Seager is invisible at the plate.

The hitting is not good, but I also don’t believe it’s going to last forever.  These guys are going to be better.  How much better?  That’s the real question. It’s difficult to believe that guys with a track record like Cano and Seager won’t heat up.  The others are pretty much a crap shoot, and we had only hope going into the season, not proven performance.

The M’s pitching situation is tragic.  The rotation is devastated by injury.  Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton, three fifths of the projected starters are broken.  Erasmo Ramirez was ineffective his last three starts, not able to go more than five innings in any of them. Now injuries are cropping up in the replacement pitchers as Blake Beavan made his way to the DL.  It’s a mess. According to Shannon Drayer’s blog, Iwakuma is likely to make it back first, maybe by the end of April.  James Paxton isn’t throwing yet.  Taijuan Walker’s comeback was halted by shoulder complaints while warming up for his Tacoma start last week.  He was shut down for two weeks. Help is not necessarily on the way.

The rotation problems, producing few innings, taxes a flawed bullpen.  It’s a relief corps that strikes out a lot of batters, but they walk a lot of guys too. Virtually all the firemen allow too many baserunners, mostly walks, and with Yoervis Medina those come with homers.

It is unquestionable that this team has problems.  It may struggle with pitching issues for some time.  It’s likely the hitting will turn around some.  It’s unlikely the M’s will compete for the division championship or even a wild card, but I didn’t expect that this year.  I expected improvement.  Do we have that?  Not yet, but I never evaluate a team until they’ve played at least 40 games or a quarter of the season.  It may take even longer for this team with all its injuries.

So back away from the ledge, grab your bag of peanuts and watch.  The M’s have had more than their share of bad luck lately, and they’re due for a break.  Maybe the Astros will be just the tonic they need.

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