Month: May 2016

What a difference a year makes

Dae-Ho Lee, Leonys Martin, Kyle Seager
Seattle Mariners’ Dae-Ho Lee, center, is congratulated by Leonys Martin (12) and Kyle Seager, right, after hitting a two run home run off Oakland Athletics’ John Axford in the seventh inning of a baseball game Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

On May 5, 2015 the Mariners were wallowing in 4th place with an 11-16 record.  They were seemingly going nowhere, and quickly.  Between  April 30-May 6, a stretch of seven games, the Mariners lost six.  Three of them were loss in the most depressing fashion–walk-offs.  Dominic Leone coughed up the first of these to Houston on April 30th.  Leone and Carson Smith gave up consecutive walk-offs to the Angels on May 4th and 6th.  The Mariners were seven games behind the streaking Astros.  The season already looked hopeless and over

On individual fronts, Nelson Cruz was showing the American League his free agent deal was a bargain–at least for 2015.  Robinson Cano was stinkin’ up the joint. The Seth Smith/Justin Ruggiano platoon was shelved, but on May 5th, Ruggiano was playing center field. Wellington Castillo and Mark Trumbo had not yet made their appearances on the Mariner roster. Fernando Rodney was still the closer, giving himself and everybody else on the team a hot foot with his arrows. The team was under-performing offensively, on the mound and in the field.

What a difference a year makes. Today the M’s will steam into Houston staring down the barrel of hot bats and hotter arms at the Lastros.  A year ago they led the Mariners by seven, today they’re 6.5 games behind the first place Mariners.  Combined with the Ranger loss in Toronto, the M’s find themselves with a narrow 1.5 game lead between themselves and the rest of the division. With an 8-2 record over their last ten games, they’re hot, tied with Boston as the hottest team in the American League.

Robinson Cano is leading the American League in home runs, and his batting average is beginning to catch up with the long ball. Cruz, with a respectable start, seems to be heating up with the weather. Kyle Seager seems to be awakening from his annual pupa stage to the butterfly we know him to be (but, whew, that larval stage is sure ugly.) The supporting cast is also showing signs of kicking it into gear, and the Mariners are suddenly an offensive dynamo.

Yep, what a difference a year makes.  Last year May 5th found the M’s hopelessly out of things, and 2016 shows the Mariners roaring into Houston with the wind at their backs.

But this is also a cautionary tale.  Though a year ago the M’s seemed utterly forlorn, they also began to turn things around.  Their record on May 29th, their 48th game of the season was 24-24.  They went on the road to Cleveland and New York, were slaughtered, and never regained their mojo.  The rest of the season was about stats.

The lesson?  Things change quickly in major league baseball.  So to the Mariners, keep on doing what ever you’re doing for as long as you can do it.  To the fans, what ever good luck charms you’re doing for the beloved Mariners, don’t let up.  It’s a long season, and lots can happen, good and bad, along the way.

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M’s sweep A’s, head for Houston with a thinner bullpen

The M’s head to Houston for a four game series against the Astros. Seattle’s sweep of Oakland, with today’s 9-8 weird win, gives the Mariners six straight series wins. It will be interesting to see what they can do at Minutemaid Park with a four game set.

King Felix was less than superlative today, allowing eight runs, four earned, over four innings.  That’s nine hits and one strikeout over 22 batters faced.  For those of us used to dominance by the King, this adds to concerns regarding the his health and his ability to continue performing at the elite level the Mariners need from him.

 

nelson-cruz-home-run
Cruz and Cano celebrate the Boomstick’s titanic blast into the second deck of the center-field bleachers at O.com stadium.

But the Mariners did blast sixteen hits off A’s pitching, including a mammoth home run from Nelson Cruz that traveled 446 ft into the second deck of the center field bleachers.  With three hits today,  Cruz continues to raise his batting average to a tidy .293, with five homers, and he seems ready to break out into a one man thunder and lightning storm in Houston. First baseman Dae-ho Lee put on his own light show in Oakland, with a pair of home runs, including the two-run game winner in the 7th inning. Honestly, Cruz, Lee and the rest of the Mariners marched through four innings of the Athletics bullpen like Sherman through Georgia, scoring five runs on nine hits and two walks.

The Mariners bullpen, with five innings to cover, allowed zero runs on two hits and a single walk.  Vidal Nuno, Mike Montgomery, Joel Peralta and Steve Cishek were excellent enough to hang on to the one run victory, after the team found itself in a pretty serious hole for most of the game. The bullpen continues to perform at a much higher level than I believed was possible as this team broke camp.

But yesterday’s news that right-hander Tony Zych was added to the 15-day disabled list is another in a long list of bad news that has followed the Mariners relief staff since spring training began.  Charlie Furbush, Ryan Cook and Evan Scribner began spring unavailable, and of those, only Furbush seems to be improving. Joaquin Benoit went down with shoulder inflammation and was eligible to come off the DL last week.  But he’s still there, despite suggestions he is improving. The Mariners called up Mayckol Guaipe to replace Benoit and Steve Johnson to replace Zych.  They’ve appeared in low leverage situations and performed fine.

