Month: May 2014

At the 50 Game Pole

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. 

Pitching

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.

Offense

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. 

Robinson Cano

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.

Assessment

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. 

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.515: Mariners move into second place.

The Mariners head home today after another road trip from hell.  The difference in this trip and others so far this year is the M’s had considerable success.  2-0 in a rain shortened series in New York.  2-1 in some jaw-clenching games in Houston.  3-1 in surprising wins against the A’s in Oakland.

That the Mariners lost the afternoon finale at O.Com Colisseum is of little importance.  Today they look up at the standings in second place in the division, a half game ahead of the Rangers. This team was left for dead in the wake of an eight game losing streak that ended April 22nd. What’s changed?

The Pitching

This has two pieces, the starting rotation and the bullpen.  In the face of considerable injury, the starting rotation has been surprisingly resilient.  Yes, it starts with Felix, but in his last three starts, Felix has been surprisingly pedestrian.  We’ve seen his ERA jump from 2.04 to 2.73. His strikeout numbers are down.  In yesterday’s game, his third straight no-decision, the King struck out nobody. He’s been sick, so hopefully this is nothing more than a glitch in a great season.  Roenis Elias has exceeded expectations, while Erasmo Ramirez has flamed out. Chris Young started four games, and all except his April 18th game in the midst of the M’s swan dive, have been acceptable.  With the return of Hisashi Iwakuma, the M’s will have to decide whether to keep Ramirez with the team after his respectable performance in yesterday’s 2-0 loss, or if Brandon Maurer should remain.  A healthy James Paxton and Taijuan Walker will settle things a great deal, so keep your fingers crossed and keep hoping for that late May return.

The bullpen has looked somewhat better the last seven games.  Closer Fernando Rodney is living much less dangerously, throwing more strikes. Tom Wilhelmsen had a perfect week, sort of. Joe Beimel allowed one hit and no walks through two innings and is a perfect LOOGY.  Altogether the bullpen had five saves and 12 holds, including a two inning gem from Danny Farquhar. All is not roses, however, as Yoervis Medina and Charlie Furbush at times seem to have forgotten how to throw strikes. If the bullpen can round into a group who can consistently be effective it will complement an improving rotation.

The Seattle pitching staff is ranked in the top five in the American league for ERA, WHIP, and OBP, but much lower for K/9 and BB/K.  Some good things, but cutting down on walks, particularly from the relief staff is something to work on.

Offense

It would be great to tell you the team is winning because a new face has stepped up to take charge, but that hasn’t happened.  This team still doesn’t hit enough, strikes out too much and walks too little.  Nearly all of Seattle’s offensive statistics are in the bottom third, if not next to last.  However, over the last seven days, covering eight games, the Mariners ranked third in the league in runs scored.  Some guys have been hot. Michael Saunders and Stefen Romero both hit over .300 for the week.  Robinson Cano, while he isn’t hitting for power, hit .294 and drove in seven runs with hits and outs to lead the team.  Kyle Seager hit .281 with five doubles.  Smoak isn’t lighting up the place, but he’s not stinking it up either.  31 games into the season he has nine doubles with his four home runs, and leads the team with 22 RBI’s. Yes, there continue to be those who struggle.  Brad Miller seems hopelessly lost at the plate right now.  Dustin Ackley seems to be swinging and missing a lot.  Other guys, Mike Zunino and Corey Hart, have moments when they seem to have it, and just as quickly lose it.

Outlook

I never like to draw too many conclusions, because it’s so early in the season.  I always give a team 40 games before I start making prediction.  Due to injuries, and the unsettled nature of the outfield, that may be too soon. This team is winning because they have just enough hitting to go with just enough pitching.  If either of these fail, we’re likely to see more losing streaks.  But we should enjoy it while we can.  Go M’s!! Beat KC.