Are the M’s making their move?

The Mariners summarily shot the Padres last night amid a hail of home runs, disposing of their crumpled bodies 11-4. Kyle Seager (4), Logan Morrison (6, ) Mike Zunino (4,5,) Justin Ruggiano (1,) and Nelson Cruz (15,) all found the seats, and sent 16,148 fans home happy.  The six homers in a single game ties the club record set in 2004.  The win is the M’s fourth in a row, the longest win streak of the season.

The Mariners seem to have turned things around at home.  After a very disappointing 4-6 road trip to Texas, Houston and Anaheim, a few things seem to be turning around.  After a series of walk-off implosions by the bullpen, the team is on a nice little win streak.

Sometimes it’s easy to get too locked into a single game, a single series, or a single week as one attempts to evaluate the success or failure of a season.  The Mariners will play their 33rd game tonight, which will nudge them just over the 20% games played mark of the season.  It’s difficult to say if the Mariners are dragging themselves up to the level of contention we expected when the season began, or if this is merely a blip in the arc of a fatally flawed team.

Yes, they swept a Texas team that is gutted by injury.  They swept an Oakland team that isn’t very good, horribly undone by a bad defense and lousy offense.  They were clobbered in four games against a blazing hot Astros club that was in the midst of a nine straight run, but now seems exceedingly mortal.

So, in the grand sweep of things, there some things to be positive about.

  1. The rotation, while far from perfect, seems to be developing some consistency.  Felix and Happ continue to make consistently strong outings.  Though Paxton struggled with his command last night, each of his last three outings have gone at least six inning.  Tai Walker is still a bit of a wild card, and hasn’t gone more than five innings in his last three starts. Roenis Elias, filling in for the injured Hisashi Iwakuma, has improved in each of his three starts.  Walker better figure things out or he may find himself back in Tacoma when Iwakuma returns in June.
  2. The bullpen, with one notable exception, seems to have turned around its inconsistency. It’s clear the front office has read its own press, and they’ve acted quickly to deal with the walks, and blown leads. Yoervis Medina and Dominic Leone were banished to Tacoma after walk off losses in Anaheim.  Joe Beimel and Mark Lowe were called up and with the arrival of Tom Wilhelmsen from the DL seemed to make their presence felt in the Oakland series.  Danny Farquhar continues to struggle with location or a tendency to “nibble,” leading to baserunners and bad results.  Tough to say how long Lloyd will let that continue.
  3. Though it’s hard to say the problem is solved, the Mariners do seem to be scoring a few more runs.  More bats are coming to life and the offense seems less dependent on a barrage of solo home runs by Nelson Cruz. Logan Morrison and Robinson Cano seem to be heating up.  Seth Smith continues to be a regular contributor.  Could Mike Zunino’s pair of homers last night be sign that his early hitting woes are over? With others chipping in occasionally, the player that most concerns me is Dustin Ackley.  Of all the Mariners, he has the most to prove this year, and so far his limited contributions are simply not cutting it.
  4. Nelson Cruz continues to amaze me.  I, like most of my friends, considered him to be a big guy who could hit a bunch of home runs in a relatively small park and would strike out a lot.  I completely discounted his defense or other contributions to the club. I could not have been more wrong. The man, so far, has been a great hitter on this team.  Power from foul line to foul line, but with the sense to shorten his swing with two strikes and hit the ball up the middle. His home runs in Houston should convince anybody with eyes that the man can muscle ’em out of the freakin’ Grand Canyon. I’m impressed with his speed and his range in the outfield, though I’m not sure he has great defensive instincts. He has a great arm in right, but isn’t overly enamored of the gun, preferring to play smart and hit the cutoff man.  Together with Felix, he’s been the show thus far.
  5. The front office hasn’t sit still while the team sputters off to a slow start.  Moving Cruz largely to right, reducing Ackley’s playing time, the bullpen swaps, moving Chris Taylor to shortstop are all more than tinkering, but less than panicking. News across the web today suggested Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki could be available for the right deal.  ESPN’s David Schoenfeld immediately linked the Mariners to Tulo as a team that could have interest.  It almost certainly would  cost the M’s pitching they could not replace. But it wouldn’t shock me if Jack Z’ and Lloyd McClendon tried to upgrade either the outfield or DH with Cruz spending less time there and offensive struggles by Ackley, Rickie Weeks and Austin Jackson.

With the M’s little win streak, are the Mariners beginning to make their move for the division lead?  Still too early to tell, too small a sample size.  But if the Mariners rip off a big win streak or go 10-2 over the next couple of weeks we might be in a better place to answer the question

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