The Mariners played their 50th game last night. They enter tonight’s game against the Angels 25-25. There are definitely things to be encouraged about as well as some deep disappointments.
When spring training closed and the M’s were without a significant pick-up in the offseason to off-set the loss of the Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma, and James Paxton hit the DL after his second start I foresaw troubles immeasurable. Instead the pitching has been surprisingly resilient. Though he suffered through a three game drought after he was hit with the flu, Felix has been Felix-like. Youngster, Roenis Elias would be the surprise of the season if last minute replacement Chris Young wasn’t an even bigger surprise coming off thoracic outlet surgery. Despite his last start, which surrendered two home runs to Houston in a 4-1 loss, Hisashi Iwakuma continues his brilliance from the 2013 season, Brandon Maurer, pressed into service as a fifth starter after the raft of injuries seems to guarantee a loss every fifth day, but seems to also be making a case he could be an effective 2-3 inning guy, if he doesn’t have to face anybody more than once. There is hope here as Paxton and Walker inch close to return.
The bullpen has had a harder time making the case they are also of high quality, but by and large they have been resilient. Pressed into overuse during the eight game losing streak, the ‘pen has by and large done what they need to do. Though they’ve blown a couple of tight games, and Fernando Rodney seems to have a need to make things interesting whenever he takes the mound, there is not a pattern of disaster. However, it is plain as day that Tom Wilhelmsen, Yoervis Medina, and Rodney walk too many guys, and set this team up for failure in falure-an error here or a good piece of hitting there-to continue throughout the season.
After 50 games the pitching staff remains second in the league in runs allowed, third in hits allowed, and in the top five in most important categories. When I said the Mariners would regret not picking up one of the free agent pitchers available I was clearly long. This staff is already quite good, and is likely only to get better as the wounded return to the battlefront.
The offense is, in a word, bad. There are a few players who are interesting, but many more who are not. If this team is to have a shot at a post season berth, the real change improvement will have to come from the offense. At the present time, the Mariners rank at or near the bottom for most important offensive statistics including batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage. Oddly, they are 11th in runs scored.
I’m not sure what I hoped when the Mariners signed Robinson Cano. He is on pace for 36 doubles and 6 home runs. Not a lot of pop for the $240 million man. But he gets on base, walking and hitting, leads the team in runs scored, RBI’s, and OPS. Teams don’t let Robinson beat them. Has he made the team better? Yes, absolutely, but it’s clear the man needs help.
Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders, and Dustin Ackley
These were three players I suggested would have to improve this year if the Mariners were to get better, and if they were to secure their spots on this team. Of these, Smoak is the clear disappointment. Despite a hot start, Smoak has hit .204 over his last 28 games, and much less than that in his last 14 games. He’s demonstrated a big split in his righty/lefty numbers, hitting only .208 as a left handed hitter. This is the opposite of last year’s numbers when he was clearly stronger as a left handed hitter. His walks are way down, and his strikeouts remain high. Justin Smoak is a mess. I hear the galloping footsteps of DJ Peterson in the distance.
Of the three, Michael Saunders may be in the best shape. Hitting behind rookie James Jones in the number two spot, Saunders has prospered. In the 28 games since Abraham Almonte was demoted and Saunders became a regular player, he’s hit a .321/.353/.449 slash. He’s scored some runs, stolen some bases and played good defense in right field since James Jones was called up to play center field. With Jones’ success, and hitting ahead of Cano, Saunders has given the M’s an effective top third of the order.
Dustin Ackley is still a work in progress. Currently hitting .253 for the season, he has an OPS+ of 104, or slightly above league average. He’s been struggling his last 14 games with a .216/.237/.314 slash. At times he’s been brilliant at the plate and other times he seems to swing through everything. He doesn’t walk a lot and strikes out in 21% of his at bats. His defense has improved. But somehow I think the M’s thought they were getting more when they drafted him second in 2009.
Newcomers: Corey Hart and Logan Morrison
These guys almost certainly deserve incomplete grades due to their injuries. However, we’ve gotten a glimpse of Hart. He seems incapable of playing in the field, and his hammy came while trying to steal a base. Almost all of his at bats have come at DH, which is fine by me. Hart isn’t hitting a lot. His six homers are tied for the team lead, but so what? .209/.295/.353 will not attract suitors for the big payday after the season is over.
The Babies: Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, and Stefen Romero
After last year, Brad Miller was the odds-on-favorite to have a big year. If anything, he is the biggest disappointment on this team. He’s crashed and burned at the plate with .153/.223/.250. He’s taken his offensive struggles into the field and his confidence is shattered. He should be in trouble working out his troubles. Nick Franklin was called up after Hart’s injury, but has done little to establish himself as an alternative to Miller after tearing up the PCL. Is this the M’s pushing guys to the majors too fast? I don’t know, but under no circumstances should they rush Chris Taylor to Seattle.
Mike Zunino is a good defensive catcher. I haven’t seen a guy in a Mariners block pitches in the dirt and frame pitchers this well since Dan Wilson. He’s also a right handed batter pitchers can’t make a mistake with or he’ll deposit it well into the left field bleachers. Still learning at the plate and struggling a bit at present, he’s the best of the babies.
Stefen Romero has played decent in the outfield, but probably is in the lineup a little too often. Penciled in as DH since Hart’s injury and Miller’s implosion because he’s right handed in a left-hand dominated lineup, he’s probably being relied on a little too much.
The New Guy: James Jones the Almonte experiment
The Mariners hasn’t had a true center fielder since Franklin Gutierrez was last healthy in 2010. Determined to improve the last year’s outfield defense, Manager Lloyd McLendon all but anointed Abraham Almonte as heir to Ken Griffey, Jr., Mike Cameron, and Gutierrez, despite a lackluster training camp. Almonte showed he wasn’t ready through 27 games, striking 40 times in 106 forgettable at bats, and appearing erratic in the field. Reaching deep for the 25 year old left-hander, Jones has shown he can get on base, that he has some speed on base and on the field, and that he can go get a ball. Can he keep up his .286 average? Maybe not, but let’s see how he adjusts.
Kendrys Morales rumors
The M’s have been kicked around a lot recently for not signing Kendrys Morales to a deal with Corey Hart injured, potentially for quite a while. There is little question Morales was the M’s most consistent hitter last year. A switch hitter with power, knowledgeable of the American League he could be an asset. There remain two unanswered questions, however. What is his price? Does he want to be here? If the cost of signing him is more than a one year deal, I’m uninterested. The M’s offered Morales, slow, and virtually unable to play the field a three year $30 million deal. He’s currently unemployed, so the rest of the league isn’t blowing down his door. If the deal is right bring him in, but he isn’t Edgar Martinez, don’t over pay.
This team is probably over its head at .500. It’s getting by with great pitching, improved defense, and some Robinson Cano. For the M’s to stay at .500 they’ll have to improve their offense.