I promised to withhold judgment of the Seattle Mariners until they’d played 50 games. Now I’m back, a day late and a dollar short, as usual. You may recall I predicted the M’s would be at best an 83 win team and not make the playoffs. I reasoned that the team was counting on too many bounce-back seasons from too many players for everyone to pull together individually successful performances to win as a team. I specifically pointed out the bullpen as a critical weakness that would undo the work of a pretty solid starting rotation.
Okay, I admit it, I don’t know anything and I was wrong. While I’m not going to guarantee anything, this team should have the legs to remain in the hunt until the season’s end, competing for a playoff spot and perhaps a division crown. I’ll raise my pitiful win prediction to 88 wins. This, of course, means they’ll go on a prolonged losing streak and it will all be my fault.
Two reasons this is not a fluke
Yes these are big numbers, but they are not unimportant. The Mariners are second in the American League in runs scored with 256. They trail only the Boston Red Sox, who are scoring runs fast enough to suspect that Jackie Bradley, Jr., Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz (I hate that guy) are some kind of super villains.) Not to be forgotten, the pitching staff has allowed 191 runs. That’s one less than the White Sox in one less game played to take the lead for stingiest pitching staff in the American League. Those are two important reasons for the Mariners success–they’re scoring a bunch and they aren’t allowing a lot of runs to be scored. Their run differential is +65 and trails only the cudgel that is the Red Sox.
Not the same ol’ Mariners
This is where things become a bit more anecdotal. These are not the 2015 team. Yes, it hits a lot of home runs. That’s probably what Jack Zudrencik planned for when he brought on Nelson Cruz last year. But they do lots of things differently. Lots more singles up the middle to drive in runs. Not a lot of solo home runs. Plenty of sacrifice flies. Loads of homers with guys on base. Earl Weaver would be proud.
But by the numbers, they are good too. They aren’t scoring all those runs by accident. Yes lots of homers, but they are second in the league in On Base Percentage. Never thought I’d see that, with .327. They are third in slugging. They are second in wRC+ or Weighted Runs Created. with 113. It’s not just a few guys contributing as Leonys Martin, Adam Lind, and Franklin Gutierrez begin to find their strokes and help out the Canos, Cruz, and Seagers.
There are still things they don’t do well. With the exception of Martin, they are poor base stealers. They make mistakes on the basepaths-as per Saturday night’s walk-off double play hair-pulling, eye-poking, dope-slapping TOOTBLAN to end the M’s comeback effort against the Twins. For those not in the know TOOTBLAN equals “Thrown Out On Basepaths Like A Nincompoop.” I would suggest the M’s are likely rated poorly on the TOOTBLAN spectrum.
No Bullpen Blues
I believed this team’s bullpen would be godawful. Maybe not as bad as last year’s bullpen, but bad enough to cost a demoralizing number of games. So far, I’ve been wrong about that. And what’s more, I’m glad I’m wrong. Just by way of simple comparison, last year’s bullpen was worth 1.1 WAR for an entire season. They were in the bottom of third of the league in K/9, BB/9 allowed, in ERA, and BABIP allowed.
How different is this year’s pen? Through 51 games, the M’s bullpen is worth 2.0 WAR. They are 3rd in K/9 with 9.96, 1st in BABIP allowed with .245, and second in ERA with 2.53. They still walk too many guys, and seem a little less lights out than they were a few series ago.
They’re not perfect, and it seems to me they are easily overworked. They are good at supporting a rotation that is doing its job, but vulnerable if the starters don’t eat innings. Even so, their work is a very pleasant and important surprise.
Life is not perfect with this team. Here are a few things that concern me:
This bullpen still has guys I worry about, guys the M’s don’t seem to want to use in high leverage situations. They include Steve Johnson. He’s pitched okay, but it doesn’t seem like Servais uses him when the game is close, and if you don’t trust your guys to use ’em when you need ’em what use are they to you? Same with Joel Peralta, who has actually given up a few long balls we’d like to have back. This bullpen has also failed when overtaxed. The Angels sweep occurred mostly because the rotation didn’t do its job and the bullpen was asked to perform on too little rest. It’s just not deep enough. It may become a more apparent issue when we have our run of games against better teams.
The rotation is meh
I truly believed the rotation would be much tougher than it has been. Felix and ‘Kuma have been a crapshoot in each of their outings. Felix’s last start against the Twins was a disturbing reminder of last year’s difficulties. There is more pressure on Miley, Walker and Karns to perform because there is no certainty the two veterans are going to rescue the team. It also puts additional stress on the bullpen. The consecutive implosions by Felix, Miley and Walker was dangerous, and it’s super the offense and Nathan Karns rescued them. The rotation has to pitch up to its potential or other answer will have to be found.
The Biggest Stories
I’ve already said enough about these guys, but their contributions thus far are huge.
I’ve already written a lot about this guy too, but he’s added so much, contributing in the field, at bat and on the basepaths. Get healthy sir, you are missed.
If anyone doubts that a healthy Cano is different than a broken Cano, consider this: on May 31, 2015 Robbie slashed .251/.295/.344 with two home runs. Today a healthy Cano is slashing .293/.345/.585 with 15 home runs. The MVP whispers have begun, and it ain’t just from sympathy.
If the boomstick hasn’t quite made the splash of 2015, he’s still doing his bit. Last year his slash was .302/.369/.566 with 44 homers and 93 RBI’s. So far he is .289/.386/.506 projected with 32 home runs and 104 RBI’s. Which would you rather have? One more set of numbers of importance is OF slash .205/.310/.301 with one home run vs. DH slash of .346/.434/.635 with nine home runs. Cruz is making the transition to a full time DH role.
As we move into June, with the trading deadline in view, the M’s have certainly begun considering how to address their needs. Another arm or two could provide more depth and security for the bullpen into a playoff run. Perhaps the M’s should look into another starter. While there are lots of things I like about Nori Aoki, another player who can provide a little more offense and better defense in the outfield would improve this team.