As the Mariners rotation continues to perform well-6, 7, 8, 9 inning performances-it protects the bullpen, preventing exposure to repeated lengthy outings.  Hopefully today’s Felix fiasco is a one-off performance.  Every bullpen, no matter how good, is subject to occasional failure.  Despite its continued excellent performance in the deep end of the pool, bullpen health is a must for this group.  It would be nice to start seeing Benoit, Furbush, Zych and others returning to the bullpen with lunch buckets firmly in hand.

What a difference 10 days make.

04292016-KCSea_053
Leonys Martin saves the day pulling in the two-out bottom of the ninth fly ball from Kansas City’s Salvador Perez at the warning track. Seattle would win the 1-0 game on just one-hit: a home run by Seth Smith in the 6th inning. The Kansas City Royals played the Seattle Mariners in the first of a three-game set at Safeco Field in Seattle, Friday, April 29, 2016. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

I’m not sure which was the bigger victory, Felix’s shutout of the Royals on Friday night, while the M’s managed a single hit-Seth Smith’s solo homer-to win 1-0, or Wade Miley’s complete game 6-0 whitewash of the Royals last night.  Perhaps the Friday game was bigger because of the drama of Smith’s homer, and Leonys Martin’s catch at the wall to end the game. For me it was the Martin catch, because I simply love great defensive plays and honestly it’s been a long time since the M’s had a center fielder who could make them.

In the end, it doesn’t matter, because they are two wins in a really long season.  As many have pointed out, every win is important-remember 2014.  But these great pitching performances is what I thought we’d see as the Mariners were assembling their team.

Important statistic number one: the Mariners have allowed 76 runs..

That is tops in the American League, tied with the amazing Chicago White Sox for first. Why?  They are sixth in the league for fewest BB/9, and in every other important stat-K/9, fewest HR/9, BABIP, they are in the top 5.  If you like a mix of traditional and “new” stats, they are second in team ERA and FIP. This pitching staff has been very good so far, including the suspect bullpen.  Every starter from The King to Nate Karns has turned in one no-doubt-about-it gem in their four or five starts. Contrast that with the pre-season favorite Houston Astros and their pitching staff, which top to bottom has been godawful, ranked in the bottom five in almost every one of those statistics.

Important statistic number two: the Mariners lead the league in run differential with a +24

It’s been eight days since my April 23rd 8-8 post.  The M’s are now 13-10.  They’ve gone 5-2.  In those seven games they’ve scored four or more runs four times. The team has shown definite improvement in some offensive categories.  How about BB%? Their 9.7% is tied for the league lead with Toronto, and is up 2% from last year. Never thought I’d write those words.  K% is 20.2%, down a full percent from last year and puts them about middle of the pack for the AL.  They were second highest in the league last year. Sounds like small changes but it makes a big difference.  Consider this:

  • The M’s are 14th in the AL in batting average with a .214 team mark.  C’mon Aoki, let’s get it in gear. Leonys, Kyle–really?
  • Because of their improved walk rate, the team is 6th in on base percentage with a .313 average.
  • The Mariners scored 100 runs after 23 games, fifth in the AL.  Last year they scored their 100th run in their 28th game. They were 13th in runs scored in the league.

Given the pitching improvements and the hitting progress that should translate into wins.  Still a lot of room for improvement on the hitting front, but they’re scoring on clutch homers, yesterday they stole a run on an infield out.  This team has more speed and takes extra bases.  There’s a lot to be positive about.

Important Statistic number three:  The Mariners are 8 – 2 over their last ten games.

On April 20th, as the Mariners were getting ready to open their series in Cleveland, they’d won a road series from what appears to be a baaaaddd Yankees team. They were three games removed from an embarrassing home series, and their record was 5-8, 2.5 games out of first place.  Fans on Facebook were screaming “same ol’ Mariners” and calling for Mike Zunino to be called up from the PCL where he is tearing up the place. In ten games they’ve turned that around are poised to sweep the world champion Royals and reach .500 at home.  Don’t buy your World Series tickets yet. As elated as I am about the team’s recent success, things can turn quickly in major league baseball. It’s a long season, and every team is ten games from potential disaster.  Ask the Astros.

Final important statistics: .565 at 14.1

The Mariners are 13 -10 for a .565 winning percentage.  They’ve played 14.1% of their schedule.  Be happy, support the team, there are usually plenty of seats at Safeco Field. Scott Servais said, after last night’s game, he expects the team to win every day, and you should too. But remember that win or lose a game here a series there, there is another one tomorrow, and the day after until October 2nd.  It’s what comes after that date that will make the season special or not. The 50 game mark is May 31st.  At least we’re in the right month now.  That’s when we should know what this team is about.

Martin wall outline
Saturday the M’s commemorated Martin’s catch with an outline of his faceplant on the wall with this tape outline. Classy.