Monday, May 23, 2011

Whither now Seattle Mariners?

The beloved M's are in San Diego, having won five straight and six of their last seven. The AL West Division is thin, and the home team have deposed the A's from third place. They are cellar dwellers no longer.  Despite their 22-24 record the Mariners are only 1.5 games behind the division-leading Rangers.  It's nearly Memorial Day, and by all accounts the boys in blue and silver were expected to be irrelevant.
The King.  Felix Hernandez left thirteen strikeout victims in his wake at Petco Park Sunday.

This is not a pretty team, at times.  They are bi-polar.  Their offense is vile. Crap.  Bad, with a capital bad.  In runs scored they rank 28th, and batting average, 29th, next to last, in the majors.  For the past two years, they've raised frustratingly stranding runners on base to an art form.  They are so bad at failing to score or advance runners with consistency, their un-funny follies should simply be termed "Marinersesque."  For example:

It's the third inning of the 2012 World Series, the Phillies lead the Yankees three games to none.  In a 0-0 ballgame, Jeter leads off with a walk and Robinson Cano, trying to hit the ball to right side and advance the runner, taps a soft liner back to Doc Halliday, who doubles Jeter off first.

Joe Buck:  Gee Tim, that was just poor execution.  When your team is struggling, you have to be able to execute and do the little things to help them score.

Tim McCarver:  Yeah Joe, you got that one right.  Playoff baseball is about execution and if you're going to beat Halliday and stay in this thing you've got to execute.That was just Marinersesque.

It's been nearly two weeks since the Mariners made Milton Bradley take his act on the stage, the first one out of town and called up Carlos Peguero and Mike Wilson.  Both are struggling to produce consistently, as one would expect of untried rookies.  Yet there's no denying, they both bring an athleticism and energy to the team that was lacking before.  Peguero homered twice in the last home stand and has looked both tremendous and clumsy in left field.  Friday's play at the wall to rob Jorge Cantu of a homer and throw to Brendan Ryan in time to relay to first base to double off Ryan Ludwick was a thing of beauty.  At other times, Peguero has been just short of making the great plays.  The dropped ball in the ninth inning of the same game is an example.  Wilson, trapped as the right hander in a platoon, hasn't had the chance to play much yet.  But Saturday's gapper was a game breaker and insured the demise of the even weaker hitting Padres.  It's unclear exactly how much these two young players will contribute to the offensive improvement of this team.  Just too small a sample size.
Michael Pineda leads the team with six wins and is only going to get better.  He's a hard worker and studies the game carefully-oh and he throws 97 mph with control.

Eric Bedard is my favorite story of the spring.  Opposing batters don't care for him quite so much.  Ask the nine Padres he struck out on Friday.
 The pitching, on the other hand, has simply been beyond expectations.  Win or lose, all five starters, Felix, Pineda, Bedard, Vargas and Fister, are giving the Mariners seven plus innings per start.  They put the team in a position to win.  In their last four games, the Mariners have allowed one earned run.  The pitching staff is ranked 5th in ERA and WHIP, and will only climb as numbers improve daily. The bullpen, except for the notorious four day run a week ago, when Brandon League repeatedly melted down in save situations, has been better than believed before the season began.  League, David Pauley, Jamie Wright, and Aaron Laffey have simply been very good.  The starters and big four bullpen staff have been so good that Jeff Gray, acquired a couple weeks ago on a waiver wire deal, hasn't pitched since he came over to the boys from Royal Brougham. The Mariners have a playoff caliber pitching staff that could take the team deep into the playoffs . . . if they only could score enough runs.
Despite his opening night meltdown, Jason Vargas has been a steady starter for the Mariners. 

Mr. Fister.  When he's on, he's very good.
So where does this leave the M's going forward.  This team was assembled as a rebuilding team.  I predicted it would win only 70-75 games.  We are just past the quarter pole and headed for the first third of the season at 54 games.  The Rangers suffered key injuries to their big run producers and closer and have not run away with the division flag.  The Angels are showing the weaknesses I believed they'd have.  Oakland, like Seattle, is run challenged, and two of their pitchers just went on the disabled list.  All four teams are within two games of each other but it's still early in the season.
Dustin Ackley is the heir apparent to the starting second base job; it's just a matter of time. He may be a very good hitter, but he isn't a savior.  The M's need at least one more bat.
There is a lot of comment on the blogs urging the Mariners to go for it and acquire the bats needed to win consistently.  At some point Dustin Ackley will come up and, hopefully, contribute to the Mariners' struggling offense. How quickly he will adjust to major league pitching is an open question.  Assuming he can make even modest progress as a major league hitter, he will be an upgrade over Jack Wilson and Adam Kennedy, and should take over the number two slot.  I was able to catch the Rainiers game yesterday and watched the young man play in the field.  He turned a couple of double plays, and hit an absolute laser over the right field fence for a game winning home run.  He will be ready soon, and will make a difference.

What about another bat?  A consistent uprgrade at left field, third base, or designated hitter are all possibilities in my mind. It's still early, but if the left field situation is unsettled, if Figgins and Cust continue to struggle, and the M's are close to the division lead, or (silly me) leading the division at the end of June, Jack Z must pull the trigger on a deal that will improve the Mariner offense.  The M's have a waning fan base, but during these little winning streaks, when the pitching is so dominant, maybe the best there is in the game right at this moment, there is a spark and every long suffering Mariners fan, waiting for a sniff of redemption believes, that with just a little help, we could win it all. Okay, our division.  We can smell it Jack, get us a bat dammit.

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